Keeping Your Focus [Song of Songs 4]
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Keeping Your Focus - 06.11.2023
[Song of Songs 4]
CS Lewis, in his phenomenal book “Mere Christianity”, gives this amazing illustration.. and this is a quote, “You can get a large audience together for a striptease act - that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. [But] Suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage, and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the light goes out, that [the plate] contains a mutton chop or a bit of bacon [pause] would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?” [laugh] CS Lewis holds up this bizarre picture of a sandwich strip tease to show - if a country had such a thing, they clearly do not properly understand food. Their appetites are twisted. And if that sounds super bizarre to us, can’t we say the same thing about sexual appetites in our culture? There are some truly bizarre and twisted things out there, and it shows that our world’s version of sexual intimacy makes about as much sense as a sandwich strip tease. Today we are continuing our study in the Chronological Bible, and we are going to be looking at the books of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.
So we start out with our scripture lesson in Song of Songs, chapter 4, [read v.1-2]. [laugh]. Alright, before we get any deeper - we’ve got to talk about the format here. We’ve talked about this before, but I want to make sure you really understand. The bible tells one great story, God’s incredible story of redemption, but it’s not just one book. The bible is a library of different books written by different authors in different times and different styles. If you try to read every book the same, you’ll be very confused. There is history, there is law, there are letters, there are prophecies, and there is poetry. I was reading in my commentaries a couple weeks ago about how Song of Songs can be super frustrating, because a lot of us come in with an attitude of serious study. I want to take this text and run it through my usual question and pull out the wisdom and find the moral of the story and then go home. But Song of Songs is poetic wisdom literature. You can’t put it through the same filter as a parable of Jesus. You can’t just studiously examine the pieces and pull out the moral of the story. It’s like asking “what’s the point of Beethoven’s 5th symphony? It’s a beautiful piece of art, it is designed to evoke emotion. You can’t approach it the same way you approach other parts of the Bible.
You read these first few verses and can we just talk about these metaphors for a second? It cracks me up every single time I read it. Your eyes are like doves - okay, weird. Your hair is like a flock of goats. [pause] You know, just for fun - gentlemen, if you’re married next time your wife gets a haircut… try this compliment and see what happens. Honey, your hair looks like a bunch of goats. [laugh]. It was a different time, a different world, but I promise - these are supposed to be compliments. Your smile is flawless, every tooth is matched to its twin. And if you try to come at this like it’s not poetry, you ask yourself - what is the point of this passage? Sometimes the message is literally, “I think this guy has the hots for his super awesome wife.” It’s a love poem! And he is SUPER in love. [read verse 3-4] [snicker] [read v.5] Ope. You know, deer hunting is super popular in Michigan…but I’ve never heard a deer hunter come back and say, “you know what those deer remind me of…?” Hang in there with me, it gets so much better (or worse depending on how uncomfortable you are right now). Down in verse 11 [read 11-15]. This is one of those scriptures where teenage boys, with their filthy little minds, are able to interpret this passage better than anyone else - because I promise they are not talking about about gardens or uh, pomegranates.
Now I do have a point with all this, I promise I’m not just trying to make you uncomfortable with jokes. See, when I grew up in the church - sex was something we just didn’t talk about. Even in youth group, we were taught - sex bad, until you’re married. Sex was treated as if it was something dirty, something embarrassing, something wrong. But what I hope you see is that Song of Songs is a celebration of marital intimacy. This is a love poem written by a guy to his new bride. This guy is so excited to be married to this woman he loves. It’s clearly erotic (and hilarious), but there’s no shame. There’s no embarrassment, and what I want you to see with all of this is that sex is a good thing. Sexual intimacy within the bounds of marriage SHOULD be celebrated. God actually created sex. Think about this - God could have created the world such that the most intimacy a human being could have is holding hands. But God created the activity of sex, and not just for the making of children. None of the verses in this passage focus on how excited they are for babies. Sex is designed to be a demonstration of love and a pathway of deeper intimacy for a husband and a wife. And it’s a very good thing to enjoy one another’s bodies. Now, to be clear, God’s design for sexual intimacy is that it is reserved for the commitment of marriage - but inside that covenant, it is meant to be celebrated as a good and blessed thing. Think about the title of the book. It’s called “Song of Songs”, think of that like “King of Kings.” Like the top dog of all the songs. Couple weeks ago we saw that Solomon wrote over a thousand songs, but this one is the song OF Songs, the King of the Songs, the best and most important one.
