Summary: The value of working together.
“Together We Stand”
Let’s begin this evening by reading the text in a modern version, just listen as I read, “Then I observed all the work and ambition motivated by envy. What a waste! Smoke. And spitting into the wind.(5) The fool sits back and takes it easy, His sloth is slow suicide. (6) One handful of peaceful repose Is better than two fistfuls of worried work— More spitting into the wind. (7-8) I turn-ed my head and saw yet another wisp of smoke on its way to nothingness: a solitary person, completely alone—no children, no family, no friends—yet working obsessively late into the night, compulsively greedy for more and more, never bothering to ask, “Why am I working like a dog, never having any fun? And who cares?” More smoke. A bad business. (9-10) It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough! (11) Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. (12) By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. (13-16) A poor youngster with some wis-dom is better off than an old but foolish king who doesn’t know which end is up. I saw a youth just like this start with nothing and go from rags to riches, and I saw everyone rally to the rule of this young successor to the king. Even so, the excitement died quickly, the throngs of people soon lost interest. Can’t you see it’s only smoke? And spitting into the wind?” (The Message -MSG)
Given all the trouble (injustice and oppression) in the world, sometimes Solomon was tempted to think that it might be better not to live at all, and he said as much at the beginning of chapter four (vv.1-3). Then he made several comparisons based on what he saw happening around him and he offered practical advice for living in a transient world. It is better to live with contentment (4:4-6), to work in partnership with other people (4:7-12) and to lead a teachable spirit (4:13-16).
First, Learn To Live With Contentment. (4:4-6)
Solomon has already told the reader that work is a gift from God (2:24) but as with all of God’s blessings it can be distorted by sin.
• The Problem. - Two opposite Extremes
The Man who works to Much.
“Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.”
First Solomon talks about what we would call the workaholic (v.4) in reality he is motivated by envy. This individual work is life, their job becomes all-consuming.
The Man Who Refuses To Work. (v. 5)
“The fool folds his hands And consumes his own flesh.”
Rather than joining the rat-race some people drop out altogether. Solomon says such individuals “Consume his own flesh” this expression is the equivalent of “brings ruin upon himself or destroys his own dignity” We have more than enough of this kind of individual in our society, the person who decides to ride the system, pick up their check and live off the government. Solomon says that such a lifestyle devours one’s self, to sit in idleness causes your resources to dry up and your self-respect to disappear. One of the saddest things taking place in our country is the enabling of “able bodied” individuals to “fold their hands” and do nothing and collect federal assistance. As long as there is any unfilled position, we are doing those on welfare a grave disservice by paying them to stay home. Warren Wiersbe says, “laziness is a slow comfortable path to self-destruction.” [Warren Wiersbe. “Be Satisfied.” (Wheaton: Ill.: SP Pub, 1990) p. 56]
• The Prescription. (v. 6)
“Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.”
“Quietness” can also be translated “content-ment.” Two fisted consumption speaks of the person who is grabbing as much as possible and always grasping for more. Later Solomon wrote of the danger of greed when he said, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase.” (Eccles 5:10) In the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6 -NKJV)
The Bible abounds with warnings and exhortations about the dangers of confusing material prosperity with the blessings of God. Paul wrote in to the church at Philippi, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am,to be content:(12) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Every-where and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (13) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13)