Article Series: The Emptiness of the Pursuit of Pleasure

We have looked at the thesis of the book in chapter 1. Solomon's thesis is that life apart from God is empty and meaningless. In Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, this passage outlines into five parts. First, in verse 1, he describes his quest. In the second part in end of verse 1 and all of verse 2, he informs us that the conclusion of that quest is meaningless. The third part is in verses 3-8 where Solomon catalogs the different ways in which he pursued pleasure. In the fourth part, in verses 9-10, he gives an assessment of how he did. And in the fifth part, in verse 11, he gives the conclusion that life apart from God is vanity, emptiness, profitless, and utter failure.

You Cannot Quench the Thirst of Life by Drinking Pleasure

The Preacher's theme in verses 1-11 is that you cannot quench the thirst of this life by drinking pleasure. More people try the avenue of pleasure than try the avenue of wisdom. Hedonism is the pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses. In verses 1 and 2, the Preacher rates the thesis that pleasure is the highest good, and that only pleasure has value in itself, and that the pursuit of it is noble, as failure. All that such a quest produces is futility.

Solomon catalogs some of the avenues that he pursued for pleasure. Look at six of them that he outlines for you in verses 3-8. First of all, there's the pleasure of inebriation. He would just anesthetize myself to the world. He says, "Wine." Today, we can do drugs and other things too, but it's basically the same thing; he's going to inebriate himself. Then there's the pleasure of products, of projects. He built houses for himself, planted vineyards for himself, made gardens and parks for himself, fruit trees for himself, ponds for himself. Did you notice in verses 4-6 "for myself" repeated five times? He is not doing this for great and grandiose motives of helping the community; he just comes out and tells you, "I did these for me." For personal gratification.

Then, he says, "I sought the pleasure of attendants. I went out and bought people to serve me, hand and foot, day and night." Here's a man who's going to be waited on hand and foot for the rest of his life. And the Preacher is saying, "I had that, I bought people, so they would wait on me hand and foot." And then he talks about the pleasure of money and possessions, "I had flocks and herds greater than anybody before me, I had silver, gold, the treasure of kings and provinces, I had the net worth of provinces." He sought the pleasure of music, he had singers imported. And he sought the pleasure of sex.

His assessment in verses 9 and 10 is that no one will ever have the kinds, and extent of fun like he did. And what was the yield of it? He tells you in verse 11: the yield was vanity. Pleasure pursued and even achieved, apart from the base of a relationship with God and the ultimate pursuit of God, cannot fulfill.

Think Hard about What the World is Promising You in its Pledge of Pleasure.

We're told by sociologists that about 20,000 times a day you are hit with an image or idea promising you pleasure in this world, whether through print media, through radio or television or internet. You're being promised 20,000 times a day, by this world, that it can provide you pleasure and satisfaction. The lie is this: that earthly pleasure can provide you with true satisfaction.

You thought that getting the next thing would do it. Solomon is saying, "Don't think that the next thing will do it; don't think that the more will do it, because I had the next thing and I had the more, and it didn't do it." And there are some-they got it and they liked it and then they got bored with it. The thing that you once craved and delighted in becomes boring. Then there are times that you're pursuing the pleasure, but along with that pleasure came something that you thought never ever would happen. "I didn't realize that pursuit of pleasure would cost me my family, my children. I didn't know that that pursuit of pleasure would cost me my church, my job, my community." Pleasure is a liar and a trickster and a cheat.

Only God can give meaning to the universe. Self can't provide the meaning for the universe, and therefore, pleasing the self can't provide meaning and satisfaction in this world. Pleasure seekers are not self-consciously thinking about the meaning of life, and are not always aware of it, but they are on a quest for meaning. Young people, if you're getting drunk, there's something that's missing inside you that you're trying to fill. You need to think hard about what the world is promising in its pledge of pleasure.

The Only Pleasure that Can Ultimately Fulfill Us is Pleasure in God

What's the Bible's solution to the emptiness of a life of pleasure seeking? It is enjoying God. The only pleasure that can ultimately fulfill us is pleasure in God. The problem with the pursuit of pleasure is not that pleasure in itself is wrong though there are some pleasures that are wrong. The fundamental problem is seeking pleasure as a substitute for God.

The Christian solution to hedonism and the pursuit of pleasure is not to renounce pleasure, but to seek pleasure in God. The world thinks that the Christian agenda is to make you as miserable as possible. The message of the Bible is: those who die to self, find pleasures forevermore--pleasures deeper, more satisfying, more lasting, and more glorious than the pleasures of this world. Because true pleasure is only found in God, and God is only found when we die to self, we give ourselves away and live to Him in faith.

Meaning is not found in the self-gratifying pursuit of earthly pleasure, but true pleasure is found in God. We must aim for the pleasures of God and delight in His delighting in His own glory. And one grand part of that delighting of God in His own glory is His gracious choice of us, as His own inheritance, and His promise to us to grant to us pleasures forevermore, in Him. And so Solomon says, "You want to live life under the sun, and you want to find meaning through the pursuit of pleasure? You can't find true pleasure under the sun; you can only find it in the Son.