I want to begin by telling you some of the reasons that I’m here. One of the great advantages of being in a local church as a pastor for 16–17 years is that over the months and years the vision of the church and the vision of the pastor become one. About a year ago we produced a vision statement that goes like this:
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.
I think I can say without any hesitation that that’s my life mission as well as the mission of Bethlehem Baptist church. So when I got an invitation, read about this conference, saw the word “passion,” and saw the truth behind Isaiah 26:8 — “We wait for you; your name and your renown is the desire of our soul” — I was hooked.
I want to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all of you and all the peoples of this world. So that is reason number one for why I’m here.
Reason number two is that I want to be a little match set to the kindling of your joy. I want you to leave from this place thrilled and happy in God.
And the third reason is I want you to see from Scripture that both reason one and reason two are the same reason. They are one. That is, to spread a passion for the supremacy of God and to be happy in God are virtually identical. Because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
God’s Glory, Your Satisfaction
There is the sentence that I’ll come back to again and again: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. So the songs that we’ve been singing and the thirst we’ve been expressing are ways of giving glory to God. Because the more we find our satisfaction in him, the more we drink deeply from him and eat at the banquet table which is him, the more his worth and his all-sufficiency is magnified. So there’s no competition — and this is the marvel, this is the gospel to me, that I discovered in ‘68, ‘69 and ‘70 as God was doing a work in my life. There’s no competition between God’s passion to be glorified and your passion to be satisfied, because they are one.
There’s another way to say this third reason for why I’m here: I’m here to torch a glacier. I have in my mind a picture. It came out of Matthew 24. In Matthew 24:12, looking at the end of the age, Jesus says: “Lawlessness will be multiplied and the love of many will grow cold.” I’m scared to death of growing cold. I hate the thought that my love for God or my love for people would one day dry up or freeze up. Yet Jesus says “It’s coming!” It’s coming like a glacier across the world. So part of my expectation for the last days is that lawlessness will be multiplied and that the love of many will grow cold. Now that could be a very bleak description of the last days.
But if you keep reading in Matthew 24, down a verse to 13, it says, “But those who endure to the end will be saved” — so somebody is going to endure. And the next verse says, “And this gospel of the kingdom” — paraphrase that “this gospel of spreading a passion for the supremacy of King Jesus — “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Now put verse 12 alongside verse 14 and see if you feel the tension. “Lawlessness will be multiplied and the love of many will grow cold,” but “this gospel of the kingdom” — of Christ’s sovereign rule — “will spread to all the nations and then the end will come.”
Now there is a tension between those two verses. The reason I know there is, is because it is not cold people who are going to take that gospel back to your campuses. It’s not cold people who are going to get it to the unreached peoples of the world. Now how do I know that? Because if you just go back up a couple of verses, to verse 9, you find something in a prophetic word that is very, very different. It says, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death. You will be hated by all nations on my account,” Jesus says. Now if that’s true — if we will be delivered up to authorities in our missionary labor, if we will be killed, if we will be hated by every nation to which we will go — I know one thing for sure: it isn’t cold people who are delivering that message. It’s white hot worshipers of King Jesus who will get that done. Therefore, what I see in verses 9–14 of Matthew 24 is that, as the end of the age draws near, there are going to be people who are getting ice cold and there are going to be people who are white-hot enough to lay down their lives for Jesus among all the peoples of the world.
So my ministry at Bethlehem Baptist church and my arrival here is to torch a glacier. I gave this image one time in my church and a little girl, 6 or 7 years old, came up to me after the service — I encourage the children in my church to draw my sermons — and she said “Here’s what I saw.” She had drawn a marvelous glacier with Minneapolis written on it; it also had a little stick man holding up a torch and there was a hole in the glacier, at the top. Over it was a lot of sunshine, coming down through the hole.
Now here is my eschatology in a nutshell. If you wonder what your campus is going to look like when Jesus comes, or what Austin or Minneapolis, or wherever you’re from is going to look like: the glacier is moving, and a lot of people are growing cold towards God — drying up, freezing up — but there is nothing in the Bible about the end times that says, “Bethlehem Baptist Church,” or even “Minneapolis,” or, say, “the University of Texas at Austin has to be under that glacier.” Nothing! If there are enough people with torches lit white-hot for God, torching the glacier, a big hole can be opened up over your campus, over your local church, and even over your city. And that’s why I’m here: I want to lift my torch.
Spurgeon used to say over in England about a hundred years ago, when he preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle, “People come to watch me burn. They come to take their flickering little torch and stick it in my torch and go out and burn for another week for Jesus.” I would be thrilled if you brought a flickering torch in here this morning and put it in my fire. That’s why I’m here.
The Purpose of This Message: Forming a Foundation
There is a foundation for what I want to do. My task here is to talk about living for the glory of God, having a passion for the glory of God. I have two messages: this morning and tomorrow morning. This morning is foundation, and tomorrow is application.
