The Search for Satisfaction

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. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 ESV

As Solomon looks back on his long life as the king of Israel, he reflects on the many life lessons he has learned and, in this section, presents them in the form of a series of proverbs. These short, seemingly unrelated maxims, most often utilize comparisons to drive home a point and to present time-proven truths in a manner that makes wisdom practical and applicable to everyday life.

In verses 8-9, Solomon readdresses the issues of injustice and the oppression of the poor, which he initially covered at the beginning of chapter four. The presence of these problems within a society should not shock or surprise us. The wealthy and powerful, driven by a desire to maintain and even increase their social standing, will be tempted to use their power and influence to take advantage of the less fortunate. And in these verses, Solomon points out that every high official who takes advantage of the poor or practices injustice must answer to yet a higher official who wields even greater authority. In other words, there is a chain of command that ultimately leads to the king.

The more powerful always control and take advantage of the less powerful. It is the nature of things. Injustice and oppression, abuse of power, and unethical leadership seem to be inevitable outcomes of human government. It is unavoidable. But Solomon seems to conclude that a monarchy is preferable to anarchy. Even with its potential for abuse, the government provides a semblance of stability and control that results in cultivated lands. In other words, the very presence of governmental structure and hierarchical authority can result in abuse of power and lead to injustice, but it can also produce corporate benefits that all enjoy.

Underlying so much of what Solomon says in this book is the undeniable reality of sin and the fallen condition of the human heart. Even good men are prone to do bad things. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

In verses 10-12, Solomon addresses a related topic: The love of money. Solomon flatly states, “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NLT).

Wealth is not only illusive and hard to come by, but even when you get it, you can never seem to have enough. The pursuit of money can become addictive, and it can be accompanied by a fear of losing what you already have. Money makes conspicuous consumption possible, which Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes as “lavish or wasteful spending thought to enhance social prestige.”

But as Solomon warns, it doesn’t work. It never satisfies. The primary reason we pursue wealth is in order to satisfy our desires. But we tend to find that, with our newfound capacity to acquire and accumulate, the one thing we can’t get our hands on is contentment. Paul warned Timothy against the dangers of making money our master.

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT

Increased wealth tends to come with an increase in responsibilities. The more you have, the more you must take care of and maintain, and that requires help. And no one knew this better than Solomon. The book of 1 Kings provides a glimpse into Solomon’s vast wealth and allows us to imagine just how extensive a retinue of servants was required to care for all that he owned.

The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry.

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.

Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses. – 1 Kings 4:22-26 NLT

Back in chapter two, Solomon described his vast and expanding network of servants, slaves, employees, and concubines.

I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:7-8 NLT

He had everything his heart desired, yet he lacked contentment. You can almost sense the philosophy that drove his life: Enough is never enough. And with his addiction to conspicuous consumption came the relentless requirement to feed and care for all those who worked for him. This is what led him to write, “The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” (Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT).

Solomon had it all, yet he could afford a good night’s sleep. When he states that “the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep”, he is not referring to indigestion, but to insomnia caused by constant worry over wealth. What you own ends up owning you. You become a slave to that which was intended to serve you. And yet, in contrast, “People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much” (Ecclesiastes 5:12 NLT). 

With his next proverbial statement, Solomon addresses the fleeting nature of wealth. He describes a “grievous evil” that he has witnessed in this life, and it is likely that he is speaking from personal experience, not objective observation. He had first-hand experience with this kind of misfortune, having had his fair share of bad business deals and risky investments.

There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. – Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 NLT

All the money and material assets we have worked so hard to accumulate can disappear virtually overnight. They can disappear in an instant, leaving us in poverty and our children with no inheritance. And even if we are able to maintain a hold on all our assets to the bitter end, we face the grim reality that we can’t take any of it with us. When we die, our wealth remains behind. And as Solomon stated earlier, “I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 NLT). 

When all was said and done, Solomon was left with one observation that allowed him to extract a bit of hope from all the meaninglessness and despair of life. He saw that man had been gifted by God with the ability “to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT).

Not exactly a cheerful observation, but for Solomon, it was the only thing that kept him from being frustrated, discouraged, and angry. He had resolved to enjoy life as best as he could in the time he had on this planet. Because no one really knows what comes next. What Solomon concludes must be closely examined.

And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 NLT

There is a degree of truth to be found in these statements, but we must not fail to recognize that Solomon is speaking from a position of resignation and, in some ways, resentment. He is frustrated by all the inequities and injustices that come with a life lived “under the sun.” He has tried everything to find satisfaction and significance in life but remains discontented and disappointed. And when he states that the only thing left to do is to enjoy your work and accept your lot in life, he is speaking as one who has resigned himself to accept less than what he had hoped for. There is no joy in his statement. He describes God as a divine taskmaster who keeps us busy in order to distract us. If we compare the words of Solomon with those of his father, David, we see a marked difference in how they both perceived life and the God who made it all possible.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace. – 1 Chronicles 29:11-15 NLT

David seemed to understand that this life was a preface to something far more meaningful to come. He was a man who believed in the hereafter. But his son had become obsessed with the here-and-now. Solomon had been on a lifelong quest to discover meaning and significance on this side of death. But David knew he was nothing more than a visitor and stranger here. The best was yet to come. This led David to write, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

Solomon had resolved himself to live for the moment, while his father had decided to live with a more eternal perspective. David’s faith was in God, while Solomon’s hope was in the things that God had provided. He put all his emphasis on this life. And nowhere is this more evident than in a prayer he penned in the book of Proverbs.

