“Hedonism” – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

September 29th,  2013   

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11


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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  —  1 Timothy 4:4-5


Background Information:

  • Solomon’s experiment is to see if there is anything in the world that will satisfy our craving for permanence.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 122)
  • Solomon did what so many people have tried out since his time; instead of accepting the statements of God’s Word concerning that which is good and beneficial to them, they determine to try out for themselves what is good and so are obliged to learn through many bitter and painful experiences.  Solomon, having the means, took every opportunity for his experiment.  (Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, Vol 11, 263)
  • Read Eccl 2 aloud and you will be overwhelmed with the number of times the first person personal pronoun comes into play–“I”, “me”, “my”, and so forth.  As he prospered, Solomon seems to have begun thinking more about himself, his pleasure, and his own interests and needs than those of the people of Israel.  Lost in self-seeking, Solomon opened the doors of Israel to idolatry, adultery, self-indulgence, moral compromise, and spiritual disaster (1 Kgs 11:1-13).  How easy it is for even the wisest among us to succumb to the temptations of sin!  (T. M. Moore, “Keep Your Motives Right” The Christian Worldview Journal, 5/27/12)
  • Solomon tells us that he came to a point where he said to himself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure.  So enjoy yourself” (Eccl 2:1a).  He not only fantasized about tantalizing his senses but immersed himself in ecstatic delights, making his wildest dreams become reality.  And what did he find?  Emptiness.  To put it in his words, “It too was futility” (v. 1b).  At this point, we might think: Wait, perhaps Solomon didn’t cover all the bases; could he have missed a sensual experience that would have altered his conclusion?  But Solomon seems to have anticipated this response, for he takes ten verses just to detail his escapades regarding pleasure.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 14-15)
  • The Preacher is not testing pleasure so much as himself.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 64)
  • (v. 2) Gladness of heart, joy, pleasure–it is not that these things are not good in themselves in Ecclesiastes.  Yet Qohelet has discovered that the pursuit of them with the hope of gain is just as pointless as the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge for that purpose.  The concept śimba does not “accomplish” or achieve anything (v. 2).  Indeed, it is as readily associated with fools as with the wise (cf. 7:4).  The same is true of “laughter” (2:2), which is all too often uttered by those who have no profound grasp of reality (cf. 7:3-6).  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 71)
  • (v. 2) Two items are specified: laughter ( hõq0 and mirth (œimhâ).  The former is superficial gaiety, used for the ‘fun’ of a game (Prv 10:23) or a party (Eccl 10:19), or the ‘derisiion’ which Jeremiah suffered (Jer 20:7). . . . The implication of the rhetorical question is obvious: all pleasures, highbrow and lowbrow alike, fail to meet the needs of the man whose horizon remains ‘under the sun’.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 65)
  • (v. 4) Houses recalls the building achievements of Solomon (1 Kgs 7; 9:1; 10:21; 2 Chr 8:3-6).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 65)
  • (vss. 4-6) A hallmark of royalty from time immemorial has been the planting of “gardens” (Sg 4:12; 5:1; 6:2, 11), “vineyards” (Sg 8:11), “orchards” (Heb. Pard sîm is borrowed from a Persian word which is also the source of “paradise”), and ornamental groves.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 72-73)
  • (vss. 4-6) From long before Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens to the latest blossoming of the White House cherry trees, heads of state have been delighted to be known as patrons of horticulture.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 73)
  • (v. 7) The “herds”–large animals like cattle and oxen–and “flocks”–small animals like sheep and goats–were additional signs of luxury, given the fact that commoners subsisted on grains, fruits, and vegetables and ate very little meat.  They saved their animals for work, milk, and wool.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 74)
  • (v. 8) The terms translated “harem” is rendered as “musical instruments” in the King James.  But the rare Hebrew combination of words quite probably refers to a harem and its delights.  This, too, fits the account of 1 Kings: “he had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines” (1 Kgs 11:3).  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 25)
  • (v. 8) The “singers” were used for banquets and parties within the court.  “Delights,” in keeping with its use in Sg 7:6, must have an erotic meaning–“sexual pleasures” that men (the sexual context encourages a masculine meaning to “sons of men”) enjoy.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 75)
  • (v. 9) He enjoyed, more than ever any man did, a composition of rational and sensitive pleasures at the same time.  He was, in this respect, great, and increased more than all that were before him, that he was wise amidst a thousand earthly enjoyments.  It was strange, and the like was never met with, (1) That his pleasures did not debauch his judgment and conscience.  In the midst of these entertainments his wisdom remained with him, v. 9.  In the midst of all these childish delights he preserved his spirit manly, kept the possession of his own soul, and maintained the dominion of reason over the appetites of sense; such a vast stock of wisdom had he that it was not wasted and impaired, as any other man’s would have been, by this course of life.  But let none be emboldened hereby to lay the reins on the neck of their appetites, presuming that they may do that and yet retain their wisdom, for they have not such a strength of wisdom as Solomon had; nay, and Solomon was deceived; for how did his wisdom remain with him when he lost his religion so far as to build altars to strange gods, for the humoring of his strange wives?  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 989)
  • (v. 9) A critic might say that this prevented him from making a fair sampling of pleasure because constant analysis of one’s feelings hinders complete enjoyment.  But if Solomon had allowed himself to be swept off his feet by sensual pleasures, he would doubtless have sunk to the despair of a slave of immorality.  He wanted to determine to what extent one could find the key to life in a varied use of great wealth.

