For today’s meditation, I’d like to offer a little quiz. Please take a look at the ten comparisons below and answer in your mind which action (action A or action B) is holier, more pleasing to God, and worth more eternal reward.
1. (A) Working as a pastor or (B) working as a salesman.
2. (A) Praying for your spouse or (B) kissing your spouse.
3. (A) Listening to a sermon or (B) listening to music.
4. (A) Giving a meal to a homeless person or (B) making a meal for your own family.
5. (A) Teaching someone the Bible or (B) teaching someone a trade.
6. (A) Driving a cheap minivan or (B) driving an expensive sports car.
7. (A) Remaining celibate or (B) getting married.
8. (A) Eating a kale salad or (B) eating a Big Mac.
9. (A) Drinking lemonade or (B) drinking wine.
10. (A) Wearing a suit to church or (B) wearing shorts to church.
If you answered mostly A, then you may be prone to asceticism; you are more likely to be suspicious of pleasure and to believe that holiness mainly consists of doing “spiritual” activities and exercising self-denial. You are also more likely to regard those engaging in side B activities as indulgent worldlings.
If you answered mostly B, then you may be prone to libertinism; you are more likely to be suspicious of “spiritual,” self-denying activities and to insist that full enjoyment of Christian liberties is what really pleases God. You are also more likely to regard those engaging in side A activities as over-pious prudes.
However, if you sensed that neither A or B is necessarily holier and that both can glorify God when embraced at the appropriate time and with a reverent heart, then you are understanding the wisdom of Scripture and of Ecclesiastes 8:16-9:10 in particular—our recent sermon passage.
The Bible never provides a strict hierarchy of what is pleasing to God (nor a strict hierarchy of sins). Still, the Bible is clear that suffering for the Lord (1 Pt 2:19-20; 1 Tim 4:7-8) and enjoying God’s gifts on earth both glorify God (1 Tim 4:3-5; 6:17). And, really, Solomon urges both actions throughout Ecclesiastes by exhorting us to fear God despite evil’s apparent profitability (Eccl 5:7-8; 7:15-18; 8:10-13; 11:9; 12:13-14) and to enjoy life despite life’s many frustrations (Eccl 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 9:7-10; 11:9-10).
Now, one should never use enjoyment of God’s gifts as an excuse to ignore clear biblical commands and priorities (i.e. 1 Pt 2:2; Heb 10:25; Gal 6:10; Mt 28:19-20), violate one’s or another’s conscience (Rom 14:14, 23; 1 Cor 10:25-29), leave stumbling blocks in one’s life (Mt 5:29-30; 18:6-7; Rom 14:20-21), or pursue idolatrous fulfillment (Ezek 14:1-8; 1 Cor 10:1-14; 1 John 5:21; Jer 2:13). Nevertheless, we should remember that the one who goes through life without taking time to enjoy God’s good gifts not only greatly afflicts himself (Eccl 6:3-6) but also dishonors God, the gracious giver of all good things (James 1:17; Rom 1:21; Acts 14:17).
Ecclesiastes 9:7, Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.
Questions to Consider:
1. Is there really a division in life between sacred and secular activities? Why or why not?
2. Are the activities of side B above always glorifying to God? When would they not be? What about side A?
3. If God were to assess you today, what would he say about the way you’re using your life, both to serve him and to enjoy his gifts?