When Money Goes Bad
Well good morning. If you need an outline, raise your hand. It will help to have one to follow along. What Scott was just talking about, praying about, what we were singing about, if our desire is that our lives would bring glory to God. I am continually reminded at how quickly I can take the good things he gives me to be used for His glory and use them for other ends, my own agenda, my own advancement, my own desires. And in Ecclesiastes 5, Solomon warns us against that, specifically when we gather for worship. He tells us at the beginning of the chapter if you’re not there you can turn there to Ecclesiastes 5.
If you’re using a seat Bible it’s page 555, (not 666) 555, and he warns us against when you gather for worship how easily we can come with good intentions and end up accomplishing things that are not good. He says offer the sacrifice of fools.
Or intend to use our words for what is good, committing things to God, and then go out and do the opposite. We get easily distracted or diverted from what he is calling us to. That’s what we looked at two weeks ago. Today we’re going to see a big shift in his focus from what happens in gathered worship to what happens in scattered worship. He turns from, at the end of verse 7, fear God, to taking us out into the harsh realities of life, and what does scattered worship look like. And he applies it specifically to work and money. Now money in Ecclesiastes is not viewed as anything bad.
It’s not bad. It’s viewed as a non thing. It’s nothing. It’s like hugging air if you’re seeking money. Now people who hug air are not necessarily bad people. It’s just that they have other problems when you start running around hugging air. And so it is with money. Money is not intrinsically bad. It’s like grits. It tastes like whatever it’s served with.
It’s like real estate. It takes on the value of its neighbors. It is all about location. It’s all about usage. It’s not intrinsically bad or good. When money is used in a way that God intended as a means of exchange, medium of exchange, it can be good. But what Solomon warns us of in Ecclesiastes 5:8-20, the rest of the chapter we’re going to look at today, he warns us of three ways in which money goes bad.
Now let me just give you a warning. There’s some thick stuff in here, and he covers a variety of angles. So if you’re not used to walking through a passage of scripture, then I’m really calling you to give attention to what he says here, like imagining opening up mail that is sent to you from God, a letter to you from God. That’s kind of what we’re doing when we open up the Bible and we’re reading a letter that, even though it was written a long time ago specifically to a different group of people, because it is inspired by the spirit, there are ways in which it directly speaks to us. And so as we move through a passage of Scripture it takes full engagement like you would when you’re reading a letter. Not for me to impose what I want to say or what fits our agenda, but to really hear what God has to say for us today.
As we’ve been praying this week and at our prayer meeting last night that the Spirit of God would take the word of God, his word and apply it specifically to where each of us are right now. That’s exciting. We are about to hear from God. Are we ready? One person’s ready.
Thank you for covering for all of us. At least one. I will not destroy the city if there is one person who will listen. Okay, let’s run with that. Number one, money goes bad when we use it to maintain an unjust system. Money goes bad when we use it to maintain or prop up an unjust system. Look what he says in verse 8, if you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter. For the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. Now notice again the sudden shift, we’re talking in verses 1- 7 about worship, gathered worship, and now we’ve walked out of the church doors into the harsh realities and inequities of life.
Don’t be surprised when you see this. There are pyramids of power – you could describe it as layers of leadership.
Don’t misunderstand this. There’s nothing wrong. He’s not condemning org charts.
You need, you’re going tohave total disarray if you don’t have people who are responsible for other people who are responsible for other people. There are levels of authority, levels of responsibility. All of that is good, can be good, but what he’s talking here is layer after layer of leaders who are looking out for themselves at the expense of the neediest. Do you see that? That’s the connection to money. You have the poor, those who don’t have the resources or the connections, who are being left out, are being overlooked. A couple of big observations from this verse. Notice how number one, each leader can blame the system. One official is watching out for another official. Now theoretically, ultimately, it’s good because you can trace that leadership pyramid all the way up to the top and know that ultimately God is going to hold every leader accountable.
There’s no injustice that will not be made right. We find as Christians great confidence in that, and therefore we don’t freak out. But immediately a lot of injustice can be overlooked when each leader blames the system rather than being accountable for their part. Let me give you a radical example of this.
Adolf Eichmann. He was an SS officer in World War 2. He was specifically responsible for overseeing and managing the trains that transported the Jewish prisoners to the concentration camps to be executed. After World War 2 he managed to escape to Argentina, got his family there, remade himself into a different person, different name, and lived there until 1960. In 1960 some Jewish agents from Israel were able to find him. It’s an amazing story. Argentina was not cooperating at all, and so they had to smuggle him out of the country without the nation knowing it, back to Israel to stand trial for his Nazi crimes. But this is what’s most striking about who he was at his trial.
