Last week we began a section in Ecclesiastes 9 where Solomon is recommending that despite that fact that we cannot discern everything God is up to–especially with regard to the inequities of life and the specter of death that hangs over everyone–we should still enjoy life. We should enjoy the little blessings of life. Here is our passage…
7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 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. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
We ended last week talking about verse 9, where Solomon commends “enjoying life with the wife whom you love.” And we ended by talking about how sometimes that is not easy, that the romance may have fizzled and even the friendship may be on the rocks.
What enables the marriage to survive, much less thrive? It is the commitment of agape love—that willingness to do what is best for the other person, even when it hurts and even when they don’t deserve it.
You see, a lot of people get married believing that it is a 50-50 relationship. Have you ever heard it put that way—that “marriage is a 50-50 contract”?
That view, however, is not what the Bible says. The Bible tells us that marriage is a “covenant” and a covenant requires 100% commitment. In fact, many covenants that God made with individuals and nations in the Bible required 100% from God. He guaranteed the covenant by His own initiative and actions.
Our salvation is like that. He initiated it and it is through his actions that we are saved. All we have to do is receive that forgiveness by faith. We don’t have to do anything.
In premarital counseling I often talk about the “blessing zone” and the “misery zone.” Let’s picture marriage as played on a football grid and the husband gives 40% of himself (maybe believing that he’s giving a lot more) and the wife gives 30% of herself. Thus, you have a 30% gap I call the “misery zone.” As long as we are playing the 50-50 game, we will not be enjoying the marriage.
However, if we take the biblical view of marriage as a covenant requiring 100% on our part, we try and let’s say we give 80% of ourselves to our mate and they give the same 30%. Well, guess what, now we have a 10% overlap. And that is the “blessing zone.” That is when marriage begins to get interesting and enjoyable.
Most of the time, when we go “above and beyond” in showing love to our mate (or anyone), they will begin to reciprocate. Maybe they won’t go “above and beyond,” but they will begin to respond.
If you remember the movie Fireproof, put out by the Kendrick brothers and starring Kirk Cameron, he had really blown it, putting their marriage “in the hole” and he had to work hard to rebuild trust and love with his wife. He went on a 40 day “love dare” and it wasn’t until he was well into that last few days that she began to respond.
So, if you want the spouse of your dreams, just begin treating her (or him) differently.
There’s a joke that goes like this:
A man went to a counsellor for advice. His marriage was really bad and he wanted out, but he wanted to hurt his wife as much as possible. The counsellor thought for a while, then said, “I have an idea. This is the way to really hurt her. For the next three months, treat her like a princess. Love her, bring her flowers, buy her gifts, take her out to dinner, do some of the housework. Treat her like she’s the most wonderful woman in the world. Then suddenly, you just leave. That’ll really kill her.”
So he did.
A few months later the counsellor saw the man walking and said, “So how’s bachelor life treating you.” “What do you mean?” “You know. How’d it go when you dumped your wife?” “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m married to the most wonderful woman in the world.”
If you don’t think your wife is worth enjoying right now, just treat her like a princess for a while and she will become a person you really will enjoy. It’s called The Pygmalion Effect, as illustrated in the play My Fair Lady.
My favorite story is about Johnny Lingo. Patricia Gerr recorded this experience in The Reader’s Digest (pp. 138-141, February 1988) from a trip to Kiniwata, an island in the Pacific. Johnny Lingo wasn’t his real name, but apparently he was a networker and a real bargain hunter.
“Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him do the bargaining,” advised Shenkin (the manager of the guest house she was staying in). “Johnny knows how to make a deal.” In getting some more information about Johnny Lingo, he said, “Five months ago, at fall festival, Johnny came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight cows!”
I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four of five a highly satisfactory one.
“Good Lord!” I said, “Eight cows! She must have beauty that takes your breath away.”
“She’s not ugly,” he conceded, and smiled a little. “But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she’d be left on his hands.”
“But then he got eight cows for her? Isn’t that extraordinary?”
“Never been paid before.”
“Yet you call Johnny’s wife plain?”
“I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow.”
She finally found Johnny Lingo and got to talking about the price he had paid.
“They ask that?” His eyes lighted with pleasure. “Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?”
I nodded. Maybe it was vanity.
And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.
I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me. “You admire her?” he murmured.
“She…she’s glorious. But she’s not Sarita from Kiniwata,” I said.
“There’s only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata.”
“She doesn’t. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo.”
“You think eight cows were too many?” A smile slid over his lips.
“No. But how can she be so different?”
“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them.
One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.”
“Then you did this just to make your wife happy?”
“I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things happen inside, things happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks of herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”
“Then you wanted–”
“I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”
“But–” I was close to understanding.
“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”
How you treat your wife, and how she sees herself, makes all the difference in the world.
Well, there’s one more thing that Solomon recommends we take pleasure in—our work.
Remember that work itself is not the curse, but rather a stewardship from God. Work was a joy until Adam and Eve sinned, then it became fraught with all kinds of difficulties. The toil that we now do is “under the sun” (v. 9).
Even the rabbis learned a trade (Paul was a tentmaker) and reminded them, “He who does not teach a son to work, teaches him to steal.” Paul wrote, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).
