A View from the Top

So Ecclesiastes for Beginners. Lesson
Number 6 entitled, “The view From The Top.” Ecclesiastes chapter 4 if
you’re following in your Bible. So in our last several
lessons we have explored with Solomon the various lifestyles
that he pursued in his quest for satisfaction and joy, and
satisfaction and joy without reference to God. So he pursued pleasure, wisdom,
and folly, different views of work, and of course the
seasons of a person’s life. One final area that Solomon commented
on was the pursuit and the exercise of power and wealth. And so he begins the exploration of this
area in chapter number four by stating the idea that what you see is not necessarily what you get. In other words, what you see from the top is
not… as you’re on your way to the top, is not necessarily what you’re going
to get when you finally get to the top. OK. Charles Swindoll summarizes this passage of
scripture in his book “Living on the Ragged Edge” and I want to quote a little
section, he just explains it so perfectly, so you can read along with me. He says,
“We have been inundated with books, seminars, courses, and speeches on the
subject of top-level management and success- oriented leadership. The hype has
never been greater nor the lure more effective. Indeed, we have largely been
convinced that the achievement of an impressive position brings lasting
satisfaction and a liberating sense of pleasure. But for the
executive, the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not
what it appears to be. More often than not, managers have head-on
collisions with intense pressure, political rivalry, economic
anxiety, and inescapable loneliness. Centuries ago, King Solomon addressed the
emptiness of those who make it to the top of their profession. His words
live on today. They can make a difference in our lives if we
will hear them well and heed their cry.” So let’s go to what Solomon actually says about life at the top. Perhaps review a bit of
history about his own rise to power. Solomon lived in the real world of politics and power and
wealth. He obsessed, he observed military and political rivalries, as well
as the pursuit of great wealth and power, not only by those around him,
but by himself as well. He was born into power. He was one of the king’s sons. Solomon’s own rise to power was full of
intrigue as his brothers were jockeying for position while
their father David, Saul’s father as well, grew old and feeble.
And it was only after his mother Bathsheba and Nathan, the one who
originally charged David with adultery with Bathsheba, that prophet, eventually Bathsheba goes to
that very same prophet and they plan together to save Solomon’s life
by plotting to have Solomon named king before the other brothers were
anointed and could mount some sort of power base. They kind of cut them
off at the pass. So Solomon got rid of his enemies and he increased his wealth
and power through government and heavy taxation. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? He was no stranger to the fierce
competition that takes place at the top and in his journal he gives us an idea of what
the view from the top is really like from experience. So from his perch, he sees three things. First of all he sees
oppression. He sees oppression. In verse 1 he says, “Then I looked again at
all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I
saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and
on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort
them.” So he doesn’t describe in detail, but rather he makes a kind of a
general reference to what was happening in his day, and what was happening in
his day was oppression. Now the word oppression
means to press against, to treat with unjust harshness or with tyranny or to cause mental or physical
hardship. From his view at the top that’s what he could see. Rulers thirsty for power, landowner’s greedy wealth. The list is endless and the crimes are
countless. It’s interesting, you notice in this passage what he says, he
says, “Those who are oppressed they suffer and they have no one to
rescue and comfort them. The injustice is unbearable because they
are powerless.” Here in this country today if you are an oppressed
minority for example, you have some sort of recourse. You can express your will and
you can march in the street. You can vote. You can put together a lobby group,
we have ways to be able to push back against any type of injustice and
oppression but in Solomon’s day there was no voting. There were no interest
groups. If you were poor and had no power, you were at the bottom and you stayed at the
bottom and the ones at the top made sure that you stayed at the bottom. So
Solomon is commenting on those who are oppressed, there is no justice for them.
