Ecclesiastes — Lesson 4
Seeking Meaning & Happiness from Wealth & Power
I. Man’s Search for Permanence
A. In Lesson 3, we saw that the chief cause of man’s unhappiness is that nothing under the sun is permanent. Death comes to all, and even the earth itself will one day be consumed by fire.
B. Honest atheists have long recognized the logical consequences of atheism – that is, the logical consequence if all that is under the sun is all that there is.
1. The Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman in his autobiography gave a chilling picture of man’s life if there is no God:
a) “You were born without purpose. You live without meaning. When you die, you are extinguished. From being you will be transformed to non-being.”
2. Woody Allen wrote:
a) “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
3. Apart from God, all pursuits of man under the sun are ultimately vain – that is, they are ultimately empty and meaningless.
C. Mankind is engaged in a tremendous effort to deny and ignore this fundamental reality – and yet man cannot ignore it forever.
1. (A.H. McNeill in Discipleship) “There are multitudes of people who seldom or never think. Their life is like the thinnest of rafts, floating upon an ocean of infinite mystery; and they hate to be asked to look over the edge. They are very busy decking out their raft with everything that can make it feel like a permanent home. … They never realize that they are on a raft and not a rock, until one day an illness or an accident or a war flicks them off into the ocean, where they have never learned to swim.”
2. Man’s preoccupation with wealth and power is based in large part on man’s denial of that fundamental reality.
II. Solomon’s experiment with wealth & power
A. As we have seen, Solomon is looking for something under the sun that can bring him meaning and lasting happiness – and so far he has failed to find it in worldly wisdom and earthly pleasure.
B. He next looks for meaning and happiness in wealth and power – and as with wisdom and pleasure he was the perfect person to carry out this experiment.
C. Ecclesiastes describes his efforts and conclusions as follows:
1. Ecclesiastes 2:4-5
a) I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. 5 I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
b) Compare Solomon’s plans here with those of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21.
2. Ecclesiastes 2:7-8
a) I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds.
3. Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
a) Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done And on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
4. Ecclesiastes 5:10-13
a) He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them; So what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes? 12 The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep. 13 There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun: Riches kept for their owner to his hurt.
5. Ecclesiastes 6:2
a) There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: 2 A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.
D. We should listen to Solomon when he tells us about riches and power, because he had both. Elsewhere we read about the incredible wealth and power of King Solomon:
1. Queen of Sheba in First Kings 10:7
a) “However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard.”
2. First Kings 10:14-23
a) 14 The weight of gold that came to Solomon yearly was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, 15 besides that from the traveling merchants, from the income of traders, from all the kings of Arabia, and from the governors of the country. 16 And King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred shekels of gold went into each shield. 17 He also made three hundred shields of hammered gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. The king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with pure gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round at the back; there were armrests on either side of the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the armrests. 20 Twelve lions stood there, one on each side of the six steps; nothing like this had been made for any other kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Not one was silver, for this was accounted as nothing in the days of Solomon. 22 For the king had merchant ships at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the merchant ships came bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys. 23 So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom.
E. This description brings to mind the saying: “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop” – and yet Solomon didn’t find happiness through his great wealth.
F. If anyone in the history of the world could have found lasting happiness and meaning in wealth and power, it would have been King Solomon – and yet he concluded that it was all empty and vain. And he was not alone:
1. John D. Rockefeller: “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”
2. John Jacob Astor near the end of his life said: “I am the most miserable man on earth.”
G. Wealth and power are connected in that wealth is the most obvious form of power – but it is not the only form.
1. For example, political power can exist apart from wealth (although it rarely does).
a) Solomon had great political power as well as great power from his wealth. Solomon was a true monarch who had absolute authority over his subjects. Yet even that great power did not bring him happiness or meaning.
b) Even today we see the ultimate vanity of political power. It does not last because it (like everything else under the sun) cannot last.
(1) Kennedy came to Texas the leader of the free world, and went home that evening in a box.
2. Why do men seek power? Why do they think that power can make them happy? Men desire power because they want to be in control.
a) Man is unhappy, and he traces that unhappiness to his lack of control. Surely, if he were in control then he would be happy.
(1) Men want to be the masters of their fate and the captains of their souls.
(2) They want to be above the natural order and above time. They want to be God!
b) Nietzsche said the will to power was the basic human drive. His ideal superman was one who ruthlessly pursued success without any moral scruples. Not surprisingly, Nietzsche was the prophet of Hitler’s new world order.
c) Jesus said the path to happiness was through giving up control, not in getting it.
(1) Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:4)
d) Man’s love of money is based on his love of power.
H. Man’s desire to have more and more money is connected to man’s drive for power. We desire money because of the power that money gives us.
1. We buy things so that we can have power over them – so that we can have dominion over them.
2. When we possession something we show to the world that we are greater than that thing. It is ours; it is under our power and control.
III. What then should our attitude be toward money?
A. A common attitude today in the church is that we treat money too seriously – that money is part of the “business world” rather than the “religious world.” I submit that in reality we do not treat money seriously enough!
