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Hedonistic Experiment (Part 2)

Ecclesiastes: The Search For Meaning  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:16
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Hedonistic Experiment (Part 2)

We are just about a month removed from Christmas.
And we all know what that means…the gifts that your kids or grandkids just had to have are now gathering dust in the closet or under the bed.
And now they are wanting something new b/c “we’re bored”.
This is the cycle that each parent and grandparent has seen or been involved with.
For months before Christmas a child asks and begs for a specific toy then on Christmas day they open that package and they are super excited for a couple of weeks.
Then after those couple of weeks go by and they now have nothing to play with.
If you’re really lucky you get a child who plays with the toy or gift for a couple of months.
Then their bored of it.
And lets not just dump on the kids, we adults can be just as bad.
I know that I can.
We get a new car, house, job, boat, or another expensive toy and we are happy with it, until a friend, neighbor, or family member has a bigger, better, and newer thing.
Why is that?
Because the new always wears off.
There’s always something bigger, better, and newer coming around the corner.
We can get restless and discontent when we continue to chase the feeling of joy at the start of something new.
In fact, this is scientific it actually happens in our brain.
Now, I’m going to oversimplify it b/c Science isn’t my wheelhouse, but basically our brains like new things.
And every time we experience or get something new our body releases a chemical called dopamine.
Dopamine is a chemical that makes you feel good.
So when you get something new you are having a physical and natural reaction to it.
Maybe your sitting here and wondering, like I did, why did God design our bodies in a way that we get pleasure from new things.
And therefore if we get new things and those new things grow old, we need to chase after new things in order to feel that dopamine hit once again.
To be happy once again.
Is this a flaw in our design?
If he wanted us to be content in him. Why didn’t he just create us without this drive to get the new and better thing?
I think that this is a good question.
And I believe and the bible supports that God is intentional in his design.
That he is purposeful in the way he designed us.
And that what he has revealed to us in his word and specifically through Ecc. is that we will never find lasting happiness in chasing after the new and shiny.
Not only that but being bound to chasing after the new is an example of our need to be made into a new creation.
We are bound by sin before Jesus releases us.
We are bound to chase after things that don’t satisfy until we are recreated.
And as we walk with Jesus we will still struggle with these desires, but part of our growth into the men and women that God wants us to be is to renew our mind daily.
To exhibit and practice self control.
That’s a fruit of the spirit.
And we are able to fight against these urges b/c we have been set free from sin and death.
We have been made a new creation in Christ Jesus, the new has come and the old has passed away.
We have been empowered by the HS to walk in obedience and to renew our mind.
We have been transformed to find our satisfaction in Jesus.
But to come to the point that we can be set free from this bondage we have to know that we are bound.
We have to recognize that we are sinners.
That we are broken.
That there is more to life than this.
The New and shiny things make us happy for a moment, but they can only stay new and shiny for so long.
Then they are old and dull and we want something newer and shinier.
Thus showing us that what we are longing for isn’t something new, it’s deeper b/c if that something new could fulfill us then we would cease to want.
And that’s part of what we are going to look at this morning.
Before we get too into today’s sermon, I want to quickly go over what we talked about last week b/c it will be important for what we are going to talk about today.
The Author of Ecclesiastes, Solomon or Qoheleth, prepared us for the journey he wanted to take us on starting in Chapter 2.
He wanted us to know that he set up an experiment so that you didn’t have to.
He went out and explored pleasure, possessions, wisdom, and work to let you know that it will never lead to meaning.
And he is uniquely qualified for this experiment b/c he was extremely wise, wealthy, powerful, and influential.
He used all his wisdom, knowledge, and wealth to examine and explore all that the world has to offer and came back knowing it was fruitless, meaningless, and a pursuit of the wind.
Now this morning what we are going to do is look at the experiment.
Solomon has already told us what he found, but he wants us to know in detail how much research he actually did so that he could come to the conclusion that every pursuit under the sun is futile if we don’t have an eternal perspective.
Let’s pray and then we will dive into Solomon’s Observations.
Ecclesiastes 2:1–3 CSB
1 I said to myself, “Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.” But it turned out to be futile. 2 I said about laughter, “It is madness,” and about pleasure, “What does this accomplish?” 3 I explored with my mind the pull of wine on my body—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to grasp folly, until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

