What should our attitude be towards the pleasures of life? Hedonism, asceticism, or something else? Three Bible passages use almost the same words — “eat, drink, and be merry” — to comment on three very different philosophies regarding material comforts, fun, and pleasure.
The Fool Who Sought Fulfillment in Material Possessions
Luke 12:16-20: “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'” (NKJV)
In this most well-known use of the phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry,” Jesus is conveying a story of a rich man to teach against greed and to illustrate the error of thinking and acting as if our life consisted in our possessions (Luke 12:15). A crisis of over-abundance provokes deep reflection in a wealthy man. It would have been an ideal moment to humbly thank God, seek to be generous to those in need, and renew a focus on the life to come (1 Timothy 6:17).
Instead, this man who has spent his life hoarding stuff can think of nothing nobler than to continue to accumulate possessions. Enough is never enough for the materially-minded. He placed his trust in the uncertainty of riches, when not even life was guaranteed to him. Often people lose money; in this case, it is more appropriate to say that his money lost him. This man thought his biggest problem was a lack of space for all his crops. In reality, his problem was the biggest of all: “So is the one who…is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21, NKJV).
Take warning against the same type of covetousness. Don’t fall for the worldly trap of believing that your felicity and security can be assured by riches. Place your joy and trust in the eternal and personal God. If you do not, you will be making an investment that will surely and suddenly go bankrupt. Take God and his judgment into account. Be rich in faith (James 2:5) and make decisions in life that show that your reward is in heaven.
The Despair of Purposelessness Versus Life in Christ
1 Corinthians 15:32: “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!'” (NKJV)
In this context, “Let us eat and drink” is the desperate, pitiful grasping of one with no hope beyond this world. Paul powerfully defends the teaching of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, and points out that those who have abandoned this doctrine have nothing better than to wring as much momentary pleasure they can from the world.
Modern thinking, which portrays man as fundamentally no different than animals, with no higher purpose nor future beyond death, can offer nothing better than “let us eat and drink.” Yet each taste is haunted by the realization that “tomorrow we die.” Life in Christ, however, transcends the grave, and empowers us to even suffer loss in this age for his sake, all the while knowing our reward is great in heaven.
Enjoying Good Pleasures of Life With Right Attitudes
Ecclesiastes 5:18-19: “Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—-this is the gift of God (NKJV).”
This passage uses almost the same wording to point out the correct attitude towards pleasure. In fact, this Scripture wholeheartedly endorses enjoying good things in life.
Note the critical differences in heart attitudes. Firstly, there is no expectation of more than passing pleasure. The God-fearing person realizes that earthly joys are not meant to provide ultimate fulfillment, nor can the continuation of good times be taken for granted (as the rich man of Jesus’ parable did). Secondly, there is recognition that wholesome pleasures are gifts from God himself, who also grants the power to enjoy them. With this realization comes the greatest joy: we have a God who delights to give pleasant things to us, and thus highest satisfaction can be found in a relationship with this gracious Giver and Father.
Thoroughly enjoying the pleasures of earth in this way goes hand in hand with a life seeking God.