Biblical Wisdom

Walk with the Wise | Proverbs 13:20

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Proverbs 13:20 ESV

 

Wisdom, the skill of living, can be found in walking among the wise. Choosing to associate with wise people will inevitably lead to wisdom.

Why is this?

The heart dwells wherever the feet traverse. Movements, actions, habits have direct relevance to the status of the heart. Listening to worshipful music (or better yet, singing worshipful music) causes the heart to follow in worship. The path is not always instantaneous, but it is present. Companions, the voices and messages that ring in one’s ears throughout the day, are often foolish.

I often consume frivolous YouTube videos and podcasts, and they nudge me ever so slightly toward harm. They draw my soul away from the wisdom of God. They pull my thoughts and desires toward things that do not contribute to my eternal joy.

This isn’t to say that I cannot enjoy entertainment in this life. The question is whether such entertainment is ultimately contributing to my growth in godly wisdom. Few things are more entertaining to me than diving again into the worlds of Middle Earth or Narnia. Yet these stories do not merely provide an escape from reality; instead, they offer valuable insight into many biblical truths.

So many voices are screaming to be heard. They each long to be my companion. To be wise, I must walk with the wise. Ultimately, of course, this means that I must walk with Christ. His Word above all else must daily be my delight and the meditation of my heart.

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When Technology Replaces the Holy Spirit

Leaving pieces behind, in my opinion, is the most difficult aspect of sermon preparation. Yet for the sake of clarity and precision, some must be left on the cutting room floor. The following is one of those.

While preparing to preach on the incarnation, I wanted to show how God becoming flesh proves that our physical bodies are important and not innately evil. Two threads emerged from this general idea. One addressed the need to both enjoy the pleasures of our physical existence and to discipline ourselves against abusing those same enjoyments. The other targeted how, like the people of Babel, we use technology to try to transcend our bodies. Ultimately, the first felt more cohesive to the rest of the sermon, so the second one was scrapped. Yet the idea of technology replacing the role of the Spirit in our lives is worth sharing (and considering), so here it is.


To have a physical body means being limited. The people of Babel understood this all too well. After learning how to form strong and durable bricks, they began to use this new technology to build a tower. This proto-skyscraper was meant to ascend into the heavens; it was to be their stairway to the throne of God, a means of making a name for themselves. They not only wrongly believed that they could transcend their earthly limitations; they also believed that God was small enough to be reached by human effort. God, of course, displays their tininess by stooping down to disassemble their tower and scatter them across the earth.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Babel has never left us. Today, more than ever, we continue to use technology with the hope of breaking free from our fleshly limitations. We keep creating towers to the heavens, attempting to transcend any need of our Creator, while also trying to stay united together in the midst of a world broken by sin.

Consider a few examples.

Electric lights break us free from the tyranny of day and night. For millennia, our bodies were guided by the patterns of our Circadian Rhythm, but now we create our own schedules. We dictate the best time to sleep and stay awake.

Cars and planes liberate us from the confines of distance. Being able to drive across town at any moment or fly across country (and even oceans) within 24 hours has expanded our village of family and friends onto a much wider area. Unfortunately, the actual village lifestyle of the past is vanishing into a memory. Although we may be able to drive to one another’s home at any time, it’s quite a different practice than “just dropping by to say hi” while on a walk through the neighborhood.

Phones and social media guard us against solitude and seclusion. They ensure that we are never truly alone, yet they also ensure that a significant portion of our communications happen through a buffer. Face-to-face conversation was once called simply conversation, but we now speak to one another primarily without all the nonverbals of facial expressions and body posture, which thankfully were never very important for conversation anyway (side note: since you can’t see my face… yes, that is sarcasm).

Modern medicine protects us from the pain and discomfort of symptoms. Unfortunately, the prevalence of pain medication seems to ignore the reality that pain is warning signal for something that has gone wrong. We treat headaches and stomach pains without much consideration as to what our body is trying to tell us. We snuff out cold and flu symptoms without pondering why our immune system was weak enough to allow such pathogens to survive so long.

Grocery stores assure us that food is plentiful and easily accessible. This appearance is by design, since we are more likely to buy produce if the display is fully stocked. Of course, this leads to grocery stores forming 10% of the 133 billion pounds of food (or 1/3 of all that is produced) that we throw away. All of this is to say nothing about our consumption without all the mess of having to grow or kill whatever we eat.

