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

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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 na├»ve 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!

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