What Do You Live For?
Mankind was made to worship. Whether it be the worship of self or the worship of God, every one of us makes value judgments about what is worth living for and what is not worth living for. King Solomon traced down every pursuit in life and found that there is only one thing that makes us truly human -- and that is to live a life fearing God such that we keep his commandments.
I trust you were all blessed as I was by Jeremy’s sermon last week. There is now one redeeming thing about the existence of fidget spinners - they remind us of the temporal and unsatisfying alms of the world. To pursue what the world offers is to get nothing but spinny hopelessness.
And such is what any of us would pursue and align our lives around were it not for the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 -
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
The love of Christ, evidenced most vividly in his death on the cross, is controlling or constraining upon us. It binds us to a purpose -- a purpose which is only able to be accomplished because of his love. And this purpose, Paul says, is this -- that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised. We are compelled by the love of Christ to live for him and not for ourselves.
And in the way that Paul writes that sentence, he gives us a lesson into what could be regarded as a fundamental difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. We all are born living for ourselves. And then when Christ saves us we live for him instead. The death and resurrection of Jesus gives his people a new purpose for living.
In reality, then, what we see is that the Gospel -- the death and resurrection of Jesus -- that he died for our sins and rose in order that we might be right with God -- this truth frees sinners to do what we were created to do, which is what God has always expected us to do.
God created mankind to worship him. Alone.
He expects mankind to worship him. Alone.
And so when the love of the one who died and rose compels us to live for him, what we are really seeing is the fact that Christ saved us from forever living for ourselves so that we might be freed to live for the one we were made to live for. Christ saved us from worshiping ourselves all the way to eternal hell, in order that we might instead worship the Triune God to our eternal delight and satisfaction forevermore without end.
This is what we were made to do. And what God has always intended for his people to do.
Do you remember what was God’s first commandment to the children of Israel, given to Moses on Mount Sinai?
Exodus 20:3 - “You shall have no other gods before me.”
And when God sent his people off into captivity, there were a host of sins for which he was right to judge them. but among all of their transgressions, there was one glaring sin in the eyes of God for which he indicted them according to Jeremiah. listen to Jeremiah 35:15 -- “I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me.”
The prophets continually warned Israel to return back to their true God. Their hearts had strayed after idols, they had affections for other gods, they loved things more than God and therefore their deeds reflected accordingly.
The disobedient nation of Israel in the Old Testament gives us a glimpse of what it looks like to live for self to our own peril.
What we live for -- what we worship -- what we have deepest affections for is the most important thing about us.
All of our words and deeds are merely overflow of that which we worship in our hearts. We must understand that what is foundational to everything that we do and say and think is that which we worship.
God created us to worship.
He created mankind with an insatiable desire to find worth and value and treasure in something and then to spend their lives pursuing after that treasure. This is one of the facets of having been made in His image as Genesis 1:26 tells us.
You see, God himself is driven in all that he does by that which he values most. He is consumed by pursuing his own Glory, because there is nothing more valuable or more lovely or more satisfying than the glory of the infinite Creator God.
Isaiah 42:8 - “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
Isaiah 43:7 - “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Isaiah 48:11 - “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”
And is so he created the highest of all of his creatures to have the capacity to pursue after that which is satisfying to God himself, namely, his own Glory.
John Piper puts it well when he says that we can think of the image of God in man as “man's ineffably profound fitness to image forth Christ's glory through everlasting joy in God.” (God’s Passion For His Glory, 19)
No other created thing has the capacity to worship God by pursuing his glory.
The stars may shout his praises, but they do so because they cannot help but point attention to their maker as they fulfill the purpose for which he created them. The plants and the trees and the flowers all display the handiwork of God as they do precisely what they were created to do, but not because they have willed or purposed to treasure their maker. And even the most intelligent of all animals do not exercise their cognitive ability in pursuit after the glory of God. They rather utilize their brains instinctively to preserve their existence.
And in all of these ways we see that the natural universe brings glory to God simply by being what it was created to be, and doing what it was created to do.
But mankind is different from this. We were made with the capacity to value or to devalue our maker. His image in us has given us the ability to place worth on other things such that we orient our lives and our affections around them. We follow hard after that which we love. All of us are gripped by something that motivates us to do whatever it is that we do, and we are not merely the result of a series of instinctual reactions to the environments around us.
We were made to worship. We were made to have affections that drive us to do what we do and to say what we say and to think what we think. We were made to make value judgments on what things are worth living for and not living for.
And in a sense, this is all that worship is. It is the valuing of something highly enough to live our lives in pursuit of it.
And every human being who has matured to an appropriate level of self-awareness is consumed with living for that which he or she worships, whether or not they realize it or not.
