Obstacles to Joyful Work – Part 1
Good morning church.
For those of you who may not know me my name is Ryan Ferguson. I’m one of the elders here and my role is primarily over at the Northwest campus who are in the middle or near the end of their gathering across town, so I am glad to be over here. I haven’t been over since December. So, it’s always good to come back and open God’s word with you.
As Dwight Schrute would say, “Question: What is the connection between Ecclesiastics 3 and 4 and American Ninja Warrior?” Before we answer that question let’s make sure we all know what American Ninja Warrior is. So, watch this for about one minute.
“It’s a place no American has ever been at. The top of Mount Midoriyama. The world’s toughest obstacle course. This is about as big a competition as there is anywhere. There is no greater obstacle course challenge.
Once again hundreds of hopefuls are going to give it their best shot. I will be I will be. I’m going to be the first the first American Ninja Warrior. They’ll travel from across the country I’m from Brooklyn New York Arkansas Orlando Florida Seattle Washington. Incredible athletes. I played for Seattle Seahawks hub and I’ve been to the last two Super Bowls. I am a member of Team USA. An everyday hero. I’m an ensign in the United States Navy. I’m a special education teacher. I’m an ER physician. They’ll do anything for a chance. I’ve been in line for a little over 4 days. I’ve been in line for 5 days. All hoping to do the impossible. Conquer the course. I want to prove everyone wrong. I know what I’m capable of and I know that I could surprise people with what I’ll do. It’s become more than just a hobby it’s really now like a way of life.
So American Ninja Warrior is a sports competition program. It’s been on TV for about ten seasons since 2009. As you can tell it is a whole bunch of contestants trying to make their way through really difficult obstacle courses and they have to qualify in a regional city to go to Las Vegas to challenge the great big course. Of the thousands who have tried to get on TV of the hundreds who have, and of those who have actually made it to Las Vegas only two individuals have ever been able to finish mount Midoriyama. And as the one guy said it’s really interesting that it is no longer just a hobby. It’s become a way of life. Moving through obstacles to a goal is a way of life. In Ecclesiastes 3 and 4 the preacher the author he gives us a goal and it’s to believe this from Ecclesiastes is 3:11. He has made, God has made everything beautiful in its time and Peter’s been walking us through that for a couple of weeks. This big declaration no matter what we see God has made everything beautiful in its time. And if that’s true, the author concludes in chapter 3:12 and 13, I perceived that there is nothing better for them.
(the worker or mankind) than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live. Also, that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil. This is God’s gift to man. If God is making everything beautiful in its time, he’s saying there’s nothing better for us than to actually live our lives and enjoy them. He says it again Ecclesiastes 3:22.
So, I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work for that is his lot who can bring him to see what will happen after him. So, the connection between Ecclesiastes 3 and 4 an American Ninja Warrior is this. Both have goals, and both have admitted obstacles to those goals.
They want to get to the end of a big obstacle course. Good for them. They have to get through obstacles. We want to get to the point of believing God has made everything beautiful in its time. That is a filter that will change the way we look at the world.
And the author as Peter said raises objections to his own conclusion. He gives us several and in chapter four over the next two weeks we’re going to look at several of these objections. And maybe you already have objections as to why it is hard to believe that are hard to rejoice in your work. I thought of these.
How can I rejoice in my work? I hate my job. How can I take joy in the toil of cleaning my room? I hate cleaning. How can I take joy in parenting? I stink at it and my kids are difficult. How can I take joy in the good toil that is marriage? Because it’s work and it’s hard.
So, let me start off with one little clarifying statement about this whole God making everything beautiful in its time, rejoicing in our work. The only way the only way that will ever work for us is if we begin with the fundamental belief that what God has given us today is a gift. like your work, your toil, your stuff that you have to do today is God’s gift.
And if you view it as anything other it’s going to be really difficult to believe God’s going to make everything beautiful when it’s time. And it’s going to be really hard to rejoice in this. But knowing it’s from God, that your work your toil is from God changes it. And here’s the beauty of Ecclesiastes. It is consistently and brutally honest. But he says this is the goal. I want you to believe this. I want you to live this way. Now here are all the objections I have to my conclusion. He lets us in to see it. It’s not an exhaustive list.
There are others, but it’s a good one. So, what are the potential obstacles to joyful work, to believing that God will make everything beautiful in its time? We’re going to look at those, two
this week, 3 next week together from Ecclesiastes 4. So right before I’m going to reread that text, I want to make sure we understand one thing about the way the author of Ecclesiastes writes about his language, because he makes some really bold harsh hard claims in this chapter. And if we lack the ability to frame it, then we can actually risk missing his point and walking away further discouraged. So, here’s my question. Have you ever made a ridiculously broad statement?
