Thankless (Ecclesiastes 9:11-10:4)

For Starters

Who would win?

100 metre’s sprint: Usain Bolt or me?

A physics quiz: Stephen Hawkings or Donald Trump?

A football match: Chelsea or Bradford City?

How do you feel when you put in a lot of thought/effort but get little or no thanks

  • 2. A Look at the Text

In any given competition, we usually have a good chance of predicting the winner unless the competitors are evenly matched. However, life does not always work out as planned.  A few years back, Bradford City, then in the third tier of football went down to Stamford Bridge to play Premier League giants, Chelsea in the FA Cup. They soon went 2-0 down and a crushing defeat looked on the cards. However in a shock result, they not only managed to pull the game back but went on to win 4-2 away. 

You expect the skill of the better team to be rewarded but it isn’t always like that. However, football is only a game. Of greater concern, we often find that hard work, goodness and wisdom in life don’t seem to be rewarded. This is not only surprising but shocking too.  The book of Provers suggests that goodness and wisdom will be rewarded, but what if they are not? Is life thankless?

I What does the Text Say?

  1. You don’t always get the result you expert/deserve (9:11-12)

Solomon highlights three types of person you would expect to be rewarded as winners, runners, warriors, wise, educated but life does not always work out for them. Just as those who work hard physically can sometimes lose out, so too, those who train their minds may not always achieve their goals (9:11). You can work hard, study hard, get your degree and even your Masters and then leave University in a time of recession when there are no jobs for graduates.

9:12: You don’t know what is around the corner. Just when life appears to be going well, it can throw you an unexpected curve ball.  You can think you have all your plans sorted out and then suddenly they have to change.  I was really excited about preaching in our Ecclesiastes series. I’d spent quite a bit of time reflecting on this book. I had my first talk written and we were looking forward to a special baptism service when I was taken ill with depression and had to cancel everything for the next month.   In fact I didn’t join this teaching series until we got well into chapter 8!  Verse 12 reminds us that it is so easy to fall into a trap like a fish happily swimming along until it is caught in a net.  Tragedy strikes when we are not expecting it. Death comes suddenly.

  • 2. Heroes are not always remembered (9:13-18)

Thankless because people value the wrong things (9:13-16).  In a sad little story, a poor but wise man saves his city from attack. He is no doubt lauded at the time, though even that is not guaranteed. Often there are more powerful people around to take the praise. Certainly he is soon forgotten. This is because people look on the outside. We judge people by charisma, power and wealth when we should value wisdom.

Even still, Solomon can point to better things (9:17-18). Even if we are forgotten in this life, even if our efforts and wisdom go without thanks and reward. These are still good things to aim for. Note the warning though, these efforts can easily be spoiled, it only takes one person or one foolish act.

  • 3. Good efforts and gestures can so easily be spoilt (9:17 -10:4)

10:1: A fly in the ointment will spoil it. Whether it is your perfume, soup or cup of tea, the last thing you want to see in it is a dead fly floating around. I guess you could just scoop the fly out with a spoon but that is still a bit disgusting.

I remember visiting Sarah at University in the early days of our relationship. Walking back from church through Norwich, we saw a man coming towards us. However, he wasn’t walking down the pavement. He was zig-zagging across the road from one side to another.  He had a skinful of . beer and was a danger to himself and others. You could paraphrase the next few verses as saying that you can see a fool coming (10:2-3). Further, you can’t really fool-proof life. You can do everything to protect people, you can warn, advice, introduce protective measures, even bring in tough new laws but people will still find ways to self-destruct.

  • 4. Put up with difficult kings and bosses (10:4)

Finally, sometimes the one we are looking to recognise and thank us is our boss or ruler. Solomon says, stick at your post even if it seems thankless. Not only that, keep going and don’t desert your post when the king gets angry with you.  It is tempting isn’t it when instead of receiving encouragement we are rebuked. You’ve tried your best and instead of saying thank you, someone in authority picks holes with what you’ve done.

What does the Text mean?

  1. How would this text apply to Christ?

Isaiah 53 points to Jesus as the one who fulfils these words. Jesus is the King, the winner, the champion, he is all wisdom.  Jesus is the one who should be worshipped but we “esteemed him not.” To us he was without majesty or beauty. Yet, Jesus chose willingly to suffer unjustly.

1 Peter 2 takes this image of Christ and not only uses it to remind us that Jesus took our place but finds and example, an encouragement for when life is unfair and unjust.  We can respond to the harsh boss or challenging family member with grace because of Christ.

  • 2. Is there hope in the text?

Therefore, there is hope in the text as we look to Christ. We return to it with fresh eyes. We discover that whilst this world values the wrong things and our efforts are thankless, God’s values are different. God does value wisdom, patience and kindness (9:17 – 18). Therefore, quiet, gentle persistence wins out (10:4).

A Look at ourselves – applying God’s Word

In what ways can we be forgetful about Christ’s wisdom and goodness?

How will you remember to be thankful for someone this week?

What should you do if you feel that you are in a thankless position at the moment?

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