Now, let’s discuss the implication of what we just said. Namely, our joy comes to climax in glorifying God, or to put it like this, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That’s the way I summarized my book: God is most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in him. If that’s true, Christian Hedonism is born. That is, you now have the mandate to pursue maximum pleasure in all of life. Because if God is most glorified in you when you are most happy in him, it’s your duty to seek as much happiness as possible. That’s Christian Hedonism. Now, that’s this talk, “Your Passion for God.” Hedonism, according to one dictionary definition, is “a living for pleasure.” I buy that definition, and I embrace it as the goal of my life. I live for pleasure, and I have heard from Psalm 16:11 and many other places, “Thou dost show me the path of life. In thy presence there is fullness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
I know now where they’re to be found, fullness and everlasting pleasures. My goal is to be as happy as I can be forever. Now, I hope in view of the way I started this this morning, about ministering in tears, you will not compute that in your brain the way some bright-eyed, ever-smiling, cheery types would compute it. Martin Marty came to Bethel one time when I was teaching there, and he unfolded a very provocative message on summery and wintry personalities. He said, “There are summery personalities, and there are wintry personalities.” I think I have an October personality.
I look at graveyards a lot. I think about my mortality a lot, and it doesn’t make me an unhappy person. I think it makes me an intense person, but I’m not a summery person. I don’t feel an inner need to make others chipper. You need to distinguish between what I mean by happiness and joy and pleasure. I use this all interchangeably, by the way, and the kind of thin, superficial, keep smiling little buttons or bumper stickers. This talk is, “You should make it your lifelong goal to be as happy as you can possibly be forever in God.” Therefore, our problem as Christians, I believe, is not that our desire for happiness is too strong. I never diagnose sin in my church as people being addicted to pleasure. Never. It’s that they’re addicted to cheap, inadequate, short-term, unsatisfying pleasures like TV, home, microwave, Macintosh, a nice vacation, good job, nice family, and all the stuff that you’re supposed to buy in order to make your life happy.
That, in fact, is what we’ve settled for, and our hearts in America are in the process of shriveling down, until the capacity for great joy and deep pleasures and profound happiness is just about gone in a lot of people. They can’t even conceive of what you mean by the glory of God ravishing your soul, because their hearts have shrunk. In fact, I think the source of the Kantianism—let’s throw out a few fancy terms here now—and stoicism of American evangelicalism and religion and maybe religion worldwide, the source of turning joyless duty into the essence of virtue, the source of that is that our hearts have shriveled so much that we don’t want to bear witness to our lack of capacity to do anything with joyfulness.
In other words, if virtue includes the need the be happy, if it includes doing something cheerfully—”God loves a cheerful giver”—and we have lost the capacity for spiritual joy, then the best way to keep from being driven out of the church is to say that virtue really isn’t that. Virtue is duty. To redefine virtue in terms of joyless duty, so that our untransformed hearts will not be indicted.
This was a devastating and liberating discovery for me. God calls me to pursue happiness all the time, and everywhere, and in everything I do. Let me try to do a little biographical thing here. As I began to become a Christian Hedonist in 1968 through Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, Dan Fuller, Flannery O’Connor, Ayn Rand, and others, objections emerged out of my head.
I’m generally my own worst critic, which is good, because then when others criticize me, I usually have thought of more problems with my position than other people have. Let me give you five problems with what I’ve just said, and then we will biblically try to answer each of the problems, so that you don’t just walk out of here logically. See we have a logical thing going here, and you might say, “Well yeah, it does seem logical that you should pursue happiness, but boy, it sure doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t seem biblical.”
Five Bible-Based Objections to Christian Hedonism
My goal now is to just cut the logic aside and look at texts for the next hour or so. Here are the objections to which we will respond with text.
Does the Bible really explicitly teach what you just said, or do you just infer it? Does it teach that you are to pursue your own pleasure?
What about self-denial? That’s a big biblical motif. Surely that stands in the way of this pleasure seeking hedonism that you’re commending.
