“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.
So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
Earthly Pleasures vs. Jesus
Fleeting vs. eternal joy
This is Solomon’s main complaint about his list of pleasures. How do you feel after you’ve experienced them? The word he uses means vapor. Futility. What is he longing for? The same thing the ache in our hearts is searching for. A satisfaction that outlasts the buzz from the alcohol or the feeling of buying the new car or getting married or a million dollars in the bank. We want joy that lasts.
We have to realize that having Jesus by faith and all the blessings that come with salvation by faith all have this quality. They do not diminish.
Everything material in this world is experienced according to the law of diminishing returns. It’s not so much a law as a reality. Whatever buzz you get from anything in this world, the next time you experience it, it’s not quite the same. Think of the first time you get into your new car. Wow! The second time it’s cool. The third time, you like it. The 1000th time, you don’t think about it much at all.
Ever go to a restaurant and you think, this is amazing! You tell all your friends. You can’t wait to go back. It’s great the second time and it may be really good every time. But over time, something isn’t the same as that magical first time.
Ecclesiastes will describe this in chapter 12 in very sober language. The elderly man who once was successful, now he can’t hear or see or sleep like he used to. His joy in things is diminished. Over time, nothing stays the same. Either it changes or we do.
We only know a little about what eternal pleasures await us. Little glimpses. What we have is our present experience of joy in Jesus. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8) And promises of even greater future joy in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The Christian experiences present joy but it is an incomplete and imperfect joy. Someday we will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, and our capacity for fullness and joy will expand beyond what we can conceive of here.
Ominous happiness vs. joy even in pain and suffering
There looms over earthly pleasures a cloud. Always an ominous cloud. Your best vacation or best concert. As you experience them, you know the days are ticking when you have to go home. We say, I wish it wouldn’t end! We know it does. It always does. Everything does. Even our best pleasures have an expiration date. Ominous happiness.
There’s an old African American spiritual about the joy we have in Jesus that says, “The world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away.” This is granite joy. Joy that sticks with us when life hurts. Even Jesus operated by this confidence in future grace and joy, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Worst at death vs. best one second before you die (and every second after)
For the unbeliever, death is all loss. It is the loss of everything that made you happy. Loss of every relationship. Every possession. The loss of all beauty and the experience of it.
But for the Christian, Jesus is better than an earthly pleasure because the greatest experience of joy in Jesus is one second before you die and every second after.
Death is not to be feared because death is the gaining of what our joy in Jesus really longs for. The Bible says this is real treasure. Wealth in eternity is who you know and more importantly, who knows you. Many will step into eternity with nothing and nobody but Satan saying, I know him. That’s eternal poverty and condemnation.
But wealth is to know Jesus fully. To see him. To be loved by him. To experience full acceptance and intimacy with the glorious Son of God is wealth you wouldn’t trade for all the money, drugs, or fame in all the world. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) How? When I die I get what I want more than anything, I get Him. I get Jesus. I get to see him. I get to touch him. I get to feel his love in all its fullness. Death is gain. Death means more pleasure, not less.
Salt water vs. living water
If you’ve ever seen a survival movie where people are adrift at sea, it’s not long before their thirst makes them consider drinking the ocean water. They nearly go crazy. Dying of thirst in an ocean of water. But there’s something about that water. It’s salt water. The more they drink, the more they want.
All the pleasures this world has to offer are salt water. You always want more. Yet somehow the more you have the more dissatisfied you are.
Jesus is the opposite. He satisfies our thirst by quenching it with the glory of forgiveness of sins, new life in Christ, and eternal life forever with him. He explains this to the woman at the well in John 4, “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14) He is pointing to earthly water. Drink it. You want more. Then he uses it as a metaphor for what he offers. I am living water. Drink me. Believe in me. Receive me. You’ll never spiritually thirst again.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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