Monday, August 20, 2012

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 : Enjoy what you have , while you have it !

TEXT: Ecclesiastes  5:18-20
THEME:   Enjoy what you have , while you  have it !  
DATE: 19/08/2012

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 toilthis 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 8:15And 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 9:7-10Go, 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 11:9Rejoice, 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.

Exposition :

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!

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