Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, February 10, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Thomas Edison once said, “There is no substitute for hard work.” But that doesn’t mean we like doing hard work; in fact, many of us go to great lengths to avoid it! That’s how “get rich quick” schemes get so popular; everyone wants to take the shortcut and have all the benefits without doing the work.

But what does Ecclesiastes tell us about work? That’s the topic that the Teacher is looking at in today’s passage of Ecclesiastes 2:17-26. (For more on what the Bible as a whole says about work, check out this post.)

Anyone who is unhappy with their employment, or has a bad day on the job, can probably relate to verse 17: “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Have you ever had one of those days where you hate life because your work did not go well? The Teacher is looking at work from a bigger perspective than one day, however, and he sees daily labor as meaningless to him. Scholars believe that the Teacher is likely King Solomon who had massive riches, but he does not consider work to be meaningless simply because he already had everything he ever wanted.

The Teacher’s real reason for considering work to be meaningless can be found in verses 18-21. Whatever he accumulates in this life through hard work will be left to another person upon his death. That person may be wise with it or foolish with that wealth; he doesn’t know and can’t predict this. He writes in verse 21 that, “a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it.” All of the wealth we gain from our work may be great for this life, but what about when we’re gone? All our striving appears to be meaningless then.

Verses 22-23 give us a warning of being prideful of what we build up in this lifetime: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” We work so hard and cause ourselves so much grief over how much money we make (or don’t make), that we can’t even rest well in this life. If our life is so burdened by anxiety and seeking pride for our accomplishments, are we really enjoying it to the extent we should? This is why the Teacher considers hard work to be meaningless.

Enjoying life instead of worrying about work is the theme of verses 24-25: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” You can work and work and work and not find true satisfaction in this life if your satisfaction is tied to the material things of this world. We need to be satisfied with our work, but primarily because it is from God, not because of our own skill or our own accomplishments in that work.

Based on verse 26, we know that God will give wisdom to the one who pleases Him, and if we don’t please Him, then anything we gain will be given to the one who does. But again, the Teacher concludes that all this is meaningless.

So what is this section saying? Should we work, or should we not work and simply seek pleasure all the time? We know that God created work as a good thing, as Adam worked in the Garden of Eden even before the fall into sin (Genesis 2:15). So, work itself is not inherently sinful or evil, and it is what God created us to do, though we also know that work will be difficult (Genesis 3:17-19).

The goal is to find work that also brings pleasure, both to you and to God. If our work is only meaningful for this world and we’re only working to get a paycheck to buy ourselves pleasures and nice things, then it is ultimately meaningless. With this selfish mindset, anything we earn will likely draw us farther away from God. But if are working for God’s eternal purposes and doing the work that He has called us to do, that is the only way our work is truly meaningful. That doesn’t mean that we should give up our worldly jobs and all become pastors or missionaries, but that does mean we should prayerfully consider what God wants us to do for work in this life.

Maybe you’re flipping burgers at a restaurant for your job; you can share God’s love with your fellow employees, and be a responsible worker so they see God’s influence shining through your life. Maybe you’re a lawyer and have the opportunity to be a Godly example in the courtroom and to your clients. Maybe you’re a stay at home parent and your work is taking care of your family and raising your children to live Godly lives.

Whatever it is that you do for work, is it what God is calling you to do? How are you using your work to share God’s love with the world around you? Without that eternal mindset, work is meaningless and just chasing after the fleeting things of this world. If we only seek selfish pleasures rather than to do our work well, no one else will benefit except us, and we’ll ultimately consider our work to be meaningless. But when we consider what God is calling us to and how He wants to use us in that situation, our perspective should change, and we should find true meaning in our work because of His influence on our lives.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.