Ecclesiastes 4:1-8

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, March 9, 2020 2 comments

by Katie Erickson

At the end of Ecclesiastes 3, the Teacher reminded us that we are all mortal and we’ll all die someday, no matter what we accomplish in this life. Now in today’s passage of Ecclesiastes 4:1-8, he begins to talk about ambition and power.

While we are all mortals and going to die, some people are obsessed with having power over other people. In verses 1-3, the Teacher laments over being alive in such awful, oppressive circumstances. He implies that it would be better to have not been born than to see the awful abuse of power that was going on.

There are many types of oppression that we see in the Bible. Kings oppress their subjects, masters oppress their servants, the rich oppress the poor, society oppresses widows and foreigners, merchants oppress their customers, etc. We don’t know what type of oppression the Teacher is specifically referring to here in these verses, only that it was an awful situation.

The Teacher seems pretty depressed and that he feels there is no hope, even in eternity, for those who are oppressed. The Teacher likely didn’t have a good understanding of what would happen after this life, and this book is written from the perspective of “under the sun” - the things that happen in this world.

The Teacher reaches a conclusion in verse 4: “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” He is implying that the only reason people ever achieve anything is that they’re trying to be better than someone else. While that can be a motivation, we should also be motivated to achieve goals simply because God has created us to do so. He has created us with drive and ambition to accomplish great things, not only for our own good or the good of humanity but, most importantly, for His glory.

But if all achievement is meaningless, does that mean we should just sit back and do nothing? Nope. Verses 5-6 give us two proverbs. The first tells us that being idle is foolish, and the second tells us that we need to balance our drive and achievement with peace. It’s all about being at peace and balanced, rather than being too driven out of envy or selfishness or not having any drive at all.

In verses 7-8, the Teacher shows how this excessive ambition can turn into a miserable life. If we are driven by greed, we’ll accumulate more money and possession than we really need. We can easily become obsessed with our stuff. That can give us a feeling of power over others when we have nicer/bigger/better things than they do. This is not what we’re called to as followers of Christ. God didn’t create us to accumulate material goods; see Luke 12:13-21 for more on that.

The two overall themes of this passage are oppression and ambition. While they may seem unrelated, both are actually connected to the idea of power. If you oppress someone, you are showing that you have some form of power over them. If you are being oppressed, you are experiencing being under someone else’s power. Any ambition is a form of power - having the power to do or create something meaningful.

But is all this power really meaningless, as the Teacher suggests? It may appear meaningless in the context of this life, but it is definitely not meaningless in the context of eternity, especially eternity as a follower of Jesus.

Oppression is not a good thing and not ordained by God, but an oppressive situation can be used to bring people to Christ. If all is going great in our lives, we’re a lot less likely to see our need for a Savior. But if times are difficult, then we by nature want to make things better. If we are unable to do anything in our own power to better our circumstances, then we’ll likely begin to look outside ourselves - hopefully, right toward our Savior, Jesus. While oppression and the abuse of power are not good things, our good God will use them for His glory.

What motivates you and gives you ambition? Are you motivated by striving for more power - whether the power for money, possessions, or the ability to be in control over your fellow humans? All this is meaningless on this earth when compared to eternity. In a perfect world, all of the things we do would be motivated by bringing glory to our God who created us, loves us, and saves us. But, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Are you working at your job simply for a paycheck, and you feel that your work is meaningless? Every job has value, not just monetary value. Whether you create products or provide a service, both of those are valuable. Nearly every job is done in connection with other people. What relationships are you building in your workplace? Even if you are currently unemployed or not able to work for whatever reason, we all have people around us in some form of community. What opportunities do you have every day to share the love of Jesus with those around you?

I encourage you this week to take a look at the concept of power in your life. Where are you exhibiting power over others that you shouldn’t? What is your motivation for how you spend your time? Remember to put everything in the context of eternity to get a correct perspective on the only power that matters: God’s.

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Unknown said...

Thank you for opening my heart to understanding so much.

Shashank Shekhar said...

Great. Thanks.