The list could go on.

Our modern lifestyle gives us greater comfort and luxury than any ancient royalty could ever possess. We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement in history. And none of these things are wrong or sinful in and of themselves. Having too much food is certainly a better problem than not having enough. Even two decades ago, medicine would not have been advanced enough to save my dad’s life after his accident. Electricity, transportation, and communications have made our vast network of civilization possible. But neither was the development of brickmaking the sin of Babel; their sin was attempting to be gods, trying to transcend free from their physical limitations. Similarly, whenever we use technology to sedate the hungers and needs of our flesh entirely, we end up rejecting God as our Provider and Creator. Our gadgets help us perpetuate the lie that we can save ourselves.

But God alone offers us both the sustenance and transcendence that we crave. In fact, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 plays out like an anti-Babel. The tower was an attempt to reach the heavens, but the indwelling Spirit truly carries our prayers to the very throne of God. The people of Babel were united by a common language, but the Spirit forms us into a new people from every nation, tribe, and language on earth. The people of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves, but the Spirit enables us to joyously glorify the Triune God. Also, by the Spirit, we are reminded that we will one day be given glorified bodies as we dwell with God and His new creation for all eternity.
Through the Spirit, we both transcend this present reality while simultaneously becoming more firmly embodied in it. In fact, we could simply say that by the ordaining of the Father, through the work of Christ, and by the empowering of the Spirit, we are entering back into reality itself, communion with God, which then empowers us to be united with one another. The Spirit connects us and gives deeper meaning to our lives than technology ever can.

Sadly, technology will continue to be used as a substitute for the Holy Spirit to break us free from the limitations of our bodies. But, as Christ’s followers, we must reject this and keep technology within its place. We must use it to cultivate and subdue both the earth and ourselves, but it cannot save us. It cannot bridge the hostility caused by our sin. It cannot take us beyond the limits of our flesh.

Use technology to serve you, not save you.

And embrace the limits of your body. They are displaying your need for the Creator.

Discipline Is More Than the Rod

In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul commands fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD.

Correct them.

Teach them.

What’s so hard about that?

Proverbs, particularly and repeatedly, reminds us of the corrective role in parenthood through the rod. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (10:24). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (22:15). “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (23:13-14). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

The Bible clearly affirms and promotes the “rod” as a means of disciplining children. With my daughter, I now also see the practical benefit of a quick and physical response to disobedience. It provides a sharp reprimand of behavior, which I then follow by reemphasizing why that behavior is not permitted and with an assurance of my deep love for her. And life moves on. She is often playing full-force again within the next few seconds.

The rod of discipline is a prod to keep children from veering off the appropriate path, and as such, it is an essential component of discipline, which even the LORD does not withhold from us. Yet discipline is so much more than the rod.

While conversing about discipline in adulthood, people rarely consider physical correction; instead, they think of things like waking up or going to bed early, training and practicing a skill, exercising, and exerting self-control. We rightfully consider discipline to be how we shape ourselves, little by little, into the molds of who we would like to be in the future. Discipline means actively cultivating our lives into how we desire to live them. Sometimes physical correction plays a role. For example, if I want to continue losing weight but I also want to eat desserts, I’ll need a significant amount of exercise in order to maintain a caloric deficit. Yet in general, I gradually come to realize that limiting desserts and regularly doing moderate exercise is the easiest path to shedding the extra pounds. As a whole, being disciplined is nothing less than how we are choosing to live our lives.

Why is it then that we often have such a narrowed lens for understanding how we discipline our children? Of course, with young children physical correction has a prominent place, especially as they repeatedly push against and thereby discover what constitutes socially appropriate behavior. Yet the role of parents in childrearing is to discipline and instruct in the LORD’s ways, to show and guide them in the path of wisdom, which has its beginning in fearing God. By strength and grace of the Spirit, we are called to shape and mold their lives into a biblical pattern, a Christ-glorifying cruciform design.

This means so much more than simply having well-behaved children; we should want well-disciplined and well-instructed children after God’s commands. God’s commands, of course, is the key phrase. Far be it from us to only desire miniature clones of ourselves! Rather, our aim must be to equip them for living as God designed and intended, to be a disciple of Jesus. After all, parenting is a long-term act of discipleship.

