Part 18: Enjoy Life While You Have It

By January 15, 2014 Meaningless No Comments

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part 18 – enjoy life while you have it (Ecc 9:1-10)

Life under the sun, as the Teacher puts it, is hebel.  That is the Hebrew word so often translated in the NIV as meaningless.  While that may be a good translation in some cases, I think the best translation is vapor.  Life is like a soap bubble or a cloud.  It’s right there and it looks substantial but when you go to grasp it, it’s not there anymore.  Life seems like it should deliver but, in many cases, it’s just hebel.  And if we measure our value by how much money we have in the bank or clothes in our closet, and if we seek satisfaction in those things, we will ultimately find that life is vain, it is empty.  The ultimate conclusion at the end of the book is that in order to live fulfilled lives, fear God and obey his commands.  That is the whole duty of man.  Want to know your purpose in life?  A purpose filled life is a satisfied life.  Know God, fear God, obey God.  And the best motivation for all of the above is Love God!  Again, this isn’t coming from a poor man or a foolish man, but a wise man who had it all – everything that one could ever want under the sun.  The enjoyment of life is not bound up in stuff.

The teacher reminds us over and over that the enjoyment of life is not always something that just happens.  Sometimes it does.  Sometimes we experience times, moments, seasons in life and we reflect and say, “I enjoyed that.”  Whether it was a vacation or a massage or a conversation.  But we have the power to enjoy every moment of every day and that is what the teacher is moving us towards in this morning’s passage.  A lot of this will seem like repetition, but that is why this book is so powerful.  He repeats the important points and undergirds and supports them with fresh subpoints.  It’s like a song.  The part that gets stuck in your head is usually the chorus, not the verses.  Why?  Because the chorus is repeated a few times, while the verses are not.  So this morning, the teacher comes back to his chorus as that is what he wants ringing in our minds.

  • Death is a reality of life
  • Life is the gift of God
  • Enjoy your life while you have it

This morning, we will be venturing through Ecclesiastes 9:1-10, which opens with the words:

Ecc 9:1-10 So I reflected on all this

He reflected on all that we have recently discussed.  He reflected on the fact that wisdom and righteousness are good and one should strive to lay hold of them, yet they have their limitations.  Man cannot discover all there is to discover; he can only be so wise and true wisdom comes with the humility that recognizes man’s limitations.  Man cannot live perfectly righteous; there isn’t a righteous man on earth who always does what is right and never sins.  In addition to these limitations, there are some other frustrating observations that the Teacher lays out on the table.  Sometimes wicked people receive a glorious burial.  Sometimes rulers lord it over others.  There is trouble, and tension.  There is perplexity.  There is injustice.  Sometimes a sentence for a crime is not swiftly carried out and people are filled with schemes to do evil.  Sometimes the righteous get what the wicked deserve and the wicked what the righteous deserve.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

He reflected on all this and he comes to a conclusion.

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.

As it is with the good,
so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them.

This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.

He calls this an evil under the sun.  Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, beautiful or not so beautiful, one thing is certain: you will die.  At some point in life, you and I both have an appointment with death.  We can reschedule a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with an associate, but this appointment is one over which we have no control.  We get a birth certificate saying you were born on this day, but we don’t get a piece of paper saying you will die on this day, plan accordingly.  When the grim reaper knocks on the door we can’t just say, “Come back another time, today isn’t a good day for me.”  We can’t plan death.  We don’t get a two week notice from death saying wrap up your loose ends because you have 14 days left.  You can’t mark your calendars with a fixed date.  You can pencil it in every single day for the rest of your life because one thing is certain: it could happen everyday for the rest of your life.

As unpredictable, unplanned, and unpleasant as death is, it is a reality for every one of us at some point starting now.  So, as the rest of the text unfolds, you will see how his chorus resounds:

  • Death is a reality of life
  • Life is the gift of God
  • Enjoy your life while you have it

Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

So…bad news – at some point you will die.  But, there’s good news.  If you’re reading this, you’re not dead yet!  And anyone among the living has hope.  Here, the teacher makes a point and then echoes it with animal imagery.  Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion.  This illustration doesn’t make much sense to an American in the 21st century.  Dogs are cute, dogs are pets, dogs are man’s best friend.  In the historical and cultural context of Ecclesiastes, dogs were unclean, despised animals.  Lions, however, were as respected then as they are today – king of the animal world.  Better to be a living dog than a dead lion.  In human terms, that equates to this.  You could be a rich, wise, ruler (lion).  Or you could be a poor despised fool (dog).  If you’re a poor and despised fool, hey, better to be you than the rich wise ruler that’s dead.  Why?  You’re still alive and he’s not.

For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even their name is forgotten.
Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.

  • Death is a reality of life
  • Life is the gift of God
  • Enjoy your life while you have it

At some point you will die, but until then, you get the privilege of experiencing the ups and downs of life, the ebb and flow, the various seasons of prosperity and adversity, love and hate, eating, and drinking, and work, boyfriends, girlfriends, crushes, broken hearts, gain, loss, the beach, the snow, the birds chirping, the waves crashing, cars honking, pollution, crying babies.  Some of those things are pleasant, but some sound unpleasant.

