“Spend your life to build a church that does not live like the world.” This was John Piper’s invitation to Christian leaders at the Together for the Gospel conference back in 2008 during a message entitled How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice. This is what Pastor John said:
I want to put it in a wider context for what my heart is for this moment and this conference. I don’t come here for nothing. I want something. I want you to do something. I want this world to be rocked by your lives. So I will tell you what I am praying, what I want to happen. And I think the brothers with me would agree who lead this conference.
My desire and prayer to God is that your life and your ministry would have a radical flavor, a risk-taking flavor, a gutsy, counter-cultural, wartime flavor that makes average American people in your church uncomfortable — a strange mixture of tenderness and toughness that keeps people a little bit off balance, a pervasive summons to something more, something hazardous, something wonderful, a saltiness and a brightness about your life and about your church — something like Jesus.
When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–16), I think he had in mind the verse just before. “They will persecute you and revile you and say all kind of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven” (verses 11–12). I think that is what makes salt. Salt and light are a joyful embrace of suffering. That is what the world is waiting for.
Jesus said: Do this, be light, be salt. My desire for you, my prayer — I have been praying this over and over again for you. I hope you are already ready. I hope you feel God doing this already in your life. My desire is that your life and ministry would have a radical flavor. Reviling comes, persecution comes, slander comes and you rejoice. You don’t murmur. You don’t complain. You don’t quit. You rejoice. You preach and you live in such a way that, over a decade or two or three, the church you are leading becomes bright and salty like this, counting it all joy when they are walking through various trials. That is your goal in this church: crazy people who meet cancer and meet death and meet suffering with unflinching confidence in Christ and joy in being known by him and loved by him.
There is a great reward coming — an all-satisfying, everlasting experience of the supremacy of Christ. You will have lived it, right? You are living this. This is what you want for your life and I want it for you. You will have treasured Christ above all the accumulation of stuff. You will have laid up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Right? That is what you are doing now. You haven’t laid up treasures on earth. You are laying up treasures in heaven. You are maximizing your enjoyment of the reward. You have not only fled fornication and adultery, you have fled opulence. You have fled ostentation. You have fled riches. You have remembered the story of the rich young man.
I have it on a plaque over the door in my study: Remember the rich young man, Piper. Whatever else you forget, don’t forget him. You remembered that as you served in these decades and will serve. You have heard the apostle Paul and you have taken it into your heart and you have blazoned it on the brain in your head. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge them into destruction and ruin. Just to want to be rich does that to you. And you have heard that and you have put it on the inside of your brain and you have led a church another way. That is what will make you salty and bright.
You have eaten the words of Isaiah: All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The flower falls and the grass withers, but the word of the Lord abides forever (see Isaiah 40:6–8). You have put it inside your heart and that is the way you live. That is what you are thinking.
My desire and my prayer for you is that your life and your ministry will have a radical flavor. And I say this for the glory of Christ. The world is not going to glorify Christ because they see that Christians are wealthy and healthy and prosperous. A very simple reason why: That is what they live for. So you use Jesus to get it. They use other means to get it. They are not impressed. Jesus is the ticket. When the show starts, you throw the ticket away. They don’t need your ticket. They are not impressed. I am saying what I am saying because I want them to be impressed. They are not impressed with us. Prosperous, wealthy, safe, middle class, do-what-everybody-else-does people. Don’t build a church like that. Don’t go there. Don’t spend your life like that. It will be wasted. You will have lived it.
My desire and prayer for you is that your life would have a radical flavor — some extraordinary love, something risky, some crazy sacrifice that nobody can understand including mom, something salty and bright. The world may not like it. They may crucify it.
Stephen’s face shone like an angel. His face shone like an angel. They could not resist his wisdom. And they killed him. They weren’t bored. They weren’t sleeping. And Acts 8:1–4 says that he didn’t die in vain. He did his greatest work in spreading the gospel at that moment because God cleaned house in Jerusalem and saw to it that a persecution caused them to obey Acts 1:8. That is what it cost. It cost Stephen his life to get them off their butts into Samaria and into Judea and to the ends of the earth. And it will cost you your life to build a church that doesn’t live like the rest of the world. You have got to live like that. You have got to have a flavor about your life that is risky and radical — different.