Enjoy Your Life
Passage: Ecclesiastes 9:1–9:10
Enjoy Your Life
July 27th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. Trouble in 'Paradise'
Imagine that you were named the winner of an all-expense paid seven-day, six-night trip to a beautiful island paradise. Sounds good, doesn't it?
But imagine if the moment you arrived in that tropical setting, you encountered several difficulties: first you lost a piece of luggage, second you were stung by some tropical bug, and third, you received a call from back home that a family member was in a car accident. And little did you know at the time that there would be other challenges that week: an upset stomach, hotel mix-ups, a stolen pair of sunglasses.
But imagine that on top of all that, you found yourself, at different points throughout the week, thinking about the fact that you would have to go home in a matter of days; about the fact that everything would have to come to an end. You began to think about your island getaway less in terms of what you had done and would do, and more in terms of how many days and hours were left before you had to leave.
So...if you knew in advance that your trip would, for the most part, be defined by handling difficulties and dwelling on your departure, do you think you would still go?
Though Forrest Gump wouldn't describe it this way, life is like a tropical getaway. Let me explain what I mean by that by first turning your attention back to the book of Ecclesiastes.
This morning, we are continuing our study through this intriguing and important book, and we find ourselves in chapter 9, verses 1-10. (beginning on pg. 557)
II. The Passage: "But All This I Laid to Heart" (9:1-10)
Listen to what the Teacher tells us about life in the first three verses of chapter nine. Let me read those:
A. Accepting Life for What it Is (9:1-3)
But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil,ï»¿ to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
"All this I laid to heart" writes the Teacher in verse 1. All what? Well, the fact that the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. What happens to them is up to God. What he's telling us here is that he has carefully watched those who were considered righteous and wise, and he has considered how their deeds have affected their destiny.
Remember that most people in the Teacher's day believed that the righteous and the wise were guaranteed blessing from God. But the Teacher tells them that people cannot know what fate awaits them, even if they are righteous and wise. Whether there will be love or hate in their future "man does not know". As he put it in chapter 3: There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven...a time to love and a time to hate. (3:1, 8)
He tells us in verse 3:"It is the same for all!" No matter what kind of person is in question: righteous or wicked, good or evil, clean or unclean, all of them are the same in the sense that all of them are in God's hand; what is it come is unknown to them and does not seem to be directly tied to how they live.
As the Teacher expressed near the end of the previous chapter: 14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.
The ultimate proof of this fact, this reality that different choices don't seem to result in different destines, the ultimate proof of this is that everyone ends up in the grave.
And to top it off, says the Teacher, before the end comes, our lives, our hearts, are so often filled by evil and madness. That's what life is like.
Apparently, what the Teacher wants his readers to do here is accept life for what it is: a mixed bag of love and hate; a roller coaster filled with ups and downs; an exercise in unfairness, a series of events in the hand of God that appear to be completely random; completely pointless. Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the good die young? Where's the sense in all of it. The righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God.
Even when we go on a tropical getaway, we have to accept that this is how life is. There will be issues. That's par for the course. You can't escape it. No matter how good you think you've been, God doesn't promise us that our life will be smooth sailing.
Have you accepted that about life?
B. Appreciating Life for What it Is (9:4-6)
Look at where the Teacher goes in verses 4-6: "All of us go to the dead (v.3)..."
4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
If the Teacher wanted us to accept life for what it is in the opening section, here he wants us to appreciate life for what it is: it is life, and it is a precious gift.
No matter how unfair life seems to be, the Teacher seems to be saying, no matter how bad things get, life is still life and it is better than the death. If we wanted to get an animal to guard our house, a lion might certainly be more intimidating than a dog, but if the lion is dead and the dog is alive, that changes everything. According to the Teacher, any kind of life is better than death.
Now, we have to remember that the Teacher lived in a period of time during which God had not clearly revealed the truth about another life after this one, an afterlife. From the Teacher's perspective, death was the end. He writes, "the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward". Everything they once were has perished.
And so in light of this belief, the writer here is urging us to appreciate life. Even when we understand something about the reality of an afterlife, that doesn't minimize the value of our human existence right now.
Like the traveler who is constantly thinking about the fact the end of the vacation is drawing closer every minute, many people do not see right now for what it is because they spend their time anticipating death rather than appreciating life.
No matter how long that island getaway is, it is still an island getaway. It is still an amazing gift.
In spite of what you've been through, in spite of what's going on in your life right now, do you appreciate life for what it is: a gift?
C. Enjoying Life for What it Is (9:7-10)
Now look where he goes in the next four verses. Look at the conclusion he comes to in light of everything he's described about life's ups and downs; about life's apparent pointlessness. He goes beyond just accepting life, beyond even simply appreciating life. He builds on those ideas and instructs us...
7 Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,ï»¿ for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
Accept life? Yes! Appreciate life? Yes! But please do much more than that: enjoy life, enjoy your life! Don't just accept the ups and downs of your vacation getaway. Don't stop with a mere appreciation of the gift. You should enjoy your tropical adventure! A few speed bumps shouldn't keep you from enjoying the beautiful weather. The fact that your time is limited shouldn't keep you from enjoying the cool water and the good food and that relaxing hammock and that island breeze.
In the same way, God has blessed us with the gift of life and that gift is meant to be enjoyed.
What the Teacher told us in the last chapter is similar to advice given throughout this book. We find it again and again: 2:24, 3:12; 3:22; 5:18; and 8:15) He writes in chapter 8, verse 15: And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
The fact is that God has blessed mankind with so many good gifts; gifts that were meant to be enjoyed. Listen to how the psalmist confirms the Teacher's thoughts here about food:
14 You [Lord] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.
The goodness of food and drink are God's gift to man. The same is true for festive clothing and pleasant smelling oils. And the same is definitely true when it comes to one's spouse. In the same spirit, the Teacher could have probably added family and good music, all things the Old Testament describes in the context of blessing and celebration.
