My last post discussed the problems with Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure in Ecclesiastes 2. I had a great moment Monday night as I was preparing to teach this lesson to my Wed. night Bible study. I had one of those moments that come sometimes to teachers of Scripture when you think the lesson is going to be about one thing, but it takes a left turn and goes somewhere else. When that happens, it is almost always because the Holy Spirit has taken the wheel and pointed you to the lesson He wants to teach rather than the one that you want to teach.
I thought I was going to teach a lesson on “good” pleasures. Whereas, Solomon’s pleasures were all about his own power and importance, I was going to find the New Testament verses that tell us how to find God-pleasing pleasures. After all, I love to quote Ps. 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” And haven’t C.S. Lewis and John Piper both written about a Christian hedonism that sees the glory of God in the joyful lives of His people? Well, yes. And I still think they’re on to something.
The problem is that, when I looked up NT references to “pleasure”, the results were disconcerting. Far from describing the pleasures of the Christian life, every place in the NT that speaks of human pleasure does so in a negative context. I’m talking about passages like 2 Thess. 2 that tells how those who choose pleasure over truth will be given over to a strong delusion. Or James 5 which pronounces the judgment of God on those who live in luxury at the expense of the poor. I mean, these are some verses that are seriously down on pleasure.
On the other hand, all the verses that present pleasure in a positive context talk about God’s pleasure or that God is pleased to do something. Sometimes, it depends on the translation you are looking at (and I looked at several), but there seems to be something synonymous in the original Greek (which I haven’t studied) between what God wills and what gives Him pleasure. Naturally, if God is omnipotent, He wills and does as He pleases.
There is some food for thought in that. What gives God pleasure? Are we somehow being left out in the cold by a sovereign God who pursues His own pleasures while condemning ours?
That’s where the lesson got really good because here is the list of pleasures I found:
Revelation 4:11 — We were created for God’s pleasure. Why do I exist? Because long before the world began (see Eph. 1), God thought of me, and the idea of me gave Him pleasure, so here I am.
Luke 10:21 — God is pleased to reveal Himself to His people. Those who come to him with the faith of a child receive a revelation of God’s person that is hidden from those who are wise in their own opinions.
Luke 12:32-34 — It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Not just a kingdom, but the kingdom, as in The Only Kingdom That Matters. Solomon’s rich and mighty kingdom vanished. Archeologists sit around their dirt holes and argue over whether or not it was ever actually there. But God gives His people an eternal kingdom, and it is His pleasure to give.
Ephesians 1:5-11 — For His own good pleasure, God has adopted us and given us an inheritance.
1 Peter 2:19-20 — God takes pleasure in our patient endurance. Not in our suffering, mind you, but in faith-filled endurance that overcomes that suffering.
Hebrews 11:6 — God is pleased with our faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Specifically, He wants a faith that trusts Him to reward our pursuit of Him.
Philippians 2:13 — God receives pleasure from the results of His work in us as we learn to will and act in ways that honor Him.
All this left me wondering: If God made me for His own pleasure, what is it about me that gives Him pleasure? I know better than to think that it is my frequent bad attitude or sniping over whatever circumstance I’m in. I know what God thinks of that! But what is it I do that is pleasurable to Him? I don’t just mean my good choices, but when I do the sort of work that He created me as an individual to do. When does God look over my shoulder in enjoyment at what I’m engaged in?
I’m going to spend some time thinking about this because – whatever it is – I want to do more of it.