Summary: We are people who live in world where everything is said to be relative. HOw do we find satisfaction in this world. But death is the great leveler. "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil."

By Rev Bill Stewart


’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life

Trying to make ends meet

You’re a slave to money then you die

’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life

Trying to make ends meet

Trying to find some money then you die

If you were in your teens or a 20-something way back in 1997, you’ll probably remember these lyrics from the song "Bittersweet symphony" by one-hit-wonders The Verve. They were on the charts around the break up of my relationship with my girlfriend of the time – a sweet followed by a bitter time for me. So I identified very closely with them. If you remember them, then it’s probably because you’ve experienced both the bitter and the sweet that life has to offer. Perhaps as you were listening you also noticed some resemblance between the lyrics of "Bittersweet symphony" and the book of Ecclesiastes.


Do you remember what Ecclesiastes had to say about work last week in Chris’s "dramatization" of chapter 1? "What do people gain from all their toil at which they toil under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1:3). I can’t imagine there is anyone among us who hasn’t at least once woken up in the morning (probably Monday morning!) and asked, "Why am I doing this?" ... And most, if not all, of us have at least once probably responded in the great Australian tradition by taking a "sicky".

We know that Ecclesiastes lived a much more privileged life than any of us. In verse 12 of chapter 1 he tells us he "was the king over Jerusalem in Israel." Despite this he stills sounds a lot like me and you doesn’t he? Ecclesiastes certainly speaks to me as someone who knows what its like to wake up on a Monday and wish it was still Sunday. (Or in the case of ministers like Chris, Roy, Michael and myself, to wake up on Sunday and wish it was still Saturday!) But it seems to me that Ecclesiastes question reaches much wider than this. He is asking, why work at all? ever? Is work itself worthless? And what’s more, he seems to be saying not just why bother with paid employment, but why do anything at all? "You’re a slave to money then you die."

But before we look more closely at this question, I want to ask you: How does Ecclesiastes strike you as a person? As a pessimist? Chapter 1, verse 13, in The message translation seems to support this idea: "I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there’s not much to write home about." Is he a cynic? But then as someone said, a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist. Maybe Ecclesiastes is just a realist. I think is a realist because he is wise enough to see that if we are going to live in the real world it is not good enough just to say to people, "Don’t worry, be happy". So many of today’s spiritualities and therapies, even some claiming to be Christian and to base their teaching on the Bible, are willing to do this, but Ecclesiastes is not, thank God!

Whatever else you might want to say about Ecclesiastes, you’ve got to admit that "he calls a spade a spade." He speaks to us from the heart of his personal experience. Beginning in chapters 1 & 2, he speaks of his lifelong personal quest for wisdom. In The message translation he is called "the Quester", rather than "the Teacher". This is also an accurate description of him. Over the next few weeks we will be following some of the different paths Ecclesiastes followed on his quest. But this week we will restrict ourselves to his quest to understand human work. Time and again, Ecclesiastes struggles to discover what advantage, if any, people gain from their work. He touches on this theme in several places. Today we’ll concentrate on chapter 2 which was read to us.

2:1-11: THE TEST

In chapter 2 Ecclesiastes begins his search for wisdom by exploring possible avenues for the enjoyment of life: Notice how in verse 1 he says to himself: "’Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself’." Then in verse 3 he states the goal of his test: "until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life." Where does he tell us he looked to see what was good? Pleasure, laughter, wine, great buildings, houses, vineyards, parks, gardens, pools, forests, slaves, herds, flocks, silver, gold, song and women. This was a test of "wine, women and song" and just about everything else money could buy in the ancient world.

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