“Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl 6:9).
A constant focus of Ecclesiastes is the workaholic. For all of his work and gain, he still is not satisfied with his labor or blessings. “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied” (Eccl 6:7). How sad of an existence—to be constantly working and obsessing over what we want instead of simply enjoying what we have. The preacher’s answer is that we learn to be satisfied with what we have, not obsessive over what we want. In a word: contentment. Consider three keys to contentment.
First, realize that having blessings and enjoying blessings are not the same thing. The preacher imagines “a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires” (Eccl 6:2a). He “fathers a hundred children and lives many years” (Eccl 6:3a). So far so good—except, “God does not give him power to enjoy them,” and “his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things” (Eccl 6:2b, 3b). A wandering appetite may cause us to work more, but it will not cause us to be more grateful. Diligence and hard work are excellent virtues; but if they are not accompanied with gratitude and contentment, we run headfirst into miserable vanity.
Second, remember that appetites are never quenched. The preacher declares the superiority of “sight of the eyes” to “wandering of the appetite.” That which is in the sight of our eyes are the blessings we currently possess, yet tend to overlook: our possessions, the ability to pay our bills, our families, and our spiritual blessings (to name a few). The wandering of our appetite is not a real object, but an abstract compulsion for more. Is our physical appetite permanently quenched after a big meal? We might say, “I ate so much I’ll never eat again,” yet we still get hungry again. A discontent heart has the same unquenched appetite.
Third, contentment can be learned. Paul put it this way: “I have learned in whatever situation to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13). As we often sing, Paul knew that “Jesus is mine.” In the sight of his eyes were the spiritual blessings in Christ, which quenched his every appetite, took captive his every thought, and contented his heart in any circumstance.
The preacher’s answer to workaholism and greed was to be satisfied with what we have (sight of the eyes), not obsessive over what we want (wandering of the appetite). But if we want to be a worker for the Lord above all, and see the immensity of a Christian’s blessings, what could we possibly want that we don’t already have? Perhaps most important key to contentment is to simply be a growing disciple of Jesus.