He was not hideously wicked. He was boringly common. Look at him. Who does he look like? Bing Crosby, doesn’t he? You just want him to break out Mele Kalikimaka or White Christmas or something. And that face is just a picture of his view of himself. He did not view himself as having done anything wrong. He actually viewed himself as a person who would never hurt anyone. As a matter of fact during the war he slapped a Jewish man. He felt so bad he apologized. This is the guy who’s organizing trains that are transporting millions of people to their deaths. What was going on in his head?
As Trueman argues from Eichmann’s perspective, he killed no one. Rather he simply obeyed orders. He inflicted pain on no one. He simply made sure the trains ran on time and that the commandants at the various death camps were ready to receive the deported Jews which he sent their way. He was simply a very efficient worker, a small cog within a large impersonal machine that was simply getting a particular job done. He felt no responsibility for the racist ideology underlying the Final Solution.
Simply obeying orders. And if you look at the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi leader after Nazi leader took that position and probably believed it. Listen to the words of Eichmann shortly before he was executed, arguing for his innocence. He said this: There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders. I was not a responsible leader and as such do not feel myself guilty.
But you were responsible for all the trains that transported the Jews, the Jewish prisoners. How could you not feel any level of responsibility? See this is the danger. When we take on this mindset that I’m just part of this pyramid of power doing my job, obeying the person above me, keeping the other person below me, and they’re doing their jobs well. Mindlessly, mechanically, efficient workers.
This is where as Christians we have great advantage because God commands us to do two things – one to obey our leaders above us, at work, our government officials, but then he clarifies what the motive of that obedience is in Romans 13:5. He says not just because of the wrath of God, not just because we’re afraid of God, but also for the sake of conscience, which is a very interesting statement. As Morris points out, if you imagine obeying for the sake of conscience as going down a road, what he’s warning us of is diversion off to the left into hypocrisy which is essentially saying I do right only when I’m made to.
Only when a police officer is threatening me am I going to do the right thing or going off the other side into complicity and that is I was just doing what I was told to do. “For the sake of conscience” wipes out both of those and communicates that we as followers of Jesus are going to obey our leaders as far as we can go but no further. We’re not going to violate our conscience.
So, when we are called within an unjust system, and by the way every human system is to some extent unjust, right? It’s impossible in this life to create a perfectly just system. But wherever God places us within that – doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the job you work at or the school you study at, with a family you live in the neighborhood. It all has brokenness to it. But he calls us to obey our leaders within those with a conscience.
Not blindly or mechanically doing what we’re told without any reference to what is just or what is right and without any sensitivity to those who have no resources or connections to get justice or pursue righteousness. So each leader ends up blaming the system. Second observation under this same point is each leader tends to cover for the others.
That’s kind of what he means by watched by the higher. There is accountability there, but then there’s also looking out for each other’s backs. So the pyramid of power is self sustaining because those with power simply look out for one another and those without power have no connections. And do we understand that? That poverty is not merely a deficiency of cash but it’s a deficiency of connections. When we have a crisis, someone who is truly poor doesn’t know anybody to call, doesn’t have anybody to reach out to. And therefore they’re truly desperate not within this pyramid of power but really crushed beneath it because they have no access to help.
And the dangerous part of this is that those within pyramids of power rarely recognize it. Right? Because it just seems like business as usual. If we’re within a pyramid of power we just think, well this is just normal. This is the way we do it. Until you’re under the pyramid of power getting squished by it, and then you say, hey, this isn’t feeling normal. I can’t breathe!
But the danger here is when leaders don’t look out for the neediest among us but rather through a good ol’ boy system we seek to maintain existing conditions rather than pursuing what he says here in verse 8, justice and righteousness. This became even more vivid this week as I was flying out to Memphis for MLK50. 50 years ago, Wednesday Dr. Martin Luther King was killed
in Memphis. And so we had had a huge gathering of pastors and ministry leaders who are concerned about race relations. And it was amazing. But it was really interesting reading this passage, knowing I’m going to be speaking on it, as I’m as I’m flying out there and as I’m listening to people talk. For example, do you realize why MLK was in Memphis that week he was shot? He was there organizing people to respond to the unsanitary and unjust working conditions of sanitation
city workers. It was disgusting what they were expected to work in and very dangerous as well. Two men had recently been crushed by this trash compaction machine, crushed to death. And so, they were crying out (These are workers of the city) could you please make this right
and take care of these workers? And what was amazing is there was a man there who was part of City Council 50 years ago when this happened. And he talked about how all of the city officials were finally under pressure to to make some changes. But when Dr. King was shot, everybody went into panic mode, and some of the city officials who previously had supported this legislation that would have brought about better conditions backed off because they were afraid their supporters would not support them. Cries of “If we do this it’s communistic” went out and people panicked. And I think this is what Solomon is talking about.
