Ecclesiastes — Lesson 3
Seeking Meaning & Happiness from Pleasure
I. Man’s Search for Meaning and Happiness
A. Men today are searching for meaning and for happiness and those searches are related.
1. Both are related to man’s unhappiness.
a) We search for meaning to make our unhappiness worthwhile. If we can find meaning to our lives, then we have a reason for continuing despite our unhappiness.
(1) It is said that he who has a “why” to live can bear almost any “how.” (Nietzsche)
b) We search for lasting happiness, of course, to relieve our unhappiness.
c) In our search for meaning, we are looking for a reason to continue despite our disease. In our search for happiness we are looking for a cure for our disease.
2. It is unhappiness that makes men start looking for something beyond themselves. Many times that search leads men away from God – but it can also lead men toward God.
B. We are all on a road. The only question is what is guiding us on that road.
1. Our thoughts have been described as the rudder of our life. Where we are on the road to happiness and meaning is a result of the sum total of our past thoughts and decisions.
2. So the question is – what is the basis for our decisions?
3. Pleasure has been a fundamental motivation for men since creation. Many men today are totally driven by their pleasures.
II. Solomon’s Experiment with Pleasure
A. Solomon’s Question: What can I do that will make me happy all of my life? What can I do that will give my life meaning?
B. His Experiment: He gave himself completely to the pursuit of pleasure.
1. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
a) 1I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity. 2I said of laughter—“Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” 3I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives.
2. Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
a) Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done And on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
3. Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
a) Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. 25For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I?
4. Ecclesiastes 8:15
a) 15So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.
5. First Kings 11:3
a) “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.”
6. First Kings 4:22-23
a) “Now Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty kors of fine flour, sixty kors of meal, 23ten fatted oxen, twenty oxen from the pastures, and one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl.”
b) These provisions for one day would have been enough to feed 10,000 people!
C. What is pleasure?
1. Our definition may be the same that courts have used to pornography – they can’t define it, but they know it when they see it!
2. Pleasure has a subjective element.
a) What is pleasurable to one person, may be excruciating to someone else.
3. Pleasure has a voluntary element.
a) What we do for pleasure, we do not under compulsion. We do pleasurable things simply because we want to – not because we have to.
b) Of course, this element can be changed when pleasure leads to addiction.
4. Pleasure has a pleasurable element (naturally!).
a) It is what you do when you do what you like.
b) It includes both sensual pleasures and intellectual pleasures – and both can be equally dangerous.
(1) Ephesians 2:3 speaks of “the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”
5. Pleasure is consumptive.
a) It consumes our resources without adding anything new.
b) What we do for pleasure, we generally do for no material reward.
c) It consumes our time, our energy, and our money.
(1) Thoreau: “That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.”
d) Pleasure consumes our resources and produces no lasting benefit. Clearly pleasure is something we must watch very carefully and keep in check.
6. Pleasure is necessary.
a) The monks and the Puritans who created cults based on discomfort and the denial of all worldly pleasures.
b) God created this world to be inhabited, and he created the pleasures that are in this world. He created man to have senses so that man could enjoy the pleasures that God created.
c) Pleasure is part of God’s plan for man – both earthly pleasure and eternal pleasure.
d) But pleasures must be enjoyed as God intended for them to be enjoyed.
e) The blessing of pleasure becomes a curse when we idolize pleasure.
f) Man’s problem is that he tries to make pleasure deliver something it was never intended to provide. He tries to make pleasure take the place of God.
D. What does the Bible have to say about the perversion of pleasure?
1. The love of pleasure consumes our resources.
a) (Proverbs 21:17) “He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not be rich.”
2. Those given to pleasure have false security.
a) (Isaiah 47:8-9) “Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, Who dwell securely, Who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, Nor shall I know the loss of children’; But these two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day: The loss of children, and widowhood.”
3. The pleasure of life can choke the word.
a) (Luke 8:14) “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”
4. Those living in pleasure are dead while they live.
a) (1 Timothy 5:6) “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.”
5. One cannot serve two masters.
a) (2 Timothy 3:4) “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”
6. Pleasure is something than man can serve.
a) (Titus 3:3) “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.”
7. What we count as pleasure will effect us eternally.
a) (2 Peter 2:12-13) “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.”
8. Wars come from our desires for pleasure.
a) (James 4:1) “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”
E. How is happiness related to pleasure?
1. Men do not pursue happiness for meaning as much as they pursue pleasure for happiness.
2. Happiness, like pleasure, is hard to define.
a) The Roman philosopher Varro came up with 288 different definitions of happiness.
3. We pursue pleasure because we are unhappy.
a) We often refer to our pleasures as diversions or escapes, and those terms are very telling. From what are we seeking a diversion? From what are we trying to escape?
(1) If we were truly happy, then why would we seek a diversion? We seek diversions because we are not happy.
(2) Thus, the person with the most diversions and amusements is not the happiest person – but the unhappiest. And this is exactly what Solomon discovered.
(a) Isn’t is interesting that those with riches and power seek more diversions than those without.
