Unregenerate people lack insight into the character of God and those things that He finds most pleasing, but that does not mean that they are entirely destitute of wisdom or unable to see the futility of certain attitudes that we find prevalent in human society. In fact, non-Christians are often quite adept at pointing out many of the absurdities of life in a fallen world. For example, we hear many secular thinkers bemoan the insanity of “keeping up with the Joneses,” the relentless drive to match or even surpass the standard of living that their neighbors enjoy. As some have observed, this drive—not to be outdone by those around us in regard to our wealth—leads to longer hours at work, greater exhaustion, and sacrificing time with family all in the name of getting more and more “stuff.” What is craziest about all this is the fact that it never stops. As soon as we attain one goal, the Joneses best us and we are driven to work even harder to keep up with them.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with working hard. Scripture, of course, commends the sweet sleep of the industrious laborer (Eccl. 5:12), and the command to do all things to the glory of God exhorts us to put forth our best effort in all that we do (1 Cor. 10:31). The problem comes when we think that laboring after the things of this world will bring us permanent satisfaction once we attain them. People reach the level of the Joneses, but they keep on going because they discover that attaining the goal they have sought does not satisfy them. They learn, as today’s passage indicates, that when we toil only for our mouths, our hunger is never satiated (Eccl. 6:7).
This failure to find satisfaction in living only for one’s cravings is the plight of both the wise man and the fool alike. Both the wise man who occasionally slips up and lives for himself as well as the fool who lives continually for his material desires continue to hunger for more (v. 8a). The poor man who seeks to ingratiate himself with kings in order to receive material benefit also finds worldly wealth not to be all that it has promised (v. 8b). The perpetual, never-ending appetite for the things of this world means that even the delight we enjoy with our eyes cannot last. We can never be content with worldly beauty because it cannot provide the infinite loveliness that our soul craves (v. 9). Our souls were made for something much greater, even God Himself. Matthew Henry comments, “The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give them any satisfaction.”