“1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. 4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. 5 The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. 6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” — Ecclesiastes 4: 1-6
Discontentment is a difficult and burdensome feeling to hang over us all of our lives. Men are so accustomed to this feeling that sometimes it can be hard to notice we’re even doing it, but the effects of it are so much clearer than the act. We compete with every person that lives and breathes and it’s connected to our ego. It creeps into every situation.
If you’re talking with a friend of yours and he’s talking about what he did with his family this weekend, you might feel interested for a moment but we all know at some point you’ll reflect on what you did this weekend and see if it was just as great. If it’s better, you’ll probably tell him right then and there on the spot; you’ll remain more reserved if it wasn’t, saving your ammo for a later weekend when you go all out.
Competition drives the workplace and it drives our lives. If you’re in a large corporate job, chances are you have a boss or multiple bosses and they all make more than you. That’s a tough thing to reconcile because you feel like you work just as hard as them. It turns into a competition; who can get ahead and have the “best” life. The author of Ecclesiastes is saying that we all love attention and boy, we can’t get enough of it.
Worst of all, this constant competition can lead us down a dark path. It can drive relationships out of our lives because we celebrate those who have fallen. Certainly not on the surface, but deep down, we know someone else falling makes room for us. Would you want to be friends with someone like that? This is a toxic way to live and it’s filled with disappointment and isolation.
Yet, we see in the block of verses that we shouldn’t sway to the side of complacency. In verse 5, the author says the fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. While perhaps an odd situation for us to imagine, he’s saying that lazy people achieve nothing; they sit around and will eventually become cannibals because they’re starving since they never worked and have nothing to eat. If you never work, you’ll never have the opportunity to harvest. And sure, we probably won’t become cannibals, but being utterly lazy isn’t all that much better. Between competition-obsessed and couch-lazy, there’s a middle ground that we’re called to.
Men, we’re called to live a balanced life. Uncommen men realize where their self-worth comes from and here’s a hint: it’s not from how much money goes into the bank. Contentment comes in realizing if you needed more, God would have given it to you. You’re right where He wants you; and not just where He wants you, but where you would want to be if you saw like God did. It’s okay to work towards bigger success and to improve yourself; you shouldn’t stop working in order to avoid discontentment. We all need to work. But you should live in a way that even when you fall short, you know that God has you right where you need to be, and that’s enough for you.
Question to ponder on this week: How often do you let envy and discontentment affect your family and relationships? What does that look like in your life and how can it be corrected?
Challenge: Live a balanced life. Strive for success this week, but also be content with what you have.
Author: Noah Todd is the Social Media Coordinator for Studio490 and he enjoys wearing expensive shoes, but can’t afford them, so he probably knows about the problem of envy.
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