Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), the great early American statesman, was by no means a believer in Christ, and yet he had great insight that has benefitted many people. Franklin once said that “lost time is never found again,” a concise way of saying that we should make the most of the moments that we do have, for once the present is gone, it is gone forever.
Divorced from divine revelation, the notion that we should make the most of the short time that we have on this earth can inspire wanton hedonism. In light of what God has spoken in His Word, however, we find that the brevity of life can be a proper encouragement to enjoy the gifts He has given us. That is essentially the point of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Ecclesiastes 9:9 calls us to act in a certain way all the days of this “vain life.” Here, as is often the case in the book of Ecclesiastes, “vain” refers not to something that is entirely empty or pointless; instead, it is being used as a synonym for “fleeting.” The point of the Preacher who wrote the book is that despite the brevity of life on this side of glory, we are to find godly enjoyment where our Creator has given it. We are to be aware that our days are numbered, but instead of lamenting this fact, we are to see this brief span allotted to us as an opportunity to rejoice in God’s generosity. Among the most precious gifts of our generous Maker is a godly spouse, and we are not to take any of the time that we have with our husbands or wives for granted. “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Prov. 19:14), and God’s good gifts should never be despised. Yet how often do we despise the precious blessing of a godly husband or wife by not taking the opportunity to enjoy the company of the one whom the Lord has given to walk with us through the trials and joys of this present life?
By extension, we could apply this instruction to the rest of our families. Though we would never want to make our families into idols, it is nevertheless true that God wants us to enjoy our children, our grandchildren, and all of the loved ones with whom He has blessed us. Our time with them is short, indeed. Parents well know that all they have to do is blink, and their children are grown and gone. Our portion in this life under the sun, as Ecclesiastes 9:9 tells us, is to thank our Creator for this time with our families, and to do so by enjoying our lives with them while we can. Every day that passes is one that cannot be recovered.
The proper enjoyment of time with our spouses and families actually points us to our Creator. As we take the time to enjoy our loved ones, we are reminded that they are precious gifts from God and that He is a kind and generous Lord who grants us many blessings to ease the pain of life in this fallen world. Let us make the most of our time with our families, knowing that God has given them to point us to Him.
“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 Ecclesiastes 9:10 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 Ecclesiastes 9:10 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), Ecclesiastes 9:10 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 of 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.