Monday, September 6, 2010

The Gift of Work (A Labour Day Sermon)

Part 6 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 4:4-6


Would you like to have more money? Most people would like to have more money. If you want to make more money, usually that means working more or finding a job that pays more. Or you could be lucky enough to receive a letter like I did this week (advance-fee fraud).

This weekend is Labour Day Weekend, so it’s a good time to examine what Ecclesiastes says about work. "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?" (1:3). What we buy with the money we earn doesn’t last. Still, work is a gift from God (2:24). But like all of God’s blessings, work can be distorted.


Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind (v. 4).

Advertising is all about envy and covetousness. Companies market their products to the wealthy, so that ordinary people will want what the wealthy have (status symbols).

"You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's" (Exodus 20:17). We are not to covet our neighbor's possessions; we are to love our neighbor. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). And when we love our neighbor, we are happy, not envious, when they get something that is nice (new car, television, etc.). "Love does not envy or boast" (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Why do you work?
  • We shouldn't work to impress. How would your life be different if there was no one to impress?
  • We should work to provide.

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 (vv. 5-6).

Three approaches to work:
  • Laziness. Someone has said, "Laziness is the habit of resting before you get tired." "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:6-11). Laziness is a serious sin. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8).
  • Covetousness. God created us and knows that we need rest (Sabbath). He did not design us to be workaholics. We don’t live to work; we work to live. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." If we work and work so that we can have more and more, we will never be satisfied. "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12). "As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand" (Ecclesiastes 5:15). "And [Jesus] said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consists in the abundance of his possessions'" (Luke 12:15). More stuff does not equal more happiness. We can see this in today's children in North America. They have hundreds of toys, but they often complain, "I'm bored." Many people think their lives will be complete if they acquire more and more things. They have made covetousness their idol (Colossians 3:15). But eventually, much of that stuff they wanted so badly will end up in the garbage or a thrift store.
  • Contentment. Someone has said, "Contentment is when your earning power is equal to your yearning power." Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:6-10). How many Christians would be content with just food and clothing? How about food and clothing plus the promise of Christ's presence? "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave your nor forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5). Benjamin Franklin said, "Contentment makes poor men rich. Discontentment makes rich men poor."

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Philippians 4:11). Here are five keys to contentment from Philippians 4:10-19 (adapted from a sermon series by John MacArthur, "The Secret of Contentment"):
  1. Be confident in God’s providence (v. 10).
  2. Be satisfied with little (v. 11).
  3. Be detached from circumstances (v. 12).
  4. Be sustained by God’s power (v. 13).
  5. Be focused on others (vv. 18-19).
We often compare ourselves to those who are wealthier than us, and we become discontent. Perhaps we should do a different comparison. In Canada, even the poor are rich in comparison to the majority of people living on earth. And followers of Christ have been made rich with the blessings of salvation.

We really are rich—materially and spiritually. So be content.

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