Now it's possible to look at all this and conclude that the Teacher is resorting to the same mentality of those who would say, "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die". Maybe he just wants us to distract ourselves, to drown our misery with excess.
But that is not what he's saying. He's telling those who might think that that God has approved of our labors (v. 7) and the evidence of that fact is that we have such things to enjoy. This is our portion in life (v. 9). These are beautiful, often simple, pleasures that God has given to men and women because of His mercy. They are gifts, not distractions.
But they are things we can often overlook. Things we can take for granted. Things we can miss.
In verse 10 he returns to the overshadowing theme of death. He tells us here: "Look, whatever work you find to do, whatever labor you engage in (and life is full of things we need to do, isn't it: go to work, pay the bills, fold the laundry, wash the car, feed the kids, mow the lawn, make those calls), whatever it is, "do it with your might". Why? Because life is life, and you need to savor this life as we know it while we can.
III. Enjoying Life Now in Light of Eternity
Now, while this idea of enjoying life would resonate with most people, wherever they're from, I think we tend to struggle with it. And I think we struggle with it, because it just doesn't sound...spiritual.
Eating, drinking, nice clothes, nice smells, marital enjoyment? It all sound so ‘here and now', doesn't it? It all sounds so earthly. We think, "that just how it was in the Old Testament".
If we're honest, we know all of us are drawn to this idea of enjoying earthly blessings, but there is part of us that wants to label that pull as ‘temptation'. We are quick to label things as ‘guilty pleasures'.
As followers of Jesus Christ, I think we think to ourselves, "No, I'm going to follow Paul's advice in Colossians 3:2' I'm going to "Set [my] mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."
Understanding that truth in that way is in fact a very old way of looking at things; a view that has persisted in the church from the very beginning. It was part of the basis for what eventually became the monastic mindset. One writer puts it this way in regard to life in this world:
"Physical detachment from the world helps the soul to reject the worldly way of life. Experience shows that human salvation is harder to achieve in the world."
Now notice that this writer is not simply saying detach yourself from worldly ways, worldly ways of thinking. He's talking about physical detachment. And in some traditions, this thinking led to physical punishment of the body as well. All done in the name of seeking that which is "spiritual".
But listen to what Paul tells his younger co-minister Timothy in I Timothy 4:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, [and who are these liars, these teachers of demonic truth? They are those] 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (I Timothy 4:1-5)
Did you hear that? Did you hear what Paul believed? What he taught according to the authority of Jesus Christ? We hear it again in his words to the citizens of the city of Lystra. He declared:
"In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:16, 17)
That is the portion God gives. To enjoy such things is not unspiritual. When we think that way we have created a false division in God's creation. We have declared, in contrast to Paul, we have declared that somehow "everything created by God is NOT good".
No, the man or woman who has their mind set on things above now views life in this world through the lens of eternity, not in order to reject earthly life, but in order to embrace it with truth; in order to show the world what it looks like to enjoy creation by first enjoying the Creator.
You see, we cannot truly enjoy anything unless we first enjoy God above all else.
And in and of ourselves we cannot enjoy God because, as the Teacher put it in 9:3, "the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live"
How does that evil and madness, how does our heart keep us from truly enjoying God and God's earthly blessings? Well, it does so because it is prone to switch the two. We are prone to turn to food, and drink, and clothes and perfumes, and sex, and work into things to be worshipped.
John Calvin described the human heart as "a perpetual factory of idols". We take good things that God created and make them our gods.
This condition is what we see the Teacher wrestling with throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. So what's to keep us from falling into the same trap when it comes to enjoying our lives?
The only thing that can change all this is a new heart, and the only one who can give us a new heart is Jesus Christ. Jesus enjoyed life when he walked among us, didn't He? And that fact often irked the religious leaders of his day. But he could enjoy life because he first enjoyed God, above everything else.
Jesus died because of those hearts that are full of evil and madness; more importantly, he died for those hearts. Only the cross of Jesus can enable us to truly enjoy our lives, every day, in every way. But we first have to come to end of ourselves. We first have to admit our tendency to substitute worship for enjoyment and worship enjoyment itself.
But when we submit ourselves to Jesus, when find forgiveness through His death, when we receive new life through His resurrected life, He give us a new heart. It that's heart, that heart that delights in God, the one who always uses our ups and downs for good, the one who gives us hope in the face of death, it's that heart that Paul speaks to when he writes:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31)
As followers of Christ, we live at the intersection of two worlds; two worlds that some day will be one. We see the earthly through the heavenly. We savor creation through enjoyment of the Creator. We enjoy life now in light of eternity.
I think Paul described this mindset best when he spoke to Timothy about those who were rich, those who were well-to-do in the church at Ephesus, those who were always so tempted to look first to the gifts rather than the Giver. Listen to what Paul says:
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)
Do you see that mindset we were talking about? It's all about living life fully in the "present age" as we lay "a good foundation for the future" in light of "that which is truly life."
And so we enjoy everything God has richly provided, but we do so delighting in the heart of God. We both enjoy His earthly blessings and stand ready to give them away for His glory. We delight in what is good as we do what is good.
Are you enjoying life now in light of eternity? Are you enjoying God's earthly blessings because you are enjoying the One who gave them? Or are you allowing the gifts to take you away from the Giver?
Only Jesus Christ can give us that new heart we were designed to have, that new heart that enjoys God above everything else. Won't you seek that heart everyday, in order that you might truly enjoy your life now, and one day, enjoy "that which is truly life"?