The place of our loving sacrifice in relationship to our delight in God is a point of constant discussion when it comes to Christian Hedonism. What glorifies God more? Our self-sacrifice? Or our delight in God? The question today comes from a listener named Koby.
“Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for this podcast. My question is why you emphasize our joy in God as more vital to what most glorifies God than our love for God and others? The greatest commandment is love, which sums up the whole Law. God is love, the Bible says. God is not Joy — not in the same way. Isn’t it better to say that God is most glorified in us when we are most self-giving and loving toward others?”
Colors and Light
I think I would respond by asking this question: Which is more vital to a rainbow: colors or light? Now, if you would have a hard time answering that question, maybe you would see why I would have a hard time answering the question “Which is more vital to glorifying God: love for God or joy in God?” Let me see if I can unpack this illustration of the rainbow and then point to some biblical passages that might shed light on what I’m trying to say.
“I can’t divide love for God and joy in God because joy in God is what makes love for God love for God.”
I’m picturing a rainbow as the event of God being glorified. I’m suggesting that the colors of the rainbow correspond to loving God. I would go so far as to say that the colors in the spectrum of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet — correspond to acts of the human heart which would constitute loving God, such as admiration, adoration, submission, treasuring him, desiring to please him, and desiring to be near him.
All of those acts of the heart, which are all more basic and more vital than any external movements of the muscles or the body, are all what love for God is. If we love him, we admire him and adore him and submit to him and treasure him and desire to please him and desire to be near him.
Then, in the analogy, I compare joy in God, not to the rainbow with its spectrum of colors, but to light. The implication is this: light is essential. We could use the word vital, to use Koby’s word. Light is essential, is vital, to all those colors and thus to the rainbow itself.
If there is no joy in God, there will be no true admiration. No joy in God, no treasuring of God. No joy in God, no desire to please him or be near him in a way that would honor him. No joy in God, no true submission. It would only be legalistic.
I can’t divide love for God and joy in God because joy in God is what makes love for God love for God: no rainbow without light, no love for God without joy in God. In other words, what I’m trying to do in Christian Hedonism, which is what I call this vision of reality that Koby’s asking about, is define what God-honoring love for God is.
Until we try to do this, it’s just a word. I suspect that many people try to fill up the word — or they just default to filling up the word — love with meanings that are not biblical. They’re not God honoring.
What Is Love?
What does it mean when Jesus says to love God with all your heart — which is deeper than all your mind, deeper than all your strength, and deeper than all your soul, because it’s the affectional, animating center of the soul or the person?
“Do all good works glorify God? They do not. There are many good works that do not please or glorify God.”
I think a lot of people answer this question by defaulting to something like John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” They then misread it by saying that love consists in self-sacrificing — a bodily activity of commandment-keeping — because he said, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” But this is emphatically not what he says.
He distinguishes love for himself and commandment-keeping. He says, “If you love me, then you will keep my commandments.” They’re not the same. They’re emphatically not the same. They’re different.
If you do one, the other will happen. It does not say love is keeping the commandments. It says love is one thing, and if you do it, then the commandment-keeping will follow. It will be the result. There’s something prior, something internal, something massive and deep and distinctive.
A Heart Response
When I read the Bible’s words “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4), “Be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 32:11), and “Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1), I hear God calling me to have a heart response to him that is essential to all other God-exalting responses.
In other words, if you try to pick out a kind of heart response to God and call it love — like admiration or adoration or submission or treasuring or desiring — none of those would be authentic or God-exalting if delight in the Lord and gladness in the Lord and rejoicing in the Lord were stripped out of them. You should try it. See what happens to adoration and admiration and submission and treasuring and desiring if you try to conceive of them in a heart that does not find God himself delightful and satisfying.
My answer to the first half of Koby’s question — “Why does Piper emphasize joy in God as more vital to what most glorifies God than love for God?” — is that I don’t play them off against each other because they are not two different ways of glorifying God. Loving God is the magnificent, spectrum-laden rainbow that glorifies God, and the light of joy in God is what makes the rainbow the rainbow.
When King David in the Old Testament says in Psalm 40:16, “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’” he is showing that rejoicing in God and being glad in God is at the essence of what loving God and his salvation is.
Now, we don’t have time to adequately answer Koby’s second question; namely, “Why does Piper think that joy in God is more vital to glorifying God than loving people?” After all, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16).
“God-exalting love for people is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.”
Those are clearly works done for other people — love toward people — so that they may see your love and good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Yes and amen. Oh, that we might all do more loving acts towards people in order that God might get glory.
My answer to that question that he just asked is basically the same as my answer to the first half of the question. Do all good works glorify God? They do not. There are many good works that do not please or glorify God: hypocritical good works, selfish good works, self-exalting good works, all kinds of good works that do good for people that are sinful and don’t have any God in them at all. “If I give my body to be burned but have not love, I’m nothing” (see 1 Corinthians 13:3). Said another way, if I give away all I have to feed the poor and have not love, I’m nothing.
There are lots of good works that don’t honor God: whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). If I had time, I would argue — especially from texts like 2 Corinthians 8:2 and 9:7, Romans 8:12, Hebrews 13:17, and Micah 6:8 — that God-exalting love for people is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.
It would be wrong to think in terms of joy in God being more or less glorifying toward God than love to people is glorifying toward God, because there is no such thing as authentic, God-honoring love for people without joy in God.
Bottom line: In my Christian Hedonism, delighting in God, being glad in God, rejoicing in God, being satisfied in God — all those biblical categories are not alternatives to loving God or loving people. They are what make love for God and love for people authentic and God honoring.