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I love the book of Ecclesiastes. It stirs my soul to look to eternal things. It is always a gut check to my love of the world and my appetite for the pleasures of the world. But is it a book of discouragement or of hope? Is it a book pushing for pure self-denial or for complete abandonment to the pursuit of pleasure? Take a look at portions of chapter 2 and chapter 9:

And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 ESV)

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. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 ESV)

Should we pursue pleasure in this world as believers in Christ? Or shall we count the world as complete worthlessness? Or is there another completely different option?

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? (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 ESV)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)

Only the Believer in God Can Enjoy

God tells us to pursue neither complete asceticism nor hedonism in the things of the world.  What does he say? Enjoyment is in context. What context? First, that God is the giver, and second, God is above all. Still, what does that mean? What does that look like? Doug Wilson helps us out:

When men understand the futility of earthly existence, and they understand it in the way Solomon presents it to us, they are then equipped to enjoy their bread for perhaps the first time. They may consider the redness of the wine and laugh over it with a wise and contented joy. They may turn to love their wives, not because sexual love is forever, but rather because it is not. In the world of creatures, we may only enjoy what we do not worship.

But we cannot rejoice in our silly lives until we understand that it is our portion assigned to us by an infinite wisdom. We cannot really understand that it is our portion until we have faith in the God who apportions. – Joy at the End of the Tether, p93

God is the only one whom we can both worship and enjoy! Food can only be enjoyed when it is not worshipped, not used to fill the void, not the primary source of joy, not an addiction, nor idolized. This is both encouraging and extremely convicting to me because I can definitely place food and drink as a source of comfort above God. I can pin my satisfaction on the next good meal, that In-n-Out burger or Chipotle burrito. In my family, it’s always been “live to eat” and not hardly ever “eating to live.” It’s easy to overlook this. I’ve especially been quick to overlook the idol of food. Ecclesiastes is a dagger to our worldly idols.

Duty and Joylessness are not the Answer Either

The fact that food can become an idol doesn’t mean "eating to live” is better either. God’s gifts are not meant to simply be dutifully devoured but gratefully enjoyed as an actual gift should be. Do you give gifts to others so they can stoically say thank you? Do you give gifts so they can be buried for fear of too much enjoyment? No way. You give gifts so they can be enjoyed. The whole point of a gift is an impartment of joy! God did not give us taste or smell or any of our senses for nothing but that they would turn our hearts to him out of enjoyment of the gift.

This brings us to the crux of Ecclesiastes: Satisfaction cannot come from anything within our power but only by the gift of God. The fool cannot enjoy anything but only the wise man who acknowledges and has faith in the Giver.

The great Hebrew philosopher who wrote this book called Ecclesiastes calls us to joy, but to a joy which thinks, a joy which does not shrink back from the hard questions.

All things considered, the furious activity of this world is about as meaningful as the half-time frenzy at the Super Bowl. But a wise man can be there and enjoy himself. This is the gift of God. The wise will notice how this point is hammered home, throughout the book, again and again. Slowly it dawns on a man that this is really a book of profound… optimism. Joy at the End of the Tether, p9,13

Ecclesiastes is a Book of Hope

The book of Ecclesiastes should encourage us. The power to seek our own joy is not from within but it’s a gift from outside of ourselves. The good news is that the Giver is very eager to satisfy us, if we would just let Him, both now and later.

    Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
    and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
    Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
    Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
    Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2 ESV)

The even better news is that the gifts are just an pointer to the best gift, the true gift, the gift that is eternal and what we were made for: God Himself.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, Philippians 3:8-9 ESV)

Actually, I was wrong. We are indeed called to be hedonists, completely given over to the pursuit of pleasure… in God Himself. We won’t be disappointed.

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