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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:The Appetite Is Never Filled
Text:Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 15 - Stand Up and Bless the Lord
Psalter 203 - Life with God
TH 589 - Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Goldfish are known to eat a lot. In fact, they won’t stop eating when full. Because of this, their intestines become blocked and they die from overeating. In humans, those with Prader-Willi syndrome are always hungry. People with this syndrome eat constantly because they never feel full. They eat anything from raw meat, garbage, even leather shoes - leading to complications. 

Similarly, our appetite for things can be voracious - because of our sin nature. It can lead to complications. What does it take to satisfy us? The preacher deals with that question in chapter 6. We ask this too. It’s such a Singaporean thing - before you finish a meal, you’re talking about the next. It’s not hunger. And this appetite extends to work. We finish a project, a sale, or dropped someone off - but we’re looking for the next thing when we don’t need to. This is what Solomon means in verse 7 - “All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.” What we do should satisfy us but it doesn’t. We’re not filled. 

So Solomon explores this spiritual disease in 3 ways: Firstly, he explores the common goals we seek to fill our appetites; secondly, he explores why we can’t fill our appetites; and thirdly, how our appetites can be filled.

Firstly, he explores the common goals we seek to fill our appetites. In chapter 5, we saw that God has given us good things like money, we can legitimately enjoy. Chapter 6 is a continuation of that thought. Here, Solomon lists down other common goals. We think if only we had more of them, we’d be satisfied. But here, there’s a warning for us to heed. If we refuse to be satisfied by them, then we’ll never be satisfied with more. Our appetite will never be filled. What common goals are these?

There’s respectability and wealth - which we have talked about, but Solomon lists it again. The first part of verse 2 says, “A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth.” Some people have wealth. They have food, spare change, and housing. And they have honor - they’re respectable. They’re not criminals. These are the things that satisfy - a good reputation and wealth.

There’s also family and children. The first part of verse 3 says - “If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many.” It speaks of a man having as many as 100 children. Now, Solomon may or may not be literal. He did have many children. But he may be making a point through exaggeration. Some people’s success come not from their work or reputation - but from family. It could be its number, as Solomon said - and I’ve met families who have 10 children - and that’s their boast. But it could also refer to the success of a family. Some families have that classic tripartite combination - 3 children - doctor, lawyer, engineer; or if 4, a banker. Sometimes family does give boasting rights. “How fortunate! He has many children who will plow the fields and take care of him in his old age.”

And that’s why longevity and its blessings are another goal. Verse 3 and 6 speak about how a person may live many years - even up to 2000 years - one thousand years twice told, in verse 6. Of course, no one lived that long in Solomon’s day - it could be him exaggerating to show that people value a long and fulfilling life. He may have meant the pre-flood people like Methuselah who lived 969 years and doubled their age to make a point. They were looked up to. They were considered blessed because of their longevity. Like how we celebrate a person’s 80th birthday - it’s considered a milestone - an achievement - especially if he’s made it on his own.

That, too, is another goal - self-sufficiency and ability. Verse 7 speaks of how a man works; and earns, and supports himself. “All the labor of a man is for his mouth.” What he eats is what he earns. He invests, he makes, he stores, he saves, etc. I didn’t get this from anyone else - I worked for it. No Mom and Dad scholarship. Whatever I have, I earned. That’s a common goal - we desire self-sufficiency. It’s an issue of pride for us.

These verses contain the common goals in life that people often seek to fill their lives. Some may dream - won’t it be nice at my 80th birthday banquet hosted by my many successful professional and loving children, come and praise how wise and supportive I’ve been to them, that I was a self-made man? We think that if we had all of these things that we would be satisfied and filled. These are common goals - we think they satisfy. But things aren’t always ideal. These don’t always satisfy us. 

This is why, secondly, Solomon explores why we can’t fill our appetites. As he said in verse 7 - “All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.” Even though he works and supports himself, eating what he has earned; he’s not satisfied. And this was a common evil disease. Verse 1 - “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men.” Verse 2 - “this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” Dissatisfaction is an evil disease. It’s a hungry worm - the hungry caterpillar. After eating everything it was still hungry. And Solomon gives us the reasons.

We’re dissatisfied because of bad circumstances. Verse 2 says, “A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof.” A person may be rich but has no power to enjoy his hard work. Why? You work all day, get back late, but have no time to relax. You run here and there - but have no time to rest. And even on holiday, you take your laptop. If there’s signal, your boss can reach you. You have no power to enjoy your wealth. And that’s ironic! We think wealth brings power; but wealth overpowers us. Your reputation is good - yeah, Jimmy always answers work calls, even on holiday.

And verses 3 and 6 speak of a man who lives long and has many children. Verse 3 - “If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.” Long life doesn’t mean good life. The Chinese have the three attributes of a happy life - prosperity, status, and longevity. But it doesn’t always happen. If you’re rich but sick, it’s not good. If you have long life, but no status, you suffer. If you have many children, but no prosperity, you can’t feed them. Long life doesn’t mean good life; many children doesn’t mean a proper burial. Our children may blame us. And you may die alone. So it’s because of circumstances in our lives that we don’t get to enjoy these things.

But also, and importantly, it’s because of a lack of understanding and perspective. Verse 8 says, “For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?” What advantage does the wise man have over the fool? The same way the poor man knows how to walk in life. He understands that he should not be controlled by his hunger and desire. He’s realistic. He has the right perspective. He has learned to accommodate himself to his circumstances. He knows he’s never going to be a millionaire - so he’s going to be satisfied with what he has. He knows his children may or may not do well - so he’s fine with that. Not like the fool. And that’s the problem - many of us are like fools. We still don’t understand this. We still think that a long life, riches, and children will bring happiness. Riches alone can’t bring happiness. The rich young ruler went away sorrowing. Some think children will make them happy or save their marriage - Leah had children first but not the love of Jacob. Or it could be hanging onto life. 

