Which Comes First, Obedience or Joy?
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Obedience or joy? Morgan in Simi Valley, CA asks: “Pastor John, I often hear pastors say that the most important part of the Christian life is obedience to God’s word, not happiness. It seems to me that you place a greater emphasis on being satisfied in God. When it comes to obedience to God and being satisfied in God, which comes first: the chicken or the egg?”
I love that. There are three answers to this question. And I love this question. I just could talk about it all day. Here is my first answer. As long as you think of obedience to God and satisfaction in God as chicken and egg, you won’t be able to answer the question in a biblical way. Satisfaction in God does not relate to obedience to God as chicken and egg. Satisfaction in God relates to obedience to God as chicken to fowl. Obedience is the general term. Fowl ... I’m sorry. Obedience is the general term fowl. And satisfaction in God is the specific kind of fowl, namely chicken. So this is the main problem and pastors or anyone else says: Obedience to God is the most important thing in life, not happiness in God. That is like saying: Birds are the most important thing in life, not robins. Or fruit is the most important thing, not apples. Or bombers are the most important thing... airplanes in the war, not B52s. A robin is a bird and an apple is a fruit and a B52 is a bomber and happiness in God is obedience to God. You can’t contrast obedience to God and happiness in God as alternatives.
So this is clear. What is obedience? Obedience is doing what God says, right? Keeping his commandments. Well, commandment. Rejoice in the Lord always and, again, I will say rejoice. Therefore joy in the Lord is obedience. Commandment. Delight yourself in the Lord. Psalm 37:4. Therefore delight in the Lord is obedience. Commandment. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, oh righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart. Psalm 32. Therefore, gladness in the Lord is obedience. So that is the first answer. Satisfaction in God and obedience to God do not relate as chicken to egg, but as chicken to fowl. Satisfaction in God is a kind of obedience.
Here is the answer number two. They are shorter. But more than likely when a pastor says: The most important part of the Christian life is obedience to God’s Word, not happiness, he probably means happiness in this world, happiness in things, happiness in marriage or money or health or fame or success. And he is right. He is right. Happiness in general is not the goal of life. Happiness in God is the goal of life, in God. That is, making God our supreme treasure and pleasure is the goal of life. And doing that may cost us dearly. That is what he is getting at. It may cost us dearly so that many forms of happiness in this world are sacrificed. That is answer number two.
Finally, number three. Joy in God really is a kind of chicken that lays lots of eggs of obedience. Ok, we are circling around to qualify your first answer. Joy in God really is a chicken and it lays lots of eggs of obedience. Yes, joy is an egg. But once the obedience of joy in God hatches in the human soul, it is powerful in producing all kinds of other obedience. So, for example, Hebrews 10:34. You had compassion on those in prison and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property. You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. So the joy of knowing that God is our great reward freed them to visit Christians in prison and suffer for it. So, yes, joy produces acts of obedience.
So here are my three answers. Number one, satisfaction in God is not less than obedience to God, be-cause it is obedience to God. Number two, obedience to God namely happiness in God is vastly more important than happiness in anything else. And so pastors are right if that is what they are saying. And, number three, the obedience of satisfaction in God produces all kinds of other acts of obedience.