Summary: God wants us to enjoy life, both everlasting life and life now.
“Eat, drink and be merry!” Ecc.8:15
This is a dangerous sermon! It is dangerous in that it can easily be misunderstood. It’s not one you might expect to hear in a Baptist church. It deals with an aspect of life that too often is preached as negative and sinful, but as we’ll see today, can be positive and blessed when understood properly.
So, up front let me just say that I am not advocating Epicureanism, or Hedonism, the philosophy of a life spent seeking pleasure. Nor am I advocating a Prosperity gospel, where God wants you rich and healthy.
Within the historical context, the book of Ecclesiastes, which roughly translated means, The Preacher, was most probably written by King Solomon the wise. It was written later in his life as he looked back in an attempt to apply his wisdom to the human experience. As he does, he realizes that many of life’s situations just defy explanation and therefore we the repeated word throughout the book, “Vanity, Vanity” or “Meaningless, Meaningless.” It is a book of ‘difficult questions’ much like the ones we will be dealing with starting next week in our ‘Explore god” series. It’s a book that does not pull punches and the author is certainly NOT wearing ‘rose-colored glasses.’ Yet it is a balanced book which weighs both good and bad. While to starts out with an almost despondent and hopeless, “Meaningless,” it ends with the sage advice, “Reverence God and keep His commandments.”
One theme that is developed is the idea of “enjoying life while we can.” This theme actually is found throughout the Scriptures both Old and New. When God called Israel and lead them to the Promised Land He expected the people to enjoy the land and prosper. In Deut.8:6ff;
Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day...18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
The call for Israel to live ‘large’ in the land and enjoy the land and all it produced, was a sign of God’s Covenant blessing. It was also to be a sign to the surrounding nations of God’s favor. In 1 Kgs.4:20-21 we read;
The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. 21 And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.”
So enjoying life’s blessings becomes a testimony before people of God’s goodness to His people. This is what Solomon had in mind when he wrote in Ecc.8:15:
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”
To ‘commend’ is a forceful word meaning to, “Praise.” The Message Bible has; “So, I’m all for just going ahead and having a good time- the best possible.” It reminds me of the words of the great, early church father, Augustine who said;
“Love God and do as you please.”
Now, neither the verse nor Augustine is calling us to wild, riotous or sinful living. It is a call to enjoy life BEFORE GOD and within the limits of His word and guidance. When you LOVE God you want to do what please Him for that pleases you. What we sometimes forget is that those ‘limits are wide.’ When Adam and Eve were in the garden, “WIDE” was the availability of good things. Only one thing was off limits, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So it is with us today. Wide are the good things we are free to experience in life. The only thing we are to avoid is sin. The world does not see it that way because it has become corrupt and has corrupted all of God’s good things. While we are to eat, drink and be merry, the world has twisted the meaning. To ‘eat’ becomes excess and gluttony; to ‘drink’ becomes excess and drunkenness; to be merry, becomes excess and immorality. That becomes their definition of “fun” in life. And when we don’t participate in their fun, we are labeled, ‘killjoys’ and ‘stick-in-the-muds.” The world ridiculed our spiritual forefathers, the Calvinist Puritans, as it now does Baptists, by mocking, “Their greatest fear was that somewhere, somehow, someone, was having fun.”