For What Are You Living?

If someone observed your life for a week, for what would they conclude you are living? Would they observe that you oppress others for power? Would they witness you being envious, foolish, a workaholic, or greedy? Would they say you pursue rugged individualism, or isolate yourself to gain power, position or prestige? The Preacher of Ecclesiastes observes these things in the people around him, and brings them to our attention in order to reveal for what we should be living (Ecc. 4:1-16).

               When the Preacher saw “the tears of the oppressed” with “no one to comfort them” he concluded that it would be better for them to be dead than alive, and even better to have never been born (Ecc. 4:1-3). In a broken world oppression is a sad but true reality for many people. But the Lord sees the affliction of His people, hears their cry, and knows their sufferings. He demonstrated this when He delivered the oppressed Israelites out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 3:7-10). But He most fully demonstrated this when He sent His Son into the world “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). Ironically, our liberty came at the cost of His oppression. But it was through the cross that God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15). Thankfully, there is coming a day when oppression will be no more. In the new Jerusalem, “God himself will be with [His people] as their God” and “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:3-4). In the meantime, we live in the midst of a fallen world where we will witness oppression. Therefore, the church needs to do everything she can to comfort and help the victims in the name of Jesus Christ.

               If power drives the oppressor, then envy drives the workaholic (Ecc. 4:4). But gaining in toil and skill motivated by envy of one’s neighbor gets one nowhere in the end. “Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” and leads to “disorder and every vile practice” (Jas. 3:14-16). Neither does the fool gain anything who “folds his hands,” so that he can’t even provide food for himself, much less his family (Ecc. 4:5). Poverty will be the result of such senselessness (Pr. 6:6-11; 24:30-34). The apostle Paul warns, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).                                

               There is also no gain in being a workaholic, but what is profitable is “a handful of quietness” (Ecc. 4:6). Believers are “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11). We are to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). We are to adorn ourselves “with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:4).

               Greed is another sin that is not to characterize the believer (Ecc. 4:7-8). When a person lives only for their own interests, they will never find true satisfaction. They may deprive themselves of time with friends, entertainment, and other pleasures of this world, in order to work to attain money, but in the end they are unhappy.

               Jesus tells us that “you cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). One of the requirements for leaders in the church is that they not be “a lover of money” or “greedy for dishonest gain” (1 Tim. 3:3, 8). Seeking satisfaction in worldly riches will never satisfy because “moth and rust destroy” and “thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). We will only be satisfied when we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).

               Individualism and isolationism are also not to characterize the believer. “Two are better one” (Ecc. 4:9) is not just the Preacher’s idea, but God’s idea, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Doing life together in the context of community is not just a suggestion, but an imperative in Scripture (see, for example, Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10). The only community that will endure is the church. In the new heaven and the new earth believers will together worship the Lamb of God for all eternity. Let us, then, be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” and “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:2-3). 

               To illustrate the point that the quest for position, power and prestige holds no lasting benefit, the Preacher tells a tale of two men (Ecc. 4:13-16). One is a poor, wise youth and the other an old, foolish king. Although the wise youth went from poverty to palace, replacing the foolish king, and enjoyed a time of successful leadership with throngs of followers, his name and fame did not last. And so it is for all of us. The names that we create for ourselves and the fame that we establish have no lasting value. Death brings an end to our lives. Generations come and go. History books are updated. Our trophies end up in the trash. Our diplomas turn to dust. Our publications go out of print. We must not live for things that have no eternal value. Instead, we must put God at the center of our story, and live for Him, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).      

Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit

Sarah Ivill