Solomon has spent much of the past few chapters of Ecclesiastes carefully documenting his failed attempts to find meaning in life under the sun. But now in chapter five, Solomon the Teacher will begin to change his focus and start doing a little teaching of his own. For instance, the first few verses of this chapter will help provide us with four good principles that we can apply in many different life situations. Those four principles are…
- Listen carefully
- Think before you speak
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep
- Let your words be few
To give us an idea of how these principles might be applied in our daily lives, the Teacher will start by using the example of our relationship with God…
“As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
We said earlier that Solomon was someone who took the time to watch and learn from the activities that were taking place around him- and that led him to direct his attention to the area of spiritual observance. The Teacher’s observation in this area clearly helped to lead him to the conclusions that we see in the passage quoted above.
Some other translations render the opening verse of chapter five as, “Guard your feet…” (LITV) or, “Walk prudently…” (NKJV). In common, everyday language, we might understand the idea of this passage as “Watch your step…” Of course, this represents good advice whenever we exit a train, plane, escalator or other vehicle, but its important to remember that there is a valuable spiritual application behind this expression as well.
Just as our physical steps help lead us to a particular destination, our internal choices direct us towards certain destinations as well. For example, Solomon advises us to, “Be very careful when you go to worship God. It is better to listen to God than to give sacrifices like fools” (ESV). The implication is that a person who doesn’t listen or is careless in his or her relationship with God will eventually arrive at one or more foolish decisions. Solomon refers to one such decision as “…the sacrifice of fools” (ASV) and we’ll identify the idea behind that term next.
“Watch your step when you go to the house of God. It is better to go there and listen than to bring the sacrifices fools bring. Fools are unaware that they are doing something evil. Don’t be in a hurry to talk. Don’t be eager to speak in the presence of God. Since God is in heaven and you are on earth, limit the number of your words” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 GW).
Its interesting (but not surprising) to note that this passage begins by telling us tells us that we should watch our step when going to the house of God. This implies that we should think carefully about the way that we conduct our lives before God before we ever get to church
You see, it’s hard to believe that someone’s spiritual beliefs really mean anything if those beliefs are restricted to the four walls of a church building. After all, how much is someone’s “Christianity” really worth if that person stops being a Christian at home, on the job, at school, or on the field? In fact, we have a word that describes people who are “religious” inside church but avoid being that way outside church- we call such people hypocrites.
Instead, we should make certain to “watch our step” before God outside of church and not just when we get there. A person who does this is someone who is more likely to listen and learn from God’s Word instead of simply airing his or her thoughts and opinions, just as the above Scripture implies. This is important because “to listen” “is an important and common Hebrew term… It means ‘to hear so as to do.’ It focuses on actions, not just information.” (1) The person who refuses to do this is in danger of offering what Solomon identifies as “the sacrifice of fools.”
You see, a foolish person may insist on saying, “I have my own way of following God” instead of listening to His Word and adjusting his or her behavior accordingly. The problem with this is that no one has “their own way” of following God.
We don’t approach God on our terms; we approach God on His terms- and His terms are given to us in 1 Timothy 2:5: “…there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…” If we wish to be accepted by God, we must approach Him through the Mediator that He has established- Jesus Christ. Any attempt to approach God in another manner is to offer “the sacrifice of fools.”
(1) Bob Utley, Commentary on Ecclesiastes pg.53
“Guard your step when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they are ignorant and do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 5:1 HCSB).
Many people believe that it’s possible to establish a right relationship with God by doing (or not doing) certain things. For instance, some believe that it’s necessary to follow a religious ritual or observance in order to be made right with God. Some believe that their charitable giving and good works will make them acceptable to God. Then there are others who are not particularly religious. Such people often believe that the “good” things they’ve done in life will outweigh the “bad” things they’ve done and will be enough for them to gain entrance into heaven.
The problem is that if people begin to do things for God without the knowledge of what is acceptable to Him, then those actions may simply amount to nothing more than a foolish sacrifice. Such people may feel as if they are doing something good and acceptable for God but in the words of the Teacher, they are “…too ignorant to know that they are doing evil” (AMP). The Scriptures illustrate the issue like this…
“Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3 NIV).
So the question is, “What is this ‘righteousness of God’ and how are we supposed to submit to it?” In other words, what’s the right way to approach God and know that we’ll be accepted? Well, the New Testament book of 1 Timothy provides us with the answer…
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV).
