I like coffee. Any excuse to drink good coffee, I’m for it. Coffee is one of God’s gifts to mankind. I remember being in seminary, living in Phoenix in 1990. We were near Arizona State University and a guy I knew asked me if I wanted to go to a coffee house restaurant. I said, “A what?” “It’s a restaurant and all they serve is coffee.” I remember thinking what a stupid idea that was. That’ll never work.
I live in a house divided. I am a coffee lover. I have a really great coffeemaker and each day is a wonderful reminder of the goodness of God. My wife Jennifer is mostly a hater. I don’t understand her antipathy toward coffee. My theory on her hatred stems from my own experience. My parents drank a little coffee growing up. This was back when all I remember is Folgers coffee in a red can. We had an old drip-style coffeemaker. That’s the kind of coffee you get when you’re waiting for your tires to be rotated. That is nasty coffee. Low grade. Sludge. I love coffee, but I hate that kind of coffee.
Somewhere in my 20s I started drinking Starbucks’ Mocha Frappuccinos—a more refined coffee experience combined with chocolate. I liked them very much. That led to hot mochas, which led to hot regular coffee. Now I love all coffee. Good coffee. Real coffee. I love the smell. I love the flavor. I love the romance of it. Anyone with me? Sometimes I find myself thinking at night, Hey, when I wake up, I get to drink coffee.
Have I just confessed sin to you? Is it wrong for a Christian to greatly enjoy something like coffee? Might the scuttlebutt be that perhaps Pastor Steve enjoys his coffee too much? Perhaps it’s too important to him. Might even be an idol. And aren’t we supposed to deny ourselves and follow Jesus? Enjoying coffee could be a slippery slope into loving the world and the things in the world.
And here we are in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says in chapter 2 that he tried everything the world had to offer and it was all vanity. Wouldn’t coffee be included in “vanity”? What a mess we can make of all this. If you grew up fundamentalist Christian like me, you know these arguments quite well. I often think God is in heaven shaking his head and thinking, I made coffee because I thought you’d like it.
So what do we do with all these wonderful, beautiful, enjoyable things God built into the world around us? Can good Christians passionately pursue them? Buy them? Taste them? Enjoy them? Is that unspiritual? And how do we do so without falling into Solomon’s trap of despair from these things? That’s where our series on Ecclesiastes takes us.
24 “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ESV)
What has been conspicuously absent from the whole book thus far is God. He is mentioned only in 1:13. The reason for this is that Solomon is pursuing meaning as if there is no God. He is squeezing the material world trying to find soul satisfaction. But all he feels is emptiness. All the money, success, wives, and power WITHOUT God produce emptiness. Futility.
But here Solomon says there is a way for us to enjoy life in the midst of the futility.
How to Enjoy Fleeting Pleasures During Your Futile Life
Connect the gift with the giver
“For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.” (Ecclesiastes 2:26) Wisdom and knowledge we somewhat expect to see in this list of gifts, but what about joy? Joy is a gift from God? Everything was made by God including the human experience of joy. This is a gift from him.
The carnal man experiences joy. He drinks his coffee just like the Christian. But as he drinks it, his heart has no thanksgiving beyond the flavor itself. There’s no theology when he drinks. No worship. He fails to connect his joy with God as the giver of it. Life apart from God is life that doesn’t honor him or give thanks to him.
But the Christian has experienced salvation and has received by faith God’s ultimate gift, Jesus. Now I understand grace and my own depravity. Gone is my sense of entitlement to anything. I deserve hell and damnation but God has given me forgiveness and eternal life.
I don’t deserve salvation AND I don’t deserve anything else. God is grace. God is good. Every daily joy is a grace gift from him. A Christian connects all of God’s gifts with God and it produces a profound thankfulness in all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Think of it like we do other gifts. You probably have various gifts people have given to you over the years. Birthday. Wedding shower. Whatever. Why do we call some gifts sentimental? The gift reminds us of the person who gave it to us. Grandpa’s tools. Dad’s ring. Mom’s bracelet. When the house is burning down, these are the things we grab as we run out the door. They hold value because of who gave them to us. We think of them as we enjoy their gift to us.
We must have a divine sentimentality in the midst of joys and pleasures. Experience them to the max but be aware that you don’t deserve this. God is good. Give him honor. Give him thanks. This actually increases our pleasure in the gift itself. Christian coffee isn’t better but coffee tastes better to a Christian—not because of the bean or the brewer but because of the thankful theologian drinking it.
Full enjoyment of created things requires knowing the Creator
Solomon is laying out two ways to live. One is the worldly man living for accumulation only to die and see it all go to someone else. The other is a life lived faithfully under God enjoying the daily blessings with gospel-shaped thanksgiving.
You can try to the latter but without a genuine relationship with God it won’t last very long. You like created things but do you know the One who created them? The one true God. Do you know personally the good God who provides these for you?
And do you know his Son Jesus who came into this world and was rejected and despised and crucified? Why did he do that? His joy was to do the will of the Father. His joy was to obey including his heavenly Father’s desire that he die for the sins of the world. That’s what he did. To enjoy God you have to know God and the only way to know God is by faith in his Son Jesus.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) To know God is to enjoy God AND to enjoy with thanksgiving all his good gifts.
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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