In the end money and the pleasures it can buy do not lift us out of the realm of earthbound frustration.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1156-57)

  • (vss. 3, 9) He says that during this test his heart still led him with wisdom.  By this he meant that he did not become a drunken sot.  On the contrary, he drank wine wisely and stayed sober throughout the experiment.  He determined to get all the good out of it that he could while avoiding its many evils; He was testing the good qualities of pleasure so far as they might reach, while doing all he could to avoid debauchery or even excess.  His test was, therefore, of the highest quality that the world has to offer.  He would not prejudice the case by looking at the worst possible scenario, but by the best.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 18)
  • (v. 10) The first thing he said to himself was, “Enjoy yourself,” so he went in for mirth, laughter, and pleasure.  Let your mind fill in the gaps.  Imagine how the palace must have rocked with laughter.  Every night there were stand-up comics, and lavish feasts, with wine flowing like water.  You may be interested to know what just one day’s menu included during this time.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 26)
  • (v. 11) I considered (NIV surveyed) is literally ‘I faced.’  The verb means ‘to look someone in the eye’ (Job 6:28) or (as here) to ‘face the facts’, ‘turn one’s full attention.’  The Preacher is not content to put a bold face on things; he must tell it the way it is.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 67-68)
  • To those of us who do not “have it all,” pleasure beckons promisingly.  “The grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard.”  That is one of the worst things about poverty; it is deceptive.  When you have little, you can still believe the lie that more will make you happy.  But “poor little rich man” Solomon had it all, and the bubble burst; the illusion was shattered.  The rich know from experience that riches do not make them happy; the poor can still believe this lie.  That is the chief advantage of riches: not that they make you happy but that they make you unhappy–but wise.  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 40)


The question to be answered is . . . What is the teacher trying to tell us this week in Ecclesiastes?:


Answer:  Just like knowledge, pleasure and achievement do not live up to our expectations.  I believe Solomon is attempting to teach us that we only discourage and frustrate ourselves by trying to make life under the sun produce more in us than it is capable of delivering.  The kinds of expectations we impose upon life under the sun can only be met in a life under the Son.


The wise Professor would have enjoyed the county fair.  He would have understood the intrigue with which a fair can put its noose around our hearts and bind us to its attractions.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 69)


The Word for the Day is . . . pleasure


Qoheleth becomes an experimental hedonist.  In other words, he chooses to make his own personal happiness his chief end in life.  This is the way that many people live today, and it is a temptation for all of us–to live for ourselves rather than for God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 46)


The very first question in all ethics is, What do I want?  Only after this is settled (pleasure in hedonism, adjustment in naturalism, self-realization in eudaemonism, etc.) can we ask about the why and the how and the who and the when and the where and the which!  The primary issue is the “value” problem, our choice of our summum bonum.  (Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, 42-43)


But if being selfish brings so much trouble to everybody, including oneself, why be that way?  Because, as the filmmaker Woody Allen said in 1993, trying to explain his controversial affair with the young daughter of Mia Farrow, “The heart wants what it wants.”

But why doesn’t the heart want God, trust God, look childlike to God for life’s joys and securities?  Why doesn’t the heart seek final good where it can actually be found?  Why turn again and again, in small matters and large, to satisfactions that are mutable, damaging, and imperiled?

Because the heart wants what it wants.  That’s as far as we get.  That’s the conversation stopper.  The imperial self overrules all.  Inquiring into the causes of sin takes us back, again and again, to the intractable human will and to the heart’s desire that stiffens the will against all competing considerations.  Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting that it wants what it wants.  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, p. 62)


What is the teacher trying to tell us this week in Ecclesiastes?:

I.  Pleasure under the sun is far too superficial and temporal to provide that for which we are ultimately seeking.  (Eccl 2:1-3, 10a)


The way to render a man happy, is to engage him with an object that will make him forget his private troubles.  What can be the reason that this man, who not long ago lost his only son, and this very morning was engaged almost to distraction in a law suit, now does not give his troubles a thought?  You need not be astonished; he is taken up with watching a stag,. Which his hounds have been in full chase after, for six hours.  However great his distress may have been, in this he finds ample consolation.  In short, prevail upon a man to join in any amusement whatever, and as long as that lasts he will be happy; but it will be a false and imaginary happiness, arising not from possession of real and solid good, but from a levity of spirit that obliterates the recollection of his real miseries, and fixes his thoughts upon mean and ridiculous objects, unworthy of his attention, and still less deserving of his love.  (Blaise Pascal, as quoted in   The Journey of Desire; by John Eldredge, p. 80)


First is the aesthetic stage, the defining characteristic of which is that one lives life as a spectator.  The spectator engages in social life and can discuss the arts with brilliance, but he is incapable of openness in human relationships and lacks self-direction.  He is chiefly an observer rather than a doer or actor.  Kierkegaard defines this as a condition of spiritual impotence that leads to sin and personal despair.  The person leaves the meaning of life itself to the mercy of external events.  He looks for fulfillment and escape from boredom in amusements.  In a sense the aesthetic stage is a form of hedonism, in which life consists in emotional and sensual experiences.  (R.C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 150)


There is nothing quite as sad as a man who has everything to live with, but nothing to live for.


The Epicureans adopted a more refined variety of hedonism.  They did so because they learned early the problem with Cyrenaic hedonism, the problem of excess.  This problem has been referred to as the “hedonistic paradox”:  if the hedonist fails to achieve the measure of pleasure he seeks, he experiences frustration.  Frustration is painful.  If we fail to find the pleasure we are seeking, the result is frustration and pain.  The more we seek pleasure and the more we fail to achieve it, the more pain we introduce into our lives.  On the other hand, if we achieve all the pleasure we seek we become sated and bored.  Boredom is the counterpart of frustration; it is also painful to the pleasure seeker.  Again, the paradox:  if we achieve what we want, we lose; if we don’t achieve what we are searching for, we lose.  The result of hedonism is the exact opposite of its goal.  Its only fruit is ultimate pain.  (R.C. Sproul; Lifeviews, 131)


The drinking of wine, likewise, is not of itself a necessarily foolish action (it is explicitly commended in 9:7), but it is not liable to “accomplish” anything.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 71)


Every serious hedonist knows the result of the experiment: pleasure inevitably becomes boring, sooner or later.  In Greek philosophy, the pursuit of pleasure soon turned into the pursuit of apatheia, apathy, the avoidance of pain and passion.  In modern times, the pursuit of pleasure often turns into an addiction; stronger and stronger doses must be found to fend off the familiarity and boredom.  Sometimes it becomes, bizarrely, its opposite: the pursuit of pain, sadomasochism–anything to relieve the boredom.

