Happiness. It’s something we all long for, isn’t it? We work hard, play hard, acquire, desire, and perspire, all in an attempt to be as happy as we can be. Does God want you to be happy?

Well, when we look at the happiness God speaks of in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), our idea of what happiness is doesn’t seem to fit. Because, you see, God says those who are happy are the ones who are poor, who mourn, who are hungry, who are humble. I dare you to find a dictionary definition of happiness that includes those things!

Does God want you to be happy?

Billy Graham explains,

“There are, we need to realize, two kinds of happiness. One kind of happiness comes to us when our circumstances are pleasant and we are relatively free from troubles. The problem, however, is that this kind of happiness is fleeting and superficial.

“But there is another kind of happiness—the kind for which we all long. This second kind of happiness is a lasting inner joy and peace which survives in any circumstance. It is a happiness which endures no matter what comes our way—and even may grow stronger in adversity. This is the kind of happiness to which Jesus summons us in the Beatitudes. It is happiness which can only come from God.”[1]

Okay, that changes things a bit, doesn’t it? It is this second kind of happiness that Jesus referred to when He used the word “blessed” in Matthew 5. The Greek word is makarios, and “happy” is a valid translation, as long as we keep Billy Graham’s explanation in mind. This “happiness,” this “blessedness,” has nothing to do with outward circumstances, and everything to do with what God is doing inside us that allows us to be inwardly happy and content despite what’s going on around us. As Thomas Figart put it, “It thus represents a contented state as a gift of grace from God in the past, in spite of circumstances of the present, and because of the reality of reward in the future.”[2]

Did you realize the last word of the Old Testament is “cursed”? Look it up (Malachi 4:6). Contrast that with the New Testament which opens with the coming of the Messiah, the Blessed One, the One who, as James Howell writes, “opens his teaching ministry with the Beatitudes not to douse cold water on our desires, but to whet our appetites, to heighten our desire, to stir in us a not-to-be-denied determination to be only the very best we can be (or rather, the very best we were made to be), to excite our imagination, to appeal to our longing for completion, to invite us to heaven.”[3]

Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount by describing eight “blessed” or “happy” types of people. We will be looking at each of those individually in the coming weeks. But it’s important to keep in mind that they do not stand alone. Each of those descriptions is connected to, and builds upon, the one before. They are described variously as treads on a staircase, rungs on a ladder, pearls on a string. They must be taken as a unit to get the complete teaching Jesus is giving.

James Howell explains something else important about the Beatitudes listed in Matthew 5:

“If the Beatitudes hang together as a set, we might reflect on this thought from Frederick Dale Bruner: He believes the first half of the Beatitudes describe our ‘need’ (poor, mourn, meek, hunger); the latter half describe things we do to ‘help’ (being merciful, peacemaking, and getting harassed for trying)…. Bruner’s theological conclusion is on target: ‘God helps those who cannot help themselves (the need Beatitudes), and he also helps those who try to help others (the help Beatitudes), but he does not in any Beatitude help those who think they can help themselves.’”[4]

And so we begin our brief look at the Beatitudes. This study may be particularly appropriate at this point in history, for, as James Montgomery Boice points out,

“Christians often are quite miserable, even though through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit they may sense that true happiness is their birthright as members of the family of God. And because they are miserable they have little to offer a world that is desperately and often hopelessly searching for happiness.

“To such a world and to all unhappy Christians the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount give hope. For Jesus Christ began His first great sermon with the promise of the happiness of heaven.

“In this sermon the word ‘blessed’ means ‘happy,’ not in the world’s sense, of course, for the happiness of the world is a superficial happiness that depends upon circumstances. The happiness spoken of here does not depend upon circumstances and fills the soul with joy even in the midst of the most depressing events.”[5]

Does God want you to be happy? Yes, absolutely. Stay tuned as we explore what that happiness means.

Go Deeper


[1] Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011), pp. 15-16.

[2] Thomas O. Figart, The King of the Kingdom of Heaven (1999), p. 80.

[3] James C. Howell, The Beatitudes for Today (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

[4] Howell, quoting Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, Vol. 1, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Dallas: Word Books, 1987), p. 152.

[5] James M. Boice, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 15.

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