The Book of Ecclesiastes
James J. Barker


Lesson 3
THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE

Text: ECCLESIASTES 2:1-26



INTRODUCTION:

  1. Last week we studied Ecclesiastes 1.  I entitled my message, “Life Without God is Vanity(cf. 1:1, 2, 14).
  2. Tonight we will move into chapter 2. I have entitled tonight’s message, “The Pursuit of Pleasure.”
  3. In chapter 1, King Solomon describes his intellectual pursuits (cf. 1:13, 14, 18).  In chapter 2, Solomon describes his pursuit of wine, women, and song.
  4. Solomon comes to the same conclusion in both chapters (1:18; 2:1).
  5. William MacDonald wrote, “Pleasure, by definition, means the enjoyable sensations that come from the gratification of personal desires.  So he decided that he would live it up, that he would try to experience every stimulation of the senses known to man.  He would drink the cup of fun to the full, and then, at last, his heart would ask no more.  But the search ended in failure” (Enjoying Ecclesiastes).
  6. This does not mean it is wrong to seek after pleasure (sports, vacations, reading, hobbies, fishing, hunting, etc.).  First Timothy 6:17 says, God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”
  7. God wants us to understand what Solomon’s father understood: “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
  8. “Pleasures for evermore” – not worldly pleasures, and not just temporal pleasures “under the sun.”
  9. The devil wants people to think that they can be happy here in this world without God. The book of Ecclesiastes shows this is “vanity.”
  10. I remember the Sunday night before 9/11/2001.  A missionary to Chile preached for us that night.  After the meeting, we stood out on the sidewalk and talked for a while.  He said to me, “The problem here in America is people think they can have their heaven right here on earth.  This world is all they seem to care about.”
  11. People are obsessed with wealth, big homes, nice cars, fast boats, exotic vacations, expensive clothing, etc.  Who needs God?  Who needs heaven?
  12. The book of Ecclesiastes deals with these issues (cf. 2:26).

 

I. WORLDLY PLEASURES DO NOT LAST (2:1-11).

  1. In Proverbs 14:13, King Solomon wrote, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.”
  2. Worldly pleasures do not last long. Eventually the party will be over, and Solomon learned “behold, this also is vanity” (Eccl. 2:1).
  3. Solomon refers to wine and laughter and mirth (2:1-3). Partying is a way of life for many people. It is very prevalent on many college (and even HS) campuses, and in many work places.
  4. King Solomon was backslidden, and like many other backsliders, he drank wine. But there is no indication that he became a drunkard.  He was not addicted to wine (2:3).
  5. Verse 2 says, “I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom…” King Solomon was too wise to abandon himself to drunkenness. He was too wise to allow himself to become addicted to wine.
  6. Let me add that the best way to avoid drunkenness is not to take the first drop. I knew quite a few drunkards and dope-heads before I was saved. Most of them never thought it could happen to them.
  7. Many people spend hours at a time in nightclubs, bars, and parties.  Bars have “happy hours” but the only one who is happy is the owner of the bar because he is making all the money.
  8. But even he is not truly happy because money cannot buy happiness (2:7-11). King Solomon had accumulated great wealth, but it could not bring him happiness or true satisfaction.
  9. Solomon took great pleasure in working – building “great works” and houses (2:4), planting vineyards, and gardens, and orchards, and trees (2:4, 5), and making pools (2:6).
  10. But all of his labor left him unhappy (2:11). Work is important and God wants us to work hard, but some people work all the time and have no time for God.
  11. David Garrick was the greatest Shakespearean actor of the 18th century. Referring to the great evangelist George Whitefield, Garrick said, “I would give a hundred guineas, if I could say ‘Oh’ like George Whitefield.”
  12. David Garrick was very rich and successful. One day he showed the great writer and moralist Samuel Johnson the elegance and beauty of his country-villa. As they walked around the beautiful estate, Dr. Johnson laid his hand on Mr. Garrick’s shoulder and said, “Ah, David! These are the things that make a death-bed terrible.”
  13. King Solomon enjoyed great music (2:8). But even beautiful music could not satisfy. Solomon placed no limits on his expenditures.  If he saw something he liked, he bought it (2:9, 10).
  14. Solomon took stock of all he had.  He considered all the work he had done, and everything he had accomplished “under the sun.” And he concluded that it “was vanity and vexation of spirit” (2:11).

 

II. WISDOM IS FAR BETTER THAN FOLLY (2:12ff).

  1. King Solomon tried everything – wisdom and madness and folly (2:11), and he concluded that wisdom was far better (2:12, 13).
  2. However, both the wise man and the fool will someday die (2:14b, 15).
  3. After the funeral, the wise man and the fool are soon forgotten. We demonstrated this a couple of weeks ago. The young people in the room did not recognize Harry Truman, Roger Maris, or John Wayne. Yet they were famous in their day (2:16; cf. 1:4).
  4. Fame is short-lived. “As far as lasting fame is concerned, the wise man is no better off than the fool” (William MacDonald).
  5. This realization made King Solomon hate life. It vexed him that he would not be permitted to enjoy the great wealth which he had accumulated (2:17, 18).
  6. It bothered King Solomon that he would leave everything to his son Rehoboam (2:18, 19). Furthermore, Rehoboam was a bad king. This reminds us that the truly successful man is the man whose children live for God.
  7. The idea of leaving his life’s work to a foolish son upset King Solomon (2:20, 21). He said, “This also is vanity and a great evil” (2:21).
  8. This is the great theme of the book of Ecclesiastes.  As we noted last week, we must remember what the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:58, “forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
  9. Yes, “under the sun,” apart from God, our labor is in vain (2:22, 23).  But if it is done for the Lord, it “is not in vain.”

 

III. EVERYTHING COMES FROM THE HAND OF GOD.

  1. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.”
  2. Everything good (2:24, 25) and bad (2:26) comes from the hand of God.
  3. King Solomon is not advocating hedonism, or gluttony, or drunkenness (2:24). God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17).  This another theme in Ecclesiastes (cf. 3:13, 22; 5:18, 19; 8:15; 9:7; 11:9).
  4. We should enjoy our meals. We should enjoy our (non-alcoholic) beverages. We should enjoy the satisfaction that comes from working hard for a living. These are blessings from God (2:24).
  5. But eating and drinking and working and enjoying all of life’s pleasures are profitless if we leave God out of it. The apostle Paul said if this life is all there is, “we are of all men most miserable” (I Cor. 15:19).
  6. He went on to say that if there is no resurrection, what is the point of living (“what advantageth it me”). We might as well just “eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (I Cor. 15:32).

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. While preparing this message, I read about an artist named Ralph Barton. From a worldly perspective he was rich and very, very successful. But this is what he said about his life, “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes. I have gone from wife to wife, from house to house, and have visited great countries of the world. But I am fed up with devices to fill up twenty four hours of the day” (cited by William Mac Donald).
  2. Mr. Barton committed suicide at the age of 39.
  3. “Our Lord pronounced the children of this world ‘wise in their generation,’ and who can doubt that thousands who are lost would, with God’s blessing, be saved, did they bring the same prudence, and diligence, and energy to their eternal, as they do to their temporal interests? But in how many people is consummate wisdom joined to the greatest folly! They are wise enough to gain the world, but fools enough to lose their souls.” (Thomas Guthrie).


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