There was a problem with the recording of this sermon, the pastor’s notes are as follows:

Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12 “Insatiable Vapour” Sunday 29th October 2017 Rosalie Baptist 9:30am

1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty… less than $1.25 a day

22000 children die each day due to this poverty

750 million people live without access to clean drinking water

Close to 200 million children under the age of 5 have stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition

2 million children die each year because of preventable disease

And the leading causes of this poverty are war, corruption, oppressive regimes, and inequality.  In other words, the corrupt agenda of the powerful few enslaves the many into devastation.

This is why there was such a huge outcry this week when Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe was made a Goodwill Ambassador for the WHO… 30 years of violations…

So surprising was the announcement that many people thought it must have been a report produced by one of those satire news sites.  But as we come to chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised at stuff like this.

Verse 8, “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.”

Do not be amazed at the oppression of the poor… do not be amazed that they are denied justice… do not be amazed that their poverty seems unbreakable… Why?

Because the high official is watched by a higher official and so on… watched here doesn’t mean simply observed… it actually implies that the high official has someone higher looking out for him… in other words the further up the chain of power you go the more powerful are the people who have got your back!

This means that everybody is fixated on the one who is watching over them… which happens to be the one above them… so with everyone serving those up, no one is serving down.

The masses of people living in abject poverty have no one serving them because no one thinks they have anything to offer in terms of promotion up the social pecking order.

And Solomon declares that this upward focus of self-service goes all the way up to the very top… to the king… who is committed to cultivated fields… in other words, instead of being committed to the farmers who work the fields, he is committed to the fields and what they produce for him.

But why?

Why has this self-serving system stood strong pretty much as long as there has been people to be part of the system?  And why does it still stand strong today?

For all of my life I remember there being advertisement, awareness, celebrity-led public campaigns, anthems, movies & documentaries that confront the issue of poverty and oppression in our world… and yet the statistics I mentioned earlier show our world is more broken than ever.

Well as we work our way through this next section of Solomon’s journal of his search for meaning, we are going to see that he has an answer for us… an answer that will confront us!  Today we are going to see why human societies allow poverty to reign…

No rest in wealth

Some researchers set about figuring out who was the richest American who ever lived…

John D Rockefeller, worth $230billion, more than 1.5% of the national economy…

More money than any one man would know what to do with and yet when he was asked by a reporter, “How much money is enough?” He famously responded, “Just a little bit more.”

$230billion, more than any other modern man has ever had, and yet he wanted that little bit more!

Now for most of us this is the definition of greed… the obscenely wealthy tycoon who amasses wealth beyond our wildest dreams and yet is still not satisfied…

But Solomon tells us that one does not have to be a billionaire to fall victim to this kind of insatiable greed… in fact the love of money is not defined by how much money you control… but how much money controls you.  Verse 10, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”

You don’t have to be objectively wealthy to be greedy… you just have to let money consume your thinking… you just have to crave more of it… Verse 11, “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 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.”

The more you have… the more you tend to stress over what you have… the more responsibility that comes with the territory…

Solomon says that the labourer sleeps soundly, but the wealthy man is forever restless.

The labourer here is not necessarily a poor man, he was simply a man who was hired to work either day-to-day or season-to-season and given a day’s wage which was basically enough to live on and that is it… He would have been hired by a wealthier land owner say for harvest time and the picture here is of the worker sleeping soundly each night of the harvest on the ground in the field… but the land owner, who owned the harvest, tossing and turning all night in the comfort of his own bed.

By highlighting the insatiable attraction of money right after he has uncovered the upward focused social structures that cause oppression and poverty to flourish, Solomon is asking us to confront the very real possibility that we are part of the problem no matter how far up the social structure we find ourselves.

In responding to the poverty crisis, international aid organisation The World Food Programme is quoted as saying, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.”

But in a very real way the poor are trapped in poverty because the rich are hungry… hungry with a hunger that can never be satisfied… a hunger that diverts our eyes from the genuine needs of the poor and makes us feel that we are just as needy as they are… expound

So Solomon continues to unpack the futility of our pursuit of satisfaction through wealth so that we might be set free from its clutches and not become the kind of self-obsessed money lovers who are ignorant of the poor and the needy.

And to get his point across he tells us of 2 great evils that he has seen… 2 great evils that the love of money inflicts on us… 2 great evils that demonstrate why our preoccupation with money is so unwise… 2 great evils designed to loosen money’s grip on us.

No future in wealth

The first great evil comes to light in a tragic tale that Solomon has seen repeated throughout his life, Read verse 13-17

A man gathers riches… but those riches are to his detriment… most likely they were gathered through some corrupt means and the man had to effectively sell his soul to get rich… or perhaps the worry and concern of trying to manage the riches took its toll on the man… either way the tragedy continues when the man loses these riches in some bad venture.

But it is not the mere loss of wealth that strikes Solomon… it is the consequence of this loss.

The man has a son… and yet nothing to leave him…

The man has nothing to show for his life… nothing to leave as a legacy…

Solomon declares that he leaves the world as he came… naked and empty-handed

So the evil of the corrupt wealth is compounded by the loss of that wealth which is again compounded by the fact he leaves nothing behind…

Finally Solomon asks: what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?

The pursuit of future security in wealth has left a man devastated, his son impoverished, and a life of hard work, worry and compromise completely wasted…

In a culture where one generation was completely dependent on the generation before to pass on an inheritance in order to continue the family legacy, this is a tragic tale indeed.

