Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your fleeting 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.
A World of Pleasure
God has given us thousands of legitimate pleasures to enjoy in this life. A walk in a wooded park on a warm summer’s evening, a long conversation with a friend, a good book, a new dress, a warm cup of tea on a chilly winter morning, a meal with your family and friends on your back patio, a long bike ride through the countryside, the gentle nuzzling of a newborn baby, the aroma of a fresh bag of coffee beans, sunflower seeds at a baseball game with your son. There are a multitude of good, wholesome, God-approved and God-given enjoyments that Christians can gladly receive from their heavenly Father (James 1:17).
This brief list of innocent earthly enjoyments demonstrates that life is infused at every turn with pleasure. For those who have eyes to see, these little pleasures are glimpses of God’s own happiness and goodness (Ps 19:1-2; Acts 14:26; 1 Tim 1:11). When we turn from the things of this world as the chief source of meaning and satisfaction, to Christ as Lord and Savior and the fountain of all delights (Ps 16:11), we aren’t drawn away from these earthly pleasures; but rather, our eyes are opened to behold the glory and goodness of God in these earthly pleasures as we enjoy them the way they were intended to be enjoyed: not as that which provide ultimate satisfaction, but as gifts meant to offer some temporary satisfaction.
The Gift of Companionship
But Solomon doesn’t only tell us to enjoy life; he tells us to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love.” In other words, don’t enjoy life alone; enjoy it with your God-given, life-long companion. Your wife is your friend, and she is God’s gift to you (Prov 18:22; 31:10). Marriage was designed by our Creator to be a source of tremendous blessing to His earthly creatures (Gen 2:22- 25), and Solomon exhorts his readers to receive this gift with joy and thanksgiving.
Notice, however, that Solomon says to enjoy life with your wife, not enjoy your wife. Solomon certainly isn’t denigrating the pleasure of sexual intimacy within marriage. The joys of pure sexual intimacy are included in Solomon’s statement to “enjoy life with the wife.” Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon, which is a glorious and tasteful celebration of the exquisite pleasures of marital intimacy. He also wrote Proverbs 5:16-19, which speaks rather straightforwardly on the same theme. The blessings of sexual intimacy are to be enjoyed by married couples with exuberance and heart-felt thankfulness to God.
Yet, while not disregarding the blessings of marital sexual intimacy, Solomon is here emphasizing the blessings of marital companionship. The command in this text is to embrace this life and its enjoyments, not by yourself, but with your spouse. Over the decades, as couples weather trials and traverse a multitude of experiences together, they come to value most highly the friendship of their spouse. At least this should be the case. Some of us, sadly, will look back over our lives and recognize that we allowed other ambitions to crowd out the simple pleasure of enjoying life with our spouse. Some of us need to hear these words from David Gibson:
If you are too busy to enjoy the life you have together, then you are too busy. End of story. If you do not enjoy each other, then it is likely that you are simply taking what you can from each other to pursue other goals and ambitions that are never going to give you all they promise. You may use each other to gain something that will turn out not to be gain—and lose each other in the process.1
For many couples, Christians included, the relationship that once began with intense affection for one another is now just sputtering along, maintained primarily for its usefulness to get what the other spouse wants out of life and because divorce is too inconvenient. Years of stress at work, family pressures, and neglect have conspired to rob the relationship of the joy, playfulness, and friendship that once characterized the marriage. It is no wonder why Solomon must command his listeners to enjoy life with their spouse. Some of us need to be re-awakened to the gift we’ve been given in our spouse and to steward it well during our short time on earth.
Stewardship in this case refers to our responsibility to enjoy this life with our companion and to rekindle our marital friendship.
All of Your Life
Solomon’s exhortation to enjoy life with our spouse is a command that does not expire until the end of this life. You are to enjoy life with your spouse “all the days of your fleeting life that he has given you under the sun.” The word “fleeting” is the word translated “vain” elsewhere in Ecclesiastes (e.g., 1:2; 1:14; 2:1) and is translated here as “vain” by the English Standard Version. It is best understood here, not as “vain, useless,” or “pointless,” but “brief, momentary,” and “passing.” Solomon’s point is that this earthly life is short, full of constant toil, and beset with trouble. But you must, nevertheless, receive your marriage as a good gift from God. The earthly gift of marriage is “your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” Yes, life is hard and often monotonous, but God has given you a companion designed specifically for your happiness with whom you can enjoy life.
It’s true that marriage between men and women is only for this life and that in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no more individual marriages because we will be married corporately to Jesus Christ as His bride (Mark 12:25; cf. Eph 5:22-33; Rev 19:6-8). It is also true that in light of Christ’s first coming and the inauguration of the latter days, singleness takes on a new meaning that it previously did not have. Singleness is now a gift (charismata) that is to be used to benefit the people of God (1 Cor 12:7). That is, those who have the gift of singleness have been endowed with a special capacity to serve Christ’s church without the distractions of a spouse and children (1 Cor 7:25-35).
This gift of singleness, however, is relatively rare, and Paul still sees marriage as the normal state for most people, including Christians (1 Cor 7:1-5). If you are married, therefore, Solomon’s exhortation is to renew your joy in your wife and to enjoy life together with her. Indeed, Solomon commands the enjoyment of legitimate earthly pleasures as one of the means by which we endure life in a fallen world with all its difficulties, enigmas, and unpredictability.
