Live to Die
2001 Shepherds Conference
The following is an unedited transcription of the audio.
John Piper: Father you have been gracious to Steve Lawson to sustain his voice and his heart and his truthfulness and now I ask for a similar blessing. And I asked that the fact that both of our word would be the radical obedience and I pray beyond that for a readiness to suffer which is what I want to talk about. For the calls of Christ a readiness to take risks that would look foolish and be foolish were there no resurrection from the dead.
And so I pray Lord that you would prepare martyr material in this room now and that someone would be among the number that would be completed according to Revelation 611. I pray that we would be freed from the American grip, vice grip of the ease and comfort and security and safety.
I pray that you keep me stable to your word now and balanced in its proportions and protected from the Devil and filled with your spirit. Leaving out anything unhelpful and including all that should be mentioned for the strengthening and Lord I pray for those who are not regenerate in this room that you would waken him from the dead. In Jesus name, Amen.
For those of you who'd like to see how everything relates to everything I take my starting point from the text that was just preached to you. I didn't know what it was going to be and I'm happy to do that so look at verse six and now leap from there to my text which isn't the same text...
In 1 Thessalonians 1-6: You became imitators of us and of the Lord. That's very crucial that you see that so that you don't dwell on that, but the second half because you've got two people there that are models of something mainly Jesus and Paul. Now here's what they're models of. Having received the word and much tribulation with joy in the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus was a man who received the word of God and tribulation sustained by joy and the joy that was set before him. He endured the cross and Paul was the man who received the word of God and was told by receiving of it and would show him how much you will suffer for me and yet said over and over again we rejoice in tribulation. And you now have become imitators of us in that. That's what I want to talk about.
Paul saw himself lived out in the suffering church so the question now is what's the function of the suffering of the apostle? What's the function of the suffering of the pastor and the suffering of missionaries and the suffering of the saints? Is it something that just happened to you would you then could honor God with because of the way that you deal with it? Or is there a design in it for your church? You're suffering for your church, your suffering for your mission field, for your school.
Is suffering not just something that comes because the Devil's bad person and we then converted into sanctifying influence in the power of the Holy Spirit. God handles it or could it be that when he said to Paul I will show you how much you will suffer. There's a design in this. There is a strategy in this.
And I can tell you the reason that I'm preaching this tonight is because I had not made up my mind to do it until this morning and over the Bible praying this morning I was overwhelmed with the sense they need to hear this. Most of these guys come from well-to-do churches where very few people suffer by design because they have chosen to embrace the Calvary Road and the kind of risks that would be foolish if there was no resurrection from the dead.
So that's the text I want to start with and then go to Colossians. Let me back into it because Richard Wurmbrand died two weeks ago. Raise your hand if you've heard of Richard Wurmbrand. That's terrible. How many hands are not up there? Well go to his website on Voice of the Martyrs. He's dead now and live in Jesus, but it's time to bless his heart it's going gangbusters to make that ministry in there.
Tell them about the suffering church he was a Romanian pastor suffered for 14 years in prison. I sat at his feet literally he takes his shoes off when he speaks and he sits down dead. I was with about 12 other pastors sitting low and I wanted to lie down and he sowed it to my heart about 15 years ago the seed of embracing suffering as a strategy.
He asked questions like this: If you and the man next to you knew that both of you were about to have a child. One disabled, the other whole. Which would you choose to have? He said Jesus chose it, it didn't happen to him. We've got something going on at our church right now that just makes me tremble. Dozens of baby are being adopted. Adopted from all over the state, adopted from all over the world. Adoption is big at Bethlehem Baptist Church because some of them are sitting in jail at the end of the 80s saying it's probably a better way to do life than this.
Well there may not be, but one way is adoption. Now I'm beginning to watch pain. You adopt little children from orphanages in Ukraine who are about nine years old and what you get his pain. And if God is merciful glory, but I just want my young families to know what they're doing because the pain is rising with every year. And some of them had to even let them go and the pain of that is incredible. Life- threatening these situations can be, not to the kids but to the parents and that's a little tiny choice of love.
