It’s been said that “every man dies, but not every man truly lives.” God wants us to “truly live.” But how? The apostle Paul, even after being beaten, robbed, imprisoned, shipwrecked and left for dead, said “…now we really live.” How? He knew the secret of happiness and he shared it with us in one of his letters. I’ll share it with you, too, in this practical message on “The Secret of Happiness.” (Recorded May 19, 2000)
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Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.
Introduction: God has given us some practical ways to experience a deeper and more intense joy in living.
A lots of things can happen to us that try to steal our joy. But regardless of what happens “to us” there are three practical things each of us can do to have happiness.
How could the apostle Paul be happy with everything that happened to him? Yet he was not only happy, but overjoyed with living. Paul wrote a letter to the people of Thessolonica where he talked about how he was “really living” in spite of persecutions. A few paragraphs later, give encourages the people to do three things that I believe were also the secret of his own happiness.
Take a few minutes to read Paul’s words, written almost 2,000 years ago. These are not old, dead words, but they are words of life.
Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
1. Live Holy
I once heard Madeline Murray O’Hair speak. Among other things this famous atheist told us that day, she said, “If it feels good, do it.”
She felt that it was OK to enjoy whatever brought us pleasure. I bought into that for awhile, but have discovered, as everyone does at some point, that just because it “feels good” it doesn’t mean it will make us happy. When we do things that make us feel good, but that aren’t right, they usually begin to tear us apart. Drugs, sex, and alcohol are a few things that come to mind.
And yet it’s not those things in themselves that tear us apart, but it’s engaging in those things in a way that is not holy, not God’s intended way for us to engage in them, that destroys us.
God is all for pleasure. He created some of the most incredible experiences in sight, sound and sensation I can imagine. And when done God’s way, the experience is off the charts. But done outside of God’s way, lead to death and destruction.
To be happy, we need, first of all, to live holy. Sin always tears us apart. It may give a brief high, but will inevitably be followed by a sustained low.
This is one of Paul’s first instructions to the people of Thessolonica: “avoid sexual immorality,” for “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
God has given us many practical ways that we can live holy. Colossians 3:5-10 lists several. But most of us are fully aware of what God wants us to do and not do, for God says in Jeremiah 31:33
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
We usually already know what’s right and wrong. But if you’re in doubt about doing something, a good question to ask yourself is this: “Can I (we) do this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (based on Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”)
If you’re looking for happiness, start here: drop any sin in your life, because it’s sure to pull you down.
2. Love Others
Living holy is the first step, but it’s not the only step. For there are many people who “live holy” but aren’t happy. It’s like they’ve been baptized in lemon juice. There are two more things to do that will round out our happiness.
The second is this: love others.
Paul tells the Thessalonians to love others and do so more and more.
Love involves helping others, serving others, as Jesus when he washed the disciples feet. After Jesus did this, he said,
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 3:17)
Jesus said we would be blessed when we humble ourselves and serve others, helping them, loving them. Blessed is another word for Happy.
If we live holy lives, but don’t help others, we’ll simply be hypocrites. We won’t be happy, nor will the people around us. Our holy living benefits us, but we also need to allow it to benefit others, by letting God’s spirit work through us.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were holy, even giving a tenth of their spices back to God to obey his tithing laws (Matthew 23:23-24). But they wouldn’t lift a finger to help others. Hence, they became judgmental, unhappy, and were the one’s who eventually killed Jesus. (Matthew 23:4 “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”)
We can live holy ourselves and preach against various sins, but if we’re not helping those who struggle with those sins, we’ll simply be holy hypocrites. God wants us to be holy, and through that holiness, to express His love to others.
3. Look Forward
1) Live holy. 2) Love others. This is good, but there’s a third leg to this three-legged stool that holds up happiness, and if it’s missing, the stool will fall down. All three must be in place.
The third thing is this: to look forward. Look forward to the return of Christ.
There are some social workers who don’t have the promise of heaven in their hearts. They live holy, the love others. But without the hope of heaven, they wear out. This world simply takes a toll on any of us. Paul himself knew that the key to what he did and the joy he had in doing it was that it was not just about this life, but about the life to come. In fact, he went so far as to say this:
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Our faith is not simply to get us through this life, although it can do that! The core of our faith rests on the resurrection, and the life to come. Paul knew this as well as anyone, saying that he should be pitied if this was all his faith was for. If that was the case, forget faith…it just brought on shipwrecks, beatings and imprisonment.
But Paul’s faith was focused on the next life.
He reminds the Thessalonians that Jesus died and rose again, and will bring us to be with him one day. Read 1 Corinthians 1-20 for a great picture of why our faith must be centered our coming resurrection.
There is a resurrection from the dead because Christ was raised. And if you believe that Christ was not raised, then none of us will be raised. But Christ was raised, and he promised that we will be too, if we simply put our faith in him, for he is “the way, the truth and the life” and he said that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Our holy living, our loving others, springs from our looking forward to the return of Christ to take us to be with him.
These three things, when put into practice in our daily lives, will bring us a greater and fuller experience of happiness, and we’ll know what it is to “truly live.”
If you have any sin in your life that is keeping you from the joy God has promised, drop it now. Confess it, repent of it, and turn back to God.
If you’ve judged others but have not reached out to help them in their distress, humble yourself this week to reach out, lift a finger and more, to be both holy and helpful.
And if you don’t have the assurance in your heart that heaven is real and that we who believe in Christ will one day be taken there with him, put your faith in Christ now.
And as Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”