Money will never satisfy those who love money, who make acquiring riches their chief purpose in life. Such individuals will always want more. Moreover, they will have to put up with what even the godly rich man must endure: fair-weather friends who stick around only for some of the wealth as well as other schemers who use legal and illegal means to get a cut of the funds (Eccl. 5:10–11).
With respect to the second point above, namely, that the wealthy do not get to enjoy the fruits of their labor, we should recognize that the Preacher is speaking in hyperbole to make a point: pursuing wealth as one’s chief end cannot provide lasting satisfaction. Ecclesiastes is not making an absolute statement that those who live in great material prosperity are never, under any circumstance, able to enjoy it. We know this to be the case from today’s passage, which assumes that our Creator gives at least some wealthy people the power to enjoy their bounty (v.19). Furthermore, the Preacher commends finding joy not only in one’s financial success but in the very work that leads to that prosperity. It is a good thing to find enjoyment in our toil (v. 18).
This bit of wisdom provides a helpful corrective to a prevailing attitude toward labor in our culture. From songs that proclaim, “everybody’s working for the weekend,” to bumper stickers that state, “I say we fish five days and work two days every week,” popular culture sends us the message that says work is pure drudgery and that we should maximize our leisure time. While we should never discount the thorns and thistles that attend all of our labor in this fallen world, the aforementioned message about work and leisure cannot be found in Scripture. We were commissioned to work before the fall into sin (Gen. 1–2), and it is in working that we find much of our purpose in life, whether we labor as garbage collectors, doctors, homemakers, teachers, engineers, restaurant servers, and so on. Work is not an evil to be avoided but a gift from the Lord to be embraced.
How do we turn labor from drudgery to delight? Part of the answer has to be found in Paul’s call that we “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). The yoke of Christ is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:29–30), so if we do our work unto Him, we will find Him lightening our load. We will find abiding joy in our hearts in even the most difficult working environments (Eccl. 5:20).