I am excited today to share a guest post from a great friend of mine, Alan Judd. Alan is a longtime gospel preacher and attends the Center Grove church of Christ in Gainesboro, TN.
The book of Ecclesiastes contains the musings of the Preacher, and many identify him with Solomon, but we cannot know this with certainty. However, the experiences of the author in trying to find purpose or meaning in life from temporal pleasures or riches fit within the descriptions Scripture gives of the reign of Solomon. Regardless, many interpretations of the book focus exclusively on the memorable conclusions: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Many suppose that this eliminates the possibility of enjoyment or fun during our earthly sojourn, but is this the message of Ecclesiastes or the rest of Scripture?
A closer examination reveals that the author actually enjoins the enjoyment of life and the gifts God gives as a lot or heritage. These “enjoy life” refrains are found seven times in the book, and they escalate in intensity as the author advances his argument.
They are as follows: 2:21-25, 3:9-13, 3:16-22, 5:16-20, 8:14-17, 9:7-10, 11:8-10. Now some have read and interpreted these passages in an attempt to advance the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism, which stated simply is: ‘Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!’ Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived about 300 B.C., advocated a form of hedonism, but not the reckless indulgence of all pleasure such as is commonly understood today. He advocated living a simple life and gaining knowledge of the world, and taught that the “gods”, if they existed, were uninvolved and uninterested in this world.
By contrast, the book of Ecclesiastes instructs us to enjoy life because it is a gift, lot, or heritage as already noted. In 9:7: “Go, eat your bread with joy” is an imperative that the author expects to be obeyed. Likewise, in 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.” These commands seem at first glance to be at variance with instruction like that found in I John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
What does it mean to love life and the world if it’s passing away? And if I’m meant to enjoy God and live for Christ first and foremost, how do we keep them in proper balance? The rest of Ecclesiastes 11:9 reads: “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” This sounds more in line with the two verses of Ecclesiastes and on the standard analysis most give to the book as noted in the introduction.
It must be remembered who the source or giver of gifts and pleasure is. Humanity’s problem is that too often we worship the gifts instead of the giver. This leaves us searching for fulfillment in people, stuff, position/power, money, etc., but never realizing that all of these in themselves will leave us empty. C.S. Lewis said it beautifully in The Four Loves on page 13: “Natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.”
Instead, when we worship God and understand that He is the gracious giver of all good gifts and wants us to enjoy them within the context of His will, we will live life fully and savor every blessing. We will be people of joy irrespective of setbacks and situations that seek to frustrate us in life. We will cause others devoid of this joy to inquire of us where we found it, and the wonderful opportunity to share the good news of God’s love with them will present itself. Finally, we will live in anticipation of the time when we can enjoy God’s greatest gifts by being in His eternal presence: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”