Identity – Pleasure

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

  • Luke 12:13-21

For he never thought of doing a kindness,
    but hounded to death the poor
    and the needy and the brokenhearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse—
    may it come back on him.
He found no pleasure in blessing—
    may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment;
    it entered into his body like water,
    into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
    like a belt tied forever around him.
May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers,
    to those who speak evil of me.

  • Psalm 109:16-20

A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes,
    but a person of understanding delights in wisdom.

  • Proverbs 10:23

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

  • James 4:3

“Others have a simpler viewpoint and tell us that we are here merely to enjoy ourselves. Epicurus, the father of Epicureanism, taught that pleasure is the chief end of man. Unfortunately, he earned a terrible reputation, but his idea was not as bad as it sounds. Epicurus did not teach that our purpose was to go out on a three-week binge or smoke opium or engage every physical and carnal pleasure known to man. He taught something quite the contrary.
“Epicurus taught that pleasure is the end of all things: the pleasures of friendship and the beauty of literature and poetry and music and art. ‘The noble pleasures of a good. conscience,’ he said, ‘is what we were born for in order that we might enjoy life.’
“Although he had good intentions and tried taking the high road, he had it all wrong. Joys and pleasures all pass away.
“An old man who used to sit and listen enraptured to the music of the classics, now sits and nods in the corner and does not know Brahms from Frank Sinatra, because his mind is gone and his ability to enjoy pleasures is gone as well. What does a man do when life offers him no more pleasure? Some have answered this emptiness by suicide, a tragic end of a life that never found the real purpose of existence.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Purpose of Man

There is a common expression: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Some attribute this to Epicurus (340-271BC), but it is really a mash of expressions from Ecclesiastes and Isaiah, according to one dictionary without giving any chapters or verses.  Jesus, in His parable of the Rich Fool, comes closest to putting those pieces together.  Epicurus was a Greek, and he probably would have never heard of the Hebrew books of Ecclesiastes and Isaiah, and he died about three hundred years before Jesus told the parable.  Odd how some modern scholars go to great lengths to avoid a Biblical connection to such old sayings.

But while men, who gather to talk, may start conversations with work, and then follow that with education, I have not been in many conversations that discussed our various means of pleasure.  To a minor extent, men will discuss the ball game, their last round of golf (in detail, shot by shot, except the ones they failed to put on their scorecard), a favorite television show, a hit movie, or what they did on vacation.

The vacation thing borders on bragging as did the work and education topics.  I worked with one salesman who had three weeks of vacation and each week was programmed into his schedule at the beginning of the year and nothing would violate his schedule.  I know that one week was always Aruba.  I think he slummed one week in an exclusive resort on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.  I forget what the third week was, but it was something way past my paygrade.  I am thinking the Virgin Islands, either American or British.  I did spend a week at Hilton Head, but my older son had a timeshare and he wanted to check out that area since he had grown up in South Carolina.  We also spent a weekend on Hilton Head years before when a friend tossed me the keys to their condo for the weekend.  But all I know about Aruba is that it was a Dutch colony, and I can find it on the map, with help.

But there are “sinful” pleasures that do not come up in polite conversation.  Even the ball game has been polluted by gambling being the focus of every sport instead of winning and championships.  Since I never gamble, hating it when my wife has me buy a lottery ticket, most folks never bring up gambling around me.  But those who indulge in adultery, drunkenness, drugs, etc. do not bring those up in conversation.  The gamblers will brag about their one time of coming away with a small amount of cash, but they will never explain the multiple mortgages on the house or why they stole money from Grandma or why they only use burner phones with a different phone number every few months.

But like work and education, many people adjust their daily schedules and yearly schedules for vacations and holidays.  Some people get crazy over holidays.  In SW Pennsylvania, people decorate their yards more readily for Halloween than they do for Christmas.  But then there are many that never take down their Christmas decorations – they just unplug the lights from early January to late November.  And some may not get crazy about it, but they decorate for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day which usually stays up until after the Fourth of July (which includes Flag Day on 14 June), and Thanksgiving.

While we may not identify with all these holidays in our communication with others, it greatly affects our schedule, our choice of clothing, and often our mood.  That’s where the identity through pleasure arises.  If our mood is only in good spirits when there is anticipation of a holiday, then we are identifying with that holiday too much.

And the converse of the argument is that we are saying that God is not pleasurable enough to sustain us, and we must supplement that pleasure with God with something else.

I agree with A. W. Tozer in his assessment of Epicurus.  Epicurus was not the Hedonist that people of today seem to characterize him.  He could gain great pleasure by a stimulating argument between his philosophy and a rival philosophy of his time.  We will discuss thrills next week, but Epicurus was talking more along the lines of sustained pleasure like success and accomplishment.

Yet, can we take pleasure with us when we die?  Not really, but I would really like to ask the countless Christians who were in ecstatic pleasure as they were about to die, and they saw the gates of Heaven open.  If we could bottle that half-second before death and show people what Heaven was like, they would turn to God in a heartbeat.

But most people are impatient, and they do not trust God.  They need their pleasure now.  Yet, in trusting in God’s promises, He gives us little glimpses of that Heavenly Glory along the way.  But that earthly Joy and Pleasure comes only if we truly trust in the Lord and glorify Him forever.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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