Text: Ecclesiastes 9:1-12
The Big Idea: In light of the certainty of death and the unpredictability of life, enjoy to the fullest the days God gives you.
Many Christians have the false belief that it’s somehow wrong for them to enjoy themselves, and to enjoy life. Many Christians falsely believe that if something is enjoyable then it surely must be sinful. I grew up in Fundamentalism where the belief was if it “appealed to the flesh” then it was indeed sinful and was to be avoided at all costs.
Which if you apply some basic thinking skills you quickly realize that the argument simply doesn’t hold water. For instance, Cracker Barrel’s pancakes appeal to my flesh. Does that make them sinful? Not necessarily. In fact the Preacher will commend the enjoyment of good food to us later in this passage.
Now you’re thinking people, so let’s think this through. If the Preacher is going to encourage us to enjoy God’s gifts, isn’t it fair to say that many people were doing just the opposite and not enjoying God’s gifts?
As we begin to work our way through this passage ask yourself, “What group am I in?” Are you a part of the group that is allowing worry and anxiety to keep you from enjoying life to the fullest? Or are you a part of the happy minority that has learned to enjoy the gifts that God has provided to you?
The Preacher begins to build his case for enjoying life to the fullest by reminding us that…
1. We all die, and the dead have nothing (vv. 1-6)
As we learned last week the Preacher struggled in chapters 7 and 8 with the question of why bad things happen to some good people and why good things happen to many bad people. He struggled with understanding how a just God can allow this to happen? He ended chapter 8 with the conclusion that not even the wisest among us can find out all the work of God. He comes to the realization that human wisdom is limited in its ability to understand the works of God.
Yet even though he came to the above conclusion, he still has a question about God’s relationship with mankind. Let’s look again at verse 1.
“But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1, ESV)
What He Knew
Even though there were many things the Preached didn’t understand, one thing he did understand was that no matter how much they suffer on earth “the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God.” The Preacher understood that they were in God’s hands; they were in the care of God. He understood that God is in control and controlling the events of our lives. But there was something he didn’t know.
What He Didn’t Know
The Preacher acknowledges God’s sovereign right to do as he sees fit. But then he makes a rather puzzling statement. Notice the last part of the verse:
“Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.”
The problem as the Preacher sees it is that neither the righteous nor the wise knew if what they were going through was a result of God’s love for them or if it was a result of God hating them.
You say, ‘Wait a minute, I thought that God is love. How could the result of love be hate?”
The way to understand what the Preacher is saying is to understand love and hate this way: when the Preacher uses the words “love” and “hate”, he is using them to describe either God’s acceptance or God’s rejection of us.
For example, when the Lord says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13), he means that Jacob is accepted by faith, but Esau is rejected in his unbelief.
Therefore the problem as the Preacher sees it is our being able to know where we stand with God. We are all in God’s hands, that’s not the issue. The issue is what our standing before God is.
The Scripture says that God’s “right hand is filled with righteousness” (Psalm 48:10), that we are “the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7), and that no one can ever snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28), even when it comes time for us to die (Psalm 31:5). Yet the Scripture also says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Therefore, it is not enough to know that we are in God’s hands. Everyone is in God’s hands. The question is whether God’s hand is for us or against us. Is he our friend or our foe?
The Preacher came to the conclusion that you can’t determine your standing with God based upon your circumstances. If you’re suffering that doesn’t mean that God hates you. And conversely if you are not suffering and seem to be living a life of ease that is no indication that you are right with God.
As I said last week that the Preacher wrote his words before the coming of our Redeemer – Jesus Christ. We have the advantage of being able to look back to the Cross and realizing that what took place on the Cross helps us to understand where we stand in relationship to God.
For all those who come to Christ for the forgiveness of their sins they can rest assured that they are loved by God with an eternal love that will never change.
For all those who reject Christ then they, too, should assured that because they have rejected the Father’s Son, he will in turn reject them.
