Awhile back there was an article which appeared in a newspaper which read:
“I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor, I was needy.
Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, that I was culturally deprived.
Then they told me being ‘Culturally Deprived’ was a very bad image, that I was, instead, underprivileged.
Then they told me that ‘underprivileged’ was abused and overused, that I was actually and in ‘reality’ only disadvantaged.
I still don’t have a dime to my name, but now I have a great vocabulary.
Only now, someone needs to either put the money in my tin cup so I can buy one, or they need buy me a good dictionary for me to know who I actually am.
Why must this be true that my life is just so completely unfair to me.”
Ecclesiastes 4:1-6Amplified Bible
The Evils of Oppression
4 Then I looked again and considered all the acts of oppression that were being practiced under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. 2 So I congratulated and thought more fortunate are those who are already dead than the living who are still living. 3 But better off than either of them is the one who has not yet been born, who has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
4 I have seen that every [effort in] labor and every skill in work comes from man’s rivalry with his neighbor. This too is vanity (futility, false pride) and chasing after the wind. 5 The fool folds his hands [together] and consumes his own flesh [destroying himself by idleness and apathy]. 6 One hand full of rest and patience is better than two fists full of labor and chasing after the wind.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
Solomon is troubled by the unfairness of life.
But he was the ‘wisest’ king – why didn’t he just legislate away injustice and punish all the wrong-doers, give away some his vast wealth to feed the poor?
Why wouldn’t that work?
In Ecclesiastes 4, the ‘Wisest of the Wisest’ King Solomon deals with an ancient issue which has been continually frustrating so very many people in our world.
It’s the issue of “unfairness”.
That things just aren’t always right and fair in this life.
Solomon was reflecting on this truth when he wrote:
“Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter.” Ecclesiastes 4:1
Inside each one of us is an inner voice that tells us that all things should be fair.
That’s why we have referees in sports games and judges in courtrooms:
we have an innate sense of right and wrong.
And we serve the God of the universe who continually, continuously tells us there is most definitely a right and there is most definitely a wrong.
But then we see oppression, tragedy and sorrow.
And inside of us there’s this inner voice that says:
“That just not right”
“This shouldn’t be happening!”
“How could we possibly fix this great injustice of life?”
The problem is that there are always and forever these two most annoying, and conflicting truths about life’s unfairness which never fails to drive us all nuts.
The first truth is that – no matter how hard we try – we’re never going to fix the problem.
Life is always going to be unfair.
For example, Jesus said: “You will always have the poor among you…” John 12:8
Have you ever heard that?
Of course, you have… and He DID say that.
Now, there are those who look at what Jesus said there, and they just feel like throwing up their hands and just walking away.
After all, if the poor are always going to be with us… why should we bother to try to help them to begin with? It’s not going to do any good anyway.
That may have been one of the motivating factors in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus told. He said:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.
At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So, he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”
Now, why was the rich man not sharing anything with Lazarus?
Well, the Bible doesn’t say, but I personally think he was thinking:
• Why doesn’t that guy go out and get a job or something?
• He’s always out there every day asking for food. It’s really annoying!
• If I gave HIM food, it was just encouraging all the other beggars to come annoy me.
• And besides, we’re always going to have the poor with us, so my little bit of food won’t make a dent.
The point of Jesus’ story was – DON’T GO THERE.
Don’t you go making excuses for why you don’t help the poor.
The rich man ignored Lazarus’ hunger… and we all know where HE went.
And that brings us to our 2nd truth:
Yes, life is always going to be unfair.
But God says it doesn’t matter. He calls His people to work at “fixing it.”
ILLUS: The story’s told of a man who’d seen an injustice in his city, and in frustration he prayed to God “Why aren’t you doing something about this?”
And God’s voice came to him and said:
“I did do something. I sent you.”
You know I learned something new when preparing this devotional message.
Did you realize that when Jesus said “you’ll always have the poor among you”, he was quoting the Old Testament?
Yeah – it’s true.
In Deuteronomy 15:11 God declared:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”
That’s the verse Jesus was quoting.
You’re always going to have the poor among you, THEREFORE help them.
That’s the command of God to His people.
In fact, this is a constant theme throughout Scripture.
In Proverbs God says:
“… blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” Proverbs 14:21
And “a generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9
In fact, this is such an important matter for God that He promises:
“He who is kind to the poor LENDS to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Proverbs 19:17
A man just took truck over to his Mechanic to have the power steering fixed.
He looked it over and said it was going to cost $400… but it wasn’t worth it.
The truck had nearly 240,000 miles on it, it needed too many more repairs that would cost more than the truck and it’s time (he said) to get another vehicle.
So, the man went down to the Credit Union where he had an account, and they said they would loan him the necessary amount of money for another vehicle.
