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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:The Lord gives true pleasure only to those who please Him
Text:Ecclesiastes 1:13; 2: 24-26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Enjoying Life

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Votum and Salutation
Sing: Psalm 136: 1, 2, 3, 13
Ten Words of the Covenant
Sing: Psalm 19: 4, 5, 6
Read: Ecclesiastes 1:12 - 2: 26
Sing: Psalm 104: 4, 6, 7
Text: Ecclesiastes 1: 13; 2: 24-26
Sermon: The Lord gives true pleasure only to those who please Him.
1. The pursuit of earthly pleasure;
2. The gift of divine pleasure.
Sing: Hymn 6
Sing: Hymn 63: 1, 2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

Did you know that the suicide rate in the last 45 years has risen by 60%? Those who experienced the dirty 30s, the war, and the years just after the war, know that those times were economically poor times. You could hardly get enough food or drink or even shelter. There was also little time for leisure and at the end of the day there was also very little left for luxuries.

Today it is much different. We live during a time of affluence. We have food and drink in abundance and time for entertainment and leisure. Why then is the suicide rate going up? Why are we not any happier today?

There is nothing new under the sun. The Teacher observed the same kind of thing. He observed that happiness and contentment are not tied to wealth or prosperity. There are other things at play. There are other reasons why there is such emptiness in the lives of people. Such unhappy and depressed people look for their happiness and contentment in the wrong place.

After speaking about the futility of life under the sun, the Teacher brings God into the picture in chapter 2:24. He says that happiness and contentment and wisdom can only come from God.

Please understand that when I'm speaking about unhappiness and depression here, I'm not speaking about those whose depression is due to chemical imbalances, or other physical or environmental reasons. No, I'm speaking about those who are depressed and unhappy because of their empty lifestyles, because they live their lives without God.

The Teacher is a wise man. He is wise, not because he learned his lesson from the world, but because he learned from the Lord God. He learned that only with God can you find true satisfaction and enjoyment and pleasure. That is the message of our sermon:

The Lord gives true pleasure only to those who please Him.
1. The pursuit of earthly pleasure;
2. The gift of divine pleasure.

In verse 13 we read that the Teacher devoted himself to study and exploration. He was a diligent and keen student. However he did not do his learning in a classroom or a library or laboratory. No, his classroom and laboratory was the world. He carefully read the book of life.

He was very thorough in his study. It says that he devoted himself to study. In reality the text refers here to the heart. As the King James Version states, he gave his heart in his seeking and searching. To the original reader, to the Jewish mind, the heart refers to the totality of the inner life of a person. When you give your heart to something, then you give your mind and your will and your emotions. For that reason, other translations speak about the mind, that he applied his mind to this search. The point is that the Teacher gave everything that he had to that study. He used all of his senses in order to come to a conclusion in this matter. He was very sincere and earnest in his search. It wasn't something superficial.

Note well that once again he speaks here about his search under heaven. Earlier he spoke about "under the sun." These are parallel expressions. They mean the same thing. In other words, his search was a horizontal search. He looked at things merely from man's perspective. He did his search at first without putting God in the picture.

And he says that he devoted himself to study and to explore by wisdom. The concept of wisdom is mentioned throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. If you want to understand the book of Ecclesiastes, then you first have to understand what the Old Testament concept of wisdom refers to. It is not the kind of wisdom that the Greek philosophers have in mind. To philosophers such as Aristotle and those who followed him, wisdom has to do with rational thought. You're wise when you are able to think things through and come to a logical conclusion. The philosophers reduce wisdom to a theoretical and contemplative virtue.

But that is certainly not what Ecclesiastes has in mind. To the Teacher, wisdom is not based on theory or speculation but on practice. A wise person is someone who is able to deal skilfully with life and its problems. He is prudent and clever and innovative. He knows how to avoid the pitfalls of life. He is able to find shortcuts to success.

You can even be wise, that is, skillful, with your hands. For example it says in Exodus 28: 3, "Tell all the skilled men to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest." Elsewhere in Exodus it says that you are wise when you have knowledge in all kinds of crafts.

And so wisdom has to do with skill. Here in Ecclesiastes it especially refers to the skill of life – how well you are able to handle life. There are many people who are good at this, especially secular people because this life is all they have. They learn how to skilfully maneuver through life.

The text says that the Teacher sought things out by wisdom. In other words, he employed all the worldly skills that he had learned over the many years. He is near the end of his life, and he had the opportunity and the ability and the means to be able to search out all the aspects of human existence.

He found that one of the great pleasures of life is found in laughter and wine. As king he could afford to throw lavish parties and to hire all kinds of entertainers. You can just imagine the king sitting back in his lavish palace, sipping good wine and eating good food while being entertained by skillful musicians and court jesters.

