Series: Under the Sun: The Book of Ecclesiastes
Popularity's Power and Peril
August 09, 2020 | John Ewart
Passage: Ecclesiastes 4:1-16
We went on vacation years ago when our daughter Rachel was very little. We did not know it then, but she had a virus coming on. So off we go to an amusement park with one of those grand, 9 hour, get your money’s worth, kind of days planned in the middle of the summer heat. We were just inside the gate when I began to hear, “I’m tired, my stomach hurts, my legs hurt, I don’t want to walk anymore.”
I carried that kid all around that park for hours.
Unfortunately, I have known folks who profess Christ who live that way.
They just never make it much passed the gate.
They do not grow, they are not discipled, and they never make it passed the very young Christian phase.
Soon, they grow too tired, everything hurts and is not right, and they don’t want to walk anymore.
No growth, no desire, no discipleship.
They want, even expect, someone else to carry them, to feed them constantly, to cater to their needs and wants.
They lose any expectation that they should learn to feed themselves, grow in their own maturity to the point of being able to personally go to God to deal with their own issues
The Christian walk and church life become all about how to serve them and to meet the demands of their consumerism instead of about how we bring glory to God.
We watch churches compete for Christians as they hop from one to the next trying to have their wants met instead of focusing on Great Commission fulfillment.
We must remember why all of this is.
What the church is for.
What the purpose for this life is.
For others, however, real, honest issues of life can be so heavy, so burdensome, that even in the midst of striving to be a growing disciple who makes disciples, the load is more than they alone can bear.
They legitimately need others to come along side of them and put a shoulder under each arm to help carry them through an especially difficult time or season.
That is also very much why we are and what the church is for.
A place to lean, a sanctuary in which to be lifted and encouraged, a hospital for the hurting and helpless.
But we must each check our hearts and motives and our perspective of expectation and reality to see where we truly are on this path of discipleship.
So, we rejoin Solomon, the king in Jerusalem, who is observing and testing that very issue.
He views life from four different perspectives and vantage points in Ecclesiastes 4.
He notes that life can seem unfair.
It will not always cater to you.
Life is uncertain in many ways, but quite certain in many more.
It can certainly hit you out of nowhere and from several different angles.
Life can certainly hit you at full speed and you must be ready to stand and take it.
That is certain.
We must certainly approach it one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
Not alone, but with God, and with one another.
As King Solomon once wrote:
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.
We must face this thing called life.
We are not given another option.
We truly need God and we need each other to do that.
But sometimes, in a sinful, fallen creation, it is not always easy…
Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun:
And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter—On the side of their oppressors there is power, but they have no comforter. 2 Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead, more than the living who are still alive. 3 Yet, better than both is he who has never existed, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
Again, the king as gone dark as we note:
- The Pain of Corruption
What if Cinderella, so mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, lost the glass slipper to her stepsister in the end and just turned into a pumpkin?
What if Robin Hood was really a con artist who ripped off the rich and set up a Swiss bank account?
What if at the end of the Hallmark movie she really did just go back to her boyfriend in the city instead of deciding at the last moment to stay with her old childhood sweetheart in JollyHollyville?
Author and commentator Warren Wiersbe adds, “Sad endings we can handle, but not unjust ones. Suffering makes us sad, but injustice makes us mad.”
We long for fairness and equity and for the happily ever after.
But real life is not that way sometimes.
The helpless get pushed around, cruel people take the glass slippers, and people are often greedy and self-serving.
It would be easy to become disillusioned and cynical.
Solomon seems devastated by it.
He is upset over oppression but has no real solution for it.
It was like being in a courtroom with a rigged jury and corrupt judge.
The victims shed their tears, but it does no good.
The oppressors had all the power.
- 1 – (lit.) and from the hand of their oppressors is power.
Because of the way the system was set up, the corrupt seemed to have complete freedom to do what they wanted.
Sometimes it can even be that way in church life.
