Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
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)
Right at the start of Ecclesiastes 9:7 is a little word, “Go.” We’re not just told “Eat your food with joy,” but “Go”! Seize the day.
God takes pleasure in your pleasure. He’s given it to you.
In other words, set about it as if you mean it and know what you’re about. Eat and drink with gladness and joy. The second half of verse 7 shows us that these things are a gift: “for God has already approved what you do.” God takes pleasure in your pleasure. He’s given it to you.
Here we’re touching the heart of Ecclesiastes. Gift, not gain, is your new motto. Life is not about the meaning that you can create for your own life, or the meaning that you can find in the universe by all your work and ambitions. You do not find meaning in life simply by finding a partner or having kids or being rich. You find meaning when you realize that God has given you life in his world and any one of those things as a gift to enjoy.
Our Joyful Gift-Giving God
My mother still loves giving me Christmas presents. Every year it’s the same. She asks me what I would like, and I say, “Nothing thanks, Mum. I’m forty-plus; I don’t need anything to open,” and she gives me something to unwrap anyway. Even now, she just loves seeing her boys receive a gift from her. Any parent can understand this. Anyone who loves someone else can understand this, for what we love as we give is the pleasure on the face of the person who receives.
The Preacher says that God is just like that. As he gives us gifts, it is a sign of his pleasure in us. When we enjoy his gifts, we are experiencing his favor. The only right way to respond to God’s good gifts, and to his pleasure in giving us the gifts of food and wine and family, is to go and enjoy them.
“Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head” (Ecclesiastes 9:8). Sidney Greidanus points out from the Bible that when people were distraught, they wore sackcloth and ashes to show their grief; but white clothes to reflect the heat of the sun, and oil to protect and nourish the skin, were worn to show joy and happiness.
Don’t think that because you’re going to die, it doesn’t matter how you dress or how you look. Rather, look after yourself. The world was meant to be a place of color and life and beauty.
Taking Pleasure in the Manifold Gifts of God
Enjoy life with your spouse, whom you love. Cherish and protect the person God has given you. If you’re married, don’t downplay this. We are not told: live with your wife or put up with your wife but, rather, enjoy life with your wife.
If you are too busy to enjoy the life you have together, then you are too busy. End of story. If you do not enjoy each other, then it is likely that you are simply taking what you can from each other to pursue other goals and ambitions that are never going to give you all they promise. You may use each other to gain something that will turn out not to be gain—and lose each other in the process.
It’s vital to see that eating, drinking, dressing, and loving in these verses do not form an exhaustive list of God’s gifts. Rather, it’s a representative list of what it looks like to love life and to live it to the full. These things are a way of saying: when God made the world, he made it good, and no amount of being a Christian, being spiritual, ever changes the fact that God put you in a physical world with hands and food and drink and culture and relationships and beauty.
Sin fractures everything, distorts everything. It means we cannot understand everything. But sin does not uncreate everything. So if we were to tap into the Preacher’s worldview and train of thought, I think an expanded list would go something like this:
Ride a bike, see the Grand Canyon, go to the theater, learn to make music, visit the sick, care for the dying, cook a meal, feed the hungry, watch a film, read a book, laugh with some friends until it makes you cry, play football, run a marathon, snorkel in the ocean, listen to Mozart, ring your parents, write a letter, play with your kids, spend your money, learn a language, plant a church, start a school, speak about Christ, travel to somewhere you’ve never been, adopt a child, give away your fortune and then some, shape someone else’s life by laying down your own.
You may be able to add to the above list in a hundred ways; I hope you can add at least a few more. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all you have. One day, working and planning and knowledge and wisdom will cease, so do them now while you can.
How Death Enables Us to Live
Dying people who truly know they are dying are among all people the most alive. They are not here to live forever. They are here to live for now, for today—and most of all, they are here to live with and for others.
This is just the way a wise, old man speaks to a younger man. “Ah,” he says, “if I knew then what I know now, I’d do things differently. I’d slow down. I’d enjoy my kids. Only yesterday they were knee-high, and now they’re gone. I’d take time to listen more than I speak.” The voice of experience speaks like that all the time, but here in Ecclesiastes God’s voice says the same to us too.
You Can Only Enjoy What You Do Not Worship
It can, of course, be confusing when we try to work out how to put all of this intensely physical stuff together with being a Christian. What does it mean to love life and the world if it’s passing away, and if I’m meant to enjoy God and live for Christ first and foremost? Let me say that the two things go hand in hand absolutely beautifully, and for this reason: in the created world, you can only truly enjoy what you do not worship.
The man who makes sex his god, and who worships it, discovers that actually what is normal, pleasurable, soon becomes inadequate, not enough, and he becomes chained to a path whereby he begins to enjoy only perversion—which of course is no enjoyment. The woman who makes her family her god and who worships her children discovers that they fail her and disappoint her and do not achieve all that she wanted them to achieve, and so she is left empty and unfulfilled.
You can fill in the blanks with every single one of the good things in this world that are listed above. When you worship God’s gifts, they will never ever deliver what they promise and instead will leave you empty and broken. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.”
Worship God and Enjoy His Gifts
But when we worship God and trust him and love him and walk with him, what we find is that he is not an old man in the sky who makes us bow down before him in a cold, white room, while he sits on a throne waiting to zap us when we get it wrong. No, what we discover is that God is like the host who welcomes us into his kingdom and to the most lavish of banquets for us to enjoy.
1. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 233.
2. For an enjoyable and moving book-length portrait of this kind of life, see N. D. Wilson, Death by Living (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).
3. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Collins, 1963), 13.
This post is adapted from Living Life Backward by David Gibson.
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