Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (text); Matthew 8:5-13
© June 30, 2013 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ: We have looked at the subject of human pleasure in a previous sermon back in Ecclesiastes Chapter 2. There, we made a contrast between lovers of pleasure and lovers of God: lovers of pleasure are passing away, but lovers of God will remain forever.
As a young Disney Channel celebrity, Miley Cyrus was proud of her Christian upbringing, attending her family’s church regularly, and openly proclaiming to the world that she’s a Christian. But in recent years, her actions betrayed the true state of her heart. Instead of a life driven by the gospel of Christ, her life is driven by earthly pleasures, without regard for God’s Word. In her latest music video, “We Can’t Stop,” she sings with reckless abandon:
It’s our party,
We can do what we want,
We can say what we want,
We can love who we want,
We can kiss who we want.
A music video reviewer comments that her video describes “a place where there’s no limits and no rules, where freedom means ”nobody can tell her what’s wrong.” There’s a party where people are “drinking, taking E, snorting coke, dancing like strippers, looking for a casual hook up and generally raising their fists in the face of curmudgeons who might question the wisdom of those choices.”
In contrast to this godless life of pleasure that many hedonists and narcissists pursue today, the Preacher in our text today tells us to “enjoy life” with an enjoyment that “God has already approved.” There are earthly pleasures and work that are acceptable to God. All these earthly pleasures eventually come to an end, but this end is also the beginning of more pleasures for those who fear God.
So our theme today is, “God-Driven Life of Pleasures” divided into three headings: first, God-Approved Pleasures; second, God-Driven Work for Pleasure; and third, God-Appointed Death Ends and Begins Pleasures.
Even when he often says that this is a world of vanities, the Preacher finds meaning in pleasures. In verses 7-9, he lists three things to enjoy: (1) food and drink; (2) delightful possessions; and (3) companionship.
He commands us, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” In all his talk of enjoying the pleasures of life, God is the center. Eating and drinking and finding enjoyment in our toil under the sun is “from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Eccl 2:24-25). These are “God’s gift to man” (Eccl 3:13). Wealth, possessions and power are the fruits of man’s toil, and “the gift of God” (Eccl 5:19). All of these things are for our enjoyment because they are “approved” by God.
Joyful Eating, Merry Drinking
Bread is to be eaten “with joy.” Eating, especially eating with family and friends, is one of man’s favorite pastime. Just go to the malls and observe all the restaurants full of people. Look at all the food that your Facebook friends post—they try to make you crave for the food that they are enjoying at the moment. But like all other things, enjoying food can turn into addiction, which is gluttony. The Bible condemns not only drunkenness, but also gluttony, “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty” (Prov 23:20-21).
Not only are we to eat bread “with joy.” Yes, we are to enjoy drink, even wine! For wine gives us “a merry heart.” Wine? Some evangelicals would disagree, always connecting wine with drunkenness. Here, it is appropriate to briefly discuss this sensitive issue.
In the Philippines, drunkenness among men is a national problem. Walk around any neighborhood on any given night, especially in the Metro Manila area, and it will be easy to find groups of men around a table in front of sari-sari stores, drinking and eating until the wee hours of the morning. This is the main reason why in the Philippines, evangelicals loathe drinking alcohol. When they see people drinking, whether in private or public, they right away conclude that they are drunk. So most evangelicals are offended when they see a brother drinking, or especially when they are offered a drink. Many are offended even by the use of wine, not grape juice, in the Holy Communion, like ours.
Did you know that grape juice was never used in the Lord’s Supper until the late 1800s? Dr. Thomas Welch was a dentist and a communion steward at a Methodist Church in New Jersey. Because of rampant drunkenness in the country, he became a supporter of the Temperance movement in America that advocated total abstinence from wine. In 1890, Dr. Welch invented non-fermented juice from grapes and recommended it to the pastor of his church. From there, the use of grape juice spread to most evangelical churches in the whole country. Are we now to follow Dr. Welch or Christ?
One thing is sure from the Bible: nowhere does it completely prohibit drinking wine. In fact, Psalm 104:15 (also Eccl 10:19) says wine “gladdens the heart of man,” and in 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul says that “a little wine” has some healthy benefits. Jesus himself made wine out of water during a wedding celebration (John 2:1-11). Proverbs 3:9-10 says that a righteous man who honors God will be blessed, “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
However, drunkenness because of drinking too much wine is condemned. Proverbs 23:29-35 lists all the evils resulting from addiction to wine (see also Prov 20:1). Paul warns Christians, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery” (Eph 5:18; 1Pet 4:3-4). Paul warns believers not even to associate themselves with those in the church who are drunkards (1 Cor 5:11), and that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9, 10). Paul specially mentions drunkards or those “addicted to much wine” as disqualified from the offices of elders and deacons (1Tim 3:3, 8; Tit 1:7).