Hedonists are suckers for salesmen.  They are in the market for anything–anything that might relieve the boredom.  That is why hedonism and materialism are bedfellows: an addict has no sales resistance.  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 41)


The existence of good was questionable.  There was only an earthly environment in which to seek it.  And the time for seeking was short.  No wonder that the teacher plunged into the search with full vigor!

Like an eager boy at the county fair, pockets bulging with six months’ allowances, he roamed from booth to booth tasting the goodies designed to heighten the senses.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 71)


“Survey after survey has shown that the desire for material goods, which has increased hand in hand with average income, is a happiness suppressant” (emphasis added).  (CNN.com Report, “Nigeria No. 1 in Happiness, U.S. Ranks 16th,” Oct. 2, 2003)  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 30)


God alone knows what is good for human beings and God alone knows what is not good for them.  To enjoy the “good” we must trust God and obey him.  If we disobey, we will have to decide for ourselves what is good and what is not good.  While to modern men and women such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humanity.  (John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, p. 101)


Before we dismissively lump him together with the pleasure-seeking crowds of today or of any day, let us notice what he is doing.  He is not advocating mindless debauchery.  You would never have found him drunk and incapable or among the helpless heroin addicts.  In all that he does he is determined to remain in self-control–“my mind still guiding me with wisdom” (v. 3).  He would seek the stimulus of wine, yes, but never be its victim.  This is an experiment.  He wants to see whether it works.  It does not.  Like many a person before and after him, he discovers that the pursuit of pleasure, the search for happiness, is self-defeating.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 15)


Besides providing a hope that transforms individuals and cultures, and assuring individual liberty and dignity, Christianity offers the surest foundation for happiness, when that word is correctly understood.  You’ll remember earlier we discussed the ancients’ understanding of happiness.  The Greek word eudaimonia refers to a life well lives, a life of virtue, and it implies a life rooted in the truth.  The American Founders were referring to this conception of happiness, of the good life, when they declared liberty and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights.  They were not thinking of happiness as a life of hedonistic pleasure; they understood that hedonism–the party life–is destructive of humans and freedom.  The pursuit of pleasure for its own sake results finally in misery.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, p. 329)


Great laughter commonly ends in a sigh.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 988)


Most of the time the truth is that laughter is simply empty.  Watch even a ‘clean’ comedy on television or on the stage; compare the after-effect with that of watching a tragedy.  From the very beginnings of drama the difference has been well-recognized.  Comedy is light, tragedy is weighty; comedy is superficial; but a good tragedy is able to produce a catharsis of the emotions, like a medicine that cleanses pollutants out of the system and makes it function properly again.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 12-13)


A U.S. News & World Report cover story reported that according to Adult Video News, an industry trade publication, the number of hard-core video rentals rose from 75 million in 1985 to 490 million in 1992.  The total climbed to 665 million in 1996.  In that year Americans spent more than $8 billion on hard-core videos, peep shows, live sex acts, adult cable programming, sexual devices, computer porn, and sex magazines.  That figure represents “an amount much larger than Hollywood’s domestic box office receipts, and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings.”  If that surprises you, consider that Americans spend more money at strip clubs than at Broadway, off-Broadway, regional, and nonprofit theaters, and at the opera, the ballet, and jazz and classical performances–all together.  (Bill Perkins, When Good Men are Tempted, 122)


Hybris is the first and most popular form of idolatry.  But all forms of idolatry involve us deeply in folly.  All idolatry is not only treacherous but also futile.  Human desire, deep and restless and seemingly unfulfillable, keeps stuffing itself with finite goods, but these cannot satisfy.  If we try to fill our hearts with anything besides the God of the universe, we find that we are overfed but under-nourished, and we find that day by day, week by week, year after year, we are thinning down to a mere outline of a human being.   (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, pp. 122-23)


The Pundit has no interest in the merits or demerits of abstinence from alcohol.  He is not despising those who drink wine as though to do so were ungodly.  What he is talking about is drinking wine to try to lift himself out of his depressing emptiness.  Wine had become more to him than one of the good things in life; it was now a drug to mask the unsatisfied longings of his soul.  He had hoped it would act as a stimulant, and had discovered instead that it was a further depressant.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 14)


But pleasures are like poppies spread

You seize the flower, the bloom is shed

Or like the snow falls in the river

A moment white, then melts for ever…

Or like the rainbow’s lovely form

Evanishing amid the storm.  (Robert Burns)


The purely hedonistic probe of Qohelet’s experiment with experience fails because the wildness of orgiastic release proves to be no more than a transient excitation, leading to nothing and providing no lasting satisfaction.  (Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books, 349)


Pleasure no less than knowledge is empty of permanence and is thus unable to bring the gift of tranquility.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 22)


But what moves an addict to the bait?  At every stage, addiction is driven by one of the most powerful, mysterious, and vital forces of human existence.  What drives addiction is longing–a longing not just of brain, belly, or loins but finally of the heart.

Because they are human beings, addicts long for wholeness, for idolatries, addiction taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its filling him.  Accordingly, the addict longs not for God but for transcendence, not for joy but only for pleasure–and sometimes for mere escape from pain.  Some therapists believe that addicts can get high even on the vapors of guilt or, less simply, that desire, pleasure, guilt feelings, and a Nietzschean will to power sometimes run together into a high-octane blend that fuels addiction.   (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 131)


Las Vegas is mere lights, tights, and tinsel!  Late night TV shows and sitcoms are perhaps the epitome of what Solomon is speaking about.  The canned laughter piped in to make the viewer think that what is said is funny to the extreme is only a part of the sham.  The thinness of it all, together with the insipid philosophies that underlie it, plainly demonstrates what Solomon is teaching.  After laughing one’s self silly for an hour or two, if a person seriously asks, “What good did it do?” he will reach the same conclusion as Solomon did–none.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 17)


The maxim of today’s generation can be stated in these six words: if it feels good, do it!  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 14)


