Eat, drink and be merry

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“A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Here is very good advice.  There is nothing better in life than to eat, drink and be merry.  That is true if we only consider life “under the sun.”  Notice how that phrase bookends our saying for today.  Life under the sun is best lived by enjoying every pleasure this world affords.

Solomon does not recommend wasting much time on religion or moral strivings.  His lust for life takes him to the harem, the banquet hall, the university, the building site, the palace, but never the temple.  He mentions God here and there but he never recommends the paraphernalia of religious devotion.  If you want to live life well “under the sun”, attend dinner parties, and laugh loud.

It’s the best advice a person can give, except that the grave makes a mockery of it all.

You see, the inhabitants of Jerusalem tried to take Solomon’s advice to heart when an invading army was beseiging their walls.  God calls them to fasting and prayer, the people respond with “joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine.  [They say] let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.”  (Isaiah 22:13)  It turns out very badly for these merry makers.

Solomon’s advice does not work in the face of the coming judgement.  Solomon himself knows this.  He comes to see again and again the futility of life under the sun – it is “Vanity!”  But, Solomon is saying, if you resign yourself to vanity, then all that’s left are the parties.  You may as well party hard.

Jesus tells a parable of a rich fool who tries out Solomon’s philosophy.  He lives for wealth and pleasure and when he gets rich he says to himself,

“take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.  (Luke 12:19-20)

It’s a wonderful life philosophy… except for the one eventuality that strikes us all.  And in the face of death it’s seen to be utterly bankrupt.

Paul makes the same point from the other direction in 1 Corinthians 15:

if the dead rise not, let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.  (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Solomon’s guidance works, except for one thing: resurrection.  If the dead do not rise, then invest in parties.  But if they do, invest in resurrection.

What does that mean?  Well Paul begins the chapter by telling us to trust the gospel of Christ, crucified for sins and raised to life again.  That’s first.  And for those who are gripped by this gospel, Paul finishes the chapter telling us to “abound in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58)  This work is in proclaiming Christ’s gospel.  Such a work will mean going without many of the pleasures that others enjoy.  In fact Paul says of his tireless work, “I die daily” (v29).

This is the irony – because of resurrection, Paul always gives himself over to death.  He expends his life in seeing others brought to Christ.  In this way he invests in resurrection.

This is not an ascetic flight from pleasures.  Remember that Jesus “came eating and drinking.” (Luke 7:34).  That’s a very good model for our own mission.  Christ’s eating and drinking was set forward as a foretaste of His resurrection life and though it He drew others to that future feast.  We will do the same.

But as we do so, the Christian will not have their eyes on their stomachs, but on their future feast.  Listen to Isaiah proclaim the true eating, drinking and making merry:

And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.  And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.  And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.  (Isaiah 25:6-9)

For the Christian it’s not “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  Instead it’s, “Tomorrow we eat, drink and be merry, so today, invest in resurrection.”

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