1. The Bible takes money and material possessions very seriously.
a) There are more than 2000 passages in the Bible regarding money and material possessions.
b) Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about our attitudes toward money and possessions. Indeed, one in ten verses in the gospels deals with that subject.
c) In 17 of his 37 parables, Jesus dealt with property and man’s responsibility for using it wisely.
d) The only two of the 10 commandments that deal with inner attitudes rather than outer actions are the last two – and they both forbid covetousness.
e) The only incident in scripture where Jesus was moved to violence involved money.
(1) Interestingly, Jesus’ actions with the moneychangers were not impulsive as they are sometimes portrayed. John tells us in John 2:15 that Jesus himself made the whip of cords that he used to drive out the money changers.
2. The Bible treats money very seriously, and we should treat it seriously as well.
B. The first step toward treating money seriously is to recognize its power.
1. Money has always been a powerful motivator – perhaps the most powerful motivator. And when money is our motivator, we can become oblivious to everything else that is around us.
a) Wasn’t this the sin of the rich man in Luke 16? He didn’t actively seek to harm Lazarus – he just ignored him. He was oblivious to everything but his money. His money blinded him.
b) The first skeleton that archeologists uncovered from the volcanic ruins of ancient Pompeii was grasping silver coins in its outstretched skeletal hands.
c) “Most Americans today are frantically engaged in fighting for first-class cabin space on the Titanic.” (Hazel Henderson)
2. Solomon’s experiment had to do with this issue of motivation. He sought happiness and meaning from using money as a motivator – that is, by using money as the basis for his decisions.
a) The issue is not whether we should have or should use money – clearly we must.
(1) Jesus no doubt did not do carpentry for free. If he had, his fame would have spread throughout Galilee much earlier!
(2) The Bible is very clear that affluence is not a sin – and it is equally clear that poverty is not a virtue.
(a) Solomon knew that both were dangerous.
(b) (Proverbs 30:8-9) Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches—Feed me with the food allotted to me; 9 Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.
(3) What the Bible condemns (frequently and forcefully) are wrong attitudes toward our money.
b) The real issue is whether money is our motivator – that is, whether money is our master.
(1) Do we possess our possessions or do our possession possess us? Do we use money, or does money use us?
(2) “Material wealth is either a window through which we see God or a mirror in which we see ourselves.” (Warren Wiersbe)
(3) Is our money an end in itself or a means for achieving an end?
c) Acts 19 gives two examples in which money sought to motivate people – one in which it succeeded and one in which it failed.
(1) It succeeded with Demetrius the silversmith in Acts 19:23-29. Religion was merely a pretense – money was the real motivator.
(a) 23And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26“Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27“So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” 29So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.
(2) It failed in Act 19:17-20. In these verses we see that money was not the motivator for the early church.
(a) 17This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
C. The second step in treating money seriously is to recognize its spiritual significance.
1. Money is personified in the Bible and treated as a spiritual force.
a) This treatment of money in the Bible is similar to how death is treated – it too is personified and treated as a spiritual force.
(1) Romans 5:14 (“death reigned”)
(2) II Corinthians 4:12 (“death is working in us”)
(3) I Corinthians 15:55 (“O death, where is thy sting?”)
b) Matthew 6:24 is the key verse regarding our relationship with money: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
(1) Mammon is an Aramaic word for money and wealth. Jesus personifies it here and treats it as a false god that seeks to be our master.
c) The message of verse 24 is that Mammon can be a master over us the same way that God can be.
(1) According to the Bible, the battle is not between us and an object, but between us and an active agent that is trying to gain mastery over us.
(2) Mammon is a power that tries to be like God, that tries to become our master, and that has specific goals for our lives. Its rewards are concrete and immediate, and its power is real.
(3) Money is not just an object – it is a power that is active and capable of acting on its own. Like any power, it is capable of orienting people in the direction that it desires.
(4) A man’s god is that to which he gives himself, his time, his energy, his thought, his life, that which dominates and pervades his life – and money wants to be that in our lives.
(5) Money wants to make us live apart from God and it wants to ultimately win our love.
(6) Money wants us to trust it and seek fulfillment from it. It wants to be the foundation upon which we construct our lives.
d) Jesus gives us a clear choice in Matthew 6:24 between serving God and serving money – we can’t serve both.
(1) Jesus says we will love one and hate the other – not that we will love one and be indifferent to the other.
(2) If we love God, then we must actively hate and oppose the mastery that money wants and is actively working to have in our lives.
(3) Would Jesus have used the word “hate” if money were really just an object with no spiritual significance?
(4) Paul tells use in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all evil – and Jesus tells us here that the love of money is hatred of God!
(5) Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:5 that a covetous man is an idolater and the such a man has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.
(6) Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t serve God and Mammon – he is saying we can’t serve God and Mammon. It is impossible. We must choose.
(a) “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
2. The message of this god called “Money” is that everything has a price and hence everything can be bought and sold.
a) Indeed, even the son of God was sold as merchandise for thirty pieces of silver.
