Laboring in Useful Obscurity

“This is also what I have seen of wisdom under the sun — and it was great to me. There was a little city and the men in it were few. A great king came toward it and surrounded it and he built a great siege tower against it. Yet, there was a man in it who was impoverished but wise and saved it — the city by his wisdom. Yet, the man was not remembered for he was a poor man. And so I say that wisdom is better than greatness though the wisdom of an impoverished man is scorned and his words are not heard.”

(Ecclesiastes 9:13-16)

Which is better? To be useful and forgotten or to be a fool and remembered forever? How often, in our modern age, the desire to be remembered is so great that many embrace foolishness just so that they will be remembered. Yet, what kind of legacy is that? We all have a natural desire to be remembered and to leave our mark on the world, but this hardly seems the way to do it. 

When I served as Chaplain of the Christian School in Florida, the Superintendent, Michael Mosley, used to cite a medieval phrase quite often: “to labor in useful obscurity.” His point was two-fold. First, not everyone can be the hero or the person in the limelight…and not everyone ought to be because the person up front needs people working behind him to make it possible to be up front. The second reason that he used this phrase was to be a reminder to all that the only person’s whose name needs be remembered is that of Christ’s. If our name and all of our accomplishments are forgotten, but Christ is glorified in our interactions with others, then our lives will have great meaning. 

In the case of Solomon’s story (perhaps a parable, perhaps a historic account, either interpretation will suffice), a city was besieged by a greater power and (by human standards) seemed doomed to fall. Yet the city was delivered by a poor but wise man. The deliverance was remembered, but the name of the man was soon forgotten — who wants an impoverished man as a national hero anyway? 

Solomon’s conclusion, though, is the right one. Wisdom is better than might. Nations rise and fall but wisdom endures in the hearts of God’s people. Might will bring short-lived glory, but what is better — glory for a season and then captivity or wisdom that endures and preserves freedom? Need I say any more?

Though our names may be forgotten, if Christ is exalted, what more ought we want? The right answer is nothing. Let Christ be remembered — and we are remembered in the midst, so be it; if we are forgotten in the midst, so be it. It is Christ to whom we (and our works) must point.

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on November 19, 2018, in Ecclesiastes, Expositions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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