So perhaps the best we can do is use our work as a tool to get what we want out of life (Ecclesiastes 6:7). We'll work ourselves to death so that we can have enough of this world's goods to sate our lusts. The problem, of course, is that we tend to overextend ourselves in the pursuit of the good life: "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). We never quite learn the wisdom of Solomon's admonition: "Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 6:9). So we spend beyond our means, then have to work beyond our strength to pay the bills. The tool we thought we were wielding to hammer out a happy life becomes the very instrument driving the nails into our coffins.

"Under the sun," all work can only ultimately leave us flat. Yes, there are temporary rewards and satisfactions; however, over the long haul, work cannot fulfill the job description we assign it, which is to make us happy, gives us fulfillment, satisfy our longings for meaning and security, and let us pass out of this life in peace. Work "under the sun," in short, cannot be God.

Work under the Heavens

Thus Solomon counsels his son to take a larger perspective on the work of ruling that he is about to inherit. He should not look at his position as a means to merely selfish ends, or even as an end in itself. He should see his work as a gift from God, meant to be enjoyed but also to be used in serving the purposes of God for creation and mankind. Work, Solomon wanted Rehoboam to understand, is a calling from God, and only when we see our work in this light will we appreciate it for what it is—regardless of how grand or menial it may be—and make the contribution and gain the benefit of it God intends.

What does this entail?

First, we must make sure that we receive our work as a gift and not a curse. God has given us the work we do (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12), and He intends that we should find our work satisfying and enjoyable. But this will only be the case when we receive work with gratitude and engage it with a view to carrying out the purposes of God. We cannot know these exhaustively, of course. Still, God has put a spark of divinity in each of us, and He has made His will known in Scripture and elsewhere so that, by careful study and diligent labor we can do our work in a way that helps to fulfill God's purposes for His creation (Ecclesiastes 3:11; 1:13).

God's work is directed toward fruitfulness, goodness, renewal, edification, and the benefit of all His creatures. His work has enduring value (Ecclesiastes 3:14). To the extent that we bring our work into line with the commandments and purposes of God—both in how we do our work and the way we work with others—we can expect to realize fulfillment at our jobs (Ecclesiastes 3:15; 12:13). Solomon says "God seeks what has been pursued" (Ecclesiastes 3:15, my translation, ESV margin), which seems to mean something like He wants us to follow the pattern of work He Himself demonstrated in Genesis 1 and 2 and which He continues to pursue in caring for the creation and all its creatures (cf. Psalms 104, 147).

Second, we need to cultivate positive attitudes toward our work, in the first place, because it is a gift of God, and in the second, because by our work we actually can make a contribution to the "divine economy." Solomon says, "For the one who pleases Him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy" (Ecclesiastes 2:26).

Let us, then, daily give thanks for the work God has given us, and let us come to the workplace with joyful hearts, eager to serve God and our fellow men. Solomon insists, "there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his portion in life" (Ecclesiastes 3:22, my translation).