Questions and Answers

Desiring God 2004 Conference for Pastors

Money, Ministry, and the Magnificence of Christ

Tom Steller: I want to thank those of you who submitted questions. We got a lot of questions, probably more than we’ll be able to get to. So if you don’t hear your question, please be forgiving toward us. We’ll get to as many as we can. I’m going to invite the panelists here to give as brief and succinct answers as possible, but also be free to follow up with each other and get the dialogue going between each other. I’m in an impossible situation, I realize, but I’ll do the best I can. The first person I’m asking to give a brief answer is George Verwer. George, there were people that were busy taking notes as you were talking about the signs of lukewarmness and you never got to six and seven. Maybe there were a couple that you didn’t mention. If you want to just say them briefly, that would be great.

George Verwer: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to go on. There are many more than seven, but I’ll just give two others that I would’ve liked to talk about. One, of course, I had touched on in the context of something else is slavery to lust. Failure in that area is directly tied to lukewarmness. And then the seventh one would be discouragement. Discouragement and disappointment often set people up for lust. So I also believe discouragement — which I have, to some degree, battled all of my life — needs to be dealt with. I have a 30-point strategy to deal with it. I have a 25-point strategy to deal with lust. There are two further signs of lukewarmness, which we have all decided to declare total war against. The other 22 other signs we will give at some other occasion.

Steller: Related to that question, this was just generally given to the whole council, but if anybody wants to address it, go ahead. Do any of you have advice for battling the temptation of internet porn? Randy, you just said that it’s just pervasive in your interactions with people, and I don’t know if you have anything or John or anybody else wants to say anything about that.

Randy Alcorn: Well, I think we need to take radical steps in this area. I think when Jesus talked about gouging out the eye and cutting off the hand (Matthew 5:29–30), if there’s one thing he was communicating, it’s to take this very seriously and take radical steps. Now, we realize that there is a figurative expression of this, but it’s getting at a literal meaning of being radical and taking the steps. It does not say anywhere in the Bible that we have to have internet access. I think for some people to have internet access is very unwise. I think it’s true not only for us as men, but in Christian homes, there are many junior high boys who have internet access in the privacy of their bedroom, which I compare in The Purity Principle to us providing stacks of pornography, putting it into his closet, and saying, “Now, don’t look at that.” It’s that accessible.

I know what I would’ve done when I was a young man in that arena, and we just need to remove that temptation. There are ways you can screen on the internet. Some are more effective than others. There’s a lot of things you can do. There’s some accountability things. “Insight for Living” has a deal that some of you know about. But I just would say, take radical steps. Don’t tell yourself, “Well, I just have to have internet access.” It doesn’t say in the Bible that we have to have internet access. It does say in the Bible that we need to be pure before the Lord.

Dwight Perry: One of the things that I always try to do, especially with men, is talk about it this way. I have a talk that I have entitled “If Somebody’s Not in Your Stuff, Satan Is.” I think the number one thing that all of us can do if we want to, in this whole area of purity, which is devastating, is to make sure that there’s at least one other man. And please, for the sisters who are in the audience, please, forgive me. I’m in no way discounting the value of our wives, for those of you who are married. I’m not discounting the value of our mothers, or the value of our sisters. But I do think that as men, we have a tendency to not tell the truth about an area like this, and to not tell the truth consistently because it’s humbling for us. And one of the greatest protections you can have is somebody who, on a weekly basis, is in your stuff. And if you don’t have at least one person in your stuff, trust me, Satan is.

Steller: Pastor John, a couple of questions have come up relating to the movie The Passion of the Christ, and it has to do with how it relates to the second commandment about having no graven images and so forth. Would you like to address that?

John Piper: The place that I’ve addressed that question in my own church is whether we should have children’s books that have pictures of Jesus. The second commandment is don’t have any graven images, so is it right to have an image of Jesus? My answer to that is that God broke the second commandment when he became incarnate, and thus he opened the door for us to legitimately do it. In other words, I don’t think the commandment says you shouldn’t look on the face of Christ, because otherwise all the people who heard him say, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), would be breaking the second commandment. Therefore, the incarnation, to me, is the legitimization of drawing pictures of Jesus or making a movie with Jesus. I wouldn’t favor drawing pictures of God the Father. If you’re going to draw a picture of the Holy Spirit, it should be a dove. I think that would be my fundamental theological answer. The incarnation warrants guesses at what Jesus might have looked like. I don’t think it’s a breaking of the second commandment.

Steller: Maybe there’s a follow up to that. Do you have any recommendations you have of how to use this movie as a bridge to evangelism and maybe how you see your book fitting in?

Piper: I’ve seen the movie, not just the trailer, and I could talk a long time about its potential impact or its potential flop. I have no illusions of grandeur here that it is going to turn the world upside down. I think it might, and it might not last a week. Because as I sat there, I thought, unless God works, unbelievers are going to probably walk out of this movie and never invite anybody to go back, because why would you want to expose yourself to such horrible suffering for two hours? So it could go either way. It really could. I think we should be praying with regard to the Jewish community. Eschatologically, this could be one instrument that God uses to lift the hardening that has been upon Israel for 2,000 years. I mean, how do you imagine the lifting of the hardening in Romans 11:25 happening? Do you think, “Well, that really won’t happen in our lifetime. There won’t be any great turning of Israel to the Lord.”

I don’t know how it’s going to happen, except through gospel preaching, but this could be part of it. So I’m going to be praying that with all the swirl of antisemitism that part of the work of God will be that the Jewish community looks upon him whom they have pierced and weeps as for an only child. So pray for that, and talk to your Jewish friends. The first screen in the movie that everybody sees is Isaiah 53:5, which says:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
     and with his wounds we are healed.

