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The book of Ecclesiastes 5. As we pick up for a few moments where we left off last Sunday morning. If you’re here with us for the first time we’re so glad that you’re a part of our service. We’re in an extended series of sermons in the life of Solomon as we find him writing in the book of Ecclesiastes. We started a message last week entitled Your Money or Your Life.
And we pick up the thread of our thinking in verse eight again in the second half of chapter five. “If you see the oppression of the poor and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them. Moreover, the prophet of the land is for all. Even the king is served from the field. He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver, nor he who loves abundance with increase, this also is vanity. When goods increase they increase who eat them. To what prophet have the owners except to see them with their eyes. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.” We’ll stop there because that’s as far as we’re going to get in the text this morning.
There’s a story that comes out of Greek mythology, and it centers on Midas the king of Phrygia in Asia Minor. And according to the account, Midas pleases the gods and he’s given this special power, everything he touches turns to gold. Maybe you’ve heard that statement, the Midas touch. This is the story that lies behind that statement. And at first Midas thinks that this miraculous power is great. But it wasn’t long before the seeming blessing was an evident curse. Midas quickly learned that many things are more valuable than gold, and without them gold is worthless. Even Midas’s food turned to gold when he touched it. So sooner rather than later he longed to be free from his new power. He begged the gods to take from him what they had given to him and they did.
Now, the story of Midas is a story the Greeks use to talk about the Midas trap. Midas’s touch leads to Midas’s trap. In that money and the pursuit of it can blind us to the reality that there are more important things than money. I mean, imagine Midas, everything he touched turned to gold, even his food. But he soon learned that there are more valuable things than gold. And without them, gold loses its shine, loses its value. You and I can eat the best of food, we can wear the finest of clothes, we can live in a luxurious Palacios home. We might enjoy something of the Midas touch. But we have lived long enough, have we not, to realize that more important than food is an appetite to eat it. More important than a house is a family that lives in it. More important than clothes is the person that wears them. Life is not to be valued in monetary terms, that’s a myth, that’s a lie, that’s the deception, and the story of Midas reminds us of that.
This story is intended to pour cold water on our burning desire for more money. It’s designed to warn us against the dangers of covetousness and materialism. It’s designed to remind us that having more does not mean that you’re better off than you were before. More things do not necessarily equate to more life. More times than not, as with Midas, increased wealth ultimately becomes a curse. And so you and I need to be reminded of that. We’re going to come into the text in a moment where Solomon reminds us of this very fact as he explodes some myths and he explores some truths about money.
I mean, Solomon was the original Daddy Warbucks, this guy had it all. He was a billionaire millionaire, pick your category. But he soon realized that there were things more important than gold. And without them, gold lost their value. Without God money doesn’t bring satisfaction, without God money doesn’t bring sufficiency, without God money doesn’t bring serenity, without God money doesn’t bring security. These are some of the myths he explodes, and I want to come back to them.
But I just want, for a few moments, to just remind you and I of the importance of this message, and why it’s something that you and I need to give our attention to. There is a burning desire, in our culture and even among Christians, to amass more and more material things. This rush to amass things marks our culture. As a culture, we lust for more and more thinking that that’s the secret to a happy life. A happy life lies in the accumulation of things. And that’s why our mantra is … You find it on some bumper stickers on automobiles, “He who has the most toys wins”. No, that’s not true. But that’s where we’re at as a culture, as a society. In the Western world a man’s worth is determined mainly by a man’s wealth. Success is counted in dollars. There’s this almost psychotic pursuit of material progression. We’ve got to keep climbing the ladder. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we exist to climb the ladder, to do better than your father did, to do better than your mother did. It’s always got to be progression in a material financial sense.
America was once called a country with the soul of a church. But that’s not true anymore we’ve lost that. We’ve become materialists. If I may put it like this, we’re all stomach and no soul. Paul talks about people in Philippians 3:19 who have made a God of their stomach. It’s a graphic way of describing how they live and why they live. They live to gratify themselves. They long to bring satisfaction to their five senses all the while ignoring their sixth sense, the soul, the spirit, the inner person. Life is a outside thing. When the Bible would remind us life is an inside thing. So easy to get caught up in what you see, what you touch, what you taste, what you handle. And that’s how we measure life, that’s how we weigh life, and we can lose sight of life itself.