Here Solomon says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
First of all, he is saying “do whatever lies at hand,” the work that is before you. This doesn’t mean to work randomly and not “go” to work, but it simply means to take responsibility for the work that lies before you. Don’t shirk it. Do, don’t dream of doing.
In his sermon on this verse Charles Spurgeon described a young man who dreamed of standing under a banyan tree and preaching eloquent sermons to people in India. “My dear fellow,” said Spurgeon, “why don’t you try the streets of London first, and see whether you are eloquent there!” (Charles Spurgeon, “A Home Mission Sermon,” The New Park Street Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1975), 5:274).
It also implies that we can only do what God has given us to do, not the things that he has placed outside our reach. We must, therefore, seek contentment in the work that we have been given and not be constantly pining for some other job.
The Preacher also tells us the way to do this work — not just what to do but how to do it: with all our might.
This is reflected in Paul’s writings in Colossians 3:17; Colossians 3:23 and Romans 12:11. In Colossians 3:17 Paul says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Work can cover a whole gamut of activities. It doesn’t matter whether the work is sacred or secular—”Whatever you do,” Paul says, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Do it for Jesus sake, for His glory.
In Colossians 3:23 Paul says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” There he emphasizes that our real supervisor is not man but God, who is always watching us. We all know how easy it is to slack off when no one is watching and show off when someone is. Well, we should work at it “with all our might” simply because God is watching.
Are you giving God (and your boss) 100 percent of your working time, or are you giving him something less than your very best? The Puritan William Perkins said, “We must take heed of two damnable sins. . . . The first is idleness, whereby the duties of our callings . . . are neglected or omitted. The second is slothfulness, whereby they are performed slackly and carelessly” (William Perkins, Works , 2 vols. (London, 1626), 1:752).
In Romans 12:11 Paul writes, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” This verse applies to any type of ministry for the Lord, possibly even those outside the church. We should do any job, any ministry for God’s glory. And our attitude should show zeal and fervency, not a lazy, carefree attitude.
We should also work while the still have the strength. The day may come when we have to stand aside and allow someone younger to take our place.
The spirit of what the Preacher says about the pleasures of wine, women, and work is captured well by Eugene Peterson’s loose paraphrase in The Message :
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes – God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it! And heartily! (Ecclesiastes 9:7–10)
This is a call to Christian hedonism—pursuing pleasure in God and His good gifts. his is a beautiful, bountiful world, and we were designed to enjoy its pleasures. So make the most of every day. Taste the joys of life with your children, your spouse, your friends.
But there is also a deadly spiritual danger in the pursuit of pleasure. We may get so distracted by earthly pleasures that we lose our passion for God. How tempting it is to worship the gift and forget the Giver!
Some people live for food. They make a god out of their belly (Philippians 3:19), and thus they are guilty of gluttony (which has little or nothing to do with how much people weigh, but everything to do with our attitude toward food). people are addicted to wine or strong drink. They are guilty of drunkenness and dissipation (Luke 21:34). Others turn their relationships into idols by needing them so much they are willing to sacrifice their morals or their spiritual life. Some pine for relationships so much that they think of nothing else. Then, there are those who live for their work, or for the money that work produces, or for prestige and applause, or maybe just to avoid problems at home.
The pleasures that people pursue are usually good in themselves. The danger comes when they take the place of God. “Sin is not just the doing of bad things,” writes Tim Keller, “but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), p. 162).
There are many things that can either be enjoyed as gifts from God, or can come between us and God as god substitutes. When we seek to find our deepest satisfaction in those things we will be disappointed.
So what do we do? Deny ourselves? There are those who recommend self-denial and asceticism. We know there are some things we need to avoid. “‘All things are lawful,’” the Scripture says, “but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
In general, though, God wants us to enjoy his good gifts with gratitude. “Everything created by God is good,” the Scripture says, “and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).
This gives us a good test to use for all our earthly pleasures. We can ask ourselves: When I pray, is this something I would feel good about including in my thanksgiving, or would I be embarrassed to mention it? Am I thanking God for this pleasure, or have I been enjoying it without ever giving him a second thought? When we are enjoying legitimate pleasures in a God-honoring way, it seems natural to include them in our prayers. But when we pursue them for their own sake, usually we do not pray about them much at all (or about anything else, for that matter). And we especially neglect to thank God for those gifts.
God alone “is the source of all the gifts of earthly life: its bread and wine, festivity and work, marriage and love” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes , The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1976), p. 83).
Every pleasure comes from the God of all pleasure, and therefore it should be received with thanksgiving and praise. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes / The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (New York: Penguin, 1996), book 7).
See the gifts that God has given to you, and then respond with holy praise. Everything we enjoy in this life should point us back to the Giver of “every good and perfect gift.”
God is good and God has given us good things to enjoy in this life, and we should enjoy them with thanksgiving. We should remember that He has given them to us and to give thanks and praise to Him for all the goodness that He shows us throughout this good life—whether they be our work or our wives or all the simple pleasures of life that He has given us to enjoy.
We should give thanks to God for all of them, for they are good and He is good.