That’s the first thing you look at when the screen starts. And here’s one last comment. I recommend that you send your people there early on Ash Wednesday, the 25th of February. Send your youth groups and tell them that when they’re done seeing the movie, they’re not going to want to talk to anybody unless they’re very immature. Everybody left the theater without a single word being spoken where I went. Not a word was spoken by anybody to anybody because it feels like any language is blasphemous when you’re done. The only thing you feel like doing is praying. So I would recommend that you see it quickly yourself, and then you can know for yourself how to counsel your people. But I would say, send your youth groups or whatever and tell them that when they get in their cars without having said a word, the leader in the car say, “Let’s pray.” And then, just pray.

After you’ve prayed, then I think you can begin to talk about things, because otherwise you fall into the analytical mode and you feel filthy inside when you’re done that you’ve analyzed the crucifixion, or you’ve analyzed the blood, or you’ve analyzed the scourging, or you’ve analyzed the soldiers, and you just feel, “Why am I analyzing? I should be worshiping and confessing and repenting and praying.” So just tell your people, “Don’t talk, pray.” And then see where it leads.

Steller: There are a lot of questions on issues relating to money, and we’ll get to those in a moment. But here’s a question for Dwight, and others can chime in if they want. It’s a question about your strong statement that racism is the number one sin of the American evangelical church. Maybe you could elaborate more on that because other people think of divorce, or abortion, or materialism, or neglect of the poor. But what’s behind that statement?

Perry: Well, I’ve had several of you come up to me and ask me about that statement, and I appreciate that. Several of you said, “Is it like the Ku Klux Klan? I mean, where are you coming from?” And I said, “Thank God, it isn’t.” I grew up with the Ku Klux Klan in terms of the context. My wife, who grew up in Arkansas, grew up with them physically. So thank God that even though there is still the Ku Klux Klan — and you don’t have to go down south, but just go to some suburbs of Chicago — it isn’t the covert type of racism that I was referring to. Racism today has been institutionalized. It is more systemic, and it’s something that, especially as it relates to the evangelical church, is not seen because it’s something that is part of our ingrained culture.

Let me give you one quick example. How many of you as pastors of churches would think — and these are speaking to a lot of lay people out here — that when a senior pastor opening comes open in your church, you would automatically think of trying to get anyone to be the pastor. But when it comes to maybe calling a black person to be the pastor, it doesn’t even register on the radar screen, because there’s an underlying feeling that even though a black person might be qualified, they’re still a black person.

Let me give you another example. I’m an expository preacher. Some of you made comments about that, but many of you, unfortunately, made comments about the racism statement, which was a sad comment. You didn’t comment on the exposition I did on the text. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah. Did you hear what I just said? There’s an underlying current that, if I was Charles Swindoll, you would’ve come and said, “Man, great exposition of 1 Timothy 6.” But since I’m Dwight Perry, people said, “Great exposition. By the way, tell me about this racism thing.” And that just shows how much we need to get past those artificial barriers. I’m not a black Christian, I’m a Christian who happens to be black. My theology defines my identity, not my ethnicity. Did you hear what I just said?

I have no problem being African-American, but that’s not who I am in my core. Who I’m in my core is somebody who’s been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, who happens to have been born in an African-American culture and raised in America, but that’s not my identity. And I think until the church gets past some of those false things that we just kind of see, racism is still going to be the most pervasive issue and it’s going to hinder missions. I just asked Dr. Verwer about their involvement with the African-American church. It’s going to hinder our response to the inner city. It’s going to hinder giving. It’s going to hinder everything we do, and we won’t even know that it’s hindering it.

Piper: Can I push you a little bit?

Perry: Go ahead, John.

Piper: Are you saying that what you said yesterday was that racism is the most pervasive sin or is it the worst sin? Here’s the reason I ask. The two examples you just gave of systemic racism are that we wouldn’t think of calling a black senior pastor; that it doesn’t even enter our brains in a suburban church. Or second, they asked you about the race comment. Now, that shows pervasive systemic racialization, but that’s not like killing a baby.

Perry: Well, let’s quantify, John, if we can. First of all, before God, we have to look at this whole issue of sin. Before God, sin is sin. From a theological point of view, before God, killing a baby and doing that before God — he died for all of that. The consequences of those are different, so we measure those differently. That’s the first comment. Secondly, the issue of racism is something that is so systemic that it has created a phenomenon in America where abortion in the inner city was pervasive long before the pro-life movement came into existence. It became a national crisis when it hit the suburbs. But the lady down the street was killing those black babies long before it became this national thing in the news. That’s the truth. So it’s not an either-or, John. It’s not good or bad. It is the reality, unfortunately, of how racism clouds even the abortion issue, which I’m fervently against. I’m fervently pro-life.

To be honest with you, most black Christians that I’ve met are fervently pro-life as well. So when I hear those quantifying statements, I tend to respond to that because it tends to try to de-emphasize one and uplift another. And I don’t think that’s a fair response.

Steller: Randy, you wrote the book Dominion, and it was a wonderful novel trying to sensitize people about racial issues. Are there any important lessons that you learned in your research for that book that you just might want to speak into at the conference?

Alcorn: When I took on the book, Dominion, and I decided to make the viewpoint character an African-American, I knew I was taking on a huge project. I knew it was very risky and I also knew that I was going to have to do it authentically. My goal was that a black person would be able to read this book and not at least immediately know that a white guy wrote it. I even asked the publisher not to put my picture on the back because I thought both for white and black readers that might be a distraction, so that it could be labeled one way or the other. But in any case, I knew the challenge was huge and I did an immense amount of research, read a lot of books, and especially sat down with a lot of black people, a lot of African-Americans in the inner city and in the suburbs.

