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Christian Joy in a Material World – Part I (Where Joy Is Not)

Joy

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence

These words have become deeply ingrained into the American society as part of our Declaration of Independence.  In it we find three “inalienable Rights”, with the last of them being “the pursuit of Happiness.”  The pursuit of happiness is indeed a fundamental desire of all people, but what is it we’re all so busy pursuing anyway?

Unlike the World

If we understand that happiness is nothing more than a fleeting human emotion, we can begin to think that a life built in pursuit of this temporary feeling is like walking away from God’s grand feast with nothing more than a crumb we found on the floor.  Every person has this hunger for joy inside them and our material world is built around man’s attempt to satisfy this spiritual longing apart from God.  Every day we’re targeted with advertisements that claim to offer happiness if we just buy what they’re selling.  Others would claim to find that elusive source of happiness through the use of drugs and sex. 

Once we’ve identified the true hunger as the soul’s desire for lasting spiritual joy, it should be no surprise that these tempor Galatians 5:17 says:

Galatians 5:17 – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…”

People who go down the road of chasing after the passions of their flesh end up with the exact opposite of the happiness they are chasing.  Consider the following words from James:

James 4:1-2 – “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

How can things like coveting, fighting and quarreling sound appealing to anyone looking for joy and happiness?  If we take this path of seeking worldly happiness to its logical conclusion, we would never see an end that satisfies our true desire.  However, many will continue to go deeper and deeper into sin until eventually it ends in total destruction.

The solution for finding true and lasting joy is only going to be found in Christ and that requires us to turn from the desires of our flesh.

Matthew 16:24-26 – “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Galatians 5:24 – “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

This is what John Stott refers to as a “Christian counter-culture.”  Jesus often pointed out the stark contrast between the world and His Kingdom.  Take the Sermon on the Mount for example.  That entire sermon had one focused underlying theme, which was this idea of a Christian counter-culture.  Jesus started that sermon with a list of people that were “blessed” (often translated as happy) and every one was a description that flew directly into the face of what the world would consider blessed.  Jesus stated his theme clearly in Matthew 6:8 when he said, “do not be like them.”

From the beginning of mankind, God has called His people to be holy, which means set apart and different.  Unfortunately, God’s people have always struggled to stay different and instead have desired to be like the nations from wanting a king like the other nations to worshipping their idols and pursuing the lustful desires of the flesh like the nations around them. 

2 Kings 17:8 – “and [they] walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.”

Even today, the church often doesn’t look much different than the world.  If we’re no different than the world, we’re going to fall for the same lie and try to fill our spiritual longings with worldly pleasures.  Of course, our resulting disappointments will be the same too. 

The Wisdom of Solomon

Solomon is a perfect illustration of someone who indulged his sensual appetite and courted his lusts.    

Ecclesiastes 2:10 – “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” 

Solomon didn’t deny himself any pleasures.  In fact, he may be one of the only people to ever run out of desires before he ran out of money, and in the end, here’s what he concluded: 

Ecclesiastes 5:10-17 – “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”

It’s always better to learn from the mistakes of others than to make those mistakes ourselves.  Solomon gives us this opportunity when it comes to thinking that we can get happiness from material possessions.  Following is a list of lessons we can take from the wisdom of Solomon as we dive into the passage above:

More stuff doesn’t bring more joy.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 – “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.  When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?”

We will never be satisfied with any amount of wealth or with the income we make if we’re looking for it to bring happiness.  In the end, we will always be thinking happiness will come with a little more.

Things that don’t bring us peace can’t give us joy.

Ecclesiastes 5:12 [NIV] – “but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.”

Ecclesiastes 5:17 – “Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”

We sometimes sacrifice everything, including our time and our families to gain riches thinking then we will have rest and happiness only to find that our problems are multiplied and there is no joy.  Things of this world will always fail to satisfy because our hearts are longing for what only heaven can fulfill. 

Riches apart from God are a curse and won’t bring us happiness.

Ecclesiastes 5:13 – “riches were kept by their owner to his hurt.”

Riches will grow into pride and lead to self-reliance until eventually you “forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:11-18).

Jeremiah 5:7 – “When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery.”

1 Timothy 6:9 – “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Temporary things can’t bring us lasting happiness. 

Ecclesiastes 5:14 – “riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.” 

We can’t trust in our money.  Sometimes we lose it in the pursuit of more through bad investments and at other times, it just vanishes.  How can we find lasting joy in something so unreliable? 

Proverbs 23:4-5 – “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.  When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.”

Things from a cursed earth can’t satisfy the eternal desire of the soul.

Ecclesiastes 5:15-16 – “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.  This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?”

Every material thing is limited to our usage during this temporary stay.  It is futile to think we can satisfy eternal spiritual desires with material things from a world that is “passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31).

 

Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.

Brad is a specialist in personal financial planning issues including retirement planning, investment management and charitable giving optimization.

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