1 – Ecclesiastes 4:4 (ESV) 4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
RAF: We see here how early the “royal law” (love you neighbor as yourself – James 2:8) is put forward as absolutely central to living a right life before God. Ultimately, that which is not done out of love for God and man – is devoid of any true worth. Add to that not only a lack of love but envy as a motivation, and “vanity”, utter emptiness is the most apt term. And if this is true in life in general, how much more does the warning pertain to toil and work when it is born out of envy for another’s ministry? Surely this is a most serious matter. Woe to us when we envy anyone’s ministry. Nothing can come of it but sin and sorrow. How needful it is for us to find those gifts which God has given us, and to cultivate and use them in the places He has providentially led us into. Heavenly Father, keep me, not only from not envying anyone else’s ministry but give me love so as to celebrate how you use others and use them so well. Let me encourage and bless them, and all the more as you see fit to use them for the fame of your name, and the extension of your glorious kingdom.
2 – Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 (ESV) 7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
RAF: The Preacher’s lament here is not regarding singleness per se. While Scripture paints the norm for human life to be lived out in the familial context, nonetheless there are those particularly gifted for singleness, some who deliberately choose it for the sake of increased usefulness in the kingdom, and some who by God’s providence simply find it the case (See: Matt. 19:12). This passage is more concerned with a prevalent phenomena of our day – wherein some so invest themselves in business and gain that they find themselves unable to have or sustain proper family relationships. This is both vain and terribly sad. A career won’t lift you up when you fall. Titles and money do not keep you warm at night. No business, no career, no amount of money gives personal loyalty. What a tragedy when one lives their lives as a single strand. It will snap someday. Far easier than they ever imagined.
3 – Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 (ESV) 13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
RAF: No matter how dramatic your rise from obscurity to fame; no matter how great were those who came before that you surpassed; no matter how high the honors and position you have arrived at in this life; no matter how singularly you rose above all others and led the masses – one, day you will be forgotten among men. Your name will fade. Your achievements will be forgotten. Can’t you see then that to strive after these things, and to imagine they make you something – is a lie? It is as empty as it can possibly be.
4 – Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (ESV) Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
RAF: How many of us try to make deals with God? You know, we vow vows in some attempt to twist His arm into bestowing something on us we think we want or need. We tell Him what we think He wants to hear. We make pledges of time spent in prayer, study habits in the Word, Church attendance or evangelism quotas. Or perhaps we sink still lower and attempt our bargains in terms of finally leaving off a sin we’ve long toyed with on and off – if only He will finally give us what it is we are in such pain to try and wrestle from Him. Trying to ply Him with promises like a cad trying to bend the will of some silly woman with glasses of cheap wine and half-hearted compliments. Do we think He isn’t insulted by such things? God takes no pleasure in fools. He knows our hearts better than we do. He cannot be fooled. Better to take much more guarded steps when approaching the King of Glory. Better to be more ready to hear what He wants and is after, than to spout off foolishness before we’ve truly considered things well. Better to let our words be fewer than His. Better to let Him speak in His Word to our hearts before we ask, so that our hearts are informed by His Word. Then, we can know we will have what we request.
5 – Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 (ESV) 8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
a. Don’t be shocked that governments are corrupt and pervert justice. We live in a fallen world.
b. Don’t forget there is a higher authority than all earthly ones. God is watching. And He IS just.
c. Good governments know that a nation grows by virtue of hard, diligent, productive work. When a nation produces and markets its goods – it thrives. When it ceases from this model – it will cease to gain.
6 – Ecclesiastes 5:10 (ESV) 10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
RAF: Whatever it is this world has to offer that you count riches – be it fame, fortune or power – spouse, children, job or ministry: Obtain it, and you will find that it cannot satisfy, no matter how much of it you get. Only HE satisfies. Only Christ.