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The Woes of Wealth

Ecclesiastes  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:04
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Scripture Reading

Ecclesiastes 5:8–20 NIV84
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. 10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. 13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. 15 Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? 17 All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. 18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Introduction

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes:
1 Timothy 6:10 NIV84
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Contrary to Paul’s view, it is often thought by man, even those of us who ought to know better, that our lives would be so much easier, so much more meaningful, so much better, if only we had a little more money.
As good Christians, we would obviously agree that we don’t want an abundance of wealth.
What we’re asking for is not riches… we simply want to have enough that we don’t need to struggle to get by.
There is a humorous but very true comic strip that I’ve seen, that begins with a picture of a man standing on the side of the road, and he sees a man on a bicycle riding past and thinks to himself, “I wish I had a bicycle.”
The next frame shows the man riding the bicycle looking at a person driving a pretty old but still-working vehicle, saying “If only I could afford a car.”
The next frame shows that man in that old car pulling up next another person in a brand new car, and he thinks to himself “look at that new car!”
The next frame shows the man in the new car pulling up next to a BMW X5, thinking to himself “I want that offroad car” (although it really is debatable if the X5 could be classified as offroad!?)
The man in the X5 is obviously not that satisfied, and he sees a man driving a Lamborghini (or something like that) and thinks to himself, “That’s my dream car.”
Finally the man in the Lamborghini looks up into the sky and sees a helicopter, and says “I’d love to have a helicopter...”
The point is very well made.
No matter how much we have, we are always able to, and we typically do look at those who have more, and have at least some measure of envy towards them.
Well, Solomon, as we’ve seen in the past through our studies in Ecclesiastes, was the most wealthy man of his day, and had everything that a person could dream to have, and plenty more.
And yet we find that even he couldn’t find satisfaction in this wealth, and in fact it seemed to present a continuous sore point for him in his life.
What we find in the book of Ecclesiastes is this return to thinking about, considering and mulling over the pains that wealth brings, and the serious consequences for any who choose to make wealth their focal point for satisfaction.
And so this morning we consider this text under the title “The Woes of Wealth.”

1. The Oppressive Nature of Wealth (5:8-12)

The first point that Solomon drives home is that the pursuit or love of wealth very often goes hand in hand with oppression.
In verse 8, he makes a striking point concerning the expected reality of oppression and injustice in the world, due to a love for money.
Ecclesiastes 5:8 NIV84
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.
In other words, you are to expect oppression; you are to expect injustice; you are to expect people’s rights to be denied them.
Now we must be clear that this is not to say that these things are not good in God’s eyes.
It is simply stating the fact that the poor are always going to be there.
Furthermore, as a general principle in life, exploitation by the more powerful over the less powerful is something that is going to be found as a common occurrence in this life.
The reality is that in a sin-cursed world, there will always be oppression and injustice.
In this verse, Solomon gives the reason why this injustice exists and rights are denied: Because of the relentless pursuit of self-gain throughout the hierarchical structures of leadership.
All the way up through the leadership (in Solomon’s case, he was speaking particularly of the governmental leadership structures) you will find one man seeking to get as much as possible out of the person below them, and this taking place throughout the leadership structure, even up until the king himself - so says verse 9.
Ecclesiastes 5:9 NIV84
9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
This is very much the warning that was given to Israel through the prophet Samuel when they asked for a king to rule over them.
Listen to the warning that Samuel gave to Israel in the event that they they insisted on having a king...
1 Samuel 8:10–18 NIV84
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Obviously Israel didn’t want to listen to this, and they proceeding to have a king placed over them.
And the kings typically ruled with some measure of oppressive power over the people.
Even Solomon himself placed a heavy burden onto the shoulders of the people of Israel.
You will recall that when Rehoboam became king after Solomon, the people pleaded with Rehoboam to reduce the heavy yoke that Solomon had placed on them.
But Rehoboam wanted nothing of it...
1 Kings 12:11 NIV84
11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ”
And so it is that all the way up through the ranks, each man, for the most part, seeks his own good, and seeks to gain extensively at the expense of another.
This proceeds all the way up to the highest rank, and obviously the higher up the rank you go, the greater the takings of wealth will be.
Having asserted this perspective, Solomon goes on to speak 3 proverbs concerning the evils of wealth.
In doing so, he applies these truths to the average person… that is to you and I… with the hope that we will learn through his own wisdom, and so avoid the pitfalls of wealth.

