THEME: Enjoy what you have , while you have it !
Amidst Solomon’s sobering and sometimes gloomy estimate of the world and its vanities we find an interesting (and recurring) contrast in his sermons. In our text (Eccl. 5:18-20) we have such an example: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 ESV). Solomon is preaching here that you should enjoy what you have, while you have it! This is by no means an isolated or random thought in his sermon. It is expressed again in 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 7: 14; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:8,9. We thus observe a regular pattern of this thought in Ecclesiastes.
Allow me to take you through these passages.
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 : There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy,…
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13:I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
Ecclesiastes 7:14 : In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 : And I commend joy, for man has nothing better 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.
Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 : Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 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. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, …
Ecclesiastes 11:8 : 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….
Ecclesiastes 11:9: 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.
The repeated word is “ joy !”
Here is a surprising, if not refreshing insight and counsel for living life in a fallen world. In the midst of this meaninglessness and vanity , learn to enjoy what you have from God; learn to seize God given blessings and provisions and rejoice in them. Enjoy the good food that God gives you. When you prosper under God’s good hand, enjoy that! Enjoy life your wife whom you love, while you have her. Enjoy your work; enjoy the years that God gives you under the sun. Young people - enjoy your youth while you have it, before arthritis, gout and an aching body discourage you. Seize the good times; enjoy and don’t feel guilty for enjoying these things, provided that you keep in mind that lack of God centeredness in these matters makes you think that you are entitled to all these privileges , when the truth is that you are enjoying the good gifts that God has given you under the sun.
Please note that the other key word found in this text is “God” (4x). The enjoyment of life needs to be understood in relation to the God who gives you this joy. So then, with a God centered heart, enjoy what good you receive from the hand of God – without feeling guilty. Isn’t that lovely? Solomon’s sermon is not simply an avalanche of despair and pessimism! Not at all! What he describes here is a realistic view of life, and what he says in essence is this: “There is so much vanity and meaninglessness and striving after the wind in this life, but be careful that you don’t slip into cynicism and depression on account of that. Keep in mind that God is still in charge of this fallen world, and that He is your Provider!”
There are thus these two recurring thoughts in Solomon’s sermon that keep us from coming to a depressing and cynical conclusion concerning this life under the sun:
(i) The constant thought of God ( cf 5:1-7; also 2:24-26; 3:9 -18; 7:13,14,18,29; 8 8:2,12; 9:1,7; 11:5,9; 12 :1,7, 13-14 )
(ii) The constant encouragement to enjoy whatever we have been given from God at any given moment or stage of life.
This strikes me as very sound, very helpful and very balanced teaching - a real survival guide for living in a confusing, paradoxical world filled with so many vanities.
5: 18a : “Behold, what I have seen…” : This is a matter that he can vouch for. This is what he has concluded. This is what he has learned. This is how Solomon has resolved to live in the midst of so much vanity and empty pursuits. This is the counsel that he gives here in the context of Chapter 5. This is what he has seen:
(i) Live your life with a high view of God ; live from the center – from a Christian view, live from a Christ centered perspective.(5:1-7)
(ii) In the midst of oppression and unfairness (5: 8,9), do not be surprised that these things happen, and do not allow these things to rob you of your joy.
(iii) Remember too the uncertainty of riches (5: 8-17). Don’t let them blind you to the greater realities. Remember above all that a hearse pulls no trailer. You don’t take anything with you when you die: naked as you came, so shall you go! (5:15,16). So enjoy what you have, when you have it, keeping the fear of the Lord in mind.
5:18:b : …to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.
In the midst of a life of toil (implying difficulty – for that is the result of the fall – cf. Gen 3:17-19), Solomon counsels you to stop and to ‘smell the roses’; learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of life; appreciate the little foretastes of heaven. Once again note how the words “joy” and “God” are found in close proximity to one another. And again we must say that there is no true enjoyment of life without God. In fact, the pleasures of life can never be properly appreciated apart from God. He heightens the 5 senses and He heightens our enjoyment of taste, touch, hearing, smelling and seeing because He connects them to Himself. God makes the sky really blue. He gives colour to what you see. He really makes you appreciate good food and drink, when you are able to eat and drink with thanksgiving. In this context the morsel of bread for a Christian prisoner can be as delicious as the choicest foods at a banquet.