Make no mistake about it the Hebrew people knew how to have a good time. After all, didn't the Lord God say already in Genesis that he gave man to enjoy all that is pleasing to the eye and good for food? That is true also after the fall into sin. And so we could sing from Psalm 104: 4 that the Lord God made grass for cattle and wild beasts, and that he gave plants for a man, who on his bounty feasts.

And so, the Teacher enjoyed all the good things that life had to offer. Brothers and sisters, you and I can do the same. The Lord God gives us, especially in this day and age, many things to enjoy. Never before in the history of mankind could man enjoy such luxuries. A variety of foods from all over the world is available to you. We can enjoy tropical foods and fresh vegetables in the midst of winter. We can enjoy every kind of meat imaginable. And all kinds of refreshing drinks, including good wines. All these things are readily available to us.

And what about entertainment? We can bring the world right into our living rooms through satellite TV, and the movies. We also have ready access to all kinds of information and entertainment through the Internet. We can be entertained in the concert halls. We can enjoy cruises and exotic vacations. We too can live like kings.

And yet, as the Teacher wondered, is there real contentment in all these things? No. Oh sure, it's good to have a laugh. It's good to have a glass of wine or two. It's good to enjoy the company of good friends. It's good to enjoy the good life. But, the truth is, that if that's all there is to life, then you are still left with an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach. Then you are still not satisfied. There's got to be more to life.

That's also what the Teacher found. Why is that? Why is genuine satisfaction and contentment so elusive? Why is it that many of those people who cannot afford exotic vacations and good food and drink, and fame and wealth, can be much happier than those of us who can?

Well, if your interest in the good life is foremost; if that's what you want more than anything else, then yours is an empty and futile pursuit. For there will be no end to it. You will always want more and better and greater. You will want what somebody else has. And somebody else always has more.

And then you will also pursue such things at all costs. You will use other people for your own selfish purposes. You will exploit them. In the end you will have contempt for them for not serving you in the way you expect. For if that's your passion in life, then you like nothing better than to have others serve you. You become dependent on others to give you the good life, to give you happiness.

But, brothers and sisters, God did not create us in order to be served. He did not create us so that we could just sit back and take it all in for our own selfish purposes. God created us to serve. Do you want to find true happiness in life? Then learn how to serve. For true happiness is only found in service, service to others. The Lord Jesus served us as an example. He clearly stated that he came as a servant. As he stated in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Does that mean then that we cannot enjoy life? No, you certainly can enjoy life. As the Teacher says, you can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in your work. It's all from the hand of God. But there is a lot more to life than the pursuit of earthly pleasures. That's only the gravy. It's not the main meal.

Indeed, there are many things to be enjoyed. We can enjoy the service of others. We can enjoy times of leisure. We can enjoy good food and drink. These are all God's gift to us. It is clear from the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes that the Teacher would even consider it evil if a person who had all the many blessings from the Lord would not enjoy them. In so doing you would scorn the gift and the Giver.

But, the Lord God wants us to put all things into perspective. He wants us to have our priorities right. These things are a reward from God. And you can only enjoy the service of others, if you first of all are a servant yourself.

As I said, those who seek pleasure for the sake of pleasure alone will never have enough. The more you get, the less enjoyment you get out of it. Such lifestyles can also lead to all kinds of addictions, to alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling and sex addictions, etc.

The same thing is true of work. It is good to enjoy your work. But to some people their work is their opium. It is their drug. It is the only thing that they really get any enjoyment out of. In the end they become workaholics.

The Teacher had a something to say about that as well. At first, the Teacher received much pleasure from his work. But as time wore on he found that it became grievous to him. He said that his heart began to despair over all his toilsome labour under the sun.

Many of us can also identify with that. We work very hard, and often at night we lay awake fretting about it all. We become anxious and irritable because of the many things that need our attention. Our work can take our lives completely over. We toil and we labour; we gain standing in the community and acquire many things. But the point will come when you wonder why. What's the use? What am I doing it for?

The Teacher was able to acquire many goods through his toil. He was also able to hire many workers so that he could accumulate great wealth. But in the end this gave no satisfaction.

Brothers and sisters, work is a blessing from the Lord. And so is the fruit of our labour. Can you imagine if you did not have a job? People who are unemployed for an extended period of time often become depressed. They no longer feel that they have a purpose in life.

God created us for work. That is why he also put Adam and Eve to work in the garden of Eden. It says in Genesis 2:15, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Work is a blessing from God and I have no doubt that in the life hereafter the Lord God will also put us to work. And that work will be nothing but enjoyment and pleasure.

However, work for the sake of work itself, work for the sake of acquiring things only, will leave you empty and unfulfilled. Listen to what the Lord God says in Isaiah 55:2, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare."

The Teacher observed these things. He saw that those who worked and worked and worked and acquired things for themselves, that they got no pleasure out of these things themselves. When they die their possessions would go to others who did not work for those things and would not appreciate them.

