Is Pleasure the Point? Or Righteousness? Or Both?Pastor Alisa Lasater Wailoo, September 24, 2017
Part of the What's the Point? - Ecclesiastes series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
What do you most enjoy or gives you great pleasure? Why?
What do you do that makes you feel righteous? Why?
I ask, because as we continue journeying through Ecclesiastes and the author’s search for meaning, we encounter several things he “tests” to determine if they are the point of life. This Sunday we will focus on two that are sometimes propped up as opposing things: pleasure and righteousness. (Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “the righteous are no fun.”) And his statements on each individual's subject appear contradictory as well.
But heed my warning, Ecclesiastes takes us on a ride as the Teacher (the author of Ecclesiastes) sometimes sounds like a babbling brook flowing both directions.
For at one moment he announces:
"I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But again, this also was vanity." (2:1)
Yet a few chapters later, he declares:
"So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun." (8:15)
Is he seeking to be contradictory? No, I don’t think so. Rather, he’s shaking up our “standard” religious categories of "pleasure equals bad" and "righteousness equals good."
So read over the passages in Ecclesiastes and ask yourself when you agree and disagree with his seemingly disparate opinions? Then, read over the Gospel passage, and ask yourself what cross, your own or another’s, you are being asked to carry at the moment. Does it bring you pleasure or pain? Does it make you righteous or just worn down?
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2:1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (ESV)
15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. (ESV)
14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. (ESV)
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (ESV)