“Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knows whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? Yet he shall have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 2:17-19
Solomon has a lot to say in the book of Ecclesiastes about the vanity and meaninglessness of labor. It was one of the many things he tried to find true inner satisfaction in his soul: he was the definition of our modern term “workaholic”. In chapter two, he even breaks down his thoughts in the above depressing manner. So working hard can be pointless because you are leaving it behind to someone else; the more you leave behind (such as an entire nation, as Solomon did), the worse it can be. Solomon also says that another type of work is vain: working for your own selfish desires.
“There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he has neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither says he, ‘For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.” – Ecc. 4:8
He goes on to talk about how two are better than one, including the famous phrase, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken”. Thus we see the pointless life of a man who works for himself. He has no children who will inherit his gain; he has no partner who will also benefit; he simply works day in and day out unceasingly for himself, never stopping to ask, “What’s the point of all this, again?” I see this sort of attitude in many, not just rich people (though it is often evident in them as well). Each day has no purpose, no excitement; just “another day, another dollar”. They wake up, go through their routine, sleep, and repeat. Let us break from this cycle.
But how? If work is vain, then should I stop working hard? On the contrary. Solomon tells us this in chapter nine:
“Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor wherein thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.”
Though this is a somewhat depressing reason for why we should work hard, it offers a unique perspective on why we should work. The average lifespan of a human being is around 70 years, often higher. Yet none of us know what will happen tomorrow; people perish at all ages from seemingly random causes. We cannot delay our work, saying that we’ll do it tomorrow. Since we can’t work when we die, we must work every day as hard as we can.
But what are we working for? Why work is riches and possessions are vain? Solomon’s perspective doesn’t help us much here, for it ends with death. You see, the book of Ecclesiastes is the thoughts of a man who looked at life from “under the sun”. His eyes were cast downward; our eyes ought to be cast upward.
I ran across this verse a couple days ago while reading. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, and near the end of his first letter, says this:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Cor. 15:58 (emphasis added)
I hope you see what I’m hinting at in this connection. But first, let’s turn back in the chapter. One of my favorite hermeneutical maxims is, “If you ever see a ‘therefore’, you need to find out what it’s there for.” So what is the therefore pointing to in this verse? To sum up:
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:54-57
In this beautiful passage, Paul reminds us of the fact that life does not end with death; there is an eternal weight of glory beyond the grave.
These two perspectives together work like this: God has given us a short amount of time to live on this earth, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, work as hard as you can each and every day. Don’t just work for the sake of working, however; work for the things that matter: eternal things. It is not possessions that matter, but love. The thing that will be remembered in your life is not how many toys you got, but how you loved. How well have you loved God today, with your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself? That is what matters, and that is what will impact eternity.
Though life does not truly end at death, our work on earth will. What are we doing with the time that God has given us? What are we working for? Jesus’ model prayer was, “Thy kingdom come.” Let us work to build His kingdom.