Because I want to maintain some consistency in our study of Ecclesiastes, this afternoon, we shall look at a subject and text which I addressed about a year ago. I sincerely hope that some of you will remember a point or two that you’ll hear today. One of the fears of every sincere pastor is that people only appear to be listening to his messages. Perhaps through a little osmosis, a point or two will creep into some hearts, but if there isn’t a distinct effort to hear the still small voice of God, the Lord will not be effectively heard. One way to deal with our mental and spiritual weakness is repetition. Please bear with me – yes, you have heard much of today’s message before.
I was 11-years-old in the 1960. That essentially means that I grew up in that tumultuous period of time – as did some of you. Those were the days of Viet Nam, war riots, and race riots, LSD, hippies and a great deal of turmoil. And more than one of my high school class-mates became drop outs. Not only did some drop out of school but some dropped out society. Some moved south and became beach bums, and others moved to the hills and became ski bums. It was not uncommon in those days to hear someone say that he or she was going off to “find himself.” My sister did just that, eventually flying off to Switzerland, as did at least one of my classmates. Those were days when Hindu gurus were as common as houseflies, and my sister found one of them. Every third person my age was climbing to top of mountain, so-to-speak, to ask some guru about the meaning of life. Thankfully, I didn’t have to find life, because in 1966, He who is “the way, the truth and the life,” found me.
Although “finding oneself.” was common in the 60’s, it was not new to the 60’s, nor did it die in the 60’s. This is basically what Ecclesiastes is all about: “What is the meaning of life? Where can I find happiness?” Solomon wanted peace, joy and fulfilment. He thought that if he found some of these, then life would have more meaning for him. This book is the chronicle of Solomon’s search for life as he ran through various mazes. He lit a candle and swept the world to find “IT” – whatever “It” might be. In chapter 1 he tried a couple things, including philosophical wisdom, but found nothing substantial. Now he moves on to pleasure at any price – riotous mirth. He is like the man in Jesus’ parable: “Soul thou has much goods, eat, drink and be merry, before you die.” Like many of my contemporaries, Solomon laid aside the garments of a student and took up the toga of the hedonist.
And we must keep in mind that this was a deliberate choice on his part. So many people, young and old, are led into sin by their friends, or they sort of stumble into it. They want to be cool, so they start smoking, until they can’t quit. They want to be macho, so they start chewing tobacco cud. They want to be acceptable so they dress like whores or hoodlums. They want to look like some specific movie-star so they get the same tattoo. They want to test the thrills that others express so they experiment with drugs or danger. It is not that they rationally think about their choice and all of its future consequences. If they did, they would never get into the problems that they do. Solomon said in his heart: “Let’s try to see how much of life I can find in blowing my mind with alcohol. I choose to party until I can’t stand up, and to laugh until I can’t breathe.” Despite the fact he said that wisdom is folly, still, this is a man with a bit of intelligence from God. He could not avoid doing things with his eyes wide open and his mind alert. And he would eventually come to understand the nature of his bad choices. This is one of the keys to understanding why God put this strange book in our Bibles. Solomon’s search for the meaning of life was not just for himself, but for us. We don’t need to go where he has already gone.
So here was another failed experiment: “I tried mirth and pleasure, but they are vanity.” Yet, in the search for truth, a failed experiment should never be a waste. So long as the lesson is learned and not repeated it is a good lesson. The lesson of this book is this: “I’ve tried to be happy in these things and found them wanting.” Now you and I don’t have to try; they don’t work. But why was Solomon’s experiment with mirth a failure? Why was there no lasting good there?
Because you and I were never created for excessive physical pleasure.