Marriage, while attended with its own difficulties (see 1 Cor 7:32-34), is one of those lawful gifts that God provides His people so that they might navigate this life with joy and perseverance. That’s why Solomon reminds us that the companionship of marriage is “your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Eccl 9:9). Life is hard and full of toil. The answer to this difficulty? Get married and enjoy life with your bride. If you are married, let Solomon’s exhortations reorient your affections and priorities, and receive this good gift with thankfulness.
The exhortation in this verse is to enjoy life thankfully. While the command to be thankful is not explicit in this text, it is implicit in the way Solomon reminds his readers that marriage is a temporary gift that God has provided for His creatures for their joy. Given the temporary nature of this gift and the aim for which God gave it, it would be unfitting to not continually thank God for it. Besides, Solomon has expanded his exhortation to include all of life, so now every legitimate pleasure we taste in this life is an opportunity to thank God.
I wonder, however, how often we neglect the basic discipline of thankfulness? While I don’t think we need to bow our heads in prayer at every chocolate chip cookie or autumn sunset, our hearts should be regularly thanking God for His goodness to us, even in the little things. Thankfulness, according to the apostle Paul, is characteristic of a Christian’s life (Col 3:15-17; 1 Thess 5:18). But perhaps we aren’t as thankful as we should be because we are too lazy to enjoy life.
Too Lazy to Enjoy Life?
Solomon is not making suggestions; he is commanding us to savor, celebrate, and enjoy life. Given our sinfulness, however, it should come as no surprise that it is necessary to command God’s people to enjoy life.
I am reminded of a time while I was discipling a young man when he admitted to me that he rarely ate breakfast during the winter months because it was too cold to make the brief walk from his apartment to the student union. Failing to eat a reasonable breakfast was having other negative effects in his life, yet he was unwilling to bundle up, brave the cold, and sit himself in front of a warm morning meal. He needed a gentle yet firm admonishment to shun laziness, even in an area that didn’t appear to require much attention.
But lest we are too hard on this young man, consider the times that you refused to grab a cup of coffee, make your favorite meal, or take a refreshing hike because to do so would be, from your perspective, too difficult. I remember a time when, shortly after being married, I was watching a movie while eating chips and salsa. My salsa supply was soon depleted but I still had a few more chips. Walking all twenty feet to the refrigerator, however, was simply out of the question. Rather than finish my snack in a way that would have brought more pleasure, I chose to forego the salsa and just eat the chips. I could multiply examples—I’m sure you could, too.
You might be surprised that Scripture actually addresses this issue of laziness in pursuing legitimate pleasures. The Proverbs have many unflattering things to say about the sluggard, and this may be one of the least complimentary:
“Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.”Eccl 12:27
“The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, and will not even bring it back to his mouth.”Eccl 19:24
The sluggard in Scripture is the one who refuses to work, maintain his home and livelihood, and, as it turns out, one who doesn’t even exert himself to attain God-given enjoyments. The sluggard had the wherewithal to kill his game, but he was willing to settle for uncooked food rather than roast it.2 He had the capacity to make a move to feeding himself and put his hand in the dish, but actually tasting the food was just too hard of a task.
In His wisdom, God has given us commands to rouse us from our spiritual apathy and indifference. Occasionally we need reminders to enjoy life the way God intends for us to enjoy it: with our marital companions and with serious effort.
What About Suffering?
But as we again broach the topic of enjoying life, we must ask a question we posed earlier: where does suffering fit in the discussion? Solomon is no stranger to suffering. Life’s lawful enjoyments are one of the means God has given us to persevere through suffering. Indeed, sometimes life’s simple pleasures are enhanced during times of trial. I was reminded of this reality during my time in seminary. A good friend of mine had come into a severe trial. He had been slandered in an unimaginable way, and he was now facing serious legal trouble due to the false charges. At the peak of this trial, my friend never blamed God, and he continued to worship, pray, to care for his family, and to work hard. He was an example of true godliness in the midst of suffering.
During this time my friend said something to me one day while we were at work together that I’ll never forget. While eating some pasta-salad during our lunch break, he said that he had noticed that the little things of life—his wife’s pasta-salad, for example—seemed to provide him fresh enjoyment while under the affliction of a severe trial. While suffering, he came to appreciate even more God’s kindness to him in providing him a tasty lunch. As one author has noted, “Times of sorrow can tenderize us to appreciate little, everyday, otherwise forgettable blessings.”3 This is one of the ways God enables us to thank Him in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18). Christians don’t drown their sorrows in earthly pleasure as though they can provide ultimate healing and escape, but we do receive such gifts as God’s grace and thank Him for them.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Solomon must exhort us to enjoy life with our spouse. As we’ve already noted, Solomon derives his outlook on life from a solid theology of creation, and one of the main features of creation was God’s formation of man and woman created in His image for the sake of marital companionship (Gen 2:24). Nor should it surprise us that Solomon widens his scope to include an exhortation to enjoy all of life. While Solomon doesn’t ignore the realities of suffering, he doesn’t allow those realities to dampen the joy that God’s people were intended to have during their earthly life. Indeed, sometimes our trials sweeten the smallest of life’s pleasures and enable us to experience the goodness of God, even when we may be presently feeling the effects of the Fall in our suffering.
- David Gibson, Living Life Backwards: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 113.
- It is possible that the intended meaning of Proverbs 12:27 is that the sluggard has refused to either catch or roast his game. The implication is that he fails to take advantage of the abundant opportunities before him to feed himself and enjoy God’s provision of food. See Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 542-43.
- Michael Reeves, Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 167.
You can read more about this topic in Derek’s book, Solomon’s Great Commission: A Theology of Earthly Life published by With All Wisdom Publications.