The foundation is this: your passion for the supremacy of God in all things is based squarely on God’s passion for the supremacy of God in all things. Your God-centeredness — if it’s going to endure — has to be rooted in God’s God-centeredness. If you want God to be supreme in your life, you have to see, and believe, and love the truth that God is supreme in the life of God. If you want God to be your treasure — like we’ve sung about here — so that you value God more than anything, you have to see and believe that God’s treasure is God, that he treasures God more than he treasures anything. We may not withhold from God the highest pleasure in the universe, namely, the worship of God. That’s foundation; that’s what I want to talk about today.
And then tomorrow I want to talk about your pursuit of joy in God, and that this pursuit is necessarily implied in God’s pursuit of his glory in your life.
God Is Passionate for His Glory
Let me begin with a little story: I spoke at Wheaton college — my alma mater — about eight or nine years ago. It was my first chance in this big, chandeliered, blue, beautiful chapel. And I stood up, and I said, “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” And all my friends who were up in the balcony just went, “Oh no, he blew it on his first chance at his own alma mater to speak to these students, coming back after twenty years, and he misquotes the Westminster Catechism right off the bat and says, ‘The chief end of God’ instead of ‘The chief end of man.’” And to their great relief I went on to say, “I really meant that.” And I really mean it this morning: the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.
I grew up in the home of an evangelist. My dad, Bill Piper, taught me from when I was real little, the verse 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do everything to the glory of God.” But I never heard anybody say that God does everything to the glory of God. And that the root of my living for the glory of God is that God lives for the glory of God.
I have never seen a Sunday school paper brought home that says, “God loves himself more than he loves you, and therein lies the only hope that he might love you, unworthy as you are.” Never read that in any Sunday school paper, which is why we’re working on curriculum at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us grew up in homes, and in churches, where we got excited about being Christians to the degree that we thought God was excited about us, not to the degree that we got excited about a God-centered God.
It’s very easy in a man-centered world, where self-esteem is the highest value, to be a Christian to the degree that it buttresses what you would’ve done anyway, without God. Who wouldn’t be a Christian? Well, you’re not a Christian if you only love what you would’ve loved without being confronted with the beauty of a God-centered God. If God is only a means to your self-advancement and exaltation, rather than your seeing in him something infinitely glorious, as a God consumned with the manifestation of his glory, then you need to check your conversion. So this is a big reality check, here in Austin at Passion ‘97. Very few people have ever said to me or shown me what I’ve now seen in the Bible, that God chose me for his glory.
I remember teaching a class on Ephesians 1, in 1976, in what we called “Interim” at Bethel College in those days, and working my way systematically through the first 14 verses of Ephesians and having my world just blown open, again. Because three times — verses 6, 12, and 14 — it says that he chose us in him before the foundation of the world and he predestined us to be his sons, unto the praise of the glory of his grace.
He chose you. Why? That his glory and grace might be praised and magnified. Your salvation is to glorify God. Your election is to glorify God. Your regeneration was to glorify God. Your justification was for the glory of God. Your sanctification is for the glory of God. And one day your glorification will be an absorbance into the glory of God.
You were created for the glory of God.
Isaiah 43:6: “Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; everyone whom I created for my glory.”
God rescued his people Israel from Egypt for his glory.
“Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your ways or your wonderful works. They rebelled against you at the Red Sea. Yet you saved them for your name’s sake, that you might make known your power and your glory.” Psalm 106:7.
In other words, he split the Red Sea and saved his rebellious people, so that he might make known his mighty power. And it spread all the way to Jericho and saved a prostitute, so that when they got there and got ready to blow the trumpets she was born again because she said, “We heard your name and your renown.” And one woman and her family believed in a God-centered God and escaped destruction.
God had mercy on Israel in the wilderness for his glory.
God spared Israel in the wilderness over and over again. “The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness,” Ezekiel says, quoting God, “and I thought I would pour out my wrath, but I acted for the sake of my name lest it be profaned among the nations.” And then finally God sends them into judgment in Babylon, and after seventy years mercy warms to them. He will not divorce his covenant bride and he brings them back. But why? What’s the motive rooted in God’s heart?
Listen to it from Isaiah 48: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” That’s a God-centered motive for mercy.
Jesus came and died for God’s glory.
Jesus came into the world for what reason? O how many times we have quoted John 3:16. And it is gloriously true. And before we’re done this morning, or at least tomorrow morning, you’ll see that this emphasis right now and that emphasis, which you’ve known for a long time probably, are not at odds.
But why did he come? Why did Jesus come? According to Romans 15:8 he came for this reason: “Christ became a servant to the circumcision to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Christ came to earth, clothed himself with flesh, and died so that you would give glory to his Father for mercy. He came for his Father’s sake. That’s the main reason why he came, for his Father’s glory. And his glory reaches its apex in the overflow of mercy.
Listen to this word from Romans 3: “God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood to demonstrate God’s righteousness. It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous. That’s why he died. He died to vindicate the righteousness of God who had passed over sins like David’s adultery and murder. Did it ever trouble you that God just passed over it and David just went on being king? Well it troubled Paul to the depths of his being that God is not righteous to pass over sins. And it wasn’t just David. There were thousands of saints in the Old Testament and today whose sins he simply forgets and passes over. And Paul cried out, “How can you be God and do that? How can you be righteous and do that? How can you be just and do that? How can you be worthy of worship and do that?” — if any judge in Austin did that he’d be off the bench in a minute, if he acquitted a child-abuser, a rapist, a murderer — “and you do it every day, so what kind of God are you?”
