The Futility of Earthly Accomplishment (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23)

You have been introduced to someone new. You meet their significant other, their family, etc.  Then, what is the next question you ask them?  It might be, “So where do you live?”  Or, even more likely, you might question, “And what is it that you do for a living; where do you work?”

I have found myself feeling a bit uneasy with that question, not wanting a person to think that I am about ready to make a judgment upon them according to the perceived worthiness or excellence of their career. And I have found myself more recently turning this question into a light-hearted moment by asking, “So, what makes you famous?”  This takes the edge off and always leads to a broader conversation.

But the fact is that we do assign a lot of meaning and worth to what a person does for work, for their choice of career. It is one of those defining elements about a person’s life. And I suppose there is no way around it, since the time applied to labor is the single item that consumes the largest bulk of hours in any person’s life. Add to that the travel time that so many in regions like our own have to deal with, and immediately the majority of non-sleep hours are accounted for.

There is a saying that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. There’s more than an ounce of truth in that, but few people can find gainful employment that both meets their material responsibilities while also fulfilling their passions. Even the greatest of jobs have odious elements and inescapable demands of time and energy.

We all know more than a few people who have given the greatest energies of their life toward career success, seemingly to find validation and satisfaction in it. But Solomon calls this investment another example of meaningless chasing after the wind. The reason is that it will be all left behind, to be inherited by someone else who may not be worthy of this benefit nor be responsible with it.

Yet it is a natural desire to want to leave behind something that is tangible. I was talking recently with an acquaintance who has advanced theological training, but who in the course of life has not been employed in pastoral ministry in the church setting. However, he has a significant list of discipled people over the decades whose lives have been changed forever by his influence. Even so, he lamented with me of an occasional sadness to not have a church congregation and its accoutrements as testimony of his life energies.

Given enough time, even the great pyramids of Egypt will rot away. But legacy impact in the lives of other people can have eternal benefit. Leaving a truth legacy through family can impact generations.

Do you live to work, or work to live?  Our work and labor is not the end in itself, but rather it is a means toward a true end of investing in that which has connections to eternity and to the Word of God that lasts forever.

Ecclesiastes 2:17 – So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

This entry was posted in Life Under the Sun and tagged by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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