Doesn’t the focus on all this pleasure and feeling put too much emphasis on emotion in Christian life? What about the will? Isn’t Christianity really a commitment of the will to endorse truth and to follow Jesus? What about the will? You seem to be leading us down the path to emotionalism.
What becomes of the noble concept of serving God as a duty? The word duty is not a bad word, is it? Historically, it hasn’t been viewed as a bad word. It’s a good word. What about service of God? To talk about always seeking your own pleasure, just doesn’t sound like a servant way of talking.
If you succeed in persuading everybody to pursue their own pleasure, what becomes of God-centeredness? Haven’t you put everybody at the center of their own affections and pursuing their own joy? Whatever became of this God-centeredness you were commending in the first hour?
Those are my five questions I would like to try to answer, and in answering them, show you that your passion for God, your joy in God, your delight in God, does in fact mean that you should pursue your pleasure all the time, in everything you do.
Objection 1: Ought We Pursue Our Pleasure?
Question number one, does the Bible really teach this—that you are to pursue your pleasure? I would say, “Yes,” and I would answer it in three ways with three kinds of texts.
1. The Bible Commands Us to Pursue Happiness
Number one, there are commands in the Bible for you to pursue your happiness.
Psalm 37:4 — Delight yourself in the Lord.
Now, I think that’s like, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” That’s not a suggestion. That’s a command. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” (Psalm 37:4). You’re supposed to do that, that’s your duty. C. S. Lewis wrote to Sheldon Vanauken, I think, and said, “You know, don’t you, that it is the Christian’s duty to seek as much happiness as he can?”
Psalm 32:11 — Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.
You, of course, can. Once you start thinking of commands to be happy, they’re all over the place. Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord, and again, I say rejoice.” That’s a command. Be happy in God. Be happy. If you’re presently not happy, and you hear that command, it’s like hearing the command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” when you’re in adultery. You get out of it. You should try to get out of it. We’ll talk some about the how of this, because we all fight every day to stay in joy. We’re not perpetually in joy. It’s an up and down, in and out kind of thing.
That’s my first answer to the question, “Does the Bible teach?”
2. The Bible Warns Us to Pursue Joy or Perish
Here’s my second answer, the Bible teaches that you should pursue your joy in God and in what you do by threatening you if you don’t. I remember reading in C. S. Lewis, I forget which book it was, but he quoted Jeremy Taylor to this effect, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.”
Direct Command: Deuteronomy 28:47–48
I laughed. I thought, “Oh, that’s clever. I like that.” But is it biblical? Does that paraphrase any biblical text? It was several years before I found it. Now, I know where it comes from. It comes from Deuteronomy 28:47–48, which goes like this,
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you in hunger, and thirst, in nakedness, and in want of all things.”
Get that? Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, you’re going to serve your enemies. God threatens terrible things if you will not be happy.
The Nature of Faith: Hebrews 11:6
Yes, it is commanded in Scripture. It’s commanded directly. It’s commanded by threat. I think it’s also commanded in the nature of faith. Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith, it is impossible to please him.” Or, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
What is faith that pleases God? Faith believes two things.
- It believes that God exists.
- It believes that he’s a rewarder of those who seek him.
You cannot please God unless you come to him as a rewarder, which means you can’t please him unless you pursue your happiness. Doesn’t it? A reward is good. Rewards are good things. They’re not bad things.
If you come to God for reward, you’re coming for blessing. You’re coming to be made happy, to be helped, to be blessed. God says, “I like that. It makes me happy when you do that.” That was what was so revolutionizing about Christian Hedonism in my life. God loves to be the benefactor in my relationship with him and not the beneficiary. He wants me to be the beneficiary, him to be the benefactor, and he gets glory when I get satisfied.
Satisfy Your Thirst with the Fountain: John 6:35
The best way to glorify a fountain—I’m getting ahead of myself here, but that’s okay; I get excited about this—the best way to glorify a fountain is not to haul buckets of muddy water up from the valleys of human effort and dump them in and say, “I met your need, fountain. I like you. I love you. Oh, I want to meet your need.” The best way to glorify a fountain is to get down on your empty hands with your thirsty soul and put your face in the water, and suck life, and then look up and say, “Ah.” Which is praise and worship.