Probably no one who has ever lived has had such an abundance of erotic experiences at his bidding.  And yet, they left him empty, bored, and frustrated.  In fact, the many women he loved eventually “turned his heart away” from God (v. 3b).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 16)


In the eyes of many, Solomon had achieved the good life.  He experienced it for all it was worth.  And what did he gain?  Good feelings.  We cannot deny that sensual pleasures are gratifying.  However, the thrill they produce is fleeting, while the guilt and anguish illicit pleasures usually bring lingers on.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 16)


One or two days a year are all we can take even of something as beckoning as the county fair.  What a hollow and futile life it would be to be locked within its gates permanently!  The booths, contests, and amusements that seem so enticing on rare occasions would cloy and nauseate us as a steady diet.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 78)


Despite the high excitement and the quiet satisfaction which the pursuit of pleasure gave “Solomon” (Eccl 2:10), the wise man, after “facing up” to the issues and results (“looked on,” v. 11, is lit. “turned to face”), branded the whole quest as futile.  That is to say, the ultimate meaning in life, the highest good to which we should give ourselves, is not pleasure.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 76)


He knew the lure of pleasure, and he knew its snare.  He had found that pleasure promises more than it can produce.  Its advertising agency is better than its manufacturing department.  It holds out the possibility of exquisite delight, but the best it can perform is titillation.  It seeks to tickle the human spirit but cannot probe its depths.  It daubs iodine on human wounds when what is needed if surgery.  It may distract us from our problems by diverting our attention, but it cannot free us from those problems.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 76-77)


The quest for pleasure is like eating salted peanuts; it is impossible to stop after the first bite.  One bite leads to another because the first leaves no lasting impact.  To reflect on the delights of the first peanut is far less gratifying than to reach for the second.  Far from comforting us, each act of pleasure leaves us thirsty for the next.  One of the wealthy celebrities of our generation has acknowledged this: “My attention span is short, and probably my least favorite thing to do is to maintain the status quo.  Instead of being content when everything is going fine, I start getting impatient and irritable.  For me the important thing is the getting, not the having.”  (Donald Trump, Trump: Surviving at the Top)  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 77)


Like Solomon, we have ample opportunity to indulge many sinful and selfish desires.  In fact, maybe Solomon would envy us.  Generally speaking, we live in better homes than he did, with better furniture and climate control.  We dine at a larger buffet; when we go to the grocery store, we can buy almost anything we want, from anywhere in the world.  We listen to a much wider variety of music.  And as far as sex is concerned, the Internet offers an endless supply of virtual partners, providing a vast harem for the imagination.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 50-51)


The pursuit of pleasure results in either boredom or frustration.  Put simply, if we gain the pleasure we seek, we soon become tired of it.  If we do not gain it, we are filled with disappointment.  Those who give themselves to pleasure are often bored; those who wish they could and cannot are often bitter.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 77)


II.  Achievement/beauty under the sun is far too limited to provide that for which we are ultimately seeking.  (Eccl 2:4-9, 10b-11)


Pursuing what we want is possible.  It is easy.  It is a pleasant kind of freedom.  But the only freedom that lasts is pursuing what we want when we want what we ought.  And it is devastating to discover we don’t, and we can’t.  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 14)


Postmodernism and its dogmatic tolerance can lead only to despair, as Sayers wrote and as we witness in the lives of so many today.  Despair in turn leads to slothfulness, and slothfulness to boredom.  In spite of our great technological advances and the highest level of education and material advances any society has ever achieved, we have managed to suck all of the meaning out of life, to destroy any basis for human dignity or human rights, to undermine moral and rational discourse–to leave ourselves adrift in the cosmos.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 210)


If final satisfaction could be found under the sun the Preacher would have found it. (Michael Phillips sermon, “The Voice of Experience”)


He was a liberated self-made man with every reason to be proud of his achievements.  And the verdict?  It meant nothing, all so much hebel, so much “striving after wind” (v. 11).  It is not that he has any regrets about his life style; he does not apologize for it.  It merely confirmed for him that the pursuit of pleasure was not the answer to the ultimate questions of life.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 15-16)


To live for anything else but God leads to breakdown and decay.

When a fish leaves the water, which he was built for, he is not free, but dead.

Worshiping other things besides God leads to a loss of meaning. If we achieve these

things, they cannot deliver satisfaction, because they were never meant to be “gods.”

They were never meant to replace God. Worshiping other things besides God also leads to self- image problems. We end up defining ourselves in terms of our achievement in these things. We must have them or all is lost; so they drive us to work too hard, or they  fill us with terror if they are jeopardized.               Faith is transferring your trust from your own efforts to the efforts of Christ.  You were relying on other things to make you acceptable, but now you consciously  begin relying on what Jesus did for your acceptance with God. All you need is nothing. If you think, “God owes me something for all my efforts,” you are still on the outside.  (http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/How_Can_I_Know_God-Keller.pdf)


Solomon had a purpose for writing skeptically and pesimistically.  Near the end of his life, he looked back over everything he had done, and most of it seemed meaningless.  A common belief was that only good people prospered and that only the wicked suffered, but that hadn’t proven true in his experience.  Solomon wrote this book after he had tried everything and achieved much, only to find that nothing apart from God made him happy.  He wanted his readers to avoid these same senseless pursuits.  If we try to find meaning in our accomplishments rather than in God we will never be satisfied, and everything we pursue will become wearisome.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1135)


Solomon’s kingdom, Israel, was in its golden age, but Solomon wanted the people to understand that success and prosperity don’t last long (Ps 103:14-16; Isa 40:6-8; Jas 4:14).  All human accomplishments will one day disappear, and we must keep this in mind in order to live wisely.  If we don’t, we will become either proud and self-sufficient when we succeed or sorely disappointed when we fail.  Solomon’s goal was to show that earthly possessions and accomplishments are ultimately meaningless.  Only the pursuit of God brings real satisfaction.  We should honor God in all we say, think, and do.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1135)


What does Solomon’s discussion of pleasure, achievement and beauty have to do with Christ and me ?:

