Summary: Establishing priorities. Finding a balance between a strong work ethic and accumulating wealth

Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)

Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ

Sunday, August 12, 2001

by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

An Age of Nonsense: “Success is in the Eye of the Beholder”

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

Growing up I use to tell my dad I didn’t care what I did when I grew up just so long as I was happy doing it. Dad’s response was always the same. Half-jokingly, he'd say [that]: “The only happy people in life are the ones incarcerated in institutions wearing straight-jackets.” And, to some degree I believe he meant it, because in the final analysis my dad was a very unhappy man.

Was I being naïve in wanting to be happy? Is happiness a worthwhile pursuit? Or, is happiness just a fleeting emotion? The older I get the more I am convinced that happiness is not an end in itself. Happiness or, perhaps a better synonym would be “contentment,” is the result of honest labor. Hard work, dedication, initiative is an attitude that yields dividends. Or, as the recruitment ad for the U.S. Army used to say, “Be all that you can be!”

Someone once said that for a person “to be happy in his work, three things are needed: he must be fit for it. He must not do too much of it. And he must have a sense of success in it.” And this is what I believe Solomon is telling us in this passage.

Speaking of work, in a sermon entitled, “A Healthy Attitude Toward Work and Money,” Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church located in a northwest suburb of Chicago, remarked “that most people spend four to eight years going to school to learn how to do it. Once we are done with learning how to do it, most Americans will spend a minimum of 80,000 hours – or 10,000 days – of their lives doing it. If we don’t do enough of it, we risk losing what we have. If we try to do too much of it, we risk losing our health and our families. We can starve if we do too little, and we can burn our selves out if we emphasize it too strongly.” He closes by saying, “Even though we spend years learning how to do it and decades actually doing it, finding the right balance of work and wealth in our lives … is one of the most difficult challenges that we face in our culture.”

Apparently, this was a concern of Solomon as well. God’s word tackles this dilemma head on. So, if we listen carefully to what Solomon is saying, we’ll gain some helpful insight as to how we should evaluate success in life.

In this portion of chapter five, Solomon is explaining the subtle differences between the benefits of success and the secrets of success. In our culture, today, it’s easy to see the benefits of success. Just look around you. It’s the person up the block who lives in the largest house, he drives the fanciest car and owns the sleekest boat at the marina. His corporate offices are on the top floor. Even his secretaries dress better than the pool of secretaries down the hall. He carries more country club memberships in his wallet than you have grocery store coupons in your purse. His kids attend the most exclusive schools. He doesn’t just own stock in the Fortune 500, he’s part of the inner sanctum of the Fortune 500 with golden parachute clauses worth millions! You get the idea. In America, the benefits of success are rather obvious!

Solomon, who calls himself Qoheleth, which means “preacher,” was very much aware of the benefits of success. As we spoke about last week, God blessed Solomon with great wisdom. His knowledge and expertise spanned numerous subjects. Scripture tells us that Solomon was also the wealthiest man who had ever lived. His income in gold alone, based upon current prices, came to over $330,000,000 annually [based upon information from 1 Kings 10]. He owned a large fleet of merchant ships, which carried precious cargo from all over the Mediterranean. Once every three years these ships returned carrying gold, ivory, precious linens, spices and exotic perfumes. He traded with Arabian kings and noblemen from all over the known world. He owned mines and rock quarries both in Israel and other countries and had foreign investments in diamond mines and forests.

He built a great throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with the finest gold. The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. His throne was exquisitely made by the finest craftsmen and scripture tell us that “Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom.” [1 Kings 10.20]. All of King Solomon’s goblets were made of gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were made of pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver held little value in Solomon’s day. His personal stables were ornately decorated with imported tiles and porcelain and heavily laden with precious metals, and housed 4,000 horses and chariots. In other cities, Solomon stationed 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen who were part of his official entourage. And although it took a construction crew of 150,000 Israelite men, 3,600 supervisors and thousands of foreign laborers seven years to build God's Temple, this pales in comparison to the thirteen years it took to build Solomon's palace.

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