************ Sermon on Ecclesiastes 5:10-15 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 25, 2004

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20
Ecclesiastes 5:10-15; Matthew 6:20a
"Barriers to Charity"
[This message is deeply indebted to chapter 4 of "The Treasure Principle" written by Randy Alcorn.]

I Why People Don't Give
A I have no idea who wrote these words, but I came across them this past week:
Topic: Giving
Subtopic: Of Tithes
Index: 2123
Date: 10/1986.21
Title: A Matter of Fact

I have never known a generous person to complain about how much money it takes to run a church. Poor givers gripe about how much it takes; generous givers express concern that they don't do more.
I have never known a family who tithed for any length of time who quit.
I have never known a generous family that was not generally happy.
I have never known a stingy, miserly family that was not generally unhappy about many things.
I have never known a person who was critical of most things, mad about many things, who was generous.
I have come to believe that most people who feel we talk too much about money, never really want to talk about money at all. Generous people enjoy talking about it.
I have come to believe that there is a direct connection that exists between a person's faith and a person's generosity. Those who give generously tend to become more faithful; and the reverse is true in both instances.
We know that Christ commands those who love Him to give. We know He offers us great rewards for giving. So why is it so hard for some people to give?

B There are many roadblocks to giving: unbelief, insecurity, pride, idolatry, worry, selfishness, greed. One of the biggest – what I want to focus on today – is the illusion that earth is our home.

The Bible says we are pilgrims, strangers, aliens on earth (Heb 11:13). "Our citizenship is in heaven," says Paul (Phil 3:20). We are citizens of "a better country–a heavenly one" (Heb 11:16).

What we consider to be our treasure depends largely on where we think our home is. An illustration I have used before that explains this better than I can:
Topic: Pilgrims
Date: 12/1992.101
Title: Traveling Light

In the late 1800s, an American tourist paid a visit to the renowned Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a cot.
The tourist asked, "Rabbi, where is your furniture?" Hofetz Chaim replied, "Where is yours?"
The puzzled American asked, "Mine? But I'm only a visitor here. I'm only passing through." The rabbi replied, "So am I."
That's true for all of us – all Christians know that on this earth and in this body they are but pilgrims passing through on the way to eternal glory. Now, if we really believe this, if we really believe our home is in heaven with Christ rather than on earth, then we will store up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. And, one of the main ways to do this is to be generous with our earthly treasures.

A number of years ago someone came to see me. He was all excited. "We did it," he announced. "We finally did it." "What did you do?" I asked. He explained how they were finally able to give 20% of their income to charity. It took some sacrifices on their part. They did without some things and without some trips and vacations. But they felt they had achieved a big accomplishment. They had the pilgrim attitude. They knew it was better to store up treasure in heaven than on earth. They knew our goal in life should be our life with Christ.

II The Garbage Dump
A As you know, the Dielemans and the Richmonds are in the process of moving (the big event takes place tomorrow). You quickly learn that one of the most necessary things for a good move is the dumpster and the county dump. Mike and I have dragged a couple of things to the county dump. We've thrown into the garbage more than one thing that is no longer worth keeping.

Garbage containers, dumpsters, and landfills are necessary evils in this life. It is a shame that we have to throw anything away and it always bothers me that many people never recycle what they are able. Yet, when you think about it, sooner or later everything that we own ends up in a garbage dump. Christmas and birthday presents. Cars, boats, and bikes. Clothes, stereos, computers, and dolls. Go to an estate auction sometime. There is always lots of stuff that is left unsold. Stuff that someone considered valuable and worth keeping at one time. Stuff that no one wants anymore. Where do you think that stuff ends up? Some of it goes to the Salvation Army or Used Treasures or Visalia Rescue Mission or Love INC. But the bulk of it ends up in the county dump. The treasures that children fought over, that turned friends into enemies, that broke up marriages, that cost someone their honesty – all end up sooner or later in the dump.

Everyone of us will someday part with our treasures and money. The only question is when. Either we generously part with them now – and earn treasure for our life in heaven with Christ – or we part with them later when we die and they are thrown into the trash. We can keep earthly treasures for the moment, and we may derive some temporary enjoyment from them. Or we can give them away and end up enjoying them forever with Christ.

B Maybe you have seen that bumper sticker "He who dies with the most toys wins." This is the creed, the statement of faith, for millions of people. Their whole purpose in life is to accumulate as many toys and material goods and wealth as possible. What an awful thing to live and die by – because it is completely false. The more accurate saying is "He who dies with the most toys still dies – and never takes any with him." When we die after devoting our lives to acquiring things, we don't win – we lose. We move into eternity, but our toys and earthly treasures stay behind, filling junkyards.

C We need to remember what different Psalmists say. They remind us of how temporary life on earth really is:
(Ps 90:5-6) You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-- (6) though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.

(Ps 102:11-12) My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (12) But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.

(Ps 103:14-17) for he [the Lord] knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (15) As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; (16) the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. (17) But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children ...
Our time on earth is but a speck, a dot on the end of a sentence. Contrast that with our time in the eternity of heaven or hell. Yet, most people put their emphasis on the speck rather than on the eternity. They live for earthly treasures that end up in the junk heaps of life. Instead, they should live for treasures in heaven with Christ that will never end.

III The Meaningless of Possessions
A Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes is a phrase that some Bible versions translate as "vanity." Our Bible translates it as "meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Of course, you can never catch the wind. Those who chase the wind end up with a pocketful of nothing. Those who chase the wind end up with a fistful of emptiness.

