Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Empty Stuff

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26


So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
In this chapter, we see that even the pursuit of pleasure simply brought the Preacher pain. Though he had been blessed with many things, they did not bring him any joy.


Three Frustrating Pursuits

Pleasure--The Preacher decides to set himself toward enjoying the things which he has. He allows wine in moderation to bring him some pleasure and relaxation. He then set out to consider what he could develop. He built houses, planted vineyards, established parks and gardens, surrounding himself with slaves, grew large flocks, accumulated great wealth, provided himself with great entertainment and singers and even sought sexual pleasure through many concubines.

The Preacher is unique in that there was no limit to his pursuit of pleasure. If he wanted something, he had the means available to attain it. Whereas you and I can find the pursuit of pleasure in things to be limited--for we are limited in what we can acquire--the Preacher does not have this problem. When we pursue pleasure in an object or material things and pleasure cannot be found, you and I can be tempted to believe it is simply evaded us because of the limit in quantity we can enjoy. But the Preacher tells us that if he wanted it, he got it.

But such a pursuit did not bring the Preacher joy. Ultimately, all that he had, and all the pleasures he enjoyed did not truly profit him. A full-fledged materialistic pursuit with no limit in acquisition still ended with futility.

Reputation--It's interesting to see how status begins to creep into the Preacher's thinking. It was not enough that he gained a large farm, but he needed to tell us it was larger than all before him (7). He reminds us that his pursuit ended with him being greater than all before him (9). Though his pursuit may not have started with him comparing himself to others, it eventually ends at this place. Yet, he must consider that nothing he can do is really that impressive, for it has been accomplished before. And not only that, but men will forget all about him, just like they would the fool. Sure, pursuing wisdom may mean you get to enjoy some more things here on earth--due to your wise stewardship--but ultimately the same fate befalls the fool and the wise man alike. The reputation may stand for a moment, but someone else will gain more things and bypass your reputation, or upon death, your reputation will be forgotten. The pursuit becomes empty.

Inheritance--Since possessions cannot bring personal satisfaction, perhaps the Preacher could find more joy in fulfillment for others. He could continue to accumulate possessions, but instead of the focus being personal, he could prepare for others. Could satisfaction be found in setting up the lives of your descendants?

Again, the Preacher only finds despair. Sure, he can work hard and be wise to be sure to provide a large inheritance, but he has no idea how his children would handle it. Will they squander it all? Will they not make the same wise choices he did and end up losing it in poor investments? Could the inheritance even lead to a poor work ethic?

Ultimately, the Preacher mourns that the inheritance may not last, and that his children may not truly benefit from it. It does not seem right to him that they get to enjoy what he has worked so hard for, though they did not have to work to receive it.

So, Now What?

In light of this despair, what is left to do with your possessions? The Preacher resigns that there is nothing better to do than to enjoy what you do have. It may not be perfect and it may not be totally fulfilling, but enjoying what you have at least makes the most of what you have. Eat, drink and enjoy what you have from you work. The Preacher even seems to acknowledge that grace and humility (rather than pride) are at the root of enjoying these things. God has given them to you. God has given you the ability to enjoy it. Therefore, do it!

At first glance, this could seem to be the proper approach to our possessions. [In fact, I have heard several pastors quote these verses as a commission that this is what God would have us do with your stuff.] However, notice that this view also ends in despair (v 26).

It is also scary to note that if you believe that your possessions are the result of grace and are gifts from God, yet do not seek a higher purpose than "under heaven" then you must formulate a purpose for the grace you have received. Without seeing that things exist and happen for the purpose of glorifying Christ, a person is left to see their life in total isolation. So, the Preacher ends up believing that what he has is a reflection of what he has done. God will give to him because he has done well, while the one who has not is deprived because he is wicked. Such a view will lead to a self-righteousness.

There has to be something better than just temporary fulfillment from your possessions, right?

Jesus Transforms It All

Throughout Ecclesiastes, the words of the Preacher are Christless. He only seeks out that which is "under the sun" or "under heaven." We should read his words, see his despair, and know that in Christ, things do not have to be as he describes. But was does considering Christ do to our view of possessions? In light of death, our possessions become futile and empty. We can't take any of it with us. (Growing up, my father would regularly remind me, "You don't see trailer hitches on hearses.") But what does a consideration of Christ accomplish? Does it simply say, "Well, you are going to die someday, but there is life after death through Christ. So enjoy what you've got now, because you don't need to fear death."

No, we should understand that Christ not only gives us hope for after death, but He also transforms how we should view our possessions here on earth.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."--Matthew 6:19-21
When we consider Christ, we learn that our present circumstances can be submitted for eternal glory of Christ. Therefore, what I have is not simply for this world. When I acknowledge that it is submitted to Christ--and that He sits as Lord over all--my possessions become object for His glory. If you simply view your possessions for you own joy, then yes, the day is coming that you die and have nothing to show for it. But if while "under the sun" you seek to use what you have to bring glory to Christ and spread His gospel, then after you die, those objects have generated eternal reward; reward which will also serve to glorify Christ.

A close look at 1 Corinthians 3 reminds the believer that he will stand before God in judgement. It is not a judgement to condemnation, for Christ has saved us from such condemnation. It is a judgement toward reward. And Paul reminds us that God will take all things from our life on earth and pass it through a fire. If those things on earth lead to eternal benefit, then they will be displayed for eternal reward. However, if the things from this earth were only used for temporal joy on earth, then the possession is consumed with the fire of judgement.

The glory of considering Christ is that we are not left to despair in our possessions' failure to provide real joy. We become aware that it is impossible for things to produce genuine joy, therefore we are not disappointed when objects let us down. We also do not find vanity in death, but in light of eternal life, we are aware that our current living can have eternal benefit.


We can seek meaning in our things, but we are incapable of keeping them secure. They will be destroyed, slowly decay or even be stolen. However, Christ has stored up for us a treasure that is eternally secure, and guarded by His eternal hand:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.--1 Peter 1:3-9

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you may want to get a facebook button to your blog. I just bookmarked the blog, but I must do it by hand. Just my suggestion.