The "Backward" Wisdom of God (2003)

True Happiness

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Gary DeLashmutt


God's design for personal fulfillment and happiness comes from self-giving love that emulates Christ. As we move away from self-saving and selfish love and move towards giving out to meet the needs of others, we are able to experience: increasing contentment, relational success, and substantial emotional health. This type of love is only possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The best context for self-giving love is in a healthy Christian community.


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Several of the aspects of God’s “backward” wisdom that we have explored so far have touched on/led to the aspect we want to consider tonight. This is the nexus of all of God’s “backward” wisdom—Jesus’ answer to the question that every person asks: “How can I find true happiness?” Nothing is more “backward”/counter-intuitive that Jesus’ answer to this question—.

Jesus had a radically different answer. His most straightforward answer came during his last meal with his disciples. Jesus knows that he is about to be betrayed, forsaken, arrested, unjustly condemned, beaten and killed. The room they are using for their last meal together has no household slave to wash their feet. Jesus’ disciples are consumed with which one of them is the greatest, so none of them is about to admit he is lesser by assuming this role. Jesus dons the garb of the household slave and washes their feet. After explaining that his action is a picture of his way of life, he says 13:17 (read). “Blessed” (makarios) means “happy” or “fulfilled.” “These things” refers to Jesus’ action of washing their feet and his instruction that this is an example for them to follow. If you serve others in love as a way of life, you will be truly happy.

This was not the first time Jesus tried to drive this point home to his disciples. He also taught it through a paradox that is the most frequently quoted of his paradoxes in the gospels. Read Matt. 16:25. This paradox not only asserts that if you are willing to lose your life you will save it (be truly happy). It also categorically rejects the world’s wisdom by asserting that if you seek to save your life (live for your own happiness) you are certain to fail at attaining it. Let’s take a closer look at these two antithetical prescriptions for on happiness . . . 

Two antithetical prescriptions for happiness

Perspective: SELF-SAVING & SELF-GIVING prescriptions.

SELF-SAVING: “I will be happy when I can get others to love me the right way.”
SELF-GIVING: “I will be happy as I learn to love others maturely.”

SELF-SAVING: “I will be happy when I accumulate an abundance of goods and services for my own self-enjoyment.”
SELF-GIVING: “I will be happy the more I use my goods and services for the well-being of others.”

SELF-SAVING: “I will be happy when I get enough time for myself to do what I want to do.”
SELF-GIVING: “I will be happy as I learn how to use most of my time to serve other people.”

SELF-SAVING: “I will be happy when I get circumstances going my way.”
SELF-GIVING: “I will be happy as I love others regardless of my circumstances.”

RESULTS: Jesus promises that the SELF-SAVING life always results in emptiness for everyone who pursues it, while he promises that the SELF-GIVING life always results in true happiness for everyone who pursues it. Is this true? Most of us should be able to affirm the truth of the first promise—and many of us are able to affirm the second promise.

SELF-SAVING: Dissatisfaction. You may experience a temporary sense of happiness when you get some of the above—but it is fleeting, you need more the next to get the same lift, and it leads to long-term emptiness.
SELF-GIVING: Increasing contentment with what you have in the above areas—because you know that’s not what makes your life full and meaningful anyway. You often experience short-term excitement from giving to others—and definitely experience a long-term deepening sense of satisfaction that you have helped others.

SELF-SAVING: Relational failure. When people try to build a relationship based on expecting the other person to love them the right way, relational problems are bound to follow: usually either breaking the relationship off to find someone else who loves you better, or negotiated selfishness and parallel lives.
SELF-GIVING: Relational success. When even one person becomes committed to self-giving, it radically changes the dynamics. And when both people focus on how to give/serve (Rom. 12:10b) rather than on expecting/demanding, the relationship ripens into something that, while not trouble-free, becomes more and more stable and enjoyable as the years go by.

SELF-SAVING: Emotional problems. Because your happiness depends on things you can’t control, this leads to a lot of anxiety about losing the things you have, lots of effort to control people and circumstances to get a sense of security, frustration and anger and bitterness when people disappoint you or block you from the things you want, increasingly chronic depression, etc.. And this gets worse as people get older.
SELF-GIVING: Growing emotional health. Because we are fallen, none of us is ever completely free from emotional problems. But we do see people who truly sell out to this get substantially free from anxiety and control neuroses and bitterness and depression—progressively delivered from unhealthy self-centeredness to wholesome other-centeredness. People who have stayed stuck—even in spite of years of therapy—experience substantial emotional healing.

Read Isa. 58:9,10 as a picture of the self-giving life and its results. When you make happiness your goal, it eludes you. But when you turn away from this and make serving others your goal, happiness finds you.

