- Sabbatical Reflections: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 1 of 3)
- Sabbatical Reflections: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 2 of 3)
- Sabbatical Reflections: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 3 of 3)
- Happiness: Where Does It Come From?
- Happiness: You Can Find It In Any Circumstances
- Happiness, the False and the True
- The Pursuit of Happiness
- To Be Happy, Follow These Three Steps
- Happiness According to the New Testament
Happiness: You Can Find It In Any Circumstances Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash
As we saw in the previous post, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says happiness is not a condition of our circumstances. One can be happy or blessed either from living beyond the circumstances, or as a result of what God may do in the midst of the circumstances.
We see the same in Matthew 5:17-47, Jesus’ teaching on the fulfillment of the law. The law is not merely a matter of external obedience, but an internal frame of mind as well. He structures this with six contrasts in the pattern, “You have heard it said … But I say unto you.”
|External – “You have heard that it was said”||Internal – “But, I say unto you”|
|You shall not commit murder||Do not have hatred in your heart|
|You shall not commit adultery||Do not lust in your heart|
|You shall give a certificate of divorce||Do not divorce|
|You shall not break your oath||Do not swear at all|
|Give an eye for an eye||Turn the other cheek|
|Love your neighbor but hate your enemy||Love your enemy|
Jesus’ kingdom creates a space that breaks the cycle of “hap.” Indeed makarios (happiness) in scripture enables us to live in the midst of difficult circumstances and pursue happiness within a moral framework rather than a hedonistic license.
To understand this we need to know that the Creator exists, and that creation has a tello (purpose).
That purpose is, first, cosmic and eschatological, the telos or end of history. This is seen in the coming of the Kingdom of God, the return of Christ at the end of time, and the completion of the cultural mandate given at the beginning of human history. This eschatological end is pictured in Revelation 21.
Bad circumstances can lead to happiness
Second, it can be described as an anthropological purpose – telios. That is, individual human beings becoming like Christ, perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. This is achieved, not just in perfect circumstances but often through the “classroom” of hard knocks. Notice the progression in James 1:2-5.
– Consider it pure joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds (bad hap)
– because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance
– Let perseverance finish its work
– so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
How can we consider it pure joy when we have bad circumstances? The writer is not promoting masochism, but a process that, in the end, makes us more like Christ. Sin is the fount of misery, holiness the fount of happiness. And holiness is often born of adversity, in the heat of the refiner’s fire.
Is your goal in life to enjoy the pleasure of good luck, or the happiness derived from glorifing Christ?
Paul’s happiness in the midst of bad hap
We see the latter in the life of the Apostle Paul. He endured trials that produced happiness. Philippians 1:12-26 shows three sets of trials—bad hap—that ended in glorifying Christ and blessing Paul. These trials came from the world, from fellow Christians, and at the hands of death. Here there are three examples of the exaltation of Christ in the midst of bad circumstances.
Paul describes his first trial at the hands of the world in Philippians 1:12-14.
I want you to know, brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Here the bad circumstance was Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Note:
– This gave him opportunity to preach to the whole Pretorian guard.
– His imprisonment was for Christ.
– Other Christians have become more bold to speak without fear.
– This bad situation led to the positive advancement of the gospel.
What was Paul’s attitude? He lived beyond his circumstances rather than being enslaved by them.
Paul’s second trial was at the hands of fellow Christians.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18
Paul rejoices in difficult circumstances
Many of us in Christ can relate to this. Note:
– Some preach Christ from envy and others from good will.
– Those preaching from good will know that Paul is in chains for the defense of the gospel.
– Others preach from selfish ambition and to spite Paul while he is in prison.
What was Paul’s attitude? He rejoices that Christ is being proclaimed both by those with good motives and those with bad.
Paul’s third trial is at the hands of death.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Philippians 1:21-26
To live is Christ, to die is gain!
This trial is the possibility of death for Paul. Note:
– Because of the prayers of the church and the work of the Spirit of God, he is in hope of deliverance.
– He longs to be faithful so that if he lives or dies, he will honor Christ.
– In the midst of his own bad hap, he is positive and is thinking of the church at Philippi.
His remarkable attitude? “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
– Darrow Miller