If we desire to be accepted by God, then its essential to know how we should approach Him. The Scriptures tell us that the only right way to approach God is through the Mediator that He has appointed- and that Mediator is Jesus. Now, a “mediator” is someone who arbitrates, reconciles, and works out the differences between two parties. Jesus is our mediator because He paid God’s death penalty on our behalf and opened up the way through which we can approach God and have a relationship with Him. As Jesus Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
It’s been said that if you want to know the right way to communicate with God, there are two important things to remember. First, you should stop to remember who God is. Next, you should stop to remember who you are.
A person who acknowledges God as the almighty, all powerful Creator of the universe and accepts the fact that he or she would have nothing (and be nothing) without Him is likely to be someone who has the right attitude towards communicating with God in prayer. This verse also brings to mind one of Jesus’ teachings on the subject of prayer…
“But when you pray, do not use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them: for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him” (Mark 6:7-8 NIV).
So what exactly is a “vain repetition”? Well, a vain repetition is a habitual prayer spoken without much thought. It’s a shallow prayer made without any real emotional, spiritual, or intellectual involvement. You see, in Jesus day it was common for those who worshiped many gods to pray according to some set rule or formula. Those seeking help from the “gods” would mechanically recite the supposed greatness of their deity while continually reminding their god of their devotion and the good things that he or she had done.
It was thought that long prayers with many words would help make someone more deserving in the eyes of his or her god. It was then hoped that this god would be moved to listen and act on those prayers. Of course, such prayers weren’t very genuine- they simply served as a vehicle to get what the “pray-er” wanted from his or her god.
However, Jesus taught that things should be very different among those who follow the one true God. Rather than mindlessly repeating some routine words, we should approach God in sincerity, bringing our needs before Him in a real and personal way. This means that there is no need to try and flatter God or give Him mindless compliments in prayer. That’s insincere- and God knows it. Instead, we should be honest and upfront with God as we bring our needs to Him in a respectful and reverent way.
“Don’t talk before you think or make promises to God without thinking them through. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so don’t talk too much” (Ecclesiastes 5:2 CEV).
The right way to approach God in prayer is with an attitude of humility, recognizing that He is worthy of respect, honor, and worship along with the knowledge that He is the One who can handle every need we may have. Now does this mean that we shouldn’t pray long prayers or pray for the same thing more than once? Well, if you have the same need today as you did yesterday, then it’s OK to bring that need before God again and ask for His wisdom. In fact, Jesus addressed this very subject in a parable that He shared with His disciples…
“One day Jesus told his disciples a story to illustrate their need for constant prayer and to show them that they must keep praying until the answer comes. ‘There was a city judge,’ he said, ‘a very godless man who had great contempt for everyone. A widow of that city came to him frequently to appeal for justice against a man who had harmed her. The judge ignored her for a while, but eventually she got on his nerves.
I fear neither God nor man,’ he said to himself, `but this woman bothers me. I’m going to see that she gets justice, for she is wearing me out with her constant coming!’ Then the Lord said, ‘If even an evil judge can be worn down like that, don’t you think that God will surely give justice to his people who plead with him day and night? Yes! He will answer them quickly! But the question is: When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith [and are praying]?'” (Luke 18:1-8 TLB).
Matthew 7:7 tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (NIV). That word “knock” refers to the act of “knocking” or “rapping” on a door. Now people don’t usually knock once at a door, especially if they know someone is home. People generally knock multiple times and usually continue until someone answers the door. In a similar way, Jesus promises to open His door to you in prayer if you will knock upon it in genuine way.
So if you have an ongoing need, keep on knocking in prayer until you receive an answer- and don’t forget to thank God for that answer when it arrives.
“Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool. When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him” (Ecclesiastes 5:3-4).
The type of promise spoken of in this passage is more commonly referred to as a “vow.” This word identifies “…a gift or offering promised to be given to the Lord. It usually was a sacrifice or free-will offering… that was often promised during times of pressure.” (1) One verse from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy tells us this is something that God takes very seriously…
“When you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not put off doing what you promised; the LORD will hold you to your vow, and it is a sin not to keep it. (Deuteronomy 23:21 GNB).
While it may seem as if “vows” are mostly limited to things like marriage ceremonies today, the reality is that people are often tempted to bargain with God by making vows when seeking His help with a difficult situation. For example, it’s not unusual to hear someone say, “God, if you get me out of this situation, then I’ll promise to…” when faced with a serious problem. But an attitude like that tends to turn our relationship with God into little more than a business arrangement. It implies that if God is willing to do something for us then we’ll do something for Him.
Instead of relating to God in this manner, it would be much better to follow Jesus’ advice on this subject…
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37 NIV).
