Sermon Study Guide: The Problem of Pleasure

Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.

-G.K. Chesterton

The great thing that divides community is that word we don’t like to talk about; sin. The only time we like to talk about sin is when we are bragging about it. I can’t tell you how many “testimonies” I have heard where there was much pleasure in talking about the so-called “forbidden pleasures” that were engaged in  before they came to know Christ, and then when they talked about Christ all pleasure was gone. I think one of the great tricks we have played on ourselves is to convince ourselves that the Church teaches that God is here to superimpose a morality to prevents us from being who we were meant to be or who we want to be.

We have come to define being saved “from sin” as being saved from pleasure. But God is not opposed to pleasure. He created pleasure. What God is opposed to is the status pleasure has taken in our life. When pleasure stands between what is good for “me” and good for “community,” we have a problem. When the pursuit of pleasure becomes what defines us and what defines our happiness, we have a problem.

Ravi Zacharias, a philosopher and evangelist, spoke to a group about the problem of pleasure. He said that many people have questions about the goodness of God when it comes to pain, but one of the greatest life crises we have is what do we do when we discover that we have all we want and yet have nothing. What do we do when we discover that all the pleasure in the world leaves us feeling meaningless and void of life?

Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 2, writes that he gave himself over to every pleasure known to man, had the riches of the world, was the envy of all mankind, but found it to be meaningless. R. Zacharias in that same talk, mentioned an interview with Dion Sanders. Dion said that on the night he had won the Super Bowl and just order a Lamborghini, as he was lying in bed he realized that he had achieved every goal he ever set out for and yet he was still empty. That night, what he realized he was missing was God.

We are made to be in community with God and one another. When scripture talks about salvation from sin, it is not a superimposed morality of restriction on our life but an act that seeks to set us free. We are made for community with God and one another, so sin is anything that breaks that community.

John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Wesley, when asked by John what sin was, said the following:

Whatever weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, or obscures your sense of God, or takes away your relish for spiritual things, in short if anything increases the authority and the power of the flesh over the spirit that to you becomes sin however good it is in itself.

The next question, then, is what is a good pleasure? Ravi Zacharias defines it as such:

  1. anything that refreshes you without distracting from, diminishing or destroying your final goal is a legitimate pleasure.
  2. any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred rite of another is an illicit pleasure
  3. any pleasure, however good, if not kept in balance will distort reality or destroy appetite.

That is very well and all, but what happens when we don’t know who we are. If you have never spent anytime exploring who you are in God, you will be lost and will wander aimlessly and disappointed. This is especially true if you have given in to the gospel of entertainment and distraction given to us by this world. Many of us are more interested in the futures and directions of companies like Apple and Microsoft, yet have very little idea what the direction is in their own life. Ravi says that,

you must enunciate what your final goal is. You cannot understand what a distraction is until you know what your goal is.

I dare say, that most of our sins against one another, ourselves, and God are directly related to our sense of connection with each of those persons as well as a sense of direction in our own life. With no direction we end up becoming aimless hoarders of pleasure upset with anyone who dares touch our stuff.

It is very difficult to serve one another and to do acts of love toward our enemies if our pursuit in life is personal pleasure for the sake of pleasure itself.

Examine your life in connection with God. What is your goal in life? Is is restricted by pleasure or is it a part of something larger?

What is the call of God in your life? What steps are you taking to discover that calling?

(I have taken many of these ideas from a podcast from Ravi Zacharias entitled, “What is Worthwhile Under the Sun”. You can find him here.)

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3 thoughts on “Sermon Study Guide: The Problem of Pleasure

  1. Pingback: The Cruel Reality of Hamstrings and Sin | eleven20 Blog

  2. Hey bro, good post. Most insightful understanding of sin I have came from Cornelius Plantinga’s book: “Not the way it’s supposed to be.” He defines sin masterfully as anything that breaks God’s shalom (shalom being the fullness of God’s good will for creation). can’t recommend it enough!
    – O

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