Mark Dever: Well, thank you for coming back for this late-night session. Let me tell you a few things about it and then we’ll get started. This is going to be a lot like the session you would’ve seen if you came last year to the Jonathan Edwards conference, except because of the number of people and the topic, and the number of people here, we’re not going to be taking questions from the floor. We’re going to be having a conversation among ourselves. You’ll notice the people up here are the people who are going to be leading elective seminars tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.
This question and answer session is taped, so if you want to get CDs at the conference, there’ll be a copy of this conversation, and Lord willing, the one tomorrow night as well. But we want to have this conversation tonight in part to reflect on what John has just said to us and to try to think how that impacts the various things that we’re thinking about.
So, part of this is going to be just thinking on the fly as we’re here, sort of reacting because what John’s basically told us — John, let me just see if I’m summarizing this right — is that if we want to try to work on sexual temptation that we’re facing very practically, you’re saying the most practical thing we can do is to come to know God better.
John Piper: Yes. Ultimately, the most practical thing you can do. It doesn’t exclude all of the practical things, but I think the other things will be revealed.
Mark Dever: Yeah, there are a lot of Christian books out there on the market about lust and how to deal with temptation that have a lot of specifics in them. Would you say that’s a different way to deal with sexual sin than what you were talking about tonight?
John Piper: It might be. I don’t know. You’d probably have to judge from book to book as to whether or not a theological foundation is laid on which you then become practical at the nitty-gritty level of strategy and tactics. Like, “Don’t look at that,” or “Don’t go to that store.”
Mark Dever: And you’re saying those tactics aren’t wrong at all?
John Piper: No, no, not at all. In fact, I think they’re probably essential means by which God applies the knowledge of himself in our lives.
Mark Dever: So in the booklet you gave us for the conference, you have pitfalls listed out very specifically. You have how to fight lust on that bookmark. You have a number of very specific, so the message we heard tonight, we shouldn’t at all take as a discouragement to take specific actions in our lives.
John Piper: No. Here’s an analogy that I’ll probably use Sunday morning that might help.
I think our boats, our little skiffs on the sea of life, will tip over very easily with the waves of sexual temptation. If they don’t have some really weighty, massive ballast in the bottom of the boat, a keel weighty that really works and holds it, pulls the water so that when the waves crash against it, it may, “Mm, mm, mm,” but it won’t, “Choo,” like that because it’s just so light and weak. But once you’ve got ballast, there are a lot of things you do to manage wind with the crew on the boat. Sails go up. Sails go down. Tack this way and that way.
I don’t know anything about sailing, but I just assume there are other things you do, and those other things, if your boat had no keel, no ballast drawing with weight down below, they would be in vain probably, and the wind or a big wave would just take you out.
Mark Dever: But doesn’t your second point say that if we have that ballast, those other things are just going to kind of take care of themselves?
John Piper: Nothing in Christian life takes care of itself. I’m really not a believer in a passive view of the Christian life. I believe that all of life is war. Jesus used things like “cut off your hand” and “gouge out your eye,” not because if you have a good heart, you don’t need to think about your hand and your eye, but because if you have a good heart, you’ll have the guts to gouge out your eye. So, nothing comes naturally. We’re in war here, and tonight in the hotel, you’ll be in war, and tactics to manage your television tonight will be either fruitful because of a ballast of love for God and knowledge of God in your boat, or it won’t be fruitful, but they do not become inconsequential. God always uses means of grace, even really nitty-gritty, practical ones.
Mark Dever: So they’re never a good substitute for the ballast, but they are at best a good outgrowth of having that ballast.
John Piper: Right. Yeah, the ballast thing is an utterly inadequate metaphor when you start to think about it because there’s no organic connection between the guys running around, raising the sails and doing whatever you have to do, and the ballast. There’s no connection, but in the Christian life, there is a profound connection, organically and spiritually, between our knowledge of God, our deep affection for God, and whether or not you take steps to avoid temptation or conquer temptation in various ways.
Mark Dever: Any specific applications? As you’re listening to John speak on knowing God, for the particular temptations that you think beset single women or married women or married men or single men, friends, anything there that would be useful, C.J.?
C.J. Mahaney: I think it would be very helpful to hear specifics from John. When John talks about the knowledge of God, his knowledge of God, I feel — I think we all do — the nearness of God through his preaching. But we also experience that when we are having even casual conversation with him. When I think recently of a comment Edwards made addressing older pastors, he says, “Of those older pastors in relation to the younger generation, that they may leave God with them.” I believe that’s what you do for us, John, and with us — you leave God with us. What I would like to know, and I think would be very helpful, is practically how have you cultivated this profound intimate knowledge of God that so characterizes your life, from casual conversation to the proclamation we experience this evening?
And if you could be not only specific but prolonged, and if the moderator, who is the best at this, I know, could please make sure we don’t just get one brief, simple aside as an answer, but maybe extended answers if we could. Thank you. I will be here. Mark, you are the best at this, I know, but I will be here to serve you if necessary because I’m here representing the people. Am I not representing the people?
