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Free Teaching Series: Chasing Happiness

What is happiness? We read about it in the beatitudes. It says that happiness is a very high good, part of the chief end of man, which is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”, but it recognizes the fallacy of equating happiness with pleasure. True happiness is a little deeper than that. It’s not dependent on emotions, possessions, or circumstances. Rather, happiness is “blessedness,” a spiritual condition in which we experience the pleasure of God’s approval.

This 4 weeks series includes the following lessons to help discover what happiness really is:

Week 1: Defining Happiness - Matthew 5:1-10

Week 2: Sadness Leads to Happiness - Matthew 5:4

Week 3: True Swagger! - Matthew 5:5

Week 4: Cultivating Hunger - Matthew 5:6

Week 1 Sample: Defining Happiness

Matthew 5:1-10

Objectives

  • To learn how Jesus’ defines happiness
  • To learn how, according to Jesus, happiness begins in utter poverty

Overview

All of Israel wants to get into the stadium. That’s a given. Inside is joy. Inside is excitement. Inside is heaven. Life on the outside is dull, tedious, and boring; it’s a slow dying, one day at a time. But inside there is pleasure forever.

So just buy a ticket and walk in, right? Wrong. There are only a certain number of seats in the stadium. And entrance isn’t purchased, it’s earned. One gets through the gate on the merits of arduous religious performance. Say the prayers, offer the sacrifices, keep the Sabbath, observe the festivals, obey the laws, give the alms...and eventually you’ll win a seat. Maybe. You can never be totally sure your efforts will be enough, so just keep striving.

That was the religious game in Jesus’ day. It was as if all of Israel was lined up at the gates of heaven, just hoping to merit admission through the exclusive “Stadium Club” entrance.

Then Jesus comes on the scene. He gathered the crowd and shouts, “That’s not the way in! It’s down the block and around the corner. I’m throwing open the gates and letting the General Admission crowd in first. Come on! There are plenty of seats for everyone!”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You’re shocked. Did your ears deceive you? The poor in spirit get heaven, not the rich in religion? Impossible! I thought the season ticket holders were blessed, for theirs are the reserved seats. I thought it was blessed are the skybox executives, for theirs is the full buffet. Blessed are the press credentialed, for theirs is access to the locker room. Blessed are the celebrity fans, for theirs is the free camera time. Blessed are the players’ wives, for theirs is all that money.

Jesus says, “Nope. Blessed are the face-painted, shirtless cheeseheads who really can’t afford to be here anyway. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

With similarly shocking words Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount, his manifesto of life in the kingdom of God. In this brilliant message, Jesus communicates with captivating freshness and stunning simplicity. He quotes no rabbis, religious authorities, or respected authors. He just cuts to the chase, explaining what kingdom living is really all about. Amazed at his wisdom and power, his listeners quickly realized that He was describing reality as they had always hoped it would be: Grace-filled and God-approved. This was the good life Jesus was opening to all.

Leader’s Study

All religion is really about happiness. How to find happiness in God, and how to make God happy with you. The Westminster Confession says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In other words, chasing happiness is serious business. So Jesus opens his manifesto, or philosophy of religion, by discussing this matter of first importance. He answers the question, “What does it mean to be blessed or approved by God?” That’s what people really want to know. How do we find God’s favor? What makes God happy with us and us happy in him?

The answer is not what we would expect. God’s approval is not earned by religious performance, but found through the acknowledgment of our helplessness. God just wants us to need him. Not because he’s needy himself, and not because he needs to be needed, but because we actually do need him. God has so arranged the universe that it depends on his constant care. He just wants us to see that fact and respond accordingly. We enter a blessed state when we realize that life and breath and everything depends on God, and that we cannot live without him.

This poverty of spirit is the first step on the road to real bliss. It’s not the destination; it’s just the departure point. From here we see a progressive set of steps on the “stairway to heaven,” each one—mourning, meekness, and so forth—building on the one before. When all eight are in place, we have the kingdom path God desires us to walk.

The First Step to a Happy Life

1. Happiness comes from God…not stuff

“Blessed” means “approved.” Approved by God. We can say that blessedness means happiness as long as we mean to say that true happiness is knowing the Lord’s smile of approval.

2. Happiness has nothing to do with our feelings

Linking poverty to blessedness immediately shakes up our notion of what happiness is. While hating to seem so shallow, most of us think happiness is emotional (feeling nice feelings), tangible (having nice things), or circumstantial (being in nice situations). But Jesus says happiness is spiritual, a reality independent of our feelings, possessions, or circumstances.

In fact, nice feelings, possessions, and circumstances can actually hinder spiritual happiness, as it did with the rich young man whose nice things kept him from acknowledging his need for God. Mother Teresa once said that “the poor see better,” meaning they recognize spiritual realities more clearly. Until we come to the end of ourselves—and our feelings, possessions, and circumstances—we can’t know the approval of God.

3. There is only one way to true happiness

“Theirs” This word is emphatic in the beatitudes. It carries the idea of “theirs and theirs alone.” There is no other path to real happiness.

4. Happiness is found in “The Kingdom of Heaven”

Note that the first and last beatitudes both refer to the kingdom of heaven. This is a literary devise called an inclusio. It means that every blessing in between—the comfort, fullness, mercy, etc.—is an element of the kingdom of God. In other words, throughout the beatitudes, Jesus is not listing a series of random blessings for those who possess certain qualities. Rather, he is breaking down the kingdom of heaven into its component parts. It’s all “kingdom” stuff.

Small Group discussion questions

For Starters

  • What was your happiest moment in the last week? What would you say was the happiest moment of your life? Why?
  • Complete this sentence with an honest answer: “I would be happy if only I had....”

Go Deeper

Transition

In response to the last question, some might think a possession will bring happiness. Others might say, “I would be happy if only I had more time” or “less stress.” Some might go straight to the top and say, “I would be happy if only I had Jesus.” But a little reflection brings the realization that all Christians have Jesus yet many aren’t happy. You see, bottom line, there is no good answer. That’s because the sentence is flawed. It makes happiness a function of possession, of “having.” Jesus says happiness is a function of not having. Happiness begins with poverty.

Investigation

Read and discuss Matthew 5:1-10, focusing on verse 3.

  • As you read through this list of beatitudes, what is most striking to you?
  • If most people in the world were asked to list 8 things that were “blessed” or “happy” what kinds of things would they say? What are the world’s “beatitudes”?
  • How do you think Jesus’ original hearers reacted to his list? Think about the Jewish religious environment...how did Jesus’ beatitudes fly in the face of what most people were taught?
  • What do you think it means to be poor in spirit?
  • Is it possible to be rich in possessions but poor in spirit? How might physically poor people have an advantage in the spiritual poverty department?

Close Out

  • This passage doesn’t issue any commands, but does it challenge your thinking. How?
  • A famous statement says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That means finding happiness in God is serious business. It’s our life purpose...a moral obligation. So what do you do if you’re a melancholic? What if you’re often depressed?
  • Is there a way to cultivate poverty of spirit in your life? How might we go about acquiring this key quality that our happiness depends on?