How do you define success? Some define success in terms of wealth. Others measure it in terms of power and fame. In Ecclesiastes 4:7-16, Solomon takes the example of a man (Eccl. 4:7, 8) who works his entire life and amasses a fortune. In the end he could not enjoy this wealth himself, and neither with his family nor his loved ones. Then in verses 13-16, Solomon illustrates his point with the example of an old but foolish king who is succeeded not by his own son but by a smart youth who works his way up from the prison to the throne. We may say the young man is successful in achieving both power and popularity. Yet in the end all his successes came to naught. Like the saying goes, “Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s bums.”
However, Solomon did not stop there. Sandwiched in between these “success” stories, is the passage that shows us how we can have true success in our lives (Eccl. 4:9-12). We can only gain true success with the help of God and others, especially those who are our true friends.
Solomon raised significant questions about what constitutes success and wise living. Our culture rewards those who are driven to do and acquire more. Corporate culture often has little patience with those who strive for balance between work, family, and other worthwhile pursuits. Unfortunately many are eager to sacrifice everything else in order to make it to the top in a career.
Genesis 2:18-25 probably provides a theological background for Solomon’s observations. One of the first decrees of God following the creation of Adam was, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Thus God created Eve to be a help suitable for Adam so that two of them together could fulfil God’s plan for mankind.
Furthermore, we need to be reminded that we are made for relationships. We are not isolated beings who are complete in ourselves. We need the fellowship of others. We cannot be truly human apart from others.
Christian thinking about success may well require a modification of goals and a revised definition of success. The downside of that kind of thinking is that it can be costly in terms of job opportunities and advancement, but one must ask with Solomon, “What is better?” and “What does God’s order require?”
Rev. Mark Tay