A.  Pleasure and appreciation for beauty is a gift Christ built into our lives at creation and should be sought and recognized to give glory and praise to God.   (Eccl 8:15; 1Tm 4:3-4; 6:17-19)


To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people.  Or, to put it positively:  the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.  That is, The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 23)


God’s glory is the beauty of his manifold perfections.  It can refer to the bright and awesome radiance that sometimes breaks forth in visible manifestations. (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, p. 43)


Perhaps the Christian is now, today, in the twentieth-century West, the only kind of person who thinks naturally and unforcedly of a united world, a world of all inanimate and living things bound together; because the Christian alone has this sense of the indwelling Spirit which the Father and the Son let loose on the universe and on mankind.  Who, apart from the Christian, can shift his glance from the tree growing in his garden or the comet flashing across the sky to the baby in its pram without mentally jumping over barriers that separate one kind of experience from another?  For the Christian, the physical world and the human family are one unified creation, and the evidence of that unity impinges on his consciousness in millions of ways.  When he is moved by the beauty of a purple sunset on the hills, he senses the touch of the Creator.  When he is moved by the sight of his gurgling baby in his cot, he senses the touch of the Creator.  When he is moved by loving eyes or kind eyes, by joy shared or grief shared, he senses the touch of the Creator.   When he encounters the seemingly inexplicable evocative power of a piece of music, a poem, or a painting, he senses the touch of the Creator.  The Spirit within him and within others, and the Spirit evidenced in the natural world and the creations of men’s hands and minds, is one and the same Spirit. (Harry Blamires; On Christian Truth, 65-66)


The universe is a universe of nonsense, but since you are here, grab what you can.  Unfortunately, however, there is, on these terms, so very little left to grab—only the coarsest sensual pleasures.  You can’t except in the lowest animal sense, be in love with a girl if you know (and keep on remembering) that all the beauties both of her person and of her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behavior of your genes.  You can’t go on getting any serious pleasure from music if you know and remember that its air of significance is a pure illusion, that you like it only because your nervous system  is irrationally conditioned to like it.  You may still, in the lowest sense have a “good time”; but just in so far as it becomes very good, just in so far as it ever threatens to push you on from cold sensuality into real warmth and enthusiasm and joy, so far you will be forced to feel the hopeless disharmony between your own emotions and the universe in which you really live.  (CS Lewis; “Living in an Atomic Age” Present Concerns, 76)


Perhaps the whole course of this world’s experience does not furnish a more vivid picture of the unsatisfactory nature of earthly greatness.  No element of rest or pleasure seems to be wanting.  And yet the result is barren indeed.  It is the converse of the Christian.  He seems to be “possessing all things;” yet in reality it is–“having nothing.”  (Comp. 2 Cor 6:10).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 33)


Unrestrained desire was the source of this vanity and vexation.  He would keep back from his eyes nothing that they desired.  How little was this in the spirit of his father’s prayer–“Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity!”  Wisdom’s voice warns not to cast one hankering look toward the wilderness.  Its unholy breath fades the freshness and purity of our enjoyment.  It is in the spiritual world that we realize things in their true color.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 35-36)


If the whole world is full of God’s glory, the Besht reasoned, then the Mitnagdim and the ascetics were wrong in thinking that one had to turn one’s back on the pleasures of the world.  “Don’t deny that a girls is beautiful,” the Besht would say.  “Just be sure that your recognition of her beauty brings you back to its source–God.”  If one could do that, then even physical pleasures could bring about spiritual growth.  Because the world was full of God, the Besht believed that a person always should be joyful.  Indeed, the greatest act of creativity comes about in an atmosphere of joy: “No child is born except through pleasure and joy,” the Besht declared.  “By the same token, if one wishes his prayers to bear fruit, he must offer them with pleasure and joy.”  (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, 216)


Charles Darwin, near the end of his life, wrote an autobiography for his children and expressed one regret:

Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare…formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight.  But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.  I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music…I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did….My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 88)


Back in the 1960s when people were arguing for unrestrained sexual freedom, Time magazine (of all publications) offered this rebuttal: “When sex is pursued only for pleasure, or only for gain, or even only to fill a void in society or in the soul, it becomes elusive, impersonal, and ultimately disappointing.”  By contrast, when sex is given to someone else, rather than taken for ourselves, and when it is shared exclusively between one man and one woman who are bound by a love covenant for life, then sexual intercourse finds its highest pleasure.  No one has explained this principle better than Martin Luther, who said, “If the Lord has given one a wife, one should now hold on to her and enjoy her.  If you want to exceed these limits and add to this gift which you have in the present, you will get grief and sorrow instead of pleasure.”  (Martin Luther, “Notes on Ecclesiastes,” in Luther’s Works, 15:30)  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 54)


B.  Pleasure and beauty were given to assist us in recognizing the source of our ultimate and eternal pleasures and desires.  (Ps 16:11; 37:3-4; 40:8; 111:2; 1 Tm 6:8-16)


Pleasure, achievement and appreciation of beauty are not to be discouraged.  In fact, we were made to enjoy them.  But, we are not to tarnish their usefulness in our lives by making them the ultimate satisfaction.  — Pastor Keith


Your life is the gift of God.  And He has given you this gift because He loves you and He wants you to enjoy it.   Paul himself picks up on this theme doesn’t he?, when he says, “That God has given us all things freely to enjoy.

