If you have never studied the book of Ecclesiastes then I would encourage you to read it. When you do, you must be very careful not to miss the main point of the book. As a reader of any literature, you must use the rules of composition to help you understand the idea that the author wants to get across. If you do not use these rules, then you may miss the main point. Ecclesiastes is not a book that you just want to read. It is a book that you need to study so that you can understand what King Solomon wanted to get across.
Solomon was a man who had it all. He had wealth, fame, wisdom, women, toys, anything that you can imagine. He tried it all and was not satisfied by it. There is a word that is mentioned over 30 times in 12 chapters. The word is vanity. Vanity means “nothingness”. It is like a puffed up balloon with no substance. Solomon teaches that if you live life the way that you want, without God, then all of life is vanity. It is good to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow you die. Solomon needed to experience genuine community, something that is not experienced by having a bunch of “fans” in your life as friends instead of having genuine community with genuine people. Solomon had the “fans” who loved him for what he could do for them. They were there to party with him. They did not satisfy. Genuine community is found in people who live life together, who are sincere with each other, who are honest with one another. True friends open up to you and you open up to them. True friends may even confront you, for your own good of course. Unfortunately, there are not too many people in this world who have genuine friends. Most of us have “fans” who like to hang around us for what we can do for them. Why is it that most of us never experience genuine community? That is a great question and Solomon gives us the answer in chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes.
Verses 4-7 explain why many of us never experience genuine community.
4 I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind. 5 The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. 6 One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. 7 Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. 8 There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure ?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.
Jealousy ruins genuine community (4)
Have you ever secretly rejoiced over the failure of a friend? Where did that come from? Or, do you have a friend who has everything, good looks, charisma, charm, money etc.? Do you secretly dislike the person? Do you secretly wish that just once, something would go wrong? None of us would ever share those feelings but I am sure that most of us have experienced them. I know that I have. That is jealousy, and it is born in us. We have to overcome it. If we are controlled by jealousy then we will never get to the place where we can experience genuine Christian community. First we have to be honest with ourselves and deal with the green monster. One response is not to open up and be sincere. If that happens then you can never have genuine community. Once you enter genuine community you will be able to be honest and sincere with others. This will help you deal with the green monster of jealousy.
Laziness ruins genuine community (5)
Many of us are lazy, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. We understand how to work hard when it comes to work and physical responsibilities yet when it comes to spiritual matters, we want things to be spoon fed to us. This is terrible. We have to bring the same work ethic that we use in our jobs to our spiritual lives. It is not something that just happens. It is not something that someone else can do for me. I must put forth effort. Genuine Christian community does not just happen. It is something that must be worked toward and worked on. There is a phenomenon among men. Men will work 90 hours a week for a job yet will not find one hour a week to go to church and work on their spiritual life, much less find another couple of hours a week to get involved in a community group where other men will help them work on their spiritual lives. Or, they will work 90 hours a week and then dedicate another 30 to sports, on television, playing, listening to etc. Unfortunately, that laziness is shifting to the work ethic of the younger generations. The 20’s and 30 year olds are not working like their fathers did. The more free time that they now have, now goes to things like video games which do nothing but waste time. They still live at home, working 5 to 10 hours a week instead of 40 yet because of their laziness, they do not want to get involved in community groups. God created us for community and we avoid it to our own detriment.
Discontent with what you have now ruins genuine community (6)
The old adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side” is so true and it is a killer of genuine Christian community. If am to busy always working for the next thing, the next toy, the next level, the next ladder on the rung of success then I will not have time to enjoy what I have now. If I do not pay attention to the now then I will not see the need to get involved in genuine community or I will not make time for it. I will be like the turtle led by the carrot on a string, always seeking to get it but never actually getting it. We see this manifested in many ways. If I can get past school then I will get a good job. Once I get established I will start my family. Once the family is established I will do all that I can to give them the next best thing etc. By the end of life, I realize that I missed the moment because I was always working for the next thing and end up saying things like “where did all my time go? Where did my life go?”. Solomon says that those who live like this die and are forgotten. Just as an example, do you know the name of your great-great-great-great-great grandfather? He did not live all that long ago and yet more than likely, you do not even know his name. Be content with the here and now and the best way to do that is by being aware. Awareness will come as a result of being involved in Christian community.
Work as an end in itself ruins genuine community (7-8)
Work is not a bad thing. Work is something invented by God to keep us busy and out of trouble as well as a means to provide for our families. When work becomes the target of work then it enslaves and something noble becomes something that enslaves. Many men work hard to provide for their families which is a great thing. The problem is that of these same men, many of them sacrifice their families for the things that they want to buy for their families. No gift can make up for a father’s absence. A child needs his daddy. He needs his daddy way more than he needs the things that his daddy can give him, even if they are awesome things. When a man works too much and does not have time for his family then he loses perspective. Of course he does not have time for community groups because he cannot offer time to his own family. When a man gets involved in a community group, he learns how to build relations with others and is taught to value his time with his wife and children. When he does this, he is satisfied and his family is too. They may not have all the gadgets but they have what is more valuable, a genuine relationship with the head of the household. Men, make time for community groups. Your family will greatly appreciate it way more than the toys that you provide for them. In the end, after you are gone, all the blood, sweat, and tears invested in the company will be forgotten once you are gone but the investment that you make in your family will never be forgotten. Other men want to be there for you to encourage you in this walk of life to keep things in perspective. That is God’s plan.
May the Lord help us build strong, sincere Christian community which will change the world around us.