That’s a recommendation that the Teacher would definitely agree with…
“It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved” (Ecclesiastes 5:5-6).
(1) NET Bible Notes Ecclesiastes 5:4 http://net.bible.org/#!bible/Ecclesiastes+5
Big dreams can sometimes turn into useless or pointless activities if those dreams are not tempered by a desire to accomplish God’s will in our lives. You see, it’s possible for someone to be a dreamer but not necessarily a doer. The New Testament book of James touches on this general idea when it says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). This reminds us that a knowledge of God and the Scriptures carries a responsibility to live according to that knowledge.
The following verses in James then go on to say this…
“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it– he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23-25 NIV).
So as an alternative to this idea of “dreaming rather than doing,” the Teacher counsels us to “Fear God instead.” In our modern vocabulary, this word “fear” is often used to refer to a general sense of apprehension or state of being afraid. But listen to something that Jesus once said regarding this responsibility to fear God…
“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5 NKJV).
Did you notice how Jesus separated the words “afraid” and “fear” in the verses quoted above? He said, “…do not be afraid of those who kill the body…” but “…Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell…” (emphasis added).
When the word “fear” is used in this kind of Biblical context, it refers to the idea of reverence, honor, or respect. So when we read about this responsibility to “fear God,” it means that we should honor and respect Him above everything else. Remember, it’s been said that a person who fears (or respects) God need not fear (or be afraid of) anything else.
“Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land. For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice get lost in red tape and bureaucracy. Even the king milks the land for his own profit!” (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9).
The Teacher will go on to spend most of the remaining verses of this chapter reminding us of two things: 1.) Great wealth will eventually prove to be worthless and 2.) A life of materialism ultimately proves to be unrewarding. But before we get to that, Solomon first has a few words to say about the oppression of government bureaucracies under the sun.
Governmental forms such as monarchies, dictatorships, and democracies represent just a few of the different systems of civil authority that have been established over the years. While some of these models have clearly been better than others, it’s also true that each has been far from perfect. This idea was cleverly illustratrated by the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who is once reported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.”
In looking at the relationship of a government to it’s citizens, Solomon was brutally realistic regarding the issues that affect human politics and policies. He said, “Don’t be surprised when you see that the government oppresses the poor and denies them justice and their rights” (Ecclesiastes 5:8 GNB). Whether that oppression filters down through layers of government bureaucracies or layers of government corruption, those at the bottom of the societal chain (such as the poor) are often made to suffer the most.
The Teacher also held no illusion regarding the possibility that an ideal political system or utopian society might somehow be achievable under the sun. Instead, he faced the cold, hard reality of human government: “One officer is cheated by a higher officer who in turn is cheated by even higher officers. The wealth of the country is divided up among them all” (NCV).
In Solomon’s time, a typical government was led by a king, just as we see mentioned in verse nine above. Unfortunately, this verse has proven to be an extremely difficult one to translate. The general idea seems to be that everyone -even the king- is still dependent on the produce that God supplies to the farmer who tills the field of a kingdom. But even while layers of bureaucratic corruption may exist throughout government, “the good earth doesn’t cheat anyone—even a bad king is honestly served by a field” (MSG).
“Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11).
For many people, the most important thing in life is money. Although they may be reluctant to admit it, the truth is that making money -along with the status and possessions that go along with it- is the top priority among many people today. But does wealth really represent the ticket to happiness? The New Testament book of 1 Timothy says this…
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NIV).
It seems that some people are always buying, trading, or upgrading just to have the latest model or version of something. In fact, there are those who just don’t seem to be happy unless they have the newest or latest item to impress their friends. On the other hand, there are others who are perfectly happy with the things they possess- until they meet someone who has something better. That’s when the struggles with discontentment and jealousy often begin.
You see, it’s possible to have a lot of money yet still not be truly rich. It’s also possible to have many possessions yet still not be truly wealthy. In spite of what many people believe, having a lot of “stuff” doesn’t necessarily make someone a happier person. That’s why the person who lives a God-honoring lifestyle that accepts what God provides with an attitude of thankfulness has a tremendous advantage over the person who needs a lot of money or things to be happy.
Of course, another problem associated with accumulating a lot of money and possessions is that we can’t bring any of it with us when we die. This is illustrated by the wise old saying that tells us that we’ll never see a funeral car pulling a trailer on the way to the cemetery. That’s a clever way of restating what the Scriptures have already told us in the verses quoted above- you can’t take it with you when you go. Remember that we didn’t bring anything into this world when we came into it and we won’t be able to take any of the “stuff” we’ve accumulated here when we leave this planet.
