4Then 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. 5The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. 6Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 ESV)
In today’s passage King Solomon notes that it is not only by injustice and oppression from others that people suffer. They also suffer as a result of the self-destructive behaviors of envy and laziness.
Solomon is an observer of life; he is a student of human nature and activity. He notices that rather than enjoyment of life being our motivation and passion (as God wants it), all our toil and work come from our envy of our neighbor.
We work hard because we want what others have rather than because we enjoy what we do. Life in an “under the sun” world (i.e. without God) is a “dog-eat-dog” life of constant competition. But this, also is vanity and a striving after wind [Psalm 127:2]. It is a never-ending quest that brings no satisfaction.
On the other hand there are those who fold their hands – that is, they don’t work. Perhaps they see the pointlessness of chasing after material wealth and the respect of others.
We experienced a culture exactly like this in the 1960s when millions of young people decided they didn’t want to be part of the rat race so they dropped out of society.
This is not good either, Solomon notes, because such a person eats his own flesh. In other words, s/he brings about her/his own destruction. Eventually they run out of resources, friends, and self-respect. God designed us to work [Genesis 1:26, 28, 2:15]. He did not design us to be lazy.
Finally Solomon identifies a better lifestyle – one between the extremes of greed and doing nothing: have less and enjoy it more. Having one handful without strife (quietness) is better than having two hands full (greed) and all the stress and emptiness that goes with it.
The problem in life is not the high cost of living. It is the cost of high living. Most of us could do with less – much less – than what we have. Most of us have, materially speaking, everything we really need, including money.
But when we see others with more we get envious and we strive for what they have. But this only brings problems. The answer is being content with what we have. Lower expectations result in greater enjoyment in life.
It’s no coincidence that the poorest people on earth are often the most happy while the wealthy have more problems [Matthew 6:19; 1 Timothy 6:10]. True contentment is often found where there are fewer material goods. You won’t be happy with what you don’t have if you’re not already happy with what you do have.
We aren’t playing for keeps here. We take nothing with us when we die, as Solomon has already noted [Ecclesiastes 2:18]. There is no reason, then, to strive for more than we need.
God’s design for us is to work for what we need and no more (although it’s wise to save for a rainy day) and to find contentment solely in Him [Proverbs 15:16, 16:8].
The best life is not having too much. The best life is not being lazy and living off of others. The best life is working honorably, having enough, and finding Jesus before we die.
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