A Philosophy for Life
Passage: Ecclesiastes 11:9–12:1
Please turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1. Also, the kids up through 6th grade may be dismissed to their services. How many of you are 25 years old or younger, raise your hand? This morning, I’m preaching to you. I’m preaching to everyone, but especially to you. The world is constantly feeding you lies about what it means to be young and enjoy life. According to Nike, it means achieving the perfect body, pushing yourself to physical extremes, and eliminating the playing field. According to Ralph Lauren, it’s means always looking stylish and desirable. According to Apple, it’s about dancing past older generations with technology that’s “practically magic.” According to Disney, being young means “following your heart,” because you only live once. And according to Budweiser, it means partying on the beach drinking bear. As Christians, I hope that we would reject those messages. But the commercials are so enticing, and the philosophy so pervasive that is has a way of getting into our blood stream. On the other hand, we have stigmas about what it means to be a “good old-fashioned Christian,” like never having any fun or spending money, abstaining from all romance, dressing like a prude, and watching only G-rated movies. And as young people, we’re often caught in the middle. We know we’re not to love the world, but at the same time, we don’t want to miss out on the pleasures life has to offer, so we find ourselves torn, even if we’re slow to admit it.
In steps Solomon, a man uniquely-situated to enjoy all that life has to offer. You name it; Solomon had it. Money? Check. Intelligence and education? Check. Friends? Check. Women? Check. Power? Check. Accomplishments? Check. And he looks you in the eye and says, “Let me tell you how to get the most out of life.” That’s Ecclesiastes. It’s a remarkably “real” book in the sense of being authentic and not accepting pat answers, and it also presents a perfect philosophy of life. Finally, it’s targeted to young people. So, if you’re young, I hope that I’ve peaked your interest. If you’re not young, this sermon is still for you, because the truths in this text transcend every season of life. So let’s read these three verses together (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1).
This passage tells us how to get the most out of life in three simple steps: “rejoice,” “reflect,” and “remember.”
Enjoy the innocent pleasures of life (v. 9a).
Don’t you love this verse! Solomon says to young people, “Rejoice! Have fun! Have a good time!” And he’s dead serious about it. Young person, God wants you to enjoy yourself. He didn’t create you to be miserable. Being a nun is not His plan for your life! Notice the extent to which Solomon takes this idea. He says, “Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes.” Does that make you uncomfortable? Almost sound like the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes? Solomon mentions the heart and the eyes because they are the organs of desire. Solomon comes close to affirming Walt Disney’s dangerous mantra, “Follow your heart.” But this teaches us an important lesson about life: there is a safe place for following your emotions and impulses. I tend to be a very cautious person; those who know me know this well. Sometimes I over-plan date nights with my wife. And don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have a budget; it’s good to have a plan. But sometimes I just need to be a little more spontaneous. Just enjoy the moment. Just go with it! And doing so is not necessarily a sin.
So, what are some of these innocent pleasures of life that we should enjoy? One would be hard work and its benefits. Ecclesiastes 2:24 says, “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.” One of my friends growing up was named Billy. And one summer, Mr. Aksamit hired Billy and me scrape his eves so that he could paint them and then lay some pavers in his front yard. It was one of the hardest, dirtiest jobs I’ve had. All day long, we’d be standing on a ladder in 115 degrees going like this and having dirt and paint chips fall our faces. But the job had a couple perks. One, Billy and I could work together; and two, there was free lunch. Now, I think that benefit actually stopped about ¾ of the way through the job, when Mr. Aksamit began realizing how much money Billy and I could spend at a fast food restaurant, but it was good while it lasted. I remember one particular day, walking into Wendy’s and buying a triple cheeseburger with bacon meal and a frosty. That’s ¾ lb. of meat, three pieces of cheese, bacon, a large fry, and ice cream—and I ate all of it. And then after work, we’d go back over to my house, throw on our swim suits and just fall into the pool. It’s good to work hard and then enjoy the benefits of your work! So study hard, and enjoy being Valedictorian. Get really good at your instrument and have fun playing it. Work your tail off and cut down on your one-mile time. Get selected to the all-star team. Win the state championship. These are all good things.