…give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:8-9 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Self-indulgence.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Self-indulgence: indulging one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc., especially without restraint. The second description John gives us to let us know if we are having a love affair with the world is a craving for everything we see or, as the ESV puts it, “the desires of the eyes.” But as I stated in my last post, this is really all about love of self. While it appears to be a reciprocal in nature, it is really one-directional. The world, under the control of its Satan, is only more than happy to oblige our obsession with self and give us what we think we want, need or deserve. It gladly feeds our insatiable appetite for more, like a drug dealer supplies the fix for a junkie. No love is involved. And in the end, a love of self becomes self-destructive. Which is why Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. It seeks our destruction, not our delight. So when we turn to the world to help us fulfill our craving for all we see, it is more than willing to play its part. In fact, it feeds the monster inside us through a steady diet of images and messages designed to tease us and tempt us to have what we don’t really need. Having spent 29 years in the advertising business, I am quite familiar with an old adage that says, “advertising is designed to get people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.” Sadly, there is a lot of truth to that claim. Ads for products and services are designed to get us to become dissatisfied with what we DO have and desire something we DON’T have. A newer car. A bigger home in a better neighborhood. A different perfume that will make us more attractive or a new outfit that will make us more popular. In longing for these things, we make them little gods, expecting them to deliver to us and for us the contentment, joy, satisfaction and sense of self-worth we long for. And it is not that these things are bad. In fact, this symptom of worldly love is quite different than the desire of the flesh we talked about yesterday. That is when we desire or crave something God has forbidden. We say yes to what God has no to. But the desire of the eyes is when we say yes to what God has NOT said yes to. In other words, we indulge our desires without including God in the decision. And for most of us, we do it quite often. Just think about all the purchases you make without giving God’s input a second thought. Would He want you to have that new car? What would He think about your purchase of a new outfit or a new set of golf clubs. It is not that these things are evil or wrong. It is a question of whether they are truly needed. They are typically wants and desires, not necessities.

Over in the gospel of Matthew, we have the words of Jesus warning us to avoid the love of money, because as believers, it is impossible for us to serve two masters. We will end up loving one and hating the other. Then Jesus says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NLT). Then He uses the birds and the flowers as examples of God’s ability to feed and care for His creation. It is all a matter of faith. Do we trust God to provide what we really need or are we going to give in to our natural desire to purchase our satisfaction and contentment from the temporary things this world offers. Jesus would tell us, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). There is nothing wrong with buying a new dress, a new flat screen TV, a more reliable car, a more comfortable home or new carpet for the living room. It is a matter of motivation. So often, we are driven by our sin nature and we don’t even know it. We are struggling with discontentment and dissatisfaction with life, so we become easy targets for the advertising messages designed to feed our ego, stroke our pride, and make us the center of our world. The danger is that we are to keep God at the center of our world. We are to seek His Kingdom, not our own. We are to fulfill His desires, not our own. Self-indulgence is self-love without restraint, without oversight. It would be like a child let free in a candy store without their parents and with free access to all the treats on the shelves. The outlook, from the child’s perspective would be bright, but the outcome would be less than happy. God longs to be involved in every area of our lives. He wants to be included in our decisions. He wants to be consulted in what we do and how we spend our money. Because He cares. He knows our hearts. He can see the inward motivation and help us steer clear of self-indulgent behavior that is ultimately self-destructive.

Proverbs 7d

Prone To Wander.

“Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her. Don’t wander down her wayward path.” – Proverbs 7:25 NET

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Those are the lyrics from one of my favorite old hymns and they go well with today’s topic. Prone to wander. That’s a big problem for all of us as Christians today. We have happy feet. We just can’t stand still. Constantly on the move, because we grow quickly dissatisfied and discontent, we find ourselves prone to leave the God we say we love. We stray off the path and start to pursue other temptations, other delights that promise us more and offer to satisfy our passion for pleasure. This proverb is a warning from a father to his son regarding the danger of sexual promiscuity and immorality. It was a problem then, and it remains a problem today. And the enemy knows that we still can’t seem to control our most basic urges and animal instincts. We are far too often driven by the desires of the flesh. If not for sex, then for some other sensual pleasure, whether for food, a good buzz, a momentary thrill, sleep, entertainment, or our insatiable need for acceptance.