The ordinary gifts of live are not meant to be God Himself.  We mustn’t idolize work, or pleasure, or wisdom, or family , or county, or whatever else we tend to idolize.  These gifts are gifts of God but He hasn’t given them to us so that we worship them.   He hasn’t told us that our final satisfaction is in a good meal or that your wife will complete you or that these blessings of life will provide a full, final, cosmic, and primordial happiness.  But taken for what they are, they can be truly enjoyed.  Taken as a gift from God but not God Himself; taken as secondary gifts that are not going to last, they can be truly enjoyed.  Don’t despise the little things because they’re not the big things.  Thank God for the little things.  And remember the little joys of this life are pointers to the great joys of the life to come. Don’t sneer at momentary joys because they are not eternal.  Don’t despise little pleasures because they are not great pleasures.  See the little pleasures as a kind of down payment or a kind of appetizer of the great pleasure which is to come.  In a word, Enjoy every sandwich.   (Michael Phillips Sermon, “The Voice of Experience”)


The Christian Way — The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.   A baby feels hunger:  well, there is such a thing as food.   A duckling wants to swim:  well, there is such a thing as water.   Men feel sexual desire:  well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.  (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 120)


The pleasures of this world–especially all of the pleasures we experience today–leave us with what social critic Andrew Delbanco has described as an “unslaked craving for transcendence.”  This is exactly the way that God has designed us.  If we were able to find lasting satisfaction in earthly pleasure, then we would never recognize our need for God.  But satisfaction does not come in the pleasures themselves; it comes separately.  Satisfaction only comes in God himself, so that our dissatisfaction may teach us to turn to him.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 52)


Very few people today understand beauty as an extension of the creation.  Many people say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or “beauty is a matter of taste.”  To declare something is beautiful means only that it pleases them.  Such value judgments are always merely one person’s opinion.

To the Christian and the classical mind, however, beauty is not a subjective value judgment, and art is not merely the expression of an artist’s inner world.  Beauty, like goodness and truth, is part of reality; beauty is essential to the created order, part and parcel of the world in which we live.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, pp. 289-90)

We have already shown how happiness is always directed away from the self to the source of joy: the beautiful view, the beautiful beloved, the beautiful symphony, or the beautiful picture.  That is the nature of joy.  And worship is joy turned backwards towards God—the source of all joy.  For whatever it is that gives one happiness, God is its ultimate source.  It is quite right to express gratitude to the orchestral players and the conductor after a moving performance of a symphony.  A little reflection reminds us that we must feel gratitude to Beethoven too.  And a little further reflection reminds us that we must show gratitude to the God who gave us Beethoven and who made the human brains and skills that conceived and manufactured violins and trumpets. (Harry Blamires; On Christian Truth, 123)


It is this spiritual intercourse with God that is the ecstasy that is imagined and hinted at in all earthly intercourse; physical or spiritual.   And I think that is the ultimate reason why sexual passion is so strong and so different from other passion; so heavy with suggestions of profound meanings that always just elude our grasp.  I don’t think any practical need can account for it.  I don’t think any animal drive can explain it.  No animal falls in love or writes profound romantic poetry or sees sex as a symbol of ultimate meaning of life because no animal is made in the image of God.  Not just sexuality, but human sexuality is that image.   And human sexuality is a foretaste of that self-giving, losing and finding the whole self, a foretaste of that oneness and manyness that is the very life of the Trinity and the joy of the Trinity.   And what is why we long for   without knowing it.  That is why we tremble to stand outside of ourselves in the other.  That is why we long to give our whole selves, body and soul, because we are images of God the sexual being. We love the other sex because God loves God.  And this early love is so passionate because heave is full of passion, of energy, and dynamism.  That is one of the   reasons God invented families.  You can’t love or hate anybody as much as your own family.  Families are full of passion.  Heaven is not boring or blasaise.  It is passionate because God is passionate.  Jesus Christ who is our window to God was not a stoic or a Scribe or a Scholar.  He was a lover.  I think we correctly deny that God has passions in a passive sense. He is not moved or driven or conditioned by them as we are.  He cannot fall in love for the same reason the ocean cannot get wet.  He is love.  (Peter Kreeft in a lecture given entitled “Sex in Heaven” 47:15 into the lecture)


Solomon’s point: earthly pleasures do not remain.  Fixing one’s concern too tightly upon them leads only to frustration and despair.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 15)


He loves Thee too little

who loves anything together with Thee,

which he loves not for Thy sake.   -Augustine

In other words, if created things are seen and handled as gifts of God and as mirrors of his glory, they need not be occasions of idolatry—if our delight in them is always also a delight in their Maker. (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 143)


To those of us who do not “have it all,” pleasure beckons promisingly.  “The grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard.”  That is one of the worst things about poverty; it is deceptive.  When you have little, you can still believe the lie that more will make you happy.  But “poor little rich man” Solomon had it all, and the bubble burst; the illusion was shattered.  The rich know from experience that riches to not make them happy; the poor can still believe this lie.  That is the chief advantage of riches: not that they make you happy but that they make you unhappy–but wise.  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 40)


The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. (C. S. Lewis; The Weight of Glory)


Therefore what Paul is teaching us here is that the proper use of physical pleasures in sex and food is that they send our hearts Godward with the joy of gratitude that finds its firmest ground in the goodness of God himself, not in his gifts.  This means that if, in the providence of God, these gifts are ever taken away–perhaps by the death of a spouse or the demand for a feeding tube–the deepest joy that we had through them will not be taken away, because God is still good (see Hab 3:17-18).  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 187)


To those who submit gladly to the truth of God about themselves as sinners, and about Christ as the Savior, and about the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifer, and about God the Father as Creator–to them sex and food are sanctified.  That is, they are pure.  They are not unclean idols competing for our affections, which belong supremely to God.  They are instead pure partners in the revelation of God’s glory.  They are beams of his goodness along which the pure in heart see God (Mt 5:8).  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p. 189)


The crumbs of the Gospel are infinitely richer than the dainties of the world.  But this is man’s common delusion–to suppose that happiness is the creature of circumstances.  If, therefore, he is disappointed in one course, he will seek it in another.  Little does the self-deluded victim know that he carries the principle of his misery in his own bosom.  Far, indeed, is he from his object.  What he wishes is one thing.  What he really needs is another.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 28)


C.S. Lewis preached in 1941:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 88)


Good things, pursued for their own sake (rather than enjoyed as a by-product of godly Christian living), tend to mask the hollowness of the inner life of a person who does not fear God.  They also clutter one’s mind and misdirect the heart so as to mitigate any finer inclinations he may have.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 18)


