What One Direction Gets Right…And Dreadfully Wrong
British boy-band sensation One Direction released a new single last month called “Live While We’re Young,” which hit #1 in the U.S. within just two weeks. Strange as it sounds, there’s a certain resonance between this song and the passage I’m preaching this weekend, Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:7. Consider these words from Ecclesiastes:
“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. . . .” (11:9)
Similarly, One Direction sings of the urgency of making the most of one’s youth. In this respect at least, the band is onto something—life and youthfulness are not to be squandered. Rather God calls us to live while we’re still young, “before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (12:1).
So what does it look like to make the most of our youth? That’s where the similarity between Solomon and One Direction ends. Here’s One Direction’s prescription:
Hey girl, I’m waitin’ on ya, I’m waitin’ on ya
Come on and let me sneak you out
And have a celebration, a celebration
The music up, the window’s down . . .
Hey girl, it’s now or never, it’s now or never
Don’t over-think, just let it go
And if we get together, yeah, get together
Don’t let the pictures leave your phone, . . .
Let’s go crazy, crazy, crazy till we see the sun
I know we only met but let’s pretend it’s love
And never, never, never stop for anyone
Tonight let’s get some
And live while we’re young
But where Liam and crew sing of convincing a teenage girl he barely knows to sneak out of her house and have sex with him, Solomon sets his call to enjoy life and youthfulness in the context of relationship with God, our Creator and Judge.
“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth . . . But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” (11:9)
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth . . .” (12:1)
That of course sounds like no fun at all, no real way to “live” for most young people today. Just another example of God being a cosmic kill-joy. It certainly was not compelling for a good chunk of my teenage years. But that simply betrays our fundamental misunderstanding of joy.
We think that joy is the freedom to do whatever we think we’ll find pleasure in. Yet such unrestrained joy never provides the satisfaction it promises. The thrill of under-aged drinking gives way to the fear of being found out when you get home. The exhilaration of looking at porn is cut short by the embarrassment of being caught. The “love” shared with your boyfriend or girlfriend in those secret moments when no one is looking feeds a slow-growing shame and guilt in our hearts that must be suppressed, because if we faced it honestly it would undo us. What we thought would bring us joy eventually results in fear, regret, and even despair.
Why is this so? Because true joy, fulfilling joy, requires both purpose and constraint. In other words, to truly enjoy life and youth we need to remember our Creator who gives purpose to our life, and live with the constraint that comes from knowing we will one day be judged by our Creator for whether we lived according to that purpose.
Think of it like this. The joy and satisfaction of playing a game is only full when we play by the rules—according to the purpose of the game and in submission to the rules (along with the officials who hold us accountable to the rules). You’ll never enjoy the game of golf if you ignore the game’s design and score it the same way as you score basketball—there’s no challenge in running up points on the green. Neither is there any glory or satisfaction in cheating, even if it leads to victory (just ask Lance Armstrong). Games are only fun when we play by the rules. No one trains for the Olympics in order to get disqualified. You can’t tackle the ref on the football field and then rewrite the rules once he’s out of the way—you’re no longer playing football as it was meant to be played. To be fully enjoyed, a game must be played with both purpose and constraint. Life is no different.
We were made by our Creator for a purpose: to know, respect, love, and enjoy God above all earthly treasures, and so to serve God by reflecting his beauty and helping others to know and treasure him, that the whole world might be filled with his beauty and glory (cf. Gen. 1:26-28; 5:1-3; Ps. 8; Eccl. 12:13-14). As our creator, God is the one who has the right to assign our purpose, and also to judge us for whether we live according to that purpose. Young people are wise to embrace this purpose early and make the most of their youth—seeking to know and be satisfied in God, to serve him and to enjoy his good gifts, rather than squandering their youth and energy on that which neither satisfies nor lasts. In this is true and lasting joy to be found.
But this raises a deeply pressing question: what about those who have already blown it? What about the young man enslaved to pornography? What about the young girl trapped in an eating disorder? What about the teenage mother? What about the youth group leader who secretly lost her virginity and deals with crushing shame every time she stands up to sing or sits down to lead her small group? What about the young man who stole a thousand dollars from his parents to help pay for his girlfriend’s abortion? What about the student who, having made the hard decision to walk with God, has begun to resent God amid the ridicule and rejection of his or her friends, even the so-called “Christian” ones? What about those who pride themselves in keeping the rules and take great pleasure in standing above others who have failed, not realizing they too have fallen miserably short? How disqualifying are our shortcomings? Is there any hope for those who have thrown off the purpose and rule of their Creator, or is his judgment all that remains before us?
The hope and beauty of Christianity is that our Creator and Judge is also our Savior, who has worked salvation precisely for those who forget their Creator and rejoice in something other than him. Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, took on human flesh and walked in perfect faithfulness to God and his purpose. More than that, he took on himself God’s rightful judgment against our sinful rebellion, in order to rescue us from judgment and restore us to God’s purpose for our life.
As the apostle Paul explains,
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-36, NIV).
In Christ there is true freedom—freedom from shame, guilt, fear, regret, and eternal judgment. In Christ there is true joy—a joy that brings lasting satisfaction even in a broken world, not only in relationship with God but in the goodness of life. Only when we’re satisfied fully in Christ are we free to enjoy the good gifts of creation without worshiping them—the food, the friendships, the experiences that are an echo of and signpost pointing to our ultimate joy in him. Only when we’re satisfied in Christ are we free to live according God’s purpose, obeying his Word and reflecting his beauty by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, motivated by both thankfulness and confidence that in Jesus, our Judge has found us “not guilty.”
Only in Christ can we truly live while we’re young.