(Sermon presented as introduction to the Be-Attitudes series but also a class study of the book of Ecclesiastes)
A good job
Being in love
Recognition or success
A good house or apartment
Being attractive or beautiful
The city that I live in
Recreation and exercise
Being a parent
Ironically, the last one was: My partner’s happiness
The most interesting thing about that entire list is that virtually everything the respondents named was an external thing or an external situation.
In other words, the popular idea of happiness is that I’ll have it if I can ever line up the right circumstances.
Now that’s not a new idea. In fact, our English word “happiness” is from the same root word as our English word “happening.” Do you get the connection? If I can just get enough positive happenings in my life, then surely I will receive happiness. I call it “WHEN AND THEN” thinking:
Well maybe, it’s some consolation to know that man has always thought that way. If you’ll turn with me to Ecclesiastes 2, we’re going to take a look real quickly at a book, a journal, that was written by King Solomon as he chased that elusive pot of gold called, “happiness.”
“I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1)
By the way, if you want to save yourself a lot of time, a lot of frustration, and a lot of heartache in your quest for happiness. Go home and read very thoroughly, the book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon, who was far and away the most powerful man in the world in his day and likely the richest man who ever walked the face of the earth, he said, “I tried it all and I found three dead ends.
The first dead end was accumulating things.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
O Solomon said, you name it, I had it. But, we’ll see what the result was in just a moment.
The second thing he tried was experiencing pleasure.
1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.
10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
And the third thing he tried was achieving success.
4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.
Do you see what he tried? He said, I tried accumulating things, experiencing pleasure, achieving success.
3,000 years later, those are still the things we think we’ve got to chase to achieve happiness. Isn’t that right? Starting with accumulating things.
A bumper sticker: “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness just doesn’t know where to shop.” That’s the way most people think. How many times have I heard somebody say, “Man, if I could just win the lottery, I’d be so happy.”
Two newspaper articles a few years back, one was about a man by the name of Buddy Post. Buddy is now 58 years old, a former carnival worker and cook. He hit the jackpot in the Pennsylvania lottery. He won $16.2 million. Buddy is on Easy Street now, isn’t he? NOT!
He has been convicted of assault. His sixth wife has left him. His brother has been convicted of trying to kill him for the money. His landlady has sued him for one-third of his winnings. And the gas company has shut off the gas to the decrepit old mansion that he bought and can’t keep up.
From the Dallas Morning News, about Jim and Lynette Nichols. Lynette bought 23 one-dollar tickets and she was thrilled when one of those was good for one-third of a $48,000,000 jackpot.
Now Jim and Lynette are getting a divorce after 12 years of marriage. The divorce proceedings have taken over two years because, you guessed it, they’re trying to sort out who gets how much of the money. Lynette Nichols, who had the ticket, said, “We had one month of good times and three years of misery. It was a curse. It didn’t help at all.”
Solomon found it out the hard way. You don’t get happy by accumulating things. You don’t get happy by experiencing pleasure: sex, drugs, gambling, whatever, anything to give a thrill, anything to give a rush, anything to give a buzz. It’s like the old Eagles song says, “After the thrill is gone, you’re unhappier than you ever were.”
And you don’t receive it by achieving success. The idea that if I can just get to the top of the ladder, at least make everybody think I’ve got it made, then I’ll be happy.
Ecclesiastes 2:17 (ESV) So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
If you don’t leave here with anything else today, leave here knowing this. Your happiness will not come from your happenings. Your happiness will not come from any external force.
Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 5 where we’ll camp for the rest of our time together.
We’re going to see what Jesus says about happiness. I’ll tell you right now that he says your happiness doesn’t depend on your circumstances, it depends on your attitudes.
In Matthew 5 we have the opening lines of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, and that sermon begins with eight positive statements about happiness that we’ve come to call the Be-attitudes.
Now it’s interesting to me that of all the subjects that Jesus could have picked to start the greatest, most famous sermon of all time, he chose to speak on, “How to Be Happy.”
Do you know why? Because he knew that is what everybody wants and what so few people find. So for the next eight weeks we’re going to look at those eight beatitudes.
Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer.
In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.
If you’ve turned to Matthew 5 beginning in verse 3, you see that each beatitude begins with the word, “Blessed.” The word, “blessed,” in English is really a holdover in the Old English in the King James. The Greek word there is “makarios” and it just literally means “happy.”
The meaning of makarios can best be seen from one particular usage of it. The Greeks always called Cyprus the makaria, which means The Happy Isle, and they did so because they believed that Cyprus was so lovely, so rich, and so fertile an island that a man would never need to go beyond its coastline to find the perfectly happy life.
It had such a climate, such flowers and fruits and trees, such minerals, such natural resources that it contained within itself all the materials for perfect happiness.
Makarios then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life.
The beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be; they are not glowing, but nebulous prophecies of some future bliss; they are congratulations on what is.
The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. It is not something into which the Christian will enter; it is something into which he has entered.
True, it will find its fulness and its consummation in the presence of God; but for all that it is a present reality to be enjoyed here and now.
Let me ask you something right now.
In other words, “My happiness is not determined by what’s happening to me, but what’s happening in me.”
Mark Twain over 100 years ago had a great statement. He said, “Do you know what happens to most people over life?…About the same things.” Mark Twain concluded, he says then most people are about as happy as they choose to be.
The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give.
But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ.
The greatness of the beatitudes is that they are not wistful glimpses of some future beauty; they are not even golden promises of some distant glory; they are triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.
We all cry, we all laugh, we all smile, we all frown, we all hurt, we all have pleasure. You know if you live long enough about the same things happen.
You hurt and you cry, does that mean you cannot be happy? Absolutely not. Your happiness depends upon the right attitudes. And that is what we will be seeing in coming weeks.