(3) Pascal – “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
b) Why do so many pursue pleasure rather than other things to relieve their unhappiness?
(1) Pleasure is the simplest and most obvious answer to the problem of unhappiness.
(2) Solomon also tried wisdom, but pursuing wisdom is difficult. Pleasure is the easy road, and hence the most traveled.
4. What makes men unhappy?
a) Men become unhappy when they stop and thinks about their lives – and particularly their deaths.
(1) Death is a major theme in the book of Ecclesiastes and a major source of the vanity that Solomon discovered.
(2) Whatever happiness man may find on this earth is temporary – there is no lasting happiness on this earth because everyone on this earth will die and this earth itself will be destroyed.
(3) Our insistence on permanence is the source of our unhappiness. We desire permanence and cannot obtain it.
(a) Even when we find some temporary happiness we are filled with anxiety because we know it will not last.
(b) We want every pleasure to last and we work to prolong it. We horde them and ration them and fret over them.
b) This unhappiness is a good thing!
(1) Men without faith in God should be unhappy!
(2) Men without God should be anxious about death!
(3) Those in the MOST danger are those who are without God yet who are happy and do not fear death. They are like a small child playing with a loaded handgun.
c) What can we say about those who serve their own pleasures and live without any thought of God?
(1) One thing we can say is that they are logical!
(a) First Corinthians 15:32 – “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’”
(b) If there is no God (as they believe) then why not serve pleasure? Go for the gusto and then go to the grave.
(2) And God’s view of such people? They are fools!
(a) Remember the rich fool in Luke 12:19-20 – “And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ 20“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’”
(b) Isn’t that exactly what Solomon concluded! The pursuit of pleasure is vanity – it is empty and meaningless. Thus, those who pursue it are fools.
5. Why is pleasure so dangerous?
a) Pleasure is a sedative!
(1) Pleasure deadens our spiritual nerves and muffles our spiritual alarm system.
(2) Those who live in pleasure long enough eventually become completely deadened. They cannot be reached with the one thing they need.
(3) Nothing is more difficult than to grow spiritually when comfortable.
b) Pleasure is boring!
(1) More precisely, pleasure becomes boring.
(2) We soon need more and more pleasure, and this escalation leads to addiction.
(3) We become the slave of our pleasures, rather than the slave of Christ.
(4) First Corinthians 6:12
(a) “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
(5) Ecclesiastes 6:7
(a) “All the labor of man is for his mouth, yet the appetite is not filled.”
c) Pleasure is easy!
(1) Pleasure is dangerous and pleasure is easy – which is a very bad combination. If the path to God is the narrowest way, the path of pleasure must be the widest – and many there be that find it!
(2) Pleasure is Satan’s favorite bait. He catches more people with it than with any other.
d) Pleasure is self centered.
(1) John Wesley: “But worse than all my foes I find the enemy within.”
(2) Even when pleasures are enjoyed in accordance with God’s will, they are still focused on the self – and even more so when we pursue pleasure apart from God. That focus away from God (even momentarily) makes pleasure very dangerous.
F. Can man find happiness?
1. God created man to enjoy earthly pleasures, but earthly pleasure is a poor substitute compared with the joy available in Christ!
a) Augustine: “Man cannot live without joy. Therefore, when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.”
2. God has promised us eternal happiness, and to obtain that eternal happiness we must not be guided by our pleasures while on this earth.
a) Psalm 16:11
(1) You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
b) C. S. Lewis: “Our heavenly father has provided many delightful inns for us along our journey, but he takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home.”
3. Yet God also wants us to be happy while on that journey – and he knows how we can obtain that earthly happiness.
a) Happiness and holiness are linked.
(1) The Beatitudes have been called the code for Christian happiness.
(2) The gospel is good news – and good news should make us happy.
b) The truly happy man is the man who can answer the question, “Is it well with your soul?”
c) Happiness does not come from pursuit of pleasure, but from pursuit of God.
(1) Chesterton: “The man who finds most pleasure for himself is often the man who least hunts for it.”
d) This is not the shallow superficial happiness that comes from the pursuit of pleasure, but a lasting happiness that remains through all aspects of our lives.
4. God’s prescription for happiness is paradoxical – and exactly the opposite of what Solomon tried!
a) Recall Ecclesiastes 2:10.
(1) Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure.
b) Matthew 16:24-26.
(1) If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
c) Jesus’ prescription for happiness is self-denial!
(1) By contrast, Solomon denied himself nothing!
(2) All men are filled with desires, and one of things they desire is pleasure. But men have also been given the truth, and so all men are faced with a choice – they either must conform their desire to the truth, or they must conform the truth to their desires.
(a) Paul talks in 2 Thessalonians 2 about those who “did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
(b) He says in verses 11-12: “And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
(3) True happiness is based on being set free from the very things that we think we need the most.
(a) Mark 10:21-22 – “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
(b) Why did he leave unhappy? He still had all of his money – he hadn’t lost a penny! He left unhappy because he had turned his back on what he needed most of all – Jesus Christ.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)