This week, John Piper’s new book launched. It’s titled Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power, a nice little hardcover available now on Amazon, and downloadable — free of charge — at desiringGod.org. Pastor John, one thing that stands out in the book — and you make it on this podcast all the time — is that God’s commands against the sinful use of money, sex, and power are not merely just bare prohibitions; they are diagnostic tests of the heart. In the book, you write: “Power, money and sex are all God-given means of showing what you value. These are phenomena that diagnose the vibrancy of our hearts.” Explain this. And if you’re right, then it has pretty serious implications for Christians who attempt to see how much sin they can get away with in their lives. Unpack this.
Right, yes, that is what I say in the book and what I try to unpack. Money, sex, and power are God-given ways of displaying God’s supreme worth in our lives. Or they can display the supreme worth of something other than God and prove that we are idolaters. The way you think and feel and act about money and sex and power puts your heart’s treasure on display: either God or something he made. And one of the reasons for this is simply what money and sex and power are.
“All your power, all your money, all your sexuality are God’s gifts for putting on display his supreme worth.”
This is where definitions work again. It is so important. Let me give you three definitions — one for each of them. And you will see immediately why it is, given the definition that they are God-given means of putting on display the supremacy of what we value.
- What is power? Power is the capacity to pursue what you value.
- What is money? Money is a cultural symbol — this green piece of paper, this metal coin — money is a cultural symbol that can be exchanged in pursuit of what you value.
- What is sex? Sex is one of those values, one of those pleasures that people really value.
So, power and money and sex are all God-given ways, God-given means of showing what we value. They are, like all other created reality in the universe, given by God as means of worship. Everybody should think that way.
- My money is a means of worship.
- My power is a means of worship.
- My sex is a means of worship
That is, a means of magnifying what is of supreme worth to us. That is what power is for and money is for and sex is for: to demonstrate, magnify what is of supreme worth to us. All your power, all your money, all your sexuality are God’s gifts for putting on display his supreme worth.
“My money is a means of worship. My power is a means of worship. My sex is a means of worship.”
Now how do we do that? There are two ways we do it, at least two ways that we make money, sex, and power become a display of God’s truth and beauty and worth. One is by preferring God’s truth and beauty and worth over sinful uses of money, sex, and power. So we prefer God. When you prefer something, you show that it is preferable. It is more beautiful, more true, more glorious. And the second way is we pursue God’s truth and beauty and worth in the gift of money, sex, and power, in the righteous use of money, sex, and power. In other words, one way of magnifying Christ with money, sex, and power is how we deal with the dangers — that was number one. And the other one is how we deal with their potentials. That is number two.
Just a word about each of those.
If sexual desires try to drag us into a soul-destroying direction, a soul-destroying misuse of our sexuality, we show the superior worth of Christ by preferring his way to that way. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him rather than in sexual sin. That is the way we magnify his worth: by preferring him and his way over the abuses of sex.
Or take money. If the love of money and the material things that money can buy or the privileges it can attain lure us into sinful covetousness, then we show the superior worth and beauty of God by putting that covetousness to death with the superior pleasures of the promises of God. That is the way Hebrews 13:5–6 argues. You don’t need to love money. “I have said, ‘I will be with you. I will never forsake you.’” That is exactly the way the Bible thinks.
And thirdly, power. If the lure of power makes us feel desirous of exalting ourselves and showing our superiority and putting other people down, the truth and beauty and worth of God are displayed if we prefer the humility of Christ over that self-exaltation and the arrogance that the world is constantly throwing at us as admirable. So that is the way we display the superior worth of God above the pleasures of money, sex, and power. We prefer God. We prefer God and his fellowship and his way over any of those sinful pleasures that money, sex, and power might offer.
And the other way — and I hope this would be an unexpected helpful contribution that the book makes, a little different maybe than some other approaches — the other way is that we display the worth of God by using money and sex and power the way God first designed for them to be used. It is easy to see, for example, how power can be a self-effacing way of serving the cause of justice and mercy for the sake of others. Great good can be done by people who have much power or influence, if —and it is a big if — they don’t use the power to exalt themselves, but use the power to meet the needs of others and get out of the way and treat others better than they deserve. We want to see Christ exalted in the gospel. And people with power and influence can be a great help if they see the glory of God in the expenditure of their energy and their power.
Or take money. It is easy to see how money can be used to show that we value God and his way and his kingdom more than we value the private pleasures that money can buy. We can pour our resources into gospel causes and we can choose to live a more simple, wartime lifestyle so that we can maximize the advancement of God’s saving purposes in the world. And that proactive use of money for Christ and his purposes is a wonderful way of putting his value on display. People will see how you use your money and they will know what you really value: Christ and his purposes, not just a bigger house and a bigger car and a bigger boat and another set of clothes, and so on.
“Jesus defined his disciples, not as those who did the minimum, but as those who loved him more than anything.”
Now with regard to sexuality, it may be a little bit more difficult to see how this works — how you positively glorify God in the pursuit of your sexuality. For single Christians, this will involve celebrating the goodness of human sexuality while expressing it only in the ways that God’s Word has promised to bless. Manhood and womanhood don’t go out of existence just because we are not married. They are there. And there are dynamics in the relationship between man and woman, even before marriage, which put Christ on display positively.
Then in marriage it is even more pointed. One simple example would be that in the sexual union, in the actual act of sexual relations, both husband and wife, driven by the beauties of Christ, can seek each other’s pleasure above their own and seek their own in the pleasure of the other, so that both are displaying the beauties of Christ, even in the way they pursue their own sexual pleasures in the pleasures of another. And, of course, it almost goes without saying, but perhaps not, that celebrating the covenant commitment of sexual faithfulness in marriage is a beautiful testimony to the goodness of God to a watching world.
You mentioned, Tony, I think, at the end of your question, if I remember right, that this is pretty serious and has pretty serious implications for Christians who attempt to see how much sin they can get away with. Well, that is true. I call this minimalist Christianity, but I think it is not really Christianity. And the reason I say that is because Jesus defined his disciples not as those who did the minimum, but those who loved him more than anything. He said in Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
And if it is true for mother and fathers and sons and daughter, good grief, then surely it is true for money and sex and power. Whoever loves money, whoever loves sex, whoever loves power more than me isn’t worthy of me. You can’t even be a Christian. It is not like there is this minimalist thing and everything squeaks by at the last day. You can’t even be a Christian if Jesus is not your greatest treasure. So yes, the stakes are very high. Money, sex, and power are God-given ways of showing where our heart is.