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List of Bible Verses that Challenge Hedonism (Gk: Hedone)
Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Hedone--that is the Greek word which means: "hedonism, to pursue pleasure." In the Bible hedone, hedonism, is always descriptive of selfishness, the kind of selfish pursuit of pleasure that leads to the desire for more pleasure, which leads to lust, which leads to temptation, which leads to sin. In every passage where it is found, hedone (the pursuit of pleasure) is called sinful. Nowhere is hedone considered a desirable or spiritual pursuit.

In fact, if one were to attempt to argue that the pursuit of pleasure is a good and proper philosophy for the Christian, he would find an astounding number of Scriptures that denounce this ill-conceived concept. Listed below are some of the passages from Godís Word which argue for the Christian to renounce hedone and to pursue a life of balance, a life characterized by all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, a life filled with various human emotions, a life motivated by the fear of the Lord and love for God as well as love for oneís neighbor.

By definition Hedonism says, "Give me my pleasure now because that is all there is that is worth having." God offers a better way of life. God offers us great reward for putting our desire for pleasures on hold. God asks us to delay our desire for personal gratification and selfish gain; He asks us to work as His bondslaves--working in the best interests of others. After we die, He will give us the rewards that are reserved for those with faith--grace and salvation in His presence. This deferred gratification is unseemly to the hedonist, but it is the hope of the Christian.

Denying Yourself of Pleasures (Denying Hedonism)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3,4

Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1Corinthians 10:33,11:1

Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me. Romans 15:1-3

For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:20,21

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. Colossians 3:5-7

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; Romans 12:10,11

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures [hedone] that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures [hedone]. James 4:1-3

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:14,15)

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures [hedone], spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. Titus 3:3

Pursuing Pleasure (Hedonism) is Folly, Vanity, and Chasing the Wind

I said to myself, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself." And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, "It is madness," and of pleasure, "What does it accomplish?" I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men--many concubines. Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me.

All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun. "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "all is vanity!" In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly. The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11,12:8-13

Solomon was the most articulate and studied hedonist who ever lived. He pursued every "pleasure" his heart desired, secular and spiritual. He pursued pleasure when he built the temple, when he decreed that worship services be conducted to inaugurate the temple, when he wrote Scripture, when he pursued wisdom, when he planted fruit orchards. Yet, of this pursuit of pleasure and of seeking pleasure by means of labor and worship he said, "it was futility", "vanity", and "striving after wind." Hedonism was not a philosophy he found useful in any way, not even by attempting to glorify it by making all his labors "holy"; he simply found the philosophy of hedonism to be futile and foolish because the focus was on one man pleasing himself.

He had but one conclusion, men must not pursue pleasure, instead men must genuinely fear God and obey Him just because He is God. God does reward righteous behavior, but the pursuit of pleasure makes hedonism the god. It is better to serve God out of fear and love and permit Him to decide when, how, and how much to reward us. That which you pursue is that which you love the most. Choose which you will love and serve as your God, pleasure or the Lord of hosts. There can be only one highest priority in life, and only one God.

You Are Not Your Own So You Must Not Seek Your Own Pleasures First

For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me. Romans 15:1-3

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 1Corinthians 6:19,20

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 1Corinthians 7:4

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12,13

And be subject to one another in the fear of the Lord. Ephesians 5:21

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33,34 (editorial comment: this verse states to seek, to pursue, Godís righteousness and Godís priorities as our first priority; it does not state to pursue our own pleasures in God as our first priority)

and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 2Corinthians 5:15

Replacing the Pursuit of Pleasure with Hardships of the Cross

But you be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2Timothy 4:5

Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lordís dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. James 5:10,11

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. James 5:13

For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. 2Timothy 2:10

Sorrow is More Righteous than Hedonism

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it--for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while--I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:8-11

as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. 2 Corinthians 6:10

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

Pursuit of Joy Leads to Damnation

Those [seeds that landed] on the rocky soil are those who when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures [hedone] of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Luke 8:13,14

 

Suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure [hedone] to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you. 2Peter 2:13

But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. 1Timothy 5:6

You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. James 5:5,6

Emotion of Fear is More Righteous than Pleasurable Emotions

But I will warn you whom to fear; fear the One who after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! Luke 12:5

And a voice came from the throne saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." Revelation 19:5

And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters." Revelation 14:7

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. 2Peter 2:16,17

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each oneís work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 1Peter 1:17

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. 2Corinthians 7:1

Motivated to Do What is Right Just Because It Is Right

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy for I am holy." 1Peter 1:15,16

For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 1Peter 2:15

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Ephesians 6:1

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

God Commands Us to Pursue Many Good Goals, Just Not Joy

If the "pursuit of joy" is manís "highest calling" as Christian Hedonism is well documented as having taught, then why are there no such commands in the Bible? God has surely given us the command to "pursue" good goals, He has done so very many times, it is just that He never gave us the command to "pursue joy". Is this not odd if the "pursuit of joy" is the key to "saving faith" as we are told on page 69 of Desiring God?

But no command exists to pursue, acquire, seek, or chase after joy.

Is this an argument from silence against Hedonism? No, it is an eloquent argument that the idea that God encourages us to "pursue joy" as our "highest calling" lacks even a solitary Bible verse or a single "proof text". How can one assert that "God wants us to do this thing as our highest priority" when there are no Bible verses that even say this is a worthy goal much less our highest priority?

Conclusion

God does reward. He also judges. The eternal rewards come later. The judging comes both now and later. It would be silly to ignore the fact that God promises us incentives and great rewards for enduring in the faith, and for that matter, for even having faith. Does seeking and accepting this reward make one a hedonist? No. We believe that the rewards will come some day and that they are not "paid out now". Hedonists, by definition, pursue the pleasure of the short term to the exclusion of the long term.

God expects us to fear, to suffer, to cry, to put aside our desires, to put the good of others in front of our own good, to put the interests of our neighbors above our own interests, to do right just because He says to be holy. In short, God tells us not to do anything from selfishness. This is not hedonism. This is deferred gratification. Hedonism seeks instant gratification. We trust we will be rewarded with the grace of salvation and the crown of endurance. We do not hedonistically demand payment now, as if our pleasures were of a higher good than obedience to God. The rewards will come, some day. Until then, let us work as bondslaves of God, in fear and trembling, sorrow and suffering, praise and thankfulness, joy and hope for the future.

My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course. (Proverbs 2:1-9)

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