Columns, Pastorate, Preaching, Theology
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More Than Mere Happiness

Americans want to be happy and yet we’re more unhappy each year. And we have various surveys to prove it.

I recently learned about one survey conducted by the United Nations in a news story entitled, “New Survey Shows Americans Are Unhappier Than They’ve Been in Years.” The article explains the methodology of the survey and notes America’s declining happiness:

Americans are as unhappy as they’ve been in years—and it seems to be a trend. That’s one of the main takeaways from the recently released annual ‘World Happiness Report,’ put out to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness. The report, which has been released every year since 2012, surveyed 156 countries using six metrics: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, the freedom to make life choices, social support, generosity, and perceptions of corruption. And despite having a strong economy and low crime rates, the U.S. dropped in the ranking for the third straight year and is now the 19th happiest nation on Earth. (The happiest? Finland, apparently.) That’s America’s worst showing ever. 1Alex Ward, Vox.com, March 21, 2019.

Perhaps sensing this unhappy state of the Union, the Jonas Brothers are now back together hoping to spread happiness one trite pop song at a time. Have you seen their new documentary Chasing Happiness? Is their new album Happiness Begins on your playlist? Do you have tickets to their world Happiness Begins Tour? It will be interesting to see if the Jonas Brothers can help us in the rankings next year.

Well, pastors don’t have a pop song or documentary or world tour to offer their churches, but something infinitely better: the gospel.

In a recent sermon from Acts 13:13-43, I recounted how Paul and Barnabas were asked to “give a word of encouragement” (v. 15) in the synagogue in Antioch. What Paul says is instructive for us in our pursuit of happiness. Of all the encouraging things he could say, he focuses on the person and work of Christ. For there is no more encouraging word than the word of the cross.

The heart of Paul’s sermon is found in v. 23 as he moves from king David to Jesus: “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.” Paul announces that Jesus is the fulfillment of a promised heir to David’s throne, a promise long expected by God’s people because of biblical texts like 2 Samuel 7:12-13, Isaiah 9:7, and Isaiah 11:1-11.

What’s so encouraging about the person and work of Christ?

Paul begins by reminding his listeners of John the Baptist’s ministry: “Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie’” (vv. 24-25).

John announced the arrival of someone “the sandals of whose feet [he] was not worthy to untie.” The person of Christ is so majestic, regal, and awe-inspiring that John considers himself unworthy to perform the most menial task of untying Jesus’ sandals. What kind of a person is this? Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, described him thus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 2Colossians 1:15-20, ESV

In a word, Jesus is God. And in the gospel God is for us, forever. This is enough to make the heart glad.

Paul goes on to declare the work of Christ:

And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 3Acts 13:28-31, ESV

Jesus died a substitutionary death for sinners and rose triumphantly from the grave to secure the believer’s eternal life. Is there any happier news?

More than mere worldly happiness, pastors long for their churches to be encouraged in Christ. For that is better by far. Indeed, as Psalm 63:3 declares, “the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.” And the love of God is seen most clearly in the gospel. Therefore, week in and week out, to the gospel we must go.

Unless, of course, your church doesn’t need any more encouragement.

References   [ + ]

1. Alex Ward, Vox.com, March 21, 2019.
2. Colossians 1:15-20, ESV
3. Acts 13:28-31, ESV
Filed under: Columns, Pastorate, Preaching, Theology
Michael Pohlman

Michael Pohlman (PhD, Southern Seminary) is professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry and chair of the Department of Ministry and Proclamation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, senior pastor of Cedar Creek Baptist Church, and executive director of Some Pastors and Teachers.

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