And yet it is equally tragic in our culture as well…

Just about everything financial that is pushed at us in our lives is geared towards the future: We are supposed to be saving for a house deposit, to use that deposit to secure a 30 year loan, we are supposed to think about saving for future events, like our children’s education, we have superannuation so that we can be taken care of in retirement, we have car insurance, property insurance, income protection, life insurance, even funeral cover

We are so fearful of the uncertainties of life that it has given birth to whole industries that offer you protection, certainty and hope that everything you have worked for won’t go to waste.

Now while none of these things are evil in and of themselves… when they are the locus of our future hope one has to wonder if we are signing up to something that is just as futile as the man in Solomon’s tragic story.  And when it all comes crashing down… so does our hope.  As a result of the GFC suicide rates in Europe increased by 6.5% and almost 5% in North America…

The first great evil when it comes to the love of money is that we love it because we think it seals up our future… and yet we are always living on the knife’s edge, petrified that we have enough, because we are still only ever one bad decision, one lot of bad advice, or one piece of bad luck away from destruction.

And this is the first reason we care little about the poor… because we cannot see their present sufferings because we are too busy worry about saving ourselves from future suffering.

No satisfaction in wealth

Through the first 6 verses of chapter 6 Solomon tells another tragic tale: a man is greatly blessed by God, given everything that he could ever desire… and yet for some reason he is powerless to enjoy it… instead he is destined to watch another, a stranger, enjoy the fruit of his labour.

Solomon says that even if this man were to have 100 children and live many years (1000 years twice over), he would not be satisfied… and it would be better that he had died before he was born… because, in Solomon’s thinking it would be better to rest in death never knowing what blessings were possible, than to live a long life with the blessings within reach but never finding satisfaction in them.

In verse 7 he summarises, “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.”

In other words, if the sole purpose of working hard is to partake in that which you earn… to find rest from your labour… then you are on the same shaky ground as this man… because in reality the more you toil for your mouth, the less your appetite is satisfied.

And this is the curse of working for the next big thing:

Whether it is the next meal, the next car, the next house, the next suburb, the next promotion… it doesn’t matter… when you arrive there is always a next thing to work towards…

You can never just sit back and say, “Job well done” because it is only ever “Job half done”.

Verse 9, “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.”

This is kind of like Solomon comparing the physical eye with the mind’s eye:

  • The physical eye sees a fruitful harvest and is pleased with the work that has been done… But the mind’s eye sees all the possibilities for how that harvest needs to be capitalised on…
  • The physical eye sees a successful business deal is happy that hard work paid off… but the mind’s eye is constantly looking to the next level of capital growth…

The physical eye is capable of resting… but the mind’s eye… the appetite… wanders incessantly and never finds rest.

We have to admit that we rarely let what our physical eye sees give us permission to rest… we are all too often captivated by what our mind’s eye envisages for us.  In fact time and time again, even in church circles, we tell ourselves that being satisfied with where we are at is wrong…

You need to be working towards something, you shouldn’t be lazy with what you have been given, you shouldn’t spend frivolously…

But if anything Solomon’s advice runs in the completely opposite direction.  Read 5:18-20

It is really easy in the church to see financial frugality and thriftiness as godly virtues… as taking the moral high road…

But Solomon would say it is the moments where you actually enjoy that which you have been given by God, when you rest from your toil, when you indulge yourself with what you have achieved… these are moments where you are letting go of your fear of financial insecurity and embracing a trust that God has got you covered.

No one likes a scrooge who makes the lives of people around him miserable because he is too tight to enjoy life. In fact this has to be one of the furthest things from a godly attitude… if God were stingy He would not have given us anything, let alone His Son.  So buy flowers for your wife, treat your kids an ice-cream, shout a good friend lunch and take your Dad to the football. Don’t be so bound to scrimping and saving that you rob those around you of joy!

Within reason, the freedom with which you spend your money for the joy of those around you is evidence of how free you are from the insatiable cravings of your mind’s eye.

The second great evil when it comes to the love of money is that it never loves us back… instead it pulls us into a quest for satisfaction that is never finished and crushes us under the longings of our appetite for more.

And this is the second reason we are ignorant of the poor… because we are far too busy chasing the unending dreams of our mind’s eye to see that we can be generous now…

The vapour is so uncertain therefore undefeatable

At the end of chapter 6 Solomon returns to a theme that has been prevalent throughout Ecclesiastes… Read 6:10-12

Once again Solomon is drawn to reflect on the vaporous futility of life…

Pictured here as a man trying in vain to debate against one stronger than him… it doesn’t matter how many words he speaks they are all vapour…

And here’s the deal: It is the uncertainty that this meaningless vision of life creates that causes us to cling to money and riches as a way of trying to secure our future against the uncertainty.  It is the reason our mind’s eye is always scheming of new ways to capitalise on our position…

But as we have seen in Solomon’s stories of great evil, finding certainty through riches is fraught with danger…

What we need is not more shaky and unsatisfying riches… what we need is certainty!

In a world that is desperately trying to find something to give tangible meaning to life, we don’t need more money… we need a vision of something that will not crumble like riches… we need something that will truly satisfy us…

And this is why God sent us His Son!

Into a world filled with uncertainty and insecurity stepped Jesus… Jesus’s life was so radical because He was never fixated on money, power, or the desperate quest for security…

Jesus was able to generously give of Himself to everyone around Him because He was the most secure person to ever live…

Jesus came to give us something secure… something certain… an inheritance that cannot be taken away or deteriorate in any way…

And this is the hope for the poor… for the oppressed…

A church so secured by the certainty of Jesus’ inheritance that it frees us for generosity…