As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? Ecclesiastes 5, verse 11.
Yesterday’s verse talked about how wealth is meaningless, how acquiring it and loving money are meaningless. Today’s has a two-fold lesson in it, something for those acquiring that wealth (you and I) and something about those who consume that wealth (also you and I). Tomorrow we’ll talk about the emotional burden of wealth.
Not before discussing those two lessons, however. I suppose that you can read this verse as an observation about the basics of capitalism. Offer a good product or service and your customer base will increase. Make something that people want and you’ll prosper. If you build it, they will come. No matter how you slice it, the basics of supply and demand are still the driving force behind all economies. They always have been as long as people have had desires and ways to pay for them. If you have something that people want, generally your product will become known. Sure you, have to take the initiative, market it, work hard, find your niche. God doesn’t promise prosperity: He promises His abiding love.
Yet there’s also another stark fact about capitalism: it can be ruthless. Most new restaurants fail within a year. There used to be a Louisiana chicken place over near the FC Dallas soccer stadium. I went in there a few months ago because it had just opened and I wanted to see what it looked like. What it looked like was yummy, and I stored the place away in my noggin for soon-to-be-used future reference. Last week, when I was interested in stopping there, I saw it is already out of business. Especially in a minor depression, the market can be ruthless, and my heart goes out to those who work so hard yet still can’t make a go of it. God bless them for at least trying.
Let’s say your new business succeeds. If your self-concept, your soul, your being is built around generating wealth, what will you do when hard times come and your customer base has to tighten its belt? What good will it do you when Wal Mart comes to town and threatens your bottom line? And even if you are prospering – even if you’re fabulously wealthy – what about you? How much time do you get to spend with your family, or with your God, or even with yourself? When you’re gone, who will get your business and your wealth? If you take time away, will your business wane? Do you have the tiger by the tail or does the tiger have you?
In church this Sunday, my friend, Mark, talked about a 5-minute habit that he and his group of bicyclists got into during their recent mission trip to Michigan. Each day, the individuals on the trip would take 5 minutes of silent, private time to re-energize with God, just listening and clearing their minds of all the daily clutter. Mark challenged each of us to do the same, and let me tell you that it isn’t an easy habit to start, but I believe in what he said so I’m giving it a go.
If your business in life is just business, how much time do you have for the important business that is your soul?
That’s what this verse today is really asking me. It’s posing a rhetorical question about how meaningless wealth can be all the more meaningless because it is fleeting and deceptive. The old adage is true (explaining why it has staying power): money can’t buy you happiness. That’s how God designed it: money is a tool for us. Lasting happiness can only be found in God. Money can pay off your bills, but chances are you may just rise to the level of your newly reacquired wealth. Money can pay to dig a well in Africa but it can’t make the people there happy. Money can buy you a new house at the lake but what good is it if that place becomes a hiding place instead of a refuge for rest? See what I mean?
So let’s do the same thing we did yesterday and try a little substitution to see if it doesn’t shed some light on what is being implied. Try this on for size: As God’s love increases, so do those who consume it. And what benefit is it to the owner except to feast his eyes on God? If the entire book of Ecclesiastes was written to poetically demonstrate how everything in this world is meaningless without God, then putting Him back into the verses as the object of each one fully makes the point. When you dive into God’s Word, the more you open your heart to it the more it feeds you with a righteous, satisfying hunger. Yes, that sounds a little crazy, but it’s true! The more you’re in it, the more satisfied you become yet the hungrier you are for more of Him. It’s the only addiction I know of that is healthy.
What benefit is it to you? Do you want to live forever, free of guilt for bad things you’ve done? It’s something to build your life on, including your business.
But let’s not confuse things here: I don’t believe God wants us to act ruthlessly towards each other. Prosperity gospel – if you believe you’ll get rich – is a load of bunk, and God is neither capitalist nor socialist. God is above that nonsense. Will there be trading in the hereafter? I doubt it, because in relying on Him for everything, there would be no need. Still, I have no idea. Nobody does.
Yet I’m still a big believer in the free market. People of good faith ethically exercising their rights to produce goods and services is the single biggest producer of freedom that this world has ever known. Where people are free to believe and to pursue their talents, the pursuit of wealth has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system that mankind has devised. The last 300 years have proven that faith and capitalism successfully co-exist, and capitalism thrives in a place where faith is strong even as it doesn’t discourage faith. Not so socialism, communism, fascism or any of the other ‘ism’s’ that deny human dignity, liberty and faith. It’s the yearning of the human spirit to be free, not controlled, and real freedom is found by first submitting all to God. I have plans, hopes and dreams of building something good. Here’s to taking those to God and following where He leads me whatever the outcome. That’s worth at least 5 minutes each day of listening to Him.