I talked with professional football players, I talked with gang members, I talked with all kinds of people because I wanted a broad spectrum of people, from the north and south. I flew to Jackson, Mississippi, and spent some time with John Perkins and Spencer Perkins who were there with Chris Rice at that time. They wrote that book, More Than Equals. The black families and the white families were living together in inner city Jackson, Mississippi. I tried to saturate myself with it. I could comment on what I learned as a white guy from the suburbs, and that’s really why I took this on because I wanted to learn. I knew this was very important, but it was something that was not a part of my life and I needed to explore it. Doing the book forced me to do that.

It was one of the most rich and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had because it allowed me to understand another point of view to the degree that one can understand. I will never be a woman, but I can learn. Scripture commands us to live with our wives in an understanding way. So you don’t have to be somebody else — you don’t have to be their gender and you don’t have to be their race — to live with them in an understanding way. You won’t have all the experiences, but too often I think we dismiss being able to build these bridges because, well, black people don’t understand white people, and white people don’t understand black people. We’re commanded to understand and we’re commanded to be unified. And in Christ, the Jew and Gentile, all the racial barriers, all of those kinds of things are broken down.

Verwer: I’d like to just give my own testimony because the thing that hurt me the most about my own country, as the son of an immigrant, was our racism. In the early days of my ministry, even though I lived in Europe, I went to Memphis and I was with a white friend and I said, “I want to go visit Martin Luther King, where he was killed.” He didn’t understand why I wanted to do that. That was on the bad side of the town. They didn’t go there. This is when that Martin Luther King site was a very second-rate, shabby memorial, but it was still a memorial. Today, it is a major monument in America. So I went over there and as I stood in that site where that man was killed, God just slayed me. I knew I was a racist. I knew I was partly responsible even though I had rebelled against it. I went from New Jersey to live in Tennessee. When I saw segregation, boy, I was so offended. I was so ashamed, but I never did much about it. I didn’t know what to do.

So I wept at that memorial and God forgave me, and I went out to the street and began hugging black people and asking them to forgive me. This was 30-some years ago. I was in Europe all during that Martin Luther King thing. I had white friends who said, “He’s just a communist.” Others said, “He’s immoral.” I didn’t know what, living in Europe, was the truth. So I’ve investigated, I studied, I read, and I talked to many black people. Some of my closest friends are African-Americans. Having lived in Europe, I don’t have enough of them. By God’s grace, half of all of our people in our whole movement are non-white. I can tell you that experience set me free. It’s all a pilgrimage. Later on, as I had many racist friends, God had to break me again because God had to teach me how to love racists.

If you’re a little pastor and you’ve gone to a little Promise Keepers Conference in Atlanta with all people of different nationalities — I followed that very carefully and it was a wonderful thing — and you think that if you repent at that conference and get set free from racism you’re going to go back to your little white church in Alabama and turn that around without laying down your life over a period of years, you are naive. This thing is deep in our country, but let’s not overreact to a statement that we may think isn’t entirely accurate. I always say the greatest sin is lukewarmness. That’s the cause of racism. But that isn’t really the issue, is it? What Dwight said is so important. This is a horrendous issue in our nation and it’s caused a hindrance to Christianity throughout the world.

When I was a student at Moody, it was against the rules to date a black person. This was institutional. If you think that disappeared just because we changed the rules, you don’t really know much. I remember a Chinese guy was dating one of the Anglos in our little OM group, and I told him, “Forget the rule, go date her.” We have pioneered the most wild, international, interracial marriages on planet earth. But that’s another whole message. Let’s not get caught up on some little thing that we don’t quite exactly agree on. Let the Holy Spirit do a deep work. In reading John’s book, [Brothers, We Are Not Professionals] (, I thought your chapter there on racism is one of the finest things I’ve ever read from a Christian. But I have to acknowledge that I, myself, have failed.

Alcorn: I’d like to pick up on one thing George said, because I know from experience dialoguing on this, some people were caught up short when he said that he was confessing to black people. Why would he confess? He didn’t kill Martin Luther King Jr. He didn’t own slaves. He wasn’t part of this. Biblically, there is a tie between us and our ancestors that is very strong. You see it in Daniel 9, for instance, and a number of other places. Daniel is confessing his sins. He says, “We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have been wicked, we have rebelled, and we have turned away.” It wasn’t just that his ancestors did this, but he was part of it. It’s inclusive, it touches him.

Every one of us in America through our white heritage has benefited financially, and in terms of position and education, from a heritage that goes back to the slavery era. We are linked to that. We are tied to that. So even if you honestly don’t have conscious racist feelings towards someone, nonetheless, there is a link. There is a tie. That’s where the confession and repentance and asking forgiveness is appropriate.

Steller: Thank you. Let’s ask a few questions about the teaching on money and possessions and so forth. This question came primarily to you, Randy, but it’s open to everybody. It says, “You emphasize and even universalize that it is always appropriate to give, and you asked us to raise our hands if we believed it. Would you say that there are no exceptions or caveats, like always giving demanding children what they want? Always give time to people who want appointments? Always give food to those who refuse to work? Always give your daughter to whoever comes calling?”

Alcorn: Yes, each one of those things was what I was intending to say. I heard somebody say many years ago that it is impossible to make a balanced statement, and that statement itself, therefore, must be imbalanced. Scripture is full of unbalanced statements. Jesus made many unbalanced statements. When I was talking about giving and saying that it’s appropriate, my intent was to say that giving should be our default instead of assuming that we should keep things.

Once God has provided for us our basic needs, let’s ask ourselves when we have an opportunity to give. In light of children dying of AIDS in Africa, in light of people starving all over the world, in light of needs in our own inner cities, in light of children being killed by abortion, in light of prison ministries that need help, can we assume when we have money that comes above and beyond what we need that giving is probably what God intends? Because he says what he says in 2 Corinthians 9:11, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

Now, does that mean we should not exercise discernment? No. In fact, a good part of Money, Possessions, and Eternity is dedicated to 10 different reasons why the poor are poor, and that we must help people in poverty in very different ways depending upon the reasons for which they are poor. One of the reasons sometimes is laziness, one of them is natural disasters, and another is social persecution and oppression from the government. So you discern, “How can I best help these people?” Paul makes clear in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, let him not eat.” So there are times where it is sin to feed the lazy person. But I think Scripture is very clear on God’s heart for the poor, and there are times where you take a risk.