That’s the way you glorify. That’s what this text is about. If you want to please God, don’t bring him anything, except an empty soul that feeds and thirsts and hungers. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger. He who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35) My definition for belief is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. That’s my definition of saving faith. Faith is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. It’s a very hedonistic definition of faith, because it’s right there in Hebrews 11:6.
3. The Bible Portrays God As Rewarder
My third answer to whether the Bible teaches the pursuit of your joy is that the nature of faith in Hebrews 11:6 and John 6:35 that I just quoted and many other texts says, “Yes, you can’t even please God unless you pursue him as a rewarder.” That is, pursue your satisfaction in him. One last answer to this first question is namely the nature of sin. I have this one over here. This text right here is a wonderful text. Oh, you have to all preach on this text sometime, Jeremiah 2, because it is so modern. It’s just so relevant.
“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have exchanged or changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils.” (Jeremiah 2:11)
Now, here they are. What is evil? This is a definition of sin, I believe, and a definition of evil. My people have committed two evils. 1. “They have forsaken me, the Fountain of living waters. 2. They have hewed out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
God looks at the universe, and he says, “Insanity! This is crazy. Be appalled, O heavens.” The picture is that God comes to the world. He comes to his people of Israel. He comes to us and our churches, and he is an everlasting fountain of joy and satisfaction and glory. He’s just a Vesuvius of wonder, and he presents himself for free enjoyment. “Have me. You can have me. You can drink from me. You can be satisfied with me all you want, forever and ever. No vacant places in your heart anymore.” We check this out. We say, “Hmm, fountain. Hmm, God.” We say, “I don’t think so,” and we go over here.
We take mud, and we make ourselves bowls—bowls that can hold no water, nothing. We suck on the money, and the sex, and the drugs, and the alcohol, and the power, and the job, and the family, and we don’t get anything to satisfy us. That’s sin. The meaning of sin is the insanity of not being a Christian Hedonist, the insanity of turning away from the banquet table of everlasting satisfaction in God and trying to carve out a life in a job, in a life of fame, a life of power, a life of lust, life of family, anything, a lot of them innocent in and of themselves, but when you make them the cistern from which you suck your life, they’re dry, broken, and do not satisfy.
That’s a great text because you can fill that up in your church with whatever your people are trying to get their life from, and they’re not getting it. They need to be shown that they’re not getting it.
That’s my answer to the first question. Yes, the Bible teaches that we should pursue our own pleasure. That text right there said in essence, “Don’t turn away from the living fountain to broken cisterns. Turn toward the living fountain, and if the living fountain feels out of your reach, pursue the living fountain. Don’t give up until you’re at the living fountain. Although it’s a very hedonistic teaching.
Objection 2: What About Self-Denial?
Question number two, what about self-denial? What you’re saying just sort of sounds right, but goodness, it doesn’t seem to fit with lots of biblical teaching about sacrifice and self-denial.
Deny Now to Delight Forever
My answer to this is to go to the text concerning self-denial, Mark 8:35, where it says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it.” And say, “Okay, I hear you. Whoever would take up his cross and follow me must deny himself. Whoever would save his life will lose it.” But read on, because the way Jesus reasons now is very hedonistic. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save” Now, what’s the reasoning there? The reasoning is that you don’t lose your life, do you? Everybody says, “No, we’re hedonists. We don’t lose our life.” “Good,” he says. “That’s the way I made you. I made you to love life. I want you to be alive forever with maximum joy. Don’t ever let any stoic or Kantian philosopher tell you that that’s not right. You’re built that way. I made you that way to love life just like you have an appetite in your stomach for food. You have an appetite in your soul for joy, so don’t ever lose that.”
“Now, I’ll tell you how to have life. Namely, lose your life.”
The same kind of text occurs in John 12:25, where he says, “He who hates his life in this world will gain it for eternal life.”
