Pleasure: Life On EmptyErwin W. Lutzer | June 20, 1999
Selected highlights from this sermon
The world is full of pleasures. We crave them. We’re easily provoked by the things we see, and the desires in our heart. But there is a pleasure that God permits and it’s available to us through Jesus Christ.
Can we forgo the pleasures of this world and this passing age in order to attain the eternal pleasures that are found in God? In this message, learn how to throw off the lures of the enemy, who seeks to enslave us to the world’s pleasure.
You have to do what is best for you. Therefore, pursue pleasure. Go for it!
What’s wrong with that statement? Is there anything wrong with that statement? Would I surprise you if I were to say there is nothing wrong with it, that it is true both psychologically and ethically, properly understood? That might be a surprise. It is true psychologically because Pascal was not the only person who knows that as human beings we always seek pleasure and seek ways to avoid pain.
In this series of messages, you remember, we’ve talked about alcoholism and drugs and pornography, and what have you, and those are all ways people are… What are they trying to do? They’re trying to seek happiness and avoid pain. They’re doing it in the wrong way, but nonetheless, that’s their motivation. But that’s true of all of us. We seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Secondly, it is true ethically in the sense that there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of pleasure. The real point is what pleasures are you pursuing? The Bible is very clear that there are two different kinds of pleasure. There is what we would call worldly pleasures, and we’re going to talk about those today. But there are also God pleasures.
Imagine this: “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy. At Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” What’s heaven going to be? Heaven is going to be a pleasure. “Delight thyself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Oh, I hope that you were listening to the choir as they sang:
Jesus, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright.
And then speaking of those who receive their joy from Christ,
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure.
There is wisdom’s holy treasure.
Thou does ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.
Go for pleasure, but make sure that you are seeking the right ones.
A man by the name of Henry Scougal wrote that the soul of man has in it a raging and inextinguishable thirst. And that thirst seeks to be quenched. You and I are born with that. Pascal called it that God-shaped vacuum, but we are born with a raging thirst, and the question is where can our thirst be quenched?
When the Bible talks about pleasures of the world it always does so in a negative light. It talks about the pleasure very positively obviously, but the pleasures of this world negatively. And we live in a pleasure crazy world—worldly pleasures.
This past week I finally decided to scan Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and in the book he said that it used to be that there were cities that represented America: Boston, the intellectual liberal establishment. You have, for example, also Chicago, the city of industry. You have New York as the melting pot. He said, “The city that best characterizes us today is Las Vegas—glitz, glamour, money, 24-hour a day parties.” That’s the age in which you and I live. People are doing all kinds of things for pleasure. The problem is that they are running on empty because they are the wrong pleasures, as we shall see today.
I mentioned a moment ago that the Bible speaks negatively of the pleasures of this world. Do you remember in 2 Timothy 3, Paul says, “In the last days, perilous times are going to come. Men will be lovers of their own selves,” and then he says, “lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God,” and that’s really the key. It is that these pleasures lure us and crowd God out.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this is a series of messages titled Seven Snares of the Enemy, and we’ve talked about some of those snares obviously. What about the snare of pleasure? I mean is that really a serious snare?” As I began to reflect on this and prepare this message I began to understand how very, very serious it really is, so serious that it’s probably the one thing that we find the most difficult to accept, the one snare that we most easily fall into without even knowing it. And if God today can show us how easily we fall into it, and what the marks of that fall really are, we will have achieved something, because you and I are loathe to accept the message that I’m just going to preach today.
Take your Bibles now and turn to 1 John. First John—three powerful verses. This is not the Gospel of John now. First John is near the end of the New Testament, just a few pages before the book of Revelation. And John is speaking here in 1 John 2:15-17: ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh (the lust of the flesh) and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
What I’d like us to do today is to see why we must avoid the snare of the world, which is the snare really of pleasure. First of all, because of what the world is—because of what it is. You’ll notice that he speaks of the world that we are supposed to hate. Now, let me be very clear that the word world in the Bible is used in various ways. For example, there is the world of people—for God loved the world. That’s not world we’re supposed to hate. There is the world of nature. We don’t have to hate the world of nature, though it can mislead us. This is the world as an organized system. It’s a world really that is antagonistic toward God and His truth.