Over the years and hundreds of churches, I have seen oppression and injustice even in the Body of Christ.
Perhaps you find this in your own life.
- 2-3, For some, the oppression and sense of injustice may be so severe it seemed it would have been better to never have been born.
As believers in a just God we must cling to the truth that life is so worth it.
That life has a great purpose and is a great blessing no matter the circumstances of the season.
There is an abundance in life we can experience but only through Christ.
Only by walking with Him and allowing Him to carry us.
God will inevitably right these wrongs and judge the unjust.
You can count on it.
So, moving from this legal, courtroom-type scene, we see Solomon go to the marketplace.
Maybe in working hard and producing something in our jobs and careers, we can find contentment.
Let’s see the…
- The Pursuit of Contentment
4 Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. 5 The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. 6 Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. 7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun: 8 There is one alone, without companion: he has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his labors, nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, “For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?”
This also is vanity and a grave misfortune.
The king looks to those who worked with great skill.
You are the best at what you do.
People want what you can produce.
We are known by and for these things, aren’t we?
I am a __________ and we name our job.
We associate our very identity with our employment.
Who I am becomes what I do.
So much so that our lives are often consumed by the success of what we make or do.
There is competition and the drive to be the best.
We brag about our busyness, workaholism and the Puritan work ethic.
Too often, our personal ladder-climbing ambition can get in the way of who we are truly supposed to be in Christ.
So even if you are a master artisan, is your goal still the temporary?
Is it to make something beautiful or build a better family or simply to seek riches and to feed the flesh?
That is not to say that all ambition, or the desire to do things in the very best way is always wrong.
The questions are: why are you doing it? For whom are you doing it?
Remember Colossians 3:17
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Where is the balance and which way does the scale normally tip?
Balance ambition, work, personal achievement with a commitment to discipleship: to love God and to love people.
- 4 to seek meaning and purpose simply in wealth and work is empty and vain.
To strive for superiority leads to rivalry and envy.
It creates jealousy and covetousness from the neighbors.
The lack of meaning and purpose in our life compounds this and may lead us to believe that everyone else is better off or has it better than I do.
You have said it and heard it, when someone is complaining about you or your’s: “They are just jealous.”
There will never be enough if that is our sole motive for life.
Two seemingly contradictory proverbs are found in v. 5-6.
- 5 There is laziness which consumes you.
I just fold my hands and sit idly by mooching off others.
Again, just waiting for someone else to carry me while I do nothing.
He had already shared what a dangerous thing laziness was and what a wise thing hard work was in his proverbs:
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep—
11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.
23 In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty.
See the contrast to his conclusions in Ecclesiastes!
In v. 6 we see it is better to have a few things with one hand full, than many things and be consumed by their pursuit and possession; to be consumed by work and worry.
So. neither laziness nor workaholism are the answers.
See the needed balance.
To ignore the need to create and work and achieve is foolishness but to make that drive the goal of all things, to fill both hands constantly, completely and utterly with it, will make peace a desire and not a reality.
Contentment comes from the proper definition of success.
(v. 7-8) So, the desire to accumulate, to gain, to achieve, can become an obsession.
We will begin to define success only by quantitative means instead of qualitative.
The one who hoards the most wins.
Whether it be possessions or people.
We seek to acquire to the point we have no true relationships, just possessions or followers.
This leads to the next passage which was the text for the sermon on church community in our discipleship goal series weeks ago.
I suggest you go listen to it again.
Because I dealt with several items from this text in that sermon, I will not spend as much time here this morning.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
III. The Profit of Companionship
Our drive to succeed will only succeed when it is done together with others in relationship.
Jewish proverb: A friendless man is like a left hand bereft of the right.
We need each other to accomplish more, produce more fruit, to help each other in times of need, to give emotional support, and physical help, and to provide protection and care for one another.
We might legitimately need to be carried during a weary season.