Steller: There are some really practical questions too. I think, Randy, this is probably addressed to you, but it’s just about questioning the IRAs and questioning big savings and those kinds of things. It says in 2 Corinthians 12:14 that it’s not the childrens’ obligation to save up for their parents, but the parents’ obligation to save up for their children. Do you have any guidance on whether you should put money aside for children’s education and those kinds of things?

Alcorn: Well, we certainly did in our family. We set aside funds for our kids’ education. I think the key is taking care of your kids while they’re still kids. The danger in our society, I think, is where we got into what I was mentioning with inheritances that are on the level of winning the lottery. I know families who are already spending money like that. They’re middle class families that make very good incomes and they’re already making purchases in light of an inheritance they know is coming.

I think parents don’t need to complicate our relationships with our grown children and give them motives for wanting us dead. Honestly, that sounds very crass, but it is amazing some of the end-of-life decisions that are being made by grown children about their parents. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about and it is absolutely startling sometimes, and that’s what I was getting at with the whole inheritance thing that we just need to see that God has entrusted this to us. If our children and our grandchildren need it, we want to help our grandchildren, if we’re around and can help them through college. If we die before them, there’s some in our will that will go toward helping them, but the primary emphasis is not that. My sons-in-law, who are the providers for their home, are responsible guys whom God has entrusted as stewards. My job is not to interfere with their lives and their provisions for their families.

Sometimes we leave these biggest estates and we just don’t even think of the impact that it’s going to have. Do the studies on it and read the books like I have. You cannot believe how debilitating inheritances can be. It’s just like unearned income. People who have won the lottery, all the studies indicate they are more miserable two years after winning multimillion dollar lotteries than they were before they won the lottery. Before they won the lottery, at least they had the hope that someday they might win the lottery. Now, they won it and they discovered it doesn’t satisfy. Let’s use those funds for the kingdom of God. Is there a place for saving, retiring, and insuring? I think there is a place for it. Chapter 18 of the book deals with it. But I think that place needs to be much more moderate than probably what a lot of us are practicing, including myself.

Perry: Randy, Cynthia and I just did our will and I appreciate your comments because we have a desire to do that. Coming from our context, it is different. This whole issue of living simply is just kind of part of our context. We don’t have to try to live simply, so whatever.

Alcorn: We’re not Bill Cosby.

Perry: Yeah, we’re not Bill Cosby. But if anyone wants to donate to the Dwight Perry Relief Fund, you can. In our will, we made a decision to give a certain amount of money upon our death and we were counseled — and this might be of help to you all — not to do that. We were counseled to spread out the inheritance over a period of 15 years and to give it in increments, and to also raise the bar to when it can be given. In other words, my kids are getting old now, but we didn’t want them to have it when they were 18. Who knows what kind of decisions they’ll make. I only have one left who’s under 18 now. My daughter will be 19. So I know that by experience, that’s not the best time to have a hundred thousand dollars, but to spread that out.

So what we have done is that we have specifically said they can’t get anything until age 25. And then at that point, they only get a certain portion. They don’t get the whole thing. Then, at 30, they get another portion. Then, at 35, they get another portion. Now, what are we teaching our children? Number one, that dad is not the ultimate source. As I said yesterday in my message of resources, God is. Number two, we are teaching them that if they don’t work, they won’t eat, because I’m not John Rockefeller. They’re not going to get too rich. So just think through it. Randy, thank you for helping us think through that inheritance issue prudently. That’s all I’m saying. You can still meet the needs of your family, but do it in a way that doesn’t destroy their character.

Verwer: In socialist Europe, by the way, if we don’t work, we still eat.

Steller: Here’s a more exegetical question addressed to John and Randy about treasures in heaven: “What are the treasures in heaven? It seems that Matthew 6 and 1 Timothy 6 imply that if we have our treasure on earth, it is not in heaven. Therefore, if treasure is not in heaven, we are not saved. So is treasure in heaven another way of talking about salvation? That is, are rewards like the crown of life an analogy for eternal life?” So this is about the whole issue of rewards. Is it just rewards that are at stake, or is it, in some way, our salvation that is at stake?

Piper: I think it’s both. I know the exegetical discussion, at least among serious scholars, as to whether all of the passages that appear to speak of a judgment in which you will be rewarded according to the good or bad that you’ve done (like 2 Corinthians 5) means you’ll either be saved or you’ll be lost, rather than you’ll be given varying degrees of rewards within salvation. I think some of those texts probably go that way, but not all of them. I think Jonathan Edwards was right. For example, in the parable of the talents, different rewards are given and there are different levels of reward. That’s one issue. I’m on the side of some texts that say if you live a certain way, you will die. That means heaven and hell are at stake. It’s not just levels of reward in heaven. So I don’t like Zane Hodge’s stuff where it’s an anti-lordship thing and every text that seems to threaten a believer with hell is taken as some kind of staggered level in heaven. That just won’t work, so I’m on that side.

Then within that side, I think the question becomes, what’s the nature of the reward? And there are differences there. I would love to hear Randy talk about this because he’s written the book on rewards and thought about it more than I have, but I’m inclined to press through material rewards, which I don’t doubt will be distinct in heaven. If we live on a new heavens and a new earth, to me, it’s inconceivable everybody would have exactly the same situation. That would be absolute, total, horrible monotony. But I want to press through the physical rewards to say, at root, the distinctions are greater or lesser capacities to see and enjoy Jesus. And therefore, if you get a bigger house, that bigger house (or lake or mountain) will be an occasion for a kind of worship that emotionally — and by virtue of something inside — will give you a capacity to see more of Christ and love more of Christ.