When I am more interested in maintaining my position in my workplace or as a politician than I am in caring for the neediest among us. Now we’re going to differ on methods. It doesn’t mean we blindly or unwisely take action just to do something. We have to find wise, truly helpful ways that empower people and don’t just create more bureaucracy. But this is helpful for us, isn’t it? Think about where you go to school. And the young people, there are pyramids of power in school. Do you realize that? Kids who are kids who are out, and it’s really easy to look at everybody above you on the pyramid of power and go, “Man those guys are rotten because they’re not looking out for us.” Meanwhile what are you doing for others beneath you?
Same with our workplaces. Having those eyes to see that God has not given me my job merely for me. He’s given it for me. We’ll see that in a little bit. But for more than me. He’s placed me in this position for a reason. Kidner says “Small wonder if the citizen at the bottom of such an edifice found justice a luxury he could not afford. So, money goes bad when we use it to maintain unjust systems. What’s the contrast to this? You’re going to notice
in each of these three points he’ll state what goes bad and then he’ll tell us what true gain is, what is good. Look look at verse 9. But in contrast to this this is gain for a land in every way a king committed to cultivated fields. Now no one has any idea exactly what that is talking about. The Hebrew is really hard to translate. So if you have a variety of translations you’re going to see a variety of interpretations of this verse. Here’s the best shot I can get based on what the passage seems to be saying in the whole context, and it’s this: authorities who value just productivity – that’s cultivated fields – are an advantage to the land, in contrast to what he just described, corrupt bureaucracy but also in contrast to reactive anarchy. You notice he says in verse 8
Do not be amazed. Why? Because we cannot be passive nor can we be delusional because your revolutionary replacement of a current pyramid of power is probably only going to set up another pyramid of power. Did you get that? Read history. One group comes along and says they’re unjust. They’re leaving us out. So, they revolt and they set up a new pyramid of power, just different people are at the top and different people are at the bottom. And that’s what makes Jesus Christ so beautiful.
He is the only one who came as the one who is truly at the top and became a servant, a slave for us that he might flip the pyramid of power but do it in such a way that doesn’t just produce more victims and more injustice. He does it by changing hearts. And if you don’t change the heart. All you’ve done is flip the pyramid of power and different people are going to abuse different people. And it doesn’t solve the problem.
And you see it no matter what country you look at all throughout history. That’s why the change must be from within. So, money goes bad when we use it try to maintain an unjust system. Number 2. Money goes bad when we try to gratify an unsatisfied heart. When we try to gratify an unsatisfied heart. Look at verse 10.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money nor he who loves wealth with his income. This also is vanity. Very simply he is saying the more you get the more you what, yeah, the more you want. Love of money is like lust for porn. You crave to look and every look does not satisfy. It actually increases the craving.
And you’ve got to have more. As Kidner writes, If anything is worse than the addiction money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves. Man with eternity in his heart needs better nourishment than this. So if we try to satisfy our hearts which are wired for eternity with money, which is a medium of utility then then we’re drinking salt water. Our thirst will just continue to increase.
The more you get the more you want. We all know that’s true, right? But we desperately try to prove it’s not true with us. Secondly the more you get the more who want what you have. The more you get the more who want what you have. Look at verse 11. When goods increase they increase who eat them. And what advantage has their owner. But to set them with his eyes, I’m sorry, to see them with his eyes. Basically he’s saying prosperity breeds parasites. The more you get the more people who want what you have.
So last month a judge in New Hampshire ruled that a woman can keep not only her money but her identity secret. You hear about that? This woman won, according to Washington Post, won $560 million dollar Powerball jackpot. She hired a lawyer to sue the state to try to maintain her identity as secret because in New Hampshire, as in most states, the person who wins is required, his or her name must be revealed, the town they won it in and the amount they won. But what her lawyer argued was that this sets her up to be “victimized by the unscrupulous.”