But we also recognize our responsibility to do our own carrying!
We need each other for accountability as part of that necessary support and protection.
A buzzword in church life today is community.
But according to commentator David George Moore, true community is not what people in many churches really want. What they really desire is either people meeting their needs on their terms or what some prominent sociologists have labeled “Lifestyle enclaves”. Lifestyle enclaves are artificial communities. They are groups of people with the same socioeconomic background who exist solely to satisfy their individual and collective desires. This is not the biblical meaning of community.
In some lectures and writing I have done, I refer to these groups as “peer communities of truth” that are sought and exist in our pre-Christian, post-postmodern society.
Self-truth is defined by that community and we belong because we enjoy having others support or agree with what we believe about something or everything, whether it is necessarily biblical or not.
They are used for our glory, wants, and comfort rather than the mission of God.
I know churches and small groups like that.
They likely spend as much time in group therapy, discussing their interpretations and opinions about things as they do about the objective truth of God’s Word.
Humanity is fascinating.
Finally, the king moves from the courtroom, the marketplace, and from the arena of personal and community relationships to his final vantage point of politics:
13 Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more. 14 For he comes out of prison to be king, although he was born poor in his kingdom. 15 I saw all the living who walk under the sun; they were with the second youth who stands in his place. 16 There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king; yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
- The Popularity of the Crowd
The power struggles of life can distract us.
This is a tale of tradition vs revolution as J. Stafford Wright puts it.
The political crowd is finicky.
They will turn on you in an instant.
Oliver Cromwell, who took the British throne away from Charles I, said to a friend, “Do not trust the cheering, for those persons would shout as much if you and I were going to be hanged.”
I believe Jesus understood that.
The crowd went from shouting Hosanna to crucify him in a matter of days.
As John MacArthur wrote about this passage: “The cherished popularity of kings is precarious and short-lived.”
Some say, the second youth is the legitimate heir to the old king by birth, but the poor youth is the one who rises on his ability to reign.
Others say it is describing the same person at two different point in their life.
The point is this, the younger is wiser than the old king and knows how to read the context and heed warning.
The old king is bound by old ways of thinking and doing and out of touch.
He will be admonished no more.
Ecclesiastes 4:13 (NASV)
13 A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.
Instruction can mean warning.
Ecclesiastes 4:13 (ESV)
13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.
When we grow beyond listening to the wise counsel around us, we put ourselves and our kingdom in danger.
We will become floaties tossed to and fro by the opinionated and ever changing waves of the crowd.
Eventually the new will replace the old.
The world will follow the new and forget the old.
But soon he will be the old one and a new replacement will be sought.
The cycle will never end according to Solomon.
The cycle of anticipation, followed by disappointment and ultimately a desire for new blood, is characteristic of the human condition - David George Moore
By nature, we tend to grow weary and critical of those in authority.
We tend to put too much hope that some new leader will rescue us from the present issues.
We must be careful.
The power of popularity is alluring.
It seduces and provides justification for actions and existence.
The peril of popularity is it is fleeting. It is a vapor. It is vanity.
There must be something greater sought.
Some eternal end goal in mind.
Some final destination to which all tracks lead.
So, whether this leader or that leader is the one pointing the way, the final stop never changes.
Christlikeness, reproducing discipleship that shares and shows the Gospel.
Loving God and loving others with all we are.
Take time this week to honestly ask yourself if you are depending on others to do those spiritual things for you that you yourself should have taken on as a personal responsibility a long time ago.
Ask yourself who you are helping, even carrying along, that you should and should not. Are you enabling someone to grow or to remain unable?
How are you developing real, meaningful, accountable relationships?
Are you in proper, healthy, spiritually mature communities that will help you be a positive, growing member of the church and Kingdom?
Replace your personal ambition and wants with a love for God and for people.
Only by His Word and in prayer and in proper relationships with mature believers can this take place.
Shall we love God and love others as we should?