I cannot conceive of the new heavens and new earth as a place where idolatry remains a problem. Whereas here, all rewards and all physical benefits are mainly a problem because they are potential idols. The kingdom is going to involve real stuff. Jesus ate fish as a resurrected person. We’ll eat fish in the new heavens and the new earth. I can’t conceive that the quality of the cod or the salmon is going to be a temptation to boast over another person, or exult excessively in the taste of the salmon. All of that’s going to be such an easy occasion for worship that the whole concept of idolatry will be gone. And therefore, this issue of multilayered physical rewards will not be an issue. Therefore, I don’t want to put any stress on enticing people to get salmon instead of perch because they were a better person in this world. I want to say you will have a greater capacity to enjoy God if you walk more closely with him.

Alcorn: I agree. And I think an analogy would be that a small cup can be full of water and it is full, and a large container can be full of water and it is full. A very large container, much bigger than both of them, can be full. Will we all be full of joy in heaven? Absolutely. Will anybody be going, “Oh, I wish I had more joy”? No, we’re going to be full of joy in heaven. The source of our joy is our Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, the triune God. Our joy will be in him. And exactly as John said, I think, any material rewards will be like that, and some of the passages do seem to talk of it in fairly substantial ways. Many of the rewards relate to rulership, reigning with Christ, being put over 10 cities, etc. Whether you take that literally or metaphorically, nonetheless, it’s ruling. This theme appears again and again that God’s people will rule the world under Christ, with Christ, as fellow heirs of all of this.

And actually, that analogy goes back to Jonathan Edwards in one of his sermons, or maybe a couple of his sermons, on heaven. He talks about differing capacities. And I think the heresy we need to correct among believers is that people say, “It all comes out in the wash, so come. When we die, because we’re covered by the blood of Christ, it really doesn’t matter how we lived and there will be no eternal consequences related to the faith with which we served him, the things that we did, good works motivated by love for God, or the Spirit of Christ at work in our lives. It won’t matter whether we served him or not because the only thing that matters to us is that we’re saved. So give me some little corner of heaven and I don’t care anything about rewards.”

Well, Paul cared about rewards. Jesus cared about rewards. God wants to give us rewards, and God wants to say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And we should crave to hear those words, too. Not out of any self-righteousness on our part, but exactly the opposite. Because we could never hear him say, “Well done,” apart from his righteousness at work through us.

Piper: Randy, do you think there’s a danger in some of this? I have not read your book on rewards. Do you think there’s a danger in the evangelical church of appealing to materialism on the other side of heaven? How hard do we need to work to help people not take it that way? People are pretty simple, and if you entice them with a certain kind of reward, will they make a mistake?

Alcorn: I think it’s possible. I think any biblical teaching, especially any biblical teaching that we’re unfamiliar with, has a downside. Very little has been said about reward in the evangelical community for quite a long time in many circles, largely because we want to stay away from works. Because as soon as we get into works we start thinking we’re talking about salvation. If you’re thinking about works contributing to salvation, works is a dirty word. But as I said the other night, “works” in Scripture is not a dirty word when it is coming from something like, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). So good works are not like something Catholics are supposed to do while evangelicals are just supposed to praise God that we’re saved and not do anything and not be concerned about what we do, like helping the poor and getting involved in the racial things and prison ministries and missions and all of the big things that God has called us to.

So I think we do need to be very careful to not appeal to the wrong thing, but at the same time I’ll give one analogy. I’ll finish with this, and I use this in my book, The Law of Rewards, and I may use it in Money, Possessions, and Eternity too. Suppose I said to my daughters, back when they lived at home, “Okay, girls, I want you to work all day on Saturday and we’re going to clean up the place and the yard, and we’re going to trim the hedges. We’re going to do all this kind of stuff. And then at the end of the day, I’m going to pay you both 40 or 50 bucks, and then I’m going to take you out to a nice dinner and you guys get to choose the place. Okay? You girls can choose the place.”

Now, if I said that to my daughters, how would I feel if they said, “Well, dad, we’ll do the work, but we don’t want the money and we don’t want to go out to dinner with you, because that’s just our duty because we’re your daughters and that’s what we should do.” Would that bring joy into my heart? No, it would not bring joy into my heart. Here’s the thing, I want them to want it. And here’s the key: reward was my idea, not theirs. Do you see how it would be totally different if they came to me after I said, “Girls, I want you to work all day on Saturday,” and I said nothing about reward, and they came to me and they said, “Dad, we’ve decided we’re not going to work all day on Saturday unless you pay us and take us out to dinner.”

That would completely reverse the whole thing. And so my feeling is that because reward is God’s idea, which he offers and even motivates us with, we shouldn’t avoid talking about it. There is a danger in that, I agree. But I think it’s a danger that God took by calling us to (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 9) think about rewards and the crown.

Piper: Right. Now, just push on this because it’s really, really big in this conference, I think. The aspect of that analogy you didn’t mention that I would mention is what if they said, “We think your idea is really great and we’re so thankful for it. We’ll take the 50 and we’ll take the dinner. Why don’t you stay home?”

Alcorn: Right, I’m sure somebody somewhere is saying that.

Piper: It’s all over the place. It’s about golf and restoration. I even wondered if I heard it in the Graham Staines thing when she said, “I’m thinking a lot about heaven these days.” It brought me to tears. I cannot think about this man dying with his boys in his car without crying. But when she said, “I’m thinking a lot about heaven these days”, did that mean she really wants these three back and she’s going to go see them someday? At that point, I’m starting to want to say, “Jesus is going to be there and he’s going to be the main thing.” And I know you believe that with all your heart. I just think a lot of people want the dinner, the 50 dollars, and aren’t interested in Christ being there.