They are having a miserable life, but then he says those who are doing
the oppressing, those who have the power, the power to actually
change things if they wanted to, but like the oppressed he says, “They
have no one to comfort them either.” Whoa. So the ones who are being
oppressed, they have no one to comfort them, and the ones who are doing the
oppressing, they have no comfort either. Whats his point? Well the idea is that both of these people will die. The oppressed will have a miserable life
and then they’ll die. The ones who are oppressing them may have a better life, but the
very end of their life is exactly the same. They’re going to die and
neither of them can escape or be comforted from this fact that
they’re both going to die. In verse 2 he goes on and he says, “So I
congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living
who are still living.” So his point is if this be true, that there is no
comfort whether at the top or at the bottom, then a person is better off dead, because at
least there’s the pain of oppression doesn’t exist and the fear of death is no longer,
because you’re already dead. He continues in verse 3, “But better off than both of them is
the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil
activity that is done under the sun.” So he has an after thought, verse 2.
It was like that was his original conclusion since both groups are being oppressed,
both groups are going to die, you know it’s better you never lived anyway, and
then he has another thought. And as an afterthought, Solomon
expresses the idea that, well, it’s better not even to be born. This way
one never sees the oppression from either side and never has
to dread death to begin with. Again this is not a happy letter.
This is not joyful ideas being expressed here. So how many people have used this
argument not to have children? I’ve heard people make this argument,
believing that this present world is the worst of places and our times are the most
dangerous of times or we’d better you not bring any children into this world.
I’ve heard people actually say that and yet Solomon twenty-five hundred years
ago expresses the exact same idea. “I guess the world is so bad,” he says, “better to not even to be born.” Another thing that Solomon sees from the top. Envy. Now you would think
that success and power and climbing the ladder produces
contentment, but much of the time it only produces envy,
or another word, rivalry. Right? So in verse 4 he says, “I have seen that
every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry
between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and
striving after wind.” So here he explains that much of the time
success kindles envy in others and rivalries and that many strive for
power and wealth in order to overtake others or not to
be surpassed themselves. Well what do we call this here in
modern day parlance? “Keeping up with the Joneses” right? And we say
in our own mind, we say, “Well, I’m so glad I’m not like that. Other
people are like that.” Until your neighbor builds a I don’t know, a
sunroom in the back of his house or until your brother-
in-law buys a brand new car. All of a sudden your car was OK.
Your ’97 Taurus was looking fine until your brother-in-law bought a new car and then all of a sudden your ’97 Taurus
actually looks like a ’97 Taurus right? Nothing new, when he says, “Nothing new under
the sun,” as far as human emotion is concerned, “Nothing new under the sun.” So
he’s saying here the primary motive for striving that
some do for success and power is not so that they can right injustices and have influence to
balance the iniquities of the more unfortunate. Be nice if that were the
case, “I want to be the mayor, because I just want to fix everything,” yeah right. “I
want to be the president,” right? No politics here, no right or left, just the natural
intention. I want to rise to power. Do we really think people want to rise to
power only to help the poor? C’mon. Usually it’s defeat ego to
protect fragile self-images to insulate self from the suffering of
others. People want to… Listen, people want to get rich and when they’re very
rich, where do they live? Well, they live in places that have walls and fences,
that’s where they live. Why? They want to keep out the riff-raff. That’s why. So this striving and pushing for the
top, he says, is vain because it accomplishes nothing in giving
one the security he feels that he’ll have at the top and
worse still it often provokes others to jealousy and the end result
therefore he says is profitless for everybody at the top. Remember I said at the beginning,
he said the view from the top, you think the view from the top is going to be
great as you’re on your way and then when you get there you realize, it’s
not so great after all and we don’t have to be the king of anything. How many of us I mean before I became a preacher I worked for companies,
corporations, and I remember thinking, “Boy, I’m just a clerk now, but if
I got to manage my section, Oh yeah! The money will be good,
but I’ll be the boss. I’ll be the boss,” and then when I finally got to be
the manager of the section, what a headache, because I had to deal with people as a clerk. I just dealt with paper, that was ok. Paper doesn’t
talk back to you. Paper doesn’t take a 35 minute
break in the morning. Certainly the thing that
I learned as I studied this and as I make the lessons is “man, life
has not changed.” People have not changed. 3,000 years go by, we’re all the same. So verse 5, he continues to talk about envy and he says, “The fool folds his
hands and consumes his own flesh.” So now he’s is going to
make a comparison. OK. So he contrasts the selfish, ambitious person to the person who
doesn’t strive at all, who has no ambition about anything, the lazy man.