The cross is the solution to a mega-theological problem, namely, how can God be God and forgive sins? Christ came to vindicate God in the saving of people like you. Salvation is a grandly and gloriously God-centered thing.
Jesus is returning to get glory.
Why is he coming again? Jesus is coming folks, he is coming. And let me tell you why he is coming and what you can do when he comes, so that you’ll be ready and do it.
2 Thessalonians 1:9: “Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed.” You see those two things? He is coming to be glorified, magnified in his saints, and to be marveled at. If you don’t get started on that now, you won’t be able to do it when he comes.
This conference exists to light a fire in your bones and ignite a fire in your minds and in your hearts to get you ready to meet King Jesus, so that you can continue throughout all eternity doing what he created you to do, namely, to marvel at him and magnify him.
We Must Magnify God like Telescopes
Magnify him, but not like a microscope. You know the difference between two kinds of magnification, don’t you? There’s telescope magnification and microscope magnification, and it’s blasphemy to magnify God like a microscope. To magnify God like a microscope is to take something tiny and make it look bigger than it is. If you try to do that to God you blaspheme. But a telescope puts its lens on unimaginable expanses of greatness and tries to just help them look like what they are. That’s what a telescope is for.
Twinkle, twinkle little star — you look up in the sky at night and they just look like pin-points. That’s not what they are. You know that, you’re in college right? They are big. They are really, really big, and they are hot! And you don’t have a clue except that once upon a time somebody invented a telescope, put their eye to it, and they thought, “It’s bigger than the earth, millions of times bigger than the earth.” That’s the way God is. Your life exists to telescope God’s glory to your campus. That’s a big calling. I’m going to talk about how tomorrow.
If God is God-Centered, How Can He Be Loving?
Here’s the key question that I want to close with, because I know that it starts to rise here. I’ve said this truth, that God is a God-centered God and that his God-centeredness is the root of my God-centeredness. I’ve said that for twenty years to people, and the question begins to rise: “This does not sound loving, because the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, ‘Love seeks not its own.’ And you’re telling us now, for the last fifteen minutes, that God spends all of his time seeking his own. So either God is not loving or you’re a liar.” And that’s a big problem. So let me try to answer how it is that God is loving in seeking his own self-exaltation.
Help from C. S. Lewis
I found the key in C. S. Lewis. If any of you have read Desiring God then you remember this quote. Lewis was a pagan till his late-20s and he hated God’s vanity. He said that every time he read the words in the Psalms, “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord” — and he knew Christian doctrine, that the Psalms were inspired — he knew that is was really God saying, “Praise me, Praise me” and it sounded like and old woman seeking compliments. That’s a quote from Reflections on the Psalms. And then suddenly God came into C. S. Lewis’ life. And this is what he wrote:
The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows in praise, unless sometimes we bring shyness in to check it. The world rings with praise: lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole more general difficulty with the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do — even what we cannot help doing — with regard to everything else we value.
And then here comes the key sentences:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
Now, that was a key for me that unlocked something with regard to how God can be loving and self-exalting in all that he does. It goes like this. Let me put the pieces together for you.
The Answer to the Question
If God is to love you, what must he give you? He must give you what is best for you. The best thing in all the universe is God. If he were to give you all health, best job, best spouse, best computer, best vacations, best success in any realm, and yet withhold himself, then he would hate you. And if he gives you God and nothing besides, he loves you infinitely.
I must have God for my enjoyment if God is to be loving to me. Now Lewis has said that if God gives you himself to enjoy for all eternity, that joy will not come to consummation until you express it in praise. Therefore, for God to love you fully he cannot be indifferent to whether you bring your joy to consummation through praise or not. Therefore, God must seek your praise if you are to be loved by him. Did that make sense? I wonder if I should run that by you again. That’s the essence of my life. I believe it’s the essence of the Bible.
To love you he must give you what is best for you. God is what is best for you. “Thou hast shown me the path of life. In thy presence in fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures, pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). God gives himself to us for our pleasure. But Lewis has shown us that unless those pleasures find expression in praise to God, the pleasures are restricted. And therefore God, not wanting to restrict your pleasure in any way, says, “Praise me. In everything you do, praise me. In everything you do, exalt me. In everything you do, have a passion for my supremacy,” which simply means that God’s passion to be glorified and your passion to rejoice and be satisfied are not at odds. They come together. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
Now that’s the end of this morning’s talk. Let me tell you where we’re going with this tomorrow, so you can be praying toward it and so that you can, I hope, come and let me finish, because I’m not finished. If this is true, that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him — and therefore there is no tension or contradiction between your satisfaction in him and his glorification in you — then the vocation of your life is to pursue your pleasure. I call it Christian hedonism, and I want to talk to you tomorrow about how you do that and why it will transform your relationships, your campuses, your worship, and your eternity.