Have you ever sat down and compared the lifestyle of the “workaholic” over against the “lazy person” over against the “easy-going” or relaxed person who will work but not too hard?
In the verses of ECCLESIASTES which we are looking at today, that is what Solomon does. He is still looking at work from the viewpoint of seeing if there is any value to it when it is done to impress people. And from this viewpoint he considers the value of the labor of the workaholic, the lazy person and the person somewhere between these two.
(4:4) “Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbor. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Keep in mind that this is labor “apart from God” because the Godly evaluation is not going to be the same as the Godless evaluation!
Here we have a picture of the man who does everything right. He is a hard worker, efficient, achieving the ends he seeks. His work is profitable materially.
But. . . the result is that his neighbors and friends do not allow him to enjoy his work. They are jealous of him because of his good labor itself as well as because of its results.
This result of the work stuns the man. He had expected men to approve his work, to applaud him. Faced with this unexpected result, his soul is so vexed that all his work seems worthless to him. Why should he have worked so hard and achieved so much only to be ridiculed and envied by other people, even by his supposedly good friends?
Such envy almost always occurs where work is well done. “I wish I had said that,” or “done that”, the other person inwardly feels. . . and so, due to his pride, he refuses to give proper credit to the man who did achieve.
How then shall we as Christians evaluate hard work?
#1. If it is done out of pride to promote ourselves in any way at all, work is sinful in itself and must end in despair. Christians also can fall into the sin of laboring for the false reward of human praise.
#2. If we labor out of a sense of compulsion to work—the true workaholic—this also leads to physical wear and tear on our bodies that must lead to depression. Then it is not PEOPLE but WORK ITSELF that is the slave-driver. Christians also must fight this!
#3. If we labor hard because God place before us certain tasks, and we labor hard with in the God-given boundaries of good sense and well-ordered life, then we labor for God and we have His reward. Though our work fail to meet our goals, and though other people fail to give us credit, yet God never fails. He will receive and reward all labor done for Him to His glory.
(4:5) “The fool foldeth his hands together and eateth his own flesh.”
It doesn’t take Solomon long to dispose of a truly lazy person, does it? He is a person who is labeled a “fool.” A fool, in Scripture, even apart from spiritual life, is a man who has no common sense and who defeats his own purposes. The fool’s purpose may be enjoyment of life and, since he figures labor is in itself evil, he refuses to labor in order, as he thinks, to enjoy life. But does this laziness produce pleasure? Of course not! Rather, in order to eat he has to eat himself! He can get no food apart from labor, either of himself or of someone else. To remain consistently lazy, he has to destroy himself. Since he does nonetheless remain lazy and considers every exertion to get food as too much, his is a miserable, tormented existence.
(4:6) “Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.”
The lazy man has been dismissed; there is obviously no profit to his life, either for himself or for others.
Now the workaholic is compared with the relaxed and easy-going person. This man labors but doesn’t give all his life to work. He does his work “quietly”, not worrying about its results or what his neighbors think. If the results are meager, he is satisfied with that. If the results are more, that’s okay, too. He never has a lot of material things but doesn’t crave them, either, and so is satisfied.
Apart from God, this middle course is the best, says Solomon. There may be no eternal reward but at least the man has no great vexation and endless labor and he is content in his work.
What about “with God”? Is this third option also the one favored by God for Godly people?
Properly understood, I believe we must say that this is also God’s plan for us. For us, laziness is condemned out of hand. But for us also, work may not become an obsession. We may not allow the things of this earth so to control us that we never have time for anything else.
We need time, first of all, for God and must take time for spiritual things, such as “remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy” and such as the Scripture study we are doing here, and such as kneeling in prayer.
We must take time for others and not regret it if helping another person means less time for our own work.
And in our own work, while we may never be lazy or sloppy about it, we must labor “with quietness”, submissive to the will of God and patiently seeking His will, not creating our own goals apart from Him which too often cannot be met.
May God help us to labor, to labor hard, but to labor for Him and “with quietness”.
1. Verse 4:
a. Does this refer to a man who labors selfishly or properly?
b. Why do the neighbors envy the man?
c. How does the envy affect the hard-working and outwardly prosperous man?
2. Christian evaluation:
a. What are two attitudes towards work to avoid?
b. What are two standards towards work to develop?
3. Verse 5:
a. Why must a truly lazy person destroy himself?
b. Whom does Solomon here call a “fool”? Why?
4. Verse 6:
a. What is meant by “a handful with quietness”?
b. What is meant by “both the hands full”?
c. What kinds of workers are compared here?
d. Which lifestyle is better from an earthly viewpoint?
e. Is this true also from the spiritual viewpoint?