A Biblical Formula for Happiness
Without exception, human beings are always in pursuit of happiness. At an international conference in 1972, the king of Bhutan introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness, which brought increased attention to the new field of “the science of happiness.” Since then, academics have continued trying to identify factors that bring lasting satisfaction and joy. Hundreds of books have been written, and scores of conferences have been held on the topic. Despite all these efforts, we can see that the experts have not succeeded. However, what remains elusive to them—the source of true happiness—is explained plainly in the Word of God.
In John 13:17 we find the principle that so many are seeking: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Put simply, this verse means that we will be happy if we know the will of God and then do it. This is essentially a Biblical formula for happiness. A mathematician might state it this way: “happiness equals knowledge plus obedience.” Let’s take a closer look at each component of this formula to help us better understand the source of true happiness.
It is important to begin with a right understanding of what happiness is. The word happy in John 13:17 means “supremely blessed.” This word does not imply an absence of earthly sorrows; if that were part of the definition, then no one could be happy, because sorrows are impossible to escape in this world. Rather, the state that is referred to in this verse is a favor which only comes from God. It begins when we are reconciled to Him at salvation, and His blessing remains upon us as long as we stay faithful to Him. God is the source of true happiness, and it cannot be found apart from Him.
The happiness we experience when God’s blessing rests upon our lives is unchanging. It triumphs over earthly sorrows and disappointments.
We read in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” Happiness does not come from possessions, wealth, or power. Nor can sin satisfy, and it leaves a bitter aftertaste. It is certain that those who seek happiness in temporal things will never be satisfied. They may experience a measure of joy from certain events or amusements, but it cannot last long because it is dependent on circumstances, which are always changing. On the other hand, the happiness we experience when God’s blessing rests upon our lives is unchanging. It triumphs over earthly sorrows and disappointments.
Recently we heard testimonies from some of our brethren who are unable to walk because of physical disabilities. Yet in spite of their challenges, they were praising God for their salvation. The joy of God radiated from their lives! What a reminder that no matter what our circumstances, we can all experience the joy of the Lord.
Conversely, consider the example of the Children of Israel in Exodus 15. After God set them free from bondage in Egypt, He used Moses to lead them through the wilderness. However, after going three days without finding water, they began to murmur against Moses. They failed to have faith in God. They had been miraculously freed from slavery, yet they were unhappy because of a lack of water!
This account represents a typical attitude of mankind. Oftentimes, no matter how much people have, they want more. One man who has healthy feet will complain that he has no shoes to wear, while another man who has disabled feet praises God for his life! The difference between people like the Israelites who complained and our disabled brethren who expressed the goodness of God, was their own choice to be grateful for their greatest blessing—knowing God and experiencing His favor. That is why our brethren have “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” That is the true happiness that is available to all of us today.
The first requirement in the Biblical formula for happiness is “If ye know these things . . .” If we do not know what God would have us to do, then we certainly will not be able to do it. Knowing is a requirement for doing the will of God, so we are enjoined to learn the Word of God.
Scripture itself teaches us the importance of studying God’s Word. Paul advised Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Christ Himself said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). God told Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). The truth leads to eternal life, while falsehood leads to sin and Hell. If we want true happiness, it is imperative that we know the truth.
Regardless of how long we have been saved, our desire should be to know more and more about God and His Word. We can never know enough about God. Even Moses, after he had been walking with God for many years, prayed, “Show me thy way, that I may know thee” (Exodus 33:13). Later we read how God answered Moses’ prayer and allowed him to see part of Himself. The man who was closest to God desired to draw closer still, and God granted his request. We all have so much yet to learn about God; may He give us the desire to know Him more.
Christianity is a practical religion. It is not just something to study and talk about; the Word of God is meant to be lived. We understand that knowledge is important, yet even more important is what we do with the knowledge we gain from Scripture. It is wasted if we do not apply it to our lives and put it into practice, and we will never experience the true happiness that comes from God without obedience.
Our Lord epitomized practical Christianity. He taught not only with words but also through His life and actions. A true disciple of Christ is not only acquainted with what He taught but actually follows His example. Jesus said in John 15:14, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” May God help us to be doers of His Word!
If we were merely professing, preaching, and teaching the Word, but not practicing it, then we would be hypocrites. A religion like that is worthless; it will not bring happiness and will not satisfy the soul.
If we were merely professing, preaching, and teaching the Word, but not practicing it, then we would be hypocrites. A religion like that is worthless; it will not bring happiness and will not satisfy the soul. I know this because I was raised in that type of religion, and as a result I decided to stop attending church. Thank God, in 1966 at the University of Ibadan, I met a Christian man. I told him my situation, and he brought me to an Apostolic Faith Church where I learned of the transforming power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and there I found happiness. That was over fifty years ago, and my soul is still satisfied!
God has happiness for us, but we have a part to play: we must obey God’s Word. We must do what we have learned. We must practice what we know!
Proving the formula
Some may question how God can give happiness in the midst of great trials. We may go through experiences that cause us to doubt if it can be true, but we have a promise that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Where there is obedience to the will of God, the joy will be there. This is God’s promise to us.
Think of Abraham, who waited so many years for his promised son, and then God told him to sacrifice that son. Genesis 22:2 records that God said to him, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest . . .” Abraham did love Isaac, but not more than he loved God. If he had loved Isaac more, that would have been the end of his close relationship with God. While God ultimately provided a substitute for Isaac, Abraham put his faith into practice by his willingness to obey. When our faith is tested, God will also give us the grace to pass the test. Abraham proved the formula—he knew God’s will, he obeyed, and he received God’s blessing on his life. And we can learn from his example.
Job is another example. God Himself testified of Job that he was perfect, upright, feared God, and eschewed evil. Yet, he was tried. He lost everything he had, including his ten children. If he had loved his family more than God, that would have severed his relationship with God. But what did he do? He said, “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He did not let that painful situation cause him to disobey God or lose confidence in Him. Later Job also said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15). What a life of surrender! Job’s faith was not merely words, but it was practical.
Job went through more suffering than most, but he triumphed. In the end, God’s name was glorified and Job drew closer to God. We read in Job 42:5 where he said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.”
No matter the difficulties we may experience in life, there is cause for joy as long as we have a close relationship with God. We simply must not let our happiness depend on something we can lose. It cannot depend on any earthly thing, and we must not forsake God if He allows some earthly blessing to be taken away. All of us go through trials in this life, but our constant guarantee is that God is always there for His people. He will never leave us nor forsake us, and He will never forget His own. When we know the will of God and do it, we will have God’s divine favor on our lives and happiness will follow. Moreover, our happiness will not end here on earth but will go with us into Heaven. May God help us to fix our love on Him alone, our source of true happiness.