7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:7–10 (ESV)
For today we will consider only a portion of verse 9, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun.” From that verse, we will consider three things, Joy, love and death.
First the command of joy: Enjoy your life with the wife you love. William you must have joy. You must bring joy to Susan. The law forbad a man to leave his home and go to war during his first year of marriage:
“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken. Deuteronomy 24:5 (ESV)
Think of this: War threatened the entire existence of the people. To lose a war would mean to be captured, killed or enslaved. And yet God places the happiness of the married couple above protection of the country.
In Deuteronomy 28, God pronounces the curse which will fall upon Israel. In verse 47, he condemns them, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart”.
This matter of joy is no trivial thing. And so, William, you must enjoy your life with Susan.
Now the world is not conducive to joy. To grow joy in this world is like growing redwoods in the desert: the very world conspires against it. The desert sun, the dry air, sand and rock would soon kill any redwood which by chance found itself here. But, if such a tree were to grow, it would be a marvel to all the world.
The world is set against joy – oh yes, momentary pleasures, phantasms and confusions are all fine. But joy, a persistent well of joy – that is not to be had. You may sooner live on gravel as find joy here.
But God commands joy. How then will you get it? There are two things you must know about joy: First, joy comes from receiving what you deeply desire. This world is a mess of disappointment, and thus joy is rare. Hope withers under the brutal sun of existence.
But you have something treasured in this world: Solomon does not merely write “enjoy your life” but rather, “enjoy your life with the wife whom you love”. You have received something of greater value than all the treasure of the world – you have received a wife, which is the dearest and most precious thing in creation. She is the capstone of creation – with the creation of Eve, God ended his work.
Now, the preciousness of a thing does not lie solely in the thing itself. If we were not taught to treasure diamonds, we would not find them precious. A small boy would treasure a bouncy ball over a fist full of gold. He can see no good in the metal, but there is a wealth of hope in the ball. You see, to treasure is an act of perception and will.
And so you must treasure Susan, so that you may enjoy Susan.
The second thing you must know about joy, is that joy is a gift of God, it is a divine thing. 1 Chronicles 16:27 tells us of God:
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place.
There in the place of God is joy. And thus, all true joy has its roots in God. Think of that redwood in the desert. It could not grow, unless its roots dug down so deep that it found a secret channel of cold water beneath the sand. The man who has roots in God has a secret channel of joy the world cannot touch. As David wrote in Psalm 4:7:
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
God will give you rivers of joy to shower upon wife. Why? Because your marriage is not for you two, it is not for your families, it is not for society or your children – surely the people around you will be blessed by your marriage – you most of all. But your marriage is not for you. Your marriage is the shadow and type of the marriage to come. This marriage today is a picture of the marriage of Christ to his Bride, the Church.
You must shower your wife with joy, lest you misrepresent God. For God is a God of surpassing joy for his people:
The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)
Rejoice over your wife, treasure her – and as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, love her.
Our second point is that the husband must love his wife: this point ties closely to the preceding point: for if a man does not love his wife, he will not rejoice over her. So Solomon merely states that the wife is loved. For if you love your wife, you will rejoice over her.
As you know, the concept of love for a Christian is quite different than the concept of love in our culture. Our culture defines love in terms of what I receive. The Bible defines human love in terms of what we do for the good of another. The love required of a husband is not primarily what we call “romantic love”. The love of a Christian is:
4 [Love is]patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (ESV)
In short, love is an act which treasures the other as being worthy of all good and grace. Now here is the wonder of it, by treasuring Susan for the sake of Christ, you will gain joy – because you will have received that which you treasure. You will gain joy, because you will more fully understand what is meant in the Gospel: as you give yourself for your wife, you will learn by clear teaching what it means that Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.
Let me illustrate what I mean: Do you remember the night when Susan left the party early, and you went out to walk her safely through the dark. You left your personal comfort and ease and went with her for her good and her safety. This world is a dark and dangerous place – that may be hard to see here on a beautiful afternoon – but it is true. There are trials and sorrows before you both which you will not expect. The night will fall more soundly and deeply than you ever could imagine. William, it will be your job to walk Susan safely through the darkness – it will be you who will guard her and hold up the light of Christ that she may see safely where to walk:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)
You must give up yourself to care for her – and for this God rewards us with the joys and pleasure of romance and affection and intimacy. You will have set your romance on a firm footing, because it will be rooted in the never ending love which God has for his own.
You see, marriage was given to man not merely for man’s good and pleasure – although it is good and it is a great pleasure of this life. Marriage was given for the Gospel. Paul having discussed how a husband and wife must live in marriage writes:
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:32 (ESV)
You must love your wife because Christ loves the Church. You see your love and your joy and not your own, they are pictures and parables of the true marriage – of which your marriage is only a shadow.
That is why Solomon writes that you are to
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun
The word vain would better be understood her as “fleeting”. Solomon famously begins Ecclesiastes with the words
Vanity of vanity, all things are vanity.
You, your marriage, the great globe itself, the ten thousands of thousands of stars and galaxies will fail – but God will not. Jesus says plainly in Matthew 22:30 that in the age to come we will “neither marry nor are [we] given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” The vows you take today will last no longer than your life, as your marriage so is your life:
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14 (ESV)
And your marriage – for all its beauty and joy will be must a mist.
This seems a strange thing to say at a wedding. It seems wrong and sad to tell you that your marriage, for the hope and joy you feel today, will vanish like a mist.
Is God a monster to command joy and love in marriage and then to steal it away, along with your wife? Could God not permit you to love this woman for eternity? Why would God speak so highly of marriage and then leave us bereft of this solace?
Because God ends this momentary marriage to bring us to an unfading marriage. God removes this momentary joy to bring us surpassing joy. God removes our imperfect love to shower upon us perfect love. We will have all these things, because the church has been bestowed upon her Savior, her spouse, a king whose love and life and reign will never end:
10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” Hebrews 1:10–12 (ESV)
And thus, we will receive not the shifting joy of this life, but the unending joy of Christ:
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8–9 (ESV)
He has and will bestow upon us “perfect love” in the words of Saint John.
So, in sum, you must enjoy your life and love your wife for the glory of God. And each day of joy and love is a picture of the hope for the far greater marriage;
6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:6–8 (ESV)