If you ask most people what they want from life, they will probably answer “happiness.” Many people spend their whole lives seeking happiness, always looking for something or someone to bring them a sense of satisfaction. Regrettably, I have had this mindset far too much in my own life.
This attitude of seeking our own happiness is really nothing more than plain old-fashioned selfishness. It is putting our own pleasure as our foremost desire. I am not saying that we should disregard our own happiness; but I am saying we should not be pursuing it in a way that is selfish.
As I have been thinking about selfishness, I have come to understand it as the opposite of love. When we do the loving thing, we do what is best for everyone involved; however, when we do the selfish thing, we do only what we feel is best for ourselves regardless of how it affects other people. Ironically, when we are not selfish, but rather are loving, we are actually doing what is best for ourselves! It seems like a paradox but when we are selfish, we are actually doing something that is harmful for ourselves!
1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)
Let all that you do be done in love.
When we do something “in love,” it is the right thing because love always does what is right. In fact, if everyone always acted out of love we would not need any other law.
Galatians 5:14 (ESV)
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When we act out of love, others will be benefitted, and so will we. As the Bible says, “…for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7b, ESV). We will reap the fruit of what we sow, whether good or bad! If we sow selfishness and the pursuit of our pleasure, we will reap the harvest of that: bad things like loneliness, depression, addiction, etc. Often, people who are trying to bring pleasure to their own lives pursue it by using drugs, gambling, participating in impure sexual activity, consuming too much alcohol, and the list goes on. These things can be addictive because they bring a sense of pleasure to the person doing them. However, the feeling is short-lived and soon fades, leaving the person with an appetite for more. This can easily become a vicious cycle. If someone uses the law of sowing, and sows love, he will reap the harvest of it: good things!
So what is the greatest act of love? The answer is in John 15:13 (ESV): “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is what Jesus did for us!
The next question: Is Jesus worse off because he did the loving thing and laid down his life? Of course not! Hebrews 12 says:
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Because Jesus obeyed the Father and gave up his own life, he is now seated at God’s right hand!
Acts 20:35d (ESV)
remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Happiness cannot be acquired directly; it cannot be found by those who desire and pursue it above all else. This is called the “paradox of hedonism.” Viktor Frankl said in Man’s Search For Meaning,
“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
William Bennett said, “Happiness is like a cat, if you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap.”
Happiness will only be found when we stop seeking it and pursuing pleasure and instead seek to serve God and others. Often we allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking of God’s commandments as a burden, but that is not true!
1 John 5:3 (ESV)
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
God’s commandments were given to us for our benefit! When we follow God’s commandments, we will be more blessed, not more burdened. Like any loving parent, God gives us commandments to protect us. Just as a mother, in order to protect her child, tells him to “stay away from the street,” or “don’t play with fire,” or “eat your vegetables,” so also God tells us to do certain things and to avoid certain things. God gives His commands because He loves us and wants what is best for us!
We will always be more blessed by acting out of love and doing what God wants us to do rather than ignoring Him and going our own way. It is only through following God that we will experience the true happiness that God wants us to have!