Two of your major themes, Pastor John, are God’s sovereignty and the centrality of joy in God. Last time, in episode 116, we talked about the joy of Calvinism and God’s joy as the foundation of our joy. You have a second-half explanation of how Christian Hedonism and Calvinism connect. Explain it.
Tony, when you posed this question to me about the sovereignty of God and joy, I said that God’s joy in the fellowship of the Trinity is the foundation of his sovereignty, and the overflow of his sovereignty as God creates the world to share in the joy that he has in him.
Fighting for Joy
So now the question becomes more specifically, in this world there is so much sorrow; we are disappointed again and again. We are discouraged. We suffer. We fail. We are assaulted. We get sick. We die. Day after day, the world is attacking our joy in God, our family’s joy in God, our church’s joy in God, our nation’s joy in God. We are constantly being assailed by things that threaten our joy and the question is, How does God’s sovereignty work to help us fight for joy in God, because joy in God is the reason we are made, and it is what glorifies God. And the answer comes in Romans 8:28 and 8:32 and Genesis 50:20.
When I read “rejoice always” in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, I say to God, “O God, do you mean always? Really?” And I think his answer is yes, but it’s not a superficial, smiley-faced, “praise God anyhow,” but rather it’s a 2 Corinthians 6:10 kind of answer: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” — that there is a joy in God that is constant even in the midst of sorrow and loss. And the reason that can be is because God in Christ has committed himself to work everything together for our good (see Romans 8:28). And Romans 8:32 shows that Christ, in his dying for us and rising, is the ground of Romans 8:28: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” That is, won’t he work everything together for our good?
God Means Even Evil for Good
So because Christ came and identified with us, bore our suffering, bore our sin, rose from the dead triumphant, took away our guilt, purchased for us all the promises of God, therefore God is no longer angry at us, but his sovereignty entirely serves his mercy toward us. And thus, he is working all of our calamities and all of our good times together for our good, so that written over all the experiences of our life is Genesis 50:20: They meant it for evil — the devil meant it for evil, my enemies meant it for evil — “but God meant it for good.” And I underlined that word meant it. “God meant it for good.” So, this meaning of God, this intention of God, this purpose of God in all of our hardships, is the unshakable foundation for my joy.
If somebody were to ask me, “How does God’s sovereignty help right now in the midst of the loss of our mom or our loss of our granddaughter or this crisis in our church or this cancer that I had to walk through a few years ago? I would say God means this, not just uses it.
Lots of people say that God is playing catch up ball all the time, like he finds things he didn’t know were going to happen, and he says, “Well, I can make something of that.” No, no, no, no, no. That is not what the Bible says. God meant it for good. So this cancer is coming from him. This loss is coming from him. This pain is coming from him, and he means it. He intends it. He purposes it for my good. And I know it is for my good because Christ bought it, and he says that everything is going to work together for my good.
Anchor for the Soul
I thought of my situation here, and I am 67. And this is what came to my mind: The older I get, the more thankful I become for God’s sovereign, keeping power. Jude 1:24 — a lot of people don’t see this when they read it — says, “Now to him who is able.” Now that word able — dunatos — means powerful. You could say sovereignly powerful or sovereignly able. “[God is sovereignly committed and able] to keep [John Piper] from stumbling and to present [him] blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”
So if you ask me, then, “How does the sovereignty of God relate to my joy?” That verse says God’s sovereign power and pledge to keep me from making shipwreck of my faith is intended to lead me now and in the end to great joy. And my love for my enemy, or people I just have a hard time with, flows out of this joy. Loving people and worshiping God — “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation. . . . Repay no one evil for evil. . . . Never avenge yourselves” — Why? Because you can hand it over to God. Why? — “For it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:12, 17, 19).
“All accounts will be settled either on the cross if they repent, or in hell if they don’t. And so you can love them.”
In other words, God’s sovereignty has such a control over this world that if I think my enemy is getting the upper hand, and that is tending to make me angry or bitter or vengeful, I must remember, no, no, no, no. God is sovereign. Nobody gets away with anything. All accounts will be settled either on the cross if they repent, or in hell if they don’t. And so you can love them. You can love your enemy. You can feed him. “‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20–21).
So the sovereignty of God maintains my joy, not just for me, but for my enemy and for the world and for my ministry in the world to keep on going when it looks like the world is just spinning out of control in sin and corruption. It is not. God is sovereign. All accounts will be settled. And that enables me to just keep on loving.