Empty Pleasure

The first on Solomon’s list to try is pleasure.
This is the cry of most people “If it feels good, do it.” “If it makes you happy do it.”
That’s What Solomon is saying in the first verse. “Enjoy what is good.”
Here’s something we have to hold in tension and keep in balance.
Pleasure is supposed to be pleasurable.
God’s created things to be enjoyed.
But the problem is that like everything else, we can tend to go to far.
And we can either swing to the one end where we do everything that feels good.
Or the other where we become religiously legalistic and put a damper on any and all pleasure, even if its done in a way to Glorify God.
Our God is not a killjoy.
He is not a “fuddy duddy”.
He created us in a way that we can experience pleasure and in experience pleasure we can see and know his goodness.
We aren’t robots without senses.
We are humans who can feel, taste, touch, smell, and see.
So the problem as Solomon points out is not that pleasure is bad.
It’s that pleasure is never enough.
It isn’t an end to itself.
Pleasure is a pointer to something that truly satisfies.
In keeping with the theme of last week, I want you to notice how often Solomon says “I” in this passage.
He uses “I” 35 times in these 26 verses.
It’s all about what he did, what he experienced, what he sought after.
Now this is admittedly an autobiography, but when you take into account all the actions talked about in this passage, you can see that he was Seeking and Searching for pleasure.
Self-centered pleasure.
And if we are honest with ourselves, Solomon would fit in right at home here in America.
Where the pursuit of pleasure and happiness are king and queen of this land.
Solomon wanted to make seeking pleasure the chief end goal of his life.
However he does come to the conclusion that it’s all empty.
There is no meaning found in pleasure.
There is no meaning found in wine.
There is no meaning found in anything under the sun.
Here’s the problem, pleasure makes promises it can’t keep.
The pursuit of pleasure will eventually lead a prison.
What kind of pleasure did Solomon seek?
First, he sought after laughter.
Here’s the thing, I love to laugh.
I love to hear other people laugh, especially my kids.
Being entertained and having a good old belly laugh is an enjoyable experience.
Here recently our kids have been wanting to listen to some comedians when we are on long car rides.
Hearing them laugh and laughing with them is pleasurable.
But here Solomon tells us that laughter is madness.
This madness isn’t what we would call crazy or being out of ones mind.
It more refers to perverse or sinful, to make look foolish.
And this is the problem we have with finding comedians for our kids to listen to.
Many of them are causing laughter through perversity.
Dirty jokes, racist jokes, jokes that don’t honor God.
They are cynical, sarcastic, frivolous, superficial and sometimes downright cruel.
So though laughter is good, much of the things we laugh at are cruel and perverse.
There is no lasting meaning in laughter.
In fact, if we look closely we will see that those who laugh the most or help others laugh seem to be the emptiest.
There are no shortage of comedians and entertainers that have committed suicide or are addicted to drugs b/c they have found that there is no lasting meaning in comedy or entertainment.
Speaking of drugs and alcohol, Solomon tried that too.
Ecc 2:3 “3 I explored with my mind the pull of wine on my body—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to grasp folly, until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.”
This verse shows us that Solomon was using Alcohol as a lubricant for his laughter.
He was chasing after the intoxication of alcohol in order to make the ailments of life more tolerable.
Now I want to take a quick moment to talk about alcohol.
Many of us heard growing up that drinking alcohol is bad.
That it’s sinful.
But I want to let you know that the bible doesn’t condemn drinking alcoholic beverages.
The prohibition on drinking within the pages of Scripture is drinking in excess or getting drunk.
At the same time, if you conviction is one where you don’t personally drink alcohol, that’s perfectly fine as well.
But if you drink, know that you will never find what you’re looking for at the bottom of that bottle.
It will never bring you joy or meaning.
That’s what Solomon discovers here.
There will never be true lasting joy or meaning found in an empty wine glass.
Now here at the end of v.3 he touches on the reality of life once again.
It is brief.
We only have a few days to live.
What we do with those days matter.
Are we going to chase after pleasure or are we going to chase after meaning that is found in fearing God and obeying his commands?
So on the first leg of Solomon’s experiment he found that laughter and wine is ultimately empty so what does he try next?
What’s the next pleasure on his list?
Possessions.
Ecclesiastes 2:4–6 CSB
4 I increased my achievements. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made gardens and parks for myself and planted every kind of fruit tree in them. 6 I constructed reservoirs for myself from which to irrigate a grove of flourishing trees.