Now, here’s what’s really cool - there is another level to this story. In the Bible, and we haven’t talked about this much yet - but all throughout the entire scripture there is a dominant metaphor to describe the way God relates to his people. You’ve probably heard of this before. We talk about how Jesus is the groom and the church is the bride. They use the marriage commitment as an earthly example of a divine connection. When we get to the prophets in a couple of weeks, you’ll see that they talk about worshipping other gods in the language of adultery. Like when you worship other gods, it’s like you’re cheating on a marriage commitment to God. Song of Songs is not just a celebration of sexual intimacy, but also a love song from God to the church. Now let’s just - it is not about God and humans and sex, don’t be weird okay, there are limits to the metaphor. It’s not just about sex - it also demonstrates God’s delight and his love for his people. God loves you passionately - like a groom to his bride. He’s just head over heels in love with his creation. God made you and he really likes you. God delights in you. I think you get two really big messages from Song of Songs - 1.) Sex is awesome. It’s created by God and inside the covenant of marriage there is encouragement to enjoy one another physically. 2.) the star struck head over heels love of a new bride and groom is a decent metaphor for the picture of love and joy between Jesus Christ (the groom) and the church (his bride).
So now I want to shift a little bit - we did the love story, and now we need a splash of cold water. And there is no better splash of cold water in the face than the book of Ecclesiastes. Now, real quick framework, the book of Ecclesiastes, scholars will argue over who actually wrote these books - but they are often attributed to King Solomon. And if Song of Songs is the love poem he wrote when he was young and he just got married and life was full of joy and delight - Ecclesiastes is the cranky old man book of the Bible. King Solomon was the wisest, richest, most successful king in the world - by every single metric he won at the game of life, but towards the end of his life, he realizes how much of the stuff is just meaningless and he writes this sort of dark and cranky book of the Bible. It’s such a helpful book to put life in perspective, and I just want to put a couple of pieces in front of you. It starts out chapter one verse one, [read v.1-11]. Do you see what I mean? If you’re ever having a grumpy day where you think society is just a big giant toilet bowl and we’re just circling the drain - this book is for you. When I went through my grumpy punk rock emo phase in college - this was my favorite book in the Bible. He’s like, “I have tried everything the world has to offer and it’s just not enough.” It’s a big shift from Song of Songs to Ecclesiastes, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Throughout the book he repeats over and over, “everything is meaningless” - some translations say, “vanity of vanities, everything is vanity.” Everything is meaningless, but what’s important is to live your life. Let me show you, in chapter three it says, [read 9-11a]. “Yet” - I love that word yet. [read v.11-13].
Okay, so I want to take a second here and unpack verse 11. It says, “God has planted eternity in the human heart.” God has placed a seed of an idea in our hearts. We are not satisfied with this world. Have you ever watched the news and been horrified by the injustice? Have you ever felt uncomfortable, like things in this life are just not quite what they are supposed to be? Have you ever looked at the state of society and said, “Man, I hope the end of the world is soon?” I do it like three times a day. Every time TikTok drops a new trend, my response is usually - God you go ahead and start up the Armageddon machine. We need to be done here, they’re eating laundry detergent! In all seriousness though, the message of Ecclesiastes is the same message we have seen over and over with every rich and famous person. They reach the peak of humanity and it’s not enough. There is a seed in your heart that needs more than what this world has to offer. Because God planted eternity in your heart, and nothing else will satisfy you. Nothing else can fill that urge. CS Lewis, we got a lot of CS lewis in this sermon, but he put it like this, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” And then it says, [read v.11b-13]. There is a seed of eternity in our hearts, we know in our hearts that this world is not enough. It’s not right, we desire a better world, but we’re not going to know God’s plans - and so the best thing we can do is to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of your labor. And that’s a beautiful picture! Everything might be vanity, but what’s important is to live your life!
And then, we get to the end of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12, and this is where it all leads for Solomon. [read v.13-14]. This world is not enough, so eat, drink, enjoy the fruits of your labor - but the most important thing to remember is to fear God and obey his commands. Everything else is vanity, everything else is meaningless - but fear God and obey his commands. This actually leads into my final point. One of the things we have seen over and over in the last few weeks as we go through the works of Solomon is that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but it is also the beginning of everything else in life. Think about it this way, when we orient our life under God the way it was supposed to be - we can hit a level of satisfaction and fulfillment that does not exist for the rest of the world. God is in the business of reclaiming things the world has corrupted. Fearing God and obeying his commands leads to a more fulfilling life.