So here's my backing into the text through Richard Wurmbrand. He told the story one time about a Cistercian monk, that's the order in the Catholic Church that it's always quiet. They don't talk to each other and the radio interviewer in Italy asked this Abbot of this Cistercian monastery, what if it were for you to realize that at the end of your life atheism is true and that there is no God? Tell me what if it were true? And the Abbot replied holiness, silence and sacrifice are beautiful in themselves even without the promise of reward. I still will have used my life well.
Paul would have given the exact opposite answer because he did give the exact opposite answer. And 1 Corinthians 15-19: If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. There is not a text in the last 10 years of my life that have caused me more difficulty than this text and brought me to my face and called my ministry into question and threatens to change my future more than any text. It says if there's no resurrection from the dead, the choices I am making in the life I am living is absolutely absurd.
You realize how shocking that is in America? Because almost nobody sells Christianity that way. Why did he agree? I mean love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, better marriage, kids that generally go straight, a God who perhaps prospers your business. What difference does it make in the end if it turns out to be a delusion if you've lived a good life? I mean zero at the end. It doesn't matter if it was fault. Zero means zero. There's no regret about the faults or the delusions if it was a good life and its zero at the end. Blank, no consciousness.
What's the problem Paul? Don't you believe in Christianity and making things better? Solving your problems and giving you a better life? No? Evidently not. I mean what, I don't know what else to do with this text but say no. We are of all men most to be laughed at, pitied, regarded as foolish and absurd if I don't get raised from the dead after this hellish life. So what's wrong with us?
Do you see how frightening this is? Every time I preach on it I plead oh God if there's another thing you want me to do, another way to do it, another cause to embrace, another radical way to get at it, show me. Please show me. If there's no resurrection from the dead he was living a pitiable life and he was choosing it. He was choosing it.
Now he did explain to us in that chapter would an alternative might be if there is no resurrection from the dead. He said in verse 32 let us eat and drink. No. He didn't mean by that let's all become drunkards and gluttons because they're just as pitiable as Christians if there's no resurrection. To be a glutton and the way overweight and have a heart attack when you're 36, or to be a drunkard and live in the ditch and have to go through treatment over and over and over again. Nobody looks at that and says there is the life.
What he means is just be normal. That's what he means. Eat. Drink. Be normal. Avoiding excessive risks, keep the security high, provide reasonable comforts, don't be giving the luxury or absorbance. Just be normal. That's how to live that there's no resurrection from the dead. Just eat and drink. Normal simple ordinary middle-class American Christianity if there's no resurrection.
Paul explained a little bit of why he said this about his life and verses 29 to 31 of 1 Corinthians 15. If the dead are not raised, why am I in peril in every hour? I read that on the plane today I said goodnight. If I get in peril in one hour, I try to fix it. Fix the bars on the window or new lock on the door or some new vaccine or more people watching my kids. I'll fix this. I don't choose this, he did.
And it wasn't in one hour, it was every day. All day. Danger on the seas, danger on the roads, danger in the city, danger from faults bothered, danger from the enemy. He didn't have any security and all it seems like. He was just always in danger. How do you concentrate? How do you get your sermons ready?
I know I've been in danger just a few times in my neighborhood when threats have come. That's hard to concentrate. Picture them up. How are you going to prepare to talk to the Muslims tomorrow if the mobs outside tonight? How do you do that? You don't put flesh on who is sufficient for these things. But that flesh on it. In peril every hour. He goes on I protest brothers by my exultation in you and I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day.
Now that's foolish if there's no resurrection from the dead. If there's no resurrection from the dead you get maximum life every day. You don't say I die every day. What's that? Why did this man live this way? Why was he making these kinds of choices? What are your choices?
Well the answer to why isn't Colossians chapter 1 and that's my text. Let's go there. Colossians 1:24, that was all introduction. Colossians 1:24 is one answer to the question Paul why. Why? Why did you make it so hard for us? He could've given many answers to that and I'll just deal with one and leave you to painfully discover the others and then go to the Lord.
You know in John MacArthur's office I think it was your office where we were holding up over there and praying there's this brass statue, devastating statue, with a man on his knees and hands like that. And I think a better spin is put on it by the words on the statue then I would've put on it. Oh God be merciful to me, a sinner. That might be what I've would've put on it. I think was on it is I will trust in the Lord, but it's of a man whose just cringing and on his face before Almighty God which is where I feel before these texts crying out that I discover how to do ministry biblically.