I get a big overgeneralization. It happens all the time. You see the irony there? You’re welcome. I worked hard on that. So, I’ll just give you some. I just want you to get some examples where I mean here. My friends who know me well know that I am by nature a very warm natured person and have probably heard me at some point over the years saying, “It is a billion degrees here.” The fact that I’m not vaporized shows that that’s not an accurate measurement of the temperature.
Practically before every meal I will make the statement I am starving. Now my girth communicates that that’s not an accurate description of my food intake. I’m technically not starving. I’m good. I could live off the land for a while. How about how about this classic in in arguments between people. You always do that. Or you never do that. You know we lob those light grenades you know. Is it ever true? No but
I’m not saying broad general generalizations are bad. They actually can be, if done kindly as the author does, very helpful. Broad generalizations often lead us to a specific point, and that’s what the author does in here. He wants us to see something that’s really specific. So, my kids often say we never go out to eat. Check my bank account. We do.
Their point is more often than not we have to eat it home. So, the author when we hear some of these generalizations, will you guys walk with me, kind of that mindset of okay, big broad generalization but he wants me to think about something. He wants to make a specific point.
That’s what the wisdom writers do. So, let’s one more time listen to this text and see if you can kind of pick up on these two objections to believing God is making everything beautiful in its time. Ecclesiastes 4, I’ll begin at 1. Again, I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun and behold the tears of the oppressed and they had no one to comfort them. On the side of their oppressors there was power. And there was no one to comfort them.
And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive but better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Then I saw that all toil and all skill and work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also his vanity and striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Obstacle number one, oppression without comfort. As we attempt to race towards having joy in our work and believing that God will make everything beautiful in its time, we’re going to have difficulty, the author tells us, doing that because all around us in the world there is oppression without comfort.
The preacher is lamenting the condition of the world, both those who have power and those who don’t. And it seems like he pities them both. I think for us a really important refrain that is used twice in this passage he says, there’s no one to comfort them. There’s no one to comfort them. This isn’t passage just about oppression alone.
Oppression of any kind is terrible. Don’t misunderstand me. But in this case, he’s making a deeper observation. What he’s really struggling with, what’s getting in between him and believing that God will make everything beautiful in its time. What’s getting between him and rejoicing in the toil that he has today is that oppression happens and there’s not even anyone there to provide comfort. That’s the world that he lived in.
The preacher’s idea of oppression is causing trouble to someone, extorting someone. It’s an abuse and misuse of power. The crushing reality of oppression is that the power that exists to help is the power that’s being used to harm. Oppression is more than a bad person doing something bad to someone.
No oppression is when someone has power that they could exert to better someone’s life, and instead of doing that they use that same power to bruise someone. That’s why it’s so hard to make our way through oppression. As the preacher describes oppression, he calls the victims of that the oppressed, which is a really interesting descriptor.
It’s the crushed, those whose tears flow heavily. The preacher allows us now into an emotional lament about the condition of this world. Everywhere the preacher looks he sees people weeping under the destructive use of power. The world has changed little since the preacher penned this letter. You don’t have to look too hard. Scandals right now in our country and the entertainment, political, educational and sports world.
Political issues like we heard about several weeks ago. For those of you were here we, sent Allan Scherer over to our partners in Ethiopia because of just the unrest in Ethiopia. Think of names that are floating around like Harvey Weinstein, Michigan State University, United States Gymnastics Association.
Television hosts all acting with power to oppress people for their own means.
People are being oppressed, abused, hurt and silenced. And for the author it’s like and there’s no one there who even cares. And he seems haunted by the fact that there’s no one there to comfort. No one there to provide relief. That word comfort can communicate the concept that the preacher sees no one stepping up to the oppressed and simply saying I’m sorry this happened to you. He doesn’t even have that as he’s looking at what’s going on. He’s asking why isn’t someone just saying I’m sorry. You know just as a side, note this passage has really led me to think about that idea of comfort, which is a big theme in Corinthians that we have comfort to give away. Never underestimate the power of a simple, I’m so sorry that happened to you.
The author is lamenting its absence in a middle of oppression. He’s not even in one sense one of the hard things years he’s not even talking about stopping oppression. He’s just merely making an observation about it and saying, no one is saying I’m sorry. When we do that to someone, that simple I’m sorry can be a salve, and its absence here seems to magnify the misery that people are in.