Empty Possessions

The First of the possessions that Solomon sought out that he thought would give meaning were places.
He had houses, buildings, gardens, parks, vineyards, and irrigation built for himself.
Notice that these are multiples.
It wasn’t just one house, one garden, one park, one vineyard.
There were many of them.
The text doesn’t tell us this, but I would assume that each new house, garden, park, vineyard was better than the last.
So he was constantly updating and having the new and improved added to his next building project.
When Corrie and I first got married we lived in Apartments for the first few years together, but I always wanted a house.
A home to call our own.
The apartments we lived in were nice, but they weren’t ours.
We wanted privacy and a yard for our dogs to run around in.
We wanted our own living space that we didn’t have to share with anyone
Now this account of Solomon building houses and stuff I find this kinda funny b/c when Corrie and I bought our first house in DFW we loved it.
It was the perfect starter home for us.
It was simple, but we had enough room for us and the dogs.
At this point we didn’t have any children.
3 Bedroom 2 baths with a 2 car attached garage in a nice older secluded neighborhood.
And it was ours.
It was awesome.
We had no real complaints about the house that is until we got cable television and discovered HGTV.
At the time, HGTV really had one format for shows they would air.
A young couple wanted to buy a house and they would show them their dream house and the price tag that came along with it.
Then they would show them an older house that could be renovated and updated to become their dream house and it would be cheaper to do it that way.
Well these shows stirred within us a sense of covetousness.
We wanted something new.
We wanted to renovate our home.
We were no longer satisfied with what we had we wanted more.
We wanted something that was going to bring back the feeling we had when we first purchased the house.
And Solomon wanted the same thing, each new house or building would bring him pleasure for a minute then it would be gone when something else caught his eye.
And unlike Corrie and I, he had the wealth available to build something new.
So he did.
Yet each new construction left him feeling as empty as the last one.
So then he built some new parks, gardens, and vineyards.
Maybe the beauty of those environments would satisfy.
Notice what he is trying to do.
He is trying to recreate and rediscover Eden.
He is trying to restore what was lost when man sinned against God.
The phrase found at the end of 2:5 shows us what he was trying to accomplish.
Ecc 2:5 “5 I made gardens and parks for myself and planted every kind of fruit tree in them.”
This phrase is used 3 times in the Gen 1 and 2.
So he is trying to regain paradise by the works of his own hands.
His search for meaning is found in God and what he created in the beginning.
Remember God’s creation was very good.
And God’s purpose for man was spelled out in the Garden to Adam and Eve.
Gen 1:28 “28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.””
And they did that while in perfect fellowship and harmony with God.
The problem with this is that as a creation we can never create meaning.
Do you see that?
He’s attempting to create meaning, and so far the closest he has gotten is to go back to the beginning.
Go back to where God says meaning is found. In fearing him and obeying his commands.
Solomon knows that he cannot create or find pleasure in his creations no matter how hard he tries, nevertheless, he keeps chasing after possessions.
Ecclesiastes 2:7–9 CSB
7 I acquired male and female servants and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned livestock—large herds and flocks—more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I gathered male and female singers for myself, and many concubines, the delights of men. 9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me.

Empty Pleasures

The next thing we see Solomon chasing after were servants.
Solomon was mighty in conquest too.
So he was able to conquer surrounding nations and bring there people in to serve him.
And not only that there were slaves and servants born in his house.
Having many slaves and servants was a sign of power and prestige in the ancient world.
And like everything else, Solomon didn’t lack in this area.
And he needed all the servants so that they could take care of all his possessions.
Like the numerous herds and flocks.
I hope your seeing the trend here in Ecc.
It doesn’t matter how much you possess those possessions are empty and void of meaning.
Solomon had it all and had all of it in abundance and he was still empty.
He still longed for something better.
That new car, house, phone, boat, toy, spouse, or relationship isn’t going to make you any less empty.
Solomon had all these things.
And didn’t just have them, but had them in abundance.
And it’s not enough.
He had silver and gold.
He had people that would care for and cater to his every need.
He lacked nothing.
Did you notice this too?
He had his own Spotify team of singers.
Music wasn’t as accessible as it is now, so to have singers who would entertain you was a big deal.
Not only that he had his own harem of concubines.
Meaning that he had access to one of the most carnal of pleasures sex whenever he wanted with just about whomever he wanted.
In fact, 1 Kings 11:3 gives us the statistics.
1 Kings 11:3 “3 He had seven hundred wives who were princesses and three hundred who were concubines, and they turned his heart away.”
Solomon had wine, women, music, and money.
I don’t know about you but it sounds like the common moniker of the ages.
Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
He also was the greatest person in these terms to live in Jerusalem.
And what was his conclusion to this pursuit of pleasure?
Ecclesiastes 2:10–11 CSB
10 All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. 11 When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Empty Pleasures