And just as Christ demands every facet of our lives, may we discipline and instruct our children in every facet of their lives as well. Let us be faithful to correct them away from fits of behavior that are not loving to their neighbors. Let us be faithful to instruct them well in the basics of the faith. Let us be faithful to show them by example how the spiritual disciplines grow our love and obedience to the LORD. Let us be faithful to teach them how to steward the gifts that God has given them: their bodies, their time, their finances. Let us show them by our everyday interactions the love, grace, consistency, discipline, and gentleness of God through how loving, gracious, consistent, disciplined, and gentle we are with them.

If this all sounds overwhelming, it is. The biblical demand upon parents goes beyond safekeeping our children. We must raise them in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, which demands our constant intentional effort. Of course, even our greatest efforts will be found wanting, but thankfully we can trust that God’s grace will more than work in spite of, and even through, our weaknesses and failures. But grace isn’t an excuse for us to stop applying our effort; instead, grace provides us with the confidence of knowing that we are simply called to faithful, while God Himself will provide the fruit.

Disciplining our children requires much more than the rod; it requires the outpouring of ourselves. May we gladly follow Christ’s example in this, since He did far more for us.

Biblical Wisdom

Background on Proverbs

Author

Proverbs 1:1 presents Solomon as the primary author of the book, but there are other writers as well, such as Agur and Lemuel.

Theme

Proverbs aims to teach us biblical wisdom, which is the skill of understanding and navigating the broken, sin-filled world around us by conforming ourselves to God’s pattern for creation.

Background

Solomon, the son of David, is the primary author and/or collector of the proverbs within Proverbs, and the Bible certainly paints him as being qualified. After becoming king of Israel, 1 Kings 3:3-15 tell of God appearing to Solomon in a dream, asking what he desired. The young king asked the LORD for wisdom to lead Israel, which was a wise request itself. From then onward, Solomon became known for his great wisdom, so that people from all over the earth came to hear his words (1 Kings 4:34). With his understanding, Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and composed 1,005 songs. Many of those proverbs are no doubt within this book.

But Proverbs is not the sole work of Solomon. The book, as we have it today, was not complete until more than two hundred years after Solomon’s death. We know this because King Hezekiah (one of Judah’s most godly kings) compiled more of Solomon’s proverbs about a dozen generations later (25:1). We know nothing about Lemuel and Agur nor of the anonymous authors of 22:17-24:22 and 24:23-34. Thus, Proverbs began to be composed with Solomon, was still being compiled in Hezekiah’s day, and might have been finished as late as the Babylonian exile. This vast time frame should remind us that God’s wisdom transcends the ages, speaking and guiding whomever has ears to hear.

Purpose

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach us “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth (1:2-4).” Proverbs aims to increase the learning of the wise and to give guidance to the one with understanding. This book wants to make us wise, to give us the skills and understanding to navigate life in a way that pleases God.

Principles for Understanding Proverbs

Proverbs can be a very difficult book to understand well, so before we begin our dive into the book, here are a few principles to keep in mind while studying Proverbs.

First, Proverbs is divided into two major halves. The first half (chapters 1-9) are an introductory course of on biblical wisdom, with Solomon writing to us readers as a father teaching his son. Although these paternal speeches form the bulk of the first nine chapters, we are also treated occasionally to speeches from Lady Wisdom. Because of this teaching pattern, it is important for us to approach these chapters as students ready to learn wisdom from experts.

Second, Proverbs are principles, not promises. Many parents can testify that Proverbs 22:6 is does not always happen. Proverbs show us how things should work within God’s creation, but they are not guaranteed. Ecclesiastes and Job show us how biblical wisdom is applied to these situations when life goes against what we expected.

Third, Proverbs cannot make us wise, only God can. Even though Proverbs is the book of biblical wisdom, they cannot make us wise themselves. We must rather pray for God to use His Word to make us wise, but without His illumination, these words will never change or impact our hearts.

Fourth, Proverbs are not lifehacks to apply immediately; they require wisdom to use properly. Too many people think of Proverbs as being full of sayings that can be grabbed without context and applied to life’s various situations. This approach fails to realize the importance of Proverbs using nine chapters to introduce the concept of wisdom before launching into the proverbs themselves. In fact, Proverbs speaks against trying to use these wise words without wisdom: “Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:7.” Or “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:9).”

