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. … Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 4:4, 6 ESV
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? – Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 ESV
A full-time job is generally considered to be somewhere around 40 hours. Some work three 12 hour shifts, other work nearly constant overtime. But for the most part, we consider 40 hours to be full time, and the average commute (which actually varies widely, but we’ll just stick with averages for now) is 1 hour a day. That means we’re spending roughly 1/3 of our day working and commuting to and from there. Considering the large portion of our time we spend at work, we should definitely take some time to ponder the truth in Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is traditionally thought to have been written by Solomon. There is no author ascribed in the book other than, “the Preacher”, a man who spends his life seeking wisdom. He talks about many aspects of wisdom and wise living, but he emphasizes work in many passages. In Ecclesiastes 4:4, 6 and 2:24-25, he views two different sides of work. While they may seem opposite at first glance, they are in fact simply two sides to the same coin. A truth, that when viewed in its entirety instead of its pieces, can help us choose to use our time wisely.
(Side note: in both the King James Version and the New King James Version, this is translated as, “a man is envied by his neighbor” instead of the other way around. I feel like the truth we’re after is there no matter who is envying who; I hope you agree with me on that one.)
In chapter 4 he tells us about the frustration and achievement that comes from envy. Can we be honest with ourselves? How many times did we pursue something out of jealousy or envy of someone else? Did they show us up and we had to do better? Did we think, “I could do that, and do it even better than they did”? Have we ever pursued something because we saw another person getting attention and success? Even if we didn’t pick the job we’re working out of envy, are we pursing a lifestyle out of envy? Are we striving after a certain look to our world or out of the expectations of having certain things?
When we think of envy, we often think of that boiling feeling in our stomach that makes us feel both angry and insignificant, sometimes referred to as “being green with jealousy.” There is another form of jealousy, however, and it’s the simple feeling that you deserve as least as much as someone else. It’s the feeling of missing out if they have something newer, better, or what you wanted to have. It’s that sense of, if they have it, so should I. Choosing clothes, cars, homes, or even decorations based on what you see others having and what you think you deserve. This can also be rooted in jealousy even if you don’t feel it in your gut.
So what’s the solution? Never buy anything again? Never spend time working for something that you want? No! Remember, we have two sides to this coin. The other side is from chapter 2, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” God made you and knows you and wants you to feel like you have a purpose and that your work is good.
Are you choosing your work based on becoming the best version of yourself? Is your current job, even if it’s not the ultimate job, taking you on the path of becoming closer to God? There is no wrong work, as long as it is good, honest work. There is no job too menial for someone who has the heart of a servant. If you are seeking God, you may be surprised at the jobs you take, but it will always be to grow you and change you and help you to find meaning and enjoyment in your work.
Don’t settle for a paycheck because that what you think you’re “supposed” to do. Find a work that is in line with who God made you to be and learn to find joy and contentment in that work.