We sometimes use the word world in that sense in other ways. For example, you hear a news reporter say, “I’m going to bring you a report from the world of sports.” He’s not talking about some other planet that’s out there. He’s talking about the organized system that we call sports, though some sports do appear to be unorganized. But that’s what is meant.
Now this world system… What do we know about it? First of all, it is a very subtle satanic system. Because your Bibles are open to 1 John 2, notice what John says now in chapter 5, verse 19: “We know that we are children of God and (Can you even believe this?) the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” He is the organizing principal. He is the prince of the power of the air. He’s the one who keeps the system unified to the extent that it is. He’s the one that has the goals and the desires and aspirations that he loves to impose upon people who do not know that they are being led by him, so it is a very subtle system. It is a seductive system, as we’ll see in a moment because it comes to us very innocently. The world presents itself to us as something that we need because it is tied in with some very legitimate needs and aspirations and desires. And sometimes we don’t know where to separate the one from the other. We’re talking here about powerful seduction.
It is also a world, though, that competes for our love for God. “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world, for if any man love the world (Notice!) the love of the Father is not in him.” If you love the world you may not be born again. The love of the Father is not in you. That’s how antagonistic the world is to God. There are two loves in verse 15—the love of the world, and the love of God.
Many years ago there was a book written entitled I think All That I Ever Learned, I Learned in Kindergarten. It was something like that. It’s close enough for my purposes. I could write a book entitled All the Theology I Ever Learned I Learned from My Children’s Questions. You know, you talk about being a father. Fathers have to be marvelous theologians, or else simply tell their children to be quiet and ask the pastor. That’s the option that you have.
One day, our daughter, Laurie, who was always ahead of herself (maybe 7 or 8 years old), said to me as we were praying, or preparing to pray, “Dad, should we love everybody?” You can know that when a child asks that question in that tone of voice there is a catch coming.
I said, “Yes, of course we should love everybody.” A little hesitantly I said that. And then she said, “Well, you know what that means? That means that we should love Satan, too, shouldn’t we?” (chuckles) Oh a child! (laughter)
“No, Laurie, we love people but we do not love Satan. Satan is God’s antagonist and we have absolutely no room in our hearts to love him at all, and he does not deserve love. And he is on a trajectory that is going to lead him to the eternal pit and eternal judgment, which he so richly deserves. So we don’t love the devil. And if we don’t love the devil, we don’t love the world. There is a kind of love that God actually hates. “If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Do you sense the antagonism here? Two loves! We shouldn’t love the world, but because of what it is.
Secondly, we shouldn’t love it because of what the world does, and now we begin to really unpack what John has in mind. Now we begin to get convicted. What are those snares that we talked about? We’ve asked that we not fall into the snares, into the pits that we’ve been speaking about. Well, notice this. It says in verse 16: “For everything in the world, the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does comes not from the Father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
What are the snares? First of all, the lust of the flesh, which my translation says “the craving of sinful man.” Now, you and I were born with certain desires. We were born with the desire to eat. We were born with the desire to drink, because we become thirsty. We are born with a desire to sleep, and sexuality, and all those desires are a part of who we are. But you see, the temptation now is to take these desires, these cravings, and to satisfy them in ungodly ways. And that’s why we read here that the cravings of man are sinful. You see, our desire to eat can become gluttony. Our desire for water to slake our thirst can become alcoholism, or our weariness can become laziness. And our sexuality can become immorality. And that’s what the cravings of sinful flesh are.
You say, “Well, have I ever had those cravings?” Listen to this list of sinful cravings: “The acts of sinful nature are obvious—sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage (There you go.), selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” There you have a pretty complete list, but Paul was afraid he might even leave some out and says, “Things like these.” Wow! And you see, because these cravings desire, they promise happiness, you see. We’re tempted to find pleasure in all the wrong places, the place that leads us to emptiness.
Now, we need to hurry on. The lust of the flesh! Notice the lust of the eyes back here in 1 John 2:16. The lust of the eyes! There is such a thing as eyes having an appetite. We’ve heard the expression, “Feast your eyes on this.” We want to have this appetite and it may refer to even the finer things of life. I mean it could be art. It could be works of art. It could be nature. It could be going to an opera. It could be all kinds of things. You say, “Well, is that sinful?” Well, in a moment I’m going to answer that question but not right now. But you need to hang on.