John Piper: No, no. Okay.
C.J. Mahaney: No. Hold on, John. I’m not done yet. Now, here’s how I’m representing the people because I’ve been in attendance here and longed for the specific practical description of what daily life is like for John Piper, so I know I’m representing these people. Thank you very much. I know what I’m saying is resonating in their hearts, and therefore, I think it would serve us if you took a more extended period of time to do that. Thank you.
Mark Dever: Yeah, I think it’s probably not appropriate if we take the entire time we want to get to these specific states, but I think they’d be very useful.
C.J. Mahaney: Right. Well, I didn’t say the entire time. I just said extended period of time.
Mark Dever: I’m just being clear, brother, just being clear. John, over to you brother. Do you feel it’s a useful question for you to spend time answering?
John Piper: And then I get to demand something of C.J. Mahaney?
Mark Dever: Feel free, yeah. That’s right. Let’s begin with this. What are you going to do tonight when you get home?
John Piper: Go to bed just as quickly as I can, and if Noël happens to be ready to go to bed at the same time, we’re going to pray together before we go to bed. Is that the kind of thing you’re looking for, probably?
And I won’t get enough sleep, so I’ll feel crabby tomorrow, and I’ll have to fight extra hard because I think sleep is one of the ways you get to know God better by getting enough sleep, so you don’t fall asleep during devotions in the morning, and so that you don’t become impatient with your children, so there are practical things to eat. And when I went over and prayed, I’ll just bullet some examples of here. I got up for a 6:30 a.m. prayer meeting this morning. I go to about, I don’t know. Let’s see. I think five prayer meetings a week. They’re all 30-minute prayer meetings, and then the staff prays once a week for a half an hour, an hour, and the elders pray for half an hour, an hour every three weeks, so there’s a lot of corporate prayer in my life, which I benefit from tremendously.
I get drawn out, and then I came home, and I got on my shorts and ran for three miles, and came home and showered, and opened my Bible, and sat down by my room and read two chapters in Hebrews, and prayed over those chapters for you, and in spite of that, you still act the way you do. But God is sovereign, and so I trust him for this kind of behavior.
So my Bible reading is probably where, not probably, it is where I meet and fellowship with the Lord Jesus most deeply, most preciously. I pray my little acronym of IOUS every time I go to the Bible:
I, Incline my heart to your testimonies (Psalm 119:36).
O, Open my heart to see wonderful things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18).
U, Unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11).
S, Satisfy me with your steadfast love in the morning (Psalm 90:14).
Because if I don’t have God doing that, it won’t happen. There’ll just be black marks on the page, and so Bible reading becomes a very relational thing for me. I am longing and questing to see Christ, to see God in the text. I want to pause, so when we were together with our little group, and I tried to quote two verses by heart, that’s because I lingered over those two verses this morning and learned them by heart.
So I always try to memorize something to take it with me during the day. It’s like a spiritual lozenge on the tongue of my heart with elixir flowing down, doing good things all day long because I’ve put it there, and if I don’t think I can memorize it, I put it on a little piece of paper and carry it around with me, and so Bible memory is huge. I could talk for half an hour about the Bible memory. You know what I should do, just to cut this short, is do a book ad here, right? Why don’t you do that?
C.J. Mahaney: I’ll be glad to do the book ad.
John Piper: You want to do the ad?
C.J. Mahaney: Yeah, I’ll do the ad.
John Piper: Okay, I’m done. Why don’t you do the ad?
C.J. Mahaney: You want me to do the ad right now?
John Piper: Well, if you’ll let me just stop. Yeah, because the book that he’s going to do the ad for, and don’t let him go longer than about two minutes or one minute with that. That book arrived just the day before yesterday. It’s the most recent thing I’ve done, and I said everything I know to say there about how to fight for joy, and fighting for joy is the same as fighting to know God because we know him. We rejoice in him by seeing him for who he really is, so this book When I Don’t Desire God, I wrote that because I experience that daily. Nobody in this room desires God the way we should.
He’s worthy of infinite desire, and we desire a little bit, little bit, and we move around, so what do you do with that? How do you fight for joy? How do you fight to know him? It’s all there, and it’s as practical and nitty-gritty as I know how to be, but if I keep going on that, I’ll take up the whole time.
C.J. Mahaney: It’s time well spent. I was sent an advanced copy. I’ve already read the book three times and wrote an endorsement, which simply says this, “He has written many classics, but this is my personal favorite by John Piper,” so I would simply say, if you only buy one book, and I hope you buy many more than just one book, this would be the book I would recommend that you buy. I think it is the most personal and practical of John’s writings to date, and I’m grateful that he devoted time to this, and I think it’s going to make a significant difference in our lives as a result of reading and applying it.
John Piper: Maybe the way to move forward here would be to say: Who else could help these folks? It seems like there are two things we could talk about tonight. One is the battle to know God, and the other is the more practical, nitty-gritty application of how do you use that to overcome sexual temptation of whatever form. And so, you guide us in those two, and I’d just love to hear more people on either of those.