Alcorn: Right. I think that we definitely have to correct it, but we have to realize 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says, “We will be together with the Lord.” The emphasis is, of course, is “with the Lord.” Because if we were together in hell, apart from the presence of God, it would be utter misery. But we will be together with the Lord, and Paul says, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” And he started by saying, “We don’t want you to be ignorant of those who have died and gone to be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). So there is comfort in that, and Jonathan Edwards appealed to this as well, to be with your loved ones again in heaven. But of course, all of that comes under the question, why do we love our loved ones? It’s because they’re created in the image of God and they reflect the nature of God. And in their perfection, in his presence, they will draw us closer to God. We won’t be tempted to idolize them. We’ll be drawn to God through them instead of looking at them instead of God.

Piper: I have one last comment. I know we’re going to get criticized for talking too much, but you just gave me a great sense, and I think pastorally, this will be crucial. It seems to me that if we work hard right now to help our people discern how to enjoy pizza and diet pop and sex and their house for Christ’s sake, rewards are just a continuation of the same thing. And so really, there’s a continuity. It’s the same battle, when you’re talking about rewards on the other side or you’re talking about proper use of stuff on this side. It’s almost exactly the same. I didn’t think of that until this very moment. So that’s really helpful to me.

Verwer: Can I say something? I think there’s two books that will really help us on this subject. One is called Jesus Freaks. I hope you know about this book. The second book is dynamite and I think it is tied into this reward thing. I didn’t find very many missionary books in the bookstore. My second visit was more depressing. The first one was very exciting. But I did find this one, and it’s about John Patton. It is done by Banner of Truth, so you’re allowed to read it. And it’s amazing. The first attempt to introduce Christianity to them resulted in John Williams and James Harris being clubbed to death within a few minutes of landing in 1839.

Surely for those people and these people there is some kind of reward in heaven. I don’t understand it, but surely, compared to a lot of the people that we have to meet and are learning to love, these people are in a different league. I think I hope we can somehow be in their league through all of this. And I haven’t read Randy’s book. The thought of rewards just blows my mind. The thought of just getting there, for me, is so miraculous. The thought of getting a reward is just bizarre. I can’t handle it, but I’ll try to read the book.

Steller: Here’s a question about tithing, which is so clearly taught in the Old Testament. It says, “If I remember correctly, there were three tithes required in the Old Testament, and that giving to the poor and needy was encouraged above and beyond those tithes. Since it was a theocratic state, tithing was the equivalent of our taxes today. How should this affect the way we discuss tithing today in our churches when we have a separation between church and state and we’re no longer under the law?”

Perry: The way I’ve always taught tithing to the people that I minister to is like this. I have overreacted to the comment that the New Testament does not teach tithing. The reason why I’ve overreacted to that exegetically is because tithing was something that came before the law. It was not something that was instituted in the law. So as a biblicist, I try to understand the reasoning for that based on a concept of the mosaic and ceremonial law. If tithing was restricted to that, why didn’t it start within that context? So I’ve always had an exegetical problem with that, to be very honest with you. So the way I’ve taught the people that I’ve ministered to is that tithing, since it’s not something that is constricted under the law, is something that also has been brought over into the dispensation of grace. In my mind, there’s no real difference as it relates to that. It’s not a standard that is to be legislated, but it’s a standard that gives me a barometer of where I should begin. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).

Everything is God’s and the tithe is just a reminder that everything is God’s. That’s how I’ve always taught people, and therefore, it’s a beginning point to help my faith to be where it needs to be and it acknowledges God’s ownership over everything. So that has really helped me in my teaching in that area.

Alcorn: There was the Levite tithe and the festival tithe (10 percent each year) that were perpetual tithes, and then there was the tithe for the poor that was collected every third year. So this would average out in each year to something like 23 percent. Now, some of that would be parallel since it’s a spiritual nation, a theocracy, or whatever you want to call it. It would be parallel to some taxation that’s for everybody’s benefit and also is taken to give some help to the poor. But I think a fairly direct analogy could be made between the Levitical tithe — which would care for the spiritual leaders of the community and the temple — and your local spiritual leaders. And maybe that analogy, roughly, could be carried over to the local church.

I think anytime you try to make this firm, hard case for tithing, I would avoid doing that. I would just say that we should view it as the starting place. It’s like the training wheels, an introduction to giving. It’s getting us on the right road to giving. And then yeah, teach grace-giving. Emphasize grace giving. Can it really be below the tithe required of the poorest Israelite? It is just hard to believe that God would lower his standards and expectations of his people, having sent Christ and having given us the Spirit.

Verwer: One problem we have found about the tithe in missions work is that quite a few churches teach, and often, the tithe in churches that I’ve been linked to, and it is tied in with a lot of other legalist things. So though the tithe, I’ve always thought of it sort of as a good measuring thing as a minimum, but it’s often combined with all kinds of other more legalistic approaches to the whole Christian faith, which I know is a vast subject we can’t get into. We don’t have the time, but I really feel it’s a mistake when churches teach that the tithe is brought into the storehouse — and some pretty top people teach this — and the storehouse is our church.

This has been a huge hindrance to world missions because most of those churches are not big into missions. The storehouses, the parking lots, the pastors salaries, the junior assistant pastors, and the sub-junior assistants are all getting money. I mean, there are so many staff positions in American churches, let’s face it. What goes to missions? This is proven. What goes to missions is just the scraps. So then on top of that, they tell even wealthy people who are sitting on huge money, “Your tithe must come to our church.” Some teach totally against giving to anybody else, but those who were at least moderately, semi, 10-percent-grace-awakened, say, “If you do give to someone else, that’s above the tithe.” I just give that as an example of the abuse of something that was once so biblical. I just struggle with it and where it fits into really being obedient to the basic commands of the Lord Jesus.