The simple fact is that the lust of the eyes also may refer to covetousness where we desire that which is not ours, and therefore our desires are never, never fulfilled because we mistake the cure for the real cause of the problem. And the cause is within our hearts. So you can see here that that refers to the lust of the eyes.
Thirdly, the boastful pride of life! And this is certainly one of the snares we don’t even see. We don’t see ourselves as boastful just because we want the things of this world. We don’t see ourselves as prideful just because we judge others so quickly when they fall into sin, and have that good smug feeling that we would never do that, like the Pharisees did. You see, that’s the kind of thing that only God can show us.
Now what’s wrong with all these things? Let me give you a couple of ideas here. First of all, it’s because they make the same promises as God remember. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life are all shouting, “This way to happiness, this way to pleasure. We are where it’s at.” God is the only one who has a right to make a promise like that. “You come unto Me and you will be filled,” said Jesus. “You come and you drink from Me, the living water.” Jesus, You are the one who fulfills our desires, the lust of the flesh. The world comes along and says, “We’ll do it, we’ll do it, we’ll do it!” and you and I are so tempted to believe and to try.
That’s the first thing. It makes the same promises of God. Secondly, it detracts us from God—the world does. Now here we come to some (quote) innocent pleasures. Somebody says, “Well, there certainly is nothing wrong with sports, is there? There’s nothing wrong with watching da Bulls or da Cubs or da Bears (laughter), and these other animals that we have sometimes running around in various contexts. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Now, I want all of you to listen as if you’ve never heard me speak for the first time because this is so, so critical. I don’t believe that the devil minds whether it is sports, whether it is even something terrible like the addictions that we’ve talked about. He isn’t that concerned as to what it is. He doesn’t care what it is as long as these things absorb our attention and take the place of God. And even the good pleasures in life do that remarkably well. They squeeze out God. They do. And that’s the problem with pleasure, the pleasures we’re talking about. It’s that they seek to become a substitute for God. And if you still have not found a substitute for God, what you’ll do is you will crowd your life with this busyness.
Somebody gave me the book this week on Putting First Things First. We will crowd our lives with so much busyness, and the devil doesn’t mind that either. It can be busy doing good things as long as God is not the one who is primarily loved and adored, and He does not meet the deep desires of our heart. It doesn’t matter what it is that is in His place.
You know, my wife and I were in Eastern Europe one time when some Christians were told that in America you have refrigerators that actually work. You know, you can plug them in and they’ll work. You can depend on them. In some of those countries you don’t have refrigerators that work, and the electricity goes off so often that there isn’t… And in America you don’t have to stand in line for two or three hours to get a loaf of bread as you do (at least when we were there in some of the countries) in Eastern Europe. That’s what you did. Everybody, we were told, stood in line for up to two to three hours a day to get basic necessities. We don’t have to do that in the United States. We get upset when there are three people ahead of us in the line at Jewel. And some of us almost have a fit when we miss a turn of a revolving door.
And as they began to explain all of the conveniences of America, these Christians said, “That is so wonderful. That must mean that American Christians have so much time to study the Bible, to pray and to evangelize. That’s wonderful!” (chuckles) So is that what’s happening in America? No, the more conveniences we have, the more places we can go, the more money we can spend on ourselves, the more options we have out there, and we cram our lives with everything except God. And that’s the deception, you see. That’s the snare.
It isn’t just the bad things out there that we instantly recognize as sinful. They’re out there and they are terrible, but it’s the good things that have taken God and not made him the center of our existence and our joys. That’s the problem.
You say, “Well, can we enjoy nature?” Of course. God has given us all things richly to enjoy. We can enjoy the beauty of nature, we can enjoy the beauty that He made of music—the beauty of it, but as believers, you see, we enjoy it in relation to God. All of those things help us to worship, to remind ourselves that this didn’t just happen. This is God’s gift, you see, but if God isn’t a part of it, the devil does not care what we do as long as our joy is not in God.
Number one, we learned that there are two loves. And one of the reasons why we should not love the world is because of what it is. It is antagonistic to God. And secondly, there are two promises we’ve been talking about—the promise of the world and the promise of God. And because of what the world does, we should not love it.