I may have told you the story before of the man who who’d just taken delivery of his red Ferrari. And he drove it for a few miles and he pulled to the side of the road. And as he opened the door on the driver’s side a truck came barreling by and ripped the door right off its hinges. He couldn’t believe it. He was irate. He got out of the car and he shook his fist at the truck that was driving on down the road without stopping.
He called the police. Sure enough, the police arrived and he told them his sad story with more than a tinge of anger to it. But the policeman stood looking at him as if it didn’t phase him, and the guy didn’t understand it. He said, “Are you listening?” The policeman looked at him and said, “Sir, people like you” … “I don’t understand people like you.” He says, “All you think about is things. Do you not realize that your left arm’s missing?” He says, “When that truck took the door off your car it ripped your left arm from its shoulder.” The guy looked and there was the blood spurting out of his shoulder. He looked at the policeman and he said, “My Rolex, my Rolex.” And I know that’s an exaggerated story but it’s one that speaks about a reality that’s sad when the laughter subsides. There are people that live for Rolex’s. And their life is defined by its presence or its absence as in so many areas.
But listen, folks, ask yourself, with this inflation of things in our culture, are we better off or worse off? We’re worse off. Look at the domestic landscape it’s a nightmare. Marriages are failing. The relationship between parents and children are collapsing. The suicide rate among our young people is skyrocketing. They have lost purpose and passion for life. They’re learning that material things don’t satisfy, they don’t bring peace, they don’t afford purpose. Our culture’s marked by this burning desire for things. And sadly it has infected the church. And that’s why Ecclesiastes chapter five is so important for us to work our way through because the church has been infected by materialism.
We’ve got this false idea that God’s blessing is measured in physical health and physical wealth. It’s not a new problem it was alive in Jesus day and it has resurrected itself in our day. In Luke 16:13-14 Jesus warns the leaders of Israel along with those who were listening that you can’t serve God and money all at the same time. That’s what he says in Luke 16:13. And immediately the text goes on to tell us that the Pharisees were lovers of money. There was a materialism that infected Judaism. Jesus had to cleanse the temple of the money changers. Religion was commercial, and you ought to cash in on it for the benefits that it brings. And what had happened in Jesus day was that the material aspects of God’s covenant with Israel had been mired the most important thing and they had become the index to one’s spiritual standing and significance. And it was argued in Jesus day that the more you had was the greatest sign of just how much God loved you. And that was wrong as evidenced by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, God in the flesh.
While the foxes had holes and the birds of the earth had nests, he had nowhere to lay his head. The presence of God and the blessing of God is not measured in things. And that kind of thinking has persisted, and it has taken on a new and grotesque form in the health and wealth gospel that you’ll find almost around the clock on TBN and other Christian stations. The spokesman being Joel Osteen, and Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland. And they tell you that it’s the Christian’s heritage not to be poor, not to be sick, not to be in want at all. The covenant blessings that were promised to Israel are now given to the church and you need to name it and claim it. But you know what? That’s a perversion, it’s a deception. And I believe it’s an affront to Christ, and it’s a dagger in the heart of evangelism, and it’s an affront to the gospel. And I could spend the rest of this morning telling you why but let me give you a number of reasons why that theology, that message that says, “You can have your best life now” is wrong.
Number one, because it’s premised on a false eschatology. Eschatology being the study of the last things of the end times. And you usually find that with these men they have an idea that we have a realized kingdom. That the fullness of God’s kingdom has come in the Lord Jesus Christ. It usually is underwritten by this idea that Jesus Christ has come to reverse the curse now. To roll back the effects of sin in our lifetime. So while death entered, and sickness entered, and suffering entered, and loss entered the world, Jesus is now going to change that and you can have your best life now.
Don’t think about dying. Don’t believe that sickness and suffering is part of God’s will for your life. That’s sin, that’s unbelief. That’s what you get when you believe the kingdom’s here. But that’s false, the kingdom isn’t here. It’s here in a sense, no doubt, it’s hidden, it’s internal. But there’s going to be a fuller expression of God’s kingdom for a 1,000 years at the end of history when the curse will be rolled back when the par and glory of Jesus Christ will be magnificently manifested. That’s the problem, they have a realized eschatology that in effect diminishes heaven and the desire for heaven.
