Toiling with Wisdom or Foolishness
Topic: Wisdom Passage: Ecclesiastes 4
Ecclesiastes 4 (3/26/17)
We are going to be continuing our trek through Ecclesiastes today focusing on Chapter 4. Where we will be discussing the subjects of oppression, toiling with wisdom or foolishness and why two are better than being alone.
I want to start by telling you a story about Aron Ralston an accomplished mountaineer and outdoorsman. On a warm Saturday afternoon in 2003 he was taking a leisurely hike/climb in Utah’s Canyons. He had run into a couple other climbers but he chose, like always to go alone. About 8 miles from his truck he was climbing over a boulder when it dislodged and trapped his right hand and wrist. He was stuck with this 800lb boulder on his arm. He used his video recorder from his pack to record a heartfelt goodbye to his friends and family because he expected to die of dehydration before he was found since he had to no one where he was going. But on day six he came up with a plan. He could break the bones in his arm by creating torque from twisting his body and would cut himself free. After leaving his hand and part of his arm behind he headed toward his truck. He was found by a family on a hike that helped him….During an interview he was asked how he decided to start cutting? He said “simple after being sleep deprived and nothing to do but think, I realized that the situation I was in was due to decisions that I had made………………….I chose to go alone…I chose not to tell anyone where I was going…I chose not to go with the two other climbers I had bumped into….I chose to go ALONE”………He was foolish in his choices, his ending is not the normal one when in a situation like this…alone without someone to help.
Turn with me to Ecclesiastes 4…Let’s pray…
Solomon makes 4 observations/comparisons that were based on what he saw happening around him. And these observations still give practical wisdom in our transient world today that promotes being alone. Mark Driscoll commented that throughout this chapter we can categorize people into one of 3 categories: Evil-Foolish-Wise. So what does he mean by evil, foolish and wise?
Evil-treat others unjustly, or they are envious or if they see others fall or something bad happen to them they are happy about it (dare we say “experience joy from it)
Foolish-idle, lazy, irresponsible, they want life and reality to adjust to them, want to be taken care of, passive, a righteous victim.
Wise-(not necessarily educated)-means teachable, humble, not envious, take responsibility, want to learn from mistakes, take counsel, want to learn to change-especially to become more Christ like.
As we go through chapter 4 we will see that all of us, depending on the situation may fall into any or all three of the categories-we are all evil to a point, foolish to a point and wise to a point. Part of growing in wisdom is realizing when we are being evil and foolish and try to learn and change from it to become wise.
Solomon begins by saying “again”-“again I saw the oppressions (PLURAL). Remember he briefly visited the subject in chapter 3:16 when he said that in the place of justice and righteousness there was wickedness-oppression being laid out at the hands of other humans-the ones in power. And he repeats twice in verse 1 that there was no one to comfort those ones being oppressed. They had no one to go through the oppression with them…they were ALONE. He repeats it twice to show emphasis on this Point (explain how during this period how things were repeated to show emphasis…. See biblical writers could not use techniques such as bold, italics, or font size like we can to help us understand what is important because these were not part of the ancient languages. Instead they often used the structural arrangement of repeated thoughts or phrases to accomplish this emphasis.). During this reconsideration it was impressed upon him just how widespread and depressing man’s inhumanity towards man really was.
Solomon concludes that the oppression is so bad for those who are living that the ones who have passed on are more fortunate because they no longer had to endure the oppression. And the ones that haven’t been are even more fortunate because they didn’t have to see or endure it; This oppression is not an isolated incident many of the prophets preached against it from Ezekiel to Zechariah to Isaiah to Amos.
We can hear through Solomon’s words that he is crying out for justice for the oppressed, as the prophets did. Twice he lamented that no one was able to offer any comfort. He felt frustration that he could not bring an end to the oppression that was occurring and it continues to occur today. I think we can agree that those that oppress are evil…are we unjustly cruel to others? I think if we are honest with ourselves we have all been in situations where we have…are we evil or wise… do we get joy from it or have we gained wisdom from it and changed?
This leads us into verse 4-----Read verse 4.
So our labor and our achievements lead to envy or greed. Our competitive nature, our society teaches us to be and feeds our competitiveness. I think competitiveness can be a form of greed/envy…why do we want to win? Now I am not saying that a competitive nature in and of itself is bad. There is definitely good that comes from competition. There is healthy competition, like when you are playing a game and you are trying your best to win …that’s ok…competition makes us better it’s our motives or our attitudes if we don’t win or our motives for wanting to win. If we really take a close look at our motives, it’s when we want to win for the notoriety…so others with envy us. See either we have envy for something someone else has…in this case notoriety…or we envy something we don’t have that we want so that others will envy us. It’s greed at one level or another we all fall into the temptation of greed or envy. Again are you evil-foolish-or wise when it comes to this.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 12:13-21…read it
The man is greedy, he is laying up treasure for himself on earth…”under the sun”. Jesus warns us in verse 15 by telling us “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness (envy/greed), for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”…and here in Ecclesiastes Solomon is telling us that greed or envy is “vanity and striving after wind”.
Solomon goes on to tell us about two types of attitudes towards work…. Work-which is how we lay up treasures on earth.
Solomon tells us that there are Lazy fools and workaholics in these 2 verses.
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. He is lazy, idle. depending on others to provide for him. When it says he consumes his own flesh…some scholars believe that Solomon is referring to him eating the grain that should be saved for planting. So he is eating himself into destruction…he is losing his capacity to care for himself. Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, Paul tells us in 2Thess 3:11-12 “11 for we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living”….. Here Paul is addressing the foolish…instead of working they were being idle, not only idle, but busybodies (meddling/meddlers). He is encouraging them to work so that they can have the capacity to take care of themselves.
