Audio Worship "What Is Seen and Unseen" Ecclesiastes 4.1-16

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1574

February 19, 2023

Ecclesiastes 4.1-16      Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus (This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“What is Seen and Unseen”


4.1Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. 4Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. 5The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. 6Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. 7Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. 9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. 13Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king's place. 16There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.



  • Not All About Me


Reality can be quite elusive. It seems that we all see things in a variety of ways. Just look at the news and how various reports skew one story in multiple ways. It sometimes takes years to truly find out what is real and what is false, what truly happened and what was conjecture. This is why we need the truth in our hearts, not the false version of things given by the world, but the truth of Scripture and the One who is Truth, Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that we can begin to see reality, both that which is seen and that which is unseen. Doesn’t that sound odd to speak about seeing what is unseen? How can I see the unseen? Well, we who are in Christ, we who are filled with God’s Holy Spirit do see in a different way. We see what is physically before us, just like everyone else, but we have been given a different set of eyes, eyes to see what is true, what is invisible, eyes to see spiritual things, spiritual truths, the truth only found in spiritual understanding. It gives us a real advantage over the world. We know things the world does not, and we know things the world needs to know.

Sometimes I feel like need to read this passage from 1 Corinthians 2.6-16 every Sunday…

6Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

We have access to the secret and hidden wisdom of God – to see the invisible spiritual things of God. Those things feed our hearts and minds and our “eyesight”, that is, our understanding of what we see in the world and in God’s kingdom. The natural person, one who does not know God, cannot understand spiritual things. The Spirit interprets things to the spiritual, to those who have the mind of Christ. I bring this forward for our understanding of Ecclesiastes because of what Solomon has seen throughout these first chapters. He sees the vanity of life under the sun. He sees the short time we have on this earth. He sees reality for what it is in those terms. But, he also sees beyond the sun, beyond time, because he sees the God beyond time and space and knows that there is more to come than what this world would define as life, wisdom, or reality.


There are four times in our passage for today when we read, “I saw”. I saw oppressions, I saw toil, envy, I saw vanity under the sun, I saw the living who move under the sun – observations about life on the earth. This is what we see with our physical observations. When read through Ecclesiastes I think it becomes apparent that we see certain things in observation that are limited to our time and space. Life is short, life is elusive, but we are also connected to a vision that goes well beyond what we see before us. The world can only see the world. They cannot see the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and that greatly hinders their perspective on what is true and what is really real. They have a mask before them, unable to see the grace and love of God, the benefits of knowing Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit with us, the wonder of His Holy Word, the mind of Christ.

With a limited view of the world we could be easily led us to the conclusion that I have to look out for myself and really buy into all the slogans from the world that lead us in this direction. “You Deserve a Break Today” & “Have It Your Way”. Those are some old slogans from fast food, but we see the “me” culture in them and in a lot of today’s advertisements, movies, music, just in the culture in general. This vision and the ways of the world will bring us to ponder the question, “What is my life all about?” To see only the world is to also think only of myself in the world. Those who think primarily about self, me. Remember the old response to who is coming to make someone do something – “me, myself, and I”? We label this kind of limited “eyesight” humanism, or what the world may be presenting it under a new term, woke-ism. It is at its core a worldly philosophy about life in the world, without God, without the Bible, filled with absurd theories that there are multiple genders, that you can switch from one to the other, that everything is about racism, and all the other nonsense we get from the world.

Yes, there are problems in our world. Yes there is sin and strive. Why is this? Why is the world so struck with toil, strife, evil, and sin? Because it seeks to function apart from God, without the Ten Commandments, with no thought of Jesus Christ except to ridicule or persecute those who follow Him. There is no place in the world for faith in Jesus, the grace of God, or His steadfast love...all that the Bible reveals that brings life to the world and to communities and to our individual lives. What the Bible reveals among many many other things is that the world does not revolve around me and my limited vision of life under the sun.





  • The Great Commandment & The Ten


Ecclesiastes 4.1-6 highlights the envy of neighbor, power as oppression, which I also think could be a form of coveting because we tend to oppress those whose stuff we want. We covet because we are not satisfied with God or with what God has given us. All of this points to a self-centered life of self-destruction. That is what I think verse 5 means when it states, “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.” The fool is the one who oppresses, who envies neighbor rather than loving neighbor, who has only a narcissistic outlook, who has no need for God or community. The result of this observation is in the “better than” verses through this passage. These are much like the “better than” statements we see throughout the Proverbs.