The preacher then hits us with his first broad generalization. This is what he concludes after talking about oppression without comfort. The dead are better off than the living and non-existence is the best. Welcome to North Hills this morning. Be encouraged. So, he goes, if this is what life’s like, this is what it looks like under the sun. Remember the author is always talking about a view of life that’s under the sun. It’s this world here. If this is what it’s like, then then I’m out. I’m better off dead.
Oppression without comfort has the ability not just to rob us of our view of God making everything beautiful in its time or rejoicing in our work in this moment. It has the ability to rob us of the view of life itself. If people are starving around the world and governments come in and siphon off that money.
Or as you see as Allan reported to us from Ethiopia, you have a government of a tribe that’s ruling in Ethiopia and to handle the civil unrest they’re creating these fake rallies for other tribes. And when those tribes show up to their rallies, they are killing them. If that type of oppression is going on around the world, if women pursuing a career in acting have to serve men to get cast, if young athletes are put into the position to be under predators, then the preacher here is broad generalization. He is exaggerating to the fullest extent and saying I don’t want to be part of this world and I don’t want to bring life into this world.
So, what do we do with that? It’s stark. It’s startling. It’s hard. And how does that connect to believing God makes everything beautiful in its time and rejoicing in our work? So, what I think his thoughts here do is it makes us look at ourselves. It’s an honesty check. And I think it makes us must see three things.
First, we must see the world accurately. That that’s one of the things about Ecclesiastes. It doesn’t, and I think the scriptures in general the scriptures can be attacked a lot. But they’re honest. It’s a holy book that’s honest. We can’t hide our heads in the sand. We can’t just endure the daily grind with joy and ignore what’s going on. Oppressors are real people. And the weird thing is we are really quick to make the oppressors everyone out there.
We’re not. That part isn’t about us. I don’t oppress people in my business. I just make every dime I can. I don’t oppress tenants where I rent. That’s other people. No, to see the world accurately we could be the oppressors. To see the world accurately we must see that the oppressed are real people today who lack power are being misused by tyrants.
We must see that the absent comforter is desperately needed for those who are crying in the midst of oppression. I think we can come face to face with this reality of oppression in our world and there not being comfort and not conclude that death or non-existence is the best answer. We can conclude based on Ecclesiastes that God has crafted us for work and calls us to work and that our work isn’t disconnected from the oppression. Our work can actually be part of providing relief for oppression.
We can joyfully work knowing we have a bigger calling than just providing for ourselves. It’s not just about me. My identity is not just in what I’m doing here. This gift that I’ve been given, this calling of work of toil. I can rejoice because it’s way bigger than me.
So, we have to see the world accurately. We have to see God’s justice accurately. Here’s what’s hard about this oppression section right here is he didn’t include anything about God’s justice because he’s just making us think big broad generalization. This world is terrible. Why live in it? But we want to make sure that even in moments like this we take we take a look at it through the lens of the whole story of the Bible.
And for us to be able to believe God’s making everything beautiful in its time, so tomorrow I’m going to rejoice in the toil that God puts in my hands. We have to see that in these cases of oppression our God is a God of justice. Let’s paint a portrait of that type of God from his words not mine.
Quite bluntly oppressors of any kind should fearfully consider God’s justice. Proverbs 22:22 and 23, Do not rob the poor because he is poor. Don’t rob the powerless because he is powerless or crush the afflicted at the gate. For the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.
Do not take advantage of the poor. God has his eyes on them. He will plead their cause. He’s their lawyer. Jeremiah 22:1-5. Thus, says the Lord go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word and say hear the word of the Lord O king of Judah who sits on the throne of David, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates. Thus, says the Lord, do justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow nor shed innocent blood in this place.
Now God is going to set up two divine if then statements. Number one. For if you will indeed obey this word then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people.
But if you will not obey these words, do justice, righteousness, watch out for the afflicted, the oppressed. If you won’t, I swear by myself declares the Lord. God oaths his own name. I swear by my self says the Lord that this house shall become a desolation. God’s people are clearly warned to be deliverers from oppression and not oppressors.
God’s justice demands it. Again, Jeremiah paints another portrait of God and His justice. In Chapter 50:33 and 34, Thus says the Lord of hosts the people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them all who took them captive have held them fast. They refuse to let them go. Great transition. Their Redeemer is strong. I love that line. When it comes to oppressed people the Redeemer, the great Redeemer is strong. He’s not a weak redeemer. He’s a great One. Who is he? The Lord of hosts is his name. The Redeemer is the God of the armies. He will surely plead their cause, lawyer language again, that he may give rest to the earth.
