Delighting in What Is Not God
Christian Hedonism is about finding our joy in God through the person and work of Christ. Pastor John, you rightly warn us against us finding our joy in our joy, or loving loving God. We’ve talked about this in episodes 326 and 345. How does this warning fit with passages where the psalmist says he finds delight in God’s commandments and law? How is delight in God’s written word a delight in God himself?
Sweeter Than Honey
That is an excellent question. Let me put those texts right in front of us.
His delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart. (Psalm 19:8)
I will delight in your statutes. (Psalm 119:16)
Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:111)
Based on those texts, clearly it is a godly and good thing to delight in God’s word. If I have said anything that contradicts that, such as, “I don’t want people to be rejoicing in God’s word,” then I have misspoken. Regardless of anything Piper says, people should clearly rejoice in God’s word. So let me clarify my view.
“It is a godly and good thing to delight in God’s word.”
I have never intended to say that joy in anything but God is sin. I have always meant to say that having your greatest joy, your ultimate joy, in anything but God is sin. That is idolatry. Having any joy in anything that fails to be for God’s sake is sin. In other words, you can have joy in something that is not God if it is for God’s sake. It won’t be sin.
Maybe it would help to ask, “What does that mean? What does it mean to take joy in a created thing for the sake of the Creator?” I have some pointers that I think will help us biblically experience joy in what is not God for the sake of God.
Joy’s Deeper Joy
Psalm 43:4 says, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.” Now, the Hebrew literally says, “I will go to the altar of God, to God the joy of my joy.” That is really clear in Hebrew. This points to the way that we can have joy in other things. For if God is the joy of our joy, then the joy we are having in his word is not idolatrous. God is the joy of our joy if tasting and seeing God himself lies at the heart of our joy in anything he has made.
In the joy we experience at God’s altar or Christ’s cross or God’s word, there is an experience of God. That is what the psalmist implies when he says, “God is the joy of my joy.” These joys come from God. They are something of God’s own goodness. When we taste them, we are tasting something of God. He is the sweetness of all our joys. If you taste and enjoy honey, that honey was made sweet for you by God. Therefore, it must be something of God. If you don’t taste God, you are starting to move toward idolatry in your very eating of a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich.
From Works to Worker
Here is another pointer, from Psalm 40:16: “May those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord.’” Those who love God’s salvation don’t just say, “Great is your salvation.” They say, “Great is the Lord.”
In other words, the joy of our salvation is the joy in what it reveals about the Lord. It is the joy it brings in taking us to the Lord. That is what salvation is. So, when I say I love the salvation of God, I mean I love the God of salvation, because he wrought it. Salvation takes me to him, and he is my ultimate joy.
“There is something of God in every holy joy because God created the joy. He gives us the joy to show something of himself.”
Here is another pointer: “O Lord, you are my God, I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things” (Isaiah 25:1). God has done wonderful things — all kinds of things. He split the sea. He fed his people with manna. He defeated his enemies. He made the sun stand still in the sky. He sent them judges and prophets and his word. When we look at all those wonderful things, we feel delight and wonder. They are wonderful things. But what do we say? “I will praise your name” — that is, “I praise your essence because in all those things you do that I am enjoying because they are beautiful and wonderful, I am looking right through them to all that you are for me in them.”
Trophies of Grace
I will give one more example, from 1 Thessalonians 2:19: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you [Thessalonians]?” Paul is saying that his joy, his crown, his boasting before the Lord is the people God has used him to save. He doesn’t mean that the Lord won’t be his boast or his joy or his crown. He said, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31). The Lord will be his joy and his crown. He is saying that before the Lord the Thessalonians will be the ground and evidence of God’s mighty grace in his life. God graciously used him to bring them out of darkness into light.
The point is not to compare the Thessalonians with the Lord but to compare them with lesser evidences of God’s power in his life. I look at my life and think, “What will be the token or the evidence of my joy and my crown and my boasting before the Lord? It is going to be you. You are the trophy of the grace that poured through my life as I trusted in the Lord.”
Many Delights, One Supreme
Christians are to delight in many things that are not God. We delight in God’s word. We delight in God’s works. We delight in God’s people. We delight in the gifts of food and marriage and friends. But we do not delight most in these. We delight most in God.
Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Compared to Christ, all these things in which we might boast or delight are nothing. All our delight ultimately resides in God. He is the joy of all our joys. There is something of God in every holy joy because God created the joy. He gives us the joy to show something of himself.