The self-giving life requires access to God’s love

But how can this be? It is counter-intuitive and seems crazy for one simple reason: Who is going to take care of me? What’s going to prevent me from being used up? That’s a fair question, and this is why the self-giving way of life is crazy unless the God of the Bible exists—a personal God who loves you and who will take care of you and who can indwell you as an inexhaustible source of love to give to others.

See what Jesus “knew” that enabled him to wash his disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:3,4). He knew that he was secure in his Father’s love (destiny; ultimate authority), and on this basis he could focus on serving his disciples even when he was in great need himself. So it is with us—and this is why Jesus called the disciples to love one another “as I have loved you” (13:34). This means not only that he set an example for them, but that they could depend on his ongoing love for them. Through our relationship with Jesus, we can know that our destiny is secure (Rom. 8:1), that God’s sovereign and loving hand is on all of our circumstances (Rom. 8:28), and that nothing can separate us from his love (Rom. 8:37-39).

Read 1 Jn. 4:16-19. We are able to love others because God first loved us. As we come to understand and choose to believe the love that God has for us, we are perfected in loving others.

Even Matt. 16:25 presumes a love relationship with Jesus (“for me”).

So this is God’s wisdom—only the self-giving life brings true happiness, but you can live the self-giving life only when you have personal access to God’s love. And there is only one way to gain this access—through receiving Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus claims in this wonderful invitation (read Jn. 7:37,38). Have you made the decision to receive God’s love through Jesus Christ?

The truly happy lifestyle revolves around ongoing two priorities

If you have received Christ, you are now indwelt by God’s love and have the foundation for a truly happy life. But it is by no means automatic—and the proof of this is that many true Christians are miserable! The key is to build a lifestyle—and this lifestyle revolves around ongoing two priorities . . . 

You have to continue to receive God’s love. A young child is the object of his parents’ love, but he must choose to continually receive their love in order to develop. In the same way, Christians are the object of God’s love and God is always willing to pour his love into our hearts, but we must choose to receive his love day by day instead of returning to the self-saving prescription. This is why Jesus reminds his disciples to “abide in my love” (Jn. 15:9). This is why Jude reminds his believing readers to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:21). What are some ways that we can do this? Answers include:

Learn about the extent of God’s love through the Bible (especially the New Testament), and frequently reflect on this, asking God to open your eyes to this and thanking him as he does so. This serves as an anchor when feelings and circumstances suggest that you are on your own.

Remember and treasure your own personal history of God’s love toward you—ways that he has answered prayer, fulfilled his promises, etc.

Draw near to God through the blood of Christ when you are convicted of sin (Heb. 9:14; 10:19-22). Instead of rationalizing, minimizing, blame-shifting, self-punishing—draw near and agree with God about your sin, thank him for his forgiveness and unshakeable love, ask him to cleanse your conscience and fill you again to walk with and serve him.

Allow God to love you through his people. This takes various forms (forgiveness; encouragement; correction)—but if you get involved with a smaller group of Christians who are serious about this way of life and open up, God will work through them to strengthen you in his love.

But there is another key that operates side-by-side with continuing to receive God’s love—and that is by continuing to give his love away to others. There is a dynamic relationship here. On the one hand, the more you understand and trust that God loves you and will take care of you, the more motivated you will be to focus on giving to others. On the other hand, the more you are willing to step out in faith to serve others, the more you will experience God’s love caring for you and filling you up. This is why John says that are perfected in love not only by knowing and believing the love that God has for us, but also by actually choosing to love others (1 Jn. 4:12).

In other words, after you receive Christ you can’t wait until you completely understand and feel totally filled with God’s love for you before you start loving others. God shows you his love—and then he challenges you to step out in faith to love others even and especially when you don’t feel God’s love, feel like you have nothing to give, etc. What are some ways we can do this? Answers include:

Daily/situationally ask God for opportunities to give his love to others and the eyes to see those opportunities—especially with non-Christians at work, in your neighborhood, etc.

As you interact with other Christians in your home group, increasingly look for ways that you can give to them. Devote more and more of your thought time and conversation time with other Christians to how others are doing, how you can help them, etc. Maturity means that we habitually give more than we receive to our brothers and sisters.

Equip yourself to be a more effective giver: learning the Word, imitating other mature workers, developing younger Christians, discovering and developing your spiritual gifts, etc.

Become financially generous.


You have to decide to sell out to this way of life if you want to reap the benefit! If you just dabble in giving short-term and insist on an immediate return, you’ll quit before long. You have to decide “I am going to bank my life on this proposition”—and that stick with it. I make no claim to live this way perfectly—but I have sold out to it and I do practice it as a way of life. And I can tell you that I am a blessed man because of it!

Copyright 2003 Gary DeLashmutt