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Monday, May 16, 2011

"You Can't Take It With You" - (05/15/11)

Ecclesiastes 5 (Message #5 in Series)
May 15, 2011

            “You can’t take it with you.”  We have all heard and used that saying, but where does it come from?  Like so many other wise sayings, it actually comes right from the Bible.  I Timothy 6:7 says, “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.”  I believe that this was the thought in Job’s mind after the God-sanctioned calamity that occurred in his life.  He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there…” (Job 1:21).  Likewise, the Psalmist in Psalm 49:16-17 made a similar observation.  I especially like the way it reads in the New Living Translation: “Don’t be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid.  17 For when they die, they take nothing with them.  Their wealth will not follow them into the grave.”
            You’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.  There are no pockets in a shroud.  There are no storage compartments on the inside of a coffin.  You can’t take it with you!  When the day comes for you to meet your Maker you will stand there empty-handed.  All the money you ever made and all the possessions you ever accumulated will be left far behind.

            To a poor man that thought is not especially shocking, but to a rich man it make come like a slap in the face.  In the ancient world, the great kings tried everything they could think of to make arrangements to carry their wealth with them into the next life.  That’s why King Tut’s tomb was full of loot!  The Egyptian Pharaohs had it all worked out.  They had their burial chambers filled with everything they thought they might need to set up housekeeping in the afterlife.  But the interesting thing is, when the archeologists finally got into those chambers all the stuff was still there!  That’s because, “YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!”
            Solomon had some thoughts on this subject and he wrote them down in Chapter 5 of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Turn there with me.
            In these first eight verses of the chapter Solomon sort of goes off on a rabbit trail before he gets into the meat of the subject of riches.  Verses 1-8 are kind of a parenthesis in the middle of his discussion about the ultimate values in life.  In them he gives a warning about how we should approach God in worship.  I don’t know why he chose this spot to bring up the subject but he has some important observations to share with us.  And it is also important to remember that it was Solomon who built the first Temple in Jerusalem.  He knew something about approaching the presence of God.
            First of all, he says that we need to beware of allowing our worship to become commonplace or insincere.  We need to be careful that we are worshiping the right God, in the right way.  He warns us against the folly of religion for religion’s sake.
Verses 1-3: 1Guard your steps [lit. watch your feet] as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen [hear and obey] rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they [i.e. the fools] do not know they are doing evil.  2Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God.  For God is in Heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.  3For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.
  • He advises that we should tread lightly, with humility, on entering God’s house.  He’s referring to the Temple but I believe it applies to us approaching God in prayer or coming into a worship environment as though it were meaningless.  In these first two verses he draws a contrast between those who enter God’s presence in obedience and repentance, and the “fools” who worship with unrepentant hearts.
  • Moreover, in verse 2 he says that we should go with a learning heart, not a busy mouth.  The NT gives similar advice in James 1:19 where it reminds us all to be “…quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  
  • Solomon also says that we should beware of making insincere statements of praise to God because God knows what’s really on our heart.  The word “hear” in the OT often has the sense of “obey.”  In Matthew 6:7 Jesus warned His disciples about getting caught up in mere “vain repetitions” in their prayers.  God would rather hear one sincere sinner’s prayer coming from the heart, than a 1,000 flowery prayers from unrepentant hypocrites.
  • Verse 3 is a little difficult to sort out in most of the versions because it is a difficult construction in Hebrew and hard to translate literally.  Eugene Peterson does a great job of making the meaning clear in his paraphrase, The Message: Overwork makes for restless sleep.  Overtalk shows you up as a fool.”  Or, as the New Living Translation says, “Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.”  I think we would all agree that sometimes it is better to be thought a fool than to open our mouth and remove all doubt.