God will make everything beautiful in its time. Through justice, he will bring rest, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon, unrest to the oppressors. Perhaps there’s no better picture of God’s oppression-delivering justice than Jesus. And Luke 4 it says this. Jesus is proclaiming this.
This is a radical declaration. Jesus is quoting the Old Testament and saying, what I’m saying, it’s about me. This is me. Jesus says the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has set me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus and God through justice took care of the greatest oppression any of us will ever face. That’s the oppression of sin of being separated from God. But through Jesus that gap, that gap of oppressor and oppressed is bridged and Jesus died for them all.
It’s not just that that spiritual reality exists, and we ignore today what’s going on in our world. No because that’s true, my eyes are actually opened to those who are oppressed. I see oppressors and now I get to mimic Jesus in the way that I live my life and bring freedom to the oppressed.
We have to see God’s justice accurately to believe that he’ll make everything beautiful in his time. We talked about this a little bit. You have to see your work accurately. Your toil, what you put your hand to, your job, your roles. Do you see that each day?
Today is God’s gift to you and what you do in it. You could be an elementary school kid who loves Jesus and you’re doing your homework with a way bigger mindset than other people in your class. Why? Because God gifted you your homework today. I’m really sorry to all you kids that I just said that in front of your parents that’s your gift. And guess what. Your mom and dad are trying to figure out how to view gifts that they have in their day just like you are your homework. For some of them it’s their job.
You know what? That’s God’s gift to you today too. See it accurately. It’s more. Back in February over at Northwest Ben Drechsler plays the piano and sings. He led worship and he and I were having a conversation after church because he led a song that had this phrase in it that we repeated, establish the work of our hands. We’re looking at God and saying, establish or make strong the work of our hands, what we actually do. Ben is a dentist, and this is what he said to me. He said that really heightens my view of being a dentist.
I love that. God, establish the work of my hands. This is your gift to me today. With that ability to see that we can see that our work is God’s gift to us that he can go places, it has meaning.
It goes beyond just us and our stuff. It can be part of stopping oppression. It can provide relief. Think of what you guys have been part of here at North Hills helping Praveen in India to save kids from child slavery. Compassion kids, literally over 100 and some Compassion kids at North Hills. Years ago, we helped Sudan, Piedmont Women’s Center, orphan and widow, fostering and adopting. We’ve got a family right now. She typically helps in translating and sign language over here. They’re adopting a girl in China who’s deaf because Eric is deaf, and Kelly knows sign language, and they’re there over there right now. That’s what this is. It’s more like Eric goes to work I has two jobs. He goes to work for WAY bigger reason than his job. I think he sees it accurately. This is something. Yeah, I go to work but I go to work for my family. I can work because God gift in this.
And now I don’t even have much, but I’m going to bring her over here. You have to see it accurately. Martin Luther King Jr. said this, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people. Let’s move towards our goal.”
Let’s go into the obstacle course if I can beat this metaphor to death for the rest of our time together. And work through this idea of oppression without comfort. Obstacle number two. Envy and laziness. Envy and laziness will come in between you and believing that God makes everything beautiful in its time. Envy and laziness are the entrance and exit to the same obstacle on the course. They’re the front and the back of a really difficult trial.
They are the opposite extremes to each other. The preacher says it this way. Then I saw that all toil and all skill and work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better as a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind. Envy is not a confusing term I think that’s a well-known kind of cultural word. It’s jealousy and zeal for something that you want that someone else already has.
And Solomon comes through with his great broad generalization and says all the success in the world and all the skill in the world comes from envy. All of it. Did you feel absorbed by that statement? Because he’s looking at all of us and saying hey, all you do and all you do well comes from envy.
Derek Kidner helps us a bit here. He’s a really wise guy who wrote a commentary on this. He says this. Verse 4 must not be pressed too hard, for this writer like any other must be free to make his points vigorously. So Kidner is basically saying, let the guy make his really broad generalizations. And then he continues by saying this. We may quibble if we will and remind him of such people as solitary castaways or needy peasants who toil simply to keep alive. Or those artists who really love perfection for its own sake. But the fact remains that all too much of our hard work and high endeavor is mixed with the craving to out shine or not to be outshone, even in friendly rivalry this may play a larger part than we think. For we can bear to be outclassed for some of the time and by some people but not too regularly or too profoundly. I could take you having stuff that I don’t have. I can take that. But after a while I’m going to reach a limit.