What are some other innocent pleasures of life that we should enjoy? We talked a little about food and drink. Ecclesiastes 2:24 mentions those. Another innocent pleasure of life that we should enjoy is friendship. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 talks about the benefits of friendship; it’s a good thing! I have many wonderful memories of times spent with friends. I could tell story after story about fun things that we did together. Also, I often remind myself in my present stage of life to make time for friendship. We should enjoy the innocent pleasure of fun experiences. I remember at one youth activity jumping into my pool around Christmastime with a group of friends for some video scavenger hunt we were doing. To most of you, that probably sounds stupid, but it was fun! We were walking in the ways of our hearts. Enjoy clean humor. I used to love skit night at Ironwood, and still do, actually. But the best skit night is always the first one of the year, with just the staff, because it’s late at night with all the friends you’ve met during staff training, and they usually break out cotton candy or something which makes all of the skits even more funny. Those of you who’ve experienced that night know what I’m talking about. Enjoy the beauty of nature. I remember a particular drive on a family vacation in which we took an extended road trip in the western United States. We were in the Pacific Northwest, and everyone in the Suburban except for me and Dad were sleeping. That was a special afternoon, just talking and enjoying creation together. These are some of the innocent pleasures that God give us to enjoy in life, and especially in youth. So, enjoy them! Rejoice!
Avoid unnecessary pain (v. 10).
None of us likes pain, but sometimes it’s good for us. In sports, they say all the time, “No pain, no gain.” And that’s often true in other contexts of life, as well. However, there’s also such a thing as unnecessary pain. You don’t win any brownie points with God by needlessly making yourself miserable. In v. 10, Solomon mentions two categories of unnecessary pain: inward pain and outward pain. First, he says remove sorrow from your heart. The Hebrew word for sorrow can refer to anger, grief, or irritation. Don’t worry! Cast your cares upon the Lord! Don’t be irritated. Don’t allow yourself to get angry over every little thing. I saw a guy the other day having a bad attitude in the grocery store. He was muttering to himself and was obviously mad at something. I almost wanted to say, “Dude, lighten up! It’s alright. The Fruit Loops will be on sale next week.” Solomon says, “If something in your life is causing you irritation, grief, or anger, and it doesn’t have any redeeming value, be smart! Get rid of it!” By the way, can a person who is without Christ successfully eradicate anger, grief, and irritation from his heart? No! Ultimately, in order to obey this verse and enjoy life, you need God to change your heart.
But then he also says, “Remove evil from your flesh.” Do any of your versions say “pain” instead of “evil”? That’s the idea. The Hebrew word for “evil” is a very broad word that basically means “bad stuff.” In some contexts, it refers to that which is morally wrong, but in other contexts, it just refers to distress or calamity. In this context, it means “discomfort” or “pain.” Remove pain from your body! Don’t be anorexic or bulimic. Go to sleep. Don’t put your body through difficulties that are unnecessary. Rejoice.
Reflect (v. 9b).
Some of you may have been wondering, “Pastor Kris, if what you’re saying is true, then what sets our philosophy of life apart from that of Nike or Disney? The first difference is that we enjoy life within God’s boundaries. One of the mantras our society has been pushing for a long time now is that we do not have to live within any boundaries. We can do whatever we want and be whatever we want to be no matter what and no exceptions. But folks, can I plead with you to recognize the error in that way of thinking? I’m all for encouraging my kids, and I do think they are very special. But I am not going to tell Anaya that she can be whatever she wants to be. She can’t! God has graciously given her boundaries. I’m glad my mom loved me, but if she told me, “Kristopher, one day, if you want to, you can be an offensive lineman in the NFL,” she’d be lying to me. If she said, “Kristopher, one day, you can be the king of America.” That would be a lie. There is no king of America! But this is the type of crazy logic that we are supposed to feed our kids! And you know exactly where it leads. “Billy, you can be whatever you want to be. If you want to be a mommy and have a baby someday, you go ahead and do it! Do whatever you want, Billy; whatever makes you happy; don’t let anyone tell you no!” You know what’s tragic? Being a mommy will never make Billy happy. Billy won’t be satisfied unless he finds Jesus. And pushing every God-ordained boundary will only cause him more pain. So don’t cross God’s boundaries!