Now I can’t imagine that in our country. And the lawyer goes on to give all these examples of lottery winners who have received bomb threats, nonstop phone calls. Can’t imagine that. Even those without any money get nonstop phone calls. What do you want? I don’t have it. In 2015 Gregory Burch Jr. won almost half a million dollars in Georgia. He was killed in his home by seven masked men. Abraham Shakespeare won $30 million dollars in 2006. Two years later he was approached (this was brilliant) he was approached by a woman who said she is writing a book about people who are hunted down lottery winners and mistreated. She’s writing a book, she wanted to write a book, include him in this book. She won his trust. She became his financial adviser. She siphoned off all his money. He confronted her. She killed him. Story after story.
Some of the pain and loss was self-inflicted. Some was inflicted by other people, but the point is prosperity breeds parasites. So what does true gain look like? Look at verse 12. Sweet is the sleep of a laborer whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
Don’t you hate that this is in the Bible? The monotony and exhaustion of daily work leads to healthy rhythms of nightly sleep. There is something really healthy about working hard throughout the day and going to bed at night tired. I don’t get any amens on that one because many of us when we crawl into bed exhausted we think something is wrong. We’ll do anything if I can just win the lottery. If I could just inherit some money, I wouldn’t have to work. Solomon is arguing that would be a curse not a blessing. There is a blessing to going, rolling up your sleeves and going to work and coming home so tired you have to plop into bed and you fall asleep. In contrast to that the rich man is full of food but void of rest. His sedentary lifestyle can’t catch up with sleep. It’s too slow. Sweat is better than Ambien. I’m not, neither is Solomon ignoring the fact that people can’t sleep for a variety of reasons.
Some people have insomnia because of thyroid issues, some people anxiety issues. But generally speaking he is saying hard working people sleep well. There’s something about that that helps slumber. Notice the contrast between that and the delusion that if I could just get enough money to take a break, to never work again. He is saying be careful what you wish for.
Number 3. Money goes bad when we try to ensure an undisturbed future, when we try to ensure an undisturbed future. Verse 13 there is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun. Riches were kept by their owner to his hurt and those riches were lost in a bad venture, and he is father of a son but has nothing in his hand. So what Solomon does here is a case study.
The scenario here is so common that Solomon refuses to leave it as speculation and tells it as a well-known story. And the words he uses are referring to legitimate gain. He’s not questioning the mode of earning the money. He’s not even questioning his investment of the money. The word venture that’s used there is a general word for business. He’s not gambling in Vegas. He’s not buying wheat futures. He worked hard, he saved his money, he invested it wisely and it disappeared. Worst nightmare for an American worker.
And essentially this cost this man twice. He sacrificed but didn’t consume all that he earned. He sacrificed through saving and then he lost it immediately, totally. So that’s the case study. But notice he expands this beyond a mere case study in verse 15. It’s more than a case study. As he came from his mother’s womb,
he shall go again naked as he came, and he shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry in his hand. This is a grievous evil. Just as he came so should he go and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all these days he eats in darkness and much vexation in sickness and anger. Because most of us when we hear stories like this we’re like Yeah, there are losers that do stuff like that. They work hard. They invest, not as wisely as I would, but they lose it all. And they end up in despair.
But what Solomon is saying, this is not an outlier. This isn’t some guy who happened to go through a hard time. This is a universal story. Every single one of us came into this world butt naked, and every one of us are going to leave butt naked, and we’re not going to take anything with us. It’s a universal story of work and save and lose it all. Are we clear on that?
If you settle that right from the beginning, there’s a freedom there that comes. Well Solomon doesn’t look at it as freedom. Look at verse 16. He calls it a grievous evil. That’s so wrong. Somebody worked so hard and they can’t even pack a suitcase for their funeral? Nothing. Not even a toothbrush.
That is so against the way we think. Look at the Egyptian pharaohs packing everything they can in their pyramids so they’ll have something. But Solomon is lamenting the fact that yes, we do live in a broken world, and there is massive injustice, and a person who fights against this and deludes himself or herself into thinking I’m going to be different is going as verse 17 says to eat in darkness, vexation, sickness and anger which is an amazing description.
The person’s condition is so lamentable that no matter what angle you look at – environmentally darkness, emotionally sadness, physically sickness, relationally bitterness. No matter what angle you look at in this person’s life who is fighting this reality, it’s a pitiful condition. When you try to use money to ensure your future, you are setting yourself up for true loss. Now he is not negating why saving.
He’s not saying if you have a savings account you’re automatically doing that. We know our hearts, and anxiety on the dashboard of our life is a blinking warning that we are trusting in our money when we fear that economic downturn, when we stay up at night worried or sacrifice important things or fail to respond to the Spirit when he says to do something different with the money. It’s a warning that we’re trying to do this, and it never ends well. So, what is true gain?