Mark Dever: Why don’t you talk about the different states that you are going to be talking to in your elective session and how you think sexual temptation is different in those? Because if we’re going to know how to fight, we have to know what we’re fighting. So, Michael, if I can just pick on you for a moment, you’re speaking to the single men. I think single men may sometimes think that sexual temptation ends when you get married. You’re married now.
Michael Lawrence: I’m married. I’ve been married for 14 years, so I’m a former single man, and that’s my qualification to speak to single men tomorrow. I know I thought that. I thought that once I finally got married, this huge problem in my life of sexual temptation would basically go away. The last 14 years have been fantastic. They’ve been wonderful. I have been so greatly blessed by God in the wife that he’s given me, but the last 14 years have not seen an end to sexual temptations of all sorts, and I think that’s because we think that the problem with sexual temptation is the lack of sex, but that’s not really the problem, as John so hopefully showed us tonight. The root of our sexual temptations and our desire to fulfill ourselves and satisfy ourselves in ways sexually that we ought not is because we’re looking for satisfaction in the wrong place, ultimately.
Mark Dever: So tomorrow in that seminar, we’re going to be talking somewhat about God’s intention in sex — very much like what John was talking about tonight — but then looking through specifically what does that practically mean for single men establishing relationships?
Michael Lawrence: Yes, tomorrow we’re going to think very practically, both about a theology of sex, what it means, what its purpose is, not just physically but theologically. Why we should guard our sex lives as single men and how we can go about pursuing relationships with women, and particularly with one woman that we are pursuing to be our wife, in a way that will give glory to God and prepare us well to continue to give glory to God in our marriage.
Mark Dever: Carolyn McCulley, you want to help us in a little bit about what you’re going to say in your seminar? Why would it be helpful for single women here tomorrow to go to your seminar? Does it relate to what we’ve been thinking to tonight or thinking about?
Carolyn McCulley: Should I use the dead mic?
Mark Dever: Nope. Choose that one.
Carolyn McCulley: Okay, great. Well, I had a couple of thoughts actually as you preached, and one of them was that often I hear from single women saying, “What am I going to do with these desires?” And sometimes single men are stumped by that. They say, “Women have desires? I thought you just dealt with emotional issues,” and that would be primary, but you can’t look around in this world, and you can’t even go to the grocery store without seeing the distortion of female sexuality. It’s all over the magazines. So there’s an idea at times that you have to wait for the fulfillment of that until marriage, but as you were preaching, it really struck me that, “No, that’s the lower goal. The idea of intimacy and really knowing God, you can pursue that now, and if God keeps you single for the rest of your life, it’s nothing that’s lesser.”
And the second thought that I had was as a former feminist, and as someone who didn’t become a Christian until I was thirty, and I’m appalled now a number of years later, numbers of years later, to see what the fruit of feminism is among women, that women’s liberation has just borne the worst possible fruit, and the only message that we have is liberation in Christ. So even single women who are Christian and sometimes feel like, “Well, we have nothing to say to the world about sexuality. We’re the ‘Just Say No’ camp.” But there’s a lot to be said when you filter it through the grid that you provided tonight, and I’m grateful for it. Thank you.
C.J. Mahaney: Mark, could I?
Mark Dever: Yes.
C.J. Mahaney: Carolyn McCulley has been a part of Covenant Life Church for years, and my Carolyn and I can commend her and commend her seminar to each and every single woman here because, to our knowledge from observing Carolyn’s life up close and personal, there’s no one with a more compelling example as a God-glorifying single woman, and I am so glad that she has written the book she has written. It is, in my reading, the best on the topic, and we can speak from a pastoral and personal vantage point and commend Carolyn’s compelling personal example to all here, as well as her teaching tomorrow.
Albert Mohler: What’s the book?
C.J. Mahaney: Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred.
Mark Dever: Great title. Carolyn Mahaney, what about your seminar tomorrow?
Carolyn Mahaney: We’ll be talking about the sexual relationship from a wife’s perspective, and we’re actually going to be talking about “Grade A” Passion, and we’re going to discuss, as using John Piper’s word, five tactics, all beginning with the letter A, of ways we can cultivate a passionate sexual relationship with our husbands.
Mark Dever: And Carolyn, were you persuaded by what John said, that it really has to do with knowing God, that helps you guard and guide your sexual relationship?
Carolyn Mahaney: It definitely does that. I was so struck by growing up when he was sharing about how so many pastors and people in leadership, who have committed adultery or been unfaithful in some way in the sexual relationship, that really it’s all about because they don’t know God as they ought, and I saw that so many times growing up, and I have been so struck by his message tonight because I know that it’s true for our lives, that it really truly is a relationship with God, and knowing God, that really protects us.
Mark Dever: John?