You know maybe that's the John MacArthur's pastor conference is a real Bible soaked conference. That may be. But it also may be we use the Bible to escape the Bible. It might work. That in order to protect ourselves from these kinds of texts we do ministry a certain way. And I believe in expository preaching with all of my heart.
Here's the verse, 24. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, that's crazy. We laugh and we have to because we just don't know what to do with it. Almost everybody in my church does just the opposite. They grumble when they suffer. They asked God why when they suffer. They don't rejoice, was wrong with this man? He's coming from another planet.
The biblical pattern of life is so supernatural, so radical, so different, so crazy, very few pastors are living it and very few laymen are living it. I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of his body which is the church and filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions.
Now what in the world does that mean? You have joy, yet sufferings and the sufferings are called filling up of the lack in Christ's afflictions. So they are a design that called embraces to accomplish something called filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. That's a big verse. You need any more versus, that's big.
So what does it mean? And we all in this room know what it does not mean. You know it from Paul, you know it from Jesus, and it does not mean he improves upon the atoning work of the cross. When Jesus says it is finished he meant an infinitely valuable and perfect sacrifice has been made and nobody approves upon the sacrifice. What has been paid on the cross is paid in full and nobody makes any contribution to the payment that was made for the forgiveness of their sins and the justification of their lives before a holy God. That's what Jesus alone has done and we find our security by resting in it.
So that's what it does not mean. You don't improve on the atoning value of the cross. So what does it mean then? Let me tell you what I think it means and then show you why I think it means this. I think it means that what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not the perfection of the value of its atoning worth, but the personal presentation to those for whom he paid the price through suffering. That's missing.
Christ by the father's design means for his sufferings, atoning sufferings to be offered and presented to all of those for whom he died in every people group of the world through suffering. That's what it means. With joy because without it you'll never survive. For the joy that was set before and he endured the cross for the joy that sat before you, you will endure the choices that you make that would make no sense if there's no resurrection from the dead. Joy is the only way you'll survive your mission in this world if you live this way and the joy of the Lord will be your strength through choices that nobody understands.
Now why do I think he means that? I think he means that because of the parallel use of the language in Philippians chapter 2. So I did what all of you do when we're facing the next logistical problem, I typed in [ontoplayryeuh] and [hysterima] which are the two key words here of what Philip is lacking in the lacking part. Philip lacking. Where else would these words paired off? That's pretty unusual. Phillip what's lacking? Can I find a parallel here from the same author? And there are several and the clearest is Philippians 2.
It's all about [Aphroditus], remember him? Aphroditus took gifts from the Philippian's to Rome to where Paul was and Paul sends this letter and commands him because he can almost to the point of death according to verse 27 of Philippians 2, risks his life so there was a choice that was made that would've been pretty foolish. But he made it and he's survived by God's grace. Paul says and then he tells his church to receive him and treat him a certain way.
Now verse 30. Because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to, and hear the words, Philip. It's not quite the same Greek word. [Ontaplayryeuen] instead of ontoplayryeuh. What is lacking? Same word, hysterima. And your service to me, so here you have a very close parallel. They have a love gift, they have sacrificed like Christ on the cross. We want you to take these things to the ones for whom we sacrificed. Take them and let him know how much we love him. So you embody our love and it's incomplete until you get it to where we design it to be in Rome and so he does at cost almost to his life.
Marvin Vincent wrote 100 years ago, a little over. The good commentary on this book, Philippians said the gift Paul was a gift to the church as a body. It was a sacrificial offering of love. What was lacking was the church's presentation of this offering in person. This was impossible and Paul represents Aphroditus as supplying this lack by his affectionate and zealous ministry. So that's my interpretation of Colossians 1:24. I think that's exactly what's going on in that verse.
Jesus Christ has an affectionate sacrifice and offering for the world. And he has designed that it not be telecast or radioed only, but embodied. We heard in the first hour incarnational ministry. That's no fluke. That's designed.
Now here's a question. If the design is to get the atoning, effective, powerful, gospel feeling, sufferings of Jesus into the lives of those for whom it was designed by what means shall it happened? And Paul makes it very clear what means the verse 24 of Colossians 1. I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I fill up the method for the filling up of the lack of the personal presentation of the sufferings is what happens to my body when I preach. I bury my body, the marks of the Lord Jesus. I die every day five times, 39 lashes, three times been with rods, shipwrecked the night and the day in the sea twice. Skin and bones and lows, have everything to do with evangelism and getting to people who are in Christ died to save.