All the desires, the pleasures, and the escapism were available at his finger tips.
They are all empty.
And Solomon knows because he didn’t limit himself at all.
All his eyes desired. Any pleasure that can be found.
He indulged in.
He pursued.
And came out wanting more.
I want you to think about this for just a moment.
Everything that Solomon wanted, Solomon Got.
And through this experiment he didn’t deny himself.
He didn’t handcuff himself.
He didn’t practice any self-control.
If he saw it, if he thought it, if he wanted it he pursued it.
He captured it.
He experienced it.
He was the walking example of “if it feels good do it” or “if it brings you pleasure pursue it.”
He outdid everything we could ever do.
No one will ever even come close to the pursuit of pleasure that Solomon accomplished in his experiment.
And yet, some of us would be envious of Solomon.
You mean, he got to do every thing he ever wanted to do.
He got to experience everything he wanted to experience.
I know that some of us would love that, simply b/c I know that some of us spend a lot of time envying the lives of celebrities.
The lives of the rich and famous.
We look at their lives and wish that our lives were just like that.
If I only had more.
If I only could do xyz.
I would be happier if I had more money, more experiences, more things.
And Solomon is out here telling us that there isn’t anything further from the truth.
He had it all. Literally. Everything he could ever want and we learn that the only thing he got in return was the reality that it was futile. A vapor. Smoke rising from the dust.
He was chasing bubbles only to see them vanish when he grasped them.
Hevel.
There was nothing to be gained under the sun.
We live in a privileged place of history.
Gregg Easterbrook, a researcher and author, wrote in his book titled The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, concluded that “we have more of almost everything today…except happiness.”
We have more opportunities to communicate.
More opportunities to make money.
More opportunities to have meaningful relationships.
And yet if you simply talk to people, you will see that there seems to be a rise in depression.
Suicide and Suicide attempts are on the rise.
The more we see, the more we want, the more we want, the unhappier we are especially when we see other people get it.
I want you to notice what Solomon calls his Hedonistic Experiment.
He calls his pursuit of pleasure a struggle.
It was hard work providing everything he wanted.
Not letting his desires fade away.
What did Solomon get from his pursuit of pleasure?
What did he find?
What was his reward for this experiment?
Ecc 2:11 “11 When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Listen, you can squeeze all the pleasure you want to out of life and it will come up empty.
Nothing can be gained by living life in the pursuit of Pleasure.
Man, that should burst your bubble.
If what you want out of life is pleasure, you will never experience it the way that he did.
You will never know the depth and richness of what it is to not deny yourself of anything.
But you will find that it is empty.
No matter how hard you toil to seek pleasure it’s going to be empty and provide for you no lasting happiness.
Seeking pleasure for pleasures sake will never offer you fulfillment.
It will never satisfy your soul.
Reflect on for just a moment.
1 John 2:16 “16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
1 John 2:16 CSB
16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.
Now as we look at that, it seems that we should never want to have pleasure, if pleasure is not of God then why would we want to experience it.
But that’s not what this means.
God has designed us in such a way that we should and will seek pleasure, but we should seek it not just so we can feel good.
Not just to avoid the pain of the world.
Not just to escape from the problems.
We should enjoy pleasure b/c if points us back to the creator.
We should recognize that if we lead a life looking for pleasure to fulfill us we will never find it.
The reality of our dissatisfaction with pleasures of the earth should point us to the God of the universe.
One commentator put it this way
“ If we were able to find lasting satisfaction in earthly pleasure, then we would never recognize our need for God. But satisfaction does not come in the pleasures themselves; it comes separately. Satisfaction comes only in God himself, so that our dissatisfaction may teach us to turn to him.”
So we turn to go to find our ultimate pleasure.
Our ultimate satisfaction.
B/c we know and have experienced that the things of this world are ultimately empty and void.
They are all Hevel.
We need to not give into worldly hedonism seeking pleasure to avoid pain.
We need to pursue Meaningful Hedonism.
A Christian Hedonism where we find all our Joy in the good gifts of God.
Laughter is a gift from God.
Wine is a gift of God.
Beauty of homes and gardens are a gift of God.
Sex in the right context is a beautiful gift of God.
Music is a gift of God. Worship is a gift of God.
All that Solomon was searching for is found complete in God.
All that you are searching for is found complete in God.
James 1:17 “17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
God doesn’t want to steal pleasure away from us.
He doesn’t want to rain on our parade.
Rather he knows that if we enjoy him then we will receive the greatest pleasure.
B/c “pleasure is only safe when God is there”.
Seek him and you will find the desires of your heart.
Seek him and you will find pleasure.
Seek him and you will find meaning.
Seek him and you will be changed.
Let’s pray.
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