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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:The Emptiness of Pleasure
Text:Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter," I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine and embracing folly —my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold  for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers,and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
    and this was the reward for all my labor.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.

12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
    and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
    than what has already been done?P)">

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Emptiness of Pleasure

Ecclesiastes 2.1-11

Preached by Rev. Keith Davis at Lynwood URC on 1-22-12 (Songs: 110, 64, 441:1-3)


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the most well known (and oft quoted) lines of the Declaration of Independence is man’s right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  The founding fathers believed all men have a sovereign right to those three things. 


But as we know, many people in our nation, and many people in our world have taken a particular interest in the third item mentioned: the pursuit of happiness.  In fact, many people have made this their sole ambition and goal in life.  They are what we call hedonists, and a hedonist is someone who dedicates his entire life to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.


A hedonist’s philosophy is to maximize life’s pleasure and to minimize life’s pain.  But before we make any disparaging comments man’s pursuit of pleasure and happiness, let’s be clear about this.  We Christians have nothing against being happy nor do we think pleasure is a sin. 


When God created the world it was for His glory, but it was also for our pleasure and delight.  And certainly we choose pleasure over pain.  We prefer happiness over sadness; we prefer joy over sorrow.  We prefer a delicious steak dinner over a root canal; we prefer sitting on a beach in sunny Florida over sitting in a dark cold dungeon.


But as Christians we also realize that our purpose in life is NOT to live for ourselves, but to live for God.  We realize that God calls us to holiness and not primarily to happiness. And what that means is that at various times, instead of doing what we want to do, instead of doing that which will bring us temporary joy and immediate satisfaction, we’re called to practice self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-control. 


The problem is, those disciplines are foreign concepts to many people in our world today.  In fact, our society, our culture, our world is crumbling and falling to pieces because so many people live for themselves, they live for the moment, the live to be happy, they do what it takes to find pleasure, to live the dream.  And sadly, we fall prey to the same temptations at times.


This evening, Solomon has a word of wisdom for us.  As we have come to expect, his message is that it’s meaningless; it’s all vanity.  This evening’s passage shows us the meaninglessness, the emptiness, the vanity of living life for ourselves, of pursuing our own pleasure.  Here in this passage, Solomon shows us the Emptiness of Earthly Pleasures.  We see:

1)      The Thorough Test         

2)      The Lesson Learned   


1)  The Thorough Test        

In verse one, we’re told that Solomon conducted an experiment in his life.  He speaks to his own soul saying, Come now, I will test you with pleasure, to see what is good.  Maybe some of you boys and girls may like to watch the show Myth-Busters.  It’s a show that puts popular myths to the test – the hosts of the show basically conduct experiments to see if something is true or not.     


Here, Solomon is the expert, and he is going to put to the test some of the biggest myths in the world:  that life is more fun, more satisfying when you let loose; you live longer if you have a little fun; you should never let anything get in the way of a good time.


Solomon began his test by pursuing pleasure.  He gave himself to taste, to touch, to feel, to enjoy, to experience all the pleasures of life – all that presented itself to him as a pleasure and all that even pretended to be pleasure.  In verse 10 he says he denied himself nothing his eyes desired.  He refused his heart no pleasure.


Very much like a mad scientist, he conducted his test not concerning himself with anything but his own pleasure.  For a time, he lived the life that many people dream of living.  And let’s be honest, many of us dream the same thing on occasion.  There’s part of us that wishes that we could just indulge our self in pleasures all day; to do exactly what we feel like doing. 


Maybe sometimes we convince ourselves that it’s ok to do that every now and then – that we deserve a guilty pleasure now and then, right?  So Solomon sets out to indulge in pleasure.  He doesn’t really tell us what he did, or how long he did it, but it is possible (if not, likely) that the rest of the verses in this passage show us these pleasures he pursued.


But what’s interesting is how quickly Solomon states that he found this to be meaningless.  It’s surprising until ask yourself this question: what usually happens to someone who does what he wants for days and weeks and months on end?  What happens to someone after weeks and months of self-indulgence? I’ll tell you what happens. That person gets bored – and after he gets bored he either gets into trouble, or he quickly finds something constructive to do.