To feel oneself a failure is to discover in one’s soul the envy that the preacher detects here, and its pathetic form of resentments nursed, and grievances enjoyed. Those last four or five words you can just feel envy. My resentments nursed. I can’t believe they have that stuff.
Why did they get to have that stuff? I can’t believe. I bet they’re wearing it on purpose to let me know. They bought that house just to show me that they have it. And they chew on it and chew on it.
Not everyone would agree with the preacher’s view of envy in our culture. Dr. Marsha Reynolds writes the following in Psychology Today. Both jealousy and envy are natural emotions. Small amounts of jealousy can actually keep a relationship together or inspire attentive actions. Envy can motivate action. Both emotions come from primal instincts that serve to protect ourselves, our families and our possessions. Envy is about coveting something you don’t have. The person you envy has what you want. The more unfair you think the situation is the more you will find ways to demean the person you envy. Then instead of working to achieve more you justify the reasons for staying in an inferior situation. If we embrace our emotions whatever they are we can learn from them. They are there to teach us and help us make major life decisions. Envy can open up doors you never saw or were afraid to walk through before. Jealousy can lead you to treasure things and people you might have taken for granted. What lessons has your jealousy or envy taught you? In a very odd way and in a very specific way the author agrees a little. Did I edge that enough?
Remember it’s brutally honest. Ecclesiastes. He doesn’t deny that envy can make you work. But he doesn’t deny that envy can actually get you what you want. It gets your goals. But here’s where we really break off from Ms. Reynolds. Envy will never ever leave a person with a sense of satisfaction and contentment. You will never really rejoice in your work because there’s always someone else that you have to get what they have.
You’re never done. You’re always going after the next thing. The next part, what they have, their house, their car, their stuff. It never leads to joy. The preacher’s broad generalization allows us to see how subtle this is. I mean envy as a motivator, envy as your motivator for work will work about as well as going on a donut-only diet to lose weight. I like the sound of that. I’m giving that a whirl. It won’t work. Trust me.
It won’t get there but in our brains nobody is going on the doughnut only diet as much fun as it would be. Why? Because we know it won’t work. We can look at envy, that feeling of you have what I want. We can look at that. Is that ever really going to lead to a place of contentment and joy in what we’re doing? I don’t think so.
It’s so subtle when we review our daily work, our checklist, our striving for excellence which are all great things we probably won’t see envy in a really obvious way. Maybe some of us will. Envy plays hide and seek. It’s a really ugly thing that puts on a really beautiful mask and instead of it being envy it’s, well I just have some high goals to achieve some other things. And that might be true, but where’s it coming from? What’s driving that?
The line I think between appreciating what other people have, even things that we want, and envy is much finer than we’d like to admit. The preacher then warns us against another extreme response to work, and he does a whiplash transition here from envy to laziness and he accomplishes that by writing a proverb. And he says this. The fool folds his and eats his own flesh. Folding of the hands, that’s an image that’s used a couple of times in the book of Proverbs to describe laziness. So instead of, as my granddad probably would have said instead of putting your hand to the plow, or as my dad used to say alright buddy let’s go outside. We’ve got some work to do. Let’s get our hands dirty. Or instead of building up calluses on your hands, the fool he just folds his hands. The hands are so tired they need to rest against each other. Just exhausted.
We all fold hands at one point we’ll take a nap on a Sunday we’ll get into a hammock we’ll sit in a beach chair and hear the sound of the surf and just lay there and rest. Nothing wrong with that. The difference between that and the fool in Ecclesiastes 4 is his hands are perpetually folded. There’s indents where his fingers meet. They never pull apart. I have a really good friend of mine who is in property services, so he can fix and do anything in the whole realm of construction. He can do all of that. So sometimes when we go to lunch, if you look at his hands, one day they’ll have paint on them the next day they’ll have some grease on the back, and they’re all gnarled. They’ve got little dings on them. Sometimes when he shows up for lunch a finger will be wrapped in electrical tape because, who needs a band aid when you’ve got electrical tape? It’s what you really use. Those are hands that are unfolded hands. They’re doing something. Solomon is poetically mocking lazy people by picking on their position. He’s going after them.
And it’s not about manual labor. It’s about our mindset towards work. How do you view work in general? I told this story in the first service saw so I’ll probably do it for the rest of the day. But this whole idea of work. My family is in a season of life where we’re thinking about work a lot. My son is 15, and he just got his first job where he’s working. And it’s not normal for a teenager to work, to get a job, to show up, be on time, do your task. It’s not normal. Very few of his friends have jobs.