“If you love money and wealth, you will never be satisfied with what you have. This doesn’t make sense either” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 CEV).
In Luke 12:15, Jesus was quoted as saying, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (NLT). One problem with the idea of using material possessions as the true measurement of our worth is found in Ecclesiastes 5:10-11:“He who loves money shall never have enough. The foolishness of thinking that wealth brings happiness! The more you have, the more you spend, right up to the limits of your income…” (TLB).
This passage identifies something that we might refer to as a “materialistic paradox.” Remember that a person who needs an abundance of money or possessions is bound to become discontented at some point. That’s because something newer or better than what he or she already possesses is sure to eventually appear. Once those newer or better things emerge, more money will be needed to purchase them. That can only lead to a cycle of disappointment and dissatisfaction- and it means that the person who needs a lot of “stuff” in order to be content is surely headed towards eventual discontentment.
But there’s another problem as well: “The more wealth people have, the more “friends” they have to help spend it. So the rich really gain nothing. They can only look at their wealth” (Ecclesiastes 5:11 ERV). This is just another way of stating a basic economic reality: the more you own, the more your expenses increase. More money often means more accountants, more lawyers, more property managers, and more financial consultants- and each of those people receive a paycheck as well.
Then there are others who are eager to identify people with financial resources in order to gain access to those resources and help spend them. This is really nothing new for as a commentator from an earlier generation once remarked,“Servants, friends, flatterers, trencher-men, pensioners, and other hangbys that will flock to a rich man, as crows do to a dead carcase, not to defend, but to devour it.” (1)
There is also the resentment that others often hold against those who are rich. As the Teacher pointed out earlier, some people are motivated by their envy of what others possess- and since wealthy people generally tend to possess more, they become natural targets for the jealousy and resentment of others.
So while it may be easy to assume that more money will solve more problems, it’s also possible for money to create as many problems as it solves. Sometimes all you really gain is the knowledge that you are rich (GNB).
(1) John Trapp quoted in Commentary on Ecclesiastes Davd Guzik
“People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep” Ecclesiastes 5:12).
An honest, hard-working person may not have everything in life but he or she can usually sleep pretty well at night. Such a person often has little need to lay awake with concern over the best way to support, manage, and protect his or her wealth or possessions.
These sleepless nights may represent one potential consequence associated with the accumulation of money or possessions. But there are a few other things to be concerned about as well…
“There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children” (Ecclesiastes 5:13-14).
The person who understands the temporary nature of wealth might be be tempted to hoard it. But as we’ve already seen, the act of building up a lot of money or possessions without regard for the God who is the ultimate Provider of those things is foolish. A better idea would involve alternatives like saving, investing, or other aspects of wise financial management. In fact, Jesus once used the example of three investors (two wise and one foolish) as an important teaching element in one of His parables.
The problem is that such investments often carry an element of risk. There is always the possibility that an investment could be lost through “some misfortune” (NIV), “evil circumstance” (Darby), or “a bad business deal” (CEV). For the person whose life is built upon the accumulation of money, possessions, and little else, that loss of financial wealth leaves little or nothing to pass along to those who follow. However, a God-honoring person (wealthy or poor) still maintains a rich spiritual heritage to bestow upon the next generation.
This inability to find real satisfaction through material possessions may contribute to the sense of hopelessness and frustration that people sometimes experience below the surface of their lives under the sun…
“We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing—like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry” (Ecclesiastes 5:15-17).
“We leave this world just as we entered it—with nothing. In spite of all our work there is nothing we can take with us” (Ecclesiastes 5:15 GNB).
From his “under the sun” perspective, Solomon the Teacher saw very little benefit to be gained from our life and work here on earth. But a look at Jesus’ teachings from the New Testament helps provide us with a very different perspective…
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV).
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34 NIV).
A person who invests only in material things must leave those things behind when he or she passes away. But Jesus taught that we can gain real, eternal value by making our investments in people instead. A generous, God-honoring lifestyle that assists others, cares for those in trouble, and helps to provide for those in need will eventually produce real eternal rewards. A lifestyle that is motivated by God’s love and duplicates His care and concern for people will help produce imperishable benefits for us long after we leave this planet.
The other alternative is illustrated by one of Jesus’ parables…
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21 NIV).
“Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 5:18).
From Solomon’s perspective, the best way to make the most of a bad situation under the sun was to look for the common pleasures of everyday life and find enjoyment in those things. If this sounds familiar, then it may be due to the fact that he made a similar point earlier in the book of Ecclesiastes when he said, “The best thing we can do is eat and drink and enjoy what we have earned. And yet, I realized that even this comes from God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 GNB).
