Joy in the Present
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (vv. 24-25).- Ecclesiastes 2:24–26
Asceticism is not the mark of true Christian spirituality, but it dominated church teaching on sanctification—growth in holiness—for much of the church’s history until the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers did much to counter this trend; however, there is still a lingering assumption held by many Protestants that true obedience to God consists in forgoing many of the pleasures that this life has to offer, whether those pleasures are a fancy dinner, date night at the movies, a glass of fine wine, or other such things. Yet the Bible never teaches such a view of the Christian life. In fact, Scripture frequently commends the joys to be found on this side of heaven, joys that we find in the created order itself.
Today’s passage is one of many in the Bible that exhort us to enjoy the pleasures available to us in the present. After observing the incomprehensible reality that we will finally give up the fruit of our labor at death (Eccl. 2:18-23), the Preacher offers the answer to the conundrum that this reality causes. We are not to try to “fix” the problem by probing the mystery as to why so much of what we do does not finally benefit us. We are not to be perpetually dissatisfied with this, such that we work harder and longer so that we might create more for ourselves and our families. (Of course, creating more for ourselves and our families is not wrong in itself. It is only wrong when it is motivated by covetousness and selfishness.) Instead, the Preacher tells us, enjoying what we do have is how we deal with the frustration that comes from not seeing so much of the fruit of our labor (vv. 24-25).
What is more, the Preacher says that the ability to enjoy the fruit of our labor is the gift of God. Frustration with the futility that we sometimes feel in our work can lead to dissatisfaction and discontentment with the good that we do have. It takes the grace of the Lord for us to be satisfied with what we have produced, and if God does not give us that grace, we will never be happy with ourselves or our circumstances.
Today’s passage also says it is incomprehensible that God ordains those who displease Him to build up wealth for His people. The incomprehensibility of this is that while the Preacher knows that this is true in an ultimate sense, we do not always see it work out that way on this side of glory. Serving the Lord is no guarantee of wealth, and it can lead to hardship and poverty. Why some servants of our Creator prosper greatly in a material sense but other faithful servants do not is difficult to grasp. Only God knows why this is the case.
Often we experience suffering when we have faithfully served the Lord, while other faithful servants experience prosperity. When this happens, it is easy to wallow in dissatisfaction. We are also tempted to try to find the reasons why our situation is different than another’s. The answer, however, is to seek the Lord’s face and ask Him to give us contentment and satisfaction with whatever blessings we do have, whether they are large or small.
Passages for Further Study