So, the idea of working culturally for us I think this is fair, and if I’m overstepping this is just me, this isn’t the text. I’m just giving an observation. I feel like we’re getting further and further away from a mindset of work as God’s gift to us. It’s kind of more a culture of, I want to get to all the other gifts that aren’t work. So, I’m going to do the work thing to get to the gifts thing. But work is pre-fall.
Right? Work existed before the fall of man. Before sin we worked. It’s God’s gift to us. And it seems the lazy misses that point. So the mindset of the envious could be to work as hard as possible because of what someone else possesses. They’re going to do whatever they have to do to possess and have that. The lazy man, the guy with folded hands, he takes the exact opposite approach towards work. He is not motivated whatsoever.
This isn’t a gift. This isn’t something I want to do. And the image that the proverb gives here is very, it’s disturbingly graphic if you think about it. He folds his hands to the point where he won’t even eat. He doesn’t feed himself. So, he ends up starving himself by not working. So, then the preacher summarizes a response for both the envious and the lazy by writing another proverb. And it’s another better than proverb. He says this.
Better is a handful of quietness, of peace than two hands full of toil and a striving after the wind. If you open up a cookie jar, and sorry that a lot of my illusions are about food. It just struck me. If you have you have you ever seen a kid with a cookie jar that’s open, and they try to do the double hand and then they can’t get their hands up. Like they’re kind of stuck in the jar. But the mindset is, I’ve got to get everything I can get out of there. I’m going in, two hands, full load. then they just pick up the jar and they’re stuck, and they can’t get out.
It’s a little bit of that humorous part in this proverb. What do you really want in life? Do you want this handful and your life is full of peace? Or do you want these hands full, and it’s striving, meaningless work. And it’s the same answer for both envious and the lazy. It’s a wrap up for both of them. So how can the envious and lazy turn and believe God will make everything beautiful in its time? How does the envy go from this? It’s not God making everything beautiful, it’s me. Or how does the lazy go from folded hands, I don’t even care if life’s beautiful.
I’m not doing it. What do they do? The proverb seems to say the envious must rejoice in their work moving from two hands full to one handful. They must see that living in a contented manner is of greater value than pursuing what everybody else has that they want. Rejoice in the work that God has given you. Take joy in what you have. Do good to all people.
Eat and drink and take pleasure. For this is God’s gift for you. This is it. One handful with peace. The lazy, they have to move from two empty folded hands to one handful of rejoicing work. The lazy have to see that they have been called to rejoice in work by actually doing it. They have to move towards discovering the gift that God gives us in work.
They have to find in that action a contentment that work is not evil. It’s not the enemy. It is in fact spiritually glorious and it’s a gift from God Almighty Himself. Phil Ryken summarizes the section beautifully when he says this as toil can be all consuming envy. I’m going to do everything I can, so idleness is self-cannibalizing. Which of these errors is more of a temptation for you?
So, let that question hang for a second. If you look at your work or lack of work, your attitude towards work. Where does it come from?
Maybe you are tempted to envy what other people have and then wear yourself out trying to get it. Or maybe you think you’re above all of that. You have such a negative attitude about work that sometimes you avoid it altogether. Either way the preacher has some good advice. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
So North Hills Church, I believe that the section of Ecclesiastes 3 and 4 is an invitation to us as a people. Will we believe, will we submit to the reality that God will make everything beautiful in its time, and then will we respond to that by tomorrow or this afternoon? What your hands have to do, take joy. There is nothing better. There’s no better conclusion for you than to enjoy what God’s given you. Why? Because he’s making everything beautiful in its time.
Rejoicing in our work. Believing God is making everything beautiful. It’s not as elusive as finishing an obstacle course. Especially when God has given us the course map. So, let’s lean in this week to rejoicing in our work, your life your work is a gift from God.
Let’s pray. Father I do pray that reality over us this Ecclesiastes 3 and 4. God has made everything beautiful in its time. So, God what I’d love to do right now is to pray for anyone who as I just said that is as they’ve heard that statement, whether Peter said it in the past weeks or me today, the objections that rise up against that.
Yeah but what about this? What about this? God would you make yourself through your Spirit so known to us as a people that we can combat the objections, that we can make our way through the obstacles, to have quiet, peaceful lives in which we work in a quiet, dignified way? Would you make that true of all of us that gather as a family at North Hills Church?
I pray this in your name Amen.