“The folding of hands” is a reference to sleep and here he is saying the lazy man, he
wastes his life, he consumes his own flesh, he wastes his life. So we have people who have
that attitude, “Turn on, tune out.” The generation of the
flower children. Good example of this other extreme. The lazy man
wastes his life he says by not caring about anything. Some people they care about
everything, they want to get to the top, when they get there the’re disappointed and other people just
waste their entire life away and stay disappointed. In verse 6
he says, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists
full of labor and striving after the wind.” So here he’s contrasted the two and he says the balanced person is
the one who is content. “One handful” with what he has. If a man is satisfied with what he has, he will have quietness, meaning
peace and satisfaction, freedom from envy of others position and
success. I mean what good is having a lot and being at the top if you’re not at peace with yourself,
what’s the point? You can’t enjoy what you’ve got and what you’ve worked so hard to get. So a few quick rules here about
being satisfied with what you have. How do we achieve the
state that he’s talking about here? One hand, I’m satisfied with
what I have, a couple of rules. Number one. Keep your eyes on your own stuff. Whatever the stuff you got, keep your
eyes on your own stuff. The commandment in Exodus 20:17
says, “Thou shall not covet.” Keep your attention
focused on your own life, your own family, your own
work, your own possessions. It doesn’t say that you have to
admire what you have or even like what you have, just keep your eyes on what you
have, because no matter what you have, if your eyes begin to roam on
what somebody else’s have, that is a guarantee that you will no
longer be satisfied with what you have, because your brother-in-law who
bought the new car, his neighbor got a new boat and a hitch to pull it. Keep your eyes, this is just like a rule
of thumb. Keep your eyes on your own stuff. Rule number 2, how to
be satisfied, simple rules. Give thanks for what you have. Before you ask for anything, make a careful inventory of what you
already have. I mean really what you have. People who are always thinking well, I have a decent house. No no no no no no no. The fact that your eyelids work. Have you ever thought what it would be like
if your left eyelid did not work properly. Like you’re right eyelid was blinking,
but the left one didn’t work properly. That would mean first of all you’d look
awfully strange just blinking with one eye and then it would mean every few moments you’d
have to put drops in that left eye to… Just think about that, just that little tiny
little nerve, if that little nerve wasn’t working how miserable your life would be. You
couldn’t read properly. Be thankful that your nose works and does what it’s supposed to. I mean we could
go through the entire anatomy right? But I’m just trying to make a point. Be happy that you have indoor plumbing. In this group here, there are
some that may remember outdoor plumbing like as a life experience,
because I see a lot of heads nodding. I don’t know what that’s like at 3:00 in the morning to
go…except at camp. You know what I’m saying?
You will be amazed at how well off you are and the giving of thanks is a healthy
spiritual exercise that is an enjoyable experience and one that
pleases God. When I cannot sleep, I do not count sheep, when
I can’t fall asleep, I begin counting my blessings. I do I do. I think about not what’s not working,
there’s plenty that’s not working, but I give thanks for what is
working and our family and our home and our children who are
healthy, grandchildren who are born healthy. How many even in our own
congregation have we prayed for these little babies who are terribly sick when they are born? That a little baby is born healthy with all
its fingers and toe, that’s something to be thankful for. And you know what,
I have never, I always fall asleep before I get to
10 things and I’m done, I’m asleep. Give thanks for what you do
have, because we do have a lot. Number three, little rules of thumb.