Some of the pleasures Solomon sought were wrong and some were worthy, but even the worthy pursuits were futile when he pursued them as an end in themselves.  We must look beyond our activities to the reasons we do them and the purpose they fulfill.  Is your goal in life to search for meaning or to search for God who gives meaning?  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1136)


To give the wrong answer is to be as foolish as a grown man who lingers over cotton candy at the county fair when his wife is waiting at home with the promise of intimate and satisfying love.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 79)


C.  Achievement brings permanence and lasting satisfaction only when it is in the context of Christ and His Kingdom.  (Mt 5:12; 6:20-33; 19:21; Mk 10:21; Lk 12:33; 18:22; 1 Cor 3:9-15)


Ron Blue defines stewardship as “the use of God-given resources for the accomplishment of God-given goals.”  (Ron Blue, Master Your Money, 23)


I find it terribly difficult to understand a person who is so satisfied with their present accomplishments that they have no desire to risk attempting something new.  There is nothing wrong with spiritual contentment with our possessions and resources, but each of us should carry to our grave a holy dissatisfaction with our achievements.  (John C. Maxwell, The Power of Leadership, p. 45)


Christian spirituality talks about what we receive more than what we achieve.  Our potential and activity are entirely dependent on God’s prior work in our lives.  If we set out to be “achievers” rather than “receivers,” we have not begun to follow God.  An achiever calls attention only to herself, whereas a receiver leads others to appreciate the Giver.  If we insist on being an achiever, seeking God so that others might admire our faith, our commitment, our dedication, we become God’s competitor; trying to steal some of His glory.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 16)


It is an indictment of our own worldliness that we feel more exhilaration when we conquer an external mountain of granite in our own strength than when we conquer the internal mountain of pride in God’s strength.  The miracle of Christian Hedonism is that overcoming obstacles to love by the grace of God has become more enticing than every form of self-confidence.  The joy of experiencing the power of God’s grace defeating selfishness is an insatiable addiction.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 120)


. . .  don’t jump to the conclusion that there is no joy in things that are “harsh and dreadful.”  There are mountain climbers who have spent sleepless nights on the faces of cliffs, have lost fingers and toes in sub-zero temperatures, and have gone through horrible misery to reach a peak.  They say, “It was harsh and dreadful.”  But if you ask them why they do it, the answer will come back in various forms: “There is an exhilaration in the soul that feels so good it is worth all of the pain.”  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, p. 116)


Jesus is not against investment.  He is against bad investment–namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world.  Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven– “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!” (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, p. 165)


D.  When our desire and pleasure is to follow Christ because we see Him as beautiful, then can we enjoy true assurance, joy and peace(Ps 73:25; 112:1; 119:16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 174; Gal 5:16-24; Jas 1:14-15; 4:1-3; 1 Pt 1:14; 2 Pt 3:3; Jude 1:16-18)


I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term, than to gain a distaste for it, because of a superior satisfaction in God.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 11)


To be satisfied by the beauty of God does not come naturally to sinful people.  By nature we get more pleasure from God’s gifts than from himself.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 9)


This is what God desires of us?  In His works and Word He has manifested Himself that we as His creatures might stand in awe, beholding the symmetry of His attributes, the harmony of His deeds, the glory of His goodness, the overwhelming and unfathomable grandeur of His greatness: in a word, His beauty.  So often we turn to God only when in need.  He is all too frequently for us no more than an instrument or tool subservient to our desires and put to use to achieve some selfish design.  Of course, God is our source, our salvation, our sustenance.  But He is first and fundamentally to be seen as altogether beautiful in Himself, worthy of all praise, glory, and honor were we never ourselves to profit from His goodness.  (C. Samuel Storms, The Grandeur of God, 150)


A peasant shut up in his village only partially knows his wretchedness, but let him see rich palaces, a superb court, and he will realize all the poverty of his village.  He cannot endure its hovels after a sight of so much magnificence.  It is thus that we see our ugliness and worthlessness in the beauty and infinite grandeur of God.  (Fenelon, Christian Perfection, 145-46)


Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before,

Since we have seen His beauty, are joined to part no more

To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, and hear His pardon voice,

Transforms a slave into a child and duty into choice.                    — John Newton


Pleasant surroundings and pleasant experiences in themselves are not wrong.  Nor is enjoying them.  Solomon himself will say so.  What is wrong, is making these the object of one’s pursuit in life.  Why should one expect that every experience in a world of sin, cursed by God, will be pleasant?  The two ideas simply do not mesh.  God graciously allows us much pleasure in spite of our sin and the sinful conditions in which we live; but we have no right to demand or even expect it.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 15-16)


The world has no standard by which to determine what is good and what is not.  Consequently, what feels good, what others say or think is good, and a dozen other inadequate guidelines are adopted.  Too often Christians are influenced by these ideas.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 16)


The Bible in its entirety is the Christian’s divinely-given standard, and it is without error.  It alone, as an objective standard for all, sets the rules for life.  And here, in the words of the wisest man who ever lived (apart from the Lord Himself), we shall see that what men consider good is not good in the sight of God.  What the world calls good turns out to be vanity.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 17)


Solomon tells us that the world is no less wondrous for its being temporary.  But if we are not willing to accept its fleeting nature, we will be incapable of fully appreciating what it has to offer.  When we focus on what life is not, we cannot take delight in what life is.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 122-23)


Only when we taste the world as it is, respecting it for what it is and honoring its pleasures and pains as they come and go–only then can we partake of the joys that this world has to offer without souring them with the self-defeating desire for permanence.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 123)


What a travesty to choose the early service because it won’t interfere with the next ten hours of hedonism.  Quick, get home from church, change, stuff the kids in the car, hoist in the cooler, shove in a Beach Boys tape, head for the beach, eat, watch the air show, eat, play a little football until someone gets banged up, eat, return home exhausted, and drift off into a brain-dead stupor, dreading Monday morning.  Praise the Lord!                        (R. Kent Hughes;  Disciplines of Grace, 81)


