I hope it is plain so far that if you come to God dutifully, offering Him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of His, then you exalt yourself above God as His benefactor and belittle Him as a needy beneficiary. That is evil.
The only way to glorify the all-sufficiency of God is to come to Him because in His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). We could call this vertical Christian Hedonism. Between man and God, on the vertical axis of life, the pursuit of pleasure is not just tolerable; it is mandatory—“Delight yourself in the LORD!” The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
But what about horizontal Christian Hedonism? What about relationships of love with other people? Is disinterested benevolence the ideal among men? Or is the pursuit of pleasure proper and indeed mandatory for every kind of human love that pleases God?
Christian Hedonism answers: The pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.
“Christian Hedonism” is a controversial name for an old-fashioned way of life.
It goes back to Moses, who wrote the first books of the Bible and threatened terrible things if we would not be happy: “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart … therefore you shall serve your enemies” (Deuteronomy 28:47–48).
… and to the Israelite king David, who called God his “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4); and said, “Serve the LORD with gladness” (Psalm 100:2); and “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Psalm 37:4); and who prayed, “Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may … be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14); and who promised that complete and lasting pleasure is found in God alone: “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).
… and to Jesus, who said, “Blessed are you when people insult you…. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:11–12); and who said, “I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11); and who endured the Cross “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2); and who promised that, in the end, faithful servants would hear the words, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
… and to James the brother of Jesus, who said, “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2).
… and to the apostle Paul, who was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10); and who described the ministry of his team as being “workers with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24); and who commanded Christians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4); and even to “exult in … tribulations” (Romans 5:3).
… and to the apostle Peter, who said, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).
… and to Saint Augustine, who, in the year 386, found his freedom from lust and lechery in the superior pleasures of God. “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!… You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.”4
… and to Blaise Pascal, who saw that “all men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end…. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”5
… and to the Puritans whose aim was to know God so well that “delighting in him, may be the work of our lives,”6 because they knew that this joy would “arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”7
… and to Jonathan Edwards, who discovered and taught as powerfully as anyone that “the happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted.”8 “The end of the creation is that the creation might glorify [God]. Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed?”9
… and to C. S. Lewis, who discovered “We are far too easily pleased.”10
… and to a thousand missionaries, who have left everything for Christ and in the end have said, with David Livingstone, “I never made a sacrifice.”11
Christian Hedonism is not new.
So if Christian Hedonism is old-fashioned, why is it so controversial? One reason is that it insists that joy is not just the spin-off of obedience to God, but part of obedience. It seems as though people are willing to let joy be a by-product of our relationship to God, but not an essential part of it. People are uncomfortable saying that we are duty-bound to pursue joy.
Piper, John. 2001. The Dangerous Duty of Delight. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.
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