It’s interesting that the young men in this proverb are described as naive. They are lacking in common sense and good judgment. They are in the wrong spot at the wrong time. They have put themselves at risk by being where they had no business being. They’re in the wrong neighborhood and after dark. Not a good combination. Spotting her prey, the immoral woman approaches one of them and begins to ply her craft. She is “seductively dressed and sly or heart.” She’s a pro. In her day, before she went professional, she was “the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home” (Proverbs 7:11 NLT). On other words, she was a wanderer as well. Now she plies the young man with all kinds of tempting tools of the trade, appealing to his sensual side. She applies false flattery and butters him up with offers of sensual pleasures and forbidden fruit. And before he knows it, he’s hooked, like a striped bass to a lure.

And it all began with a simple step off the path. He wandered away from the truth. He took a dangerous detour and it led to a dead end. But isn’t that always the way sin works. The problem is that it almost always begins with a wandering heart. We find ourselves somehow dissatisfied with life as it is. Unhappy or discontented with our lot in life, we begin to look around. We get off the path. It could be as simple as surfing the Internet while in a state of boredom or mild depression. Or what about channel surfing late at night while everyone else is in bed. Your guard is down. Your sensual side is on high alert. Your body tells you it needs more. It is unhappy and dissatisfied. Pretty soon, you find yourself somewhere you don’t need to be – off the path and in for an attack from the enemy. And he will use all the subtle, seductive and yet sinister resources at his disposal to lure you in and trap you.

So what are we to do? Simple. Don’t wander. Recognize the fact that you are prone to wander and ask God to bind your heart to Him. You see, it’s always a heart issue. It’s about love and misplaced affections. When we begin to fall out of love for God or doubt His love for us, we wander. We start to look for love in other places and from other people. And we all do it. We turn on the TV to anesthetize and numb us, or simply take our mind off our problems by distracting us for a few minutes. Some feel unloved or unwanted, so they turn to the false allure of pornography or sex outside of marriage. Some attempt to shop their way to satisfaction and happiness, or they work themselves to death in an effort to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. But in the end, all these things turn out to be wrong turns that lead to dead ends and disappointment. Don’t let your hearts stray. Don’t wander. Let the goodness of God bind your wandering heart to Him.

Father, I am prone to wander. I tend to forget all that You have done and are doing in my life and begin to think that something is missing. Then I begin to look elsewhere for something or someone to provide what I think I need to have. But You are all I need. You are sufficient. Bind my heart to You, Father. Continually remind me of just how much You love me. Keep me from wandering off the path and away from Your love. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 23d

Be Wary of Wealth.

“Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.” – Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT

It was the apostle Paul who warned his protege Timothy, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 10:6-10 NLT). There are probably no other words of biblical advice and counsel that have been overlooked and ignored quite as much as these. Especially in modern American culture. We are a country that prides itself on its affluence and its ability to produce wealth. It’s the American way, the American dream. Money and material things are how we judge our worth and measure our success. And as a result, we live in the land of discontentment. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and marketing campaigns that tell us what we have is not enough. We need more. We need bigger and better. We need new. We need what everyone else has. We need what we can’t afford. So we work harder and harder to buy things we don’t really need. Or we go into debt to get our hands on things that we think will make us happier. Only to find that our dream turns into a nightmare of monthly payments that last far longer than whatever it was we purchased.

But Solomon and Paul both warn us against wearing ourselves out on getting rich. Solomon reminds us of the proven fact that wealth can disappear in a heartbeat. We can lose it all in no time and find ourselves back to where we were. Riches are unreliable. Wealth if a fair weather friend. Paul goes even further. He gives us the bad news that we can’t take our riches with us when we die. It stays here when we go. So even if we manage to keep our hands on it in this life, it won’t be going with us into the next one. So Paul encourages us to learn contentment. He advises us to be satisfied with what we have, even if what we have is less than what the world tells us we deserve. Discontentment has a voracious appetite. It is like a monster living inside us that you can’t feed enough to ever satisfy. It constantly desires more and more. We can find ourselves becoming discontent with something new we bought within minutes of purchasing it. We are constantly suffering buyer’s remorse, not so much because we shouldn’t have bought what we did, but because we found something else we wanted even more. Listen to Paul’s warning again: “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NLT). Longing to be rich, dreaming of more, desiring greater wealth – can leave us trapped by our own foolish and harmful desires. We become driven by what we want. We can become obsessed by our desire for more. Our love of money can tempt us to do all kinds of things that are ungodly, unrighteous, and unhealthy for our spiritual well-being.

When all is said and done, Solomon would encourage us to pursue wisdom, understanding, godliness and the character of God Himself. Riches are little more than a poor substitute for what God wants to offer us. They tease us with promises of fulfillment, satisfaction, security, and yes, even contentment. But no amount of money will ever deliver what only God can provide. Which is exactly why Paul tells Timothy, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 10:11 NLT). Now that’s advice you can take to the bank and count on.

Father, riches are so subtle. They are so alluring and tempting. But contentment needs to be my goal. I want to learn to live with what I have and be satisfied with You. I can so easily find myself believing the lie that more is better. That money can meet my needs. That wealth can satisfy and solve all my problems. But only You can do those things. Money can be such a distraction. All the stuff I own can end up owning me. Open my eyes to the reality of the situation and help me be wary of wealth. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org