Jerry knows this morning’s subject very well. He owns a seventy foot Infinity sport yacht called “Purely Pleasure.” It has three Jacuzzis on board, a Nautilus fitness gym, hatches that open and close at the push of a button, and a number of other electronic miracles.
Jerry said in an interview at dockside at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show that he has dedicated his life to the pursuit of pleasure. He has named his home back in Maryland the “Valley of Pleasure.”
Jerry probably never read much of Martin Luther. Luther once said “Both pleasure and pain are temptations, but the greater temptation is pleasure.”
J.C. Penney was once asked what the two greatest motivators were in his life. Without hesitation he said, “I can tell you in four words: Jesus Christ and adversity.” He went on to explain that adversity taught him never to give up, to always start over again, and to keep his faith strong.
In a kind of negative way, Penney was endorsing what Luther said. It wasn’t pleasure that gave him a stronger faith, it wasn’t his money, it wasn’t his nationwide chain of stores, or his power. It was his adversity. If adversity makes your faith stronger, what will the absence of adversity do to you? What will pleasure do to you?
Lemar Parrish played first-string football at the old Kennedy High School in Riviera Beach. He went on to star in college and play for thirteen years in the National Football League. During those years playing in the Pro Bowl was the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately, it also became a rule to take cocaine until most of his six-figure salary was gone and he was out of football.
He is now twenty-seven and has returned to Riviera Beach, where he mows lawns and trims shrubs. He is quoted as saying that “I never had any problems until I started making money.” Martin Luther said it another way: “The greatest temptation is pleasure.”
In the second chapter of Ecclesiastes that was read this morning as our Scripture Lesson we heard about how the author, who tradition says was Solomon, was wrestling with the meaning of life. It was probably 900 B.C.
I think sometimes we Americans feel that we are the first people who ever wrestled with why we are here. Everywhere I look today I see twenty-, thirty-, sometimes forty-year-old people saying that they are “trying to get their heads together.” We would expect such confusion from a teenager, or maybe someone in their early twenties, but it is a little discomforting when you see grown men and women dressing like hippies, behaving like transients and rationalizing it with the comment, “I’m trying to get my head together.”
Have you ever noticed when they claim that they are still trying to get it all together, everybody in the room nods and says, “Yes, a person must be given time to get his head together.”
Well, Solomon was trying to “get his head together.” He was trying to discover what the meaning of life was. Maybe the meaning of life was to seek pleasure all the time. Perhaps, he thought, pleasure seeking would give him a reason for living. So, he decided to do whatever felt good.
He had all the money and power he needed, so that was no problem. Visitors came from all over the world just to gawk at all he had and to stand in awe of it.
Dr. Rankin has written that “wine, women and song, the gathering of riches, the enjoyment of luxury, the acquisition of rare and special products derived from foreign countries, the prosperity fostered by successful agriculture, the magnificence of his buildings, of his gardens and parks and vineyards — all this Solomon used to find out by test and trial whether pleasure provided a soul-satisfying purpose of life.”
Well, you can’t fault him for giving it a try. Unfortunately, the Bible says that it proved to be meaningless. “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired,” said Solomon. “I refused my heart no pleasure … Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
Someone should have told Lemar Parrish that, before six-figure salaries and cocaine came along, Solomon had already tried to find the meaning of life in pleasure-seeking and found that it was like chasing the wind. Someone should have told him that the Bible already dealt with this issue thousands of years ago, and the conclusion is that “men will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” We will serve either God or mammon, but not both.
As a matter of fact, the Bible is pretty hard on pleasure-seekers.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to be the kind of Saviour that would only satisfy all of our physical needs, all of our earthly pleasures. He rejected it, for He would not be a Saviour who just provided food for the hungry, or power for the powerless. He was tempted to take the easy way and to use His heavenly influence in order to detour around the cross. Being tempted, He refused.
Some of us pleasure seekers, when we are tempted, do not refuse. In a recent issue of Presbyterian Survey is an article on the two zany cartoon characters named Frank and Ernest. In one cartoon Frank says to his sidekick, Ernest, after they had attended church, “I’m willing to flee temptation, if I can leave a forwarding address.”
That’s about as adamant as most of us get about fleeing the temptation of pleasure. We feel, well if we must sin let it be in pleasure-seeking. We might as well enjoy it as we go down. (Interesting expression, isn’t it? “Going down.”)
I’m convinced that sometimes we don’t even recognize this temptation when it occurs. Many of us were reared with so much that we don’t even identify it as a temptation.
The former Superintendent of Schools for the state of Idaho was testifying about television’s impact on viewers. He said that “there is a theology of television that is developing. The ads constantly tell us to seek greater pleasure through more consumption. Philosophers down through the ages, since Aristotle, have rejected this theology as a way of life. But, somehow, the ads make us feel that to have nothing less than too much is un-American.”
Commenting on this situation, an editor of Campus Life wrote that “ring around the collar, bitter coffee, and dingy kitchen floors replace the list of cardinal sins. Water-spotted crystal, baggy pantyhose and the threat of embarrassing foot odor produce fear and trembling among TV’s true believers. The danger for Christian viewers is that our emotional and spiritual concern can be channeled away from pressing human needs.”
Well, friends, how are we going to survive life’s greatest temptation: the desire for pleasure? We are all tempted by it. We have the testimony of ancient people and modern people that it surely does not satisfy the God-hunger that is in us. It does not give us a meaning that will last. It is like the wind.
Our trouble is that pleasure feels so good. Pleasure-seeking is so much fun. We are ambivalent. We flee, but we leave a forwarding address.
I’m going to suggest that the way to survive life’s greatest temptation is to continue to seek pleasure. I’m going to suggest that you find pleasure in glorifying God.
The first question of the Shorter Catechism (that I had to memorize when I was in Confirmation Classes when I was thirteen) was “What is man’s chief end?” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
“Enjoy God? You bet! Find pleasure in serving Him? Yes sir! There is nothing inherently wrong then in seeking pleasure. It all depends on what pleasure you are seeking.
One of the most distinguished, affluent and powerful persons of his day was Sir John Bowring (1792-1872). He was the English ambassador to France, and later he became the governor of Hong Kong. He was a major factor in the political development of the Orient. Twice he was a member of the British Parliament and was knighted in 1854.
Besides his distinctions in statecraft, he won high literary honors and was master of thirteen different languages, having translated books into English from all thirteen. He wrote a biography of Jeremy Bentham, books of travel on the Philippine Islands and Siam, a book of morals for young people and published a book of Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian and Bohemian poetry.
In spite of his great earthly success, John Bowring found his greatest pleasure before the cross of Jesus Christ. He is the humble author of the hymn, “in the cross of Christ I glory, towering over the wrecks of time.”
In the fourth verse he wrote:
Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
By the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
Joys that through all time abide.
Would you like this peace that knows no measure? Would you like this joy that abides through all times? Then sanctify your pleasure-seeking by finding your pleasure in seeking God, for any other kind of pleasure-seeking is chasing after the wind.