Preaching the Gospel of the Happy God
Sound preaching, happy God. Those two themes are connected in Paul’s mind, as evidenced in today’s question from a podcast listener who is also a preacher. “Pastor John, hello, and thank you for this podcast. My name is Matt, and I have been the lead teacher and preacher in a congregation for about five years now. I find myself stunned by 1 Timothy 1:10–11. And I’m wondering if you can riff on these verses for a full episode. Explain to us how the happiness of God relates to the soundness of our preaching. This link seems essential. And if such a connection can be made, you seem like the guy to do it! Thank you!”
Well, to riff on that will be my pleasure. Let’s put this amazing text in front of us. In 1 Timothy 1:9–11, Paul is describing the kinds of ugly behaviors that the law exposes. And in verse 10, he gives another way to discern those behaviors (and the good ones). He says they are “contrary to [healthy] doctrine,” or healthy teaching. Then in verse 11, he says that healthy teaching is healthy because it accords “with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”
Now, there are four great realities here: (1) the blessed God, (2) the glory of the blessed God, (3) the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, and (4) the healthy teaching that accords with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. Matt is asking about how the blessedness of God affects the healthfulness of pastoral preaching and teaching. That’s a great question that I’m very, very eager to talk about. Let’s move backward through each of these four realities.
First, the blessed God. What does blessed mean? There are two ways the word blessed is used in the Old and New Testaments. It’s used for “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus.” Now that’s not the word that’s used here. That’s eulogētos. It means I bless God. He doesn’t bless me; I bless him. This word is makarios, which means blessed in the sense of fortunate or happy. Here are the uses of it in Paul — just a few examples — so you can taste what this word means when it’s applied to God.
Titus 2:13: “[We are] waiting for our blessed hope” — that is, our joyful, wonderful, satisfying hope — “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The adjective blessed is used to describe the hope, meaning a joyful hope, a wonderful hope, a satisfying hope.
Here’s Romans 4:7–8: “Blessed” — that is, happy, fortunate — “are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed [same word] is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” I mean, we’re supposed to picture a man in the courtroom. He is dead guilty. Everybody knows it. He’s pronounced innocent and sent into eternity with infinite joy. He goes out of that courtroom clicking his heels and dancing for joy into eternity. That’s makarios. That’s the word.
Here’s one more: 1 Corinthians 7:40. Paul says of the widow (because he loves his own singleness), “Yet in my judgment, she is happier if she remains [single] as she is.” Makariōtera is the relative form or the comparative form of makarios.
So, my conclusion is that blessed means fortunate (objectively) and happy (subjectively). God is happy. If that word bothers you — if it just sticks in your craw to say God is happy because it’s just too superficial, and God is big and great and glorious — I sympathize with that. I suggest you choose another word, like contented, joyful, euphoric, felicitous, glad, rhapsodic. I mean, get your thesaurus out and find some words. But don’t conceal the reality, the affectional reality. He’s not glum. He’s not morose. He’s not gloomy. He’s not dour or moody or sour or grim. He is the glad and happy God. He’s not disappointed in being what he is.
Glory of the Blessed God
Now, what’s he happy about? Well, it all starts in eternity — except that nothing starts in eternity (language just won’t work). It all is in eternity. God had no start, and his happiness had no start. That’s where we are. We’re back in eternity. From all eternity, he has been supremely happy in the fellowship with his Son.
Matthew 17:5 says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” There is no greater energy in the universe, no greater intensity, no greater zeal, no greater passion, no greater esteem, no greater force or vehemence of affection than the infinite, eternal love and delight that the Father has in his Son. That delight belongs to the very nature of God from all eternity. He is happy in his Son — eternally, infinitely.
Then he’s happy in the wise, just, and holy ways in which he does everything that he does. Here’s Isaiah 46:9–10. This is the very heart of what it means to be God:
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure.”
That is a literal translation of the Hebrew: “I will accomplish all my good pleasure.”
Or Psalm 135:6: “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” In other words, God approves of what he does. He’s pleased with his wisdom and his power. He is happy with the choices that he makes. His sovereign will cannot be thwarted. Therefore, he is a consistently happy God.
Most amazing of all, perhaps, is God’s delight in the people whom he created for his glory. Listen to these breathtaking statements from God’s happiness in his people. Psalm 149:4 says, “The Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.” Or Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” If God gets loud, it can be heard billions of light years away.
Then Jeremiah 32:40–41: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant.” Now for all of us Christians, this is what Jesus bought with his blood. He called his blood the “blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28).
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their heart, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
Now, in 1 Timothy 1:11, I think Paul calls this overflow of God’s happiness onto his people God’s glory. This is the glory of the blessed God. When God’s eternal happiness in himself is seen in all its various manifestations, it reveals God’s fullness, completeness, perfection, glory.
A gloomy God is a deficient God, a defective God. He lacks something; he has a defect. He’s not glorious. But the eternally, infinitely happy God is glorious in the overflow and the fullness of his happiness — perfectly glorious, without any defect or deficiency.
Then Paul says that the gospel is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11). This glory of the infinite fullness of God’s happiness is essential to the good news of Christ. Why is that? Because 1 Peter 3:18 says that Christ died to “bring us to God.” That’s why he died.
“It is not good news to be brought to a gloomy God.”
It is not good news to be brought to a gloomy God. “Watch out for him. He’s got his moods. Stay in your bedroom when he’s out of sorts.” That’s not good news. That’s not the gospel. A dour, downcast, unhappy God is not good news. Who wants to go there? Yet Christ died to take us there — namely, to a happy God, a Father who is infinitely happy as he overflows onto his children with his own happiness.
What is good news is when Jesus says in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full,” and when we hear Jesus say at the last day, in Matthew 25:23, “Enter into the joy of your master.” In other words, the glory of the happy God is good news because we will share in it. That joy that God has in the fellowship of the Trinity, in his Son in particular, will become our joy.
In John 17:26 — this may be the most amazing statement of it — Jesus says, “The love with which you [Father] have loved me” — this is the infinite joyful delight in the Son from all eternity — “[will] be in them, and I in them.” The very love that the Father has for the Son will be our love for the Son, our joy in the Son. This is why Jesus died, so that undeserving sinners who cast themselves for mercy on Christ could actually share God’s joy in God.
Now, the last thing Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:10–11 is that we pastors and elders should make sure that our teaching and preaching are healthy teaching and preaching, healthy doctrine (sound is the old translation).
“The ultimate glory of the gospel is that we will share in God’s immeasurable happiness in God.”
Now what is that? Well, here’s what he says: healthy teaching accords “with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” This means that we preachers will ask these questions:
- Does my preaching sound like and look like I have been in the presence of such God-centered glory?
- Does my preaching echo the infinite worth of the glory of the happy God?
- Do I open the gospel so clearly and so faithfully — so biblically, so deeply — that people can see that the final reason, the ultimate reason, it’s good news is not that our sins are forgiven, or that we escape hell and wrath, or that our guilt feelings are gone, or that our bodies are going to be glorious and get well and not suffer anymore, or that we’re going to see loved ones again, or there are going to be no more tears?
Those are glorious, but they’re not the ultimate glory. Rather, the ultimate glory of the gospel, the ultimate thing that Jesus bought when he shed his blood, is that we will share in God’s immeasurable happiness in God. Do all of our doctrines ring with this God-centered hope? Do all of our doctrines ring with the serious joy of God and our share in it?