Yesterday in church we were continuing our series in 1 Kings. This week we had reached chapter 10 and the arrival of the Queen of Sheba. One of the things that can’t escape notice in the passage is the sheer amount of stuff that took the Queen’s breath away. The vast wealth and wisdom with which Solomon had been blessed even caused her to bless Yahweh herself.
A little while ago, I wrote a post – really an extended quote – from Dale Davis’ commentary on 1 Kings. You can read that here. But speaking about the force of 1 Kings 10 he warned us that we ought not to ‘pour cow urine over the text’. You’ll have to read that earlier post to understand what he is going on about. I don’t fully share Davis’ view of all that is going on in the chapter (I take a slightly dimmer view of Solomon in general to him), but he does make an important point: ‘the prosperity of the people of God is always a gift of Yahweh’s goodness, which (I think) demands of us both gratitude (lest we idolize the gifts in place of God) and joy (lest we despise God’s gifts as though they were sinful).’
This is a point with which we often struggle. As I mentioned before here, Gnosticism has a habit of driving some of our attitudes in the church. And I think the whole area of enjoying God’s good gifts is one such example. These things are seen as ‘worldly’ and ‘unspiritual’ and therefore not to be enjoyed. We can’t cope with the fact that money is a gift from God to be enjoyed without, to take Davis’ line, pouring cow urine all over it, i.e. ruining it, by caveating it to death. As I commented in yesterday’s sermon:
There can be something in us that gets all funny about wealth. We want to say that lots of money can become an idol. We want to bang on about the love of money.
While that may be true in general, the text doesn’t say that. Solomon was richly blessed by God with money and the writer seems to think that’s a good thing.
What that tells us is, we shouldn’t despise God’s good gifts. We don’t have to ruin everything that God gives to us through endless caveats. Death by a thousand warnings.
In other words, it is perfectly right and proper to enjoy God’s good gifts.
As it happened, it was my birthday yesterday so I had a ready made illustration for the occasion. Imagine I had been given a gift for my birthday by my wife. I open the present and I absolutely love it. Just what I wanted! But immediately, a pang of guilt springs up. What if I begin to love the present too much? What if it becomes an idol to me? So, I say thank you for the gift and I stick it away in a cupboard, never to be used. I then tell my wife that I think she’s so wonderful that I never want to use her gift, just in case I end up loving it more than her. I then come up with other reasons why the gift is good but potentially far too dangerous to be used. If I do venture to get it out and use it, I certainly don’t enjoy it. Only really for necessities.
What should my wife make of that reaction? At best, it’s a bit weird. The whole point of the gift was so I could enjoy it. But if I just stick it in a cupboard and never use it, I’m not really enjoying what I have been given. Which makes it seem like a pretty rubbish gift. I might say, as much as I like, how much I love the gift. But if I don’t actually use and enjoy it, those are just words. If the gift is given so that it can be enjoyed, if I don’t enjoy it, the gift hasn’t really served its purpose.
God created us so that we can glorify him and enjoy him forever. And part of enjoying him is enjoying the gifts that he gives to us. He takes pleasure in our taking pleasure in the good gifts he gives to us. That is, after all, why he gives us good gifts. He is glorified when we enjoy the gifts he gives to us. Part of enjoying him is enjoying his good gifts. Why would he give us good gifts if he didn’t expect us to enjoy them? Only Gnostics want to tell us that material = evil and spiritual = good. The sovereign Lord of the universe, to whom all things belong, is clear: ‘God… richly provides us with all things to enjoy’ (1 Tim 6:17).
So here it is: it’s OK to enjoy God’s good gifts. It is perfectly acceptable – it is even very good – to enjoy the gifts that God has given to us. As long as we know from whence they came, and are thankful to the giver, the only proper response to God’s gifts after that is to enjoy them.