The Pursuit of Happiness

Bible Book: John  13 : 17
Subject: Happiness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This sentence from the United States Declaration of Independence is arguably “one of the best-known sentences in the English language."

British Prime Minister, David Camron, recently proposed a “national happiness index”. His purpose is to measure the level of happiness in society.

In this message we use the word “happiness” in its purest sense. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). “Blessed” is the word. “Happy” is the meaning. This is the divine method of the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe you have heard “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” It is important to know what “things” Jesus refers to in John 13:17. From the context beginning in verse one of this chapter John writes, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’ So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’” (John 13:1-17).

Jesus explains that knowing and doing “these things” will make you happy. What things? Humble service of Christians to each other is the focus of this passage. The happiest people in the world are those who serve others. Conversely, the unhappiest people are those who want others to serve them.

Our purpose is to explore and experience genuine happiness.

I. The Desire of Happiness

There is nothing wrong with our desire of happiness. It is normal and natural as a human being to desire it. However, there is a difference between temporal happiness and eternal happiness. We see something of this in 1 John 2:15-17, where we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Here, John offers great assistance in defining happiness and in defending us from unhappiness.

Dr. Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) explains, “Christ never asks us to give up merely for the sake of giving up, but always in order to win something better. He comes not to destroy, but to fulfil, --to fill full, -- to replenish life with true, inward, lasting riches. His gospel is a message of satisfaction, of attainment, of felicity. Its voice is not a sigh, but a song. Its final word is a benediction, a good-saying. [Jesus said,] ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full’” [(John 15:11)].

If we accept His teaching we must believe that men are not wrong in wishing for happiness, but wrong in their way of seeking it. Earthly happiness,--pleasure that belongs to the senses and perishes with them, --earthly happiness is a dream and a delusion. But happiness on earth, --spiritual joy and peace, blossoming here, fruiting hereafter, --immortal happiness, is the keynote of life in Christ."

And if we come to [Jesus], He tells us four great secrets in regard to [happiness].

i. It is inward, and not outward; and so it does not depend on what we have, but on what we are.

ii. It cannot be found by direct seeking, but by setting our faces toward the things from which it flows; and so we must climb the mount if we would see the vision, we must tune the instrument if we would hear the music.

iii. It is not solitary, but social; and so we can never have it without sharing it with others.

iv. It is the result of God’s will for us, and not of our will for ourselves; and so we can only find it by giving our lives up, in submission and obedience, to the control of God.”[1]

Someone recently confessed, “I quit living for Jesus.” Before you think they have abandoned biblical Christianity, remember Jesus desires to live His life through us. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” He also writes in Colossians 1:27, “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jesus does not want us to live for Him; He wants us to let Him live His life through us.

II. The Doctrine of Happiness

The term doctrine means teaching. Jesus Christ taught happiness by His life and by His lips. For example, Matthew records the Beatitudes. Each of these statements begins with the word Greek word makarios translated “blessed” or “happy”. In Matthew 5:1-12 we read, “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: / ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, / For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, / For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, / For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, / For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, / For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, / For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, / For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, / For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’”

Let us accept without reserve this teaching of our Lord and Master in regard to the possibility and duty of happiness.

III. The Duty of Happiness

It is our duty to pursue happiness in its highest sense.

George Henderson, the Scotsman who wrote on Christian themes, who also used the pseudonym, Henry Durbanville, cites our text and comments in his book titled His Last Words, “‘If ye know these things happy are ye if ye do them’ ([John 13] verse 17). A beatitude can be earned only if knowledge issues in action, as James 1:22-25 makes clear. The order is – knowledge, obedience, blessedness; and if the foregoing truth no longer stirs us to holy activity on behalf of our brethren, let us remind ourselves of the words of Coleridge, the Christian philosopher: ‘The way to restore an old truth to its pristine brightness, is to translate it into obedience.’ Let us remember always, that our happiness depends upon the degree with which we correlate our knowledge and our duty.”[2]

The psalmist writes, "Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart" (Psalm 119:2).

Dr. Adrian Rogers (1931-2005) shares the following devotional thought, “Have you ever thought that if you lived according to God's laws, you were going to miss out? The truth is if you don't live according to God's laws you're going to miss out!

God's laws are for your welfare. God is not a tyrant in heaven making a bunch of laws to make you squirm like a worm in hot ashes as you try to keep those laws.

God loves you.

Every time God says, ‘Thou shalt not,’ God is simply saying, ‘Don't hurt yourself.’ And every time God says, ‘Thou shalt,’ God is saying, ‘Help yourself to happiness.’

God has something so wonderful for you.