Why do you think so many retired professional athletes talk about making a comeback after only a season or two of being retired?  Because golfing everyday, or fishing, or lounging at the pool, or gambling at the casino gets boring after a while (not to mention, it costs a lot of money). 


We discover the same when we go on vacation for a couple weeks, or even when we retire.  On vacation we typically indulge ourselves in pleasure; we leave work behind and we do the things we want to do.  And we even joke around on vacation – wouldn’t it be great to live here year round, to do this everyday, to kick back, and just laze around or play golf and tennis.    


But then on day 5 of vacation, we’re already wondering how much more of this can we take.  The saying is true: sometimes we can have too much of a good thing.  And that’s what Solomon found out as well.  A small taste of sugar on the tip of your tongue every now and then is sweet; but a mouthful of sugar every hour is sickening.  So yes, even pleasure quickly loses its luster.


The next thing Solomon tries is laughter.  Maybe some comedy, maybe some lighthearted humor, maybe some clowning around can help.  Maybe some course joking can bring him some satisfaction.  Perhaps Solomon needs to learn to laugh a little; maybe he shouldn’t take life so seriously.  Laughter is the best medicine after all.  But laughter, too, he says, is meaningless.


The next thing he tries is wine.  He turns to drinking, to revelry, to see if that will bring him satisfaction.  A little wine, a little alcohol can lighten the mood, right!  We know this myth all too well.  We’ve heard people argue that you can’t have a good time without a drink in your hand.  A party isn’t a party without some spirits.  It helps liven things up, it just takes the edge off, or it helps to numb the pain, or it helps us forget our problems.  Alcohol is our friend.


And if you listen to the radio, we can find all kinds of cute country songs that sing the merits of alcohol.  Brad Paisley sings one entitled Alcohol – how alcohol was with us in high school, and in college, and how we had some of the best times we’ll never remember with alcohol. 


And of course, there’s Red Solo Cup by Toby Keith.  Granted, the song is a spoof, and like many of these songs, it’s a satire, it’s designed to poke fun of ourselves, but the song is basically all about drinking and partying and how his cup is his friend!  He fills it up, and it brings him joy – at least what’s inside the cup brings him joy.     


Well, even though Solomon doesn’t come out and say it explicitly, he no doubt came to the same conclusion; he saw that cheering himself with wine was just as empty, just as meaningless, just as much a lie as anything else; in fact, it probably had the opposite effect in that it dulled his senses and instead of cheering him, it made him feel more distraught and frustrated with life.


So thus far, Solomon tried pleasure, laughter and wine; but he got bored with pure pleasure; he grew weary of laughter, he was unimpressed with wine; but his experiment is far from finished; in fact, he’s just getting warmed up.  For, now he’s moving on to the finer things of life, you might say.  It would appear that he’s leaving behind the wild and rowdy party scene, and he’s now he’s going to be the “pleasure seeker with a purpose.”


In verses 4-9 Solomon says that he undertook great projects.  He shamelessly lists everything he did.  And right away two words stand out that characterizes his activities.  In verse 4 we read that he did this for himself.  In other words, we shouldn’t think for a moment that Solomon undertook any of these projects for philanthropic reasons – to help others.  No. He did this all for himself, to bring himself pleasure and happiness and fulfillment (as part of his experiment).


Just let your eyes scan through the verses and see how many times you read the word I.  It occurs no less than nine times, and there are other references to me and my.  Solomon is the epitome of a hedonist in that all this he did for himself.  Now, we might argue, at least he is finally expending his energy doing something worthwhile; he engaged in building things that had some real merit, that served some purpose, that will last beyond the moment. 


And he says how his heart took delight in what he built, and how that was the reward for all his labor.  However, did all this building and planting bring him satisfaction and meaning?  No.  Furthermore, Solomon goes on to say how he bought male and females slaves and had other slaves born in his house.


He boasts of how he owned more flocks and herds than anyone else in Jerusalem!  He proudly declares how he amassed for himself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces.  No doubt he had imposed a hefty tax to support his wild experiment.


He also acquired men and women singers, and he had a harem the size and beauty of which would make any eastern monarch burn with envy.  By every indication, he had everything a man could ever want.  He was living the high life.  He was living like a rock star. 