What are some ways that we can take the innocent pleasures I mentioned earlier to a sinful extreme? Here are some examples. It’s one thing to enjoy hard work and its benefits, like getting a job, studying hard, or playing sports. But it’s another thing to skip church all the time in order to do those things. It’s good to enjoy food and drink, but it’s wrong to be gluttonous, to do drugs, smoke, and drink. Solomon says that husbands and wives should enjoy each other. But sexual activity outside of marriage as God defines it is sin. In addition, I think we can all agree that there are good books and bad books, good movies and bad movies, good music and bad music. So determine where you draw those lines, and then stay within the lines!
But some will object, “It seems like I’m going to miss out on so much if I limit myself by those standards.” Actually, just the opposite is true. Are pleasures like work, creation, and friends more or less enjoyable for the Christian? They are certainly more enjoyable for us than for unbelievers because sin never enhances, but only defiles God’s good creation. Do you know how Satan tempts you? He does so by perverting God’s good gifts. Satan doesn’t have anything to offer you! James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” But Satan takes God’s good and perfect gifts, perverts them, and then tries to sell you the cheap knock-off rather than the real thing! Isn’t that what he did in the Garden of Eden? Not only is it deceitful, but his cheap knock-off will kill you, just like it killed Adam and Eve! For instance, take God’s good gift of sexuality in marriage. Satan has come up with literally hundreds of ways to pervert that gift; and none of them, I repeat, none of them even come close to touching the goodness of God’s original gift. It doesn’t taste better; it tastes worse, and it’s laced with arsenic. So no, you’re not going to miss out anything by refusing to enjoy life outside of God’s boundaries! So stay in the garden and be content.
In verses 9-10, Solomon says, “Young man, rejoice! But also know this—reflect on this truth and never forget it: you will answer to God for your actions” (v. 9). Solomon’s talking about a day when each one of us will give an account of our lives to God. He talks about this same thing again in the last verse of the book (12:14). The things you do in your bedroom, the things you do with your phone, the things you do with your friends when mom and dad aren’t around—you will stand before God and account for those things. How many of you have ever said, “I’m going to regret this” right before you did something stupid? Go ahead; raise your hands. Isn’t it crazy how foolish we can be at times? You tell yourself, “I know I’m going to regret this!” And yet, you do it anyway! Listen, do not do something now that you will regret on the day when you stand before God. I guarantee you, it’s not worth it. You will not be thinking in the back of your mind as you have that conversation with God, “Ya, but it was still worth it.” You will not say that. So be wise. Young person, be wise. Reflect.
The word “remember” is a figurative expression meaning to honor and obey. It’s obviously more than just stopping to think, saying, “Oh ya, I remember God,” and then going about our business. No, what Solomon is commanding in this verse is a knowledge of God that works its way out into our actions and changes our lives. Has your understanding of who God is changed your life? You say, “Well, I don’t know Pastor Kris, I come to church somewhat regularly, give some money now and then….” No, has it changed your life!? Has it changed the things that you do in secret? Are your habits different? Do you think differently? Do you love a different set of things? If not, then friend, perhaps you don’t know Him as Savior. You may know some things about Him; but quite honesty, you do not have a relationship with Him. Friend, Jesus died for your sins not just so that you could go to heaven, but so that you could have a relationship with God. Jesus said this in John 17:2. He said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Friend, God wants to have a relationship with you, but that cannot happen if your sin has not been dealt with. I’m not talking about cleaning up your life or turning over a new leaf; I’m talking about turning from your sin and from your self-sufficiency and calling on God for forgiveness based on Christ’s death for you on the cross. If you have never done that, today can be the day that you become born again. Please do not hesitate. Life is vapor, and you never know when you will enter into eternity. Don’t let pride or fear of man get in the way. This is so much bigger than your relationship with people. This is about your relationship with your Creator—the one before whom you will stand and give an account one day. You say, “What must I do?” Pray in your heart for God to forgive you. Tell Him that you know you are a sinner, but that you are trusting in Jesus alone for salvation. Ask Him to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life. We talk about this every week because our mission as a church is to see people restored to a proper relationship with God and walking in fellowship with Him. That’s why we’re here! So if you’re coming every week, and you don’t get that—you say, “I’m still not sure I completely understand”—please, ask! Seek us out! We would be more than happy to show you how you can be born again.