The problem with this idea is that the concept of accepting “our lot in life” is usually associated with something undesirable like a dead-end job or the drudgery of a life filled with unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. It often generates the image of a person who finds very little enjoyment in his or her life situation but is resigned to accepting it as their fate.
But before accepting an attitude of resignation regarding “our lot in life,” we should first stop to consider an important point: the truth is that very few people ever get to do the things they’d really like to do- and even fewer have the opportunity to make a living at it.
You see, everyone has dreams of what they’d really like to do if they were given the opportunity. Unfortunately, very few people ever realize those dreams because everyone has limitations. There are physical limitations, financial limitations, time limitations, and other restraints that prevent us from doing what we’d really like to do. Another problem (if we really want to be honest about it), is that most people probably lack the talent, skill, or ability to do the things they’d really like to do if they could.
This means that the lives and occupations of untold numbers of people are largely influenced by what they can do to make a living rather than what they’d really like to do. So the person with a life that is largely defined by his or her work under the sun may have to contend with the dissatisfaction that is often associated with the idea of accepting our lot in life.
But what if we were to look at our lives and occupations as an assignment rather than a sentence? We’ll look at a Biblical example that illustrates this idea next.
As the Teacher looked out upon life under the sun, he found examples of oppression and injustice. He saw the futility of bureaucracy. He observed the limitations of financial wealth and political power. He recognized the ultimate absurdity of materialism. So was there anything really worthwhile under the sun?
Well, here is what he found…
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:18 ESV).
If we could change our perspective towards life and work from a limited, temporal viewpoint (or “under the sun” to use Solomon’s terminology) to an outlook that acknowledged God and His plan for our lives, how might that impact our attitude towards life? Well, we can find one example by looking at the record of Paul the Apostle’s life in the Scriptures.
In his second message to the church in Corinth, Paul had this to say…
“We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us, which includes our working with you” (2 Corinthians 10:13 NLT).
In speaking of “…the boundaries of the work God has given us”, Paul infers that he had a clear understanding regarding his God-given responsibilities. In fact, this calling was so clear that Paul could identify the limits of the work that God had given him to do. Regardless of how difficult, tedious, or menial this work may have been on a day-to-day basis, this knowledge enabled Paul to find meaning and fulfillment in his work for three reasons:
- He saw his work as a responsibility given to him by God
- He understood what his responsibilities entailed
- He knew what lay outside those responsibilities
In light of this, here’s a question- do you know what Paul did to earn a living? Well, Acts 18:3 tells us that Paul was a tentmaker by trade. During his travels, Paul would help to support himself by making tents for people to live in. He would measure and cut and stitch to make a living and then engage in his ministry responsibilities. One assignment provided Paul with a paycheck and the other provided little financial support (at least not regularly), but each was a responsibility that he had received from the Lord.
“Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift!” (Ecclesiastes 5:18 MSG).
How can someone find the most enjoyment “…in all the toil with which one toils under the sun” (NRSV) ? Well, one method would involve an honest self-assessment of the skills that God has provided. In other words, take some time to prayerfully survey your talents and abilities.
For instance, what do you “see” that other people don’t see? What do you notice that isn’t being done? What burdens you? What pains you? What drives you? What is it that animates you, energizes you, and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something after you’ve completed it? What would you continue to do even if no one else noticed or cared? The answers to these questions can often help you find the work that God has called you to do.
The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “…just preaching the Gospel isn’t any special credit to me– I couldn’t keep from preaching it if I wanted to. I would be utterly miserable. Woe unto me if I don’t.” (TLB). Communicating the gospel was God’s calling on Paul’s life- it was something that God internally motivated him to do. While Paul did hold a regular job (at least for a while), that responsibility was simply a part of what God had called him to do. Any other career path would have left him miserable. like Paul, the person who finds God’s calling and acts on it receives a true gift from Him along with the satisfaction of being involved with the fulfillment of God’s plan.
But there’s something else to consider…
“God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past” (Ecclesiastes 5:20).
Mistakes. Bad choices. Missed opportunities. These regrets exist for everyone and for some, the mistakes of the past may negatively affect the future that he or she might have otherwise enjoyed. But the person who places his or her faith in Christ has this promise from the Scriptures…
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJ).
A Christian who is actively fulfilling God’s call on his or her life shouldn’t have to look back with remorse on the mistakes of the past for that person has little time for regret over a past that has passed away.