Alcorn: Some of the reasons that our people don’t give may be because our churches don’t give. I think that if we lead the way by giving sacrificially and saying, “Our goal is to give away 50 percent of what comes in.” Maybe in your church, it’s to give 60, 70, 80, or 90 percent. Maybe you’ll be at an RG LeTourneau church where you’re living on the 10 percent. As American Christians, who are giving as they should, we could definitely have a number of staff members even with that, keeping the 10 percent and giving away the 90 percent. And then, when people see that world vision and care for the poor and care for racial issues and care for unborn children and helping them, they’re being shown a model of giving. Because if we encourage our people to give and it comes in and we keep it, that’s not the model.

Steller: There’s a question in terms of the importance of giving. Someone asks, “Is there a place for church discipline in lack of giving?” And a related question is, “Should the elders know who is giving, who isn’t giving, and how do you make those decisions?”

Piper: I don’t know the answer to that question.

Verwer: Oh, I love to hear that. Say that again.

Piper: I don’t know the answer to that question.

Verwer: Whoa.

Piper: You should come around more often, George. You wouldn’t be so surprised. But I can tell you what we do. If your church were to go one way and we’d go another way, I’m not going to get bent out of shape about that. But I would love to have a little dialogue here now about knowing, because I gather from what Randy said, that he’s sort of pushing us towards knowing what each other is giving. Don’t just ask, “Are you watching pornography?” But also ask, “Are you giving a tithe?” and so on. I really have misgivings about that, so we need to argue about this for a minute because Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” I think that means if you’re driving home today and you see somebody in the cold with a flat tire, you should stop and help them, and you can’t make it invisible. It doesn’t mean get on the phone at home and tell somebody what you gave at church. I just think those are in totally different categories. So I have really discouraged our church from doing what it did in the 1940s, namely, it published the record of giving. I have the book in my file. It published what everybody gave at the end of the year. It was Bethlehem Baptist Church in the 1940s.

Verwer: How much was it? Was it very much money?

Piper: Well, Dr. Wyden always gave more. His line was a four digit figure, and all the rest of them were in hundreds. So one guy was the main giver.

Verwer: Well, he lost his reward, didn’t he?

Piper: Well, everybody else did too. So the point here is that some of us shouldn’t know what our people are giving. Therefore, I don’t know how to do church discipline if they’re giving nothing because I don’t know. Maybe we should instruct Paul Johnson, our financial secretary. We have a church covenant and it says, “We will give regularly to this church.” People pledge that when they join the church. So if somebody is giving nothing, yes, they should be disciplined.

Alcorn: I totally agree that I don’t think we should know. I don’t think we should have the records of what people are giving. I think it would tempt people to give in order to let their works of righteousness be known, to be seen by men, and it would tempt us to do what James 2 tells us not to do, which is to show favoritism toward the rich, but especially those rich from whom we are benefiting. I don’t think that’s a temptation that we, as pastors, need. I don’t think it’s a temptation that the people need. What I’m talking about is a reaction to having gone completely the other way. An example would be Romans 12. Here’s the gift of teaching. Here’s the gift of mercy. Here’s the gift of helps. People know what those look like. People know the prayer warriors in our church. I know people in my church. I know who the prayer warriors are. Raise your hand if you know people in your church that are prayer warriors.

Now, wait a minute, they must have sinned. I mean, if they’re praying in their closet, how do you know they’re praying? I mean, who are the Bible students in your church? Somehow you know and it’s not because they wear a sign. Who has a strong marriage in your church? Or who’s good in the area of parenting? The problem is that we know who the prayer warriors are and we can send people to them that they can mentor in prayer. But who are the giving warriors? We say, “Oh no, no, no. Giving is completely different. We’re not supposed to know who the giving warriors are.” We don’t hear any testimony about it. We hear testimonies about how God healed a guy’s marriage. We hear testimonies about how God delivered someone from sexual immorality. He’s no longer into pornography. And we don’t worry about his testimony that that’s going to cause pride in him.

We probably should worry about it and be concerned, but nonetheless we don’t cut off his testimony in this area. I think if we do not have giving testimonies that are the work of the grace of God in our lives to his glory, not to ours, that he may be magnified as in every other area, then I think people are not going to see giving modeled. And our young people desperately need to know that there are giving warriors. If we didn’t know RG LeTourneau’s story, we wouldn’t benefit from it. RG LeTourneau could have not told anybody, and nobody would’ve known. He just quietly did this and nobody knew. What about George Müller? How do we know these stories? Somebody had to say, “This happened in my life.” And I just think we need to hear those testimonies. But we need to be very guarded and very careful that it doesn’t become self-glorifying as in any other area.

Perry: We’ve just worked through this issue at my church. So let me give you maybe something that is just a model. It doesn’t mean you have to do it, but it’s just a way we’ve done it. I will never pastor a church again without knowing, in my leadership, what they give. I’m convinced that leaders have to have a higher standard of accountability. However, I also am convinced that Scripture is very clear that our giving needs to be done in secret. Exegetically, I did struggle as well, Randy, with some of your comments about that. So I think that a balance, at least what our church has done, is that once a year we get a report and it’s distributed to all of the elders about what they’re giving. It’s public in front of the elders, but it’s not public in front of the church. We also have extended that to our deacons and to the key leadership people so that we can hold one another accountable to really modeling what it means to be a leader in our church.

However, we do not demand that of the flock. It’s very critical, I think, that, at least as a pastor, I know who’s being faithful in giving. Because after almost 30 years of doing this, I’ll be very honest with you, I longer judge whether or not a person is committed to my church by what they say. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. I don’t even judge so much about activity anymore. For us to pontificate and say commitment isn’t critical, it is critical. I judge commitment by their financial commitment. I really do. Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. So I try to nurture and encourage our elders and others to help people to think through financially why they’re not committed. What is the issue? I’m not just looking at that as a superficial barometer, but I’m asking them, “You’re a leader here, why aren’t you tithing? What’s the problem? What’s the issue? Have you really bought into the vision?” It is used as a discussion starter to really come alongside people and encourage them, not as condemnation, not as something to force them, not as something to humiliate them.

