I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.
So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV)
Every morning, before work, you will find me in my neighborhood McDonalds enjoying a large Diet Coke and working on one of my Bible studies. This particular franchise plays Christian music and is very well managed. It’s a great way to start the day! Poor planning caused me to take today off from work, but I am still partaking of my morning ritual, this time using my laptop to work on this blog. The cashier saw my laptop and said, “I hope you’re not doing work on your day off.” I explained to her that I enjoy writing and am currently studying the book of Ecclesiastes, and today’s topic is – “The Vanity of Self-Indulgence”.
Self-Indulgence is a topic I am very familiar with, in fact, my experience with self-indulgence could fill an encyclopedia! Couldn’t yours? It doesn’t hurt that I live in America – the country where we can have everything we want, in excess! About a month ago, my son and I watched the movie “Supersize Me” and he was disgusted at how quickly someone could become so unhealthy by making poor choices.
In America, our forefathers fought for our freedom, allowing us to have freedom of speech, a right to bear arms, freedom of religion, freedom to choose our leaders, and freedom to enjoy ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ As Christians, we have another, even more important freedom – freedom from sin! Unfortunately, today, much of society chooses not to live in freedom, but rather bondage. Paul warns us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).”
You may question why anyone who is free would deliberately choose to be a slave, but the reality is that we often do this. Society gives us the opportunity to enjoy anything we can imagine, which on the surface sounds like a great thing. However, this can lead to unwise choices, offers a high potential of abuse, and can ultimately cause idolatry. When our love for anything becomes all-consuming, we are essentially slaves to that desire; our freedom has been traded for bondage. Even ‘good’ things can become idols in our lives when they begin to take over! A good life requires balance, thus having too little or too much of anything can cause problems.
It is easy to lose ourselves in the ‘pursuit of happiness’ especially when we know that our sins have been forgiven. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up (1 Corinthians 10:23).” The blank check we have been given as our freedom can quickly turn into a slippery slope leading us to a pit of destruction. The dangers in life are not the same for you as they are for me; we all have unique strengths and temptations.
Focusing all of our attention on worldly possessions, worldly gains, or any worldly measures of success can be very dangerous. People say that ‘Money can buy happiness,’ but I’m not so sure; as having money brings about a whole new set of challenges. Rich people can become ‘owned’ by their wealth, and thus not rely on God. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24).”
This does not mean we should not enjoy the blessings of our life. We are not called to live destitute lives of eternal misery. We should enjoy life to the fullest, but this requires moderation, as there are always consequences of our actions. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26a).” It’s not what we have that is important; it’s what we do with that we are given. This is true for our money, as well as our freedom. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more (Luke 12:48).”