"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" Guest Speaker: Randy F. Heth
This weekend we celebrate Independence Day and commemorate our Declaration of Independence. This Declaration speaks of certain unalienable Rights, among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Founders’ believed that every person deserved to have these rights as they lived their life in these United States. For us as Christians we have these rights and so much more. Today we will consider Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness from both a Christian perspective and that of our Founders’.
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“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This statement refers to the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, as well as the very familiar unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. My focus this morning is on Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. However, this cannot be done without the context of appreciating “Nature’s God” -- our God.
We know that Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is found in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is attributed with writing much of the Declaration, including this portion. Most scholars agree that Thomas Jefferson was familiar with the writings of John Locke and others on topic of Government, and that this is likely his source for this very familiar statement.
John Locke wrote about fundamental natural rights, of which Locke said, are "life, liberty, and property." So, if Jefferson leveraged these ideas from Locke, what influenced Locke’s thinking. Many of our Founding Fathers as well as John Locke were well studied men. One potential source for thoughts of natural law was likely Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas noted that the master principle of natural law was that "good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided." Seems simple enough, be good… don’t be bad. However, this approach to life is hard to follow in our fallen state of being. Aquinas stated that reason reveals particular natural laws that are good for humans such as self-preservation, marriage and family, and the desire to know God.
I would say that to know true goodness, you must know God. This is also where I think man’s pursuit of happiness differs from our Declaration’s pursuit of happiness. Man’s happiness, as reflected in the Declaration were rights to freely direct the course of your life and nation. Our happiness as found through a relationship in Christ. It is not a right, but rather a gift.
So, with this as an introduction, let’s see if we can get to know God better through His Word by looking at what He says about Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What did the signers of the Declaration of Independence think of this right called Life? To them -- life was the ability to direct their own path. To manage their own existence, without interference. By definition the opposite of life is nonexistence. However, many of them also understood that this life wasn’t all about being self-directed and that it served a bigger purpose.
In a letter from Samuel Adams to Elizabeth Adams on December 26, 1776, he wrote:
– “The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe [Proverbs 18:10]. Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better (life)”. Samuel Adams had a long-term vision of life.
Interesting trivia about Samuel Adams, who now has a beer famously named after him with his picture on the bottle. He was never a brewer. He didn’t make beer. He made malt that was used for beer production when he took over his father’s business. Which he lost a year later. He was not as good a business man as he was a speaker and politician!
What does the Bible say about our Life now and in the future?
In this current life John 10:10 records Jesus saying “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
An “abundant life” doesn’t refer to a long life or a life free of disappointment.
This “abundant life” does not mean a life that is easy, carefree or comfortable.
An abundant life with Jesus is a life of satisfaction and contentment that is not based on earthly circumstances. It’s based on a confidence and faith in Christ Jesus as you follow Him! This is a source of happiness!
A future life is referred to in John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Eternal life is not our goal. It is a benefit of believing in the Son of God to redeem us through His grace and mercy. Eternal life with God is the result, not the objective. Samuel Adams was talking about both of these periods of life when he wrote to Elizabeth. Both the here and now, and the life that is to come.
What about Liberty?
What did the signers of the Declaration of Independence have to say about Liberty?
Patrick Henry stated the following - “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
This conveys an earthly perspective regarding liberty. Here Henry is contrasting liberty and tyranny with respect to a free people verses yielding to Britain’s grip on the Colonies. This is why the Declaration of Independence included a list of grievances against the King and British rule. He was seeking to gain liberty because of the unacceptable circumstances that were imposed by England and based on these unalienable rights.
Contrast this with what the Bible say about Liberty?
James 1:25 “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
To me, the Old Testament law was not liberating. Quite the opposite. Then again, it wasn’t meant to be. The Old Testament law was in part given to show that you can’t live up to God’s standards. Therefore, based on the law, you needed something to account for your sin. You were required to give God a sacrifice as a sin offering. However, the gospel or this “perfect law” of the New Testament is liberating us as we are made right with God through Christ Jesus. Our sins taken away through His sacrifice. We are liberated from the bondage of sin and from the righteous judgement of God.
Would I be wrong if I equated this liberty to justification through faith in Christ?!