There are those who become totally absorbed in their work because they want to escape from something. They want to escape from their responsibilities and other things. They use work as an excuse not to have to deal with other matters. They absorb themselves in work so that they can escape from family problems, or personal problems. They seek their pleasure in work because only through their work can they find satisfaction. Only in their work can they receive recognition. But in the end it doesn't cut it. People will praise you for your work and your efforts only as long as you are of use to them. When that's no longer the case they will discard you like yesterday’s garbage. Brothers and sisters, true pleasure comes from God alone. We come to the second point.

2. The text says, "to the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness." Literally it says that God gives these things to the man who is good before his face. In other words, as you enjoy the things of life, you must have your gaze fixed on God. You have to look God in the eye, so to speak, as you go about your daily business, as you enjoy the things that this world has to offer. After all, as the Teacher says, these things come from the hand of God. He is the one who hands them to you. Only he will truly appreciate you. Only he will keep his promises. You can depend on him alone.

Don't forget that your beautiful house, your thriving business, your challenging job, your shiny new car, your fashionable clothes, your delicious food and drink, and your enjoyable time of leisure, that they all come from God's hand. You would not have them if it were not for the Lord God.

Do you want to get the most out of life? Do you wish to be happy? Then put God into the picture. Be good before his face. Look at him, not at your navel. Don't think about the things that will serve you. Let the Lord your God worry about that. As the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-26, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

In other words keep the Lord God and his will in mind as you pursue earthly matters. Put everything into the proper perspective. Do not just look at things under the sun, but look above the sun, at heaven itself, where God dwells. Your blessings come from him alone.

That's the way it is for all of us, and that includes you young people who are about to make a career for yourselves and build a life here on this earth. Don't get caught up in the pursuit of pleasure and material things in the way that the world does. It really is an empty pursuit. It will leave you disappointed and disillusioned. You will find no satisfaction. Listen to what the Lord God is saying to you in his word. Know his will. Don't leave God out of the picture.

The Teacher didn't do that either. After his pursuit of pleasure under heaven, he found that real satisfaction is found only in heaven – with God. He says "for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?"

He also says, "What a heavy burden God has laid on men!" Other translations speak about the unhappy business that God has given to man. Without God, life is tough. Only when you're a child of God can you take it all in stride. For we know that at the end of the day we will be delivered from this world full of sin and misery.

Have you ever listened to the beautiful singing of a bird at the end of a day? Those little creatures the whole day long do nothing but try to survive. They constantly have to look out for and hide from their enemies, from the birds of prey and other creatures. They are forever scrounging for food for themselves and for their little ones. A bird's life is a hard life. And yet, at the end of each day, he finds himself a high perch and sings his heart out.

And now here we are, safe and sound, with food and drink dropped on our laps. We have the promise from God that one day we will enjoy his great bounty to the fullest in the life hereafter. And yet we often complain about the things that we do not have, and about the little annoyances of life. We are jealous of others who have more than we do. Shouldn't you and I, of all of God's creatures, be singing about his wonderful blessings? Shouldn't we be singing God's praises?

While we live here on this earth the Lord God even gives us the fruit of the labour and the wealth of our unbelieving fellow creatures. Listen to what the Teacher says. He says that to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth only to hand it over to those who please God. Commentators do not quite know what to make of this statement. They could come up with only a few scenarios. They just point to a few examples where the wealth of sinners is given to God's people. They point, for example, to the Israelites who, when they left Egypt, took the gold and the silver of the Egyptians with them. The wealth of the Egyptians went to the Israelites. They also point out that the wealth in the Temple came from David's military exploits. In other words it came from God's enemies.

However, in the minister’s opinion, the Teacher has in mind everything that belongs to God. Everything that worldly people toil for here on earth will revert to God's people. For don't forget, as believers we are the ones who will inherit the earth and everything in it. Isn't that also what the Lord Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry? He said in Matthew 5:5, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." And the apostle Paul said to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God."

Brothers and sisters, God gives you your blessings only because of Christ. It is only because you belong to Christ that God so richly blesses you. All your blessings are given to you only because of him. He defeated Satan. He nailed our sins to the cross. Through him our selfishness and our empty pursuit of material well-being is forgiven. Our sins are forgiven as long as we humble ourselves before him and acknowledge how prone we are to stumble and to go after things that do not really satisfy.

And so why do you think that people are less happy now than in previous years? No doubt this has to do with the fact that mankind no longer seeks his well-being from God. At one time Canada was mainly a Christian nation. So were the European countries. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Canada and Western Europe have become secular in their outlook. By and large, man now no longer looks to God for his satisfaction and well-being, in spite of the fact that we are so rich.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not fall into the same trap. Let us praise God for his blessings. Let us fix our eyes on him from whom all blessings flow. Only he can give you true happiness and satisfaction and enjoyment. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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