John Piper: There’s something I didn’t say. I’d like to make a little clearer. And I knew as I was writing this that it wouldn’t be clear, so I’m glad. When I think about the men of the cloth who stumble, and whether or not that nullifies my point, that knowing God puts protection around your sexual life because it looks like it nullifies it, and I stressed Hosea’s way of knowing, which has sexual connotations of intimacy and ecstasy. What these men are lacking is a knowing like that. But I need to also add, there’s a massive neglect of the robust vision of doctrinal knowledge of God in the Bible that I think also some pastors are all ecstasy, and all intimacy, and they don’t know much doctrine. So the ballast is made out of feathers. Feathers won’t work as ballast.
You fill your whole boat up with pillows, and you’ll tip over, and you know what? They’re soft and they make good worship songs and feelings, so I just want to make real clear that I mean both things when I say, “Know God,” and then I’ll hit this harder Sunday morning. I mean, our God as revealed in the Bible is massive in his truthfulness and in all of his attributes, contours, and worthiness of a lifetime of meditation of the most assiduous kind, followed by the greatest possible ecstasies of the soul. It’s the coming together of deep doctrinal knowledge and deep affection for this God that stabilizes a pastor, keeps him from being knocked over by the sexual temptations that come his way, so I didn’t think that was clear enough, and I hope it is clearer now.
Mark Dever: C.J., what about for the married men?
C.J. Mahaney: I think the knowledge of God not only protects from sexual sin, but I would argue that having the privilege tomorrow to preach from the Song of Songs, there is this unique uninhibited celebration of the gift of romance and sex in the context of marriage present in this often neglected book of the Bible. So, I think the accent in the Song of Songs is not so much on prohibition, although there are prohibitions in the Song of Songs, and I’m not in any way minimizing prohibitions. Prohibitions are given by God, an expression of his wisdom and kindness, but in the Song of Songs, we have revealed to us this celebration of romance and sex as unique gifts from God. Therefore, we are going to, in an introductory way, look at the Song of Songs, and I think I trust be transformed by the intended effect of that book.
Mark Dever: And we’ve mentioned Carolyn McCulley’s book; we should also mention C.J.’s book that Carolyn’s written a chapter at the end: “Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God.” If you haven’t seen that, it’s a great book to get, particularly if you’re married. I know in reading it, I felt challenged about my own marriage, and about my life as a husband, so thank you for serving me, and I know so many of us in that way. When you all talk about this, because you do, I know, in Sovereign Grace churches and elsewhere, do you find there are certain ideas that are revolutionary? I mean, is it the kind of thing John’s been talking about, how it’s rooted in the knowledge of God? Or are there particular things that you found when people begin to understand better in their marriages, then all of a sudden their sexual relationship comes more in order, comes more alive.
Now, I know you’re going to have a whole seminar on that tomorrow, so I’m not trying to take your seminar out, but I’m just wondering. You have 25 years of experience talking as a pastor. Are there particular one or two things that you all could share that would be useful for us?
C.J. Mahaney: It’s a great question you’re asking. Wow. How to reduce counsel to one or two things? I will just address this in relation to the Song of Songs. I think there is a widespread ignorance in relation to that book and its intended effect.
Mark Dever: Why did you decide to write a book on it?
C.J. Mahaney: Well, largely because of that widespread ignorance in relation to the content of that book and the effect of that book on lives when properly understood, and wonderfully applied in the context of marriage.
Mark Dever: So that material that’s in that book, you all have been teaching that for years now, and you’ve seen good fruit from it.
C.J. Mahaney: Teaching it and practicing it for thirty years, this coming May, and we can testify to the kindness of God.
Mark Dever: Amen. So, for example, just since you’re both here, how long have you all been having a date night? Was this a revelation in 1981, you thought of it, or you got it at conversion, you got the idea? I mean, how?
C.J. Mahaney: No. I wouldn’t claim any originality for anything that is in my life, either in doctrine or practice, but date nights have been a part of our relationship for thirty years. So since the inception of our relationship, and has continued to this very moment, and been really an immeasurable means of grace for us, and the cultivation of romance between us.
Mark Dever: Amen, and Carolyn, in the busyness of a minister’s schedule, particularly, and I know many of you aren’t ministers, but for those who are engaged with very busy lives, has knowing that been helpful for you as his wife, knowing that you would have that time?
Carolyn Mahaney: It’s incredibly helpful. I’m so grateful to my husband that he’s always made that a priority. I’ve never felt like the ministry is put before our marriage and our family, and again, I wanted just the expression of the date night is one way he communicates that there’s never been a whiff of doubt that we’re first in his heart and first in his care, so it’s just a wonderful means of grace. I think just as husbands and wives, it’s just keeping fresh the things that we did when we were dating, things that we did before we were married, keeping those things alive and fresh throughout our married lives is what can be so helpful in our marriages.
Mark Dever: If I can turn to a couple of questions about singles now, for just a moment. Carolyn, in your book, one of the interesting things about it is a book for single women, but so much of it seems based on Proverbs 31, which is, of course, the great teaching about a wife. Explain that. Why is that?