Some people live for fame and notoriety. Some people live for comfort and ease. Some people live for the approval of others. Some people live for pleasure and sensuality. Some people live for food. Some people live for the appearance of having things all together in their life. Some people live for their intellect. Some people live captive to a guilty conscience which might lead them to think that they are living for God when in reality they are merely living to meet up to their own fabricated standard.
And in all of these things, and many others like them, what is it that is actually the thing being worshipped?
There are some of you here today who have spent your entire life worshiping yourself. Oh, you might not wake up every morning and get out of bed and move over to the little corner of your room where you have a small altar with incense burning and a small bulletin board with various selfies of yourself tacked to it, in front of which you bow and recite prayers daily. It's not this blatant, but it's no less real. there are some of you who worship self, and this is evident by your all-consuming drive and motivation for everything that you do.
Some people are good at masking their self worship, making it appear as if they are living for others. You might say that you are compelled by raising a family or by bettering your spouse or by investing into the lives of your grandchildren. You might even have settled into a place where you are able to serve in various capacities at a local church. You might volunteer at philanthropic organizations. And you might do these things not out of a sense of obligation or duty but because you feel compelled but they are worth pursuing.
And to be sure all of these things and others like them are noble and moral and even necessary pursuits in life. But none of them are ultimate. If you think that you have reached the pinnacle of goodness and virtue because you regularly perform some religious duty, then you have simply put lipstick over the pig of your self-idolatry.
And if there is anyone on the planet who is qualified to teach us about the emptiness of worshipping self and of the pursuit of pleasure in life, it’s King Solomon. And we actually have in our Bibles an entire book written by this wisest of all men that is devoted to the theme of why it is that worshipping self is so empty and why it is that worshipping God is so satisfying.
This is the book of Ecclesiastes. Go ahead and turn there.
In the first verse we have an introduction to this book. It is written by the preacher. “These are the words of the son of David who is the king in Jerusalem.” We know this to be Solomon. The wisest man who ever lived.
And Solomon introduces this sermon with the following statements beginning and verse 2.
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.”
What he tells us in verse 9 is somewhat of a summation of everything that he has learned that he's teaching us in this book -- that there is nothing new under the Sun.
Every philosophy and every fad and every opinion and every pursuit and aim life is only a recycled version of something that preceded it. There truly is nothing new under the Sun.
In verse 13 Solomon tells us that he applied his heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. He sought knowledge and understanding. He diligently pursued truth and skill in discernment.
And what is his conclusion?
Verse 14 -- I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is Vanity and a striving after the wind.
Is this not comical metaphor? This is ancient slapstick humor. Like the person trying to bail water with a sieve. Like a kid playing whack-a-mole at Chuck-E-Cheese. So is the one who chases the wind. There's nothing to catch.
And to this Solomon likens everything that his wisdom and discernment comes up with as far as the sorts of pursuits in life that will satisfy a person. Nothing natural, nothing under the sun will ever leave a person thinking that they're doing anything other than chasing after the wind.
He Echoes this in verse 17 where he says “and I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.”
Are wisdom and knowledge good things? Most certainly they are. But they are not things that are ultimately satisfying. They are not things to live for. They are not things to worship. And if you do live for knowledge and wisdom, or for madness and folly, then you will get to the end of your life and realize that you have got to nowhere because you have been striving after wind.
And then in Chapter 2 beginning in verse 1 Solomon tells us about another realm of experience that was not ultimately satisfying.
I said in my heart, come now, I will test you with pleasure enjoy yourself. But behold this also was vanity.
I don't have to do much to prove this to you, but we live in a world that is obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure. Our world is not consumed with the pleasure of God, but rather their own temporal physical sensory pleasure.
And not only does our society tell us that we should be able to do whatever we feel like doing, we are also told that the pursuit of pleasure also means that we are free to pursue thinking whatever pleases us -- That truth is relative, and therefore the self-defined truth that pleases me is perfectly acceptable. And that no one has any right the question that which I find to be pleasant doctrine.
But we must agree with Solomon, who experienced every conceivable form of pleasure, when he says that this also was vanity. The pursuit of earthly pleasure was empty. It did not satisfy.
He says that he searched with his heart how to cheer his body with wine and with laughter. He made great works he built houses and planted vineyards. He made gardens and parks. He made pools and he bought servants. He gathered silver and gold and treasure. He entertained himself with every imaginable form of entertainment.
He says in verse 10 that whatever his eyes desired he did not keep from them. He kept his heart from no pleasure. Even the pleasure of his work.