And the hurting is essential. Essential. Don't be a pastor if you don't believe that. He means for us to reach his people among all of the people, groups of the world and in our neighborhoods with pain, our pain. He means for those people to see Jesus, the real crucified Jesus and our crucifixion. That's what he says. And my sufferings for your sake, and my flesh I fill up what is lacking.
This is an email from two weeks ago. I wonder how often you get these John. Way too often for me. Two weeks ago my brother-in-law and I'm not going to use some false names here because I don't know if this person wants this out. Two weeks ago my brother Joe was shot as he sat in his hut in northern Uganda village. Joe and his wife Frances our missionaries to the Muslim tribe [Arenga], northern Uganda 3 miles from Sudanese border. In the middle of nowhere.
Joy, their 5 month old daughter just arrived in the States for a short visit. She'd been gone over a year. None of us have yet seen the baby, it was a happy time. Joe remained in Africa two days after Frances' arrival, Joe to fill a missionary, and Martin was sitting together in the living area of the hut evening after she hearing a strange sound outside. He suspected trouble, jumped up, kicked the door shut just before the spray bullets was released. The bullets exploded through the door and hit Joe in his shoulder and Martin in the lower arm and so on.
And through a remarkable series of circumstances one man should read one more line. The assailants broke in and demanded money as they dragged them around and kicked them and then they cried out for Jesus to save them. What happened the familiar John Patton scene, the soldiers lowered their weapons and walked away. [Now that's] five hours from any medical help and they made it. That story had a happy ending and we all know the stories that have the less earthly happy ending.
That's just normal folks. That's normal. Whoa to the church that doesn't teach their young people, that's normal. That's normal missions. We had this cockeyed notion that missions is not to happen without my happening. You don't go to those places especially not with little children. Where did that notion come from? Believe me it did not come from the Bible. Close countries is the notion that does not come from the Bible, unintelligible concept to the apostle of Paul.
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and I filled up what is lacking. Now I don't know what might be going through your head right now or maybe this is apostolic. Non-pastoral and surely not Christian. Well wrong. Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. The path of salvation is the path of losing one's life for the sake of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters I say in the name of Jesus Christ to all of you enter by the narrow gate. For broad is the gate and easy is the way that leads to destruction and many there be the going there at, but narrow is the gate and hard is the way that leads to life and few they're be that find it. Hard, [flibbo] you all know that. [Flipsis] is the word affliction in the verb beating, struck, afflicted is the way. That's everybody folks. He who would lead a godly life will be persecuted.
Here's a reason that text find so little article in the American church. We have sole domesticated the word [asebetomy] godliness that we scarcely can begin to comprehend what Paul means by it. Read your Bible, go to church, keep the 10 Commandments. Godliness, no. That's not godliness. Pharisees did all of that. Godliness is so being ravaged by God. So satisfied by God, so filled with God, so driven by Jesus way that you live in a way that the only explanation for your life is God raising you from the dead.
Well I hope you mean that amen. I find it hard to say amen, I do. Thank you for it, that's your better part. I'm not there yet and I'm praying on the plane. I'm praying in this posh hotel where they put me up. Goodnight. How do you get ready to preach this message at the Hyatt? I'm praying all of the time. Lord, get Noel ready for my next decision. That's my wife. That's why I'm praying. Get Noel ready for my next decision.
One last word here. Joy, now I rejoice in my sufferings all brothers and sisters the Calvary road is a hard road filled with joy. If you become as weird as the apostle who said I rejoice in my sufferings. How can you do that? I'm mean it does take us back to the beginning of the message where here I am. John Piper Mister Christian [inaudible 38:56]. Calling everybody to embrace suffering and I mean this we'll never be in America the church that we ought to be until we choose to take risks that can only be explained by the resurrection of the dead. We will never be Christ's church. I'll say it again until we choose to take risks that can only be explained by the resurrection of the dead. That's the only way that we'll be the church that we ought to be and finish the great commission.