In our Scripture reading, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes sees the pursuit of riches and possessions on this earth as being meaningless, a chasing after wind. He writes:
(Eccl 5:10-11) Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (11) As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?
Everything is vanity, a chasing after wind, except for life in and with Christ both now and for eternity.

B Yet, most people in our culture – perhaps even most people in our churches – spend most of their effort and time in a chasing after the wind. Consider this:

For a long time, now, it has been recognized that material wealth doesn't make people happy or happier – because, don't forget, it is a pocketful full of nothing. Like me, I am sure you have heard the stories of lottery winners who are more miserable a few years after winning than they were before. The wealth they dreamed would bring them happiness didn't. Not even close. Listen to these quotes from some of the wealthiest people of their day:
Material wealth doesn't make people happy. This is especially true if you are a Christian. For, don't forget, we are pilgrims on a journey. And, nothing makes a journey more difficult than a heavy backpack weighted down with all sorts of unnecessary things.

C In our Bible reading the Preacher of Ecclesiastes makes a series of insightful statements about living for material wealth. His main point is that for those who pursue it wealth is more of a curse than a blessing, more of a problem than something positive.

The Preacher starts off by saying, "Whoever loves money never has money enough" (vs 10). Do you know what the Preacher is saying? He is saying that the more you have, the more you want. It becomes an addiction and you become its slave. Money and things are frightful taskmasters. They tend to tyrannize their owners. I remember the time I was talking to someone at the Holland, MI harbor about his yacht. He had a huge boat that he took out on Lake Michigan. He was complaining to me about all the work and money it required. He was always overseeing repairs. His wife and kids always invited friends who would mess up the boat, eat his food, and drink his beverages. It guzzled gas by the tens of gallons and every fill-up cost $500 or more. The insurance was a fright. I said, "Why don't you give it up?" He looked at me in astonishment. He confessed he wanted an even bigger boat. Instead of owning the boat the boat owned him. That's what happens with many people – their things end up owning them. "Whoever loves money never has money enough."

"Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (vs 10). Do you know what the Preacher is saying? He is saying that the more you have, the less you are satisfied. Your first car is an object of joy and pride: you wash it and clean it and change the oil and air the tires. Your second and third car don't get that kind of treatment. Why not? Because you don't find them near as satisfying as the first one.

"As goods increase, so do those who consume them" (vs 11). Take my friend, the yacht owner. He was never alone with his boat – every friend and relative expected to be invited on board. Take the poor souls who win the lottery. Are they ever in for a shock even before they collect their winnings: lawyers, accountants, investment counselors, insurance salesman, charities, long-lost relatives, and so on are all standing in line with goods, services, proposals, and requests for financial aid. It becomes a nightmare!

"And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" (vs 11). The wealthy person, says the Preacher, takes no real pleasure in his riches. Like Scrooge, he enjoys the sight of all his cash or gold, but that's the only enjoyment he gets.

"The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep" (vs 12). Those who live for wealth cannot sleep well. We aren't told why. It could be because of worry. It could be because of indigestion. It could be because they are so driven to multiply their wealth. Whatever the reason, it is ironic that those who work with their hands sleep soundly while the rich toss and turn all night.

"I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner " (vs 13). The Preacher is saying that the more you have, the more it can hurt you and your heart. Those with wealth have a choice: they can use it to share with the needy, to support the church, to build up kingdom causes, or they can hoard it; they can store up treasure in heaven with Christ or they can store up treasure on earth.

Another grievous evil is this: "or wealth lost through some misfortune so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him" (vs 14). The misfortune is not specified so the readers think of misfortunes in their own lives. One's mind, though, wanders to Job, whose wealth was devastated through a series of different misfortunes: attack by Sabeans, fire, attack by Chaldeans, a mighty wind. In our own time, lots of wealth was lost when the stock market took a nose-dive a couple of years ago. Lots of wealth was lost when Enron went belly-up. Lots of wealth was lost when Martha Steward was charged with lying to federal investigators (right after this her company's stock fell by 50%). Lots of wealth was lost in the California fires and mud-slides. Lots of wealth in the Christian Reformed Church was lost when IRM, based in Walnut Creek, had to declare bankruptcy. The more you have, the more you have to lose and the more devastating is the blow to your pride and prestige and social standing.

"Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand" (vs 15). The more you have, says the Preacher, the more you have to leave behind. No matter how you try, you can't take it with you.

D As one of the wealthiest men of his time, the Preacher learned that the pursuit of wealth and prosperity does not satisfy. All it did was give him greater opportunity to chase more false dreams. He was able to try everything under the sun. He says:
(Eccl 2:10) I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.
Take note of his conclusion:
(Eccl 2:11) Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Why do we keep getting fooled? Because our hearts yearn for treasure here and now. We are tempted to imagine that the earthly treasures we see around us are the genuine thing rather than mere shadows of the real treasure that is ours with Christ in heaven.

There is nothing wrong with worldly wealth, in and of itself. There is something wrong if that becomes our goal in life. There is something wrong if we don't use it properly. What is the proper use of worldly wealth. Paul tells us to use earthly treasures so they become heavenly ones.
(1Tim 6:17-19) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (18) Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (19) In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

So, we have a choice. Either we part with our treasures now by generous giving – and earn treasure for our life in heaven with Christ – or we part with them later when we die and they are thrown into the trash.

Which do you choose?
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