 

It’s a matter of perspective.  When you’re strapped to a chair and held at gunpoint by someone who has no regard for the sanctity of life and death is staring you in the face, the reality sets in that life with all of its misfortunes beats the snot out of death.

 

As Dennis Waitley put it: I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet.

 

The topic of death isn’t fun to think about or talk about; we like to avoid it but it’s a reality.  The living know they will die, but the dead don’t know anything.  They’re done.  They have no part in anything that happens under the sun.  You’re still alive; you’re not done.  And since you’re alive:

 

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.

Now, fight against the urge to be frustrated here.  Fight the urge to be mad at the Teacher and say, enough with this already.  You said it in:

  • 2:24-25
  • 3:12-13
  • 3:25
  • 5:18-20
  • 8:15

 

Now, you have the audacity to say it again in 9:7-9?  Yes.  Why?  Because it’s his theme.  It’s his point.  Because he knows that no matter how many more times he says it, living in a world of injustice, limitations, frustrations, and perplexities has the potential to steal your joy everyday if you aren’t intentional about enjoying life.  This is something you and I need to hear.  And hear again.  Yes, we may be tired of hearing it in the text and you may be tired of hearing it out of my mouth.  Nonetheless, even though we have heard it over and over are we doing it?  Are we enjoying our lives under the sun or do we once in a while find ourselves slipping into discontentment, depression, unhappiness, lacking joy, taking God’s gifts for granted?

 

We need this reminder because we are humans living in a world full of humans.

  • Death is a reality of life
  • Life is the gift of God
  • Enjoy your life while you have it

As I pointed out, we have heard from the teacher numerous times to enjoy life under the sun; find enjoyment in eating, drinking, and working.  Now, he adds a few nuances to this.  The first one is in verse 8.   Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  Consider the contrast with this, especially in its cultural and Biblical context.  Throughout the Bible, we find that sadness or mourning (the opposite of joy) is usually accompanied by sackcloth and ashes.  And as far as attire is concerned, what color do people usually wear at a funeral, when they are mourning?  What color do the goth kids wear (are there even goth kids anymore or was that just when I was in high school)?  Black.

 

The teacher says don’t go around hating life, woe is me, this is the worst, wearing black and ashes.  Do the opposite, be joyful, always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.

 

The next nuance we see is in verse 9.   Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love.  I love how he adds this bit about with your wife whom you love.  Next time you’re out in public, do some people watching.  See how many couples are happy, truly happy to be with one another – so far as you can tell, it’s usually evident.  How many people are just there?  How many people appear miserable?  Look at their faces.  Who’s smiling and who’s frowning.  Next time you’re with your spouse, notice whether you’re smiling or scowling.  At some point every unhappy, scowling husband saw his wife as the apple of his eye.  When and how did she become the old ball and chain?  The same way that people fail to enjoy eating, drinking, and working.  Perspective.  Failure to be intentional.  And plus she started nagging him a lot.

 

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love.  He’s reminding us here that this wife that we have is the one we love.  If you are married, then your life and its enjoyment is directly affected by the health of your relationship with your spouse.  If your marriage is going well, usually, your life is going well.  Usually, if your marriage is not going well, your life is not going well.  Usually, if you are enjoying your life, you are enjoying your wife.

 

So enjoy life with your wife whom you love.  Wait.  What if I don’t love my wife anymore?  Well, love her.  What is the greatest commandment?  Love God.  After that? Love your neighbor.  See, when people say I’m not in love with her anymore or I’m not in love with him anymore, they usually mean the feeling of love.  I don’t feel in love.  I used to.  But I must have fallen out of love.  But love is more than a feeling, love is also an action.  I’m not minimizing the emotional side of love, but I’m adding to it.

 

See, when we first fell in love, we had the feelings and the actions followed.  I love her, so I’ll buy her flowers.  I love her, so I’ll spend my whole lunch break on the phone with her.  I love her so I’ll rub her feet, I don’t care if they stink.  I love her, so I’ll go out of my way to do whatever will make her happy.   But the feelings tend to go away over time, and the actions that once followed also go away.  I won’t buy her flowers.  I’ll spend my money on me.  I’ll spend my lunch break doing whatever I feel like doing.  I’m not going to rub those stinky feet.

 

When the feeling of love came naturally it was easy to do the actions of love.  If the feeling no longer comes naturally, I suggest trying to do the actions of love.  You may be surprised at how the feelings follow.  Won’t be overnight, but you probably didn’t fall in love overnight to begin with.  But over the course of time, love your wife as Christ has called you to love your wife, love in action and it’s quite likely that the feeling of love will accompany those actions.

 

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love.  Love her right now because you’re going to die one day and the Teacher doesn’t want us to look back on our life and regret the fact that we didn’t love our lives and our wives.  Love her right now because just like you, she’s going to die one day and chances are, you will miss her, and you will wish that she was still around even with all of her idiosyncrasies and whatever she did that may have annoyed you.