Carolyn Mahaney: Well, I’ll start first with a little tribute to Carolyn because in helping her with her first book, Feminine Appeal, I helped with the first draft and turning the audio messages into a book, and I was profoundly affected by being immersed in her teaching about what biblical femininity is, and it’s really, she just drove home the point. It’s already there in scripture that God made us fully feminine, and that’s not dependent upon a man’s response or a lack of one, and so the single women who are sitting here thinking, “Great, thirty years of date nights. I would love that. I’d love one date night.” It’s not that you are less feminine if no one’s pursuing you because you’re made in the image of God, and that was his idea.
Mark Dever: Okay, Carolyn, pause right there. Just as far as Carolyn’s book, Feminine Appeal, I had the joy of being able to encourage C.J. one time, thanking him for all the specific things that he’s done for our local congregation, and I said, “But you know what? Your wife in her teaching and Feminine Appeal, and the tapes it was based on, has had even more effect in our church than you have.”
C.J. Mahaney: And I’m not sure if you derive more pleasure from honoring Carolyn or from dissing me.
Mark Dever: Well, we have much to look forward to in heaven. But those teachings started going through our church, those teachings were so helpful for our congregation because the kind of feminism that Carolyn McCulley’s mentioning is typical of so much of the air we breathe, and getting a biblical understanding of femininity for the women in the church has been incredibly helpful in our home, so Carolyn, thank you for that. Now, Carolyn, back to you about Proverbs 31.
Carolyn Mahaney: Well, I was reading once when it struck me that this is the recounting of a mother’s teaching to her son at that time, and Proverbs 31 is a twenty-two-verse Hebrew acrostic. Most everyone here knows that, but because it’s painted in the portrait of an excellent wife, single women like me can sort of glaze over that like “Well, next.” But when I looked at it and I realized that this was something taught to a boy so that he would learn his Hebrew alphabet, and attached to each successive letter, A is for, B is for, that kind of thing in the Hebrew language, were virtues of a woman who would make an excellent wife, and all of a sudden it hit me. I thought, “There’s that roadmap. That’s what we need as single women.”
Those virtues should be identifiable in our lives, and this woman transcends any marital status, single, married, widowed, and we’ll have many seasons in our lives. So, our femininity is not necessarily dependent or defined by a marital status. It’s God’s design. Here’s a very savvy, hospitable, shrewd woman who excels in many areas, and there’s many applications for us as single women.
Mark Dever: Amen. To all of you, how are we as churches doing, or how could we do better in caring for singles in the congregation? We have so many things, or sometimes many churches do, that are focused on married couples and families to build them up, and singles perhaps when they’re in their teens and early twenties. But I know I have a member of my own family who’s recently become a Christian, and she says she just has a very hard time in churches because as a single woman in her mid-forties, there’s just nobody to hang out with her and be her friend that has the pace of her life, and I’ve heard that as a pastor before.
Are there things that you’ve seen or that you’ve done in your churches, and John, you’re included in this also, that would be helpful for us as Christians in our churches thinking, “How do we better have that kind of community together?” Anything, tactics, specifics?
Michael Lawrence: Well, I’ve had the privilege to serve Covenant Life Church for 27 years, and so I’ve been really the beneficiary of both the maturity of that congregation, as well as the size of that congregation, so I haven’t faced some of the challenges that pastors of smaller churches confront in this area, and so I would like to just say I have the deepest respect for all pastors of smaller churches who are painfully aware of the challenge that you just described. What we have tried to do in the context of Covenant Life, I could, let’s say, relate to preaching. We must make sure that in our preaching, our illustrations are not drawn from married life or directed to simply marriage and parenting, but that they are illustrations that are also drawn from a knowledge of the single men and women that are in our church.
I think there’s also a way to honor them in the Sunday gathering and draw attention to the way they’re serving. Certainly, we should create a broad spectrum of ways so that they can serve in the church, and through that practice and participation, then through that public honoring, then through the illustrations where they’re identified in preaching, we are making loud statements to them about how they are a priority in this church, and that this church really could not exist apart from them or be as effective without them.
Mark Dever: Okay. Carol?
Carolyn McCulley: I think one of the things that’s most comforting to me as a single is your cross-centered focus. Having the gospel constantly held out to us. The goal is not marriage; the goal is Christ-likeness. The honoring is nice, we appreciate it very much, but it’s that focus because what’s really gotten into my soul deeply is the idea that I’m not going to see my Lord one day and have him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You finally flopped over that finish line of marriage. I didn’t think you’d do it. The odds were pretty slim at your age,” and realizing that that’s not what I’m going to be commended for, a temporary gift, but I’ll be commended for whatever I was able to do by his grace that was stewarding his gift, and so each week we’re reminded of the main thing, keeping the main thing the main thing.
Mark Dever: Amen. Michael?
Michael Lawrence: One of the things that I think we, as preachers, especially, and church leaders, need to be aware of, is the emphasis we place on the family. It is right and good because of the way that the family is under assault in our culture, that we prioritize the family, that we uphold it, and that we seek to strengthen it. But in our churches, we also need to remember that the nuclear family is itself just a picture of something much greater, something much grander that we all have been brought into because of the blood of Jesus Christ, and that is the family of God. It’s that family, and those larger family relationships, that we need to make sure that we’re cultivating, and that’s hard. It’s hard to do that, and at the same time, also protect, uphold, and build up marriage and nuclear families.