But there is still truth in the Preacher’s conclusion that we can’t look at our current circumstances and extrapolate from that what our standing with God is. Many, many of God’s children suffer terribly in this world yet they are indeed loved by God. While at the same time, the wicked of the wicked seem to breeze through life with little or no trouble yet they are living under the judgment of God.
Remember current circumstances are not the determining factor in our relationship with the Father. Faith is the determining factor, not circumstances.
The Preacher goes on to say that the same event happens to all. The same fate awaits both the righteous and the unrighteous. What is this fate? Death!
But why do all die? The Preacher provides the answer
“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3, ESV)
Why do all die? Because their hearts are filled with evil! Their hearts are filled with wickedness. The Preacher hasn’t suddenly discovered something new, he is simply observing what has been true since the fall of Adam and Eve.
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
(Genesis 6:5, ESV)
But the Preacher come to the conclusion that it’s better to be alive than it is to be dead. He says that even a dog’s life is better than no life! The dead know absolutely nothing! They have nothing to look forward too. They have no past, they have no future, and it’s almost as if they never existed. Look at verse six.
“Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 9:6, ESV)
One commentator writes “This is probably the starkest biblical description of the dead: they are gone; no more rewards, soon forgotten, their passions perished; no more portion in life.”
If the life of a dog is better than that of a dead lion what should we do?
II. Enjoy to the fullest the days God gives you! (vv. 7-10)
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7, ESV)
The Preacher is not merely making a suggestion. He is issuing a command. He is commanding us to go and do these things. He is giving a wakeup call to all those who have not been enjoying God’s good gifts to them. He is saying there is no time to waste, get it in gear! He is saying to stop complaining and stop grumbling about your situation. He is saying get over your worry and your anxiety. Go! Start right now!
His second command is “eat your bread with joy”. Good food is one of God’s gifts to us. God has given good food to us for our enjoyment. Unfortunately mealtimes are not always times of enjoyment. We’re tired at the end of the day so who feels like preparing a meal? So what do we do? We throw something together and gulp it down as fast as we can so we can get back to watching T.V. or something else that we would rather be doing. In our modern world we have lost sight that God created us with the ability to enjoy food so therefore we should enjoy this gift He has provided to us.
Let me encourage those of you who still have children at home, cherish the times when you can sit around the table with them. Take the time to enjoy the good gifts of food and family that God provides to you.
Next he says “and drink your wine with a merry heart.” Now don’t give all hung up on the word wine. He is simply pointing out another one of God’s good gifts to us. In essence this is another gift that God has given to you. If I were writing this I would have said “and drink your Diet Pepsi with a merry heart”. Enjoy your pancakes from Cracker Barrel, enjoy your Diet Pepsi! They are part of God’s gifts to you.
Why should we do this? Because God has already given these activities his stamp of approval! Perhaps the Preacher is thinking back to the Creation story. Remember what God said after he had finished his work of creation? God looked on all that he had made and said that it was what? It was good. Remember God told Adam and Eve that they could enjoy everything in the Garden except for the fruit of one tree.
Therefore God long ago gave his approval to the good things that he had made.
But we can enjoy more than just food we can enjoy life. I believe that’s what the Preacher means in verse eight.
“Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” (Ecclesiastes 9:8, ESV)
That’s a description of someone who was enjoying life. If a person were in a state of mourning they would dress in sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. There are times when we should mourn. Right now, we should be mourning with Michelle over the loss of her Grandmother. But there are also times when we should enjoy life and our appearance should show that. It’s okay to dress up. It’s okay to wear colorful clothes and do your hair and go out and enjoy a good meal.
And you know what adds even more enjoyment to all of these things? Sharing them with someone else! At this point the Preacher gets pretty specific about whom we can and should share the enjoyment of life with. If you’re married you should share the enjoyment of God’s good gifts of food and drink and clothes with your wife if you’re a man and with a man if you’re a woman.
