June 9 – Ecclesiastes 2:18-26

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Main Focus: Work and vocation are good gifts that turn into terrible gods when they’re not oriented towards the one true God.

Here comes another hevel. Last week the Teacher turned to earthly pleasures, and this week he’ll consider another thing in which we tend to look for meaning: work. He’ll come away with similar conclusions, that even our greatest human efforts are transient and that stewing in existential angst over their transience can produce real frustration. As a heads up, everything we have to say here applies to folks who aren’t employed and for stay-at-home parents, caregivers, or retirees, so please be clear and sensitive towards folks in discussion; talking about work can be tricky across those demographic lines, but it needn’t be.

In Ecclesiastes 2:18-26, the Teacher reflects on his extensive accomplishments and the wealth he accumulated (v.4-10), only to realize that he must leave it all behind to someone who may not appreciate or manage it well. Seeing the vanity of his achievements and their transitory value led him to a profound sense of despair (v.20), and that response is a perennial, human feeling; how often do we feel as though our efforts in life are amounting, or will one day amount, to nothing?

By this point we should be able to see how the book of Ecclesiastes invites us to wrestle with God regarding the difficulties of life. Remember, this sort of struggle and rumination is in the Bible, so this is God giving legitimacy to and language for our hardest days and darkest nights. Here the Teacher laments his finiteness; it’s alright if we do too. Here he questions the fairness and value of toil when the outcome is uncertain and beyond his control. It’s alright if we find ourselves in the same place.

In discussion we’ll mention his various frustrations with work, many of which are frequent gripes we have about our own jobs and vocations. The anxiety, the long hours, little to show for all our efforts—later he’ll also add envy and comparison (4:4)—all these and more regularly rankle our workday lives. But looking beyond the common things we vent about, we also need to address the disappointment that often comes from misplaced expectations. We’ll discuss those false desires we bring to our work like entitlement, indulgent ambition, or fear of failure, along with the wrong ends we seek like validation, social standing, or lasting satisfaction. For the most part, we tend to ask too much out of work, centering work on ourselves and expecting it to fill a void in our hearts.

However, we can also swing the pendulum too far the other direction and undersell the value of work, descending to the Teacher’s pit of despair. So we’ll turn to Colossians 3:17 and 3:23 to see how we can rightly relate to work. There we’ll discuss what work as a means of worshiping God might look like in our lives. By doing our work as a means of worship, we turn the attention off ourselves or our boss or our peers or our kids. In this re-centering we’ll likely find it easier to forgo attempts at being served by our work, instead seeing our work as a means of serving God.

So too we might find ourselves better equipped to serve others through our work. We’ll close discussion by seeing how work as worship enables us to better serve and bless our neighbors through our efforts. This may be more subversive than expected; you can imagine how this others-centric perspective, particularly as it’s molded by gospel values, might not get you far up the corporate ladder. However, as we make our efforts more and more about loving God and loving neighbor, we’ll feel more and more liberated from the futility of the daily grind and perhaps better able to see how our mortal efforts connect to God’s eternal purposes.

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Ecclesiastes 2:18-26 for us?

– What stood out to you from the passage?

– How does the Teacher describe some of the frustrations of work?

– What are some ways you’re prone to try to get the wrong things out of work and achievement?

– How does that help you see your need for God’s help in relating to your work/vocation appropriately?

– Could someone read Colossians 3:17 and 3:23 for us?

– How do you think viewing work as an act of worship can change the way you relate to work?

– How might viewing work as worship help you bless others through your work?


Resources

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