See, the old saints believed that this was the solitary, poor, nasty British short life, and if you live it for Christ death is gain. The preachers today, it almost sounds like heaven, simply an upgrade. Oh my friend, heaven’s more than an upgrade it’s an escape. It’s a rescuing from a world marked by death and sickness. It’s something we should long for. It’s something we shouldn’t expect in this life but the next life. It’s a theology that redefines true riches. When you read Paul’s passion he talks about how gaining Christ is his greatest treasure, in Philippians 3.
James says in chapter one that there may be those who are poor materially speaking but they’re rich in faith. He talks about the poor rich and the rich poor. Again and again, throughout the word of God riches and treasure is described in spiritual terms, it’s related to our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our material wealth is not an index to God’s blessing. Now, this theology is wrong because it’s premised on a false eschatology and a realized kingdom that diminishes heaven, that redefines true riches, and ignores the self-denying aspects of the gospel. It turns a blind eye to the hard sayings of Jesus. Jesus told us that if we’re going to follow him we’re going to have to deny ourself. Jesus told us if they hit me they’re going to hit you. Jesus told us that we’re going to suffer for his name sake and be delivered up. We’re going to be persecuted. That’s something we seem to have forgotten in the church today.
Paul said to the Philippians, it is not only your privilege to believe in him but also to suffer with him. Let’s be honest about it. You know what this prosperity gospel is? It’s just worldliness. Worldliness with a gloss of Christianity on it. It’s the American dream baptized in Christian theology and it’s a perversion. It’s a denying of the teaching of Jesus Christ, it’s a mangling of the hope of the gospel, and then times it’s a denial of self-denial. And it has no room for a theology of suffering which just doesn’t match the text of the New Testament. Almost to a man, every one of the disciples that followed the Lord Jesus died at the hands of the world as martyrs for Jesus Christ. This whole thing’s a mockery of the martyrs of the church.
And our brethren in other parts of the world who haven’t got half of what we have, who are suffering for Christ, who are living on little materially but who would make us embarrassed of our shallowness in the things of God. Their prayer meetings are long. Their services don’t end until well into the afternoon. Then they come back at night for more of God’s word. It’s only in an affluent Western culture do you get this kind of nonsense. It sells here to the ignorant and the deceived. It’s really a twisting of the scriptures to our own destruction. And it turns God into an ATM machine, a vending machine. Put your coin of obedience out, pull the lever, and God will give you your candy bar. Paul said in Philippians 3, “I have suffered the loss of all things but I count them as rubbish that I might know him and the power of his resurrection.” Good story and will make one point this morning from the text.
Here’s the story that I came across this week. It’s the story of Thomas Aquinas. He has an audience with Pope Innocent IV many, many years ago. And as he comes into the Pope’s chamber, the Pope and some of his entourage are counting mountains of money. And the Pope says to Thomas, “Thomas” … Quoting from Acts 3. “Thomas, the church need no longer say silver and gold have I none.”
Remember what Peter said? Interesting. Here’s an apostle of Jesus Christ saying, “Silver and gold have I none, my pockets are empty.” And Kenneth Copeland would say, “Then Peter, you’re in sin. Peter, you have no faith.” Peter would say, “Get out of my way you heretic.” He said, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have in the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk.” So old Thomas Aquinas listened to the Pope burst his bubble said, “Okay.” He said, “Your Holy Father, the church may not say silver and gold have I none but neither can she say rise up and walk.” You see what’s the point? The material wealth always leads if we’re not careful to a diminishing of God among us and the relegating of eternal things.
As we come back into this text, Solomon is exploding some myths. The original Daddy Warbucks who had it all but realized that when he had more he had less apart from God. He wants to burst our bubble, he wants to cut materialism at the knees. The last time we were together we looked at verses 10 and 11, and he reminded us the first myth is wealth brings satisfaction. It doesn’t. The second myth is, wealth brings sufficiency. It doesn’t.
