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Monday, June 6, 2011

"Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" - (06/05/11)

Ecclesiastes 8 (Message #8 in Series)
June 5, 2011

            “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  We’ve all heard that old saying but most people don’t know that it actually comes from the Bible, or more accurately, from two Bible verses put together.  The first part comes from a verse in our text for today, Ecclesiastes 8:15, which says, So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”   We will examine the meaning of the verse in its context in just a few minutes.
The second part of the old saying comes from Isaiah 22:12-14.  In that context, God has called the people of Jerusalem to repent and turn from their wickedness and return to worship and obey Him.  Instead they mocked God and His warning of impending judgment.  12The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. 
13But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! 
“Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”  14The LORD Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,” says the Lord, the LORD Almighty.  This response on the part of the people of Jerusalem was obviously a bad choice.  In essence, they were thumbing their noses at God.
Somewhere along the line someone took these two verses and put them together and turned them into what people have taken to be their philosophy of life.  “Eat, drink, and be merry” has become the motto for our modern American culture.

            So what did Solomon really have in mind?  What was he trying to communicate to us?  Let’s try and find out.  Turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 8, and as we start, let’s pray and ask God to give us a clear understanding of His Word.  [Lead in prayer.]
Most of you know that I normally use the New American Standard Version but this morning I am using the New Living Translation because I really like it and believe it is more understandable in this particular text.  Solomon begins this chapter by making an observation about the value of wisdom in general and how its application brings joy to all aspects of life.
Verse 1: 1How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things.  Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness.
  • Solomon tells us that wisdom is a gift from God and like every good gift it enriches all who are touched by it.  It shapes the character and attitudes of the one who possesses it and it puts a smile on the face of the man or woman who views life through the filter of godly wisdom.

In verses 2-8, Solomon talks about the wisdom of showing loyalty toward our leaders.
Verses 2-8: 2Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would.  3Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants [i.e. to you].  4His command is backed by great power.  No one can resist or question it.  5Those who obey him will not be punished.  Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, 6for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble.  7Indeed, how can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen?  8None of us can hold back our spirit from departing [in death].  None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle.  And in the face of death, wickedness will certainly not rescue the wicked.
  • In verse 2 Solomon says that we should recognize our leaders as appointed by God and we should obey them because it is part of our loyalty to God who put them into power in the first place.  I tell you that Christians should be the best citizens and the most loyal of all.
  • There is also the practical side to this.  Verses 4-5 remind us that we should recognize that rulers have power on their side.  Don’t underestimate what will happen to you if you choose to break the law or go against the wishes of the king.  In the NT the apostle Paul made the same observation in Romans 13:1-7: Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.  3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4for it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.  5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  6For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.  7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
  • Solomon asks a profound question in verse 7: How can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen?  That’s a great question!  And the answer is, we can’t.  That’s why we need to act wisely and take care of business while we still can.  Death eventually overtakes every one of us.  He correctly points out that… None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death.  The time and place are in God’s hands.  We need to be ready to go at any moment.  That’s what a wise person does.

In these next verses, 9-11, Solomon bemoans the fact that on the surface justice sometimes seems to go begging.  Even the courts don’t always get things right.  The O.J. Simpson trial stands out in my mind.
Verses 9-11: 9I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other.  10I have seen wicked people buried with honor.  Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes!  This, too, is meaningless.  11When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.
  • Solomon brings up the example of a wicked man who was “righteous” on the outside but evil on the inside.  Yet in death he was honored and his crimes were never mentioned at the funeral service.  We can almost hear the frustration in Solomon’s voice as he writes this.
  • And we, like Solomon, often find ourselves frustrated by the reality that in this life immediate justice and judgment are not always exacted.
  • However, we should not be quick to judge an act by its immediate consequences, because God doesn’t always pay His bills right at the end of the month.  But He does always pay His bills and the wicked will eventually get what’s coming to them.  No one can outrun God!
  • But this delayed payment policy of God’s often seems to promote evil.  Solomon says in verse 11, When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.  That is true of street criminals but it is also true of us.  If we sin and then God doesn’t whack us right away we think we have gotten away with it.  But have we?  Of course not!

Still dealing with this same subject, in verses 12-14, Solomon reminds us that God will finally settle all accounts in a just manner.
Verses 12-14: 12But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off.  13The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God.  Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.  14And this is not all that is meaningless in our world.  In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good.  This is so meaningless!
  • Solomon tells us not to be impressed by the prosperity of the wicked.  It is a mirage and will not last for very long.  In the long run it is always best to follow and obey God because in the end the righteous win and the wicked lose.
  • Solomon says though that in this life it’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  For example, lots of righteous people have spent time in prison, and lots of wicked people who should be in prison are out walking the streets.  It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  You can’t judge people by their rap sheet because it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Remember, the apostle Paul was imprisoned multiple times, and Jesus was sentenced to death as a convicted felon.

In this last section, Solomon says that, given how screwed up this world is, we should enjoy life as a gift from God, and leave the judgment to Him.
Verses 15-17: 15So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life.  That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.  16In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night.  17I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun.  Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim. 
  • The human mind is not capable by itself of discerning God’s purposes and methods.  Apart from divine revelation we would be clueless.  The truth is, even with the Bible we sometimes don’t understand what God is up to.  It finally comes down to whether or not we trust Him to do the right thing, every time.  Solomon says, Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim, and that even includes him, the wisest man of all.
  • Solomon sums up his perspective by recommending that instead of stewing and fretting over what’s wrong in this life, and the things we can’t change, that we take the opportunity to party hardy and celebrate what’s right and good about life.  His philosophy is not, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,” but “Eat, drink, and be merry, because God is in control and everything will turn out right in the end because He’s got it all covered.  Those are two very different life mottos.  We have to learn to rest in the knowledge of God’s sovereign rulership in the affairs of men, including in our personal lives.

            In this life, with our limited knowledge and understanding there are many situations that leave us scratching our heads, and there are many questions for which we don’t have satisfying answers.
·      Why do good people die young and evil people live so long?
·      Why do the bad guys seem to win so often?
·      Why does God let His own people suffer, get cancer, and sometimes die horrible deaths?
·      Why does He let babies die?

Some of these questions will make you crazy if you spend too much time fretting over them.  God promises to answer our questions someday, but for now He says, “Trust Me.”  That tosses the ball back into our court.  We can either shake our fist in His face and say, “Never will I trust You because You are mean and evil,” or we can choose to believe that He is good and that He knows things that we don’t know and could not comprehend even if He explained it to us.
I, and millions like me, choose to trust Him.  We choose to “eat, drink, and be merry” in spite of the fact that life is hard, because He has things well under control and will make it all work out right in the end.  We call that, faith!

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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