Now, that’s a very important qualifying phrase and helps us understand what he means by losing life. To lose life means you might lose your life. You might be killed in the pursuit of joy. Flannery O’Connor, the Catholic novelist from the South, Georgia, wrote this:
“I don’t assume that renunciation goes with submission or even that renunciation is a good in itself. Always, you renounce a lesser good for a greater. The opposite is what sin is. The struggle to submit is not a struggle to submit but a struggle to accept and with passion. I mean possibly, with joy. Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy, fully armed too, because it is a highly dangerous quest.”
Now, what I think she means by that is you can get killed in following Jesus toward joy.
You Can't Out-Sacrifice God
In fact, Jesus said, “They will kill you, but not a hair of your head will perish.” Isn’t that amazing? Here’s the statement in Luke 20:21: “Many of you they will kill, but not a hair of your head will perish,” which simply means, “If you’re willing to lose your life for my sake, you will soar right into perfectly cared for glory. You can’t ever out-give, or out-serve, or out-sacrifice God.” Livingston, and I’ll quote that at the end, I think, said things like,
“I never made a sacrifice as many other missionaries did.”
There is a doctrine of self-denial, but the doctrine is that you deny yourself lesser things for greater things.
Self-Pity Is No Sacrifice
Peter didn’t catch on to this right away. At least, my interpretation of the mood in this passage in Mark 10: is that he was a little bit embarrassed, and Jesus scolded him.
Remember the rich young man who came, and Jesus said, “It’s hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom.” The disciples said, “Well, then, who can be saved?” Jesus said, “With men, it is impossible. Nobody can be saved, but with God all things are possible.” And then, Peter pipes up and says in Mark 10:28, “Lo, we’ve left everything and followed you.” Now, I just wish I could have seen the look on Jesus’ face here.
Because what Peter is basically saying is, “Well, we’ve sacrificed a lot to follow you. What about us?” Now, Jesus is a dyed in the wool Christian Hedonist who does not believe sacrifice is possible ultimately. Here is the way he expresses himself to Peter, and I don’t know what the tone of voice was, but I’ll try this one out. Jesus said,
“Truly I say to you, no one has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands for my sake and the gospel’s who will not receive a hundredfold in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions.” (Mark 10:29–30)
That’s the side effect of the medicine that makes you well, persecutions, in the age to come, eternal life. In other words, “Peter, get off it. What’s this sacrifice stuff? What’s this we’ve left everything and followed you?” Jesus responds to that kind of self-pitying sense of sacrifice in the service of God with rebuke.
I believe it’s a rebuke. It’s a gentle rebuke, probably, but I think it’s a rebuke. He says,
Come on, Peter. You haven’t left one thing that you’re not going to get back a hundredfold, and in the age to come, it will all be paid back ten million-fold, so what’s this self-pitying sacrifice stuff you’re talking about? You are to leave those things not with a sense of loss, but with a sense of greater gain.
Nobody should go to the mission field with a sense of loss. You’ll be a lousy missionary, absolutely lousy, if you go out there and tell those people, “Oh, I’ve left so much behind in order to come do this drudgery work or in order to communicate the mere gospel of Jesus, or merely get people saved, or merely glorify God. What I really want is my house in the suburbs in Minneapolis again.” That’s a terrible missionary. But if you go in the pursuit of a hundredfold brothers and sisters, and a hundredfold houses at your disposal in these new converts, and the glory of God in everlasting life, you’d make a good missionary, because then you’ll be communicating something that they might actually want from you.
That’s my answer to the second question about self-denial. Yes, there is a doctrine of self-denial. I am ten million miles away from the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. I mean, in fact, from my teaching to be an undermining of that gospel. I titled this book to trick people who like that kind of gospel.
Objection 3: Can You Command Emotions?
Third question, aren’t I making too much of emotions, saying that it’s crucial to seek my happiness? Isn’t Christian commitment a commitment of the will? Isn’t that the essential thing in the Christian life in Christianity? I remember back in 1967, in an apologetics class taught by Miller Derrickson at Wheaton College, reading Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher. It’s a bad book, but it’s bad for different reasons than most people thought. Most people thought it was bad, because it said, “Well, you really can’t say it’s always wrong to fornicate or commit adultery. It’s just the situation dictates.” That’s wrong, I think, but there’s a deeper problem with this book.
