I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: 2 God gives some people wealth, possessions and honour, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man – 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?
The Teacher continues his wide-ranging examination of all aspects of life in our passage today, turning to the issue of enjoyment. It is certainly true that there are many who have so much in our world today, and yet they seem to be unable to enjoy what the Lord has blessed them with. Our society’s obsession with wealth is perhaps typified by the focus on the Forbes Rich List which is published each year and scrutinised to see who is new, who has gone up the chart and who is going down. Most of these billionaires have an inspiring story behind how they acquired their businesses or what they did to gain their wealth. But how many of them can truly enjoy the fruits of their labours? Much of this wealth is tied up in businesses and inaccessible. Many of these individuals experience all the cares and concerns of those who build up treasure for themselves on earth, where risks, lawsuits, pandemics, changes in fashion, competitors, etc. can quickly attack and inflict significant losses.
The Teacher looks at cases where individuals have toiled to build up assets and find themselves in a position where they are unable to enjoy them. His sobering conclusion is that a stillborn child is in a better position than someone who is unable to enjoy his prosperity and who dies in ignominy. If even the very wealthy can suffer this fate, what is the point? Isn’t it true that death is the great leveller? How much did the billionaire who died last week leave behind? All of it!!
It’s really important to keep the things the Lord blesses us with in perspective. The point is not acquisition and accumulation, but enjoyment and sharing. We are but stewards of the resources and lives which the Lord gives us and we will need to give an account of our stewardship on the last day.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul shares a few pointers about how we should treat things we have such as position or status. He calls these “the flesh” and he lists his own pedigree which is as impressive as it comes. Jewish and circumcised on the eight day, of the tribe of Benjamin, a strict observer of the law of Israel as a Pharisee, in the eyes of the law, faultless. Yet faced with the Lord Jesus he counts it all as rubbish (the word in the Greek is less polite and refers to dung or excrement!). True value and status is in knowing and following the Lord Jesus. By knowing him we can gain resurrection from the dead and his eternal righteousness, which he graciously gives to all who ask him.
So let’s not fall into the trap of worrying about the things of the world, all those fleeting treasures which may be here today and then gone tomorrow. We may well not have the chance to enjoy them before they slip through our fingers, which would be such a shame. Instead, let’s fix our eyes upon the Lord Jesus who brings true meaning, offers eternal life and gives us the sure and certain hope upon which our lives should be founded.
We confess that we are often tempted to focus on the things of this world and to live our lives in the pursuit of these. We acknowledge that we are just humble stewards of all the good things which you have blessed us with. Help us to be faithful with the resources and skills you have entrusted to us. Show us how to enjoy the blessings you have graciously given us, while always giving you thanks and praise. Show us also how to serve others in ways which honour you, so that they can come to know the reason for the hope which is in us, even the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Tomorrow’s passage: Ecclesiastes 6:7-12