This week, Pastor John, your new book launches. It’s titled: Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power. It’s short and to the point, 150 pages, and my copy is well highlighted. It’s published by our friends at The Good Book Company, available on Amazon, and of course the full digital book can be downloaded at desiringGod.org. Pastor John, early in the book you admit that in the process of writing it, you say you experienced a fundamental change in thinking. What happened? How do you think differently about these categories of money, sex, and power?
There was an encounter and it happened to be with you and the editorial team. It was one of those “aha moments” for me — or, as I look back on it, it really was a “duh moment,” — like, what is wrong with my head that I have to be made to see by other people what I should see on my own? We were talking about the book, about my plan for it over lunch one day, and I think it was David Mathis who brought something up that was just so obvious that I had sidelined.
But let me put it in the context of the flow of thought, how the book was coming into being. I started the book as I was first conceiving it with definitions. And an image came to my mind as I was peeling away the layers and going deeper and deeper with the meaning of money, sex, and power. And the image was of an iceberg. And you can see a tenth of an iceberg above the water, but it is the nine-tenths below the water that do all the damage to your boat.
What I found over the years is that the effort to define things at the beginning almost always reveals that what we thought we were dealing with is like the tip of an iceberg. We thought we were dealing with that and really there is way more to it. We thought we were dealing with money, for example, paper currency, coins. There it is in my hand. But, in fact, underneath we are dealing with pleasures and advantages that money can buy or status that money can signify.
Then we realize, no, that is not the bottom, because underneath that is covetousness and greed and fear and cravings for safety and prestige and control. And then we realize, no, that is not the bottom either, because the Bible teaches us that there is another reality called the condition of my heart, deeper than covetousness, that gives rise to all those things like a bad tree giving bad fruit on its limbs. And so, as always, it seems to me, I realized just by trying to define what we were talking about, what I was thinking about, this money, sex, and power appeared to be like the fraction of an iceberg above the water — and the dangerous part was underneath. It was jagged, sawtooth ridges that can slash a gash in your Titanic, and there it goes to the bottom of the ocean. And that is where I had come when we had our editorial lunch.
Piper: “Money, sex, and power all have unique potential to magnify the worth and beauty of Christ.”
And there we were sitting and talking, and David Mathis just mentions almost in passing that money, sex, and power are good gifts of God that may be used with great love and effectiveness in serving other people and glorifying God. And it hits me like a thunderbolt that my iceberg image is true, but it is only true on the negative side — and it was holding me hostage. As it were, it was keeping me from seeing that these things are not just dangers. Money, sex, and power are not just dangers. They are potentials. They are gifts. They are opportunities to make God look great in the world and advance his cause in the world.
I went home thinking: Oh, my goodness. I have got to restructure everything here and make sure this gets done in a more biblical way, because I was lopsided in the way I was thinking. It is not just an iceberg. I need another image, like floating islands of glorious food and fuel and the rarest fruit.
In other words, what I realized is that we have to deal with another foundational reality; namely, these are God’s gifts and if they sink us it isn’t because God gave us bad gifts. It is because something happened inside of us that turned gifts of grace into instruments of sin. And this totally altered the way I went at the book.
So yes, we need definitions and I do start Chapter 1 with definitions. What are the depths of these three realities we call money, sex, and power? And yes, we do need chapters on the pleasure-destroying dangers of sex and the wealth-destroying dangers of money and the self-destroying dangers of power. And you can see in those very titles how I try to catch the positive even when I was dealing with the negative.
But when we turn away from those dangers to the potentials we ask: Why did God give us these gifts in the first place? Not just to test us, not just to tempt us, to be fornicators or covetous or power-mongers. Money, sex, and power all have a unique potential to magnify the worth and beauty of Christ. So that is the new structure of the book. Define, defeat, deploy. Define, go deep with what are these things after all and defeat the dangers, and deploy the potentials when God takes his place as our true treasure and pleasure and sovereign.
So there’s a threefold takeaway, in principle: Kill the sinful habits of life that misuse God’s gifts, while praising the Giver for the good gift itself, and then you now go one step further . . .
I go further and say, take hold of power, take hold of money and make them a means of advancing the cause of the Giver and, more than that, see in the actual gift of sex and money and power dimensions of God’s goodness that, when you enjoy them rightly, you are enjoying him.