So Solomon considered the fact that he worked hard and played hard and laughed hard, and he says in verse 11 that he considered all the his hands had done and the toil that he had expended and doing it and behold all of it was vanity and a striving after their wind and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. The pursuit of pleasure left him empty.
And so Solomon thought that he would see if giving to others the fruit of his labor would leave him with satisfaction. Verse 20 says “so I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun because sometimes the person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must believe everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it.”
What he saying is that he decided to leave for others that which he worked for. He turned about and gave up on enjoying it for himself, and so instead tried to see if he could find satisfaction by letting others enjoy what he had rightly earned.
This is noble. It's commendable perhaps, and you might have heard even in secular motivational thought that it's always better and more compelling when you live for something other than yourself. Professional athletes are told that they will feel less empty if they are giving more of their earnings to charity than if they give little.
But what does Solomon say was the result of pursuing the giving away of his wealth? At the end of verse 21 he says “this also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is Vanity.”
And the reason for why all of these things are but vanity to the one pursues them is what we read in chapter 3 and verse 11 where Solomon says that “God has made everything beautiful in its time and that he has put eternity into man's heart.” Not so that we can understand all that God has done from the beginning to the end, but rather so that we would only be satisfied with that which is eternal.
So of course our finite knowledge and wisdom, and the fleeting pleasures of the world and our own work will leave us without satisfaction. Because they are not eternal pursuits they are vanity.
And as Solomon continues throughout this great book he teaches us that competition and money and social justice and strength and prosperity and wickedness and folly and philosophy and sociology and religiosity and youthfulness -- that the pursuit of all of these things is vanity.
So did Solomon ever find that which is truly satisfying in life? Did he find the one thing that would fill the eternal void in his heart?
Yes he did.
But he saved it for the very end of the book to tell us.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
The wise preacher says that this is the conclusion of all of his searching. After tracing the end of all ways of life, after hearing what everything has to offer, this is what he finds to be truly satisfying. He says, literally, “Fear God end obey his Commandments for this is the all of man.”
We could think of it this way -- Solomon is telling us what makes us fully human. He is telling us what completes us as those who are created in the image of God, the greatest of all his creation. What makes us be what God designed us to be and what leaves us eternally satisfied is fearing God such that we keep his commandments. And in this way we find our true meaning and purpose.
Just like Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 says that the gospel frees us to live for Christ, so we see here that Solomon concludes that the only thing that will ever satisfy eternity in the heart of mankind is to live for God by fearing him and keeping his commandments.
So what does it mean to fear God?
The Hebrew word for fear in this verse has a few different shades of meaning. It can range from terrifying fear to reverential fear and all. And it can also refer to the idea of worship.
Remember earlier when I quoted the first commandment that God gave to the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai, which was the prohibition against idolatry? The nation was to worship God alone.
Well, when Moses in the book of Deuteronomy summarized the law and explained it again to the people he said in Deuteronomy 10:12 --
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul”
Here Moses does not say that the main commandment is to worship God alone but rather is to fear God alone. He's not giving a new first commandment, but rather is stating the first commandment in a different way. To worship God Alone is to fear God Alone.
We also read in Deuteronomy 6:13 - “It is the LORD your God you shall fear.”
And Psalm 2:10-11 says:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
So not just is this a commandment for Israel, but the requirement to fear God Alone is binding upon every person in every nation that every time. Because God created us to fear Him and to worship him and to pursue him.
But if God created us for this purpose, then why does he have to command for us to fear Him? Why don't we naturally do it?
And the answer to this question is simple. It is because of our sin.
Our sinfulness clouds our hearts such that we naturally fear ourselves, or worship ourselves instead of our creator.
As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:25, we have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
We are like the wicked nation of Israel as described in Jeremiah chapter 2 and verse 13 -- “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
We are like those who have forsaken the pursuit of the pure satisfying fountain of all goodness, found in God our creator alone, and have replaced His abundant greatness with muddy, leaking stagnant, infested man-made pools of filthy water.
So we must be commanded to fear God Alone. We must be shaken and brought to our senses and called to return to a life of satisfying worship of God.
But there is a danger which is addressed in all of the texts I quoted earlier that had to do with fearing God. And it is addressed in what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 12:13.
It is possible for a person to think that they fear God as they ought, when they actually are merely struck by what he can do where by what scripture teaches to be true about him.
In James 2:19 we read that even the demons believe in God, and that they tremble before him. And this is no indication that they rightly fear Him, for if they did they would be worshipping him instead of their master the devil. But they are struck by the power of God. We read of demons in the gospel accounts that cried out in terror when Jesus showed up. This is certainly a kind of fear, but it is not the same as the kind of fearful worship that we were created to have for God.