Verses 18-20 summarize not just this point but the whole passage. Look what he says. Behold what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find (notice the words that are going to be repeated) enjoyment, toil. And all the tool with which one toils under the sun. Woah, toil and enjoyment are together here. Under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone else to whom God has given wealth and position possessions and the power to enjoy them and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil. This is the gift of God, for he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy
in his heart. Here’s a summary. When we enjoy working and using our money as gifts from God, we experience true gain. This is true gain. You can have somebody that barely has anything and is receiving what they have and working hard and enjoying it from God and using it for his glory. And you can have somebody that had massive resources that is hoarding, fearing, failing to rest. So in summary if we try to use our money to prop up an unjust system, if we try to use our money to satisfy or gratify an unsatisfied heart, if we try to use our money to protect ourselves to guarantee an undisturbed future it’s like we are jumping out of an airplane with a parachute made of Kleenex.
It is not going to hold us. It’s like going to a gunfight with a knife, taking a knife to a gunfight. Money can’t do what you want it to do for you. And brothers and sisters, we live in the richest country in the history of the world. We need this word.
We need to hear it now and often. You can’t just run out today having heard this once and feel like you’ve got this. This is something we need to marinate in, we need to work over. Some of us need to go home and listen to this again and soak in this passage and say, God what are you saying to me right now in my life where I am? The question I think that’s most helpful that we could think about as we try to tie together, I know I’ve covered a lot, but as we try to tie this together I think it’s simply, very simply the question, why has God given me what I have?
Whether it’s little or much, why has he given it to me? And by what you have I don’t just mean money, job, relationships, connections. All that you have. Why has he given it to you? And I think the big thing is you don’t need to feel guilty. We don’t need to feel guilty. I feel so guilty that I chose to be born in America. Like last time I checked you didn’t have a choice if you were born here or weren’t. You really didn’t. Which does a couple of things. One, it should humble you and two, it you cause us to look to God and say God you know what you’re doing. You’ve given me what you’ve given me, little or much, and I want to be able to use it to help the neediest among among us to enjoy what you’ve given me.
Look at the way Paul summarizes this. He brings all these ideas together in 1 Timothy 6:17. I’ll put it on screen. As for the rich in this present age, and I’m going to argue that pretty much everybody in this room compared to people in our world would fall into the category of rich, right? If you’re not fighting for a cup of water on a given day and a handful of rice, you’re pretty rich, relatively speaking. So as for the rich in this present age charge them not to be haughty nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but on whom? on God the giver who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. It’s not wrong to enjoy what he’s given us. It’s actually wrong not to. So, this false guilt, that doesn’t help anybody.
Thank you, God. But then look at the shift. He’s giving us this to enjoy. But then our minds are always thinking about this. Hey how can I do good day, dare to do good, to be rich and good works, to be generous and ready to share thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future.
That’s our guarantee on the future. Not our savings account, but our eternal account. So that they may take hold of that which is truly life. That’s really living. Really living. This is what Jesus came to give us. He both washes away the idols in our hearts where we try to take his gifts and turn them into gods. And his gifts can’t be gods. They cannot provide security. They cannot do what we need them to do or want them to do for us. They will promise and not deliver.
So, the grace of Christ opens our eyes to the idols we try to make of his good gifts. But then he calls us to use them, to enjoy them and to use them for the benefit of the common good with eyes to see those who aren’t in the pyramids of power and to help and serve and speak for those who have no voice, represent those who have no connections, empathize with those who have no one to pity them.
Where does that come from? That comes from Christ who did that for us. We didn’t have any connections. We couldn’t make our own hearts right with God. He came. He became a slave to free slaves from sin so that we could become children of God. And now we look around the world and we have eyes to see the hurting and we receive the good gifts he gives us to be used for his glory. What a calling. What a calling.
Father we praise you, we praise you for sending Jesus. We thank you that you did not treat us like we so often treat others, blind to the need, bound up in our own agendas. Thank you that you looked at what we really needed and gave yourself for us so that we could be free from the bondage of sin, no longer worshipping idols of status and stuff. Free to enjoy what you have given us and to use it for the good of others. Lord we praise you for that. Jesus you are better than anything – anything we could ever earn, anything we could ever create. You are the ultimate gift, and I pray for anyone in this room who doesn’t know you Lord. Spirit open their eyes. Open their eyes. You are what we need. We thank you in Jesus name.