Thirdly, because of where the world is leading—because of where it’s going (And now we’re in verse 17.) you’ll notice that the text says very clearly here that the world is passing away, and all of its desires, all of its lusts, but he that does the will of God abides (he lives) forever. This was D. L. Moody’s favorite verse, by the way, that the one who does the will of God abides forever. The world and its lust is passing.
Now listen, those of you who have never received Christ as Savior, and I’m also speaking to those of you who think you have but haven’t. Listen carefully. If you are really absorbed by the world, I encourage you to enjoy it with all the enthusiasm you can, no matter how empty it eventually becomes. Go for it because this is the best you’re ever going to get. This is it. Everything after here is terrible. Everything after death is disaster and separation and condemnation, so if this is the only world for which you are living, you might just as well live it up. Well actually you are dying it down, but go for it.
As believers, my friend, this is the worst that it will ever get. It’s not going to get any worse than this. Oh, I know we may die of all kinds of strange diseases whose names we cannot yet pronounce. We may go through all kinds of problems that we don’t even know about yet, but we know that the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. It is going to get better—a lot better.
The devil gives all of his trinkets upfront. “Serve me and I’ll give you this pleasure. Serve me and I’ll do this for you,” but he doesn’t tell you how it’s going to end. The world passes away and all of its lusts, but he who does the will of God abides forever.
There’s an interesting passage in Hebrews 11 where it says this of Moses. I want you to just listen. “Moses, when he had grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God (Everybody awake here.), rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” What a fool he was, humanly speaking. A fool! I mean, you talk about the lust of the flesh—all the women that you would want! The lust of the eyes—all of the wealth! And we didn’t know how wealthy Egypt was until we uncovered King Tut’s tomb. All of the wealth of Egypt! All of the power of Egypt! Josephus tells us that he was next in line apparently to be Pharaoh, and he kisses it all goodbye. Crazy! Why? Notice it says, “rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin!” I love the translation that says the fleeting pleasures of sin. Boom! They’re here and they are gone. Wow!
And does it mean that Moses did not choose pleasure, that he was really a man who didn’t like pleasure? No, no, no, of course he chose pleasure, but he chose the better pleasure. The next verse, if I had read it, said he looked forward to the recompense of the reward. He knew that there was another world coming, and that that world, if he served God, would be a pleasurable world. That’s where he would find his pleasure and his hope in God. And think of what he got in this life—an opportunity to see the glory of God, as recorded in the book of Exodus. And despite all the problems in life, God was with him, and he could say, “Show me Thy glory,” and God showed it to him. Is there anything in Egypt that compares to that? You answer that. Is there anything in Egypt? No, my friend, you have to understand that you go for the pleasure, but is there anything that can compare to God? Anything that can compare to a clear conscience? Anything that can compare to walking with God, and its joys are pure and there’s no aftertaste, and there’s no guilt, and there’s no second guessing, and there’s no regret? You simply delight in God. No wonder the Psalmist said, “I delight in God.” “He gives me greater joy,” he says in one of the Psalms, “than all of the new moons, and all of the wines that there are. My delight is in God.”
As for pleasures, Robert Burns was right.
“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, it's bloom is shed;
Or, like the snow-fall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever.”
Let me give you some important guidelines. Wise people go for pleasure. They go for pleasure, but they go for God’s pleasures. And if it is true, as Henry Scougal wrote, that the excellency (I should not take this quickly, folks, because this is heavy stuff.) of the soul is dependent upon the object that the soul loves. Well, what could make a soul more excellent than to be a lover of God? And instead of loving pleasure, to love God more than anything else, and you get all the pleasures thrown in? Could there be anything wiser than that? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. So wise people go for pleasure.
Secondly, wise people go for the long-range point of view. Look at Moses. I spoke about him a moment ago. Now 35 centuries have taken place since Moses was on earth. Well, not that many if you count the Mount of Transfiguration, but we’ll skip that for a moment. Thirty-five centuries since he made his decision! What do you think he thinks now that he’s in heaven? Does he say to himself, “Oh man, I should have really chosen Egypt?” Of course not! Thirty-five hundred years with God and he still doesn’t have enough of Him! Wonderful!
