Happiness

M. S. Staveley, Bradford on Avon

In a recent interview a leading political figure was asked, 'Are you happy, Mr . . .?' This prompts a more fundamental question, What do people mean by 'being happy'? For the Christian, reference must be made to the only authoritative source of wisdom - the Scriptures: and, for the present dispensation, the New Testament in particular.

The only word in the original translated 'happy' in the New Testament is the Greek word makarios; and in the most literal of translations (JND) this is usually rendered 'blessed', being applied even to God Himself, 1 Tim. 1. 11 and 6. 15. The only passages in which JND translates makarios as 'happy' are Acts 26. 2, where Paul says, 'I count myself happy, king Agrippa . . .', and 1 Corinthians 7. 40 where, speaking of a widow, he writes, 'But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment'. The noun 'makarismos' occurs only twice, in Romans 4. 6, 9; Galatians 4. 15, where it is rendered 'blessedness'. Finally, the verb from the same root, makarizo is translated 'call blessed': 'call me blessed' in Luke 1. 48, and 'we call them blessed who have endured' in James. 5. 11.

Before looking at the contexts in which makarios is used in the N.T. it is well to note the normal connotation of the words 'happy' and 'happiness' in the world today. It is fair to say that it is usually a self-centred concept, to which most commercial advertising is addressed, e.g. as in 'happiness is . . . ' (something material which the advertiser is trying to sell). Apart from this widespread usage, the word 'happy' is often used in everyday life with the individual essentially the central subject, as in, 'Are you happy in your work, home life, etc?' While such questions often extend into other areas of a person's life besides the material, they usually concentrate on the feelings of the person concerned, and what is entirely material plays a large part in the consideration of the question. There is an indication of that kind of existence in Paul's statement to the Corinthians, that if there is no resurrection ('if the dead rise not') 'let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die', 1 Cor. 15. 32: and in our Lord's words, 'For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (i.e. things perfectly legitimate, even necessary, in themselves) until the day came that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away', Matt. 24. 38-39.

But perhaps the most concise description of an existence devoid of spiritual content is that given in reference to Israel in the early days of their sojourn in the wilderness of Sinai: 'the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play', Exod. 32. 6. This description of more than 3,000 years ago could apply equally well to many living today. The New Testament, however, shows clearly that material or physical well-being does not in any way constitute happiness as implied in the word makarios. Let us now look at the passages where this word occurs, besides those already noted.

The first essential principle is faith. 'Without faith it is impossible to please God', Heb. 11. 6. And if we displease God, how can we possibly be truly happy? However, Scripture goes further than this negative statement, and links happiness positively with faith in at least two passages. It was said of the virgin Mary, 'And blessed (makarios) is she that believed', Luke 1. 45; and, more generally, there is the statement of the Lord Jesus, 'Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed', John 20. 29.

The connection of happiness (blessedness) with what is entirely spiritual in desire or activity, involving faith, is clearly shown in the so-called Sermon on the Mount. Each time the Lord uses the word makarios He links it with spiritual, not natural features. In verses 3, 4 and 6 of Matthew's gospel chapter five, He refers to the 'poor in spirit' (the opposite of natural self-reliance); 'they that mourn' (i.e. as feeling the consequences of sin both in themselves and in others); and 'they who hunger and thirst after righteousness' (i.e. spiritual, in contrast to natural, desires and aspirations). Other verses of the same discourse allude to godly spiritual features, or traits of character, developed in believers: the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers (verses 5, 7, 8 and 9). In each case, the persons marked by these features are said to be makarios, 'blessed' or 'happy'. A similar thought is expressed in Revelation 22. 14: 'Blessed (makarios) are they that do his commandments'.

There are several other circumstances which in the New Testament are linked with makarios. These passages may be considered in two categories, one relating to divinely given blessings, the other to Christian experience. The first of four references to Christian blessings is found in Romans chapter 4, verses 7 and 8: 'Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin' (a quotation from Psalm 32, verses 1 and 2). In that chapter the apostle Paul shows that this blessing is applicable to every believer in the Word of God and the atoning work of Christ (verses 24 and 25). It is the initial blessing essential for the establishment and maintenance of a stable relationship with God, as chapter 5 of Romans goes on to say, 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace ('favour', JND) wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God'.

The other two uses of makarios in reference to specific blessings are contained in Revelation 19. 9 and 20. 6: 'those who are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb', and 'those who have part in the first resurrection'. Both of these events are, of course, in the future; but the assurance of participation in them is secured now, through faith, and is a powerful encouragement to peace of mind and happiness; and it is not only those of the church who will enjoy the blessedness spoken of. In fact, the church herself is the bride, the Lamb's wife of Revelation 19. 7 and 21. 9; while those who have part in the first resurrection at the paroiisia (rapture) described in 1 Thessalonians 4. 13 to 18 must include all those believers of previous dispensations referred to in Hebrew 11. 39 who have obtained a good report (or 'witness') through faith or, in the words of Hebrew 11. 13, 'died in faith'. Here it is also relevant to cite Revelation 14. 13, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth'.