1.1. Wealth Never Satisfies

The first proverb is in verse 10...
Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV84
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
The reality is that the eyes of man are never be satisfied with what they have.
As we’ve considered before in the words of Proverbs 27:20...
Proverbs 27:20 NIV84
20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.
When a person begins to accumulate wealth for themselves, it begins to feed an appetite that cannot be satisfied.
One could almost liken the gaining of wealth to an addiction, where once you start down that road it becomes all the more difficult to stop...

1.2. As Wealth increases, so do Avenues for Spending

The second Proverb that he gives is this...
Ecclesiastes 5:11 NIV84
11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?
What Solomon means here is that due to the eyes of man never being satisfied, there is no end to the consumption of the goods that a man may amass for himself.
As wealth for a man begins to increase, so too do the friends around that man who long to share in his wealth.
Proverbs 19:4 NIV84
4 Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man’s friend deserts him.
Proverbs 14:20 NIV84
20 The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.
Furthermore, as the wealth of a person increases, so the taxation increases.
One commentator (Michael Eaton) writes:
Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary ii. Money and Its Drawbacks (5:10–12)

riches have a knack of disappearing down a drain of increased responsibilities. An ‘extended family’ will extend a bit further with each increment; the wage-earner will see the goods but no more.

This is the reality of increased riches. And at the end of the day, as Solomon notes here, there is no real enjoyment from these goods and this increased wealth.

1.3. Wealth Leads to Sleeplessness

The final proverb that Solomon gives here is in verse 12...
Ecclesiastes 5:12 NIV84
12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.
Solomon now begins to demonstrate the difference between that man who works as a basic laborer, earning and owning very little, when compared to the man who has much wealth.
The reality is that those who are higher up tend to be deprived of something very special…sleep.
The sleep of the laborer is sweet.
Those who simply have the responsibility of working day to day, and have very little that they can do about their situations and circumstances, are typically the ones who get good rest at night.
In those days (and similarly even to our day) the laborer generally was engaged in difficult manual labour that tired out the body.
After a long day of physical exertion, they are able to get home and rest well, and sleep well at night.
Furthermore, since they tend to have little to lose, they have little fear of losing, and are thus able to rest well at night.
The wealthy man, on the other hand, is constantly worried about his wealth: the possibility of losing his wealth; where he is going to gain more wealth; or about the work that he needs to do tomorrow which generates his wealth.
He is continuously burdened by things of life which are occasioned by his wealth itself, or by that which generates his wealth.
Sleepless nights are connected with anxious days. (Charles Bridges, p.116)
And so this relentless thought about all that he has and owns leads to a lack of sleep.
Charles Bridges writes:
“This is the evil of covetousness—an "easily besetting sin." Multitudes condemn it in others, who little suspect its influence in their own hearts. 'It is a fleshly desire— something that has got into the place of God—a deep, desperate, plausible, but damning sin. Men are accustomed to give it a softer name, such as prudence; but there is no sin more hardening, and stupefying to the conscience.” (p.116)