Write the following down on some sticky notes and post them everywhere:

God loves me.

God knows better than I do.

God is in control.

God is good.”[3]

Happiness is an essential element in His gospel, as we find in the angelic announcement to the shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth, “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10b-11).

Unless we truly repent of sin and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ delineated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, we will never know true happiness. Here Paul writes, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Dr. Luke writes in Acts 2:46 that the early church “ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart.”

Paul and Silas were radiant witnesses to the gospel of our Lord as we read in Acts 16.

We find another of our Lord’s beatitudes in Acts 20:35, where we read, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We remember also, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). We could render the word “cheerful” as “hilarious”.

Dr. O. S. Hawkins explains, “The principal hindrance to the advancement of the kingdom of God is greed. It is the chief obstacle to heaven-sent revival. It seems that when the back of greed is broken, the human spirit soars into regions of unselfishness. I believe that it is safe to say there can be no continuous revival without ‘hilarious’ giving. And I fear no contradiction: wherever there is ‘hilarious’ giving there will soon be revival!”[4]

Evangelist W. A. “Billy” Sunday (1862-1935) warned, “When you die you can't take it with you, and if you could it would melt or burn up.”[5] Of course he refers to those headed for hell.

From Proverbs 19:17 we read, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, / And He will pay back what he has given.” In Proverbs 28:27 we read, “He who gives to the poor will not lack, / But he who hides his eyes will have many curses.”

The last book found in the Old Testament, records a wonderful word. We read in Malachi 3:10, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, / That there may be food in My house, / And try Me now in this,’ / Says the LORD of hosts, / ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven / And pour out for you such blessing / That there will not be room enough to receive it.” Remember, God wants to bless us.

Maybe we should sing again the song by William Cowper (1731-1800) that asks, “Where is the blessedness I knew, / When first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul refreshing view / Of Jesus and His Word?”[6] This “blessedness” is true happiness.


The Christian life, do you endure it or enjoy it? God does not command us to put on a happy face. Those out of fellowship with Jesus Christ often attempt to mask the pain of their miserable existence with an empty laughter. This is nothing more than foolish nonsense. If a person finds happiness without Jesus Christ, they have fallen for a substitute that will not last. It will leave them stranded on the side of the road of life. We should not be satisfied with a less than a genuine, biblical happiness. We are to understand the source of genuine happiness is Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Possibly you remember the lyrics to the song by Ira F. Stanphill (1914-1993) titled “Happiness is the Lord”.

Dr. Lindsay Terry shares, “On any number of occasions the Lord has given a song to a songwriter when he or she least expected it. Such was the case of Ira [F.] Stanphill [1914-1993) one afternoon in 1974 after he left the church office where he was pastor in Fort Worth, Texas.

The car radio was on, and as he rode along he listened to some commercial programs. Some were sponsored by establishments that advertised their happy hour and their alcoholic beverages. He also heard cigarettes being advertised in terms of how they bring happiness.

The word happiness was used several times in the ads. Ira related to me that he thought at the time that happiness does not come with these things, but with knowing Christ. He continued, As this thought really took over my mind I began to sing. I sang a new song, composing words and melody as I drove along. I sang it almost as it is published today.”[7]

As a boy, I recall the happiest time in my life was when I believed the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, repented of my sin and the Lord forgave me. To this day, every time I think about the forgiveness of my sins it makes me happy.

It is also helpful to recall the lines from the hymn titled “Trust and Obey”. In it John H. Sammis (1846-1919) exhorts, “Trust and obey, for there's no other way / to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” If you attempt to find happiness without trusting and obeying God, you will be sadly disappointed. No matter what you may achieve or attain in life.

According to the will of God, the Word of God, and the ways of God may we continue the pursuit of happiness.

[1]Henry Van Dyke, Counsels By the Way (New York: Thomas V. Crowell & Co. Publishers, 1897, 1900, 1903, 1908), pp. 95-97

[2]Henry Durbanville, His Last Words (Edinburgh, Scotland: B. McCall Barbour, 1954), pp. 16-17

[3]Adrian Rogers, “Help Yourself to Happiness”, Sunday, April 11, 2010

[4]R. T. Kendall, Tithing: A Call to Serious Giving (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), p. 27

[5]W. A. “Billy” Sunday, excerpt from a message titled “The Devil's Boomerangs (Hot Cakes Off The Griddle)” based on Ecclesiastes 11:9 and Galatians 6:17

[6]William Cowper, “O for a Closer Walk With God” (1772)

[7]Available from: Accessed: 03/06/11

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527
Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / / (251) 626-6210
© April 10, 2011 All Rights Reserved