Fifth, there are multiple types of literature within Proverbs. Verse lists four types of literature with Proverbs: proverbs, sayings, words of the wise, and riddles. Proverbs are the bulk form of literature present in the book. Most often proverbs are composed in a parallelism format, meaning they have two lines that reflect upon each other. There is plenty of debate over what exactly sayings and words of the wise refer to. Proverbs 22:17 begins a section of thirty sayings that are called the words of the wise, so maybe the two terms are generally interchangeable. Most commentators agree that riddles within Proverbs refer to texts like Proverbs 30:18-19: “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of the eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on the rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.” These are obviously not riddles as we have them in the English language; instead, they are sayings that are purposefully ambiguous and we are meant to search out their meaning.

Tools for Bible Study

Serious study of any ancient document will require resources and tools that help to enrich one’s understanding of the text. The Bible is no different. As both a cohesive and complete revelation of God to humanity and a library of literary masterpieces, the Bible has consumed the lifetime focus of some of history’s most brilliant minds, and yet within it lie countless treasures still to be mined.

Thankfully, tools to aid studying the Bible have never been more accessible than they are today. Since I use many of these resources in order to prepare a sermon each week, I’ve thought that it could be helpful to make a short list of the ones I tend to frequently use. So whether you are called to preach the Word, teach in a smaller setting, or just want to understand the Bible better, here are a few tools for your toolbelt.

ESV Website

First up is the English Standard Version website. I read and preach from the ESV because I love its “essentially literal” interpretation and its poetic readability. Although I preach from a physical Bible, I rarely read or study from one; instead, I use the website or app. Furthermore, you can also access the ESV Study Bible (although it must be purchased or accessed via a code in a physical Bible), which is the best Study Bible that I have found.

Study Light

For purchasing individual commentaries, I typically consult this page, but for the classic commentaries, I use Study Light. The commentaries of Calvin, Henry, and Gill are always solid recommended readings.

Blue Letter Bible

I know that Blue Letter Bible features a lot of study resources, but I really only use it for two purposes: reading multiple translations of a verse and doing word studies of the Hebrew or Greek.

Open Bible’s Topical Bible

Open Bible has a searchable Topical Bible in which verses are voted as relevant to a particular topic by the site’s users.

Logos

The beauty of Logos is that it has all the functions of those other websites and more. It’s essentially an all-in-one source of Bible study tools. If that sounds of interest to you, then purchasing a package may be a valuable investment. I have the basic package (and I certainly understand the appeal of the software), but I rarely use it. I prefer to keep my Word document and the ESV website open while I am studying, and I open tabs to other websites as needed. But that’s just my preferred interface. Logos can be of tremendous value to you if you dive all in, but it is by no means necessary for seriously studying God’s Word.

Why Advent?

The Bible is a story. In fact, it is the Story, the true myth, the architype that is woven into who we are as people. It is the story that we all long for, even those who have yet to hear it and those who reject it. It’s the story that we continue telling. The story of a paradise lost, of brokenness in need of repair, of betrayal and treason, of rescue and redemption. It’s our story, the story of Who made us, what went wrong, and how He fixed it and will fix it permanently.

Advent is intrinsicately about that story. Meaning coming or arrival, Advent is typically used to refer to the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the moment when God came down to rescue His people from the plague that we wrought upon creation: sin. That infant in a manger some two thousand years ago was God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

God became man. Divinity and humanity mysteriously complete in person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Without this advent, the rest of the story collapses. The crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation all hinge upon Jesus being both God and man, the perfect high priest and only true mediator between the Creator and His rebellious creatures.

The season of Advent is an opportunity to immerse ourselves once again in the Story, to marvel anew at the sheer audacity of God’s plan, to be awestruck once more by the vast treasure of our redemption.

But it is also a time to refresh our anticipation for Christ’s return, the second advent. The decisive battle was won on the cross, but the war has yet to conclude. Like the Old Testament saints, we await still our coming King.

May the LORD, thus, draw you into a deepened sense of wonder over Christ’s incarnation and gospel this Advent.

May you long for Christ’s return with same confident anticipation as those who eagerly awaited His first coming.


Depressing Joy: a thousand year search for meaning

Back in 2012, I taught through the books of Ecclesiastes and Philippians together, attempting to show how they both present that true joy is only found in Christ. Since I am now preaching through them again (finishing Ecclesiastes this Sunday), I’m sharing the essay that I wrote in 2012 to explain the connection between these two books.


