Futility of Work

As important as our jobs are to us, there can also be a sense of futility and emptiness associated with them. We can lose our way in the vocational journey as adults. We can allow our jobs to become our idols. We can lose balance and become workaholics (and violate the 10 Commandments – which challenge us to rest appropriately). We can be overwhelmed by the lack of accomplishment in our working life. This lesson is designed to address the challenges that work can create in our lives. It will also be an opportunity for the class members to pray and care for those who are struggling in their employment.

“Everyone knows that this is a broken, troubled world—shot through with sickness and death, injustice and selfishness, natural disasters, and chaos. Since the beginning of time there has been a wide variety of explanations for why this is so and what to do about it. At the heart of the Bible’s account is the concept of sin: man’s rebellion against God and our resulting alienation from him. The fall of Adam and Eve (and therefore the rest of the human race) into sin has been disastrous. It has unraveled the fabric of the entire world—and in no area as profoundly as our work. The story presented in the Bible is that while God blessed work to be a glorious use of our gifts and his resources to prosper the world, it is now also cursed because of mankind’s fall. Work exists now in a world sustained by God but disordered by sin. Only if we have some understanding of how sin distorts work can we hope to counteract its effects and salvage some of the satisfaction God planned for our work.”
– Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, Penguin Group, 2012, pp. 83-84

Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

We have been learning about the dignity of work. We have embraced a theological perspective that informs us of the goodness of our endeavors. We have learned that God can use us in our vocations in ways that truly shape culture and bring His shalom to our communities. Why then do we sometimes just hate our jobs? Why do we often feel so empty about our work? Why do we sometimes just feel trapped in our jobs? There are no easy answers to these questions; however we can look to the philosopher/preacher in Ecclesiastes for understanding. Here we learn that there is more to life than what is “under the sun.”

This week we will read the entire book of Ecclesiastes. You can do it! It is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible. The opening chapters are some of the most negative, hopeless thoughts recorded in Holy Scripture. The first 8 verses of chapter 3 comprise one of the most recognized sections of the Old Testament. Notice the repetitive phrase, “under the sun.” If we fail to have an eternal perspective, we will be duped into futility. Also, notice the positive words shared about work and labor. Pay attention to the truths about the fleeting nature of wealth and pleasure. Read the last paragraph of the book carefully – it contains the key to understanding the entire book!

Monday:            Ecclesiastes 1-2
Tuesday:            Ecclesiastes 3-4
Wednesday:      Ecclesiastes 5-7
Thursday:          Ecclesiastes 8-9
Friday:               Ecclesiastes 10-12

1. We have focused on the dignity of work in our study of the theology of work. However, work can also be filled with frustration, emptiness and futility. What are some evidences of brokenness in our workplaces?
2. How can our work become an idol to us?
3. What are some ways we can counteract the temptations we face at work?
4. How can we address the cultural pressure associated with success and power as it relates to our work?