Fletcher said that, “Love is not an emotion.” His main argument was love is commanded in the Bible, and you can’t command emotions. Therefore, love must be a raw act of will, involves doing things, but not necessarily feeling things. I remember as a junior in college or junior in 1967 saying, “Hmm, that doesn’t seem right to me.”
God Commands Our Emotions
Now, I know a lot better why it doesn’t seem right. Namely, emotions are commanded everywhere in the Bible. God can command whatever we ought to give whether we can give it or not.
Joy is commanded: “Rejoice in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:4)
Hope is commanded: “Hope in God.” (Psalm 42:11)
Fear is commanded: “Fear him who can cast both soul and body into hell.” (Luke 12:5)
Peace is commanded: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Being Fervent is commanded: Be fervent in spirit.” (Romans 12:11)
Grief is commanded: “Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
Desire is commanded: “Desire the sincere spiritual milk of the Word.” (1 Peter 2:2)
Tender-heartedness is commanded: “Be kind, tender-hearted.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Brokenness and contrition are commanded: “Be wretched, mourn and weep.” (James 4:9)
Gratitude is commanded: “Give thanks for everything.” (Ephesians 5:20)
Every one of those are emotions. I remember arguing with a philosopher one time who said gratitude wasn’t an emotion. He made no sense to me whatsoever. If my eight-year-old gets black socks for Christmas, he opens this box up, and it’s black socks from his grandmother.
He looks at them and kinda smiles a little bit, and she’s sitting on the couch. I can say, “Barnabas, say ‘thank you’ to your grandma.” He’ll say it: “Thank you, grandmother.”
But that’s not gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. But God can still command it, and he does.
Augustinians and Arminians
Fletcher’s argument is that I’m making too much of emotions, because the essential things like love are not emotions, and emotions cannot be commanded. The whole logic of that is wrong. His problem is that he’s Arminian. That’s the root issue here of whether or not, like Augustine says, “Command what thou wilt and grant what thou commandest. Thou commandest continence, O Lord. Grant what thou wilt. Command what thou wilt or grant what thou commandest.”
If you have an Augustinian theology, then you can process all of these commands to have emotions which we ourselves can’t turn on and off like a faucet. If you’re down and the Bible commands you to be up, you can’t just go, “Okay, push the up button.” It doesn’t work that way.
The Bible has every right and God has every right to command from us what is fitting for the creatures of a holy and gracious God, even though we don’t have the capacity in the moment to produce those emotions. I don’t think I’m making too much out of emotions. I think emotions are not the caboose on the end of the train. They are the fire in the engine, if you understand these things: joy, hope, fear, peace, zeal, grief, desire, and even faith. Remember my definition for faith? Faith is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. Even faith has an emotional component to it.
Love Is More Than Feeling But Not Less
Love does too. We’ll talk more about that in the third hour. Love is more than feeling. I’m ready to say that. It is right to stop and help a person change their tire at forty-two below zero, whether you feel like it or not. Let me ask you this: Do you feel more loved in the hospital when someone comes to you begrudgingly out of duty, or joyfully, because they like to come to see you? Do you feel more loved when they come begrudgingly out of duty, or when they come freely, gladly, and expect to be made happier when they see you? Every one of us is going to answer, “I feel more loved, not when they begrudgingly come out of duty, but when they come gladly.” That simply means real love has a delight component in it. If you want really to make someone feel loved, you do good things for them cheerfully, not begrudgingly. That’s an experiential proof in my judgment. It’s not true to define love as a mere act of will power.
Objection 4: How Can I Serve God And Pursue My Own Joy?
The fourth question was, what becomes of the noble ideal of serving God in this model of Christian life where you’re supposed to pursue your own joy? It doesn’t sound like the way a servant is supposed to serve a master, and that’s a real dominant model, always a doulos (a servant) of Christ. It just doesn’t seem to fit.