The nature of joy should not be mysterious to us, yet it often is. C. S. Lewis claims, in the book Surprised by Joy, that pleasure, happiness, and joy share a commonality. This common trait, Lewis remarks, is that after one has experienced them he or she will spend the rest of their life searching for them again. However, though they share this link, joy is significantly different from pleasure or happiness. For instance, the alluring aspect of happiness and pleasure is that they are both enjoyable, yet that very enjoyment of happiness and pleasure is meant to be found within the context of joy. The word “enjoy” means, after all, to find joy in something. Thus, joy is the means by which and the purpose to which we are meant enjoy pleasure and happiness. We often seek happiness and pleasure themselves as sources of joy, but if we sought joy first, then we would already have the context for accepting pleasure and happiness. Joy should be given primacy. Happiness and pleasure could best be described as momentary glimpses of joy, whereas joy is a state of being that transcends throughout the emotional spectrum. Thus, we can be joyful and happy, but we can also be sorrowful and full of joy.

The lasting appeal of joy, I believe, derives from its interconnection with satisfaction. When we are joyful, we are satisfied. Or, it could better be said that when we are satisfied, we are joyful. As Moody notes, “if man is dying for want of bread, and you give him bread, is that going to make him gloomy?” Most, if not all, of our negative emotions can be traced to an outcome that deviated from our original desire. I will not enjoy a meal fully if it is Chinese food and my desire was for Mexican. When our desires are fulfilled, we find joy and satisfaction.

The implication of this thought is enormous because most people strongly desire to live a satisfied life. We often long, deep within our souls, for a joy that gives us true satisfaction and contentment, and we are best able to find that joy by seeing our desires fulfilled. However, if our greatest desire is to achieve joy and satisfaction, then such joy can only be found by finding… joy. And it is within this vague cycle of sought-out meaning that many throw away their search for joy. They become lost in the quest for satisfaction and, as a result, pursue one source of fleeting pleasure after another. Instead of finding lasting joy, they do their best to be satisfied with lesser things, with mere hints of the meaning and contentment that could be had.

This triviality is not lost on God nor on His chosen people throughout history. In fact, there two books within God’s Word that search out and answer how we might find a meaningful and satisfied life. The first of these is the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by Solomon, the king of Israel after succeeding his father David, Ecclesiastes is traditionally believed to be his dying thoughts. After living a life of unparalleled wealth, pleasure, and wisdom, Solomon wrote what many consider to be the most hopeless and depressing book of the Bible.

It is easily understood how one can arrive at such a conclusion. The bulk of Ecclesiastes is Solomon presenting various avenues of hope only to describe their shortcomings. However, the overarching vanity in life is not Solomon’s ultimate purpose for the book. Instead, Solomon hopes to reveal the Source of lasting joy and satisfaction, but he does this primarily by showing how other methods fail to offer such joy. In fact, the Israelite king repeatedly states that there is nothing better in life than to enjoy what you have been given by God.

Wait.

Surely the search for lasting joy cannot be that simple.

Are we meant to simply have joy?

Well, Solomon does give an answer for the Source of joy: God. The conclusion of Solomon’s life is that enjoyment, and thus joy, only comes from God. Nothing else gives such lasting satisfaction. Therefore, we must understand that Ecclesiastes is, at its core, about joy and the Giver of joy.

The second book is the widely hailed epistle of joy: Philippians. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians was written towards the end of his life as well. Over the course of his letter, Paul primarily urges the church in Philippi to rejoice (another word derived from joy), despite the church and Paul himself experiencing persecution. In fact, Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned for declaring the gospel of Jesus. But even though Paul was sitting in prison awaiting his death, he wrote with supreme confidence that he had found the complete and total meaning of life: “to live is Christ.” Furthermore, Paul’s central focus upon Christ gives contentment and joy in any situation and grants him the ability to view death as gain. The joy of Christ delivers unparalleled joy and satisfaction, while stripping away the sting and fear of death.

Though Solomon and Paul were separated by roughly a thousand years, the central theme of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians remains eternally tied together. These two godly and wise men present to us a thousand year, Spirit-inspired look at humanity’s quest for meaning, satisfaction, and purpose in life. But even more importantly, they present the answer to that quest; therefore, over the next couple of posts, we will explore the connections and relations between these two beautiful, but challenging, books.

Two Roads

A belief that I hold is that there are two paths to hell. If eternal judgment is your desired destination, rest assured that you have at least two choices to take: the road of the “sinner” or the road of the “religious.”