You see, I want to tell you (You businessmen especially, I’m speaking to you, but a lot of you, and a lot of others too) that when you make a decision tomorrow and the next day (a business decision regarding your values and your temptations, whatever it is), ask yourself this question: How am I going to feel about this decision in 3500 years? Just ask yourself that question. I’ll tell you it will keep you from a lot of grief, a lot of grief, because in 3500 years you’ll be able to have an eternal perspective that will look so differently than all the fleeting pleasures of sin and money and all the other things.
Now all of us know that because of the Columbine massacre there was a young lady by the name of Cassie Bernall (I hope I am pronouncing her name correctly) who, when asked by a gunman, “Do you believe in God?” said yes. And it is widely believed that because she said yes, she was shot. In the Sun Times there was an article, an opinion piece, written by one of the writers on this topic. Of course, nobody knows whether, if she had said no, her life would have been spared. But let’s suppose for a moment that it might have been. This is what the author writes and it’s worth hearing him out.
He says, “What if Cassie had said no? Would that have made her less of a person? I don’t think so, and much more to the point, I’d like to believe that God wouldn’t think so. If a girl, just beginning her adult life, had a chance to survive by lying to a twisted psycho pointing a gun at her, if she could not only win her own future but spare those who love her the anguish of losing her, maybe she should take that chance. Call me blasphemous for saying so, and quote Scripture to me until you are blue in the face, but I ask you. If it were your son or daughter on the wrong end of that gun, and a simple no would have made a difference, what would you hope your child would say?”
Well, what do you hope, fathers, your child would say if a simple denial of Christ would spare the life of your child? Friends, I don’t minimize the grief and the hurt that comes to those who lose children so tragically. And no one can stand in their shoes really unless they’ve gone through it. But my dear friend, I hope that with you, you agree with me, and that we’re together on this. And we love our children very, very dearly—the three very precious daughters God has given to us. If you really believe in another world, if you believe that there’s an eternity coming, if you believe and you look at this from the standpoint of not today but 3500 years, which is a pretty good vantage point, would you not want your child to say, “Yes, I believe in God and love Him”? Isn’t that worth dying for? Have we come to the place in America where absolutely nothing is worth dying for anymore?
Of course, if you look at it only narrowly and say, “I want my life; I only go around once in life and I want all the pleasures that I can get out of life,” then go ahead and lie. And you’ll do it not only because you have the barrel of a gun pointed in your face, but you’ll do it in all your other relationships too. And by that I don’t mean to say I’d be judging this young lady if she would lie under those circumstances. But I’m simply saying, “That’s the way life is. You go around and you just get through and you grab for everything, like a kid in a candy store who has been told that for the next five minutes he can take everything out of the store that he can grab. And he’s grabbing for everything during the five-minute period. We believe in another world. Another world!
You know (sighs), this is a difficult message to preach because I know that there are some of you who are absolutely unconvinced. For me to try to convince you to give up the pleasures of this world, I would rather try to convince a tiger to become a vegetarian. Really! (laughter) And I would give him a lecture on all the niceties of vegetarianism. How far do you think I would get? [I would not get far.] The reason is this. A tiger is going to be a tiger, is going to be a tiger until he gets a new heart.
And I speak to some of you because if you have been converted by God, one of the earliest and surest marks of a child of God is this—that he loves God and he hates to grieve God. He may grief Him, but he loves God so much that he says to Himself, “God, I want You to be all that I could possibly imagine, and all that I could possibly be. I may not live up to it, but that is my desire.”
If you don’t have that desire today, and you are a Christian, I can say this humbly. You really do need to repent, because you’ve got some serious, serious problems. And if you’re not a believer, you have to come to Christ and ask Him to change you, to transform you by the Holy Spirit, and He will implant within you a desire to love God. We’re faced with two loves, two promises, two destinies. Two destinies—he that does the will of God abides forever. The world passes away and all of its lusts.
How many of us can say this?
Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled (and we turn) to Thee again
And again and again and again, and the raging thirst is quenched.
Let us pray.
Our Father, help us as a people with all of our worldliness, with all of our pleasures, with all of our self-seeking, our unwillingness to sacrifice for You. Help us, Father, and reveal to us all those areas in which we have compromised, and which we have followed the world and therefore grieved You. We pray that this passage in all of its starkness, and in all of its candor, might grip us. And then, Father, bring us to the point where we find our delight in You. Do that, Lord, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.