Steller: I’m going to direct the last two very practical questions to Pastor John and then let him close us in prayer. These seem particularly important to me. First, when a pastor finds himself in an extremely dry season and he, himself, is struggling with depression and whether or not he will submit to God in a difficult situation, does there come a time when he should step down from the preaching ministry? Or should he continue to preach the gospel accurately even though he, himself, is struggling to believe? That’s just one pastoral comment.

Another one has to do with us going home. Could you give a few words of wisdom for those of us husbands that need to shepherd our wives that aren’t hearing what we’re hearing toward a different standard of living and giving? We don’t want to go home and ungraciously drop bombs on them since they’re not having the opportunity to wrestle with what we have been in our time together. That also applies to our church. How do we go home, bringing what we’ve learned here without dropping bombs, but yet being effective? Do you want to say a word about those two things in our minutes left and then lead us in prayer?

Piper: With regard to the depression and discouragement factor question, I just want to try to say something balanced here. Don’t quit the first time you get discouraged, and don’t feel like if the sermon assigned for the Sunday is joy and you had a horrible, horrible weekend with your wife or your child or somebody, and joy is far from your soul, that you shouldn’t preach on it because it’s the word of God you’re preaching, not your experience. It may or may not be appropriate to confess before your church at that moment the pain because it might immediately indict somebody else, but that’s appropriate at times. So I think my first counsel is don’t quit when the ups and downs are there. They’re just going to be there. It’s a sweet and wonderful thing when your emotions are fully engaged with the topic assigned for the morning, but it doesn’t always happen.

You just have to do what you’re called to do and pray that God gives you the grace and brings your affections into line with the text by his grace. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, here’s the balance. If month after month after month there’s no joy in the ministry, you need to go to your elders and ask for a sabbatical, or ask for a leave of absence, or ask them to pay your way to a counselor, or something, because you’ll die. You’ll hurt the people. An unhappy pastor hurts his people. He turns into a hypocrite, eventually. So you have to decide when that line happens. Don’t do an “all or nothing” thing.

Go to your elders, and spend a lot of time cultivating this kind of elder so that you could be honest with them. Some elders wouldn’t want to hear this, but I hope you don’t have that kind. Or it could be deacons, whatever you have. You go to them and you say, “This is the way it is. Pray for me.” That’s the first step. And then after whatever season you say, “I really think I’m not going to survive under this present pace and present demand. I just need some space.” And then, they’ll give you counsel and you work it through. That’s my best shot at the first question.

With regard to the second question, I can speak a little bit from my front burner experience because Barnabas is at Wheaton. It costs $23,000 to have him there. I get zero financial aid. I have to come up with $23,000 a year to keep Barnabas at Wheaton College. And here’s an interesting thing about not getting any financial aid. The reason I don’t get any financial aid is because they don’t give a rip about how much I give to my church. All they look at is, “What do you make? What are your honorariums, etc.? I don’t take any of the royalties. They go into a foundation. And they look at that and they say, “You don’t need anything.” Well, they don’t know if I’ve given 10, 20, 30, or 40 percent back to the church.

I said to Noël the other day, “If we’re going to make this work this year, I think our whole dating arrangement has to change.” We eat out a certain number of times. We used to eat out under 5 dollars at Pizza Hut every Thursday. I can remember the days. It’s roughly 15 dollars now if you pay a tip and go to a modest place to have lunch. So I said we can’t do it as often, but that isn’t quite the way I said it because the point I’m trying to make is that you don’t drop bombs. You seek input. I said, “Do you think, given the pace that we’ve got to set for this year, we could back off on eating out for now? I’m not saying forever, but it’s a season. We need to tighten belts on a few things. We can do it with coupons that people give us, and we can go to different places, and so on.” And she was fine with that.

I think if I had come across with a bomb and then a bunch of other things, it would have been too much. We just went through some things and said, “Where can we cut? Where can we cut this next year or two till he’s through?” By the way, I’ll just be honest with you here. For the first time ever since 1971, I borrowed money. I opened a line of equity on my house and borrowed money for Wheaton College.

Steller: Good for you.

Piper: I hate being in debt. So when you go home, take her out to lunch (a cheap place) and say, “Can we talk?” And just share ideas. Share what you heard. Just talk and see if you can bring her up to speed. Just share the sermon before you say, “Here’s the plan. We are selling the house. We’re not going to own anything.”

Alcorn: Just say, “Enjoy this lunch, because it’s the last one you’re going to get.” No, I really agree with what John said, and I think that we do need to be very, very sensitive to our wives. Now, some of our wives are much further along in this area than we are, so let’s not assume that this is always the case. But certainly, wives often are on the security end of things and are thinking in terms of the whole family and what this is going to mean. My wife, Nancy, has been an absolute joy and delight and trooper. We’ve had to work through a lot of things together in this adventure of giving. And God has taught me a lot through her. Do not jeopardize your marriage on the basis of this, but do work it through, because the best thing you can do for your wife is whatever it is God has called you to do. Just work her through that and then she will become the beneficiary of you, together, being stretched, and you will see God’s blessing and God’s provision.

One other thing I would throw in is that there are just a lot of people who are not receiving God’s abundant provision that Jesus talked about in Luke 6:38, when he said, “With the measure you give, it will be given back to you.” Sometimes it’s precisely because we haven’t stepped out in faith to do more giving that we’re not receiving more. We say, “Where would that come from? Where would the difference be between what we need and what we have come from if we gave that much?” And the answer is, it would come from God.