You see, the only method of actually securing the eternal wrath of such a loving God is to follow your own prideful heart, to reject His grace and His Son. This is the only means of sealing one’s damnation because we know that anyone who turns from their sins and follows Christ shall be saved.

However,  though pride is the only means of earning a hellish afterlife, such a life plays out in two broad forms, both are methods of proclaiming your own glory instead of God’s. As one could probably guess, both of these views are discussed in Ecclesiastes and Philippians.

First, you can become a “sinner” and adamantly reject the inherent moral compass that God has placed within us. This way of life will almost always become some form of the philosophical thought known as hedonism. This is because, as stated above, pleasure gives us a sense of enjoyment, which we will often relentlessly pursue. When we are centered upon ourselves entirely and deny any real morality, we will seek our own happiness through various means.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us the very epitome of this “sinner” approach to life. His hedonistic quest is listed in the second chapter and is basically a dream fulfilled to anyone. Is music enjoyable? Solomon hired his favorite singers and musicians to play personally for him, whenever he wanted. How about laughter? He had the best comedians around him at all times. Animals? He had the best farms and his own personal zoo. Money? Solomon made 666 talents of gold each year just for being king. That would be a salary of about $750,000,000 in today’s currency! With all of his possessions included, Solomon is widely considered to be the wealthiest person to ever live. How about sex? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines whose only job was to satisfy any fantasy that the king had. Most men today would have great difficulty building a virtual harem that large, let alone an actual harem! He ordered the building of one of the wonders of the ancient world, the temple in Jerusalem. His philanthropy was also unmatched. Surely all of those activities gave him pleasure!

And actually, it did.

But it was only a fleeting, momentary pleasure. Disillusioned by the inability to find lasting satisfaction in any of those avenues, Solomon gives himself over to despair in the very same chapter! Though he sought joy, the end result is nothing but depression.

Or we could choose to become “religious.”

This route is no less prideful than the “sinner’s” road, though it often appears to be so because of the false humility that likely follows. In many ways, this path is no less hedonistic than the “sinner.” While “sinner” ignores the moral laws and seeks pleasure outside of them, the “religious” accepts morality and hopes to find pleasure in being a good person. Following this route, our satisfaction becomes contingent upon our good works.

In Philippians, we find this other path toward damnation played out. In the third chapter, Paul gives us his religious credentials. Paul was born into one of the more prominent tribes among God’s chosen people. When it came to obeying the laws that God gave to the Israelites, Paul was a Pharisee. This group literally devoted their entire lives to obeying God’s Word, and Paul was quickly becoming one of the best. Another aspect of religiousness is passion, or zeal. Many today will argue that it does not matter what you believe so long as you believe with your whole heart and passion. Paul had unrivaled zeal, displayed in the fact that he killed those considered to be heretics. It is difficult to imagine a greater passion than the willingness to kill for your beliefs. And interestingly enough, Paul does not say that this failed to give him pleasure or satisfaction. In fact, this form of life can certainly lead to a fulfilled existence; however, the end result will not be even remotely pleasant. Jesus informs us that at the end of time many will stand before Him and confidently sight their resume as justification for their entrance into God’s presence. Shockingly, they will promptly be denied. Why? They will be sent away because all of their efforts were for their own pride and glory, not the glorification of Christ.

Nevertheless, Paul does not reiterate Jesus’ words. He does not even state that all of his best efforts were in vain. Instead, he is more concerned with what he has found to be the greatest source of pleasure and meaning, which consequently is the same conclusion that Solomon also arrives to at the end of the second chapter in Ecclesiastes. Solomon’s claim is that the ability to enjoy life is a gift from God, and Paul’s conclusion is that everything else pales in comparison to Jesus Christ. Solomon’s hedonism and Paul’s hedonistic legalism both spring from the sin called pride and its rebellion against God. Yet both also find their hope and true joy in God and the radiance of His glory Jesus Christ.

Finding Contentment

Yet even if hedonism and religious legalism are both truly dead ends, we are forced to ask once more why people pursue these ends.

Why do we relentlessly chase after the pleasures of hedonism to the degree of ignoring our God-given conscience?

Why practice the asceticism found within religious legalism so that precious little happiness and pleasure is left in life?

Both roads are meant to accomplish the same end: contentment. A satisfied, fulfilled, and purposeful life is the goal to which almost every philosophical outlook aims. Most of us seek to live a life that is full of meaning, a life that has not been wasted.