2. The Destructive Nature of Wealth (5:13-17)

The second key apsect that Solomon goes on to consider here is the destructive nature of wealth that is hoarded.
Ecclesiastes 5:13–14 NIV84
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.
The first concern here for Solomon is wealth that is hoarded by its owner.
This is the man who stores up wealth for himself as much as possible, and has the focus and drive to always be gaining more.
We considered last week the parable that Jesus gave of the man who had much, and he wondered what he should do with all that he had.
He decided that he would build bigger barns to store all of his grain in, and then he would retire himself, sit back and relax and enjoy life.
But God’s word in response in this instance was “You fool!”
Look with me at the response...
Luke 12:20–21 NIV84
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
The critical question that Jesus confronts here is whether or not this person is rich towards God.
The man who stores up wealth for himself as a general principle is so focused on his wealth, and his trust placed so heavily in that wealth, that he has little regard for God himself.
The emphasis then is how you use what you have for the sake of the glory of God.
Are you rich towards God?!
In verse 14 Solomon mentions that this wealth that may have been accumulated is lost through some misfortune, and there is no inheritance left for the child.
The point that Solomon is conveying here is that riches are by their very nature insecure.
While a father may hope to give an inheritance to their son (and indeed this is even a good thing, Biblically) the point is that this should not be where their trust is placed.
Psalm 62:10 NIV84
10 Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Proverbs 11:28 NIV84
28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.
Proverbs 23:5 NIV84
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
This is the simple reality, that our trust should not in any way be placed in the abundance of our possessions, and we should always keep in mind that any riches which we may have today, could very well be gone tomorrow.
Solomon then moves on to remind us that just as we came into the world, so we depart from the world...
Ecclesiastes 5:15 NIV84
15 Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.
These are the words with which Job praised God as all that he had was taken from his hands (Job 1:21).
I’m certain that we will all agree to the assertion - naked a man comes, and so he departs.
We come into the world with nothing, we will depart the world with nothign.
But I would ask this question this morning: Does this truth truly influence the manner that you live as a Christian?
For an atheist, there is absolutely nothing beyond the grave, and so life is merely lived for the here and now.
There is nothing else to live for, and so the entire purpose of life is to live it up now.
When there is nothing beyond the grave, this would make some sort of sense.
But if you have an understanding of the fact that life is eternal, then how can you possibly live with that mindset?
We know as Christians that the the 70 - 80 years that we live in this world are merely in preparation for eternity.
The bulk of our “life” is going to be lived beyond the grave, and how we live here most certainly has an impact.
Matthew 6:19–21 NIV84
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I wonder how often we live as functional atheists as we lose sight of the fact that everything we gain in this life in terms of physical possessions is ultimately going to be lost.
Martin Luther stated these words: “As I shall forsake my riches when I die, so I forsake them while I am living.”
As Solomon goes on to say in verse 16...
Ecclesiastes 5:16 NIV84
16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?
The truth is that in a purely physical sense, man gains nothing.
Solomon calls this a “grievous evil.”
Solomon is clearly talking here from the perspective of life under the sun, without factoring God into the equation.
Toil under the sun when the express purpose of that toil is to gain wealth and possessions is a grievous evil, since ultimately all that was worked for will be lost.
It is a toiling for the wind.
In closing off this thought, Solomon remarks in verse 17...
Ecclesiastes 5:17 NIV84
17 All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.
Here is the picture of the man who lives his life in godless pursuit of wealth.
All his days he eats in darkness.
This is a man whose entire life is divorced from the light of the Gospel in Jesus Christ.
This is a man who in darkness of soul has no desire for God, or for the light of God to shine into his life and expose his self-centered pursuits.
John 1:9–10 NIV84
9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
But the wickedness of man results in a fleeing away from this light...
John 3:19 NIV84
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
So the man pursuing ungodly wealth does so in darkness, and he lives his life entirely in darkness.
This leads him to a life of great frustration, great affliction, and much anger.
Philip Ryken writes:
The miser will end up alone in his misery. Because he lives in spiritual darkness, his soul will be vexed with many anxieties. The ungodly pursuit of wealth will take its physical toll, leaving him in poor health. He will also be very angry — a bitter old man — for who has ever heard of a happy miser? People who live for money try to hold on to as much of it as they can, but when they have to let it go — as everyone does eventually — it makes them angry with everyone and everything.

