“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” — Ecclesiastes 9:10
Since Labor Day shows up on the calendar during the period in which this issue of The Concordia Lutheran is normally to be distributed, it is appropriate for us to examine the title of this article, using the totally trustworthy instrument of the Holy Scriptures for our examination.
This 10th verse of Ecclesiastes 9 begins with these words: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Whatever it might be that our hand finds, discovers, or comes upon to do, to work, to perform, and to execute, as long as it is not something sinful (I John 3:4), we are to do it, work at it, perform it, and execute it with vigor, with exertion, and with whatever talent and physical or mental ability our God, in His mercy, has given to us. The work that we do is to be good, not evil (Romans 12:9b); it is to be God-pleasing work, as the Holy Spirit emphasizes to us through the Apostle Paul: “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28).
Because of our “no good” (Romans 7:18), “carnal” (Romans 8:7) flesh, that flesh which looks upon the Word of God and its instruction as “foolishness” (I Corinthians 2:14), we need to be repeatedly reminded (II Peter 1:12) of what God’s Word teaches us about work. Such reminders are necessary for all Christians because “the flesh lusteth against the spirit [the new man], and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). Our “corrupt” flesh (Ephesians 4:22) wants us to be lazy, wants us to come up with excuses for not working, wants us to take the “exert-as-little-effort-as-possible” route. God’s remedy for laziness is unmistakably clear in II Thessalonians 3, verse 10: “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” If someone keeps on having no desire, no willingness, no intent to work, to labor, to be active, such a lazy person should keep on having nothing to eat and drink, no meals, no food. Those who are lazy often, and not surprisingly, come up with excuses to justify their laziness. One such excuse is given to us in Proverbs 22, verse 13: “The slothful [lazy] man saith: ‘There is a lion without. I shall be slain in the streets.’” What Godly counsel ought to be given to a lazy person? “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6).
When it comes to work for those who are physically and mentally able to work, there are many different types and forms of work.
For children, the willingness to work as they are able, according to their age, is to be an inseparable part of their function in the family. Whatever their parents ask them to do, they are willingly to do (Ephesians 6:1-2), not only to show their genuine gratitude to their parents for all the hard work that they have done and continue to do for them as their children (Ephesians 5:20), but also to show genuine gratitude to their Savior for all that He accomplished in time and in eternity for their forgiveness and salvation (I Timothy 1:15; Revelation 13:8b; Psalm 118:1). The message of Ecclesiastes 9:10 also applies to children, no matter what the job or work might be which they are asked to do by those whom God has placed over them (making their bed, keeping their room neat, doing their school homework, as well as their Sunday School homework and/or their Confirmation homework, helping Mom and Dad whenever they ask for help, etc.). Oh, how often we as children have failed to follow the instruction of Ecclesiastes 9, verse 10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” When we see and regret our failings, let us “run” to the refuge and to the comfort of our gracious God’s forgiveness and pardon of our failings on account of the “finished” (John 19:30) work of our Savior, Christ Jesus, “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar [special] people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
For parents, they likewise need to keep before their hearts and minds the message of Ecclesiastes 9, verse 10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Parenting is hard work. Whatever the work may be, parents are to do it with vigor, exerting themselves for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31; 6:20) and for the temporal (here on earth) and eternal (hereafter) benefit of their children (Psalm 78:5c-7). For mothers, it is hard work during the months of pregnancy and during the actual birth of a child (or children). Bringing a child out of the womb into this world is such hard work that some mothers have actually died (Genesis 35:16-19) and still do die carrying out this work. However, the hard work of childbirth should not discourage or stop husband and wife from carrying out one of the divine purposes for marriage, that is, to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28a). Faithfully training, teaching, and disciplining of children according to the instruction of God in His Word (Ephesians 6:4; Matthew 28:20a; Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Jeremiah 23:28b; Proverbs 13:24; 19:18) also requires much hard, consistent work. Though this aspect of parenting is hard work, it is most necessary for the proper care, spiritual nourishment, and Godly upbringing of the children. To encourage Christian parents to do this vital work of parenting “with [their] might [vigor],” the Savior Himself says to them: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b). Furthermore, providing for the bodily needs of children is most certainly hard work for the father and the mother. In fact, failing to carry out this parental duty is strongly condemned by God in I Timothy 5, verse 8: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” Oh, how often we parents have failed to carry out in our parental responsibilities the instruction of Ecclesiastes 9, verse 10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Our shortcomings are so many! How we need again and again to take to heart and to follow the changeless counsel of our Savior: “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15b), that Gospel which assures and reassures us that Christ Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The heavenly Father “laid on Him [the Messiah, Christ Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (v. 6c). This load of the world’s sins was so heavy that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, “there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:43-44). May this willing (Psalm 40:8a), hard work by our Savior “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10), “the Just for the unjust” (I Peter 3:18), continue to move all parents to show their love for Him who first loved them (I John 4:19) by applying the words of Ecclesiastes 9:10 to their daily life as Christian parents.
For employees, the words of truth in Ecclesiastes 9:10 are also for them; they are not exempt from this divine counsel: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” It is not easy, but hard because of the “no good” flesh (Romans 7:18), to obey, submit to, and follow the directions of our employers, those whom God has allowed to be over us in our job and vocation. What does God’s Word say to employees, to workers? “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free” (Ephesians 6:5-8). “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But, if, when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously; who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes we were healed” (I Peter 2:18-24). There is only one exception to being an obedient and submissive employee: When the employer or those who are over us require us to do what God in His Word forbids, or when they forbid us to do what God in His Word demands, then the Christian employee must say: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Oh, according to this Scriptural instruction, how often we, as employees, have failed in our work! How often we have, in our employment, “come short” (Romans 3:23) of being what our God wants us to be as employees! Let us “confess our faults” (James 5:16a), remembering that our dear heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus, “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Then, having “the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7b), let us, as employees, work with renewed vigor, exerting ourselves with the talent and physical and/or mental ability which our God in “His merciful kindness” (Psalm 117:2) has given to us.
The words of Ecclesiastes 9:10 also apply to the unmarried, to the widow, to the widower, to citizens, to the unemployed, to those looking for a job, to employers, etc.
The time will come when we will no longer be able to work. When we die, that will be the end of our working days here in this world. The Lord God said to Adam: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Only our God knows the time of our death. The psalmist confesses that so clearly in Psalm 31: “My times are in Thy hand” (v. 15a). When we die, that will be the end of our labor; that will be the end of all planning in regard to our work; that will be the end of all study, all reading, all growth in knowledge; that will be the end of all efforts to increase in wisdom. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9, verse 10: “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” As children of God, we ought to look at death and the grave without fear or dread; for the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 15: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law, but thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (vv. 55-58). Only in and through our dear Savior, Christ Jesus, “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6b), are we given, by faith in Him, victory over the fear of death and the grave and the sure and certain anticipation of everlasting life in heaven. This is why the message of Revelation 14:13 is so sweet: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.” When the child of God is received into the everlasting rest of heaven, the works which he did as the fruit and evidence of his abiding faith in His Savior will stand as a fitting memorial to the grace of God and an example for other believers to emulate as they “walk in the spirit” (Galatians 5:25), waiting for the redemption of their body (Romans 8:23).
Having such an “inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for [us], who are kept by the power of God [His precious Gospel] through faith unto salvation” (I Peter 1:4-5), let us, during whatever time we have left in this world, take to heart and follow, by God’s “grace” (I Corinthians 15:10) alone, the light and lamp (Psalm 119:105) of Ecclesiastes 9, verse 10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” living not unto ourselves but unto Him who died for us and rose again (II Corinthians 5:15).
— R. J. L.