Working While We Can
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”- Ecclesiastes 9:10
“Harvest days are busy days; and we must make hay while the sun shines.” These words from the famous Puritan preacher Matthew Henry in his commentary on today’s passage well capture the thought of the Preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. For if there is one idea to take away from Ecclesiastes 9:10, it is this: the reality of our approaching death means that the time for work on this side of eternity is much shorter than we imagine.
Let us not read today’s verse as an encouragement to “workaholism,” as if the Preacher wants us to fill every waking moment with hard labor. After all, in the passage’s immediate context, the author calls us also to rejoice in feasting and to enjoy our spouses, thereby alluding to the propriety of rest, recreation, and relaxation (vv. 7, 9). Nevertheless, Ecclesiastes 9:10 does commend the virtue of working diligently and with all of one’s might. Whatever our calling, we must work hard to fulfill it. In other words, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
A chief impetus for this kind of labor is the knowledge that we will not work in Sheol. Although the Preacher elsewhere alludes to the judgment to come and so hints at the existence of an afterlife (Eccl. 12:13–14), today’s passage looks at death from the more limited perspective found in other Old Testament passages. The old covenant writers often speak of Sheol, the place where one goes after one has died. Often, the word simply means “grave.” We do not get an in-depth look at Sheol in the Old Testament, mainly because the fuller revelation of heaven and hell come under the new covenant. Basically, Sheol is often viewed as the common fate of humanity. Good and evil alike, all people go to the grave, and once in the grave they are unable to carry on the life that they knew before death. Life in Sheol is fundamentally different than life before death, and once a person has died and gone on to Sheol, there is not an opportunity for further growth or service to others.
Such a perspective is incomplete from the vantage point of the entire biblical canon. Still, there is a great deal of truth in it, especially when considered from a merely human point of view. When we die, our work ceases. We are no longer able to accomplish things for God’s kingdom—at least in the same manner that we could before we died. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us, so we must take advantage of the time we have in the present to serve the Lord. May we all work with all our might for God’s kingdom while we can.
Labor was instituted before the fall and was part of the order that God called “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Thus, we have good reason to believe that work will be a part of the age to come in some form. However, it will not be the work of calling lost people to repent and believe the gospel. That is the vital work of the kingdom in this present age, and it is work in which we must all engage as we are able.
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