On the flip side in verse 6 we read about a workaholic…because we are told that one hand of quiet…rest…pleasure…is better than two hands full of work and striving after wind.
“two hands full of work and striving” isn’t this the American dream? Climbing the cooperate ladder, working 70-80 hours a week to move up…to get the corner office…to get to the position where the benefits are so abundant that it justifies all that you have given up or sacrificed to get there? Remember the “middle management commercial”
“When I Grow Up,” Monster.com 1999 Super Bowl ad by Mullen Advertising
When I grow up, I want to file all day. I want to claw my way up through middle management. Be replaced on a whim. I want to have a brown nose. I want to be a Yes Man. Yes Woman! Yes sir! Coming sir! Anything for a raise sir! When I grow up…I want to be under appreciated.
. The point of this commercial was to inspire us to climb to the top…basically to have two hands full of work and striving…… we work harder more hours…either to catch the person on the rung above us or to stay one rung above the person below us…. We become a workaholic…grabbing with both fists….See being a workaholic doesn’t all have to be about money or things…it could be about recognition…about appearing successful…either way it’s being foolish not wise! And often leads to being alone…
Talk about being a workaholic…BALANCE… I wasn’t strong enough to make it different…luckily God gave me my wife and family to keep reminding me of my foolishness…I would like to say that I am wise in this area now, but I’m not, well maybe a little bit…but it is still a struggle every day. See it’s not all about the money or the things…it’s also competitiveness. It’s the appearance of being a success. It’s the American Dream.
I want to read some of the lyrics from Casting Crown’s American Dream.
All work no play may have made Jack a dull boy
But all work no God has left Jack with a lost soul
But he's moving on full steam
He's chasing the American dream
And he's gonna give his family finer things
“Not this time son I've no time to waste
Maybe tomorrow we'll have time to play”
Well his American Dream is beginning to seem
More and more like a nightmare
With every passing day
"Daddy, can you come to my game?"
"Oh Baby, please don't work late."
Another wasted weekend
And they are slipping away (not the weekends…the family)
'Cause he works all day and lies awake at night
He tells them things are getting better
Just take a little more time
I'll take a shack on the rock
Over a castle in the sand
Now he works all day and cries alone at night
It's not getting any better
Looks like he's running out of time
'Cause he worked and he built with his own two hands
And he poured all he had in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are coming crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands.
How relevant is this for today? How relevant and straight forward is Ecclesiastes? A couple of the books that I read to prepare said that many people don’t study Ecclesiastes because it is confusing, hard to understand and not as practical compared to other books in the bible…But…I don’t think it gets anymore straight forward than this! Being a workaholic...two hands full of work is striving after the wind…you miss the one handful of quietness…remember Solomon is only looking “under the sun”, and as negative as he is he points out that that “handful of quietness” is not something to overlook, give up or miss out on…see our “American Dream” isn’t the American Dream it was and has been the “Dream” of fools forever…
Look with me at Proverbs 15:16 and 17
16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
than great treasure and trouble with it.
17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it. (Here is Allen’s steak)
Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice.
Better is a little. It doesn’t say you can’t have… we already know laziness is foolish, but better is a little than striving for the American Dream…the fools Dream…and Solomon says it is meaningless.
Solomon goes onto verse 7… this time he tells us that it’s meaningless before he tells us what it is, he wastes no time…you think he is trying to emphasis to us that it is meaningless?… Read verse 7 and 8.
See he is…the person that is toiling…is all alone. He has no son or brother…no family…no one to share with…now does this mean he has no son or brother as in he has never married was an only child or does this mean that he is alone because he has spent all his time working and striving after the wind with two hands full…see his eyes are never satisfied…he doesn’t stop and ponder who he is working for…is he truly alone and therefor toiling and depriving himself of the pleasure of enjoyment or is he working so much…a workaholic…that he has lost his family and therefor has no one to toil for or to leave it to and became alone! Foolish… Again Solomon repeats himself and says it is vanity (meaningless)…either way it is a unhappy business.
See he can eat, he can drink, but he can’t be happy, because he is all alone. He had his priorities messed up, he was foolish…This is not a call to poverty…Solomon is not saying that……but I believe he is telling us to be content….
He is pointing us to two things
The truth about our possession…why do we have them, why do we need them. Possessions are not evil, or foolish in and of themselves. Are we being Wise with our possessions or our desire for possessions?
Secondly---he is warning us about our priorities…do we have our priorities in order…are we aligning our priorities in an evil way, a foolish way or in a Wise way.
Markus Persson is The 36-year-old who created Minecraft and sold it to Microsoft for $2.5 billion in November 2014…let’s put that in perspective that is $152,625 a day for a 5 day work week for 45 years. Or a little over $19,000 an hour.
He bought himself a $70 million mansion in Beverly Hills…he had all the money and possessions a person could dream about in today’s world and yet he was alone. Here are some examples of his tweets…..from August 2015
"The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance."
He also wrote: "Hanging out with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I've never felt more isolated."
Persson explained: "In Sweden, I will sit around and wait for my friends with jobs and families to have time to do stuff, watching my reflection in the monitor."
He added: "Found a great girl, but she's afraid of me and my life style and went with a normal person instead."
From his tweets he sounds a lot like Solomon and what he has been saying…his riches and possessio