Beginning in verse three,

3But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Better than – this one a negative, better to have never been born than to see all this evil in the world. That’s how bad it seems when all we see is the evil that men do. That’s how bad it is when we can only see with our eyes physically. That’s how bad it can be when we have no sense of community, no other, and particularly no Other (capital “O”), no God, no relationship with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

The next “better than”, verse six,

6Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Better than – this one more positive, brief quiet over double toil and strife after wind. When I read this one I think of Sabbath. We look to Sabbath as a balance over the toil of the world. Sabbath can become that saving ritual of weekly renewal, regaining perspective that the world continues to go on without our hectic participation. We can know that we are actually giving testimony to the world through the practice of Sabbath, of quietness and rest, that the healing power of Sabbath is one of the answers to the wickedness and evil in the world. Moreover, it is testimony to keeping God’s commandments. We honor the Sabbath as a witness to keep all of God’s commandments. Some have said that Christians break this commandment more than any other. We would not even begin to murder or steal or commit other sins, but the Sabbath does not seem as detrimental, I suppose. Well, if the world wants to find a better way to live, one way we show them is being here on the Sabbath.

Next up, verse nine,

9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.

Two are better than one. Community is crucial to our lives and our well-being. We are created for community. Now that community can mean many things. When God created Adam He said it was not good to be alone, so along came Eve. That is not to say that marriage is the only community. Single folks have community in other ways, with friends, with fellow believers, with family. We all share in community in different ways. Community promotes support in times of struggle and shared joy in times of celebration. I think of funerals I have done for people without a church, the sadness of so little support, no shared grief, no one with whom to cry or hug. The world is not like this, but tells us that we can go it alone, work our way to the top while walking over others to get there.

Last one is verse thirteen,

13Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.

Better poor and wise in our youth than old and foolish ruler. I might suggest better is a poor and wise church than old and foolish government. Let’s pray for our worldly leaders...and for the church.


Better to rest in the Lord, to know God and His commandments, to obey and trust in Him. A forgotten God and forgotten commandments lead to everything being about me. Deuteronomy 8 is a classic example when Israel starting boasting that they had delivered themselves from Egypt and brought their own prosperity. The Pharisees began to trust in their own righteousness and had forgotten the spirit of the law (Mark 3.4). God gave us the Commandments to teach us about our relationships in community. The Commandments teach us how to love God and neighbor. The Sabbath command ties them together in community as we gather to worship and pray and read Scripture together. We see that is not about me, but about us, about others, about one another in concert with God.


  • Love Your Neighbor


Ecclesiastes 4.7-16 is about changing our perspective on me to seeing the us, the other, the neighbor. We are taught to work for the good of others, finding quiet rest in service to others. It then ends with the sadness of failed leadership...leaders forgotten for striving after wind. Somewhat like a lament Psalm that ends without a positive word. And yet the good news in this chapter is in the blessing of community and connectedness.

The vanity is that one person has no other. There is no satisfaction with riches. There is no one to share in them, no pleasure without a community in which to share good fortune, good life, relationship is part of the created nature of human existence.

Two are better than one. Help is never far away. Three even better, a threefold cord is not quickly broken. The message of Ecclesiastes is that life is better when life is shared, when we give to one another, when we share in all things of life and resources. We celebrate joys together, we support one another in times of grief. We no longer are focused solely on our self, not just about me, but about my neighbor. We learn to give freely, to show hospitality, to realize that true life and happiness and blessedness is not in what I can acquire, but in what I can give to others. It all stems from what God has given to us. He gave us life through His Son Jesus Christ and in that we know that Jesus taught us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15.13). I believe that to mean that we give of ourselves and of our resources whenever we can. Jesus gave of Himself, for certain, He gave of His life and He gave His life. He poured out love and compassion and power and teaching and sacrifice while He ministered on the earth and then ultimately gave up His life on the cross. We can at least give of our lives in service to others, loving, showing compassion, displaying God’s power and encouraging one another.

This is the life that brings meaning to living under the sun, because in service and love for others we are not storing up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt, but we are storing up treasures in heaven, no longer under the sun (Matthew 6.19-20). Perhaps we can shift our eyesight from me to us more often. See how we are doing in our relationships with one another. But let that begin with our relationship with God, as individuals and as a community of faith. For it is in that relationship that we build all other relationships.

All is indeed vanity under the sun if we are all about self, all about me. But beyond the sun, looking toward eternity, we see the value and the meaning of loving God and neighbor, something the world does not yet see. We are the witnesses to this Greatest Commandment in how we relate to God and to one another. We see those things both seen and unseen and we are called to lead people to Christ in order that they may see that which is unseen! Let us go forth, in repentance, in devotion, in love, to show the world, to show others that without Jesus Christ, all is indeed vanity, empty, chasing after the wind. But with Jesus, there is life in abundance, life eternal, life shared and valued because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Amen.


*This sermon series reflects the work of David Gibson in his book Living Life Backward.