Okay, here’s my response to that. We have to be real careful in defining the biblical metaphor of service in relation to God. You can define God as a master and yourself as a servant. It makes him look like a plantation owner desperately in need of a lot of slave labor. That, I fear, is the kind of model in some people’s minds when they think of themselves as a servant of God:
“I’m a servant of a master. He’s the plantation owner, and I’m the slave, and his job isn’t going to get done unless I do it, so there’s a tremendous weight on my back to get this work done, so I’m going to serve this needy God.”
Warnings Against Thinking God Is Needy
Warning 1: Acts 17:25
Now, there are some warnings against that misuse in the Bible. Acts 17:25, “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.” That text says you can’t serve God. “He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.” Now, that text is in the Bible, I believe, to warn us against misunderstanding the metaphor of servant/master.
You can take all the metaphors of Scripture and misuse them. If you take the servant/master metaphor of our relation to God and put God in the position of an employer who is going to go belly up and file chapter eleven if his employees go on strike, you have a very bad theology. This says, “He doesn’t need his servants.” God does not function out of need for Christians or pastors or missionaries. We glorify God not by doing what he needs us to do, but by enjoying what he gives us the privilege to do. If we don’t enjoy it, we are putting him in the position of a taskmaster that demands from us what he needs, rather than putting in the position of an overflowing fountain that is benefiting us and letting us maximize our enjoyment of him in the duty of the pastorate.
Everything hangs on your view of God. Is he a God who has no needs, because he gives to all men life and breath and everything? Or is he a God who really is going to stub his toe if you don’t produce in the pastorate? He is not going to really make it. His purpose just might flop in New England if you don’t work hard enough for this taskmaster.
Warning 2: Psalm 50:13–15
Here’s another one from Psalm 50:13–15:
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all its fullness is mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and perform your vows to the Most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.
“Now, don’t reverse roles with me. Don’t think that I’m hungry, and you have the food, so you’re going to bring it into my room and feed me. That’s not what service means. You’re not my butler. I’m not hungry. I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I own you. I own the bread basket of Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. I own the universe. You can’t enrich me.”
Who has given a gift to him that he should be repaid? Who has been his counselor? From him and through him and to Him are all things. (Romans 11:36)
So what should we do then if you want to glorify God? “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.” How do you glorify God? Ask him for help. Drink from his fountain. Hold out your empty hands. Lift up the cup of salvation. Be needy in his presence. Don’t presume to be his benefactor. Let him be full, and you be empty. That’s the way God gets glory.
Defining Servanthood: Matthew 6:24
All I’m doing here is defining servanthood. True biblical service. What’s it like? Matthew 6:24 gives us a really remarkable picture of service.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
The reason that’s a remarkable text is because we should ask the question, “What does it mean to serve money? How do you serve money?” Then flip it over and relate it to God. Do you meet money’s needs? No, that won’t work. Do you improve upon money? Does it mean ironing out the bills and folding them nicely and putting them in a safe place, so that they feel good about how you’re taking care of them? That’s not what serving money means. Serving money means calculating all of your life’s choices so as to be in a position to benefit from money. Guiding your life through all the possible choices and movements with money in view, and where you can get the most benefit from money. If money is moving over here, move over here. If money is moving over here, move over here. If the blessing from money is going here, go there. If it’s prospering here, go there. Just follow money around, and get under the fountain of money, and then you’re serving money.
Now, apply that to God, and you’ll have the right definition of serving God. Serving God means calculating all of your life’s choices so as to move with where the blessing of God is moving, to be under the fountain of God. If God is here and pouring out his blessing here, you move here.
It’s like a spotlight on a stage. In Jude 20 or 21, it says, “Keep yourself in the love of God.” My picture is that there’s a big beam up there on a stage, and it’s going around, and the light is here, and I’m in it, and the light starts to move, and I just move to stay in the light of the beam.
If you walk in the light as he is in the light, you will have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin. (John 8:12)
In other words, you enjoy uninterrupted fellowship, if you just stay in the light and walk in the light. If you start to move into the sin of darkness, a child of the light feels that, confesses sin, and steps back into the light of fellowship.
