Pastor John, before taking your leave of absence in 2010, you preached an important sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church on April 18, 2010, titled, “How Much Does God Love This Church?.” The sermon deals with the fact that God does make much of us, as Christians. It would eventually become a new chapter titled, “God Does Make Much of Us,” in your recently re-released book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Explain the background to this sermon and chapter, and its importance in your thinking. God does make much of us. Was this point a correction to your theology — was it a deepening, or a broadening? How do you think of it?
The sermon was probably the third time I had preached something like that. I did something like that at Westmont College, and I did something with that at Passion. There was a whole series of messages — all of them, I would say, were given, not by way of correction, but by way of clarification and re-prioritization. I have really benefited over the years from feedback, and on this issue Tom Stellar, my associate for 33 years at Bethlehem, was the most influential. Tom would never let me get away with saying anything of an exaggerated nature without his drawing my attention to the other side of the coin. And on this one there is another side of the coin.
Joy in God
And so here is the background. I used to go all over the country saying, “Which makes you feel more loved by God — that he makes much of you, or that he enables you, at great cost to himself, to enjoy making much of him?” It is a pretty provocative question, pretty thought-provoking. I still like the question. I will still use the question.
“Human beings are created for joy in God, for admiring God, for being amazed at God, for standing in awe of God, and wondering at God.”
The answer I meant for people to give was, “God’s true love — the highest divine love — is not mainly God making much of us, but giving the highest price imaginable in his Son to free us from our bondage to joy-destroying self, so that we can enjoy making much of him forever.” I really believe with all my heart that human beings are created for joy in God, for admiring God, for being amazed at God, for standing in awe of God, and wondering at God. And God is the source of all that. And I am going to resist with all my might anything that detracts from that. We are created for joy in God.
God Makes Much of Us
But part of the wonder of God that we take joy in is in fact possible because he makes much of us and is constituted by his making much of us. And in that sermon, I just rattled off with texts — I won’t give the texts here — but here is what I meant by God making much of us.
He makes much of us in being pleased with us and commanding our lives in him well done (Matthew 25:14–23; Luke 19:12–19).
He makes much of us by making us his fellow heirs with his Son who owns everything (Romans 8:17).
He makes much of us by making us sit with him at table and he serves us according to Luke 14 (Luke 14:15–17).
He makes much of us by appointing us to carry out the judgment of angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Goodnight! What an incredible role that he gives to us.
He makes much of us by ascribing value to us. You are more valuable than the birds (Matthew 10:31). You are the apple of my eye (Psalm 17:8).
He makes much of us by giving us a glorious body like Jesus’s body that will reflect his glory like Jesus did (Philippians 3:21).
And he makes much of us, most amazingly of all, by saying that we will sit with Christ on his throne, whatever that means. I mean we will be co-rulers of the world! (Revelation 3:21).
There is just no doubt — and I have never doubted — that God makes much of us in all these senses. So it is not a change of theology, but it is a re-prioritization, because I didn’t preach those seven points in those sermons where I asked that question usually. I left that unsaid, feeling like the other needed the emphasis, and I have now tried to balance that better by drawing people’s attention to the truth that God does make much of us.
To Satisfy Our Hearts
But I ended that sermon by asking the question, “Now why is it that God performs all these acts of love toward us by continually drawing attention to the fact that he is doing it for his own glory? He is doing it for his name’s sake.” And my answer to that is this: If God made me and myself the end of my goal, my quest, he wouldn’t love me so much as if he made himself the end of my goal and my quest, because self — no matter how glorified, no matter how much made much of — will never satisfy my heart. I must look away from my made-much-of-self in order to see God truly and love him as my final treasure. And therefore, I think God makes much of us precisely so that we will have the greater capacity to enjoy him.