I don’t want to neglect that at all, but if I’m doing that in such a way that the single member of my church feels somehow excluded, then I’ve misunderstood the gospel because the gospel is about us being born again into the family of God, and that needs to be given expression. It needs to be articulated. It needs to be demonstrated in the lives of our churches.
Mark Dever: Amen. John, anything from Bethlehem?
John Piper: I don’t think I could add anything except to say if you have a really, really strong children’s ministry, then the pastor can say wild and crazy things like, “Children are not God,” things like that. Or “Your wife is not God. God is God, and he summons us to hate mother, and father, and brother, and sister, and wife, and children, or we can’t be his disciple.” I think when singles hear that, they say, “Hmm. So he’s not idolizing the family. He’s not idolizing wife or marriage. He’s idolizing God, and I can do that.”
And then if you add a few things like what we’re really called to do is suffer, and maybe you’re in a better position to do that now on the mission field than any of those folks who are stuck with a wife or husband and children, have to live the comfy, middle-class American life, and throw it away most of the time, then go for it. And if you talk radical enough, there’s just so much squishy middle-class family stuff that passes for Christianity, and you can’t find it in the gospels. It just isn’t there. Jesus never married. Paul never married, and they were just so absolutely radically devoted, and then there was this wife and marriage thing, and if that is the note that struck, then singles know they’re on the cutting edge.
Mark Dever: And at the same time you don’t shy away from preaching Genesis 2, that marriage is normal.
C.J. Mahaney: Not at all.
John Piper: Yeah, it’s normal before the fall. Got to ask Mohler this tomorrow. He’s on a crusade, I think, and it’s normal after the fall, but the order of creation, I’m going to argue, if we get into an argument, is compromised by the order of redemption.
Mark Dever: Al, can you take this down and make sure we cover this tomorrow night? Have you got it? Thank you, brother.
Albert Mohler: In other words, both whether you marry and whether you have kids are governed not simply by the order of creation but by the order of redemption, which means that there may be kingdom purposes for not marrying and not having kids if you are married.
Mark Dever: And so in that case, when we look at great figures from church history, as you do so well, like a David Livingstone or a C.T. Studd or a John Wesley, or a George Whitfield, would you say if someone knows they’re called to some kind of service like that, it’s probably better just don’t get married?
John Piper: I’m not sure. If they know they’re called to what?
Mark Dever: A service like that. All four of those men were constantly traveling, and they had very difficult marriages, sadly.
John Piper: Well, my dad was away from home two-thirds of every year in evangelism. I never resented it. He was and is my hero to this day, and he was gone most of the time. That was hard for my mom, really hard. She had to do everything. She had to teach me how to be a man, how to be a boy, how to cut the grass, how to make pancakes. You know they’re ready to turn when little bubbles appear around the edge, and I’m sure what he must have done or should have done, I think they worked it out, is make really clear at the front end, “This is going to be very different. I’m on the road. I’m a Billy Graham-type guy. I’m gone,” and then they got to make the call together, so you got to know. I wouldn’t say, “No, you shouldn’t get married.” I’d just say, “It’s going to take a very special wife.”
Mark Dever: A new book on this, with a Christian focus, has just come out by Doreen Moore: Good Christians, Good Husbands? where she looks at some historical marriages and draws, I think, some good and biblical, and helpful lessons. Other resources that have been helpful that we could mention, either books or certainly Joshua Harris — do you want to talk about Josh’s Not Even a Hint?
Michael Lawrence: No. I think it’s the best book on the topic. Yes. Not Even A Hint, yes.
Mark Dever: Things that would be helpful for people to be able to get and take away with them to use if they’re struggling with sexual temptation in whatever stage of life they’re in.
C.J. Mahaney: Okay, so we’re done, the singles now? We’re going to wait a possible argument between John and Al tomorrow night?
Mark Dever: I think that’s going to happen tomorrow night, brother.
C.J. Mahaney: Okay. That’s great.
Mark Dever: You can have a ringside seat. So resources that would be useful for people.
Michael Lawrence: Well, in addition to Josh Harris’s book, Not Even A Hint, Boy Meets Girl because one of the reasons I think single men and women get into all sorts of trouble sexually is because they’re going about dating the wrong way. They’re going about it in a way that is bound to get them in trouble, so Boy Meets Girl is also very helpful on this topic.
Mark Dever: I’ll tell you two more that I can think of. One, there’s the interview that I did with Joshua Harris and Scott Croft, who’s here for the seminar tomorrow, and Al Mohler on biblical dating courtship, and we’re going to have copies of that, I think, tomorrow at the 9Marks table, so if you would. Is that correct?
Albert Mohler: At the breakout session.