And Solomon says that the whole duty of man is not merely to fear God, but rather to have a fear of God that results in keeping his commandments. We are completed by worshiping God such that we obey him.
Or to say it the way that Jesus taught it, in John 14:15 we read that the Lord said, if you love me you will keep my Commandments.
True satisfying worship of God will necessarily result in obedience to his Commandments. You can't say that you worship God when you don't keep his Commandments -- when you do not live your life in a manner that reflects his character and nature.
To worship something is to esteem it more valuable than anything else. To live for God by worshipping him is to treasure him as supremely valuable and to see him as your greatest good. So it would make no sense whatsoever to verbally affirm that God is your greatest treasure but then to practically disregard him by neglecting his commandments.
If God himself is the greatest good, then his Commandments are equally good. And so we evidence the fact that we treasure him most highly by delighting in his commandments.
Jesus is our model in this. In John 4:34 he said, my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
To those who worship God, who fear Him as Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes 12:13, their very sustenance and nourishment in an eternal sense are the commandments of God.
So we could set up a test for ourselves, to see if we truly worship God as we ought. To see if we fear Him, we can ask ourselves the following question.
Do I Delight in God's Commandments?
And I use the word “delight” there on purpose, instead of the word obey. And I do it for two reasons.
One, because this is actually closer to what the word that's home and uses in the Hebrew actually means. The word we have here for keeping his commandments has the idea of guarding or protecting. And we only guard or protect that which we cherish or delight in.
And secondly, the kind of fear and worship that God expects from us is not that of a mindless, unfeeling, robotic end unaffectionate subordinate. How often in the texts that I've read this morning do we see fear and love in the same sentence. To fear God is to love God. So to fear God is to love God's Commandments.
So, do you Delight in God's Commandments?
Have you convinced yourself that you keep just enough of them to get by, but that you don't really cherish them. You instead cherish your own commandments which conveniently include the keeping of the commandments of God which keep your conscience from bugging you.
The “go to church” commandment is okay. The “don't steal” commandment works out conveniently.
But what about the one that tells us that our words may only be used for the good of building up other people? Or the one that says that we must love Jesus so much that it's as if we hate everybody else around us? Or the one that says that godliness with contentment is great gain?
You see, the heart behind but keeping of the commandment is just as important as the action itself. This is what Solomon says in verse 14.
He says that God will bring every deed into judgment, meaning that he will evaluate every single action.
And he doesn't evaluate based upon the outside. He evaluates according to every secret thing, referring to that which man cannot see.
So what we have to understand is that God evaluates the good or the evil of the heart behind every deed that we do.
And so there are things that people might do on the outside which seem noble and sincere and kind, but that are actually motivated by evil and will therefore be judged accordingly by God. It is only those deeds done out of a worshipping heart that are truly obedient to the commandments of God.
And so what everything boils down to is whether or not we are cherishing and treasuring God as our greatest good or not.
Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart soul mind and strength? Is it true that there is no one in heaven or on Earth that we desire besides God? Have we set the Lord always before us? Is God the strength of our heart and our portion forever? Do we delight in God in our inmost being?
Only such a heart of worship will complete a person. If you live for anything else besides God and His Commandments, if you delight in anything else besides God and His commandments, then you will be utterly miserable for all of eternity.
Perhaps you realize this morning that the pursuit of your life has only to do with self and with your own personal pleasure. Perhaps you find no delight in God or his Commandments. Maybe you are indifferent towards him, or maybe you think that the pursuit of him as your greatest good is overkill.
Whatever the reason, if you do not fear God and keep his commandments as Solomon instructs, then the biggest problem that you have to deal with is the fact that you are blinded by and enslaved by your own sin.
Your sinfulness has deceived you into thinking that you can accomplish satisfaction on your own by your own means -- that you can set your own arbitrary standard of personal completion and fulfillment. But the problem is that eternity is set in your heart and your temporal pursuits will never feel you.
And if this is you this morning, then you are in desperate need to have your heart freed from the bondage of sin so that you might be able in to fear God and keep his commandments, and so fulfill your purpose as his creature.
So I put your attention back to what I read earlier, from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and verse 15 where Paul writes, “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Friends, if you do not fear God as you should then don't look inwardly to yourself to try to come up with heart of worship for him. To try to bring yourself to a place where you can worship God rightly on your own is folly. To resolve to keep God's commandments on your own will never work.
No, you must look to him who died for all. Jesus died in your place so that your empty pursuits in life might also die. When you look to Jesus then the things of earth become strangely dim, and you are able then and only then to stop worshipping and living for yourself.
It is only the look of dependence upon Christ who died and was raised that can cause your heart to burst with the light in God has your greatest good, and in his commandments as your highest treasure.