Solomon, with all of his divinely granted wisdom, was no exception. Ecclesiastes is the Israelite king’s reflection on all of the various quests that he explored to find this contentment, this meaning in life. Though he pursued many possible means toward that end, the thesis of Ecclesiastes is that he only found one path that leads to true meaning and satisfaction in life.

In the twelfth and thirteenth verses of chapter three, Solomon states simply that there is nothing better than for us to “take pleasure” in all of our toil. He would rephrase this idea later by saying that we would do well to accept our lot in life. Thus, we have to wonder if such is the extent of Solomon’s wisdom. The wisest man to ever live, at the end of his life, reaches one conclusion: to find contentment and satisfaction in life, be content and satisfied with life.

Is the answer to the question truly the content of the question itself? Fortunately, Solomon grants us more to guide us than the advice of simply being content. Instead, Solomon reveals to us the Source of contentment. He concludes the verses mentioned above with this tell-tale phrase: “this is God’s gift to man.” From whence can such contentment and purpose in life come? According to Solomon, it can only come from the hand of God, gift to humanity that He alone can give.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is not without its parallel in this matter.

Given the apostle’s circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine how he could find complete and total satisfaction with life. He was locked away in prison, knowing that he could be executed at any moment. And this is after most of his missionary journeys, which saw him shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and flogged. Luke the physician likely stayed by Paul’s side primarily out of necessity. After such difficulties and sufferings, is it possible for Paul to write about having contentment and satisfaction? Amazingly, he does!

In verse eleven of chapter four, Paul declares that he has learned “to be content” in any situation. Even so, this claim will inspire nothing but envy within us unless Paul is able to disclose the Source of his contentment. The thirteenth verse of the same chapter is one of the most famous and quoted verses of the entire Bible, and it is there that the answer is found. It is through “him who strengthens” that Paul finds the ability to be satisfied within difficult circumstances. We understand from the context of the letter and chapter that the “him” is Christ.

Therefore, Paul is making the same claim that Solomon made 1000 years prior. They have both found the same conclusion to one of life’s greatest questions, and the answer is that only God can give us contentment and satisfaction with life.

The Pursuit of Joy

We have now arrived at the Source of a content life. We have discovered that God alone, through Christ, is able granted us the satisfaction that our souls desire. However, if we stop merely at the Source of our satisfaction, then I believe that we will miss an opportunity to see the glory and goodness of God at work.

You see, part of the glorious nature of God’s gift of contentment is the means by which it is given. God, being God, could easily have granted us a form of contentment that offered no level of pleasure. He could have simply given us the ability to be completely satisfied with our lot in life, while also being quite unhappy. Yet, this is not how He chose to operate. God Himself is the Source of our contentment, but joy is the vehicle, the mode, through which His gift is given. This thought gives heart to what was discussed at the beginning: joy leads to satisfaction, which we know now to be because God ordained it as such.

In bringing the ideas of joy, contentment, meaning, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness full circle, we may once again turn toward Ecclesiastes’ and Philippians’ persistent mentioning of joy and its derivative words.

Solomon continually reinforces that the only means of lasting value is enjoying life via the free gift of God.  Paul pleads throughout for the Philippians to rejoice in Christ, even in the persecution that they were experiencing. Thus, over the span of a thousand years, Paul and Solomon both urge, through radically different writings and lives, that finding enjoyment and rejoicing in God are the only means to achieving lasting contentment and satisfaction in life, and enjoyment and rejoicing can only come from God Himself.

Therefore, God is the Source, the Receiver of the means, and the Objective that we hope to arrive upon. In short, joy, contentment, and meaning are only in God the Father through Jesus Christ. The circular quest for purpose has but one answer: the One who is, in and of Himself, the Beginning and the End. He is the summation of the very purpose of our lives.

Thus, we enjoy and rejoice because He is good and sufficient, and in Him, we are completely satisfied. It is this biblical line of thinking that inspired John Piper to form this condensed description of his theology: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Being satisfied in Him necessitates enjoying and rejoicing in Him.

All of this is to say that the chief end of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians is that immeasurable joy can only be found in God, which will lead to a content and satisfied life, and a life that is completely joyful in Him will be supremely glorifying to Him.  Let us, therefore, glorify Christ Jesus along with Solomon and Paul, for His glory will also become our greatest joy.