How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way

Is it okay to enjoy this life? Some people assume, perhaps without expressing it, that Christians are not meant to enjoy earthly things. Perhaps they feel guilty as though they are always on the brink of idolatry (which is of course a real temptation). We are speaking of enjoying them in a legitimate God-honouring way. Scripture tells us that God has richly given to us all things so that we may enjoy them (1 Timothy 6:17). God has created the senses and the intellectual capacity to appreciate these things. Christians can in fact take a greater delight in what God has provided for them. This is because they see more in them not less. They see the glory, wisdom and goodness of the One who has provided them. They don’t abuse them, expecting the wrong things from them or solely using them for personal pleasure. How do we get a spiritual perspective on the things of this life?

Ecclesiastes has much to teach us about a right perspective on things “under the sun”. It shows that when these things are pursued in themselves and solely for our own pleasure they lose their value. But they can be enjoyed as a gift from God. We can glorify God in all these things, even eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ecclesiastes 2 surveys different ways in which the best possible things of this life can be amassed. Yet it is all unsatisfying in itself. Earthly things cannot satisfy the spiritual needs of the soul. In verses 24-25 this is qualified by the teaching that we are able to enjoy the things God has created. We are told clearly what is good for us in this life; the goal that was sought in Ecclesiastes 2:3. Alexander Nisbet explains how these verses teach us in relation to happiness in this world.

We are to enjoy created things not in excess but in a moderate and holy way. Eating and drinking is what Scripture calls this “our daily bread”. Our “soul is to enjoy good” and this must be what truly satisfies it spiritually. It must mean the sweet fellowship that reconciled souls have with the Lord, while they walk in fear and obedience towards Him. This is emphasised at the close of this book. This is the goal of all eating, drinking and using all the lawful blessings of this life. The grace to use them so as to advance the soul’s good helps us to find sweetness in them. It is all “from the hand of God”. God graciously gives these things and His powerful blessing enables us to use them in this way (see Psalm 104:28). Thus, he shows that happiness is not enjoying outward comforts alone in themselves. It is only in enjoying them in a holy way to help the soul’s good, which consists in fellowship with the Lord. Religion is a friend both to our bodies and spirits.

1. We Must Value Earthly Blessings

It is a great blessing from God both to have plenty of created comforts and to be able to make use of them and find sweetness in them. Some are restrained from this by inward and spiritual trials (Job 33:19-20). These may include the Lord withdrawing the felt comfort of His presence (Psalm 102:9 and Psalm 42:3). Others have outward trials that embitter their spirit and take away the pleasure of created comforts (1 Samuel 30:26-27). Other things that may hinder our enjoyment include extreme fears of outward dangers (Psalm 107:18), ungrounded scruples of conscience (Acts 10:13-14) or by miserliness.

The generosity of a good God provides the outward comforts of this life and the capacity to use them and find sweetness in using them. He also gives grace to use them to advance the good of the soul. It is all from our Father’s allocation, our Redeemer’s purchase and our Comforter’s presence and teaching. It is all from the hand of God (verse 24). The name God is plural reminding us of the three persons of the blessed Trinity.

2. We Must Value Earthly Blessings Spiritually

If we were to consider the opening words of the verse “there is nothing better then that a man should eat and drink” without considering what follows it might seem to be gluttonous pleasure seeking. But if we join it with the expression immediately following this about the soul enjoying good we understand it in the right way. We see that the eating and drinking commended here are not without regard to the spiritual and eternal good of our souls.

Eating and drinking is no part of our happiness at all, unless the soul is enjoying the good that is appropriate for it. Solomon commends eating and drinking yet not in itself, but as it ushers in and advances some true good to be enjoyed by the soul of man. “There is nothing better than that a man eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good”.

The right use of created comforts (such as food, drink and the like) is not only consistent with but subservient to the soul enjoying suitable true spiritual good. This is when we are in using these things led to think on and long for better and receive strength to praise and serve the Lord. The eating and drinking commended here advances the soul enjoying spiritual good. If we eat and drink and neglect to make our soul enjoy good we are worse than the beasts that perish.

3. We Must Not Despise Earthly Blessings

When ministers refute the abuse of lawful things and excessive affection for them they should also assert and make clear the lawful liberty Christians have. Otherwise hearers are ready to go from one sinful extreme to the other (either sinful excess or neglecting the body). Some may mistakenly think that religion is an enemy to their bodily health but this is contrary to Proverbs 3:8. After Solomon has condemned the excess of delighting our senses he commends using them in the right way to assist the soul in enjoying true good in fellowship with the Lord.

The soul and its concerns should be primarily and principally cared for (Matthew 6:33). It is not the Lord’s intention that seeking the good of our souls should make us careless about our bodies. We should rather (out of respect to our soul and our soul’s good) respect the good of our bodies in a moderate and holy manner. We must respect the body and care for it in reference to the soul. Thus, the body may assist the soul in serving its Creator. We ought not to indulge the body so as to neglect the soul or any duty relating to its welfare. This is that golden path in which we may expect some measure of the happiness which the Lord gives His children in this life.

4. We Must Teach Others How to Value Earthly Blessings Spiritually

Whenever the Lord makes any of His servants to excel in outward enjoyments or privileges, they should strive to teach others from their own experience. They can teach them how to use these outward advantages for the spiritual good of their souls. People who place their happiness in these things are ready to think that if others would not undervalue them if the knew from experience their imagined worth and sweetness. Solomon seeks to convince everyone that there is no true happiness in making use of these things, except to serve the soul enjoying true spiritual good in fellowship with God. He asserts this truth as someone who was second to none in having plenty of outward comforts and ability to enjoy them.

Conclusion

We can avoid the extremes of wanting either to starve ourselves of enjoying created blessings or overdose ourselves on them. We do this with a right perspective that enjoys them in the light of God’s goodness and grace. They can in fact help us to love God more. It’s not easy for us to enjoy earthly things in a spiritual way but Nisbet shows us that God gives grace to be able to do this. And as in so many other things we need to pray for that grace. When we are those who have been redeemed at infinite cost we can see that even our everyday blessings are enjoyed as those who belong body and soul to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

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Second Reformation Author: Alexander Nisbet

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