A major question people have when they hear about Christian Hedonism is, How is God’s passion for his glory not a sinful form of narcissism and megalomania? The answer is that God’s passion for his glory is the essence of his love to us. But narcissism and megalomania are not love.
God’s love for us is not mainly his making much of us, but his giving us the ability to enjoy making much of him forever. In other words, God’s love for us keeps God at the center. God’s love for us exalts his value and our satisfaction in it. If God’s love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious — namely, himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore, God’s love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.
Death for the Glory of God
To see the God-centeredness of God’s love demonstrated in Christ, let’s look at John 11:1–6, the story of Lazarus’s sickness and death.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So [therefore], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Notice three amazing things:
Jesus chose to let Lazarus die. “When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:6). There was no hurry. His intention was not to spare the family grief, but to raise Lazarus from the dead.
He was motivated by a passion for the glory of God, displayed in his own glorious power. “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
Nevertheless, both the decision to let Lazarus die and the motivation to magnify God were expressions of love for Mary and Martha and Lazarus. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus . . . so he stayed . . . where he was” (John 11:5).
Oh how many people today — even Christians — would murmur at Jesus for callously letting Lazarus die and putting him and Mary and Martha and others through the pain and misery of those days. And if they saw that this was motivated by Jesus’s desire to magnify the glory of God, many would call this harsh or unloving. What this shows is how far above the glory of God most people value pain-free lives. For most people, love is whatever puts human value and human well-being at the center. So Jesus’s behavior is unintelligible to them.
But let us not tell Jesus what love is. Let us not instruct him how he should love us and make us central. Let us learn from Jesus what love is and what our true well-being is. Love is doing whatever you need to do — even to the point of dying on the cross — to help people see and savor the glory of God for ever and ever. Love keeps God central. Because the soul was made for God.
People used to ask me, shouldn’t love be part of Bethlehem Baptist Church’s mission statement — (We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ)? I answered, “This is our definition of love.”
“That They May See My Glory”
Jesus confirms that we are on the right track here by the way he prays for us in John 17. I assume that he is praying for us (John 17:20) and that this prayer is a loving prayer (John 13:1). Consider how Jesus prays in the first five verses:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
This is the way God prays when he is being loving to his people. He prays that his glory be upheld and displayed.
The connection with us comes in John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.” The love of Jesus drives him to pray for us and then die for us, not that our value may be central, but that his glory may be central, and we may see it and savor it for all eternity. “That they may see my glory!” — for that he let Lazarus die, and for that he went to the cross.
The Gift of a Thorn
See one illustration of Paul’s experience of this way of being loved. 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Many man-centered Americans who have defined the love of Christ as his making much of them, not his helping them to enjoy make much of him, would cry out to Jesus in this situation, “I don’t care about your power being made perfect — I care about not hurting with this thorn!”
Oh how we need to help people see that Christ, not comfort, is their all-satisfying and everlasting treasure. So I conclude that magnifying the supremacy of God in all things, and being willing to suffer patiently to help others see and savor this supremacy, is the essence of love. It’s the essence of God’s love. And it’s the essence of your love. Because the supremacy of God’s glory is the source and sum of all full and lasting joy.