In this passage of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us some famous sayings:
“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Eccl. 5:15
“The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” Eccl. 5:12
“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” Eccl. 5:10
“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” – Actually, Solomon doesn’t say that. In his study of work and money, Solomon comes to a statement where he does not conclude that “this too is meaningless.” He gives us one of his findings of his investigation of everything in life: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” Eccl. 5:18 NASB
Even more, Solomon seems to point to our labor as the means for us to be happy in life: “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” Eccl. 5:19-20
I was recently asked about someone at work, and whether I thought he would retire soon. I said, “He enjoys what he is doing. Why would he retire from it?” I think this is what Solomon is saying – that man doesn’t “reflect on the days of his life.” He isn’t counting the days until retirement or worrying about how many he has left. He recognizes that what he is doing now, his labor, is a reward in itself.
God made us for work. In Genesis, before the fall, while life on earth was still perfect, God gave Adam work to do: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Gen. 2:15 The whole story of God in these first chapters of the Bible has been about the work He did, He created. Here’s what it says about the last thing that God created: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’… So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” Gen. 1:26-27 After God demonstrates that His character is to create and do work, He creates man and woman as reflections of His image. We are like Him. So we are intended to create and do work.
And God created work for us. Paul tells us that God has work ready for us: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.” Eph. 2:10
There is a story about a traveler who comes across three men working on a construction site, chipping rocks. The traveler asks the first one what he is doing. “Obviously, I’m chipping this rock. I’m counting the time until I can go home and relax.” The traveler asks the second one the same question. “I’m building a wall. It pays well and I’m saving up a lot. Someday I’ll have enough saved up to retire.” The traveler asked the third one the same question. He responded, “I am building a great cathedral so that people are inspired to worship God.”
If we focus on the labor we are doing, we can become frustrated with how little meaning it has. We will die, and not be able to take any of the fruits of the work with us. If we focus on the wealth we are building through our labors, we can become obsessed about the money, which will never seem to be enough, and will never satisfy us. If we see the gift of God in the way that he created us and the work that he has given us to do, we can rejoice in the gift of God, in how He created us, in how our work can serve Him. Even if our work seems mundane and routine, we can see it as the tasks that God has given us, and worship God through it.
Paul says “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Col. 3:17
Here’s a story (find it here) about a college student who was in an internship to become a Physician’s Assistant, but completely disrupted his career plans when he figured out what God had created him to do, what God was calling him to do.
“I saw the doctors and physicians assistants standing outside the room, discussing the patient’s treatment while the nurses were inside the room working with the patients,” Chris remembers. “I stopped and stared at that picture for a while and said to myself, ‘God is calling me to nursing.’”
When we serve the Lord in the way that He created us to serve, it is a gift from God. We shine as an image of a piece of the Creator that no one else can be. It is its own reward.
Scott Sibley is on our Leadership Team. He also serves as our Director of World Outreach. His favorite times of the week are serving with Youth@Hope. It has been 40 years since he responded to Jesus’ command to “Come follow me”.