(1) I have read commentaries that try to base Judas’ motivation on some nationalistic desire to overthrow the Romans, but I think the Bible is very clear on this point – Jesus was betrayed by Judas because of greed.
(2) It is not an accident that John tells us that it was Judas who was in charge of the money. (John 13:29)
(3) Judas handed Jesus over to the mob for money, and he needed no other motivation.
(4) Did you know that the same thing happens today at some congregations of the Lord’s church?
(a) Elders have been known to tolerate false teachers because any confrontation might hurt the contribution. How is that any different from what Judas did?
(b) Judas handed the physical body of Jesus over to the mob for money. Such elders hand the spiritual body of our Lord over to savage wolves for the exact same reason. I submit they are no different at all.
b) Yet, God’s message is that those things that are of real and lasting value cannot be bought by man for any price – they are free!
(1) “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)
(2) Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
(3) A price was paid, but we did not pay it. (“For you were bought at a price.” I Corinthians 6:20)
IV. The Value of Wealth and Power
A. The message of Solomon is that money has no lasting value – no matter what interest rate we get.
B. Indeed, the message of Solomon is that – even under the sun – money brings the opposite of what we hope it will bring.
1. Most people seek money because they think money will bring them freedom – yet in reality it brings just the opposite.
a) People seek money because they hope it will bring permanence and stability – they hope it will be a security blanket against change.
(1) Yet the only thing apart from God that man can ultimately depend on is death. Everything else is optional – but not death. The only thing that man must do is die – he has a choice about everything else.
(2) Money can sometimes prolong life, but it cannot prolong it indefinitely. There is no eternal life under the sun.
(3) In many ways Hebrews 9:27 is the central verse in the Bible. (“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”)
(a) Hebrews 9:27 is the verse that should be held up at football games.
(b) Apart from that verse, we could take or leave the rest of the Bible – including John 3:16.
b) People seek money so that they can be SELF sufficient. Again, they seek money because they want to be in control – they want the power that money brings.
(1) Others have noted the wonderful irony that on our money is printed the slogan “In God We Trust.”
(2) Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17 to tell those who were rich that they should not trust in uncertain riches.
c) Yet money comes at a price – and the price we generally pay for it is our liberty and perhaps our soul.
(1) Seneca said that a great fortune is a great slavery.
(2) One cannot enjoy what one constantly fears he is about to lose.
(3) This is exactly what Solomon concluded in Ecclesiastes 5:12.
(a) “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, Whether he eats little or much; But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.”
(b) No doubt Solomon often looked out his palace window and wished that he were one of the laboring men that he saw. But, equally without doubt is that those very laborers looked in that very window and wished that they were the king.
(4) Far from producing lasting happiness, money often does not even bring temporary happiness. Instead, it often produces unhappiness in those who work so hard to obtain it.
d) The price we pay for our money may be our soul.
(1) In Revelation 3:17, we read of those who say “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing”—and do not know that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
(a) Money blinds us to our true condition. When we have money, we are tempted to think we can solve our own problems. We are tempted to think they we really don’t need God at all.
(2) The rich fool in Luke 12 thought he had it made, but God said to him: ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
(3) (Matthew 16:26) “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
e) Another problem with money is that “enough” is always at least a little more than we have.
(1) The Greek word translated covetousness is pleonexia, which simply means the desire to have more.
(2) We are not addicted to money as much as we are addicted to want.
(3) We want more and more hoping that at last we can fill that hole in our lives – yet that hole can only be filled by God. Nothing else is big enough. Everything else will ultimately let us down.
(4) John Cheever: “The main emotion of the adult American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.”
2. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 is an example of someone who was in bondage to money.
a) He couldn’t walk away from it even when he was standing face to face with the son of God!
b) Even though it brought him sorrow, he still could not walk away from it.
c) He had everything that money could buy – and nothing that it couldn’t buy.
d) He turned his back on Jesus when Jesus asked him to give it all away – and yet he eventually did just that. Everyone on this earth will eventually give away all of their possessions. We have no choice.
(1) As someone once said, you never see hearses being followed by U-Hail trailers.
(2) The only answer to the question “How much did he leave?” is that he left all of it.
(3) (1 Timothy 6:7) For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
(4) And this is part of the reason why Solomon concluded that money and wealth were vain and empty.
(a) (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21) Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. 20Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. 21For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
C. Jesus knows that money cannot bring us happiness and meaning.
1. And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)
2. Jesus is very interested in how we use our money. In Mark 12:41-44, Mark tells us that “Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury.”
a) Jesus saw the widow give her money because he was watching everyone as they gave their money, and he still watches today.
3. Jesus was rich – and yet he became poor for our sake. Man seeks riches so that he can find meaning and happiness, and yet Jesus became poor so that could have meaning and happiness.
a) (2 Corinthians 8:9) “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
4. Jesus offers us what we need and he (unlike money) offers permanence.
a) (Hebrews 13:5) “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
5. And what about money? He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)