It’s really sad that so many married people find so little enjoyment in each other. God brings a man and a woman together not to spend their lives fighting each other but to love each other and to enjoy each other.
Finally in light of the fate that awaits each of us the Preacher gives us one more command. The command is to take advantage of the opportunities that God gives to us in life. And when should we take advantages of these God given opportunities? Immediately when God gives them to us! We don’t know what the future holds and there is no guarantee that the opportunity will ever be presented to us again.
Now listen, whenever we hear something like this we may be tempted to first think about a business opportunity, about a chance for a new job and to make more money. That may be part of what the Preacher had in mind, but I think he has so much more in mind.
How about seizing the opportunity to give glory to God whenever the opportunity presents itself?
Or how about seizing the opportunity of serving another when we have the opportunity?
Or how about taking the time to deepen and develop our relationships with our friends and our families while we have the opportunity? Three of my four grandparents died before my children had the chance know them, to enjoy them. Take advantage of your family relationships while you can.
Let’s not be so self-centered when it comes to the subject of opportunity. Maybe the opportunity that God gives to us is purely for the benefit of another. If that is the case then we should seize on that opportunity with just as must zeal as we would if the opportunity was purely for our own benefit.
And when the opportunity comes grab hold of it and make the most of it – do it with all your might! Don’t give the opportunity less than your best! Learn the power of focus, which is incredibly hard to do in a world filled with push notifications from Facebook or Twitter or a thousand other places.
Why should we enjoy life and seize opportunity?
III. Life is unpredictable, and death can strike unexpectedly (vv. 11-12)
Once you’ve lived a while you begin to realize that life doesn’t always go as you had hoped and many times planned. Life is very unpredictable and the Preacher gives us some illustrations of the unpredictable nature of life.
He says that the race is not always to the swift. Sometimes the team that is favored to win doesn’t win. The biggest and the strongest warrior don’t always come out on top.
Sometimes the smartest people go hungry, the richest people are the poorest and the most skilled can’t find a job. Why? Only God knows. Life is unpredictable! Why all of these exceptions? Because as the Preacher says “Time and chance happen to them all”!
Not only is life unpredictable, death many times comes unexpectedly. Certainly there are times when the Doctors says you have six months to live, but even then when death comes it seems to come suddenly and catch us off guard. Then there are those cases when death suddenly and very unexpectedly snatches friends and family from us. I just heard a lady talk about her late husband. She said he stood up took about five steps and dropped dead to the floor with a heart attack. That’s the way life is literally here one moment and gone the next.
What then should we do? We should enjoy life to the fullest while we can.
IV. Enjoy to the fullest the days God gives you!
Do you remember the “What would Jesus Do” fad from a few years ago? Would Jesus support the Preacher’s command for us to Go and enjoy life? Yes he would!
How do I know that? Well let’s think about what we see Jesus doing in the New Testament. Don’t we see him providing food for the masses on more than one occasion? Wasn’t it Jesus who told us not to worry about your our next meal? Why did he say that? Because worry and anxiety robs us of our joy. Jesus didn’t want us to worry about something that was given to us for our enjoyment.
Since food and drink are gifts from God our heavenly Father, we should enjoy them.
If we do not enjoy God’s gifts we dishonor the Giver.
We should follow the example of the church at Jerusalem.
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” (Acts 2:46, ESV)
Learn to enjoy life! Jesus went to a wedding and made sure that the celebration wasn’t ruined because they ran out of refreshments.
Learn to enjoy your work.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24, ESV)
God has given us good gifts for our enjoyment. God has given us food and drink and family and work and opportunity all for our enjoyment. You have already been given by God everything you need to enjoy life to the fullest. You don’t need anything more in order to enjoy life.
Enjoy a good meal, enjoy your relationships, enjoy your work, and seize the opportunities that God has given you! Go ahead enjoy life!