Mark Dever: At the breakout session? Well, that’s only one breakout session. Well, at our breakout session, but what if you’re not a single male and you’d like not? Well, all right. Or you can say something at the 9Marks table. You can leave a note and we can certainly send you that.
Carolyn Mahaney: It’s still on your website, too.
Mark Dever: And it’s still on the website, so you can go to 9marks.org and listen to it there, and I was going to mention another book that I’m forgetting now, so someone else. Oh, I know. Very much like John’s message tonight, Ray Ortlund’s book, “Whoredom,” is one of the best books on biblical theology I’ve ever read. Ray Ortlund, Jr. wrote a book in which he investigates in the Old Testament idolatry and adultery, and how they’re very much linked, and it’s all tied in with exactly what John was talking about from Ezekiel. It’s God’s relationship with his people, and if you were encouraged spiritually by hearing that message tonight, I think you’d find Ray Ortlund’s book really helpful to your soul and its great biblical theology, Ray Ortlund’s book, Whoredom. Other things would be helpful resources, things that they could get perhaps to the bookstore or order, Carolyn?
Carolyn McCulley: I’d like to plug C.J.’s new book, Christ Our Mediator, which I understand is here. It’s brand new, and it’s based on three messages. I remember the first times I heard them, crying my whole way through the sermons, just highly affected by the passion for the cross. I would recommend that book because if you, as a single, don’t go there, anything else is just practical application. But you really need to be camped out there as well as his first book, The Cross-Centered Life.
Mark Dever: Amen. Both of which are in the bookstore. John?
John Piper: Yeah, let me plug Children’s Desiring God. I think they have a booth or a table down there. It’s kind of the children’s version, just to say that if knowing God in the way I’m trying to unfold it is the key, or let’s just say one of the really important keys. Starting early is massively important, so you have to redo everything. Or when you get a college kid converted, and finally he’s got to start learning about God. Way better would be to start when they’re two, and then you get sixteen years before they head away to build God into their lives, so that’s what children’s desire in God is about. Go to the table and see the curriculum and resources that are there.
One other thing, I don’t read much, and I read even less in the last two centuries when it comes to helping me try to know God.
I go back three hundred years, and I told Waylon, who runs the bookstore, I said, “I’m going to plug” — and here I’m doing it — “I’m going to plug John Owen on The Glory of Christ, and I’m going to plug John Owen on The Mortification of Sin, volume two and volume six.” I hope there are stacks of them in the bookstore because nobody reads Owen, and I’m pleading with you to give him a chance. He is the most profound of the Puritan writers, and The Glory of Christ was his last work. He outlived all eleven of his children, and he was getting ready to meet the Judge of the universe, and he was writing these little messages for his people to help them with him, get to know the glories of Christ, and then you could talk about the Communion with God, so just you got to go back. You got to go back. The Puritans knew God; they were the redwoods, as J.I. Packer says, and most of us today are saplings trying to grow up into redwoods.
Mark Dever: Well, one more thing about the redwoods. Let me just mention four particular titles. Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed. I saw they have it downstairs. If you’re feeling particularly tender, if you’re feeling blown over by temptation, Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed is a great read.
Jonathan Edwards has a little piece called The Excellency of Christ, which are meditations from Ephesians, a beautiful meditation on God’s love that I think is helpful in this.
One of the largest Christian books and arguably the best on this, I was recently speaking with Jim Packer and asked him on this particular topic, what did he think the best was? And I told him what I’ve been reading, and he thought it was Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory. Now that’s in print. It’s huge. I’ve spent hours just this past week reading a couple of hundred pages of it. It takes forever. But I’m going to get to commending, and I just want to be honest. They’ll believe me more if I tell them the downsides. Baxter is not someone that I trust entirely theologically, but when it comes to the Christian life, he had a very keen eye to understand the connection between our hearts and how our hearts work, and the kind of things John was talking about tonight, knowledge of God.
And his book, the Christian Directory, has some of the most insightful stuff on sin and temptation, sort of like Owen’s book, but laid out in smaller bits. Anyway, it’s in print. It’s called the Christian Directory by Richard Baxter, and it addresses almost every conceivable situation in life.
The other one to mention is Jonathan Edwards’ book, Charity and Its Fruits, a wonderful meditation on 1 Corinthians 13, and Carolyn listening to you talk about church and Michael, what you said about the Kingdom of God, his final sermon in that Heaven, a World of Love is just an amazing invitation into a knowledge of God’s love that we begin to experience in part as individual Christians, and in part in our families and marriages, in part in the church.
But we see the grander vision that informs all these things in these wonderful sermons of Jonathan Edwards, and they are in the bookstore downstairs, Charity and Its Fruits, wonderful stuff.
Michael Lawrence: Can I add one more resource? It’s not something you can read, but I want to encourage you, if you are not a member of a local church, to join a church. Sexual temptation, especially thrives in secrecy, in isolation, in anonymity, and one of the best resources God has given you in this area is the body of believers, and when I say join a church, I don’t just mean attend, and I don’t mean go to this church on Sunday mornings because you like the preaching, and this other church over here on Sunday evenings because they’ve got great worship, and a Bible study in this third church over here because you like the leader. I mean, find one church that preaches the gospel like you heard it tonight. Maybe it won’t be as good as you heard it tonight, but it’s the same gospel. Join that church, and then let people in that church get to know you.
