There is a Place for Your Money but it's NOT First Place
Read Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare my remarks.
In the 90s a small internet company called Excite.com could have become a giant by purchasing Google. Excite.com CEO George Bell decided he didn't want to buy Google.
In 1999 Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin offered to sell their company to Excite.com for $1 million. Vinod Khosla, an investor backing Excite, got the price reduced to a bargain at $750,000.
George Bell decided not to buy Google. Google now has a market value of over one trillion dollars (one of three companies to ever reach that level.) Meanwhile, Excite was sold in 2004 for $500 million, the amount of money that Google now makes in a day ($180 billion per year).
By way of contrast, let me tell you about John Gray’s investment in his nephew’s company. John Gray invested $10,500 in his nephew Henry Ford’s new Ford Motor Co. in 1903. Gray was one of the original dozen investors was Gray. While he never reaped the benefits of the investment, Gray’s heirs made out OK: when Ford bought the stock from them in 1919, they were paid $26.25 million ($1.8 billion today).
Financial decisions – like most decisions we make – either look smarter or dumber in retrospect. How helpful it would be to know then what we know now. Or maybe we’re better off not knowing. All that success might turn to greed and greed is always a bad business decision.
Greed ruins all it touches. Defeat greed by contentment.
1. Greed leads to harming others. (8-9)
For example, injustice is common because greed is common. You don’t get much more commonplace than nationwide = THROUGHOUT THE LAND (8)!
Greedy government is an engine of oppression. If ever you searched for a Bible verse that uncovers the folly of Marxism, this is a good choice! The oppression Solomon observed was part of his own administration: EVERY OFFICIAL IS UNDER ORDERS FROM HIGHER UP (8). Every commentator observed the Hebrew in these verses is “uncertain.” The NLT therefore took a creative and contemporary approach to translation: MATTERS OF JUSTICE GET LOST IN RED TAPE AND BUREAUCRACY (8). EVEN THE KING is not immune to the lust for PROFIT (9). King Solomon made his confession in these verses.
2. Greed leads to harming self. (10-14)
Greed is discontent. Discontentment is based on false assumptions. The truth is that wealth, like time, will always be spent. Wealth cannot bring TRUE HAPPINESS as no matter how much you have; it is never enough (10). It’s a strange and self-defeating quirk of human nature to LOVE something that will never satisfy you.
Here’s another problem with wealth: the more wealth you have, the more people want to help you spend it; it just slips away (11). Riches lead to people who want you to spend your money on them. More possessions create less time to enjoy them and demand more money to store and care for them. King Solomon would be THE voice of experience on the subjects of money and sycophants.
Discontentment is evident in practical matters, like poor sleep, for example. (12) HARD WORK creates restful sleep due to a guiltless conscience. Being RICH with a guilty conscience robs you of sleep. You can also see this contrast between “developed” and “underdeveloped” nations of the world; people in wealthy nations spend a greater portion of their income on health care and mental health care. A person’s wealth will not shield them from illness (mental or physical); it may exacerbate illnesses.
A third problem with wealth is that hoarding it ends in frustration. It is A SERIOUS PROBLEM: HOARDING RICHES HARMS THE SAVER (13). There is an obvious connection between miserly and misery, in addition to the similarity in spelling.
How is the SAVER harmed? For one thing, RISKY INVESTMENTS can lead to loss of capital so severe there is nothing to PASS ON TO ONE’S CHILDREN (14). The subject of inheritance was already addressed in 4:7-8. It was also addressed in 6:1-2, where the Preacher warned strangers may get the wealth one intended to leave to one’s children. That is another instance of the meaninglessness of wealth.
3. Death proves the folly of greed. (15-17)
We begin life without wealth and end it in the same way (15). We’re born NAKED and EMPTY-HANDED, utterly helpless, completely dependent on others for our survival. There is no earthly thing we take with us when we cross the threshold that is death. Period. Given those two facts, sorting out our priorities should not present any difficulty: give first priority to things that last into eternity, such as our character and spirituality. Second, second priority to things that will survive your life span, such as family, reputation, and achievement. Selfish use of wealth should be the last thought on our minds.
Hard work is rendered meaningless by death (16). This is also a SERIOUS PROBLEM. Because we begin and end life without any material things, the HARD WORK we do in the middle isn’t the most important thing. The Preacher commended hard work in v. 12 but noted here that it’s like WORKING FOR THE WIND; ultimately meaningless. You’d better agree that “Hard work is its own reward” because the Preacher says it worthless otherwise.
Before we die, greed impairs our quality of life (17). It’s foolish to chase wealth, especially if you don’t enjoy it when you find it. The greedy LIVE UNDER A CLOUD because they have the wrong standards for a good life. The inevitable disappointment of wealth leaves them FRUSTRATED, DISCOURAGED, and ANGRY. What a dismal picture!
4. Contentment is God’s gift to you. (18-20)
Contentment is acceptance and enjoyment of your life as it is. The Preacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes, believed to be Solomon) observed one GOOD THING, a moral outcome that is from God: to enjoy and accept life (18). This might be described as a “God-fearing Hedonism.”
It is the belief that God give life to be a joy. We’re to live in the sun, not UNDER A CLOUD. So, EAT and DRINK and ENJOY your WORK with joy, not false guilt.
The Preacher realized life is SHORT, so making the best of each day is the most sensible way to live. ACCEPT YOUR LOT IN LIFE instead of being angry about what you want but don’t have.
Wealth and health are God’s gifts (19). Enjoy them instead of BROODING over what you don’t have (20). BROODING means ignoring what’s going on all around you, your thoughts stuck elsewhere. Too many of us are stuck in THE PAST or fixated on the future. The Preacher and Jesus challenge us to live in the day we’re given, trusting the past and future to God.
If you’re BUSY ENJOYING LIFE, you won’t waste time or energy on regrets or unfulfilled desires. People may say Ecclesiastes is negative, but the Preacher makes a direct link between being godly and being happy. That’s a linkage worth noting.
Greed ruins all it touches. Defeat greed by contentment.
Two friends met in the street. One looked sad and almost on the verge of tears. The other man said, "Hey my friend, how come you look like the whole world has caved in?" The sad fellow said, "Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me 50-thousand dollars."
"That's not all bad..." "Hold on, I'm just getting started. Two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew kicked-the-bucket and left me 95-thousand, tax-free to boot." "Well, doesn’t that beat all?" "Last week, my grandfather passed away. I inherited almost a million." "You’ve come into all that money - why are so glum?" "This week - nothing!"
There you go. The very attitude the preacher wrote about!
In 1 Timothy 6:17 Paul agreed completely with the Preacher. He wrote: TEACH THOSE WHO ARE RICH IN THIS WORLD NOT TO BE PROUD AND NOT TO TRUST IN THEIR MONEY, WHICH IS SO UNRELIABLE. THEIR TRUST SHOULD BE IN GOD, WHO RICHLY GIVES US ALL WE NEED FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.
John Gray’s story from https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2013/04/23/8-of-historys-best-investments/, retrieved on 2 September 22.
Excite.com story from https://www.surfky.com/worst-business-decisions, retrieved on 2 September 22.
One-Volume Illustrated Edition Zondervan Bible Commentary, 2008, Ecclesiastes, Donald C. Fleming
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1991, Vol. 5, Ecclesiastes, J. Stafford Wright
The Daily Study Bible Series, 1986, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, Robert Davidson.
Greedy man joke from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Greed/Never_Satisfied.shtml, retrieved on 31 August 22.