Eccl. 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
As I said last week, now is the time for living. Solomon is reminding us that God has set aside this time, this life, for us to not shrink back from the toil of life, but to live it actively, to set our hand to the plow, whatever God places in front of us to do and to do it with all of our might. Obviously this is broader than whatever employment we have or job we are doing, including prayer, evangelism, loving your family and neighbours.
One thing to make clear from the start: We need to set our works in the proper context. The gospel teaches that we are not saved by our works, but TO good works:
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. Titus 3:4-8
Now one thing I’m learning about the way Solomon thinks and presents his outlook on life, is that he leans more pessimistic (or possibly realist). This has been a challenge for me, because I am an optimist by nature. When I make an argument, I find it more natural to outline all of the positive points first, and then speak to the critical objections. Solomon does the opposite, and I’m finding it very effective. What Solomon does, is he’ll lay out a thesis statement, and then state all the problems with it first, but by the end, he’ll convince you that what he originally said is the only viable way forward, through all the trouble that may be. This isn’t a bad way to think. If you’re an optimist, and you think life is going to be all rosy, when you slam into the reality of life, you may be likely to give up. But if you’re a pessimist, or at least a realist, and you’ve gone into an endeavour with a realistic understand of all that can go wrong, then when you hit a wall, you’d more likely perhaps to be more like, “yep, I knew I’d hit you sometime.”
So let’s make a ledger this morning, a pros and cons list, and debate Solomon’s proposal: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” - Now you might paraphrase this to suit your own needs: “Why should I work hard?”, “Why get myself out of bed this morning?”
Reasons to Give Up
1. I Might Fail: It Won’t Always Pay Off (Time and Chance Happen To All)
Eccl. 9:11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.
The first point on the negative side of the ledger. You may be the swiftest, strongest, wisest, smartest in your field, and it won’t matter because of worldly success comes down to timing and circumstance, time and chance. That doesn’t seem fair. It would b nice if the world was a pure meritocracy, that the harder you worked and the more you put in would automatically lead to success, but that is not the world we live in. I met a couple this week who are trying to move their home-brew operations into a full brewery in Barhaven. They might be the best brewers is the city. They may even be really good business people. And their business is still may fail. Calamity may suddenly like a trap set for fish or fowl. Now there may be a hint of encouragement here, for maybe you’re not the swiftest, strongest, wisest, smartest in your field, and you’re not going to be and there still is hope and opportunity for you to make it. That doesn’t much inspire the one who trying to put in the hard work to be the swiftest, strongest, wisest, smartest, so it goes on this side of the ledger.
2. No One Listens To Me: Even If You Have a Successful Idea, You May Receive No Credit: Solomon’s next point in the negative side is illustrated with a story:
Eccl. 9:13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. Eccl. 9:17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
Thank goodness for this poor, wise man! He saved the city! And everyone despised him for it and no one remembered him. Solomon is pointing us to the reality of power, privilege and position. You come up with a great idea to save your company money, and your boss submits the proposal with his name on it rather than yours. Let me ask you: are you motivated to keep working hard? You saved the company after all. Your whispering at the bottom of the hierarchy actually effected change - more than all of the shouting in the boardrooms, you actually accomplished something. Yet no one gives you credit. Are you still going to get out of bed the next day? Because, that’s reality. But that’s not fair! Great. You’re learning.
3. Others Mess Up My Idea: You know what may be worse than getting no credit for a good idea that works? Imagine that if by some miracle of providence you actually had one good, true, virtuous, world-altering idea. The reality is that to bring your idea into fruition, you have to submit that idea to others who will tweak it, add to it, subtract from it and execute it. Trade-offs are made, compromises reached. Solomon writes about how a little foolish destroys much wisdom.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Eccl. 10:1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. 2 A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. [he’s not making a political statement - but speaking of the tug of war and opposing directions your project may take in the execution] 3 Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool. 4 If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.
Eccl. 10:5 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: 6 folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. 7 I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.
