Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
And the Word of God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy:
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)
But there are numerous objections to Christian Hedonism at this point.
Someone may object, “No, you should not pursue your joy. You should pursue God.” This is a helpful objection. It forces us to make several needed clarifications.
The objector is absolutely right that if we focus our attention on our own subjective experience of joy, we will most certainly be frustrated, and God will not be honored. When you go to an art museum, you had better attend to the paintings, and not your pulse. Otherwise, there will be no delight in the beauty of the art.
But beware of jumping to the conclusion that we should no longer say, “Come and take delight in these paintings.” Do not jump to the conclusion that the command to pursue joy is misleading, while the command to look at the paintings is not.
What would you say is wrong with the person who comes to the art museum looking for a particular painting because he knows he can make a big profit if he buys and resells it? He goes from room to room, looking carefully at each painting. He is not the least preoccupied with his subjective, aesthetic experience. What is wrong here?
He is mercenary. His reason for looking is not the reason the painting was created. You see, it is not enough to say our pursuit should simply be the paintings. For there are ways to pursue the paintings that are bad.
One common way of guarding against this mercenary spirit is to say we should pursue art for art’s sake. But what does this mean? It means, I think, pursuing art in a way that honors art, not money. But how do you honor art? I would answer: You honor art mainly by experiencing an appropriate emotion when you look at it.
We know we will miss this emotion if we are self-conscious while beholding the painting. We also know we will miss it if we are money-conscious or fame-conscious or power-conscious when we look at the painting. It seems to me, therefore, that a helpful way to admonish visitors to the art museum is to say, “Delight yourself in the paintings!”
The word delight guards them from thinking they should pursue money or fame or power with the paintings. And the phrase “in the paintings” guards them from thinking the emotion that honors the paintings could be experienced any other way than by focusing on the paintings themselves.
So it is with God. We are commanded by the Word of God: “Delight yourself in the LORD.” This means: Pursue joy in God. The word joy, or delight, protects us from a mercenary pursuit of God. And the phrase “in God” protects us from thinking joy somehow stands alone as an experience separate from our experience of God Himself.
Piper, John. 2003. Desiring God. Sisters, OR: Multnomah 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.