In this context also, I remind you that it is difficult for us to maintain an appreciation of the gifts of God, particularly when our focus is too much on this world. When our focus is on the routines in life (1:3-11) or on the pursuit of wisdom / philosophy for its own sake (1:16-18 ; 2:12-17) or upon self -indulgence (2:1-11) or work (2:18-26) - all for their own sake, then enjoyment goes out of the window, because God is not in it. The colours, tastes, sounds, etc. fade very quickly, and we those who chase after the wind.
But if you do keep God at the center in this life , then Solomon can offer you no better counsel than: “ Enjoy!” I know that thoughtful Christians are often suspicious of ‘enjoyment’ , and therefore they are easily tempted to live by ‘don’ts ‘ rather than ‘do’s’. In practice they become ascetics, and their religion is defined by outward acts: “I don’t smoke, drink, dance, chew gum , and I don’t go to the theatre or movies…”. This is of course the mentality of the Pharisees, and you need to watch that tendency with an eagle eye!
Charles Bridges (1794 – 1869) in his commentary on Ecclesiastes has another angle on this when he says: “There is a school among us who are fond of describing religion by its sorrows, and who forget, or seem to forget, their overbalancing joys….but Solomon shows us the reality of happiness even in a world of sin and sorrow. " All things are ours—things present, as well as " things to come." (1 Cor 3: 22).
Solomon …insists that the true servant of God is really the happiest of men—that " God giveth him richly all things to enjoy" (1 Tim. vi. 17).
But allow me to issue you also with a solemn warning: There is a risk associated with loving the pleasures of life too much and for their own sakes. In this regard we need to hear the warning that the apostle John gives us in 1 Jn 2: 15-17. When Christians pursue the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions, then they do this to their own peril , because they have substituted these idols of their hearts for the living God, whom they ought to love and fear above all else! Be also very careful to use the name of God to justify your indulgences.
The balance is to be found by keeping God clearly in view at all times! In this regard there is nothing better than a constant intake of the Scriptures, through personal reading and prayerful meditation and by regularly hearing the Word of God preached expositorially and systematically. Let the Word of God dwell in you richly (Col 3:16), and so you will learn to develop a balance in your thinking and living. And so you cannot read the Bible for any length of time , without concluding that God is really in charge of this vain world. You learn that He is the provider of your food , drink and clothes (cf. Matt 6:25-34) and you need not be anxious about these things, because your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Therefore joy must break through! And joy is greater than sorrow, just as light is greater than darkness. So God is greater than all our negative circumstances. To allow doom and gloom to rule our spiritual lives is to give Satan the glory – for truly , greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 Jn 4:4).
5:19,20 : And now a final word on wealth , possessions and power and joy: Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.(v.19)
Please note :
(i) Wealth, possessions and power are seen here as God’s gifts. They are given to be enjoyed. And therefore these things in themselves are not essentially evil. The evil is in their abuse (cf 1 Tim 6:10) and not in their possession. Wealth, possession and power can be great blessings to those who use it under the direction of God.
What is the proper way for a believer to live with wealth?
(i) Live in the fear of the Lord (v.7) Remember that your greatest possession is Jesus.
(ii) Recognize that prosperity is a very real trial to your faith . It is easier in this sense to be poor than to have much. Thomas Carlyle (1798 -1881), a Scottish philosopher said, “For a hundred that can bear adversity, there is hardly a one that can bear prosperity.” William Wilberforce, who did so much for the social causes in Britain in the 19th C. said, “Prosperity and luxury gradually extinguish sympathy and harden and debase the soul.”
(iii) Do not be owned by things ; things must be owned by you. “Possessions weigh me down in life; I never feel quite free. I often wonder whether I own my things , or if my things own me.” That means that we use what we have been given by God to glorify God, and to meet the legitimate needs of our families and ourselves, and to do good to Christians, to promote the gospel, and to be generous in our community.
(iv) The result is joy, and it is possible because God is at the center! God frees us from the tyranny of possessions, and this produces joy!