            In verses 4-7 Solomon warns of making hasty vows to God that we don’t intend to keep.  He says that God takes our vows seriously and literally, whether intended or not.
Verses 4-7: 4When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools.  Pay what you vow!  5It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.  6Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake.  Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?  7For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness.  Rather, fear God. 
  • Why is God such a stickler about us paying our vows and carrying out what we have said to Him?  Because He is careful to always be true to His word and He expects the same from us.
  • Some people are of the mistaken opinion that one can say anything to God, or make any kind of promise, and God will never hold us accountable.  That is simply not true according to God’s Word.  God hears, He listens, and He remembers.
  • What kind of vows are we talking about here?  Here are a few suggestions:
Ø      One that comes to mind immediately is the vow that Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, made to God in Acts 5.  When they backed out, God struck them dead!  They broke their vow to God.  Peter said that they “lied to God.”
Ø      Or how about, “Dear Lord, I give my whole life to You.  Save me and make me Your own child.”
Ø      Or, “Lord, I will go wherever You send me.  I will obey Your call, even if it means going to darkest Africa.”
Ø      Or, “Lord, I take this woman to be my wedded wife… until death do us part.”
Ø      Or, “Lord, if You’ll just get me out of this jam I will quit drinking and will serve You for the rest of my life.”
  • The “messenger” mentioned in verse 6 is not an angel as some have said, but rather the priest whose job it was to collect what had been vowed.
  • Verse 7 harks back to verse 3 and simply reemphasizes Solomon’s point that just as too much concern over business brings troubled dreams, so too many words spoken at worship can bring on rash promises and punishment by God.  I think this should put a little fear into us.
            Now, starting in verse 8 until the end of the chapter (verse 20) Solomon camps on the theme of the failure of riches to satisfy the heart of man.  And he should know!  He had boatloads of money but still suffered from a gaping hole in his life!  He starts out by discussing the graft-ridden system of taxation that existed in every government in his day, and also in ours.
Verse 8: 8If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. 
  • He points out that each official watched the one beneath him in order to skim off part of the spoils of taxation and graft.  He says, “Don’t be shocked when you see this” because it’s just the way it is.  Because of the greed and grasping after riches the poor are oppressed and justice is perverted.  These are not new problems.
  • But it is also important to remember that God is the Protector of the Poor, and one day, all those officials who ripped off the poor and oppressed the weak will have to stand before God, and woe to them because the holy fiery wrath of God will surely fall on them.

            In 9-11 Solomon says that the goal of getting rich is an empty and futile object of satisfaction.  It is a fool’s errand.  It is like a dry well—riches cannot satisfy one’s inner thirst.
Verses 9-11: 9After all, a king who cultivates the field [i.e. plows the wealth back in] is an advantage to the land.  10But He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.  This too is vanity.  11When good things increase, those who consume them increase.  So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?
  • In verse 9 he recognizes that a smart king will cultivate his “field,” that is, his country.  He will share the wealth and reinvest the profits so that everyone prospers.  That’s what a good king does, and Solomon says, “…he is an advantage to the land.”
  • However, in verse 10 he points out what most kings do, because of their greedy desire for more and more wealth.  He says that satisfaction by riches is merely like a fleeting mirage.  It doesn’t last, and it can’t really satisfy.
  • On top of that, he points out in verse 11 that as riches increase needs also increase.  What does he mean by that?  In other words, as you make more, you end up having to spend more.  It’s a confounded rat race!  For example, poor people don’t have to shell out money to pay accountants or hire high-priced tax lawyers.  And think about the poor guy who wins the lottery.  Before everybody loved him.  Now, all the false friends and blood-sucking relatives show up to help him spend his newfound wealth.  “When good things increase, those who consume them increase.”  Before long everybody hates him, and according to Solomon, all he can do is stand there and look on at the mess that has been created of his life.

            Solomon tells us in verse 12 that riches may fill the stomach but they also trouble the mind.
Verse 12: 12The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep. 
  • Certain advantages automatically accrue to the poor man.  He tends to sleep better, according to Solomon.
  • Also, riches often lead to over-indulgence and all the problems that result from having “too much.”

