This is part 6 of a many-part blog series on the book of Ecclesiastes.
Hebel even affects relationships. Oppression of poor people who have no one to protect them is a grievous evil under the sun (4:1-3). Their lives are marked by hebel. What meaning can be felt or grasped or understood by those who are born poor, are oppressed, and then die?
Meanwhile, much human drive for improvement in skill and time spent working is done because a man doesn’t want to lose to his neighbor. Envy drives competition; this is a fundamental underpinning of capitalism, and it is also a striving after the wind (4:4). No matter who you beat, someone will always beat you. Even if you are the best, one will come after you who will take your place. Each of us looking for fame will be disappointed within our own lifetime as a new star rises and our record is beaten. Biggest company, most money, fastest 100-yard dash, most yards in a season, most beautiful…the list goes on. Hebel.
Once again, Solomon does find a small gain. Two are better than one, he says (4:9). Community is better than being alone. One can help the other when she falls. Two can keep warm. Two can fight back. Three is better still (4:10-12).
No man or woman is an island. We need each other. For the inevitable difficulties we will face in life, we must be a safety net for others and pray they will be for us. Despite the ugliness of oppression and envy that drive so much suffering, good can also come from community. Even though it doesn’t make good news, human kindness has a transformative effect on those around you—hence why kindness is later mentioned as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Profit in B4T
In B4T, profit is critical, and competition is good for us. But profit isn’t ultimate, and crushing competition isn’t a goal for us. We view profit like we view blood: necessary for the body to fulfill its mission. No blood = no life. Mission failed. But no one wakes up wanting to maximize their blood. We use our blood for the mission of the body. So it is with profit. Profit is a wonderful (but limited) measure of how much you are blessing people with good products and services.
But imagine a world where everyone wasn’t trying to step on their neighbor to get ahead. In my line of work in the Arabian Gulf, office environments are particularly nasty with everyone trying to get ahead (probably not too dissimilar to some firms on Wall Street). In B4T, we have an opportunity to show that our Kingdom has different values. We can build businesses using love, kindness, and joy as operating values. We can create healthier environments for people to utilize their skills and giftings to bless society. This is the sort of culture that draws people into a relationship with Jesus.
The world will always be filled with those in a rat race who are obsessed with getting ahead. Even though he doesn’t say it here, Solomon’s advice from chapter 3 still holds: stop striving, and enjoy what you have, for this is a gift from God (3:13, 22). After all, the problem with winning the rat race is that you are still a rat.
Greg is the President of OPEN USA. He used his education to work as a tentmaker in the Middle East for 8.5 years seeking to plant a church amongst a least-reached people group. Currently back in the USA with his wife and children, they aim to return to finish what the LORD used them to start.
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.