Physical tastes like hot fudge vs. caramel are morally neutral. It’s not right or wrong to like the one over the other.  But having a spiritual taste for the glory of Christ is not morally neutral.  Not to have it is evil and deadly.  Not to see and savor Christ is an insult to the beauty and worth of his character.  Preferring anything above Christ is the very essence of sin.  It must be fought.  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 33)


Like Scripture writers, Augustine thinks of the heart not just as the seat of emotion or desire but also as the governing center of a human being–the human being at his center, at his core, considered in his fundamental orientation.  From the heart “flow the springs of life” (Prv 4:23).  Hence, in Scripture, integrity is a pure heart (Mt 5:8); where integrity is lacking, it is the heart that is “perverse” and “devious above all else” (Jer 17:9).  Accordingly, when Paul wants to describe the source of our new power, love, and integrity, he testifies that Jesus Christ has taken up residence at the governing center of human lives: he “dwells in our hearts” (Eph 3:17).  Depending on its orientation, then, the fact that “the heart wants what it wants” may be our shame or our salvation.  (Augustine, The City of God, 14.13)  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 62-63)


The human heart produces desires as fire produces heat.  As surely as the sparks fly upward, the heart pumps out desire after desire for a happier future.  The condition of the heart is appraised by the kinds of desires that hold sway.  Or, to put it another way, the state of the heart is shown by the things that satisfy its desires.  If it is satisfied with mean and ugly things, it is a mean and ugly heart.  If it is satisfied with God, it is a godly heart.  As Henry Skougal put it, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its desire.”  (John Piper, Future Grace, 277-78)


You can never play off self-love against love to God when self-love is treated as our love for happiness.  Rather love to God is the form that self-love takes when God is discovered as the all-satisfying fountain of joy.  Norman Fiering catches the sense here perfectly when he sums up (Jonathan) Edwards’ position like this: “Disinterested love to God is impossible because the desire for happiness is intrinsic to all willing or loving whatsoever, and God is the necessary end of the search for happiness.  Logically one cannot be disinterested about the source or basis of all interest.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 392)


It’s been said that man has only two problems: he doesn’t know who God is, and he doesn’t know who he is in relationship to God.  When a person does not understand God, he cannot comprehend the true meaning of life.  What must happen before an individual can personally know God and comprehend the things of God (Jn 3:1-8)?  (John A. Stewart, Lamplighters Self-Study: Ecclesiastes, 7)


One of the great mistakes we’ve made in modern Christianity is approaching God deductively as an object of knowledge instead of approaching Him inductively as the cause of wonder.  So apologists try to prove that God is factual.  And He is.  But facts don’t awe us.  In my humble opinion, it takes far more faith to believe in macroevolution by random chance than creation by intelligent design.  But it’s about more than just arguing the evidence.  God is more than factual.  He is wonderful.  The mind is educated with facts, but the soul is educated with beauty and mystery.  And the curriculum is creation.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 53)


Why would a triune God create a world?  If he were a uni-personal God, you might say, “Well, he created the world so he can have beings who give him worshipful love, and that would give him joy.”  But the triune God already had that–and he received love within himself in a far purer, more powerful form than we human beings can ever give him.  So why would he create us?  There’s only one answer.  He must have created us not to get joy but to give it.   He must have created us to invite us into the dance, to say:  If you glorify me, if you center your entire life on me, if you find me beautiful for who I am in myself, then you will step into the dance, which is what you are made for.  You are made not just to believe in me or to be spiritual in some general way, not just to pray and get a bit of inspiration when things are tough.  You are made to center everything in our life on me, to think of everything in terms of your relationship to me.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 9-10)


The more we know of God, the happier we are…When we became a little acquainted with God…our true happiness…commenced; and the more we become acquainted with him, the more truly happy we become.  What will make us so exceedingly happy in heaven?  It will be the fuller knowledge of God.  (George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealing with George Muller, 2:740)


Does not living by faith in future grace, alias Christian hedonism, make a god out of pleasure?  I answer, No, we make a god out of what we take most pleasure in.  My aim, in all my life and writing, is to make God God.  The biblical truth by which I endeavor to do that is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.  The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of his worth in our life.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 387)


I have argued so far that disinterested benevolence toward God is evil.  If you come to God dutifully offering him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of his fellowship, then you exalt yourself above God as his benefactor and belittle him as a needy beneficiary—and that is evil.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 97)


I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.  The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord: but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished…I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it.  Psalm 19:8, 10-11.  (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 122)


Worship point:  Think about all the pleasures, beauties and achievements God has allowed you to enjoy.  Think about how God wired and designed you so that you not only were able to enjoy them; but also realize that God will far surpass any enjoyment or satisfaction we have ever experienced or can imagine experiencing.  Then worship!


I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.  It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 49)


Spiritual Challenge: Never again look at a pleasure, a beauty or an achievement as an end in itself but as a pointer to the One who made it possible for you to enjoy.  Also realize that God wants us to not only enjoy those experiences but also so we might reflect and dream about God’s one day in glory, far exceeding all the delights and pleasures of this world.



Quotes to Note:

Love cannot be equated with sacrificial action!  It cannot be equated with any action!  This is a powerful antidote to the common teaching that love is not what you feel but what you do.  The good in this popular teaching is the twofold intention to show (1) that mere warm feelings can never replace actual deeds of love (Jas 2:16, 1 Jn 3:18), and (2) that efforts of love must be made even in the absence of the joy that one might wish were present.  But it is careless and inaccurate to support these two truths by saying that love is simply what you do and not what you feel. . . . The very definition of love in 1 Corinthians refutes this narrow conception of love.  For example, Paul says love is not jealous and not easily provoked, and that it rejoices in the truth and hopes all things (13:4-7).  All these are feelings!  If you feel certain things such as unholy jealousy and irritation, you are not loving.  And if you do not feel certain things such as joy in the truth and hope, you are not loving.  In other words, YES, love is more than feelings; but NO, love is not less than feelings. (John Piper; Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 101)







Bulletin Picture here










Search for Significance









Hillsdale Free Methodist Church

Sunday, September 29th, 2013




the Hedonist’s Culmination






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