Oh, by the way, let me give some credit where credit is due. The genesis of my thinking on this came from John Piper. Both his book Desiring God and a half dozen or so essential sermons forever changed my life. Although I am dealing with a slightly different topic, (Piper is making the case for the importance of joy in God; this work is about the idea that obedience is good for us), I am forever indebted to Piper for his work. Piper has spent his whole life studying how to have joy in God.
In a discussion about joy in God, someone will invariably say, “Well, God is interested in our joy, but not so much our happiness.” Piper has spent his whole life studying these words in the Hebrew and Greek. Here is his conclusion:
Call it what you will: joy, satisfaction, contentment. It doesn’t matter, they are all in the Bible. The Bible is indiscriminate in its pleasure language. If you have nice little categories for “joy is what Christians have” and “happiness is what the world has,” you can scrap those when you go to the Bible, because the Bible is indiscriminate in its uses of the language of happiness and joy and contentment and satisfaction. It is lavish in all of them, and none of them is chosen above the other.
J.I. Packer is another theologian that doesn’t mind using the word happiness rather than the more spiritual sounding word, “joy”: “The way to be truly happy is to be truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly.”7 Think of it as a math formula:
If truly happy = truly human
Truly human = truly godly
Truly godly = truly happy.
Joy, happiness, gladness, and contentment are all synonyms as any dictionary will tell you. Think of it as pool of meaning. Obedience allows you to swim in that pool. There are subtle differences between these words and we will get into that later. The key point is that they are similar. Obedience makes us happy. He makes us joyful. We find gladness in him.
Oh, and by the way, we are not talking about using God to find some lesser pleasure. We are talking about the great pleasure that is in God himself.
As I like to say it, you can’t be godly and grumpy. Do you know what you call someone who tries to be godly while remaining grumpy? A Deacon! — Hunt, Josh. 2015. Obedience. Josh Hunt.
Check out the new Bible Study, No More Grumpy Christians. It will equip your people to life joy-filled, faith-saturated, positive, optimistic lives. It is available on Amazon, as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. (Like Netflix for Bible lessons.)