 

And there are plenty single people who look at your wife with all of her faults and failures and things that annoy you, and those lonely single boys will say, gosh, that guy sure is lucky to have that lady as his wife.

  • Death is a reality of life
  • Life is the gift of God
  • Enjoy your life while you have it

And if you’re married, your spouse is a huge part of that enjoyment.  Enjoy life together as one.

 

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

 

You may complain about work now and dread it, but there is no work in the grave.  So while you’re alive, work hard, give it your all.  Do it with all your might, give it 100%.  Whatever your hand finds to do.  At home, can your hands find dishes and laundry and straightening to do?  Can your hands find mowing and gardening, and fixing broken toilets?  Do those things and do them well.  At church, can you serve in the nursery, in the childrens’ church, in the youth group, on the website, set up, tear down?  At work, the obvious application is quite direct, but consider: whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.  Ever notice at work when it seems like the day is just dragging and it’s only 2:00.  When will it be 5:00?  I’ve noticed that the hands on the clock usually move as fast as I do.  When I’m busting my butt and giving it my all, working with all of my might, time flies.  And time flies when you’re having fun and when I’m working hard, it’s usually fun.  Work is what you make it.  Make it enjoyable. There’s a lot of unemployed people out there who would love to have your job or mine.

  • Death is a reality of life
  • Life is the gift of God
  • Enjoy your life while you have it – many of your waking hours of this short life are spent working

Let this enjoyment of life serve as a beacon that points us to Christ and preaches to us the gospel on a daily basis.

Consider these specific elements of life that the Teacher mentions:

  • Eat your food with gladness
  • Drink your wine with a joyful heart
  • Enjoy life with your wife

All three of these are specific symbols that can serve to remind us of Christ on a daily basis.

 

At the Last Supper, what did Jesus give thanks for and then use as symbols of himself but the bread and the wine?  How many parables did Jesus tell, how many times did Jesus teach, in how many epistles did the apostles refer to the Church as the bride of Christ?  Food, wine, wife.  Basic elements of daily life, which point to Jesus Christ and remind us of the glorious gospel.

Consider the eating of your food with gladness and how the simple act of enjoying your daily bread can serve as a reminder of the bread of life.  In this cycle of life, we work so that we can eat our daily bread and we eat our daily bread so that we can have the energy to work so that we can eat so that we can work, so that we can eat.  And if we don’t eat for a while, our stomach growls at us to let us know, we are hungry.  And if we don’t feed it, we will suffer physically.  Likewise, our soul hungers for the bread of life and spiritual sustenance.  Unfortunately, our soul doesn’t growl at us when it hungers for the things of God.  But Jesus, when tempted by the slanderer, made it abundantly clear.  Jesus, if you are the son of God, then turn these stones into bread.  You know you want to, you have been fasting for forty days and your stomach has been growling for some time and it hurts.  You can alleviate that pain and satisfy that hunger right now.  Jesus replies: No.  As it is written, man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  We need the Word of God as much as, if not more than food.  We need Jesus, the bread of life.  As we eat our daily bread.  As we eat our food with gladness, let us also be glad in Jesus.  Every time our stomach growls at us and says feed me, let that be a reminder to us also to feed our soul, to feed our spirit, for man does not live by bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Consider the drinking of wine with a joyful heart.  At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup – of wine – and gave thanks, offered it to the disciples, saying, “Drink form it, all of your.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  If you are part of that many, then as you drink your wine with a joyful heart, let it draw your mind to Jesus and preach to you the gospel of the salvation of your soul and the blood of Jesus which was poured out to atone for your sins, allowing you to have fellowship with God.

Fellowship of the most intimate kind.  What is the most intimate relationship that exists under the sun except that of marriage.  And the Teacher says enjoy life with your wife whom you love.  Let your marriage preach to you the gospel and remind you of the fact that your marriage is intended to illustrate the story of Jesus Christ as wives submit to their husbands and husbands love their wives and give themselves up for them serving self-sacrificially painting the picture of the glory of the gospel.  As you enjoy life with your spouse and live out your relationship, your intimate fellowship, let it serve as a constant reminder to you that you have that intimacy with Jesus Christ, himself.

And that is what this whole things is about.  That is why we gather on Sunday mornings – to enhance our relationship with God.  I think that so many people outside of the church don’t want anything to do with church because they think that we are here discussing a list of dos and don’ts.  It’s not about dos and don’ts but who you know.  It’s not about rules, it’s about the ruler and a relationship with Him.  That’s what it’s all about.  Even in a study of wisdom literature.  For the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Prov 9:10).  Fear of the LORD, the LORD who hates sin, who must – as a just God – punish sin.  A LORD who is so gracious that he would take on flesh, become one of us, take on the sin of the world, receive the punishment for sin, death, as a substitutionary atonement, that through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, we might be reconciled to Him and have a right relationship.

It’s all about Jesus.  So let the enjoyment of life serve as a reminder of the gospel every day of this short fleeting vapor of a life.  You only get to do this once, no do overs.  Enjoy it and enjoy it in the presence of and in a thriving relationship with a God who loves you and has gone to great lengths to prove it.