3. The God-Oriented Use of Wealth (5:18-20)

As Solomon proceeds however, he once again returns to this aspect of the place of God-given wealth.
Ecclesiastes 5:18 NIV84
18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.
The lot of man is to labour in the world.
In other words, Solomon recognises the significance of work and labour.
He recognises that God has made man such that he is to work and to be productive on the earth in this life.
In fact, Solomon almost appears to contradict himself within this passage.
In verse 19 he writes:
Ecclesiastes 5:19 NIV84
19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.
Solomon’s perspective has shifted from verse 16 and 17 from calling toil and labour a grievous evil, to calling his work a gift from God.
Clearly Solomon’s perspective is not focusing on the work itself, but rather on the motivation behind the work being done.
Solomon has recognised that motivations and intentions of the heart are critical in life, in this instance, particularly as we consider wealth and work.
If a person is rightly considering work, and if a person is rightly considering the place of wealth, or physical things in this world, then they may be viewed not as curses, not as evils in this world, but as the gifts of God in order to bring Him praise and glory and honour.
Solomon goes on here to say...
Ecclesiastes 5:20 NIV84
20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
What a contrast this is.
For the one whose heart and mind is rightly motivated towards the glory of God, God keeps that man occupied with gladness of heart.
God is out to stifle and kill our joy and pleasure in life.
God is interested in reorienting our hearts so that we may find true joy and satisfaction, and that joy and satisfaction is not in the gifts but in the giver of those gifts.
Philip Ryken writes:
The Bible tells us not to put our “hope in wealth, which is so uncertain,” but to put our “hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17, niv)
There is a certain mindset which almost seems to make material things intrinsically evil. Wrong...
And yet there is another mindset which says that God wants us to be rich and wealthy, and that this should be expected. This is equally wrong...

Application and Conclusion...

As we begin to draw to a close, I want to take our minds to the place of true riches...
As we look to the Scriptures, what we will find (particularly in the New Testament) is that the epitome of riches is union with Jesus Christ.
Paul said to the Corinthian believers:
2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV84
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
When Paul speaks here of becoming rich, he is not speaking about suddenly obtaining earthly treasures, but rather he is speaking about the riches that you have simply based on your union with Christ.
It is in Christ Himself, it is through our union with Christ, that we obtain and delight in true riches that cannot be fathomed.
Ephesians 2:6–7 NIV84
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
The riches that we are to come to delight in and to celebrate are the riches that are found in Christ Himself, the riches of God’s grace and mercy to us; the riches of God’s exceedingly great kindness to us.
These are things that are of eternal worth and value.
And these are the things that are to delight our hearts - that this gift of inestimable value has been given to us!!
Paul said further to the Ephesian believers...
Ephesians 3:8 NIV84
8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
And again in Colossians 2:2
Colossians 2:2 NIV84
2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,
Solomon had gone through that process of seeking meaning in wealth, and he had learned some very hard lessons.
The sad reality is that people are still having to learn the same lessons today, through the same efforts.
Yesterday evening, my one daughter asked what the point is of studying history… she doesn’t particularly like the subject.
My response was (in part) so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past… to which I added, not that it ever really works...
But friends, we must truly learn this lesson - there is no greater treasure than Jesus Christ...
knowing Him
understanding the riches of His grace and mercy
understanding the treasures that are to be found in relationship with Him
understanding the richness of a life filled with joy and peace in Him
I would ask this morning, are you content today…
And is that contentment because of your relationship with Christ.
We all have some soul searching to do.
We all need to humble ourselves in prayer, and seek to all the more rest in Jesus Christ.
Once we have done this, we can be certain that His grace in us will lead us to live lives that are generous, that are others-oriented.
It is this contentment and joy in the riches of Christ that leads us to relax our grips on the riches of this world, and so to use all that God has entrusted into our care in such manner as to bring Him glory.
I will close with the words of the commentator James Hamilton:
“Live by faith. Look forward: look upward. Let nothing temporal be your treasure. Whether your abode be a hut or a castle, think only of the Father’s house as your enduring mansion. Whether your friends be high or low, coarse or refined, think only of just men made perfect as your permanent associates. And whether your possessions be great or small, think only of the joys at God’s right hand as your eternal treasure. Lead a life disentangled ... setting your affections on things above, and never so clinging to the things temporal as to lose the things eternal.”
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