A little foolish input can derail the entire endeavour. And the reality is that in every hierarchical bureaucracy there are often people promoted about their level of competence who will take your good idea and mess it up. This even has a name “The Peter Principle”- it might be named the Michale Scott character in “The Office”. A great salesman promoted to be a terribly incompetent manager. Imagine working for that guy. Why bother trying?
4. I Might Get Hurt: You May Actually Harm Yourself:
Eccl. 10:8 He who digs a pit will fall into it, and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall. 9 He who quarries stones is hurt by them, and he who splits logs is endangered by them. 10 If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed. 11 If the serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer.
Here’s a great reason to stay in bed. Hard work might hurt me. Obviously if I work smarter, if I sharpen my axe, use the right tool for the right job, make sure that I apply foresight to my work, wisdom may help me to succeed. The snake may still bite me when I’m not ready for it.
5. I WIll Mess It Up: We Can Do Everything Right and Be Sunk By Our Words: The final reality of work that Solomon puts on this side of the ledger, is that we might do everything right and still meet it up for ourselves because we are not able to control our tongue.
Eccl. 10:12 The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. 13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness. 14 A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him?
Conclusion: 15 The toil of a fool wearies him, for he does not know the way to the city.
We expend so much energy in life, toiling away, and we hit all these frustrations, and we can’t find our way around them. Isn’t it better to give up?
Reasons Not to Give Up:
1. People depend on you
Eccl. 10:16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! 17 Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!
Solomon points to a principle that that the character of the king impacts the people fo the land. A lazy, unfaithful, gluttonous king, who does not work diligently for his people leads the land into ruin. For Solomon, the king, this served as motivation for him to get up and work hard for his people. Now you’re not a king, but you likely have people who depend on you.
2. You Need Money: Like I said, Solomon is a realist. Why get out of bed? Because your leaky roof won’t fix itself, and no one’s putting bread on your table.
18 Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.
19 Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.
3. Merely Complaining About the Inequalities of Life Does Not Make Them Go Away
20 Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.
The world is filled with complainers, blogging about the inequities of life from their bedroom keyboards. And we don’t need to wait for a bird fo the air to carry our voice, we just post it on twitter. Be a doer. Now is the time for living. So yes, getting out of bed and working hard, a lot can go wrong, there will be challenge, you may not get the credit you deserve, or other people may mess up your great ideas with their foolishness. But people are depending one you, the roofs leaking and you’ve go tot eat and complaining about it won’t change anything, so get up, live your life.
Solomon’s Strategy (The Way In To the City?)
Be Patient With Your Investments and Generous to People
Eccl. 11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
2 Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. 3 If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
As Spurgeon noted, there is wisdom here to not Hoard not thy bread; for if thou dost, it will mildew, it will be of no use to thee. (Spurgeon)
This proverb has been found in the Egyptian source the Instruction of Ankhsheshonqy (“do a good deed and throw it in the river; when it dries up you shall find it”) and in Arabic proverbs. If Ecclesiastes follows the route of Ankhsheshonqy, it suggests that a spontaneous good deed carries no guarantees of reciprocity but that “what goes around, comes around.” (IVPBC)
Now this could be practical wisdom to diversify your investments. However, For more than eighteen centuries, there was never any doubt about what was meant here. Franz Delitzsch noted, during the 19th century, that, "Most interpreters regard this as an exhortation to charity"
Cast your bread upon the waters is to them a way of saying, “Give your material things to the needy in a way that might seem wasteful – as wasteful as throwing bread upon the waters, and you will be rewarded.” If this is the sense, the point is much the same: do something now for a reward that cannot be immediately seen. [the It’s a Wonderful Life principle]
Regarding in verse 3, Charles Wesley saw that we were to learn a lesson from the clouds and the trees: “Learn, O man, the practice of liberality from the very lifeless creatures, from the clouds; which when they are filled with water, do not hoard it up, but plentifully pour it forth for the refreshment both of the fruitful field and the barren wilderness. Therefore, let us just not bring forth the fruits of righteousness, because death will shortly cut us down, and we shall then be determined to unchangeable happiness or misery, according as our works have been. (Wesley)
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
4 He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. Eccl. 11:5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. Eccl. 11:6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.