Here’s the third myth. We’ll just spend five or six minutes on this and make it a conclusion. Wealth brings serenity, wealth brings serenity. That’s the third myth. At this point. Solomon’s turning up the volume. He’s bluntly reminding his audience of the precarious nature of money. That earthly treasures are fleeting, that they bring more disadvantage than advantage. They produce anxiety. In verse 12, “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.” He’ll go on in verse 13 to talk about how riches can be capped to their owner’s hurt. He talks about fear gripping the heart of the rich man in verse 17. “All his days he also eats in darkness, he has sorrow and sickness and anger.” Solomon is saying, “Look at the price of wealth. You want to be wealthy, you want to be rich, have you ever looked at the price tag that comes with it?” Money can come at a cost. It seems like an oxymoron but it’s true. We don’t think long and hard enough about the pain that money can buy.
It won’t bring satisfaction, verse 10, it won’t bring sufficiency, verse 11, and it won’t bring serenity, verse 12. Solomon explodes the myth that money brings peace, money brings tranquility, money sets you at ease. Come on, that’s what we think. Let’s be honest, we buy under that myth all the time. You know if I now had a little bit more I’d be happier, I think I’d sleep better. I wouldn’t be as anxious, I wouldn’t be all wound up. The future would seem brighter. And so the argument goes, if you can rest your head on a big fat bank balance at the end of the night you’ll sleep like a baby. And Solomon says, “Where have you been if you close your eyes to the reality that there is no serenity with riches?”
In fact, then he does this little social experiment. He takes us to the one end of the time and he takes us to the other end of the time and we cross the tracks on both sides. He takes us to the low-income side of time. The blue-collar worker with his lunchbox under his arm coming home from a day’s work, bounces his kids on his knees, has a reasonable meal, maybe even a meager meal. But as the sun sets he lies down beside his wife and falls fast asleep. The children are in bed. He’s done a day’s work, an honest day’s work for which he’ll get his wages, through which he’ll be able to take care of his family, but his hardest passions lie elsewhere. He doesn’t leave his heart back in the office he brings it home. He crossed the tracks to the other side of town.
And his boss well, he brought the briefcase home. All the papers are out on the desk, his heart is racing, the figures don’t look good, he’s under pressure from the guy above him who’s under pressure from the guy above him, and there’s this compound pressure that’s pushing down on him. And you know what his wife says, “You’re not going to come to bed?” He says, “I can’t. I’ll be up soon enough.” And even when he gets to bed he tosses and turns. He wakens up at 3:00, he gets some Alka-Seltzer. He can’t sleep, he can’t settle. Solomon said that’s real, that’s actually what happens most of the time.
Money doesn’t bring serenity money brings anxiety. You worry about keeping it not losing it. You worry about those who are trying to get a piece of the pie. Because remember back in verse 11 when goods increase they increase who eat them. So what profit have the owners except to see them with their own eyes? Hangers on, spongers are all part of the rich man’s experience. And he can’t get To enjoy the fruits of his labor for worrying about keeping it or not losing it. That’s the picture that’s painted here, and it’s a very real one. It’s the picture of the type A personality, the executive, the man who’s got responsibility for the company. It all rests and falls on him. Although he will get the bigger dividends if this thing works. He’s tossing and turning. The guy who works for him, well, he certainly wants job security. But you know what? He clocked out a long time ago, that’s the boss’s worry. He’s fast asleep snoring like a horse, his wife kicks him in the back. That’s a real picture.
In fact, I saw it when I was in industry in shorts in Belfast. I know this is a generalization, I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. But for the most part, the white-collar workers, the suit and tie crew, the managers, and the under managers, they always seemed to be uptight. They’d leave in their car after it was all said and done pretty serious because actually, they had more work to do when they get home. The rest of us, we went whistling out the gates, we’d clocked out. We were off to what the evening held for us. We didn’t think anymore about the business because we don’t get paid to worry about the business, they do. And it comes at a price for them, they can’t sleep, they can’t settle. Do you get Solomon’s point? Wealth doesn’t bring serenity, wealth doesn’t bring sufficiency, wealth doesn’t bring satisfaction. Money doesn’t solve your worries it multiplies them.
Now, here’s where I’m finishing. I just went on a little bit of a sidetrack from this. It’s an interesting verse, isn’t it? “The abundance of the rich will not permit them to sleep.” Insomnia, it’s a real problem. In fact, it’s a huge problem in America. We live in a drowsy society. Sleep disorders involves more than 50 million Americans. Anybody here this morning not sleeping well? Not at rest? With life and where you’re at? Well, let me give you a little bit of bedtime routine quickly and we’ll be done. You need to lay your head on the pillow of Psalm 4:8. Love this verse, write it down, think about it later.
