The Way to Happiness

The Way to Happiness
Pastor Brian Bell

A television advertisement caught my eye while I was at the gym the other day. It was promoting a website called “The Way to Happiness.” In the commercial, a young man was horrified at the damage being caused to the environment by his neighbors not recycling, or a tree being cut down, and one hyperbolic argument for good measure of literal toxic waste being poured into his front yard. While I would join the man in his horror if I witnessed toxic waste dumped in front of my house, to suggest that happiness is tied into our concern over the environment was over the top. I decided to take a look at the website and discovered that this organizations idea of a “way to happiness” was much more involved than environmental protection. In fact, they have 21 precepts that will help “reverse the moral decay of society by restoring trust and honesty the world over.” They make it clear that this is not a religious organization, and it certainly isn’t rooted in a Christian worldview, but some of their precepts have definitely been borrowed (either intentionally or unintentionally) from Christianity and biblical standards of morality.

Two of this organization’s precepts are stated as follows: “Try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you” and “Try to treat others as you would want them to treat you.” This is almost verbatim Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” A couple more of their precepts state, “honor and help your parents,” and “do not murder” or “do not steal.” Now they’re just quoting the Ten Commandments. If a Christian were handed a list of these 21 precepts, they might be tempted to think that this was rooted in biblical truth. It is clear, however, that their idea of happiness is far removed from what a Christian’s understanding of happiness should be. That should be clear when you read on the website that they suggest that their mission is the first moral code to be based upon common sense and was published in 1981. I believe that we can find that there is a moral code established much earlier. It is also clear that this view of happiness is removed from a Christian worldview because its entire foundation is built upon the understanding that our happiness is rooted in the ability to improve ourselves.

Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. The temptation to find happiness though our own self-improvement, apart from God, has been present since the Garden of Eden. I mentioned one website but there are countless others who preach the message of finding peace, joy, contentment and happiness through self-care, positive thinking, and emotional balance. Then there are other ambitions to find happiness that are just as empty such as wealth, popularity, and relationships. That is not to say that having wealth is wrong, or that to take care of your physical and mental well-being is worthless, but if our pursuit of happiness is rooted in anything other than God, it is a vain and hollow aspiration.

To understand this, we first must understand what happiness truly is. Our modern world has twisted the idea of happiness to make it synonymous with joy. Joy is something that all Christians should aspire to, as Paul commands in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always.” We find no such command in scripture to “Be happy.” That command can only be found in the musical stylings of Bobby McFerrin. Happiness is best understood as an emotion, a feeling that can pass based on our circumstances. And we must understand that our emotions can be driven by sinful desires and passions. Joy, on the other hand, should be seen as a condition of our heart and soul. This means that we can have joy in the midst of unhappy circumstances. Those who have experienced grief over the loss of a loved one who was a believer in Christ can certainly recognize this distinction.

Just a few short months ago, in our study of the Gospel of Matthew, Pastor Gregg was leading us through the Sermon on the Mount, and within that sermon, Jesus taught what we refer to as the Beatitudes. Each of these beatitudes begins with the word “blessed.” There have been some translations of the bible that have substituted that word for “happy.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t convey the proper meaning to what Christ was teaching. R.C. Sproul, writing about the Sermon on the Mount, said, “the Greek word used in the Beatitudes is best translated as ‘blessed,’ as it communicates not only the idea of happiness but also profound peace, comfort, stability, and great joy. So, we have to be careful when we come to the text of the New Testament that we do not read it through the lens of the popular understanding of happiness and thus lose the biblical concept of joy.”

If our desire is for happiness, we may be tempted to find it through temporal, earthly pleasures, satisfying our emotions, which can shift with a change in the weather. Too often we look to physical attachments to bring us happiness, to help change our mood, but we cannot meet a spiritual need with a physical substance.  However, if our desire is for joy, and that joy finds its foundation in a vibrant and growing relationship with Christ, we will find that even in the darkest of days we can still say alongside Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore
.” – Psalm 16:11

May you find your joy in the presence of our beloved Savior!

Soli deo gloria,
Pastor Brian

1 Comment

Tina & Wayne Brandt - February 1st, 2023 at 11:11am

Loved this! Great share! Thank you!!