Let me see if I can explain it like this. Song of Songs is this book about sex, right? But a lot of times when we talk about Christian sexual ethics - the Bible teaches us that it should be reserved for the marriage covenant between a husband and a wife. If you fear God and want to obey his commands, you should not have sex unless you are married. And when I talk to people about this kind of stuff, inevitably there’s a point where people say, “whatever, you just don’t want people to get laid. You’re just trying to stop people from having fun - if it’s consensual, what’s the big deal - it’s fine.” And here’s my response, “OF COURSE I DON’T WANT YOU TO JUST “GET LAID.” Getting laid is a pathetic goal post fit for horny middle school boys who don’t know any better. I don’t want that for you. If you’re going to pursue sexual desire, I want you to fall in love! I want you to find your soul mate, to spend a lifetime learning about one another and growing together both in the bedroom AND in the rest of your life. I want you to find the freedom and abundant joy in the commitment and security that IS marriage. When I say I want you to fear God and obey his commands, it’s because I want MORE for you - not less. The world’s version of sexual intimacy is awful. Cosmopolitan magazine (and others like it) comes up with 200 new sex tips every single month. You’d think at some point they’d run out of advice. You’d think somewhere in there they would figure it out. But there’s a reason the world’s version of sexual intimacy needs constant “spicing up” - and it’s because it’s not good enough. It’s not big enough. The world has tried so hard to reduce sex down to just a physical act. They will literally say, “it’s just sex, what’s the big deal” - they reduce it and it becomes a cheap knock off version of what physical intimacy CAN be. And what I’m trying to tell you is that you should not accept the lesser version. Let God pour true purpose into the way we live, the way we eat and laugh and work and have sex with your spouse. We’re not going to lower our bar down to the world’s level - God wants to reclaim your sexuality, to offer you something even better. Fear God and obey his commands - because that is the source of purpose and fulfillment in your life.
The good news I have for you this morning is that God delights in you. God made you and he loves you so much. And if we live under his commands, he will pour purpose and fulfillment into our lives. Like, there are people in our culture who complain, “we work and we slave for our WHOLE life, and we only get a little bit of a break, a couple years at the end for retirement.” But if you are living your life FOR God, the work is no longer meaningless, it becomes what God has created you and put you in the world to do. Why would you wait until the end of your life, start enjoying life right now! Eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of your labor, because there is a God out there who delights in you. For me, the best thing I can compare it to - is that I love watching my children play. Like, I can’t explain it - I did not expect that as a parent. Because the way it was presented to me in movies and sitcoms, was that children is the end of your life. Oh no, children! How terrible! You don’t get to do what you want to do. But when I realize that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and I see the love I have for my wife and the love I have for my children is like a picture of the way that God loves me. And God delights in me, and it just fills me up and overflows - and I just delight in my children. My older two boys, Liam and Amos, they have these action figures, they’re like knights in armor with swords and little spears and whatnot. And they set up these huge battle scenes. Meanwhile Ezra has this little mower, it’s a bubble mower but he takes it very seriously. It was a nice day a couple weeks ago and he’s wandering around looking for his shoes. And I was like, “buddy, it’s a nice day - you can just go outside barefoot.” And he looks at me and says, “No dad, you gotta be careful when you mow the lawn, I need my mowing shoes.” Okay, well don’t let me interrupt. And Asher - I mean, he doesn’t DO anything. He just toddles around with this big ol’ goofy grin on his face and I could literally watch him do that all day. God delights in you. I think about the way I delight in my children, or I delight in my wife - and I think about how human relationships are just this little microcosm of the way God feels about us. God delights in you and he knows what’s best for you, so let him pour purpose and meaning into your life by obeying his commands.
To finish off Solomon’s teachings, we’ve sort of got two books we’re working with this week. Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. And so my challenge for you this week - what I want you to take out of here today is that I want you to live out those two books. In your daily life, live out the song of songs. I want you to delight in the relationships in your life, just like God delights in you. Eat, drink, be merry, enjoy the fruits of your labors. And yeah, if you are married, if this applies to you on that level - yes, I want you to have great sex. Write it down married people, your pastor told you to. [laugh]. Actually, I do want to put some resources in front of you. I have a dear friend Rachel Welcher who wrote an amazing book called Talking Back To Purity Culture which is so helpful for how to have these conversations about sex with millennials. And then there’s an author named Sheila Gregoire (I’ll put these book titles in the sermon notes), she wrote a couple books called The Great Sex Rescue, The Good Girls Guide To Sex, the Good Guys Guide To Sex, and they just dropped a new book. They are phenomenal, practical resources for building a healthy sex life inside God’s commands. She also runs a podcast called Bare Marriage, which is really funny and awkward and helpful. Live out Song of Songs - delight as God delights. The other side of that is Ecclesiastes. When life is dark and stormy, and the world is feeling pointless or meaningless - remember to fear God and obey the Lord. God put that seed of eternity in our heart, and we’re not satisfied with this life and we don’t know how it’s all going to work out - but God does. So in the midst of meaninglessness we can submit to God and get back to living life - eat, drink, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Let obeying God pour purpose into the life you are already living! I want you to live out the Song of Songs, and to live out the book of Ecclesiastes.
I’m going to wrap it up with one more CS Lewis illustration. We’ve already talked about Sandwich stripteases, but this quote comes from the book The Weight Of Glory and he says, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The world’s version of sexual intimacy is just… awful. Like sitting in the mud when we COULD be playing at the beach. We’ve been sexually liberated as a culture for decades now - and the evidence is stacking up that it’s just not good enough. God offers us something better. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and if we obey his commands we find something BETTER, not worse, better than the what the world has to offer. Let’s Pray.