Christian, can I talk to you for a moment? Remember, God is the ultimate joy in life, and you will never find satisfaction where He is not. Taste and see that He is good, and know that apart from Him, life tastes like cardboard. So this morning, if you find yourself seeking satisfaction elsewhere, repent, and remember Him. You cannot rejoice unless you remember.
Returning to our text, we see this knowledge of God that changes one’s life referred to again in 12:13 (12:13). You want a philosophy to live by? Here it is: “fear God and keep His commandments. That’s all.” That’s mankind’s whole purpose in life! If you don’t write a book, or you don’t achieve that position at work, or you never finish your degree, or you don’t save up as much money as you were hoping to, or you never get to take that trip to Europe, or God doesn’t bless you with children, or you never plant that church, or you never get married, or you never finish remodeling your house, or you never get healthy, or you never move to Texas, it will be okay!! As long as you have feared God and kept His commandments. That’s all. Just do that, and you’ll be fine.
That’s the what, but what about the when? Verse 1 says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” How many of you got saved later in life, and you say, “I would give anything to go back and redo those early years and start living for God while I was young.” Would you raise your hand? Raise it high. Now keep it up. Young people, I want you to look around right now. I want you to look at the faces of these people, and remember this moment. Start living for God NOW! Don’t wait! Because the evil days are coming. You say, Pastor Kris, what are these evil days? Well, that’s a hard question. Certainly, Solomon is referring to old age. But if you read this passage as an older person, it can be a little bit depressing! I mean, Solomon talks about the “evil” or “miserable” days, and then he describes a person seems to say, “There is no longer anything in life that makes me happy.” “I have no pleasure in them.” Is that, according to Solomon the inevitable destination to which all of us are headed? Is despair inseparable from old age? I don’t think that’s what Solomon is saying. As best I understand it, he is talking about old age, but he’s also issuing a warning. He’s saying, “Young man, remember God in the happy years when you are young, so that when you reach the difficult years when you are old, you will not despair.” Let me repeat that. Solomon is saying, “Young man, remember God in the happy years when you are young, so that when you reach the difficult years when you are old, you will not despair.” Have you seen unbelievers who despaired in old age? Perhaps there’s an actress whose entire life revolved around being young, independent, beautiful, popular. I’ve got news for you: nobody stays young forever. As the hymn we sing puts it, “Like summer flowers, we fade and die. Fame, youth, and beauty hurry by.” “Time, like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away,” and oh how quickly that stream flows. I’m always struck when I visit nursing homes to see the old photographs of these young and beautiful people, and then to realize that those are the very same people pushing their walkers up and down the halls. You’re going to get old. It doesn’t matter how many vitamins you eat, or plastic surgeries you get, or whether or not you do CrossFit. Life is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. If you’re a Christian, you can live with that, because you know where you’re going when you die. Also, God has promised to give you a resurrection body that is way better than this old thing and that lasts forever! Besides that, there is depth to your walk with God that transcends the mere physical; so that even throughout the difficulties of old age, you can have joy and peace. But unbelievers have none of that hope. This physical world is all they’ve got; so when they feel that all they’ve got is slipping away, they have nowhere else to turn. They have truly hit a dead end. Is it possible for them to turn to God? Yes, of course. But sadly, many of them never do, and they die in despair with nothing. Young person, don’t let that happen to you. Remember God in your youth.
About 5 years ago, there was a popular acronym, “YOLO.” You know that stands for? “You only live once.” And of course, that’s true. So the question is, how does one get the most out of life? The world says it’s by living it up and ignoring the boundaries. But God has a different way—a way that celebrates all that is good in life but keeps the rules. God tells us to rejoice, but He also maintains that He, the Creator knows best how life works and that He is its ultimate joy. Do you believe Him? Rejoice. Reflect. Remember.