That “Credit Union” said they were willing to loan him some amount of money!
Wasn’t that nice of them?
So, next week he’ll be going to his local dealership to look around and maybe to buy another car with the money they’re willing to give him.
But once he borrowed that money, what are they going to expect him to do?
PAY IT BACK.
And more than that, they expect their money back with interest.
So, what God promised us in Proverbs 19:17 was that when you help the poor, you are LENDING to Him.
Do you and I know what God’s saying there?
He’s saying that you and I can expect Him to pay us back… with interest.
That’s how important helping the poor is to God.
BUT on the other hand, though… God is also very clear:
“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13
If you turn your back on the poor… God will turn His back on you.
Now, in my mind’s eye…
I can visualize Solomon sitting there in his vast treasury thinking about this.
He sees people in poverty and being oppressed and misused.
And he’s seeming to be very frustrated about this.
But now… wait a minute!
What is Solomon’s job description?
What does he do for a living?
Well, he’s the king, isn’t he?
If he’s the king, he should be able pass some laws to fix all this. He should be able to punish wrongdoers and oppressors of the poor. Why isn’t he doing that?
And, on top of that, Solomon is wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.
Why doesn’t he just give away money to the poor?
Well, I think maybe Solomon did do all that.
I think Solomon had worked hard at removing all the oppression he could.
And I’m thinking he did give money to help the poor.
But it’s like he’s barely scratching the surface or making a dent.
Even if he gave EVERYTHING away, people would still be poor.
And it bothers him enormously.
So, part of his discussion here in Ecclesiastes 4 is telling us
WHY even the ‘ wisest of the wisest king ever’ says he can’t fix it all.
In verse 4 he says
“I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4
Do You or I actually know what enviousness is all about?
Envious people look at what their neighbor has, then looks at what they have, they shake their heads, and it makes them DISSATISFIED with what they have.
So, their labor and achievement are always about their getting more and more still of what the other guy has.
And because that is their driving passion, envious folks generally end up hurting themselves or others in their covetous blind pursuit of “more.”
They were being driven with ever greater momentum by envy, and envy can make you poor because you end up doing major stupid stuff like coveting. And King Solomon realized that was part of the reason for poverty and oppression.
But Solomon realized there was a 2nd reason that led to poverty:
Some people were just plain lazy:
Solomon wrote: “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” Ecclesiastes 4:5
In Proverbs, Solomon put it this way:
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:10-11
So, Solomon is looking around and he notices that many poor people are poor because they’re too lazy to get off the couch.
They’d much prefer a hand-out to a workout.
Now, that that should NOT be seen as an excuse not to help folks who are struggling.
That’s not Solomon’s point!
Solomon is simply pointing out that you can’t fix everything in life.
You can’t remove all the poverty in the world.
There’s way too much greed and envy out there
– and there’s just way too much laziness – to fix it all
Unfairness, poverty and oppression are just part of life.
And we’re never going to change that completely.
Some of the hardships of life will be our own fault.
But some of those hardships will be the fault of others.
As Solomon said in the first verse of this chapter:
“I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter.”
Solomon was disturbed by this reality.
And he’s not the only one
Over the years, there have been a number of church goers who have dedicated themselves to dealing with injustice and oppressors by engaging in something called “Social Justice”.
Social Justice is the idea that churches should focus primarily on poverty, slums, ghettos, poor nutrition and education, alcoholism, crime, and war.
Now, those are not bad things in and of themselves.
Christians SHOULD BE concerned with poverty/ slums/ and the all the rest.
We should seek to find ways to confront those who hurt others in this world.
But the problem with the Social Justice crowd is they generally get everything out of whack. They are over-zealous and way off-balance in their approach.
The problem with social justice is that its adherents tend to believe that they need to change the culture of a people before you can talk to them about Jesus.
Where does the Bible say that?
Where did the man, Master Rabbi Jesus say that?
Jesus dealt directly and decisively with ‘healing’ the people ….
Churches should always attempt to deal with poverty and hunger.
Rabbi Jesus understood very clearly -it’s hard to preach to someone dying of hunger – but if you give them enough bread, enough manna, enough fish ….
But if churches get in the habit of feeding people without talking to them about Jesus, they can eventually get into the habit of talking about Jesus altogether.
I remember a bit of church history.
Several years ago, when I was trying to better understand “social justice,” I read about this church at the turn of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
For the better part of the 1900’s there was a powerful church in Manhattan. It was called Broadway Presbyterian Church and they were committed to reaching out to people for Christ. One of the tools they used was to have food kitchens.
They would bring the poor in off the streets, have a prayer for the food, talk about sin and the need to change lifestyles. And it worked. Folks changed their lives and even began coming to church and digging their way out of poverty.
But later on, from the 60’s to the 1990’s a subtle change began to take place.