I’ll give you a few verses to turn to. This is your bedtime routine for tonight. Psalm 4:8. “I will both lie down in peace and sleep.” Doesn’t that sound good? Eight or nine hours of unbroken sleep where you’re sleeping like a baby and you wake up just as happy. Well, how come? Here’s the answer. “For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” You want a good night’s sleep, leave your world and this world in God’s hands. Don’t stay up babysitting the world, that’s God’s job. Find your security in his love which is inseparable. His grace, his mercy, the promises of his provision. He will never forsake you, he will never fail you. Pop two of them with a glass of water, go to bed. Put your head on the pillow of Psalm 4:8, then remember that you are the beloved of God.
Psalm 127:2 says that he gives his beloved sleep. You ever thought about that? He gives his beloved sleep. My friend, you’re loved of God. An everlasting love in the Lord Jesus Christ. A deep and abiding love. A costly love measured in the sacrifice, and death, and blood of Jesus Christ. God loves you. For his glory he loves you. You’re loved. You’ve got a father in heaven. You’ve got a shepherd on the fields of life. Go to bed. Your father loves you, your shepherd will care for you. You’re beloved. Sleep is God’s gift to those who trust him.
Here’s another verse then. Be aware that God is awake when you’re asleep and stuff’s getting done. See, we stay awake because we’re trying to work out in our head what’s got to be done or even stay up and do some of it. Psalm 121:4 says, “The Lord neither slumbers nor sleeps.” God’s getting stuff done. Read Esther 6. While Esther sleeps God takes care of humans plan to murder Mordecai. By the next day, human’s going to be swinging on the gallow and Mordecai is going to be blessed by the king. All happens during the night. God’s still at work. God’s awake when you’re asleep so let that help you sleep. And then finally, his mercy awaits you in the morning. Lamentations 3:24-25. Lamentations 3:24-25. “New every morning are his mercies and great is his faithfulness.” Amen.
You go to bed thinking, my security’s in God. I’m safe, I’m secure, I’m kept by the part of God, I have an inheritance in heaven. Jesus loves me this I know, Bible tells me so. God’s going to give me sleep. And as I sleep he’s going to stay awake and stuff’s getting done. In fact, he’s winding up the next day for me and he’s got it all underwritten by his mercy.
Dr. Oakley was our professor and principal at the Irish Baptist College, and he was an Englishman trained at Oxford University. A very educated and gracious man. He used to love to tell the story of a woman during the time of the Second World War in London who would go down into the subway stations with the rest of the inhabitants as the German bombers came over the English Channel to bomb London to the ground during the blitz. And down in the subway stations people would gather, and they’d sing, and they’d huddle, and they’d try and keep their spirits up as they heard the thunder and the thud of the bombs exploding wondering if there would be a house, would there be a street the next morning.
Many people couldn’t sleep, some caught broken sleep. But this woman seemed to be able to put her head on the pillow and get a full night’s sleep. And she was asked how. She said, “You know what? I used to be like that, I couldn’t sleep, I was all wound up, and tense, and fretful, and anxious. But then I came and I read Psalm 121. “That the Lord who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” And she said, “It dawned on me that if God’s staying up I can go to bed.” And that’s what I’ve done ever since I came across that verse.” Lord, you’re staying up, you’re keeping watch, I’m going to bed, and I’ll see you in the morning. And God says, “I’ll see you in the morning with a fresh supply of mercy and more evidences of my faithfulness.” Amen.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for this passage of scripture. We thank you, it’s worming our way into our hearts reminding us that there’s some things more important than gold. We thank you for reminding us this morning that the Midas touch is also a trap. That Lord, money never satisfies the soul, money never keeps a family together, money doesn’t make strong man and strong women out of our young people. Help us to remember that this morning. Help us not to exchange our soul’s welfare and our life’s good for mere money. Help us to ignore the cha-ching, the cha-ching of our culture. Live for those things that outlast this life. Lord, help us not to be anxious about what we’re going to wear, what we’re going to eat. Lord, help us tonight to go to bed and sleep like a laboring man. In fact, let’s just sleep like the children of God knowing that you’re staying up, you’re keeping watch, and tomorrow is all planned out and provided for. We thank you in Jesus holy name, amen.