He had more money than anyone could imagine – even by our standards today; he had power, fame, the best musicians, servants waiting on him had and foot – (read in I Kings 4 and see all that the royal chef had to cook and prepare for Solomon’s daily provisions!).  He had it all. 


And to top it all off, the royal icing on the cake of his pleasure, as one commentator noted, was his huge harem filled with beautiful women from all over the world. Solomon lived a fantasy held and pursued by millions of men -- a different woman, a different partner every night all to bring him pleasure. This was his life, his reality (we want to live vicariously through Solomon).


And yet, right here, Solomon tells what it’s like to live the fantasy, to live the dream.  He says, you want to know what’s it’s like to have more pleasure than you can ever imagine, you know what it’s like to possess enough gold to make Fort Knox look like a piggy bank, to have huge mansions, to own plush gardens & vineyards, to have hundreds of servants tending to your needs, to have nearly a thousand beautiful women at your disposal? 


What’s it like Solomon!  Please tell us.  Don’t leave a single detail out.  Guess what, he begins, it’s like this: It’s all meaningless.  It amounts to nothing.  It leaves your heart heavy; it leaves your soul cold, and bare and empty.  Living the dream, living what we would call a fantasy, paradise, heaven on earth, is no paradise at all. 

So Solomon destroys the myth.  He shakes us out of our dream.  He shows us that what man thinks is meaningful, what man thinks would be enjoyable and pleasurable, what we find delightful and entertaining, and even exciting and stimulating, is not hollow and empty.


And all we have to do is call to mind many real-life examples to confirm this truth. There are celebrities in every age and generation; rock stars and country music stars, as well as prominent and successful business and politicians – men and women alike – who confirm this truth.


They are examples of people who had it all, who had what every other hard working American seems to covet – wealth, prestige, fame, notoriety, publicity, beautiful women, or hot guys all around them.   Yet how many of these famous celebrities found happiness, or joy, or contentment in what they did, or in what they accomplished, or in what they had accumulated.


What happened to stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Pressley, or Jimmy Hendrix, or Kurt Cobain.  They had it all, but after so long, they couldn’t take it any longer.  Their fame and popularity consumed them.   They saw what Solomon saw -- and they simply killed themselves.


Or think of the twisted and tortured life of a Michael Jackson, or of all the divorces of the late Elizabeth Taylor, and a more recent example – maybe the greatest of them all – the total destruction of the life and career of Tiger Woods.  The best golfer if the world – perhaps ever; millions of dollars a year in endorsements; married to a Swedish super model no less, living in a 12 million dollar mansion, he has a son and a daughter…what more could a man ever want?


He obviously wanted more, and was looking for more, because (I lost count of how many there actually were) but at least 12 women came forward in the span of a few weeks and all admitted to having affairs with Tiger recently.  If that doesn’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what Solomon is saying here, nothing will! Yet people don’t get it.


And I was amazed by how many men called in to sports shows and said how Tiger was crazy, that if they had what he did, they’d be happy and content.  But that’s a lie.  Our sinful nature is never satisfied, never content.  And if anything, this should scare us awake and snap us out of any sinful fantasies we might have.


It should make us stop thinking that if we only had this then we’d by happy, or if we only had that, then we’d be content, or if only our wife looked more like a model we’d be happy, or if only our husband was more muscular we’d be happy.  It’s all a lie.  Nothing on this earth can make us happy – so long as we are apart from God. 


2)  The Lesson Learned

And that brings us to our second point this evening. The lesson Learned.  There are two lessons to learn: lesson one – what we truly want cannot be found here, in this life.  In Philip Ryken’s commentary on Ecclesiastes he tells of an interview of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady by a reporter from 60 Minutes.  Brady had just led his team to a third Super Bowl Title (2004), and he was asked about where he goes from here (for an encore).


He said Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me?  I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is it!  I reached my goal, my dream, my life.” Me?  I think, it’s got to be more than this.  I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.  And when the interviewer asked him What’s the answer? Brady said – I wish I knew.  I wish I knew. 


You see our deep spiritual longings within us give us a clue that we were meant for something more than this.  It tells us that we were meant to live – not for our pleasure, but for something greater, something higher, for something beyond us. Man was meant to live for God’s glory and pleasure!  (St. Augustine’s statement – Our souls are restless until we find our rest in Thee)!   


