In fact, the Bible overflows with accounts of God’s people being happy in him. (These examples only skim the surface, as part 3 will demonstrate.)
WHY TAKE THE HAPPINESS OUT OF JOY?
The “weeping prophet” experienced times of great gladness: “I belong to you, LORD God Almighty, and so your words filled my heart with joy and happiness” (Jeremiah 15:16, GNT). Not joy instead of happiness, but joy and happiness.
Depicting joy in contrast with happiness has obscured the true meaning of both words. Joyful people are typically glad and cheerful —they smile and laugh a lot. To put it plainly, they’re happy!
The following is typical of the artificial distinctions made by modern Christians:
Joy is something entirely different from happiness. Joy, in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. . . . Joy brings us peace in the middle of a storm. Joy is something that God deposits into us through the Holy Spirit. . . . There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion and temporary; joy is an attitude of the heart.
Judging from such articles (and there are hundreds more out there), you’d think the distinction between joy and happiness is biblical. It’s not.
THERE’S A LONG, RICH HISTORY OF EQUATING JOY WITH HAPPINESS IN CHRIST.
Jonathan Edwards cited John 15:11 (“that [Jesus’] joy might remain in you,” KJV) to prove this point: “The happiness Christ gives to his people, is a participation of his own happiness.” Edwards wrote of “the joy and happiness that the church shall have in her true bridegroom” and spoke of believers as “these joyful happy persons.” Edwards used the words joyful and happy to reinforce, not contrast, each other.
Puritan pastor Richard Baxter (1615–1691) said, “The day of death is to true believers a day of happiness and joy.” William Law (1686–1761), an Anglican church leader, said believers should “never want [lack] the happiness of a lively faith, a joyful hope, and well-grounded trust in God. If we are to pray often, ’tis that we may be often happy in such secret joys as only prayer can give.”
These highly influential writers used joy and happiness as synonyms.
Charles Spurgeon made the following statements about happiness and joy:
The more often I preached, the more joy I found in the happy service.
Despite your tribulation, take full delight in God your exceeding joy this morning, and be happy in Him.
O cheerful, happy, joyous people, I wish there were more of you! . . . Let the uppermost joy you have always be “Jesus Christ, Himself.”
May you so come, and then may your Christian life be fraught with happiness, and overflowing with joy.
Spurgeon’s views of happiness and joy, evident in hundreds of his sermons, are completely contrary to the artificial wall the contemporary church has erected between joy and happiness.
Susanna Wesley wrote to her son John in 1735, shortly after his father died, “God . . . is so infinitely blessed [happy], that . . . every perception of his blissful presence imparts a vital gladness to the heart. Every degree of approach toward him is, in the same proportion, a degree of happiness.” Notice the interchangeability of these words of delight. Susanna Wesley piled synonyms one upon another —“blissful presence,” “vital gladness,” and “happiness” —to express her overflowing pleasure in God. Not once in her statement did she use the word many today consider most spiritual: joy.
OPPOSITION TO THE WORD HAPPINESS IS A RECENT DEVELOPMENT IN THE CHURCH.
In stark contrast to believers prior to the twentieth century, many modern Christians have portrayed happiness as, at best, inferior to joy and, at worst, evil. Oswald Chambers (1874–1917), whom I greatly respect, is one of the earliest Bible teachers to have spoken against happiness. Chambers wrote, “Happiness is no standard for men and women because happiness depends on my being determinedly ignorant of God and His demands.”
After extensive research, I’m convinced that no biblical or historical basis exists to define happiness as inherently sinful. Unfortunately, because Bible teachers such as Chambers saw people trying to find happiness in sin, they concluded that pursuing happiness was sinful.
Alcorn, Randy. 2015. Happiness. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Check out our Bible Study on the book of Philippians, using David’s Jeremiah’s book, Count It All Joy as a guide. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.