Joy and Judgment
“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (v. 9).- Ecclesiastes 11:9–10
In Ecclesiastes 11:8, the Preacher exhorts us to rejoice and enjoy the various pleasures and joys of life, for God has given us an allotted period of time, this present life, to show our gratitude for our gifts. Death is coming, when the enjoyment of what this world has to offer will no longer be possible. Although the full witness of Scripture shows us there are great joys to be had in heaven and that to depart this life and to be with Christ is far better (Phil. 1:23), the joys of this life are not to be despised.
Today’s passage expands upon this point by emphasizing that the joys commended by the Preacher are joys that are rooted in the heart (Eccl. 11:9). God does not commend a superficial joy and happiness; rather, the kind of joy that pleases Him is heartfelt rejoicing, joy that is rooted in the innermost core of who we are. We learn from this that biblical piety includes joy; it is not antithetical to it. Though Christians do not pretend that life is free of difficulty, neither do we approach living in a dour, joyless, and soulless manner. Biblical faithfulness is not characterized by a list of what we cannot do. Instead, it is a life of freedom for holiness, liberty to be who God made us to be as image-bearers who take delight in Him and in His creation (Gal. 5:1).
In short, the Preacher commends true liberty. This is not the freedom to fulfill every conceivable desire, for sin is slavery (John 8:34). The liberty that brings joy is freedom to do good, a freedom that nonbelievers do not have. None but those whom God has regenerated can do what He considers good fully and completely, and even we who have new hearts fall short as long as we live in this fallen world (1 John 1:8–9). But in any case, that the Preacher commends the joy found in doing what the Lord considers good is confirmed in his caution that God will bring all of our rejoicing into judgment (Eccl. 11:9). To rejoice in what the Lord forbids is sin; to take joy in what He approves brings glory to Him. As one commentator has said, “Joy was created to dance with goodness, not alone.”
This type of joy cannot exist with “vexation in the heart” (v. 10). As commentators note, the idea here is keep cynicism from taking root in our hearts. We should never become so jaded that we are not open to the joys that the Lord has for us. Let us set vexation aside that we might enjoy God’s gifts and be a delight to others.
The media often depicts Christians as joyless, judgmental individuals who avoid pleasure at all cost. We know that this is a gross caricature, especially in light of the Bible’s teaching that we are to rejoice in what God has given. Sadly, however, many Christians’ behavior has led to the impression that we are joyless people. Let us rejoice in what is good that unbelievers may have no legitimate cause for this caricature.
Passages for Further Study