“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
THE WORD “ENJOYMENT” CAN REFER TO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS. In the world of God’s creation, various things can be enjoyed, some more important than others — and some even more enjoyable than others. For example, eating and drinking are enjoyable, both sensually and socially. But for the Christian, things like righteousness and peace are higher enjoyments. And when any choice has to be made, the higher enjoyments ought to be given priority.
If we should try to categorize the enjoyments available to us, there would be at least three: pleasure, happiness, and joy. Pleasure is just what the word suggests: that which is pleasant, especially to the senses. Happiness is the state of well-being that comes when what is happening to us is just what we would prefer to happen. Joy, on the other hand, is a far greater thing. It is that poignant thrill that comes from the foretaste of eternal, otherworldly raptures, even when earthly pleasure and happiness are absent.
Pleasure is the lowest of the three enjoyments that God has given us, yet hedonism, the worship of pleasure, continues to grow in popularity. Making pleasure the ultimate good in life is surely a serious mistake, but it is also a sad mistake. Those who see nothing higher to enjoy than pleasure are missing out on real joy!
But let us be clear: pleasure is not to be despised. It is created by God and meant to be relished, as Ecclesiastes teaches us. Some people make the mistake of not drinking very deeply of pleasure and not being very grateful for it. That, too, is a sad mistake.
So all in all, what should we say? (1) We should accept pleasure as a gift from God. (2) We should never sacrifice higher priorities (such as purity, honesty, and justice) in order to get it. (3) We should control our appetite for it and not overindulge in it. (4) We should be willing to let go of it and do without it when the need arises. (5) And finally, we should set these words in stone: joy is the highest experience of the human heart. Pleasure, as good as it may be in its proper place, is a poor, unsatisfying substitute for joy.
“I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world” (C. S. Lewis).