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Reality-Tempered Joy

November 2, 2008 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: What's the Point?

Passage: Ecclesiastes 11:7–11:10

Reality-Tempered Joy
Ecclesiastes 11:7-10
November 2nd, 2008
Way of Grace Church

I. The Birthday Party

Imagine you have thrown yourself a birthday party at a really nice resort, and you are beginning to get frustrated or upset because certain things are not going the way you want them to go. Now imagine that a friend comes to you and says, "Hey, you need to rejoice in the reality of this party. Everyone came out for you, and they're celebrating another year of your life. Stop sulking and be glad you have these kinds of blessings."

Now that would probably be pretty good advice, wouldn't it? But imagine if your friend finished his advice by saying something like this, "So celebrate! Enjoy your party! But remember this, eventually the music and the noise will die down, the cake will be gone, the decorations will be taken down (or fall down), and all of your friends will trickle out, one by one until no one is left. AND, remember that eventually, at some time, in some way, you will have to pay the resort and address the way you took care of the room and the resources you were given. So keep that in mind. But hey, it's your birthday. Let's party!"

This morning we are coming back for our final month together in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Over the course of the last year, we have been exploring this unique and often puzzling book as we've attempted to understand the conclusions that the writer is arriving at as he struggles with the ultimate question, "What's the point? What's the point of all this? What's the point of living, and struggling, and loving, and dying?"

And throughout the book, especially in the last half, the Teacher has shared some of this wisdom and knowledge with us. This morning, he wants to impart even more wisdom to his readers.

So let's turn over to chapter 11, verses 7-10.

II. The Passage: "Let Him Rejoice in Them All" (11:7-10)

Let's look together at chapter 11, beginning with verses 7 and 8. Listen to what the Teacher tells us here:

7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Notice that he begins by talking about light and sunshine. Now this might seem like a great verse to share with people from Seattle or Alaska who are sun deprived, but I don't think he's ultimately talking about the sunshine here.

No, if take verse 8 into consideration, we see that light and darkness here are ways of talking about life, not about how bright or dim things are. When he talks about "light", he really talking about ‘life'. 6:5 and 7:11 both confirm that "to see the sun" means "to be alive". Verse 7 is essentially saying, "Life, being alive is a wonderful gift; it is a good thing."

That's why he gives the recommendation he does in verse 8: "As many years as you live, rejoice in all of them!"

But look at the "but" that we find in the middle of verse 8: "but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many".

So just as light referred to life, so too here we find that darkness is referring to some other reality. If light is life, is darkness, "death"?

Well listen to what he writes only few verses later at the beginning of chapter 12: Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened...

So it seems that the "days of darkness" are the same as the "evil days" in 12:1, days that are contrasted there with "the days of your youth". What the Teacher is talking about here are the final years of life, when the body begins to slow down and break down, when the shadow of death seems to be looming much larger over us.

Maybe that's where the Teacher himself is; maybe he is an old man now, one who knows all too well the suffering that comes with growing old. Maybe it's from this place on the path of life that he writes: ...if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many.

Maybe this is why he concludes that sentence with this observation: All that comes is vanity.

You may remember that "vanity" is the theme of this book. Over and over again the Teacher comes to this conclusion about his quest: "all is vanity". What he means by that is that everything is meaningless, everything is ultimately pointless. In the end, life is like trying to capture the wind. It's a vain exercise. It's a waste of time.

Maybe now, at the end of his life, as he struggles with old age, maybe now he wants to tell those behind him, "everything that is still to come for you is pointless". Sounds like a grumpy old man, doesn't it? This interpretation seems to make sense when we look at the next verse:

9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Here the Teacher speaks directly to those who are younger, those who are in the prime of life. Maybe he is looking back and thinking what the playwright George Bernard Shaw once concluded, "Youth is wasted on the young."

Like a man yearning for another chance at life, he pleads with those who are still young. He tells them to rejoice in their youth, not to take it for granted. Yes, we should rejoice in all our years as he advised in verse 8, but we should also savor our youth and, as he puts it here, we should "walk in the ways of our heart and the sight of our eyes".

Now what does that mean? It means that we should follow our passions, experience what there is to experience, and see what there is to see. We should do what he recommends in verse 10. Look at it with me. He tells his readers:

10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.

