Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy or Blessed? - James 1:12

I am preparing to preach this coming Sunday from James 1:12, which says,

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."

Some years ago a number of Bible versions started using the word "happy" to translate the term "blessed". On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal, and it may even appear to be a good move because the words "happy" and "happiness" are so much a part of our contemporary culture. But over the years I have become more and more convinced that it is seriously wrong to translate the word "blessed" as "happy".

First of all, the word "happy" has to do with chance or something that just "happens". Happiness cannot often be planned for, it just happens. Usually when we least expect it and when we are not too focused on ourselves (hint, hint). I know that we Americans have the right to the "pursuit of happiness". But the truth is that while happiness can be pursued, it is rarely caught. On the other hand, blessedness is something that can and should be pursued and it can be had by godly discipline, obedience and determination.

Happiness is hard to come by, but being blessed is something within the reach of everyone everyday who knows the Lord. This is because happiness is pretty much a humanistic, secular concept, while being blessed refers to divine favor. Happiness does not have to involve God, while blessedness always does. But if all this does not convince you, look at Matthew 5:1-11.

As I said, a number of versions insert the word "happy" in this passage, but it just doesn't work under close examination. For instance, verse four says "happy are those who mourn". You cannot be happy and sad at the same time. But you can be blessed and sad at the same time. One can still sense and appreciate God's divine favor even through tears. But to say that one is happy and also sad is something even a child knows doesn't fit together.

The truth is, being blessed is much more closely connected with joy (see Matthew 5:11-12). Joy is a deep conviction that even though everything may be wrong or bad at the moment, ultimately all is well. Only a Christian can truly experience this because it requires belief in a sovereign and loving God to have this conviction. Blessedness comes from doing what is right (see Psalm 1:1-3) and knowing that God's favor rests on us regardless of what is happening at a particular point in time.

The person who perseveres in a trial and continues to trust in God is blessed by God's approval in that moment, and can look forward to the blessing of the "crown of life" in the future (see James 1:12). Happiness is fleeting and often lasts just a few moments. Being blessed is a feeling that can last for an eternity.

Mark Twain used to say that the difference between the right word and one that is close but not quite right is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Quite a word picture! That is the difference between being happy and being blessed. Which would you prefer? Me too!

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