Likewise, would I be off track if I linked the pursuit of happiness in our Christian walk to sanctification?! This is why James notes that we should “not become forgetful hearers but rather effectual doers”! Let’s look at this last unalienable right mention by Jefferson and the Founders.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS –
What did one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence have to say about pursuing Happiness?
Patrick Henry was pretty hard core when it came to his statement of “give me liberty or give me death”. However, he also understood what was most important beyond what he had in this life. Written in the Will of Patrick Henry was this statement –
“This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one (an inheritance) which will make them rich indeed.”
Henry wanted those he left behind to understand that as nice as it was to receive an inheritance from his earthly accumulation, there was something far more valuable that they would have to pursue and secure for themselves.
And remember Thomas Aquinas noted that the master principle of natural law was that "good is to be done and pursued -- and evil (is to be) avoided."
1 Timothy, Chapter 6.
Here we have a letter written by Paul to Timothy. Paul was mentoring Timothy who was left to work in the church at Ephesus. To work in an environment where corruption was in and around the church. Where other men were seeking to divide the people and pull them away for their own selfish gain.
Why does Timothy have to be told by Paul in this letter to purse happiness? Doesn’t happiness just come naturally? The answer is NO! What comes naturally is sin. What comes naturally is wandering off target. What comes naturally for some was the love of money, the love of power, the love of self. The love of what this world has to offer… that can be appealing in the moment, but it pulls you away from where your focus should be.
Pursuing happiness is not based on self-gratification. That type of happiness at a physiological or emotional level. Ethics and morals are displaced or set aside so that you can fulfill your desires.
True happiness is found by elevating yourself beyond self -- through focusing on God and His calling for you as a Christian. By striving to be Christ-like. True happiness is found in the things that Paul described to Timothy. These good things also serve to give you a contentment that is not achievable by those who simply seek to gain whatever they can out of this world.
1 Timothy 6, verses 6-11
“6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.
8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”
Paul describes in verse 6 that godliness provides great gain if coupled with contentment. He then goes on in verses 7-10 to provide a contrast to godliness and grief that would follow if you are on the wrong path. Then in verse 11, Paul provides both a warning and instruction. From this verse, there are at least three questions we can ask ourselves as we focus on verse 11.
What does this verse tell us about God’s relationship with Timothy?
Paul refers to Timothy as “you man of God”. This tells us that Timothy is right with God through his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Timothy is a dedicated follower of Christ.
Here’s where it gets tricky for me -- and Scripture has a way of doing this. If I am on the outside looking in, then these words only apply to Timothy. After all, he’s in a place of leadership in the church and Paul was mentoring him, not me. Timothy really needs to keep his proverbial Christian ducks in a row to protect his mind and soul for the work that lies before him.
However, I am a believer and follower of Christ, don’t I also have to keep my Christian ducks in a row so-to-speak. Can you guess where I’m going next? Yes, as Christians, we all need pursue happiness just as Paul was instructing Timothy to do so. That means pursuing happiness God’s way.
What does God teach Timothy through this insight from Paul?
As verse 11 says, he is to “flee from these things”. He is warned about not just staying away from the temptations and desires that lead to ruin. Flee appears about 90 some times in the Bible. As is most typical, it means to escape or run away. That has the connotation that some-thing or some-one is after you.
He wants Timothy feel a sense of danger from the world. He wants Timothy to have a sense of urgency to stay away from what brings other men down. Likewise, God wants us to flee from the things that would draw us away from Him and into the world.
Closing out verse 11, Paul describes what Timothy should be eagerly seeking:
- Righteousness - is "the character or quality of being right or just;" It is used to denote an attribute of God
- Godliness - "to be devout," denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to God.
- Faith - "reliance," "trust."
- Love – Agape! Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God's love is seen in the gift of His Son on the cross!
- Perseverance – “continuing in the faith”
- Gentleness - "sweet reasonableness"
What does God have in this verse for us today?
I think these six words in verse 11 could be boiled down to three attributes for us to seek:
- Reflecting God through us (righteousness & godliness)
- Reliance on God (faith & perseverance)
- Regard for others (love & gentleness)
I’d like to leave you with one last Founding Father quote and one last thing to consider:
John Adams recorded the following in his diary:
"Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God ... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be."
--Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 9
To that I would say we don’t need to pursue happiness. If we pursue God… really pursue God… then happiness will find us through a contentment and peace that only He can give.