A Splendid Recipe for a Merry Christmas!
One thing I love about the holidays is that of the splendid array of food, from sausage balls to tasty treats, it makes Christmas an absolutely delightful time of year.
Nonetheless, as good as the food is, we face two great problems in our world today, the very problems that Solomon addresses in our text. These problems threaten to destroy the hope and joy of Christmas. The first problem is oppression. It is a dilemma for man in this world to constantly want to figure out. The second is a disease not far up in the state government of man, but right in the heart, the self-government of man.
Man has both enemies without and within. He is plagued by oppression wherever there are politics. Moreover, he is diseased by want from within wherever there are people. The problems are oppression (v.8) and the spiritual disease of want (vv. 10–17) threaten the merriness of Christmas. Solomon teaches that the solution to the dilemma of oppression is a king who cultivates the fields (v.9), and the healing for the disease of want is God-Given joy in the things he daily provides us (vv.18–20).
The Dilemma of Oppression is solved by Christian Hope
The Disease of Want is healed by God-Given Joy
Under Oppression, look for Christ
“If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.”(Ecclesiastes 5:8–9)
The keyword in this text is “watched” which describes the sort of surveillance that tyrannical rulers love to employ. Solomon indicates that we should not be surprised to see this, but nor should we despair. The next words contrast the wicked surveillance of the politically powerful upon each other and others with the hope the Christian has for a king who cultivates fields. A political tyrant is concerned with watching people to control them, a servant-king is concerned with cultivating fields to feed them. Phil Ryken comments,
“Rather than looking for the government to solve our problems, we need to acknowledge that even the best rulers fall well short of perfection. Therefore, we live in the hope of a better administration…
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7)”
The word “cultivate” means to serve, work, labor, and even worship. It is used translated in Genesis 2:5 as “work” as in man working the ground. This pictures nothing less than Christ’s humility in his first advent. Unlike the tyrannical rulers always seeking to get to the top through the surveillance of others, Jesus Christ came down laying aside his heavenly robe and feeding the multitudes; and ultimately performing the work of salvation for us.
Do not hope in any government to save you except Christ’s government. Everywhere you look in earthly politics you will find the same oppressive results. But in Christ and his law, there is order and peace and freedom. Under oppression, always look for Christ! Unlike state governments consumed with surveillance of people, Jesus came down and was concerned with the salvation of people! So, we should not be surprised by corruption in state government that operates this way, but with Christ who, though sinful as we are, came to save us.
When Sick With Want, Look for Grace to Enjoy Whatever God Daily Gives Us
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10–20)
Want is a disease common to every person. This disease takes a certain course of dissatisfaction. The first thing is that no matter how much the person is given the person is always dissatisfied (v.10). Following this, all that they are given become objects for others, not themselves to enjoy (v.11). In other words, they have parasitical friends come along, or tax-gatherers! In contrast to a regular laborer, this disease is said to take away the sleep of the earthly rich through anxiety (v.12). The trajectory is then given in v.13–14, illustrating a man who hoards up his wealth and loses it quickly and unexpectedly leaving nothing to their children. One may observe that those who do not give graciously to their children today are not sure not to be able to leave anything in the long run. He goes out of this world with nothing and leaves nothing (v.15). His life is characterized by vexation, sickness, and anger (v.17). Now is a good time to ask the question concerning your anger. Could your anger be about things without God? Could you be on the trajectory of such a vain life that does nothing but toils for the wind (v.16)? You certainly are on the wrong track if you are seeking to be satisfied with wealth and possessions. Positively, Paul told Timothy this,
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).
Don’t take or stay on the course of dissatisfaction by setting your hopes on the uncertainty of riches. You need the grace of God that Solomon speaks of in vv.18–20. It is there that Solomon sees God in the picture because God is the one who gives meaning to the material world. The error is that of looking to the material alone to satisfy our lives or the opposite error of dividing one’s self from the material world. However, the answer to happiness in life is not found in either hedonism or asceticism, but in the grace of God to enjoy what He has made.
Jay E. Adams comments,
At Christmas time, there are many persons who are unhappy with the gifts they receive. Spouses, parents and others may work hard to select those things that will please, but the recipients will often be dissatisfied. Some will even be ungracious enough to express that dissatisfaction in bitter words and actions. Persons don’t always choose gifts for others well. But you may be sure that when God gives each his lot (as a gift…), He always gives what is best for the recipient… We should be grateful for whatever we receive from his hand. And whether we realize it or not, we always receive what He knows is just right for us.”
In contrast to one who was not rich toward God (Luke 12:21), Jesus taught us as follows:
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you (Luke 12:22–31).
In contrast to the one who “all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger” (v.17), is the one healed of the disease of want by the joy in the material possessions that God gives. This one may be said to be cared for like David, who said,
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Solomon closes by describing the future of such a man as not remembering the days of his life (assumedly the bad ones) because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart (5:20). That is the path you want to be on, and that you can be by God’s grace. It is a path that does not run to heal the problem of want by seeking happiness in stuff, nor does it overcorrect by seeking to not enjoy stuff, but rather it goes to God who made all the stuff for us to enjoy—trees, food, lights, etc. of Christmas are good things that can and should be enjoyed. But they can only be enjoyed by the gift of God.
Thus, we have seen here that the dilemma of oppression is only solved by Christ-Wrought Hope for a new administration who has come in the person of God’s Son. He has come and He has worked, and the coastlands await us to bring his law to them. God’s law is the only thing that will lift the oppression of man’s law.
We have also seen here that the disease of want that lays in every man’s bosom is only healed by God’s gift of enjoying the material world. If our holidays are characterized by anger, darkness, and vexation, it is likely we need to seek God’s grace to enjoy the things of this world in the way they were intended to be enjoyed. Recall again the instruction of the apostle,
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).
We receive God’s grace through faith in God’s Son Jesus Christ. Christ-wrought hope and God-given joy come together in one beautiful story of God’s people conquering in this world of oppression by looking to Christ, and by enjoying what God daily provides them. That’s really a splendid recipe for a merry Christmas.1
Audio of a sermon corresponding to this manuscript may be found at https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=12122116957659