What do you think is the most repeated command in the Bible?
It’s not any of the prohibitions or warnings. It’s not about sex, or money, or power. The most repeated command in the Bible will probably surprise you: Be happy. God tells us more than anything else, in different ways, to “praise the Lord,” “do not be afraid,” “rejoice,” and “give thanks” — all of which are commands, in essence, to be happy.
Don’t move past this too quickly. Let it sink in: more than anything else, God commands us to be happy. God wants you to be truly, deeply happy. Not just in heaven someday. Not when circumstances take a turn for the better. Not when the sorrow or the darkness finally lifts. God wants you to taste real joy today. Now.
I in no way mean to trivialize the trials you may be experiencing. The suffering may be exquisite, the sorrow almost drowning, the fear near paralyzing. The Bible is as real-life as it gets. God says a lot about sin, sorrow, grief, pain, betrayal, failure, fear, horror, and wretchedness. But if you can believe it, God’s dominant theme is joy.
God wants us to know the kind of hope that has the power to produce joy in us even in painful places. He repeatedly commands us to be really, truly, deeply happy.
Why Does God Repeat Himself?
When God repeats himself, pay attention. Repetition implies importance.
That doesn’t mean that the most repeated commands are necessarily the most important commands. We know from Jesus that the most important commandments are that we love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29–31). But most repeated certainly means something important. And if we’re paying careful attention, we’ll recognize that the most repeated commands are means of obeying the most important commandments.
That bears repeating because of how important it is: God’s most repeated commands are means of obeying God’s most important commandments. This is amazing. There is a direct connection between loving God supremely, loving others as ourselves, and our being authentically happy. We don’t sacrifice one for the other. When God commands us to love him with all we are, or to love others with the same care and concern and grace and compassion and patience with which we love ourselves, he is not commanding us to sacrifice real, lasting, true, satisfying happiness. He’s commanding us to pursue our real, lasting, true, satisfying happiness.
Is this true? Let’s examine four oft-repeated commands in Scripture and ask what God really wants from us.
“Praise the Lord”
When God commands us to praise him, what does he want? We know he’s not after our empty lip service while our hearts wander off somewhere else (Isaiah 29:13). He’s commanding us to look at him, through what he’s revealed to us about himself, until we see some aspect of his glory that transcends the paltry or corrupt things clamoring for our attention right now — glory that produces an awe-filled joy we can’t help but express in praise.
Our delight-filled praise not only glorifies God and gives him pleasure, but also lovingly points others to the same glory we’re seeing and the same delight we’re feeling — because we always praise (to others) what delights us. God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.
“Do Not Fear”
When God commands us to “not be afraid,” what does he want? He wants us to meditate on some promise he’s made us until we experience the paralyzing effects of fear melting away and our courage rising.
This bold, happy confidence in God is not only an expression of trusting love in him; it also makes us feel lovingly expansive and encouraging toward others because we’re filled with hope in God. We can’t help but want to comfort and encourage others with the comfort and courage we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.
When God commands us to rejoice, what does he want? He wants us to remember that no matter what happens, nothing will separate us from his omnipotent love for us in Christ (Romans 8:38–39), that he will work all these things for our good (Romans 8:28), and that he will rescue us from every evil deed and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).
We express our love for God as we faithfully rest in his sovereign reign over all things — the sweet and the bitter — and we love others as we help them also faithfully rest in God’s sovereign reign too. God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.
When God commands us to give thanks, what does he want? Like John Piper says, God is not after the kind of thanks a six-year-old is forced to say to his grandma after getting black socks for Christmas. God wants us to look past the things that frustrate, anger, disappoint, discourage, sadden, and depress us, and to see his grace — his all-sufficient, abounding grace (2 Corinthians 9:8) — the grace flowing to us right now, whatever our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
When we see his grace and trust his wise purposes, loving thankfulness rises toward him and pushes out our negative, sinful emotions and grumbling, replacing them with peace. And this gratitude-inspired peace lovingly overflows to everyone else we interact with, often helping them overcome their own temptations to grumble. God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.
Once we put these lenses on, we begin to see that this secret code is contained in all of God’s commands, not just the most repeated ones: faith-filled obedience leads us to joy. God only commands his people what will bring them ultimate happiness. That’s why, for those who discover the secret, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). David discovered this secret and broke out in a love song to God’s commands:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11)
The commands of our Lord are more to be desired than gold because they make us happier than gold. In keeping them there is a far greater reward than gold: loving, enjoying, admiring, praising, thanking, and rejoicing in God forever (Psalm 16:11).
That is why God has filled the Bible with repeated commands to praise him, to not fear, to rejoice always, and to give thanks always, and every other command that pertains to us. He wants us to be happy. “The God of hope [wants to] fill [us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). Today. Now. And forever.