To shift the metaphor, you’re staying under the fountain. God is just pouring out of the fountain. If you trade that fountain for broken cisterns over here and try and say, “Whoa, whoa, it’s not going to work over there. I’m not getting anything.” Hedonism, I’m not getting what I need to live in full happiness with God. This is really switching the categories around. You have to get this now. Servanthood means keeping yourself in a place where you can benefit most from God’s blessings. I don’t have it on an overhead, but in Psalm 123, this is really made clear. Psalm 123. This is so important for pastors and Christian leaders to see, unless we begin to see ourselves as slaves of a task master or needing to meet God’s needs.
To thee, I lift up my eyes O Lord, O thou who are enthroned in the heavens. Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God until he have mercy on us. (Psalm 123:1–2)
That’s a revolutionary view of servanthood. Servanthood says, “You have a little maid, and she has a mistress.” The point of Christian servanthood is not that she slaves to meet the mistress’s need, but that she look to the mistress until her needs are met. It’s exactly the reverse of what many people think servanthood is.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God until he has mercy on us. (Psalm 123:2)
My answer to the question, what becomes of service or servanthood in this model is that a service or servanthood becomes fulfilled, and corrected, and modeled biblically, because the biblical model of servanthood is to be a receiver which blesses others. One last text maybe on this point. It’s my favorite text with regard to my philosophy of ministry. You say, “Have you got a verse that expresses your philosophy of ministry for Bethlehem Baptist Church?” I would say, “Yes, I do. It’s 1 Peter 4:11.” It goes like this:
Let him who serves, serve in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything, God may get the glory through Jesus Christ.
The Giver gets the glory. Therefore, servanthood is not thought of primarily in terms of giving to God but getting from God.
Do We Worship to Get Or Give?
Let me insert a parenthesis here about worship. I might step on a toe here, but that’s okay as long as it heals. Many, many pastors get fed up with their people’s lackadaisical, lukewarm response and worship and assess the problem as people coming to get instead of to give. “If you people would just come in here to give instead of to get, we’d have a good worship service.” That’s not true. That’s not the problem. That is not the problem. As long as you assess that to be the problem, you’ll kill your people.
Worship is a feast, and your job is to spread the banquet, and to tell your people to come and get. When they’ve tasted, to look up and say, “Ah.” If you keep telling them their job is to bring something in here for God, you’ll kill it. You’ll kill it. Now, I know that the Bible says, “Give God praise, and give God glory, and give God honor.” That’s not what the people hear, however. Most of them are so banged out and down that they can’t do it anyway on Sunday morning.
I say this often when I welcome them to worship, “I realize that there are three ways you can be worshipping God right now hedonistically.”
You can be overflowing and ready to burst with praise.
You can feel the absence of that overflow but a longing to have it. “Oh, I wish I felt that way. I have felt that way before. I don’t feel that way now, but I wish I did.” That longing is worship, because it expresses the worth of God that they wish they could rise to it.
Some of you are so low and so emotionally twisted, and drained, and flat, and strung out from the battle that you just had in the car. Some of these husbands and wives came in separate cars. It’s so bad right now that you don’t even feel the longing, but you feel bad about that. That bad feeling is worship, because you are in a little mustard seed way saying, “I wish I could wish to worship God.”
That’s about as low as you can get. If you don’t have that, you can’t worship, and I’m willing to say that. You can sing the hymns. I don’t believe that’s worship. I don’t think singing hymns, and praying prayers, and reading the Bible is worship, if there’s no heart in it. But if the only little speck of heart there is in it is, “I feel so terrible that I don’t even long to praise God” that’s worship. I believe because there’s a little, tiny echo of God’s excellence there and a little, tiny reflection of his worth.
Serving God means receiving him, and when we call it a worship service, now you have some categories to really make that sound good to people. “Service” means like a servant comes into the presence of his master, and holds out his hands, and says, “We’ve been working out in the fields, and we’re real hungry, and we’re really thirsty. Anything for us today?”
Let’s see if I have one more response to that question. I’m going to give you this quote from Edward John Carnell. We’re still on question number four, what about service or duty, that noble concept? And Edward John Carnell wrote,
Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her goodnight. ‘Must I kiss you goodnight?’ Her answer is, ‘You must,’ but not that kind of must. What she means is this: Unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value.