And I just lost my train of thought. Where was I going? What did I say just before that? What did you say? Joy? That's right. That's why I bring these guys with me from Bethlehem down here, I do this. What was I saying about joy? I need more than a word, I need a sentence. Okay. I'll figure it out.
Oh yeah, it relates back to the first message where I was saying that surely the Christian life is the good life so how do you explain this guy saying I'm just to be pitied if there's no resurrection. The answer I think lies in this that Paul's joy which just seems to me to be absolutely boundless. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Write the next book on that John. I want to.
Beat me to it. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Oh there's a key to life that I want so bad or here's the key. He said in Roman's 5:2 we rejoice or we result in the hop of the glory of God. Then we said not only that, but we rejoice in tribulation. It's because the streaming in from the resurrection that sure after streaming in to this painful choice that I'm making right now assuring me of it can shed all of the light of the glorious dawn of the righteous. We'll shine like the sun in the kingdom of our father even if our head is cut off or they run a sword through our gut as I read this morning. I'm going to lose my train of thought again right here.
But I just read this morning in the current issue of World magazine, article by Marvin Olasky about proselytizing. He said there's three kinds because [inaudible 42:06] beating me up about this compassionate conservatism you know. All of this faith based stuff is just a bunch of proselytizing and he said well, too kinds of bad and one kind is good. Christianity does the good kind and they give reasons and call for persuasion.
And many use the illustration one of the bad kinds he said 100 years ago in Turkey Muslim lined up Armenian. That's Armenian, not Arminian. Armenian Christians. If you don't learn the difference between that E and I in this seminary, you need a new president. But it's probably not your fault. It's probably the Hermeneutics fault or somebody. He lined them up and they walked down the line with the sword and said do you worship Christ or Allah? And if the answer was Christ, a sword thrust to the gut. Now how many people do you watch that happen to?
While you make up your mind, joy at that moment is not optional. It's the only hope of obedience for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross or the sword, it's the only way. That's why Paul says it's here I rejoice in my sufferings.
Well I'm done with perhaps just a word of illustrations from J. Oswald Sanders. I love the story and I close with it. Sanders died a few years ago. He was a great missionary statesman. He was 89 when I heard, last and he simply gave this illustration which so perfectly embodies Colossians 1:24.
He said there was an Indian evangelist, brand-new believer who wanted to tell everybody about Jesus and he tread the whole day through the hard pass, came to the village, wondered whether he should wait till the morning or speak. He went in and wanted to tell them the gospel before he slept, got the crowd around him, lifted the gospel and they scoffed him, laughed at him. He quit because he was so tired and discouraged, he walked out and lay down underneath the tree and fell asleep in just a few hours later as the sun was going down there was almost dark and he said that the whole village was around him.
He then woke up in the start of and he saw the big man of the village over him and he thought they're going to hurt me or kill me. And the big man in the village said we came out to see you and notice the bloody feet that you have and decided that you must be a holy man and that you care about us because you came so far as to have feet like this and we would like to hear your message again.
I rejoice in my sufferings and in my flesh. I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus. One thing is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus, a personal, embodied, bloody presentation of his cross to those for whom he died.
So I close with this key sentence that I got on the plane today and I've preached this message a lot of times because I feel so burdened to call a church to get ready now for what may happen, but for what should happen if we're living Paul's way. You are being called tonight through my mouth I believe by God Almighty to make choices in your ministry, in your marriage, in your parenting, in your change of jobs.
Some of you men right now are hovering right on the brink of a radical decision and I'm excited for you. God sent me here for you to push you over the edge and what he's calling you to do tonight is to make some choices in the service of love, not [Mazokism]. In the service of love, love, love, love that can only be explained if Christ will raise you from the dead.
Let's pray. So father I pray now again for pastors who teach these things to their people so that they build radical, crazy, out of sync, risk taking, sacrificial, love displaying, Christ exalting congregations who can only be explained because Jesus is so satisfied with their souls forever that they can say let goods and kindred go this mortal life so the body they may kill God's truth by us still, his kingdom is forever.
That's kind of congregations you want to build. Send them home to build more God. But though never build those if we don't embrace those risks of love. Show every person now I ask by the personal individual work of the Holy Spirit what that is for the next five years of their lives. What's the next chapter Lord for these 3,000 folks? Show them and made the world be stunned and give glory to our father in heaven through Christ I pray, Amen.
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