Ask yourself this question: “If I was an accomplished artist, and I painted a masterpiece, would that painting have been created for it’s pleasure or mine?” Obviously, the painting itself could feel no joy, pride or pleasure. I painted that masterpiece for me, whether directly or indirectly. I might have planned to give to someone else, but I receive joy in both the painting and giving. I might have painted it to show it to the world, and I take pride in that others are enjoying it. I did it for me, certainly not to give pleasure to that piece of art. And similarly, when God created humanity, it was for Himself; not for us. We have been placed upon this planet to glorify God. And we can glorify God through lots of different means. Of course there is glory to God in our salvation, but that is another of the Lord’s masterpieces, not something we do for the Lord. But after that, we can please the Lord through obedience in a thousand different things. And through the singing of praise or through the thanksgiving of our lips. We can glorify God by the proper maintenance of our bodies – another part of His creation.
And one road to the glory of God is the reception and dispensing of joy. To be happy, joyful and content can bring glory to the Creator. There is a little empty place in every heart which cannot be filled with food, knowledge or pride. Only smiles, laughter and joy can occupy that tiny spot. Just as a round peg can’t enter a square hole – nothing fits this place but joy. So the Lord created in us a need for a certain amount of godly pleasure, and pleasurable things. But, any excess in this area becomes sin in God’s sight. Even though the round peg is the right shape to fit the round hole, it may be too large. Too much of a good thing ruins that good thing.
Solomon said that pleasure was vain anyway, because it was only temporary.
I have a few books in my library – in my several libraries. My largest library is in my study, filled with theology books, commentaries and various books of a religious nature. It is a reference library. Another of my libraries is philatelic and most of those are also references of various kinds. But then I have a third set of books which are mostly novels or biographies. Most of those have been gifts – for which I am very grateful. But I don’t buy many of those books for myself, because for the most part, once I have read them, I rarely read them a second time. Once in a while I will pull one of those books out for a second reading, but rarely do they have the same impact on me that they did the first time – unless years have passed between readings, or circumstances have changed me in some way. Similarly, isn’t it true that so much of what give us pleasure, doesn’t please us as much the second time? Is the thing which made us laugh so hard the first time, as funny the second or third time? Rarely.
Solomon is not confining himself to laughter; he’s thinking of everything pleasurable. For example, he tried food. Do you like food? I like it very much; it love certain kinds of food. But how permanent is food? And yes, some foods are actually better the second day – they seem to season just a bit over night. But by the third meal on those leftovers, the pleasure of that good food isn’t quite the same.
Solomon has tried food, and laughter, and even building projects like gardens and pools. He imported animals creating Jerusalem’s first zoo. I’m sure he enjoyed them all to a point, but then everything needed to be bigger, better and more exotic. How long does it take before the obnoxious cry of the peacock, spoil the beauty of his tail feathers? The things Solomon mentions in this chapter are all superficial, partial, selfish and exaggerated. If they were really worth while, they would last, but these didn’t.
Solomon’s experiments failed because some of them fell below the level of decency.
A drunken man is not a man at all, but an animal. There is no lasting pleasure in being a beast. Someone high on pot or crack is not human and doesn’t behave humanily. There are dozens of common social sins which bring the sinner down – below the level of a man. No doubt there is a bit of excitement in many of sins, but are they worth our dehumanization?
I’m convinced that the only way that our lives can mean anything… can be worth extending… is if they are ascending – moving upward toward Heaven – not downwardly into the gutter. Solomon’s experiments failed because they lead only to further despair, gloom and futility. The reason so many, including Solomon, sink so deeply into pleasure, is because they are so desperately sad. There are places in this book when Solomon sounds almost suicidal.
What is the road to a fulfilled life?
Verse 24 – “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” At first glance this doesn’t sound like a good verse. But the key is not the eating and drinking, but in what follows. Make your soul enjoy the good in your labors. Idle, useless self-enjoyment means spiritual, and ultimately, physical destruction. But in a day of good hard work and accomplishment, there is something worthwhile. A day of hard work, making us really hungry and physically exhausted is a true pleasure.
But there is one more important ingredient. We must realize that the source of real joy is in the Lord. It is important to work and to accomplish things through the duties of daily life. But they become are far more important if they are found in the middle of the will of God. This is because day after day becomes a week, which becomes a month, a year – and the a life. Now that the years have passed, what have I done which is eternal?
“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” said the Lord Jesus. Verse 26 – “For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”