The impetus for this study was one of my favorites among “contemporary” Scripture-based songs of praise, “Thou Art Worthy!” It quotes the traditional translation of Rv.4:11, “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created!” I love the concept: all of creation –including us! – existing solely for the pleasure of its Creator!
I was startled to discover, however, that the translation itself is incorrect. The quoted passage uses none of the words usually rendered “pleasure”, but is the only place in the New Testament where thelema, “will”, is translated that way. A correct translation would substitute the “means” or “agency” understanding of the preposition dia (through) for the commonly assumed “purpose” construction. Either of these can be valid on occasion. Please see similar uses of dia in Heb.2:10, and the translation notes associated there. The result would read, “through your will they exist, and were created.”
I still like the song and its message, though!
Even though it doesn’t occur where I expected / wanted it, there are nevertheless helpful things to be gained from the study of the word “pleasure.” It includes three basic “families” of words: one, eudokeo, which is usually positive in its associations; one, aresko, often negative, but occasionally positive, and entirely positive in its prefixed form, euaresteo / euarestos; and one uniformly negative, hedone; along with two more, spatalao and truphao, which are used only once each, both describing wanton, irresponsible indulgence in luxury (I Tim.5:6 and Jas.5:5).
Eudokeo usually expresses the perspective of the person or group that is pleased, content, happy, or in agreement with a situation or decision. It combines the prefix eu- (well, good, or favorable) with the common verb dokeo (to think, to seem, to have an opinion). It is used in quoting the voice of God’s approval of the Lord Jesus on the occasions of his baptism (Mt.3:17, Mk.1:11, Lk.3:22) and his transfiguration (Mt.17:5 and II Pet.1:17), although it is also used (with a negative) of God’s disapproval of those who complained in the desert (I Cor.10:5) and of the offerings under the old covenant (Heb.10:6,8,38).
Paul uses it to express his own desire to share with the Thessalonian group not only the Christian message, but his own life as well (I Thes.2:8), and his wish “to depart and be with Christ” (II Cor.5:8), as well as II Cor.12:10, where he speaks of “taking pleasure” even in his own weakness, because of the opportunity thus provided to experience the power of God. He applies the same term to the Macedonian and Asian congregations’ decision to send famine relief to Judea (Rom.15:26,27), and also to God’s pleasure (I Cor.1:21) to redeem the faithful by his message, (Gal.1:5) to reveal the Lord Jesus to Paul, and (Col.1:19) that all of God’s own completeness should have its permanent residence in the person of Jesus!
Jesus himself spoke of the Father’s pleasure (Lk.12:32) in giving his own Kingdom to his worried but faithful followers!
The noun form, eudokia, equates God’s pleasure with his will (Eph.1:5,9; Phil.2:13, II Thes.1:11). When the prefix sun- (with) is added, the resulting word means simple consent or agreement, whether for good (I Cor.7:12,13) or ill (Lk.11:48, Ac.8:1, 22:20, Rom.1:32).
Aresko, on the other hand, is much more mixed, frequently expressing the perspective of the one trying to please another. It ranges from Salome “pleasing” Herod (Mt.14:6, Mk.6:22) and Herod’s brutality “pleasing” the Jews (Ac.12:3) to admonitions toward “pleasing” the Lord (I Cor.7:33, I Thes.2:4,4:1; Col.1:10, II Tim.2:4, I Jn.3:22, Jn.8:29). “Pleasing people” can be either an effort to bring them to faithfulness (Rom.15:2, I Cor.10:33) or evidence of unfaithfulness (Rom.15:1, 15:3; Gal.1:10, I Thes.2:4, 2:15).
A similar, slightly related word, arkeo, refers more to contentment arising from sufficiency or satisfaction, especially in the passive voice, which occurs in half of its New Testament uses (Lk.3:14, I Tim.6:8, Heb.13:5, III Jn.10). This is not nearly as strong a word as aresko, but carries a similar idea.
There is nothing ambiguous, however, about hedone (English cognate – hedonism). Luke (8:14) lists it along with “cares and riches” as a deterrent to faithful living; Paul warns Titus (3:3) against serving “lusts [unwholesome longings] and pleasures”. Peter describes (II Pet.2:13) markedly unholy behavior. James (4:1,3) pinpoints it as a basic cause of warfare and strife.
Perhaps the greatest clarity may be seen in yet another word, only used twice in the New Testament: apolausis – pleasure, enjoyment, advantage, benefit. (English cognate, “applause”!) In I Tim.6:17, Paul reminds his young assistant to focus not on “uncertain riches” (see next post), but “on God, who richly provides us with everything for our benefit [enjoyment]!”
In contrast, the writer to the Hebrews (11:25) commends Moses for refusing “to temporarily have [enjoy] the benefit of copping out” (traditionally, “to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.”) Both the gracious provision of God and the careless denial of his ways are represented by the same word. The difference is one’s focus.
Careful attention to focus can enable discernment whether “pleasure / enjoyment” is a gift to be gratefully received or a trap to be avoided. Ascetic renunciation of all things deemed “pleasurable” is as much a denial of the graciousness of God as is mindless pursuit of “pleasure”. The pertinent question is, whose pleasure?
Any loving father (heavenly or earthly!) takes pleasure in seeing his children enjoy his good gifts. And that pleasure is multiplied when the gift is received with wide-eyed wonder and a delighted hug of thanks, and treasured precisely because it came from the father! Such “pleasure” – on either side – need cause no apprehension regarding faithfulness.
The “pleasure” which is severely critiqued by James (4:1,3; 5:5) , Paul (I Tim.5:6, Tit.3:3), and Peter (II Pet.2:13), as well as the Lord Jesus himself (Lk.8:14), is self-centered, self-gratifying, and certainly to be avoided.
But, as always, the remedy is prescribed just as clearly as the problem: seeking the “good pleasure” (eudokia) of the will of the loving Father (Eph.1:5, 1:9; II Thes.1:11), who has himself provided both the motivation and the ability to do so (Phil.2:13) : “For God is the one who is working among you all, (to enable you) both to desire and to work for his pleasure!”
As brother Paul put it, (Rom.5:11), “Not only that (speaking of our reconciliation), but we are also thoroughly enjoying God, because of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Thanks be to God!