This is the second section we managed to do in our group this week. You can tell from the introductory illustration that the original material is American (hurrah for the NHS despite all its problems!) Anyway, here it is:
Gary hates his job. The tasks are repetitive, his boss is a grouch, the other employees bicker. The job, however, pays better than anything else he could find, and his son has a medical condition that would make him uninsurable if he changes companies. Gary feels trapped. Nothing can be quite as frustrating as work. And while most of us can’t fully identify with Gary, many of us can readily understand something about his predicament. In this section of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher will look back at his own life’s work. If anyone had a great job, he did. Even so, he asks, “Does it really amount to anything significant?”
Warming Up to God
Do you feel more like God’s dutiful employee or his valued friend? Explore your perspective and tell him your heart. Remember that he is your most patient listener and he’s eager to hear how you’re doing.
Read Ecclesiastes 2:17-26
Discovering the Word
- How would you describe the Teacher’s emotional state as a result of his quest for meaning so far?
- The phrase “under the sun” appears often throughout Ecclesiastes—five times in this passage (vv. 17, 18, 19, 20, 22). Describe the “under the sun” mentality.
- What does the Teacher say about work (vv. 21-23)?
- What shift do you see in the way the Teacher views work (vv. 24-26)?
- Describe the contrast between seeking pleasure (vv. 10-11) and finding enjoyment (vv. 24-26).
Applying the Word
- When have you experienced the kind of satisfying enjoyment described here?
- If you were to view your work as a gift from God to be enjoyed, how could that change your attitude about it?
Responding in Prayer
Commit your work to the Lord and ask him to give you a heart that desires to glorify him in that context.
As I said at the end of the last post, the Teacher does seem to get a bit depressed sometimes.
The Teacher at first suggests that work is meaningless because it achieves no lasting reward for the worker (v21-22) nor does he/she know whether the one taking on from him/her will build on the work done or trash it (v19). For some reason(!) we thought immediately of the actions of the new President of the US here…
We also recognised the Teacher’s anguish caused by worrying about things even at night when he would be sleeping if he could (v23). Which of us does not recognise this situation?
But is it all meaningless as the Teacher keeps goading us to ponder? He has a sudden change of thought in v24, and God at last gets a positive mention.
This is how Ecclesiastes works – we mustn’t expect clear statements of faith line after line after line. We have to work for them, be goaded into considering them and find them in among the pondering and heart-searching. There are no platitudes here. Every positive statement comes after the effort of working it through to its conclusion.
So the Teacher comes to a conclusion about work and the pleasures of food and drink. Work as drudgery may indeed by meaningless but if we see it as being part of our life for God the whole thing is changed. “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too is the hand of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment?” Our satisfaction and enjoyment in life come from knowing we are part of God’s plan for the world and that what we do we do for him however menial or difficult it may be.
“To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” (v26)
I am reminded of two helpful hymns:
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.
A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.
All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.
Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.
Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart,
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part:
Praise in the common things of life,
Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed,
However small and mean.
Fill every part of me with praise;
Let all my being speak
Of Thee and of Thy love, O Lord,
Poor though I be and weak.
So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step,
Be fellowship with Thee.