When you meet up with other single men or other single women, don’t just say vague things like, “Well, I’m really struggling, so pray with me.” Find a couple of people that you can say, “I’m really struggling with,” and then embarrass yourself. Be specific. Drag the sin out into the light of day, and then allow that brother or sister to preach the gospel to you, and hear the gospel and believe the gospel, and know the freedom that the gospel brings. The gospel shines a light on our sin, and it frees us from our sin, and that happens best in a local church. That’s what God designed it for.
And so, if you’re somebody like I was for years who just sort of hung out in churches, don’t do that. That is deadly for your soul. God has given you a great resource in the body of Christ. Make use of that. Read some of these. Find somebody in your local church and grab one of these books that have been recommended and say, “Hey, let’s read through this together and talk about it and pray about it together.” I think the Lord will bless that.
Mark Dever: Amen, C.J.?
C.J. Mahaney: Well, I highly recommend Joshua Harris’s next book. It’s titled Stop Dating the Church, and so along these lines and this theme, I believe it will serve you and serve you very effectively. John made reference to Owen, so I just want to add my voice to his endorsement, and if you’re looking for an introduction, Sinclair Ferguson’s book on John Owen is where I would encourage you to begin, or Kris Lundgaard’s book, The Enemy Within. It will create an appetite for volume six, Temptation and Sin. I want to commend Owen and his writings. I also want to commend my friend David Powlison. If you would ask me, who has taught me the most about sanctification, that would be David without doubt, and so you will hear David speak in a main session tomorrow. His book, Seeing With New Eyes, is available in the bookstore, and I commend that book to you as well.
C.J. Mahaney: Wow, we could be here a long time. You get us all excited about resources and recommending resources.
Mark Dever: Well, hold on, one more thing. John, are you working on something right now that’s going to be coming out of this conference?
John Piper: Yeah, my Sunday morning message. Everything that’s preached in the plenary sessions will be a book from Crossway. It took us about a year. Not quite. No, it didn’t take a year to get at. Last year’s conference is in a book. This year’s, we have a contract for the book. It’s also being videoed, and Crossway, we’ll see what they do with that, so every effort is being made to multiply the ripple effect of this conference, so yes.
Mark Dever: But I’m wondering also just in your own life, if you’re the one who sort of had the vision for this conference, the burden that was on your heart that we heard tonight as you were preaching, is there something else you’re working on about this specifically, or is that the book that just came out, really?
John Piper: The answer to that would be yes, yes. I mean no, yes. I’m not working on anything else, and the one that just came out is as close as I can get.
C.J. Mahaney: Could we just, could I seize that for just a moment to communicate what I know is really in all our hearts, and I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t just thank God for you, John. This conference is the fruit of your example and your leadership, and I’m sure the majority of people here have just benefited immeasurably from your example, from your writing, from your teaching, and from your leadership, and you have once again gathered us together in this context, and it would just be, I think, pleasing to God to give honor to him.
Honor is due, and to communicate just how indebted we are to you. This is not for anyone who’s uncomfortable exalting a leader or assigning glory to John. What it is, thanking God for the grace in and through his life, and appropriately expressing our gratefulness to this man for his life and for his labor, and for the difference your life and labor has made in all of our lives. So please feel, and receive the corporate gratefulness to God that is so present here in this room for you, my friend. Thank you so very much.
John Piper: I appreciate that.
C.J. Mahaney: You do a great job. Thank you, Lord, for this man.
John Piper: Yet, C.J. needs to know that far more serious in my life than the temptation of lust is the temptation of vanity, and so just an exhortation that I don’t need too much of that, okay? I don’t need too much of that, brother, be careful.
C.J. Mahaney: I know the temptation that exists in your life but you do need to receive the appreciation of others, appropriately communicated.
Mark Dever: And look at the time, my goodness. It’s 10:15 p.m. and that bookstore with all those good books is going to be closing at 11:00 p.m. So now, we are going to make some announcements about tomorrow. We’ll be seeing you again at 8:30 a.m. in the morning right here, 7:30 a.m. if you’d like to come for prayer. The bookstore closes at 11:00 p.m. tonight, and let’s close in prayer before we go, John.
John Piper: Yeah. I don’t know where tomorrow night's going to go. Oh, we already have music. Maybe I shouldn’t.
Mark Dever: Well, that’s just the way it is here, John. Let’s close in prayer. Let’s pray.
Lord, we thank you that you call us to know yourself. Lord, all praise and glory and honor go to you for that. You know the ways we are unfaithful to that knowledge of you that we do have. We pray that you would use these days to instruct our minds and to woo our hearts. Use our brothers and sisters around us, we pray, and get glory to yourself in our lives and in our desires. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.