The Dancing Puritan

Friday, July 25, 2014

You have to Eat Before You Can Do Missions



Are you a Christian? God has big work for you to do. Do you imagine an exotic location where you will give your life to missions? Or perhaps you are dreaming of a political career where you can influence many people. Perhaps God has such a plan for your life. However, great and godly work happens every day, by average people, in average every-day-ways.

Do you want to make a difference before you die? Don't just take up space, get in the game. In Ecclesiastes chapter nine, Solomon writes that death is coming for every person. He also makes it clear that we can use death to our advantage (5). Death can be dreaded or death can be redeemed. Which do you prefer? Here is the logic: Death is coming like a freight train on the fast track. You have a very brief period of time to live. God put you here to glorify him and to love others. Therefore, get to work.

What you are to do?

1. You have to learn how to eat and drink. You might be saying to yourself, "what a waste of digital ink." No, I am just repeating what the Bible teaches.
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. (Ecclesiastes 9:7). 

Since God has already approved of what you do, then you are free to eat and drink.  If you are reading this post, you have been eating and drinking for at least five years. But have you been eating and drinking from a position of God's approval? You are commanded to eat with a smile on your face, a spring in your step, and joy in your heart. See, savor, and let each bite of food dance on your tastebuds. One thing that a non-Christian can't do is eat and drink in a Christian way. The pagan cannot bring positive glory to God because he cannot receive God's gifts with true biblical thanksgiving. You, however,  must learn to eat and drink as a Christian. How can you be a missionary if you don't even know how to eat?
Since food and drink are gifts from our heavenly Father, we should enjoy them. If we do not enjoy God's gifts, we dishonor the Giver. Then we are like children who receive gifts at Christmas, take off the wrapping, and simply toss the gifts aside. Our enjoyment of God's gifts is an expression of our gratitude to him.  Sidney Greidanus in Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes (237).

2. You have to learn how to dress. Solomon is not writing about modesty. Modesty is important but that is not Solomon's point.  He says, "Let your garments be always white, Let not oil be lacking on your head." (8)

What does that mean? Think about it. Trouble is everywhere. Life does not make much sense. Evil people prosper. Godly people often are oppressed. Madness is on the run (think Putin, Miley Cyrus, Harry Reid, your five-year-old, or why you keep doing stupid things). Death is just around the corner. Time is of the essence. Put on some white clothes and pour oil over your head. Don't delay! Christians are often portrayed as sour, somber, and dutiful as they wait for their heavenly transport to arrive. They are not much interested in earthly things. If that is your attitude then you are not being very Christ-like. For Jesus, spirituality involved not only the "sweet by-and-by" but it involved weddings, feasts, and healing sick people. The early Christians were noted for eating and drinking with a glad heart (Acts 2).

White garments and anointing oil made life more comfortable in a hot climate, the latter relieving the irritations of dry skin. Food, clothing, and ointment are mentioned in a number of ancient texts as necessities of life (Hosea 2:5; Luke 7:38,46).  Michael Eaton in Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (127).

Solomon is not advocating a life of sinful hedonism but the kind of Christian hedonism that John Piper writes about:
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. 

The Christian hedonistic life is lived by receiving the good gifts of God and using them in a liberating, thankful-to-God kind of way. Living life in the face of approaching death should drive you to pursue joy now in what you eat, what you drink, and what you wear.
Wearing white garments indicates the attire of celebration and comfort. The fragrant oil calls to mind welcome hospitality (Psalm 23:5), unity and blessing (Psalm 133:1-3), and gladness (Isaiah 61:3). William Barrick in Ecclesiastes: The Phillipians of the Old Testament (160).
The idea is that you should joyfully dress and dress joyfully. White is a picture of purity and oil can represent the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit produces fruit, He produces joy! Solomon is not saying that you need to wear white clothes every day but that your outward expression should reflect the joy of the Lord. How can you be a missionary if you don't even know how to dress?

There has always been within the Christian tradition an ascetic tendency that understands true spirituality as involving the shunning of created things (e.g., food, wine, sex) rather than the enjoyment of these things in thankfulness to God who has blessed us with them. Iain Provan in The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes/Song of Songs (185-86). 

3. You have to learn how to love a woman. Solomon puts it like this: "Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because this is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun." (9) This, of course, assumes marriage and is written to husbands. He could have said, "Enjoy life with your husband." Or to singles, "Enjoy life!" But Solomon's point concerns marriage. Enjoy your spouse to the glory of God.  Marriage is a good gift and it is one of the ways that God provides rest in the midst of a tiring world. It is designed to bring strength, encouragement, hope, and happiness into a world of madness.  Listen to me guys! You have one opportunity, on the earth, to love your wife. Are you, with great delight and faith in God, working for her joy? Are you enjoying life with her?

. . . listen to your wife's voice, hold her hand, wash the dishes together, plan your life, learn to make wondrous love, work redemptively through your pains together, help the kids, do not deny how much you love her, embrace this. Zack Eswine in Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (110). 
You are doing something great when you love your wife, even greater than feeding the poor. Marital love is a top-shelf priority. A lot of marriages go south because the husband (or wife) does not focus on joy. Solomon says, "Get after it, time is of the essence." Do you want to do great things for God? If so then you must learn how to eat, drink, dress, and love a woman.

4. You have to learn how to work. Work is a burden, right? Not so fast. The frustrations associated with work are a result of sin but work is a blessing. If you are ever going to do anything great for God then you have to learn how to work. Solomon writes, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going." (10). Solomon is not dismissing life beyond the grave. What he is saying is that to glorify God under the sun you have to remember that you only have one life under the sun. Today is the day to get to work, not tomorrow. Procrastination is a sin.

Doing great things for God means learning how to use your strength, seize your opportunities, and to do so with urgency because the grave is waiting and God wants you to do something meaningful before you get there. The only shot that you have to make a difference is right now. There is only one opportunity to love your wife,  love your children, eat and drink with friends, invest in your church, and love your parents. There is only one shot to be creative and make a difference on this earth. Are you an artist? Get after it. Are you a writer? Write hard, write fast, and write often. Are you a mechanic? Be a good one. Don't hold back on the ball-field or in the bedroom. Give life your all because you love God.

You want to do something great, like becoming a missionary? First of all you have to learn how to eat, drink, dress, love a woman, and work. What if you do not become a missionary? Greatness is found in knowing that you are approved of by God (through faith in Christ) and greatness is displayed in the ordinary things of life; things like eating, drinking, dressing, marriage, and work.