So we can understand it this way -- our dissatisfaction with this life is designed to turn our hearts to God so that in Him we might find satisfaction and meaning and purpose. That’s the message of this book of the Bible.  It reminds us not to love the world or live for its pleasures.  It reminds us that our God in heaven sent His Son into this world, to be our Savior.


And we are reminded that Jesus Christ was tempted by all the pleasures of life that Solomon sampled.  And as Satan himself tempted Jesus, reminding him that he was the very Son of God; He was even more entitled than Solomon was.  If anyone deserved to indulge himself in all the pleasures of this life, it was Jesus after all – He was the King of Creation; the Lord of heaven and earth.  Yet for the sake of our salvation, Jesus resisted the pleasures of this life, and instead he indulged himself in a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice; he walked the pathway of suffering for us, obeying God’s law fully; and He died a cursed death on Calvary’s cross.


But now our resurrected Lord and Savior sits at the Father’s right Hand, His saving work accomplished, and He comes to us in this life and says – in me you will find your soul’s satisfaction and joy and pleasure.  I’m reminded what Psalm 16:11 says You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.


And that’s the second lesson we learn from this passage.  We find pleasure in this world in our service to the Lord.  And it’s amazing how life transforming God’s grace can be.  For we find that the very pleasures that once brought us no satisfaction or meaning, now serve to help us find even greater joy in the goodness of God.


You might even say it this way – that for Christians there is a kind of hedonism, a kind of pleasure seeking that is God glorifying and God honoring, as well as pleasing to our hearts and souls.  That pleasure comes in our walk with the Lord and in our enjoyment of Him as God.


Already in this life, the Lord fills our hearts and lives with pleasure and joy.  He gives us the gift of laughter, so that we can find sanctified humor in the world around us -- so that we can laugh together at ourselves, at our own limitations, at our own silly mistakes, at our own foolishness, for we know that we’re all subject to failure, that God is alone perfect. And we laugh knowing that one day (as Jesus said in his parables) we will enter into our Master’s joy – (Matthew 25:21)        


We can also find pleasure in the fruit of the vine which gladdens the heart merry. This too is a gift of God, as psalm 104:15 says.  Some may choose to refrain from wine and certainly they are free to do so, but in moderation, this is to be received as a good gift of God.


Likewise, as Christians we can enjoy a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment when we design things, when we build things, when we set our hearts to great tasks and projects. And even if it is our own house, we give God glory for we work for the Lord, not for man, not for our own glory.  God’s glory is our highest good, and we receive the greatest pleasure in life when God is most glorified in us and through us.  So in all we endeavor to do – we do it unto Him.


Likewise, as Solomon mentions -- we Christians also experience a special joy, a special pleasure when we work the ground, when we plant flowers and gardens; we are especially aware of the providence of God as we know that we depend upon him for sunshine and rain. We lean patience and trust – that we may plant, but it is God who grants the increase.


We may also take pleasure in the food God provides, in the income we earn, and in the employees we hire, or the individuals who serve us in various ways.  We take pleasure in music which lightens the mood, and if the Lord provides a spouse for us, we take pleasure in a marriage which the husband loves His bride as Christ does the church, and in a wife who honors her husband as the church does her Lord.


So you see, God doesn’t deny us pleasure in this life, so long as we live within His will and for His glory.  And this is precisely where the church in ages past got it wrong – when they taught that pleasure was wrong, that God’s people ought to live austere, strict, rigid lives where there was no real joy in this world.


That couldn’t be further from the truth.  God created this world and everything in it for the enjoyment and satisfaction of man, his image bearers.  And Jesus Christ came to make our joy complete.  And the glimpses we get of heaven in the book of Revelation are of eternal pleasures.


We read of a city with streets paved with gold, with walls of precious gems, gates of pearl; we read of music and song – the likes of which we’ve never heard on earth.  We read of the Lord, sitting down with us, His Bride – at the wedding feast of the Lamb, and the unending feast, the unending joy, the unending fellowship we will have with God and with each other.


I close with these words of Nehemiah 8:10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2012, Pastor Keith Davis

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