Among most liberal and even Reformed churches, Martin Luther, John Calvin and other 16th century Reformers have become a role model of drunkenness. This is light-years from the truth. In his Table Talk, Luther wrote a condemnation of drunkenness:
It has been asked: Is an offence, committed in a moment of intoxication, therefore excusable? Most assuredly not; on the contrary, drunkenness aggravates the fault. Hidden sins unveil themselves when a man’s self-possession goes from him; that which the sober man keeps in his breast, the drunken man lets out at the lips. Astute people, when they want to ascertain a man’s true character, make him drunk. This same drunkenness is a grievous vice among us Germans, and should be heavily chastised by the temporal magistrate, since the fear of God will not suffice to keep the brawling guzzlers in check.
In a sermon on Titus 2:3-5, Calvin denounced drunkenness as “beastliness”:
True it is, that if men be stained with any such vice, they deserve well to be abhorred: for what else is drunkenness, but even a very beastliness, that defaces all reason and understanding in them that are created after the image of God? For we know there is no more honesty nor wit in a drunken man, than in an ass, or in a horse: no, truly he is much worse. For the beasts keep still their kind, but a man is utterly disfigured, and becomes a very monster. And therefore drunkenness is a shameful and detestable thing, as well in men as in women.
Enjoy eating and drinking!
White Tie Affair
Secondly, speaking of parties, the Preacher next says in verse 8, “Let your garments be always white.” In the Ancient Near East, white attire is the common garment worn on special occasions and festivals. Priests wear white on special holy days; slaves wear white on their day of release; and military heroes wear white robes during victory parades. Today, many Christians do not “wear white” when they come before their Almighty King and Judge on the most holy day, the Lord’s Day. They wear their best on weddings, Christmas parties, and other special occasions, but go casual on the most special occasion: the resurrection of their Lord and Savior. Why do evangelicals wear casual clothes on the Lord’s Day, but present their best during job interviews or when they meet with clients?
More than this, what does wearing white garments in the Bible symbolize? Revelation 3:4 gives us the answer. Christ rebukes the church in Sardis for being “dead,” but still commends some “who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4; 7:9). Their unsoiled garments symbolize uncompromising faith and obedience to Christ.
Enjoy eating and drinking and nice clothes!
Then, the Preacher commands again: “Let not oil be lacking on your head.” Do you ask your pastor to anoint your head with oil to get ready for a party? Remember King David after God told him that his newborn son would die because of his heinous sins? He fasted, laid down on the ground, and didn’t wash himself to plead for the life of his son before God. But after the child died, he washed himself, ate and drank, and anointed his head with oil as a sign that he is resuming his normal life (2 Sam 12:20). Thus, anointing one’s head with oil is a sign of the end of mourning and the beginning of rejoicing.
This is why in Psalm 45:7-8, the psalmist says that the victorious Messiah is dressed for the occasion, as God “has anointed [him] with the oil of gladness.” He wears robes that “are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.” Again, in Psalm 23:5, the LORD is the host who welcomes his people with a sumptuous table to celebrate his victory over his enemies. In Biblical times, the host of a celebration anoints his guests with oil on their heads, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil.” Today, women wear elegant designer perfume, and men wear masculine scent at special occasions.
Enjoy all the delightful things in life!
A Life of Romance
Thirdly, the Preacher commands, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love.” The Bible is full of stories of romance, some good, some not so good: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Boaz and Ruth, David and Bathsheba. Solomon wrote a book of romance, Song of Songs. Most of these stories involved sacrificial love between husband and wife. Husbands, love your wives. Wives, obey your husbands. Even in this world of sin and broken relationships, this loving relationship must be our goal.
Because even romantic love ends, with the end of life. Some celebrate 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years. But the relationship is short, only during “all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun.” In eternity, there is no husband-wife love relationship. Rather, in eternity, there is a perfect love relationship among God’s people. Loving our brethren in this age is nothing compared with the love that we will have for one another in the age to come.
All of these pleasures are God’s good gifts. What do we do when we receive a gift? We say, “Thank you!” to the gift-giver. In the same way, we are to give thanks to God for these pleasures. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). All our food and wine become holy to God when it is received from God with the Word and with prayer.
We always pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” So we must also pray, “Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!” For he gives “wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:35, 15). This is why you are to teach our children to always say a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving before you partake of a meal.
Enjoy all your eating and drinking, clothes and possessions, even your romantic relationships. For these are gifts from God, given to us as the fruits of our toil and labors.