Ask for what you need instead of complaining about what you do not have. Ask for what you need instead of
complaining about what you do not have. Discouragement, envy,
rivalry, these things take place when we feel that we are not getting
our fair share of the blessings. When we say to ourselves, “Well why him and not
me? How come he is getting ahead and I’m not?” So we’re going to switch from Solomon and go to
James, because James has a very good answer to that. James in chapter four says, “What
is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the
source of your pleasures that wage war in your members? You
lust and do not have; so you commit murder You are envious and
cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you
ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” So he’s saying a lot of things here, but one
of the things he’s saying is do not ask in comparison to others. In other words,
don’t go to God in prayer and say, “I want what he’s got.” That’s asking God to satisfy your lust. He’s not going to answer that prayer.
Ask for things that you need. Now the secret to the abundant,
successful life is finding out what you really need. When you truly discover this, God will grant it to your joy and satisfaction. A lot of times we ask for more
money when what we really need is more self-control or we ask for an end to some kind of suffering or trial when what we really need is to find
a closer relationship with God through the suffering. I feel I truly feel badly
for people who are not believers, because when they suffer, when the trial is over,
the only thing they’ve gotten out of that is maybe a little more patience
perhaps, a little more understanding, a little more sympathy for other people
who go through that same experience, but they’ve gotten no spiritual benefit
out of it whatsoever. They’ve not drawn closer to God. They’ve
gained no insight about spiritual life. OK so let’s get back to Solomon. The
view from the top. What does he see from the top? Oppression. Envy. Third thing he mentions, disillusionment. He says, “Then I looked
again at vanity under the sun. There was a certain man without a dependent,
having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his
eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “‘And for whom and my
laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This too is vanity
and it is a grievous task.” So here Solomon shares a kind of a
reflective moment that such a top dog might have and that is he questions
the reason why he fights so hard to get to and to stay on top
when there is no real purpose to it since when he dies no one is going to
benefit from his hard work, neither did he while he was alive. So he worked, he
worked, he worked, he sees what? He sees simply oppression and disillusionment, he sees all these bad things while he is working
so hard, doesn’t get anything out of it, and he says then I’m going to die and the person coming after me
is not going to learn, he’s going to find this out for himself. Now the sad thing about this
is that most people in this position, having climbed
the ladder to the top, most people rarely have this insight and
when they do, they have no recourse but to just
keep playing the game. I’m reminded of people who are
compulsive gamblers. Compulsive gamblers even if they know that the game is
rigged against them are still going to play because it’s not about winning if you’re
a compulsive gambler, it’s about playing. I had a relative who was a…
he’s passed away now, but he was a compulsive gambler and I liked the way he
explained it to me once about, because he knew what he was, he says, “Let me
explain to you what being a gambler is like. Imagine if gambling was a drug and
it’s in a needle,” he says, “OK, so if you win, that was good,” and then he says, “if you lose,” and he said, “It doesn’t matter if I win or lose, it’s playing the game that I’m addicted
to.” So Solomon is saying people scrap and fight to get to the top and even
if they realize there may be nothing up there, they play the game anyways. So
Solomon’s view from the top pretty bleak right? What does he tell us? Power corrupts and absolute power
corrupts absolutely. Have you ever heard that saying? Power corrupts and
absolute power corrupts absolutely. A quote attributed to Lord
Acton who was a historian in 1887. Solomon sees this oppression being
part of the game at the top. He says, “Yeah, there’s oppression at the top,
whatever, It’s part of the game. I just have to accept it.” He says the best success, not him, but the best
success is contentment. Well actually he does say that, “one handful.”
Success is many times bred by envy and it creates jealousy and rivalry. And so the best success is to be content
in life no matter where you are on the ladder. And then
thirdly, life at the top is often lonely and full of disillusionment. It’s never what it was cracked up to be,
but if it’s all you know, you’re going to die trying to protect your spot. So we live in a fast paced society. A great competitive spirit. Let’s face it,
in America right? It’s free competition. I mean our whole society is based on competition. I’m not saying that’s wrong.