Here the word "vanity" is probably better translated "fleeting" or "transitory". Our youth is fleeing. I've often heard older men and women say things like, "Where did all the years ago?" or "It all went by so fast."

Because our years are fleeting, the Teachers tell us to remove "vexation", that is, get rid of any anxiety or grief or sorrow. Furthermore, "put away pain for your body". Don't let these things shackle you in your youth. If you do, how will you really enjoy life? How will you rejoice in your youth?

But once again, you may have noticed that we skipped over another "but" in verse 9:

9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

While life should be about the affirmation of joy, it should also be lived in the anticipation of judgment; God's judgment.

The Teacher already confirmed this reality back in chapter 3: I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. (3:17)

III. Everyone Wants to Be Happy

Now, did you notice what verses 8 and 9 have in common? The directives, the instructions, the recommendations given in each have to do with rejoicing: rejoicing in the gift of existence, the days of one's life, and then more specifically, rejoicing in the days of one's youth.

To rejoice. Isn't that what everyone wants? To be glad, to enjoy life, to pursue happiness. Isn't that what everyone is struggling to accomplish? "I just want to be happy" is the common refrain we hear, and often speak.

The Teacher came to the same conclusion way back in chapter 3: I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live... (3:12)

What causes you to rejoice? Where do you find joy? What kinds of things make you happy?

I'm sure all of us can picture the kinds of things the world offers us to make us happy? I'm sure all of us can remember a time when what we thought would bring us great joy instead brought great disappointment. I'm sure all of us have believed that if the circumstances were right or if the right circumstances never changed, we would always enjoy our life.

But the kind of joy that comes from this or that, or him or her, or "if only", that kind of joy is fleeting isn't it? It's a joy that begins with our feelings and ends with our feelings.

But remember, the Teacher's advice to rejoice is first a call to do something, not a call to feel something.

The Teacher can call us to rejoice, in spite our circumstances, because of the truth about life. Being alive is a gift! No matter how bad things get, no matter what we don't have, no matter how uncertain things seem to be, at the very least, we can always rejoice in the fact that we are alive!

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all...

So the Teacher is trying to temper the bitterness of life by realigning his readers with the reality of life's sweetness, to the blessing of existence. And for the Teacher, if you are young, if you are in the "prime" of your life, then you need to recognize that and not waste it. The passion, the idealism, the energy of youth should not be taken for granted, no matter one's circumstances.

IV. Sin Qualifies Everything

But the two parts of this passage have more in common than just the concept of joy. There is another pattern at work here, isn't there. We've already touched on it.

What we've seen is that the Teacher qualifies both of these instructions to rejoice. He tempers them with the reality of two truths that were inescapable for his readers. The first was the reality of growing old and dying, and the second was the reality of judgment, the reality that there are ultimate consequences for all of our actions.

From a bigger perspective on God's word, what the Teacher is telling us here is that the joy he wants us to experience must be tempered by the reality of sin. Sin qualifies everything doesn't it?

Remember the birthday party? How would you respond to your friend's advice in that situation?

I think you would have three options: number one, you could write your friend off as "Mr. Depressing" and ignore everything he said as you celebrate in blissful ignorance. Number two: you could become so fixated on the reality of what will happen in the future that you become unable to enjoy anything in the present. OR, number three: you could let the reality of what will happen temper what is; you will let it inform how you enjoy this celebration.

Now aren't those options generally how people live their lives? They either choose to dance all the time, or be depressed all the time, or find some way to navigate the middle.

I think all of us want to rejoice, to be happy, but I also think most of us recognize that navigating the middle, that walking the balance beam is where we should be. What the Teacher is teaching us here is that we must let reality temper our joy.

But how do we do this? What does this look like? I think it means several things I think we could put it like this:

1) Allowing reality to temper our joy means that we make the most of every opportunity.

When you know that your time is limited, you don't waste your time, you do what the New Testament calls us to do: you redeem the time.

If you spent all your money on a trip to see you favorite team in the Super Bowl, you probably wouldn't spend the majority of the game at the snack bar or in the bathroom. No, you wouldn't want to miss anything. You would be trying to soak it all in while you could. The game, the sights, the sounds, the smells. You would not take it for granted.

Do you feel that way about life?

Number 2) Allowing reality to temper our joy means that we rejoice in what matters.

