The Folly of Wealth and the Value of Contentment

The Folly of Wealth and the Value of Contentment.

Ecclesiastes 5:8-17.

“As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came.  He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.”

 

            It is easy to get caught up in the pursuit of money and things.  No matter how much we have, there is always something more to be attained.  In his quest to find meaning, which only highlights how much we pursue in life is genuinely devoid of significance, Solomon again turns to the one thing we still relentlessly pursue: wealth.  While wealth has many benefits, there is one overriding disadvantage: no matter how much we have, there is always more to be attained.  The more we embrace wealth as the key to happiness, the more happiness eludes us.  To point us to the folly of our pursuit, Solomon reminds us that, in the end, the pursuit of riches does not bring peace and happiness; instead, it only brings further unhappiness.  Instead of it being a blessing, it becomes a curse.  The more we have, the harder we must work to keep it.  We dream of a large house with a large yard to enjoy, only to be enslaved by its upkeep and care.  The more expensive the car, the more it costs to keep it running.  

So, how do we find balance and perspective? Solomon provides a two-fold answer.  The first answer is learning to enjoy the gift of work rather than pursuing wealth.  Instead of seeing our labor as a means to obtain wealth, we see it as a blessing in itself.  Solomon takes us back to the garden and reminds us that work is God’s gift for us to enjoy.  In our work, we find the ability to sleep, regardless of our financial portfolio.  The image of sleep is more than just the collapse of exhaustion.  Sleep in the Old Testament is often a metaphor for contentment and freedom from anxieties and fears. The person at peace can sleep well at night (Psalm 4:8; Proverbs 3:24). The person who sees the value of work finds peace, but the one who sees work as a means of obtaining wealth finds discontent and unrest. 

The second is to remember that riches and wealth are not permanent.  They may be lost by mismanagement.  Even if one can maintain one's wealth in life, in death, it no longer has any value. At birth, we have nothing, and so at death, we end with nothing.  So what advantage is it for a person to spend his/her whole life in pursuit of wealth (vs. 16)?  The answer is none.  Solomon is not condemning wealth, but he shows the folly of making wealth the goal of one's life. The apostle Paul echoes this same theme when he writes, “For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Our lack of contentment in life leads to the obsession with wealth that only brings more moral compromise (1 Timothy 6:9).  Solomon reminds us that wealth, as the object of our pursuit, becomes a demanding taskmaster that sucks the joy out of life.  Wisdom comes when we realize that riches only mask the turmoil within us.  Proverbs 17:1 reminds us, "Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.” So also, the sage warns us, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth; cease from your consideration of it.  When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.  For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies towards the heavens” (Proverbs 23:4-5). The answer to contentment is not found in wealth but in the enjoyment of what we already have and being satisfied with having our daily needs met (Prov. 30:8-9).  If you are not satisfied with what you have today, you will not be satisfied with what you obtain tomorrow. 

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