Obedience or joy? Morgan in Simi Valley, California, asks, “Pastor John, I often hear pastors say 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. I just could talk about it all day.
Happiness Is Obedience
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 to egg. Satisfaction in God relates to obedience to God as chicken to fowl. Obedience is the general term fowl. Satisfaction in God is the specific kind of fowl — namely, chicken. This is the main problem.
“Happiness in God is obedience to God.”
When a pastor or anyone else says, “Obedience to God is the most important thing in life, not happiness in God,” it 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, not B-52s.” A robin is a bird, an apple is a fruit, and a B-52 is a bomber. Happiness in God is obedience to God. You can’t contrast obedience to God and happiness in God as alternatives.
What is obedience? Obedience is doing what God says, right? It is keeping his commandments. Here is a commandment: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Therefore, joy in the Lord is obedience. Here is another commandment: “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). Therefore, delight in the Lord is obedience. Another commandment is this: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). 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.
Goal of Life
Here is the second answer. It is more than likely that 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. Happiness in general is not the goal of life.
Happiness in God is the goal of life. That is, making God our supreme treasure and pleasure is the goal of life. Doing that may cost us dearly. That is what the pastor is getting at. It may cost us dearly, so that many forms of happiness in this world are sacrificed. That is answer number two.
Circle of Life
Finally, joy in God really is a kind of chicken that lays lots of eggs of obedience. 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. For example, Hebrews 10:34 says, “You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” The joy of knowing that God was their great reward freed them to visit Christians in prison and suffer for it. Joy produces acts of obedience.
Those are my three answers. First, satisfaction in God is not less than obedience to God, because it is obedience to God. Second, obedience to God — namely, happiness in God — is vastly more important than happiness in anything else. Pastors are right if that is what they are saying. Third, the obedience of satisfaction in God produces all kinds of other acts of obedience.