Monday, May 8, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 11, The Love Of Money

Solomon, the wealthiest king Israel ever had, never found wealth to be very satisfying. He could have anything he wanted but it none of it was able to soothe his discontent. He had gained the whole world, so to speak, but was in danger of losing his soul. Like many rich celebrities of our own day, he was empty inside, drowning in depression and unable to find meaning in life. Today he deplores the love of money, the type of greed that causes a person to continually want more, the type of greed that causes a person to be willing to do anything to gain wealth.

"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." (Ecclesiastes 5:8) Corruption can be found at all levels of government.

"The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields." (Ecclesiastes 5:9) The citizens of the nation were required to submit a portion of the fruit of their fields to the king in addition to other forms of taxation. Solomon knows there is greed and corruption in all governmental systems, yet he finds himself dependent on the system. Though he's the king, and a wise king at that, even he can't ferret out all the dishonesty in such a vast kingdom. He knows some men are greedy and are taking more than they should in order to line their own pockets, but he has neither the time nor the manpower to spend on investigating every official in the kingdom. So he's become a part of the system, corrupt though it may be, because he too depends on it in order to put food on the table.

"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 5:10) The love of money is an addiction. Being obsessed with work and with gaining more in the bank account every day can ruin lives just as easily as drugs and alcohol can ruin lives. This is because anything we are addicted to has become a god to us. It's idolatry. It will lead us into dishonesty and a callous disregard for those close to us. The money will come to mean more than anything else, including relationships with others and including our relationship with God.

"As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?" (Ecclesiastes 5:11) Solomon observes, "The more your money increases, the more fake friends you will have. Your house will be full every day of people who want to enjoy your money and your wine and your food. You'll have people coming over to view all your new acquisitions: your art and your jewels and your gold-plated furniture. But when you really stop to think about it, what good are all these treasures? What will they ever do for you? They are useless except to look at."

He comes to the conclusion that the poor man is better off than the rich man. The one who has to get up early every morning and go to work, day after day and year after year, finds a satisfaction in life that the rich man does not. "The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep." (Ecclesiastes 5:12) The laboring man works hard during the day and he sleeps hard at night. He isn't afflicted with fears of losing all he has; he doesn't have much to lose, materially speaking. Because his possessions are quite modest, he has learned to appreciate all the other blessings in his life. He knows how to enjoy the simple pleasures. He is thankful for his wife and children and for the food on the table and for the roof over their heads. It's easier for a poor man to be close to God because he has to depend on God every day to supply his needs.

"I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit. Everyone comes naked from their mother's womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. This too is a grievous evil: As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger." (Ecclesiastes 5:13-17) No matter how hard a man or woman works to gain wealth, Solomon says, "You can't take it with you. That seems really unfair to me. I've spent my life building palaces and government buildings, cities and highways, zoos and parks. But when death takes me I have to leave it all behind. This seems very wrong to me."

We have to keep in mind that Solomon is still thinking in worldly terms and not in spiritual terms. There is a treasure we can take with us, according to the Lord Jesus, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) The Apostle Paul, a man whose life was once governed by greed and covetousness and power, knew what it meant to be transformed by putting his treasure and his heart in heaven. He said, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Timothy 6:6) Paul is not an advocate for living the lazy life; he's also the man who said, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10) He believed those able to work should work and not be idle, but he did not believe in working for the purpose of amassing wealth. He knew greed was the same thing as idolatry, so he said, "If you're going to store up treasures anywhere, store them up in heaven. Do things that benefit the kingdom of the Lord. Tell the gospel. Tell people what Jesus has done for you. The rewards of this life are so temporary. We can't take any of them with us. But whatever we do for the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ will last forever. He will reward us. Nobody will ever be able to take away from us what the Lord gives us."

Solomon once again falls back into his groove of thinking we should eat and drink and be merry. He says to enjoy what we can while we can. But at the same time he recognizes our ability to enjoy our blessings is a gift from God. "This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them---for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil---this is a gift from God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart." (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

The king envies the man who is able to enjoy each day as it comes. I think he almost wishes he were less wise and intelligent so he could simply go with the flow and not worry about tomorrow. But that's not who he is. That's not who God created him to be. God graced Solomon with what is probably the IQ of a genius so he would constantly pick at the fabric of life trying to make sense of it. God made him the type of person who will never be content living on the surface but who instead is compelled to search out deep things. I'm glad God gave Solomon a questioning spirit because in our Bibles we can now study the words of a man who had it all and realized it meant nothing without the Lord. Solomon's depression and doubts mirror our own. He has the same questions about the meaning of life that we have. He struggles with the same fears. He is angered by the same worldly injustices that anger us. When we study Solomon's words we realize we are not alone. The wisest man who ever lived (other than the Lord Jesus) and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived and one of the most famous men who ever lived had to deal with the same worries and fears we deal with. If we have ever wondered whether being wealthy would solve all our problems, Solomon's life proves that it wouldn't. It would bring along a whole new set of problems instead. If we have ever wondered whether life means anything, Solomon's life proves that it does...when we include God in it.

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