Summary: A sermon on labor, work from Ecclesiastes (Title, Material and outline adapted from Dan Blazer's book, Life Is Worth Living, chapter 5)
Solomon in Ecclesiastes at times has a positive outlook on work, labor.
Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, NIV.
Ecclesiastes 5:18, NIV.
Ecclesiastes 9:9, NIV.
At other times Solomon is downright negative about work and labor.
“What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 1:3
Ecclesiastes 2:10,11; 2:17-23
Since the time of Adam, when mankind was driven from the Garden of Eden, work has been our lot. “To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”” Genesis 3:17, 19, NIV.
Work has changed drastically over the centuries, especially the past 150 years. Psychologists and sociologists study work. Managers desire to make work as pleasurable as possible, for a satisfied employee is know to be more productive. Nevertheless, even with modern convenience, work continues to be a drudgery for many, if not for most of us.
The goad passages on work from Ecclesiastes show us that worldly wisdom gains no satisfaction from labor. The never ending journey on the treadmill of career advancement, often only to maintain one’s status, leads to burnout. Solomon experienced something like this. His youthful enthusiasm for the kingship had soured.
How many of us wake up in the morning and look forward to our work? Though the standard is the 40 hour work week, almost all spend more than 40 hours when considering the commute, overtime, thinking about work, etc. Over 40 of our best hours are spent at work. We need to be concerned with these 40 hours as Christians
Also as Christians our work is not limited to our jobs, workplace. We are engaged in spiritual work. Some complain about duties at church, about having too much to do, of not being appreciated at church, and so forth, much like a secular job. In fact, our spiritual work may be directed primarily to attaining the “benefits” of that work as opposed to being pleasurable in and of itself. Spiritual work may soften our guilt, “lay up treasures in heaven” (like fringe benefits), be perceived as a type of exchange relationship (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back), or just get the church leaders off of our backs.
“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”” 2 Thessalonians 3:10, NIV. Now there are many in our society who are sluggish and lack desire to work. But most of us do not work “so that we may eat.” In Bible times if one did not work he literally did not eat because he had no food. What keeps many people at the grindstone is not food or other basic necessities, but status and pride. Go into a room full of strangers and start talking with them and one of first things talked about is work, career.
The workaholic is common in the work place today. The workaholic is addicted to work, just as the alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. Such a person must continually work in order to prevent the consequences of withdrawal yet many times despises day to day work activities.
Misery loves company. Workaholics often will push those around them to work even harder. Workaholics becomes so preoccupied with their own needs to feed their addictions that they cannot understand the feelings or needs of their co workers. Cannot understand why others do not have such a devotion to their work. Their god is their work and they are in slavery.
We also see workaholics in the Lord’s church. These active “workers” receive much attention and admiration from other Christians. We also feel guilty around them, for our own “works” never measure up to theirs. As with the workaholic in the work place, spiritual workaholics rarely experience peace or satisfaction in their service, never feel that they have done enough, and push themselves to the fate of many workaholics- burnout. The risk for emotional and spiritual burnout among Christians is high. Many times we pay lip service to the concept of grace, and continue in a works relationship with our Father and our fellow Christians.
What is burnout? When a person suffers burnout, he depletes himself and exhausts his physical, emotional, and spiritual resources. He wears himself out by excessive striving, because he imposes unrealistic expectations upon himself. The person suffering from burnout is continually frustrated, for there is no way that he will reach his or her goals.