Sometimes we believe that we are making the most of every opportunity, and thus, we're engaged in a whole bunch of things that we believe are important. But in many cases, the things we care about now are not the things we will care about in the end.

In all of my interactions with the elderly over the years, I've noticed that most men and women either remember or regret those things that have to do with relationships. They think about their friends and family, they think about how well they loved them, they think about what they may have missed because they were too focused on their work, or their cause, or their own comfort.

My maternal grandparents were so shackled by the ways that their family or the way that life wronged them, that they could never fully enjoy the relationships they had been blessed with. We need to rejoice in what matters.

Finally, number 3) Allowing reality to temper our joy means that we enjoy what is good for us.

Remember what the Teacher wrote to the young:

9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Whether we're young, or just young at heart, we should pursue our passions, we should experience life, we should see what there is to see; we should drink the good life in.

But we need to know what the good life really is. We need to know that our hearts often lead us astray or lead us to excess. We need to know that our eyes often go where they should not go; that we often desire the wrong things.

We need to enjoy life, not in accordance with what the world tells us, or what we feel is right, but first in accordance with God's commands. If we do, we will discover the joy and freedom of obedience. We will discover God's design for our good.

V. Redemption-Transformed Joy

But even these things, even this wisdom about allowing reality to temper our joy, even this, if we're honest, even this leaves us feeling like we're just making the most of a bad situation. I kind of feel like we're doing a seminar on joy onboard the Titanic, and everyone knows what's about to happen.

Yes, all good advice, but none of it changes the end of the story.

Being onboard a sinking ship is one of the key realities that the Teacher in Ecclesiastes is struggling with throughout the book. It's what drives him to ask, "What's the point?" It's what drives him to answer his own question: "All is vanity...everything is pointless."

But what if...what if there was more to reality than we first believed? What if now, there was an eternity of sunshine beyond those "days of darkness"? What if grace and forgiveness were present when God brings us into judgment?

You see, the Teacher could only see reality up to the point of death and judgment. What he could not see is the reality that Jesus Christ made real.

On the cross, because of His resurrection, Jesus Christ takes that joy tempered by the reality of sin, and he transforms it with His redemption.

The three principles I gave you before about reality-tempered joy are all true. But they are not, they cannot be, all there is. Why? Because, yes the ship is sinking, but no, it will not be the end.

What if you knew that your time in the icy water would be very brief? What if you knew that you would be rescued and repaired and renewed? What if you knew that your rescuers were not taking you back to the hard life you had come from, but were taking you to an island where it was always sunny, always cool, always peaceful' a place where everyone single one of your needs was met perfectly?

Your joy would not be tempered by the reality, it would be transformed!

Listen to how the Apostle Paul describe this kind of rejoicing:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-6, 11)

In light of this, let me give you three more principles that describe a joy transformed by the redemption that Jesus Christ makes possible for any who will simply believe, who will trust Him as their only hope.

1) Allowing redemption to transform our joy means that we rejoice in the fact, that through Christ, we are forgiven and free forever.

We rejoice in the "hope of the glory of God". The days of darkness will not be the end. The weight of our sin is lifted by Jesus.

2) Allowing redemption to transform our joy means that we rejoice in the fact, that through Christ, God is working for our best in every circumstance.

We can rejoice, even in the midst of the days of the darkness! We can rejoice through all of the bitter realities of life; we can rejoice in our sufferings because God is producing something in us. He is working to make us like Jesus.

3) Allowing redemption to transform our joy means that we rejoice in the fact, that through Christ, we are right with God, forever.

God has become our Father. God has become our greatest good. We are restored to the very place we were made to be. God, who is above all, God, who cannot change, God, who loves us perfectly, is now our joy...our reason for rejoicing. And nothing, no one, can take that away from us.

This is why Paul does in Philippians 4 the same thing the Teacher does in Ecclesiastes 11. He can command us to rejoice because he can realign us to reality, specifically, the reality of our redemption:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Is the kind of joy you have? Even now, are you responding to what you're hearing? Are you being filled up with this joy transformed by the reality of Christ's redemption? This is the joy available to us. This is the kind of joy the world needs to see.

Yes, everyone just wants to be happy. But only Jesus can bring us the joy we really need. Let's pray.

More in What's the Point?

November 16, 2008

Considering the Point

November 9, 2008

Remember Your Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)

September 21, 2008

Act to the Future