I’m just saying that’s what we live in. So if we live in that kind of
environment, the competitive spirit, let’s have some understanding
about that shall we? First of all, understand that competition is not
wrong when it is used as a tool to produce excellence. The Olympic Games, we know
there’s all the corruption that may surround it, because so much money is involved (wherever
there’s money there’s always corruption), but the idea of the game itself, the
Olympic Games themself. A rivalry between the best runners for
example, the fastest runners in the world, and notice the difference where they
beat each other by a tenth of a second, half of a second. That’s the height of
competition? Well what are we seeing there? We’re seeing excellence at the
very top of a particular thing, running or throwing a ball, or whatever it is, but
competition it’s a good thing. If it’s meant to create excellence. Another idea, power is not wrong when it is
used to bless the powerless. One of the reasons, again, I don’t want
to go into do you like it or not, but one of the reasons why Mr. Trump won, just one of the reasons, is because he promised
(who knows about the delivery), but he promised that he would help
those who feel oppressed. Now, that’s exactly what Mr. Obama
said when he was elected. It was exactly what Mrs. Clinton said if she
would have been elected, “if you elect me I’m going to…” Nobody ever tries to
get to be the president of our country by saying, “If you elect me, I’m going to try to get the rich
people even richer, because not enough rich people vote.” So everybody understands that altruistic idea,
that there’s nothing wrong with power if it’s used to
bless the powerless. So whatever power we have in our
situation, whether it’s financial or positional, if we use it to help
others that’s a good thing. It’s a blessing. Wealth is not wrong when
it is understood that it is a stewardship from God and a stewardship for His service, not ours. As humans we naturally
strive to improve and aim for goals. So here are the goals to aim
for in order to avoid loneliness and the disillusionment that
Solomon talks about if you make it to the top, because there are young men and women here who are people who have careers that I see in the
audience and obviously no one says, “You know what my goal is? My goal is to stay
exactly here at this desk for the next 30 years and never move up.” No, nobody thinks like that.
Everybody wants to move up. Everybody wants a bigger job, better job, get to the top.
Nothing wrong with that. Part of our nature, but within that thinking and within that society let’s
remember a couple of things shall we? Let’s aim for contentment each
day, not increased production. It’s OK to be good at your job, but remember
being good at your job and all that, if you yourself are not content, what’s the point? Remember the little rules we talked about? About being content, keep your eyes on your own stuff, give thanks for what you have and strive to be
useful wherever you are, not to be number one. What
did Jesus say, “The greatest of all will be the servant of all?”
Those of you who have worked as managers or supervisors, if you’ve had that
experience in your work life, isn’t that great when you have some assistants
or people on the floor who just, “Boss just tell me what to do. Just tell me
what to do and I’ll take care of it,” don’t you love to have one of those men or
women who have that kind of attitude? Makes your job so great. Strive to be useful wherever you are, not to
be number one, because if you strive to be number one there’s a lot of
kissing up involved. Shall I say? And then thirdly, work at being faithful to God, to your
spouse, to your friends, to your work; not faultless, not
perfect. I love what Marty says, it’s his, we all know it’s his,
he’s said it a lot of times, but I’ll borrow it, he says, “I’m not a perfect
husband, but I’m a faithful one.” So true. I’m not a perfect
manager, but I’m a faithful one. I’m faithful to the company and I’m faithful
to my people. I’ve got my peoples back. I may make mistakes and all that business, but
you can count on me, I’ll be there for you. That’s so beautiful to see in a person. So do these things whether you’re at the
top or at the bottom, you’ll be OK, you’ll make it in this very difficult
competitive world that we live in. That’s the class for today. Thank you very much.

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