I know the following illustration is very sensitive. And it’s in no way telling you not to seek medical help. But when serious illness like cancer strikes, we can get desperate - and rightly so. We try to prolong life because we hope in life. A lot of advice is given - remove your amalgam fillings. Juice this melon or that vegetable. Wear this kind of negative ion clothing. And I’ve known people who did all of these things because they wanted desperately to prolong life. The point is this - we have a limited time on earth. God is the one who determines it. It’s unfortunate if we don’t understand that - and still think that long life will satisfy us. Dearly beloved, I’m not saying don’t prolong life. I’m saying to live is Christ and to die is gain. That’s wise perspective. 

Or it could be things. We spend years living and working and chasing things. But when a person reaches mid-life - you’d think he’s learned. But then mid-life crisis hits. We think a new job or a new toy would bring satisfaction. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a new toy - but our problem is we put our hope in them to fill us. But they don’t. What does?

Thirdly, Solomon explores how our appetites can be filled. The way to be satisfied is to look to God - to find it in what he has already given. In verse 9, there is wisdom from God - “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.” In other words, what you have before you is good. It’s better than a wandering desire. The word for “desire” in verse 9 means appetite. It’s like that proverb - a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. The good job that you have is better than the prestigious job you don’t have. The good life that you have now is better than the high life that you don’t have. What you have is better than an appetite that’s not filled. Therefore, be satisfied in what you have. God has already given us good gifts. More is not wrong - but coveting is. This is the same application from previous weeks. Enjoy what you already have.

But the reason why we’re not satisfied with what God has given is because we’re not satisfied with God. Track with me. Verses 10-11 say, “That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. Seeing there be many things (or words) that increase vanity, what is man the better?” Solomon was saying that everything has been determined. What every man will be - how rich, how old, how many kids - is already known and determined by God the mighty. There’s no use debating with God for more. The word “contending with him” means to take to court. You can’t take God to court. But the only reason a person would want to do that with God is because he’s dissatisfied. 

Why are you never full? Why are you not satisfied? Why are you striving for more? It’s because you’re not only dissatisfied with what God has given, but you’re dissatisfied with God himself. Colossians 3:5 calls covetousness idolatry. Eve was guilty of it. She was in a garden of great blessing; but she wasn’t satisfied because she wasn’t satisfied with God. When you are not satisfied with God, you will not be satisfied with anything else. 

But dearly beloved, God has given himself to us. When Job lost everything, he charged God for being unfair. We know initially, he received no answer. And Job complained, very much like Solomon, there was no use contending with God. Job 9:32 recorded his words; but let me read it in a way that we can all understand. “God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to court.” But listen to what his solution to his unhappiness was in verses 33-35 - “If only there were a mediator between us, someone who could bring us together. The mediator could make God stop beating me, and I would no longer live in terror of his punishment. Then I could speak to him without fear, but I cannot do that in my own strength.”

Job was dissatisfied because of what had happened to him. He lost his wealth, his family, his health, and his reputation - the very things Solomon listed - the very things we think bring satisfaction. But it was like God wasn’t listening to him. He needed a go-between - someone that would make God understand. Now, as New Testament believers, we wish we could knock sense into him. Why? The mediator he wanted - God already promised him. God had promised to give himself. And when Job accepted that and surrendered to God alone, that’s when he was given so much more. And that’s our case. When we surrender to God, he frees us from the want of this world. And he gives us so much more. We find comfort in the mediator God provided - Christ. The problem with us is this - our eyes are so clouded by the things of this earth that we have forgotten that we have Jesus. In Jesus, we have the ultimate satisfaction. In John 4, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman. She had had 5 husbands, she was still looking for love. Jesus said to her - if you knew the gift of God, you would’ve asked me for living water. You’ll never thirst again!

There are people who followed Jesus for things. After Jesus fed the 5000, they followed him. They weren’t hungry, they were fed so much even 12 baskets were leftover. But they wanted more. But what did Jesus say to them? “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” He would give himself to them.

Why did Matthew follow him so quickly? He had the tax-collectors table in front of him - making money. Why? Jesus had said - foxes have holes and birds nests, but the son of man has no where to lay his head. Why did he follow Jesus? Not because Jesus could give him wealth, but that Jesus was enough and more than enough.

If Christ is really enough, and our inheritance, and the one who can supply all our needs, how does he factor in our lives? Do we find him sweet and do we seek after him in prayer and the word? Do we surrender ourselves to him to do his will? One of the greatest tragedies that we have in life is this - we have Jesus, the creator of the universe, the one who created gold and silver, the one who made us children of God, the one who gives us eternal life ; but we won’t be satisfied in him, we won’t seek after him. And that is why we won’t be satisfied with anything else. 

For those of you who are very ill, I can’t assure you long life. For you who have difficulty at work, following Jesus may not remove the difficulty. For those who are lonely, following Jesus doesn’t mean that you will have a spouse, a family, or children. And for those of you who are struggling with a particular sin, I can’t promise you that in this life you will ever have complete victory before you die. But what I can say is this - if you live by faith in Christ, and seek after him, he will satisfy you. You will be full. And you will be happy with what you have. Let us proclaim that as we eat the Holy Supper. 

Sermon Outline:

1. The Common Goals We Seek to Fill Our Appetites

    A. Respectability and wealth

    B. Family and children

    C. Longevity and its blessings

    D. Self-sufficiency and ability

2. Why We Can’t Fill Our Appetites

    A. We have bad circumstances in life

    B. We lack understanding and perspective

3. How Our Appetites Can Be Filled

    A. Find satisfaction in what God has given

    B. Find satisfaction in God

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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