Testing Our Pleasures

Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, 9:7-9
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection

Sermon Summary

Many people believe that we can find ultimate satisfaction in life by pursuing our pleasures. The preacher in Ecclesiastes dispels this myth, however, by pursuing his pleasures to the fullest extent, acquiring them, and finding it all “vanity” in the end (2:1).

The Preacher, a man of incredible means, consciously “tested his (heart)” with all sorts of pleasures (2:1). Seeking pleasure in everything from wine, to feasting, to great building projects, to a beautiful home and possessions, to sexual satisfaction, to even purchasing slaves to do his grunt work, he “kept his heart from no pleasure” (2:10), surpassing all in Jerusalem in his hedonism. And yet, when he considered he had done, and the effort involved, it was still all “vanity” (2:11). The pursuit was pleasurable, in one sense—“my heart found pleasure in all my toil”, he reports (2:10)—but it still left him asking, “Is this all there is?”

God is not anti-pleasure. Ecclesiastes itself encourages us to “eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (9:7)—and these gifts are our “portion” in this “vain life”. But Ecclesiastes implicitly raises the question, “Where can we find lasting pleasure?”.

Lasting pleasure is only found in relationship with God through Christ. Jesus’ first miracle, after all, was turning water into wine at a wedding (John 2). This shows that God wants to share our joys with us just as he wants to share our sorrows. Indeed, if we look for ultimate pleasure in things under the sun, we will experience life to be “shot through with holes”, always unsatisfying. But if we look for true pleasure in knowing Christ, we will not only find it to be solid and lasting, but we will enjoy the pleasures of this life more, because we will view them in the context of relationship—personalized gifts to us, from the hand of a loving God.

Sermon Outline

• The Pursuit of Pleasure Comes Up Empty (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
• God Gives True Pleasure (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9; John 2:1-12)

Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide

Re-read the passage(s): Ecclesiastes 2:1-11; 9:7-9

The Pursuit of Pleasure Comes Up Empty (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

Q) INTRO: This week’s sermon/passage is all about the pursuit of pleasure. Our culture communicates powerfully to us what pleasures we need to pursue (and obtain) if we want to be truly satisfied. What are some of the messages we get from our culture about what pleasures we need, to be satisfied? How do these messages get communicated to us?

Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 2:1-9, and meditate on these verses together:

• What are some of the “pleasures” that the Preacher tested himself with?
• What might be some modern-day equivalents of the pleasures the Preacher pursued—e.g. “flocks and herds”, “concubines”, etc?
• How conscious and intentional was the Preacher’s pursuit of pleasure? What words and phrases highlight this?

Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 2:9-11. What conclusions did the Preacher come to when he reflected on his pursuit of pleasure?

Q) In 2:10, the Preacher says that he “found pleasure in all (his) toil”, but one verse later, in 2:11, he calls it all “vanity and a striving after wind”. Is this a contradiction? How can his toil be both “pleasurable” and “vanity” at the same time?

Q) Describe a time in your life when you obtained a certain pleasure that you were seeking after, but ultimately found it unsatisfying? What was the experience like, and what did you learn? AND/OR: If you’re honest, is there something—possession, an experience, etc—that you’re seeking right now, with the hope will finally satisfy you? What would it look like to repent of placing God-sized hopes in this worldly pleasure? How might you rightly pursue it?

God Gives True Pleasure (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9; John 2:1-12)

Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 9:7-9. What was your first reaction to reading these verses? Were you surprised at all by them? What does the Preacher mean in 9:7 when he says, “God has already approved what you do?”

Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, then look up these cross-references: Eccl 2:24-25; 5:18; 8:15.
How would you assess the counsel the preacher gives in these various verses? Is it good counsel? Bad counsel? Good, but incomplete? And why?

Q) In his sermon, Pastor Bobby shared the story from John 2 about of Jesus’ very first miracle— turning water into wine, in order to keep a wedding party going. From this story, we learn that God wants to increase and enlarge our pleasure, not diminish it. When you think of God, is it your first instinct to view him as a God who wants to increase your pleasure, or as a God who wants to put limits on your pleasure? Why?

Q) In his sermon, Pastor Bobby said: “Jesus had to die, in order to make the party go on forever?” What did he mean by this? How does it reveal the heart of God?

Q) In his sermon, Pastor Bobby said that “the more we know God, the deeper our joy will go, and the wider it will go” because we will view every good pleasure this world has to offer as a gift from the hand of a God who longs to bring us into a deeper relationship with him. Have you ever had an experience where you realized that a good pleasure of this world was really a gift from God? How did it change the way you enjoyed this good thing?

Q) Spend 2-3 mins in prayer. What is one way you feel called to respond to this week’s sermon? It might be:

• A thought to keep considering
• An attitude to embrace
• An action step to take

Additional Application Questions

Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?

Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?

Prayer

Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.

 
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