Vain Labour – Ecc 4:4-16

As we read Ecclesiastes, the tone sounds quite depressed, but God through Solomon is simply trying to give us a realistic understanding of the emptiness of certain types of living and labour. Furthermore, we are encouraged to keep living, labouring, and enjoying life, but to do so with the fear of the Lord and for the glory of God, not to ourselves.

In Ecclesiastes 4, we are told of three different motives that often undermine the significance of our labour. If we are honest, many of our effort are often fuelled by selfish motives rather than God-honouring ones.

1. Envy (4:4-6) – Often, we work very hard and put lots of effort into achieving things, but our motives are to get what others have, become what others are and do what others are doing. We envy our neighbour and try very hard to outdo him or her. Solomon observes that it would be better to have just a handful and a quiet life than to have both hands full (to achieve it all) and unnecessary travail and trouble in our lives. How is envy and jealousy affecting you? What impure motives lie behind your efforts? May God help us to see this sin in our lives and confess it.

2. Greed (4:7-12) – Another impure motive that blights us is greed. Solomon describes a man who has ‘no end of all his labour’ ‘neither is his eye satisfied with riches.’ This man is doing it all for himself, thinking of no one but himself. If we are honest, often, our efforts are really about building our kingdom and our name. We are not putting that much effort and work into making others a success; we are working hard for ourselves. But, we are missing out on the blessings of companionship and sharing as described in 4:9-12. If we consider and share with others, we will, as the Bible Knowledge Commentary points out: be more effective (v.9), have help in our difficulties (v.10), comfort in time of need (v.11), and protection in time of danger (v.12).

3. Ambition (4:13-16) – A third motive that makes our labour vain and meaningless is when we do what we do to become famous. These verses show how short-lived fame is. No one is ever as famous as they think. Others have held that position before and others will hold it in the future. Fame and position will not really satisfy, and if that is all we want, it would be better to be a poor but wise child than an old and foolish king. I wonder how much of our labour, service, and, at times, even our ‘ministry’ is motivated by a desire to be somebody and for others to notice and honour us?

How has Solomon pulled off the mask of your labour? How has God through Him shown you and me the envy, greed, and selfish ambition of our hearts? May we repent of these sins. May we confess them to the Lord and be filled with contentment, generosity, and humility. May we serve the Lord and others because of what Christ already done for us not because we want more for ourselves.

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