From the third and final lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
Let's glance at a couple of verses and see what he says in chapter 5. He talks here about the meaninglessness of wealth and of riches. Notice verse 10, “Whoever loves money never has enough. Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This, too, is meaningless." Do you think that observation is true? Continuing in verses 11 and 12, “As goods increase, so do those that consume them... the sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” He is always worried about what’s happening on the stock exchange in Japan. How many million might he lose tonight or tomorrow? We are always chasing. Finally, take note of what he says in verse 15, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb. And as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor, that he can carry in his hand. This, too, is a grievous evil. As a man comes, so he departs. And what does he gain since he toils for the wind. All his days he eats in darkness with great frustration, affliction and anger.” There is a passage from the Midrash, I mentioned earlier, about when you come into the world; your fists are clenched, as if you are waiting to grasp everything but when you exit this world in death, your hands fall open because you leave with nothing.
It’s all meaningless. It’s like the parable told there in the Midrash, of the fox in the vineyard - how he found a little hole in the fence and he fasted and lost weight so that he squeezed through the hole and got in there and then delights himself with all the sweet fruit of the vineyard. Then when it comes times to leave, he can’t leave. He’s too fat so he fasts again and loses it all and then he can squeeze back through the hole. And the point is, what’s the point? You come with nothing and you leave with nothing. You endlessly search after more and more; you are never contented. And it’s true, isn’t it true? Have you found this in your own small experience? We are never content.
My family has never owned a home. We’ve always lived in rentals. I can tell you, you can always move up the ladder in rentals but it’s very hard to go down. One time, we lived in a tiny efficiency; the living room and kitchen was divided from the bedroom only by a little partition. And at the time, it seemed like enough. But a few years later, we lived in a huge house in Texas where we also held meetings. We had a conference there and had forty people in the den. It was one of these Texas style dens, like a cathedral, it was gigantic. We had offices there and so forth. And when we first moved into that house, I thought that this house was unbelievable. It was probably, I don’t know, almost 4,000 square feet and sat on two acres and seventy oaks. It was magnificent. The deal is after living there for a while, it was nothing special. It was no different than living in an efficiency. It was just a place. It had its problems. It was cold. We had to completely close off that den in the wintertime because it was freezing and we couldn’t afford to heat it. But, this is the point, there is no point to life. You never have enough. You are never content. You are never satisfied. And that's what Koheleth is trying to teach us here. That the real purpose of life is not the acquisition but it’s the enjoyment.
The key throughout chapter 5 and this entire section, is that it's not all about possessions. It’s not the acquiring. It’s the enjoyment. And the enjoyment can only come as God gives you the capacity to enjoy. And He gives only that capacity to enjoy to the extent that you fear before Him. Which is why you can have little and be contented. And you can have much and be grieviously malcontent. It’s the ability to enjoy that is a gift from God. In fact, there are many words in Hebrew for “prospering.” I think that it is more than ten words that are translated into English as to prosper from the Hebrew. And not a single one of those words has its reference, the accumulation of material goods. Biblical prosperity is not a matter of acquiring; it’s a matter of enjoying everything as a gift from God, whether it is a simple meal of rice and beans, or whether it is an elaborate meal of fresh seafood flown in, prepared by the finest chef. All can be enjoyed as a gift from God, if you fear Him. In fact, the warp and woof, as it were, of the tapestry of life, takes on a beautiful pattern. It takes on meaning. There is a plan, and by God’s plan, he intends for us to enjoy life. He intends for us to live abundantly. Are you hearing me? There’s a religious prejudice that has pervaded much of our consciousness. That is the opposite side of the coin of the material version of accumulation. It’s not Biblical. God desires you to have contentment, to enjoy. In fact, according to the sage, when you come before the judgment of God, you must account not only for all the things you did wrong, you must also account for all the good things in this life that you did not enjoy. All the things that God created for your enjoyment, and you did not enjoy, you have to account before God for those things. He, according to his plan, intends that we enjoy life and live abundantly. And so, in Him, this dark side of man’s existence can be turned to light. Our sorrows can be turned to gladness.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.