*Every week during our 12 week series in the book of Ecclesiastes we will post a devotional guide that week for the passage that was preached on the most recent Sunday. We encourage you to engage this book of the Bible more fully by walking through this devotional each week after having listened to the sermon on Sunday.*
Week 4—Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7
Discordant human relationships are a consequence of the Fall that we all experience on a daily basis. Because of sin we are estranged from both God and one another. We do not always respect the imago dei in others and, therefore, don’t relate to, care for, or treat people as we should. We get hurt by people, and we hurt people. And this happens on a global scale. No one makes it through this life without seeing how sin has impacted human relationships.
This is the main topic that Solomon tackles in Ecclesiastes 4. Here we see that because of sin there are those in power who oppress others (4:1-3), there are those who are motivated in life by jealousy of others (4:4), there are those who are so discontent that they will do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it comes at great cost to themselves and those around them (4:7-8), and there are those who foolishly desire popularity and prestige, not realizing that these are fleeting because people are fickle (4:13-16). These inharmonious relationships cause some to push others away, assuming a radical individualism that believes they don’t need others. It causes some to see other people as obstacles in their way that must be side-stepped or run over. And it causes some to see other people merely as a means to their end who can be discarded when their usefulness has ceased. Solomon laments as he observes these grievous evils “under the sun.”
But he offers an alternative in 4:9-12. Here he talks about the benefits of having others in our lives. They help us be more productive in our work, they can come to our aid when we are in trouble, they can help keep us safe, and they have general utility when it comes to everyday things—like trying to stay warm at night (4:11). But while these verses undermine an individualistic approach to life, they do not portray how human relationships should ultimately look because there still appears to be a pragmatic approach to friendship here. This is because Solomon is still using human reason to arrive at these conclusions rather than the wisdom that comes from God.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 shows us why our human relationships can be so messed up—because we can’t relate well to others until we are rightly related to God. Our poor relationships with others are often reflective of our poor relationship with God. And our relationship with God, of course, affects our worship of God. We don't come to Him in worship as we ought.
But in approaching God we are to humble ourselves before Him in and stand in awe and wonder at His holiness and grace toward us. We are to listen to his life-giving words and rightly submit to Him as the one true God. We are to worship Him wholeheartedly. But we are also to enjoy being in a relationship with our Creator through faith in Jesus because only in Christ can we experience fullness of joy. And as we are reconciled to God through faith in Christ Jesus, we are also reconciled to one another.
We now have brothers and sisters in Christ whom we are to love and care for. We are to bear their burdens and they are to bear ours (Gal. 6:2). We are to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). We are to meet one another’s needs as we can and be hospital to one another (Rom. 12:13). The community of Christ is a blessing that God has given to us for our good and His glory. And when we experience genuine community that is founded on the truth of the gospel we see that it is also a joy.
And because of the example and enablement of Christ we can act the same way toward those who don’t know Jesus. We can honor and respect others because they are made in God’s image and have inherent dignity. We can stand up for those who have no power and speak for those without a voice. We can stop seeing others as obstacles in our way or a means to our selfish ends, but can love others genuinely and selflessly. But this is only possible as we receive the love of God through faith in Christ, and then extend that same love to others.
May we bring the hope-filled, reconciling power of the gospel to bear on our lives and the lives of those around us as we obey the words of Jesus to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Where is the reality of broken human relationships most prevalent in your life? How can you bring the peace, love, and reconciliation of Christ to bear on those relationships?
Which of these (if any) do you tend toward in relationships—individualism, pushing others away, neglecting others, running others over, and/or using others for your own ends? Reflect on your answer(s) and pray that God would reveal to you why you tend toward this. Humbly repent, offer this up to Christ, and pray that He helps you to have healthy, gospel-centered relationships for His glory.
Honestly assess your pursuit of Christ. Would you encourage someone else to pursue Jesus the same way that you do? Why or why not?
How can you cultivate a better relationship with God that is characterized by humble listening, glad-hearted obedience, and joyful worship?
Spend 30 minutes a day reading Scripture this week. Emphasize reading for relational connection with God over just theological understanding (We should always read to understand what God has to say to us through His word. But it is easy to stop reading once we feel we understand the passage and not press in to experience the beauty of relationship with Jesus). Each day find a reason to worship God based on what you learned in your passage of Scripture.