            In verses 13-17 Solomon reminds us that we can’t take it with us when we die.  The riches and worldly goods that we have accumulated during this life will all stay right here.  As I said in the beginning, there are no pockets in a shroud, no storage compartments in a coffin.  You can’t take it with you!  Riches must be left at the grave.
Verses 13-17: 13There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.  14When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him.  15As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.  16This also is a grievous evil--exactly as a man is born, thus will he die.  So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?  17Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger. 
  • In verses 13-14 Solomon points out that a hoarder is not a happy person.  Many of you have watched the show on TV about “hoarders.”  The scientific name for this is disposophobia, which simply means, “fear of throwing things away.”  Solomon talks about this “grievous evil… of riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.”  People holding tightly onto their “stuff” is not a new problem.  That attitude has been around since the beginning.  The danger is that instead of us possessing our stuff, our stuff can begin to possess us!  But when our “stuff” becomes the focus of our life, it become a tyrant, a little “god” that wants to take over everything.
  • Another problem is that the rich man’s hoarded riches often end up being squandered away by his posterity.  Those who come along behind him do not have the same frugal mindset that he had.  They are just interested in spending what he has worked so hard to accumulate.
  • In verses 16-17 Solomon says that the grave robs one of the fruit of his striving to get rich.  Thus all his life’s sacrifices and self-imposed deprivations are in vain.  The dictionary defines “miser” as “…a person who lives in wretched circumstances in order to save and hoard money; a stingy, avaricious person.”  Related to it are the words, “misery,” and “miserable.”  Money is not evil, but the Bible says that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  A person who is motivated by getting more and more money will never be happy.  He will always be miserable.  He’ll end up like Ebenezer Scrooge, “…eating in darkness with great vexation, sickness, and anger.” 

            In the last three verses of the chapter Solomon brings us back to a godly perspective.  These verses stand out like an oasis in the desert and they stand in stark contrast against the backdrop of verses 13-17.
Verses 18-20: 18Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.  19Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.  20For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. 
  • Notice in verse 18 he contrasts “…I have seen what is good and fitting,” with what he said up in verse 13, “…I have seen a grievous evil.”  In other words, he has looked at this subject from two directions.  He has seen all the evil that riches can create—greed, stinginess, graft, pride, oppression of others, etc.  He has also seen that life can be good and riches can be enjoyed if we maintain a correct perspective.
  • In 18-19 he concludes that life is to be enjoyed as a gift from God.  God is the giver and sustainer of life.  He is also the one who gives the ability to create wealth.  All good things come from His hand.  Nothing truly belongs to us because everything comes from Him.
  • He points out that with this attitude and healthy perspective, life passes swiftly and with abundant joy (vs. 20).  A person who is enjoying life and rejoicing in the fruits of his labor will have little time for morose pondering and worrying about growing old.  He’s too busy having fun in his retirement, and playing with his grandchildren!

            So what should we conclude from all of this?  What should be our take-away today?  Looking back over the chapter there are several things that come to my mind:
  1. From verses 1-7, we need to take seriously the words that we say to God, because He takes them seriously.  When we pray, when we praise, when we sing, or when we just talk about Him we need to put a guard over our mouth and be respectful of Him.  Verse 6 sums it up: “Do not let your speech cause you to sin.”
  2. From verses 8-9 I see that public officials have a God-given mandate to protect the poor and come to the aid of the oppressed.  In God’s plan, this is the role of leaders, including kings, presidents, and every official on down.  Those who do a good job will be blessed and commended; those who use their position to get rich at the expense of others should be denounced and removed from office.
  3. From verses 9-20 I see that money should never be allowed to control us.  It should never become the focus of life.  It should never be allowed to come between us and God or between us and other people.  It is merely a tool to be used for good.  It is a resource to be spent for the glory of God and the good of man.  That great preacher, John Wesley, said it this way: “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.” 

            What has stood out to you from these verses?  What lesson are you going home with today?  What “next step” are you committed to take?  And before you answer that, remember, God is listening!

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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