The Teacher returns to the topic of wealth. Perhaps we have not believed the lessons that he has taught concerning the pursuit of wealth and the abundance of wealth. As we have noted in many lessons, this is a journal recording the Teacher’s observations about life under the sun. Through more observations, the Teacher feels compelled to speak to us again about our perception of wealth.
The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. (5:10; HCSB)
There is no satisfaction in wealth. A person who loves money and loves wealth simply will not be satisfied. The Teacher has repeatedly told us that we will not be happy by having more wealth. We will not be happy by having a higher salary. If you think that you would be happier by having more total wealth or by being paid more each year, you are sorely mistaken. Notice that the Teacher deals with both aspects: total wealth and income (what you make). The increase of either will not bring happiness.
The Teacher wants to help us see our problem. Are you unhappy with the amount of wealth you currently have? Are you unhappy with the amount of income you are currently receiving? Then here is the big warning: you are at high risk of being a lover of money. The red flag has been raised that you could have a problem.
Money can buy the comforts of earth, but not contentment. This is futility because you never will be happy. You will never find lasting satisfaction by having more wealth. When you acquire more wealth, you will realize that you want even more. When we get a pay raise, does that make us content? Perhaps for the moment, but then we want more. When will we say that we have enough? How much does it take to satisfy us? It is always “a little bit more than what we have.” There is no satisfaction in wealth or income. The thing that the person loves brings no lasting joy.
When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? (5:11; NRSV)
There is another problem with wealth. Acquiring more money means that more is spent. There are two reasons for this. One reason is that more people eat the increase. People come out of the woodwork needing gifts and loans because you have money. This is a grievous thing because the person who has increased in wealth is not able to enjoy it. Leeches comes out with their hands extending wanting money. The owner simply gets to watch the money leave his pocket.
The second reason is that the more money we make the more we spend. As humans, we often do not enjoy the cushion of a pay raise. Rather, because we have a pay raise, we decide we can buy more things, placing ourselves under more monetary obligations. I will never forget what happened in the National Basketball Association about 10 years ago. There was a lockout in the basketball league as the players wanted the salary cap raised while owners did not want to give out such lofty pay increases. At that time, Patrick Ewing, a great basketball center for the New York Knicks, was the players’ representative. He was asked in an interview why the players’ association was asking for so much more money. His response: “As players we make a lot of money, but we also spend a lot of money.” This perfectly represents the problem. Here are people making millions of dollars each year. We would like to think that if we had millions of dollars that this would be all we need. But those who make a lot of money spend a lot of money. As goods increase, the expenses increase. We do not maintain our current standard of living and enjoy the excess. Instead, we increase our spending and increase our standard of living so that we are just as “broke” as we were in previous years. As we should see, acquiring wealth is futility and chasing the wind. More wealth will not change your life. You will spend more and people will ask for more, and you will have nothing more.
Solomon said made this point in a different way in his Proverbs: “Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it. As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.” (Proverbs 23:4-5; HCSB)
The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich permits him no sleep. (5:12; HCSB)
The Teacher addresses another misconception. We think that if we had more wealth that we would have less worries. But carefully read Solomon’s observation. The average worker is the one who is able to rest and relax though he may have little or much. But the rich, these are the ones who cannot relax. Their lives are full of worries brought on by riches. Life is simpler when we have less things to take care of, less things to worry about, and less things to keep up. The simple life is a far more enjoyable life. For the rich, there is always more to do. There is not time to rest and enjoy life. More must be done.
13 There is a sickening tragedy I have seen under the sun: wealth kept by its owner to his harm. 14 That wealth was lost in a bad venture, so when he fathered a son, he was empty-handed. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came; he will take nothing for his efforts that he can carry in his hands. 16 This too is a sickening tragedy: exactly as he comes, so he will go. What does he gain who struggles for the wind? 17 What is more, he eats in darkness all his days, with much sorrow, sickness, and anger. (5:13-17; HCSB)
This lacks of rest and sleep leads into the next point. How often people are hurt by riches. Notice all that this rich person goes through. He has wealth but then loses the wealth in a bad business venture. He has a family but has lost everything and is empty handed. Because of his workaholic attitude, he eats in darkness. This is the Hebrew way of saying that he spends the rest of his life alone, in sorrow, in sickness, and in anger. We mentioned last week how the desire to be rich will cause a person to lose his family. You will not have friends and you will not have family if you have the desire to be rich. Why would someone make these kinds of great sacrifices? You cannot take your wealth with you. Naked we all came into this world and naked we will return. No one can use his wealth after death. What a sicken tragedy to see people plunge themselves into the pursuit of wealth, only to be harmed by the pursuit, lose your family in the process, and lose all of your money when you die. You will either lose your money now through bad ventures or lose your money when you die. What a tragic ending! Do not fall into the love of money. I think a great example of this is Donald Trump. Many have forgotten that there was a time when through his bad business ventures he had to file for bankruptcy. He has had a number of wives. He is proof of the problem of riches. Wealth does not bring the good life.
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (5:18-20; ESV)
These verses seem to summarize much of what we have learned through our lessons thus far. Enjoy what you have because you do not have much time given to you by God. Accept your circumstances, be content with your situation, and enjoy what you have. Then you are experiencing the gift of God. You will not worry about the problems of life because you are enjoying your earnings, sharing it with your friends and family, realizing that we need to take advantage of the short time we have been given.
I think we need to accept this useful admonition to eat and drink and find enjoyment. I think a 21st century way to say this would be: spend what you have. Don’t kill yourself to have wealth. Make what is necessary. Don’t be wasteful but don’t be a scrooge. Enjoy what you have because God has given us these things to enjoy. You will not have the times in the future that you have now to enjoy your wealth and possessions with your spouse and children. As we learned in chapter 3, we will move through the seasons of life. Enjoy the time because this time will not be this way later.
1 Here is a tragedy I have observed under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity: 2 God gives a man riches, wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself, but God does not allow him to enjoy them. Instead, a stranger will enjoy them. This is futile and a sickening tragedy. 3 A man may father a hundred children and live many years. No matter how long he lives, if he is not satisfied by good things and does not even have a proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For he comes in futility and he goes in darkness, and his name is shrouded in darkness. 5 Though a stillborn child does not see the sun and is not conscious, it has more rest than he. 6 And if he lives a thousand years twice, but does not experience happiness, do not both go to the same place? 7 All man’s labor is for his stomach, yet the appetite is never satisfied. (6:1-7; HCSB)
Simply, what is the point if you are not enjoying your life? All of us will end up in the dirt. We are all going to die. It is silly to waste our lives in meaningless and unsatisfying pursuits. Enjoy what you have. Be content.
Better what the eyes see than wandering desire. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind. (6:9; HCSB)
Look at what you have and stop desiring something else. Be happy with the car that you have. Be happy with the home that you have. Be happy with the possessions that you have. Find enjoyment in what you have. Do not look with distain at what you have. Sheryl Crow, pop singer, said it well: “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.”
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:9-10; HCSB)
- Life is wasted when it is spent in a quest for more wealth. In fact, it is a life filled with anger and gloom.
- The gift of God is to rightly and fully enjoy the things of this world. You will have joy in your heart by just enjoying your time now.
- Nothing is more pitiful than to be rich and be unable to enjoy it. No amount of prosperity can make up for a life without joy.
- “It is better to be content with what the eyes can see than for one’s heart always to crave more. This continual longing is futile- like chasing the wind.” (6:9; NET)