In the soup kitchens, prayers were not offered over meals because they were afraid that they’d offend the poor. AND they no longer emphasized trying to convince the homeless to turn unto God and to repent of their past sins. That such an act might just drive away the very people they were trying to feed.
But over time they found that the same people were coming through the lines year after year, and there was no change taking place in their lives.
The “socially conscious” congregation of the once mighty church gradually slipped from membership from 1000 people down to 120 and a once mighty congregation sat with a nearly empty building in need of unaffordable repairs.
You see, that’s one of the major drawbacks of the Social Justice Folks.
For God’s sake, they do not want to offend people that they want to help.
They don’t want to talk about SIN.
They don’t want to go on record as being against abortion or homosexuality or living together because that might offend the people they are trying to help.
Trying to somehow cancel the presence, sovereignty of God from His Kingdom.
You know I just noticed something while I was pondering this devotional which I had never seen nor noticed before.
You remember I quoted Jesus saying, “you’ll always have the poor with you”?
Well, embarrassingly, I had never really looked up that verse.
I just knew it was there and took it for granted that was all Jesus said in that verse.
But I was wrong.
That’s not ALL He said.
THIS IS WHAT HE SAID:
“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11
You know, when people quote Jesus about the poor from that verse, they never seem to mention the 2nd part of His comment.
And as I read that verse, I wondered and pondered: why did Jesus say that?
Well, the scene was in a man’s house just a few days before Jesus will be arrested, beaten, crucified and buried in the tomb. A woman hears that Jesus is there, and without invitation, comes and pours expensive perfume on His head.
When they saw this, Jesus’ disciples (especially Judas) were upset.
They each complained that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.
And so, Jesus said:
“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11
You know what was Jesus saying?
He was saying there are PRIORITIES in our mission.
Helping the poor was admirable, but service to Jesus was even more important.
When the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples on a mountain, just before going into heaven He gave them their marching orders.
He told them what their priorities were to be.
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Do you see or read anything there about helping the poor?
Do you see anything there about working for social justice?
It’s not there is it?
Not that those things aren’t important.
I mean, in the first part of this devotional effort we pointed out that one of God’s highest priorities IS to help the poor and the oppressed.
But that priority is secondary to the command Jesus gave His disciples that day.
Jesus said that our primary mission as Christians is to
1. Make disciples
2. Baptize them into the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
3. Teach them to obey everything Jesus had commanded.
That’s it. That’s the prime directive.
And, you know, when the disciples went out to do that – when they preached about Jesus and made disciples and so on… they often offended people
Peter stood before Sanhedrin one time.
These were the rulers of the nation, and they were furious.
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name… Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Acts 5:28
Do you think maybe Peter had offended them?
Yeah, pretty sure he had.
Peter had preached about sin… and the need to repent of that sin.
He spoke truth to power.
And it made folks angry.
Then there’s Paul. In one of his letters to the Corinthians he talks about having been thrown in prison, flogged, whipped, beaten, stoned, and run out of town.
Do you think maybe he’d upset some folks?
Sure, he had. That was part of his job description.
That is a part of our own job description – even in 2022!
You know, the ancient world of that time was NOT a fair and just place to be.
There was poverty and injustice and oppression that was as bad or worse than anything we might see in our day.
And, you know, Jesus lived in a time like that.
And the disciples preached in a day like that.
And Jesus’ command to those disciples was still this:
1. Make disciples
2. Baptize them into the Father/ Son/ Holy Spirit
3. Teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded.
And you know why the early Christians followed those orders?
They did it because that was the only way they could change the hearts of men.
When Christ changes the hearts of men – cultures change – into Christ’s Image!
When you change the hearts of men… you give them true freedom.
A freedom from sin and guilt and shame.
A freedom from a mindset of “everything is always unfair 100% of the time?”
Questions for Personal Reflection
For the Joy of the Lord which is now and forever my Strength ….
For the Joy which was ever before Savior Jesus when He endured the Cross ….
- What can we do to be more biblically engaged in social justice?
- What can we do to understand the perspectives of our neighbors?
- What can we do to be more of a service to our neighbors? Acts 6:1-6
- What can we do to be kinder and inspire and encourage kindness in others?
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
God of yesterday, today and tomorrow,
we call to mind your presence within us and around us.
Open our ears that we may hear your Word.
Open our hearts that we may understand your Word.
Open our mouths that we may speak your World.
Inspire us with the Gospel message,
that we may celebrate all that is life-giving,
restore hope where it has been lost,
and work to bring about change where it is needed.
May we live the Gospel with courage,
constancy and love.
May we be open to the challenge
of your call to true freedom.
May we be faithful to you in our daily choices and decisions.
May we make your love known
through our words and actions.
May the triune God reign in our hearts, now and forever. Amen