God-Driven Work for Pleasure
In a previous study, we asked the question, “Is work vanity?” The Preacher says that our toil is not vanity when he finds enjoyment in the fruits of his honest and diligent toil because it is “from the hand of God“ (Eccl 2:24; verse 9; Eccl 2:10; 3:22; 5:18).
Work is our regular calling in this world, beginning from Adam in the Garden of Eden. We have mentioned before the Christian teaching about work: whatever we do, do it in the name of God, and as if we are working for Christ. All honest work are God’s good gifts to us. Enjoy whatever work you do as long as you can, doing it not only to please our earthly masters, but most of all, our heavenly King.
The work that God has given you is the one that is within your reach, within your skills and abilities. God has given each one of you physical and mental capacities so you may develop them, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (verse 10). Sometimes, you will have opportunities to go to seminars and conferences to further develop your employment skills and qualifications. You might even get a promotion because you have extra qualifications.
The church is very lacking in this regard. Most Christians think that anyone who is sincere and has a great desire to be a pastor can just start becoming a self-made pastor. This is why there are many who are uneducated. Many men and women who lack theological and pastoral education become false teachers and false prophets. Some even start heresies and cults. Charles Finney is a great example of an uneducated pastor who became popular even though he preached heresies. This is the reason why seminaries were started—so that men who desire to become pastors will be taught sound doctrine. When they teach sound doctrine, they are doing work with God’s seal of approval.
But some people also abuse the enjoyment of work. Like those who are addicted to much food or wine or clothes or the good things in life, they become workaholics: addicted to work. Their biggest pleasure is work itself. Work becomes an end in itself. They enjoy work so much that they enjoy it more than their wives and children. They even neglect attending the Lord’s Day worship services because they prefer to work instead of worship on Sundays. They are addicted to the money or approval that comes from working many extra hours.
The fruits of our toil and labor are the good things in life that we enjoy: good food and drink, clothes, material possessions, even the husbands and wives whom we love. Daily, whenever we get ready to go to work, remember to praise God for his gift of livelihood for us and our families.
Enjoy these pleasures today, because life is very short.
God-Appointed Death Ends and Begins Pleasures
The Preacher then says that all these pleasures will one day come to an end, “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” Here, Sheol is not hell; it is the grave.
The pursuit of pleasure is not a sin in itself. But it becomes sin when it turns into the first priority in your life, apart from serving and living for God. When this happens, real pleasure becomes only temporary, fleeting pleasures. Life is so short that God-less pleasure ends in death. After death, there is no pleasure or joy for those who have no fear of the LORD. Instead of joy, there is only “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire” that awaits them (Heb 10:27). Instead of gladness of heart, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth. On that day, God’s wrath on rebels will be like his punishment against Israel, “I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation” (Amos 8:10).
So why enjoy pleasures that are godless and meaningless, as Isaiah asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isa 55:1) Israel pursued pleasures without God, resulting in God’s wrathful judgment against her. After Jesus fed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, some of the people followed him to where he was. But Jesus rebuked them because they became followers not because of his miracles, but because their stomachs were full.
Through Isaiah, God commanded Israel, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isa 55:2). Like Isaiah, Jesus taught the followers, “Do not work for the food that perishes.” Food for our body does not satisfy our hunger, and water does not quench our thirst for long. So Jesus says we are to work for “food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:26-27). We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness which only the Bread from Heaven and the Living Water can give.
Our lives become meaningful only when we know the salvation that Jesus the Anointed One gives. We can only eat bread with joy, drink wine with a merry heart, enjoy the love of our wives, husbands and children, and find joy in our labors, when we know that all of these earthly pleasures do not come to an end at death.
But Jesus also gives you daily bread and drink in this life for your soul. He gave you his broken body for bread so that you may drink the cup of salvation that he gives (Luke 22:19-20). This is why he says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55).
When you are in Christ, you too have conquered sin and death. So Christ promises you the conqueror’s reward: communion with himself and the white garment of victory. More than this, as the Church, you are Christ’s beloved Bride for eternity, in the most beautiful splendor.
Death is only the beginning of pleasures forevermore dwelling in the house of the LORD. Jesus has prepared a great banquet for us where we will eat and drink and celebrate together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At his table, we will recline together also with Cornelius, the Roman centurion whose radical faith made even Jesus marvel, and with a multitude of people from all nations—from the east and west (Matt 8:10-11).
In the house of the LORD, God has prepared for us a sumptuous table, the oil of the Holy Spirit to anoint us with joy, a cup that overflows, and all of his goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:5-6). There, he will give us white robes, “fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev 19:8), as we gather at the LORD’s heavenly table to partake of good food and rich wine in an endless celebration.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psa 16:11).
Come, eat and drink, taste and see the goodness of the LORD!