I think that’s exactly right. In other words, there is such a thing as duty, but not that kind of duty. It’s the duty to be happy in kissing your wife or God.
Objection 5: What Becomes Of The Centrality of God?
Here’s the last question, quickly. What becomes of the centrality of God in all of this? When I say, “Pursue your own pleasure. Make that your main aim in life is to be happy. What becomes of the centrality of God?” My two answers are first, two images.
The Happy Husband
Noël and I will have been married twenty-three years in December and suppose I come home and have twenty-three yellow daisies behind my back. That’s our flower. I ring the doorbell, and she looks at me funny and says,
“Why’d you ring the doorbell?” I pull them out and say, “Happy Anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh, they’re beautiful, Johnny. Why did you?” I say, “It’s my duty. That’s what husbands are supposed to do, good husbands, and I want to be a good husband. Am I a good husband?”
Now, the reason you laugh, and the reason that doesn’t click is not because duty’s a bad thing. It’s a noble concept. What’s wrong with duty? Why do we laugh at duty? We laugh at duty, because in that moment, Noël is not honored by duty. What would honor her? What would have been the right answer to the question, “Oh Johnny, why did you do it?” The right answer would have been, “I couldn’t help myself. In fact, change your clothes, because we’re going to go out, because there’s nobody in the world I would rather spend time with tonight than you. It will make me so happy to be with you tonight.”
She would not respond by saying, “Oh, you Christian hedonist, all you ever think about is how you can be happy.” That’s not what she would say. The reason she won’t say that and the reason she does not say that is because when I declare that my happiness is in her presence, she is glorified. She feels it. She knows it, and so does God.
My answer to this last question, doesn’t the pursuit of your own pleasure put you at the center and not God, is an emphatic and absolute, “No!” We make a God out of whatever we have most pleasure in. Therefore, the way to make a God out of God, the way to exalt and glorify God, is not to answer him, “Oh, why do you serve me? Oh, why do you worship me?” “Well, good Christians are supposed to.” That does not honor God.
What honors God is to say, “Nothing makes me happier than to be in your presence. Nothing makes me happier than to know your will and do it in the fellowship and power of your Holy Spirit. Nothing makes me gladder than you.” God would say, “Hmm. Good hedonist. Pursuing your own joy, I see.” You would say, “I understand.” And he would say, “Me too. I’m getting the glory, and you’re getting the joy.” That’s the greatest universe that could have ever been created.
Puppies and Petals
Here’s the last image, just so you have another picture in your mind. There are six little puppies on the floor, and they’re brown balls of fur. They’re nipping at each other and tangled all up together. They’re all thirsty and biting at each other, and licking each other, and you take a big yellow bowl of water and set it on the floor. Suddenly, a transformation happens. Whoosh. These little six puppies go, “Whoosh.” They’re like six brown petals around this yellow bowl of water. Drink, drink, drink, drink. Now, what’s the center? What’s the center in that picture? The answer is the water is the center, not the puppies, not even their thirst. The water is the center. That’s the way it is with God. When God comes down on New England or on your church, if the people are Christian hedonists, they will stop their wrangling, and stop their tangling, and their nipping, and they will go right to the bowl and start drinking life in. At that moment, when they are the most satisfied, God will be the most glorified.
I want to stick by my hedonism and say, “Yes, it is our duty to pursue our joy in God all the time.”
The last question is and this is the next hour. You might say, “Okay. I might even be persuaded vertically with God, that we should pursue our joy all the time in him, and that he gets glory when we do that.”
But if you were to tell me, that in all of my dealings with people at the horizontal level, I should also pursue my joy in relating to you my joy, then you’re going to have to go a long way, because that really sounds like a contradiction of 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love seeks not its own.” I’m not sure I do feel loved, if someone is pursuing their own pleasure when they deal with me. That is the horizontal issue and really the rubber meeting the road pastoral issue that we have to deal with after lunch, so I’m done.