Then there is the other category of passages, some six in all, where makarios is linked with various aspects of Christian experience, or activity. The first of these, possibly in importance and certainly in the number of references, is faithfulness, thus:-

Matt. 24, 45, 46: 'Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing'.
Luke 11. 28: '. . . Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it'.
Luke 12. 37: 'Blessed are those servants whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching'.
Rev. 16. 15: 'Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments'.
Rev. 22. 7: 'Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book'.

The emphasis in all these passages is on faithfulness to the glorified Lord during the time of His absence from the earth, i.e. the present dispensation; and for Israel, the period after the rapture of the church up to His public appearing for their deliverance.

Closely related to faithfulness is endurance, or patience, as in James 1. 12: 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation . . . . he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him'. But faithfulness can often lead the believer to be persecuted for his stand in an evil world, as contemplated both in Matthew 5, verses 10 and 11 'Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake . . . . Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my (Christ's) sake', and in 1 Peter 3. 14, 'But . . . if ye suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye', and 4. 14, 'If ye be reproached in the name of Christ, happy are ye'.

In turn, persecution and reproach, and the faithfulness which gives rise to it, can only be sustained in patience by attention and obedience to the Word of God and reliance upon it, as in Revelation 1. 3: 'Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein'. Although the immediate context of those words is the revelation given to John and described in the subsequent chapters, they could equally well apply to Scripture as a whole.

Finally, there is the blessedness of a positive activity of goodness, as expressed in the words of Christ Himself: 'But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed,' Luke 14. 13, 14; and in His words as recalled by Paul in Acts 20, 'Ye ought to support (or 'aid') the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed (i.e. 'happier') to give than to receive'.

There is one other use of makarios in the New Testament but it is somewhat of a special case. In Matthew 16. 17 Jesus says to Peter, following Peter's confession, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God', 'Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven'. Clearly this was a distinctive revelation made to Simon Peter, and in this he was singularly privileged. However, in Ephesians 1. 17 Paul prays that 'the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him', with a view to spiritual enlightenment and enlargement in understanding the place and privileges of the church; so that we can reasonably regard the blessedness, or happiness, spoken of as applying to anyone receiving that 'spirit of wisdom and revelation' from God the Father.

To summarize, the use of makarios in the New Testament suggests that true happiness is to be found only by those having faith founded upon attention and obedience to the word of God (the Scriptures) and maintaining faithfulness to the Lord and to His teaching, in whom the work of the Holy Spirit produces spiritual features deriving from Christ, and who rest in the assurance of present favour as 'in Christ' and of future blessing in fulness in the eternal state of His return as promised in John 14. 3.

It should, however, also be said that happiness in this life can at best be only partial, because of the existence through sin of conditions which must by their nature cause distress to God and to the Lord Jesus, and therefore to anyone living in accordance with the will of God. This may be seen clearly from the life of Christ Himself. As regards inward peace and happiness, in the sense of perfect complacency in the love of God, nothing could equal that which He ever knew as a dependent Man, the Son of God dwelling in the affections of the Father, John 1. 14, 18. But it is plain from passages such as Mark 7. 34 and 8. 12, and John 11. 33, which speak of Him as 'sighing deeply', or 'groaning' in His spirit, that Jesus felt deeply the unhappiness of others, and that He was indeed, as described prophetically by Isaiah, 'a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, which would include grief at the suffering of others besides His own, Isa. 53. 3. Furthermore, the Spirit of God applies the same thought to the believer in Romans 8. 23 (where the same Greek word is used as in Mark 7. 34): 'ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for .... the redemption of our body' (i.e. our translation to glory).

If happiness, therefore, is conceived of (as many people in the world think of it) as involving a completely carefree state of mind, the believer has to accept that this is impossible except in the sense of a temporary detachment in spirit, from the things of earth: such a state, for instance, as the Spirit of God described as a 'trance', or 'ecstasy' (Gk. ekstasis), in referring to Peter in Acts 10. 10 and to Paul in Acts 22. 17. These however were clearly exceptional experiences, and for us today the fullest possible enjoyment of detachment from the world is probably when gathered 'in assembly' (1 Cor. 11. 18, JND), in the light of such passages as Colossians 3. 16, 17 and Ephesians 5. 19, 20. Normally it would be unrealistic to think that a mature Christian can ever be completely unburdened while having to live in this world as it is. This does not conflict with the enjoyment of peace as envisaged in at least three contexts: in Romans 5. 1 (as a result of our justification by faith); John 14. 27 and Colossians 3. 15 (peace of soul in a hostile world) and Philippians 4. 7 (the peace of God known in communion with Him). Peace of mind and soul is surely essential for happiness: but to be makarios (blessed) would involve something more, which can be enjoyed even though the spirit is inevitably being frequently, if not continually, burdened by the realization of much around us that is contrary to the mind of God. One hastens to add, how little we may feel we know of this as individuals: yet it is something that scripture holds out to us as an object for faith.