Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Hello and welcome back to the podcast on this Thursday. Well, what is love? That’s a timeless question. As you know, Pastor John, from time to time we get questions about the nature of love — God’s love for us, our love for God, our love for each other — and what it means that “God is love,” as 1 John 4:8 tells us. On top of this, we get questions about how joy relates to love, too, which is part of what we mean by Christian Hedonism. You mentioned a while back that you were working through 2 Corinthians recently and saw something that relates to all of these questions that I just mentioned and ties them all together in a surprising way. Can you summarize your discovery from 2 Corinthians and explain how it touches on all those questions about love and joy?

I can try. And it was surprising not only because, for being so simple, it has vast implications for the very nature of God himself, and how he loves himself, and how we love him, and how he loves us — but also, it was surprising because what I saw was not found in some high-soaring part of Paul’s writings, but rather in a very down-to-earth, practical interaction with the Corinthians about his travel plans. You don’t expect to find vast implications about the nature of reality as somebody’s talking about their travel plans.

Paul’s Joy and Theirs

Let me read 2 Corinthians 2:1–4 and make three observations as we go through this text. And these three observations are just mind-blowingly vast in their implications.

1. Their joy is his joy.

Here’s what he wrote: “I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” And then he gives the reason for why he’s not going to make a sorrowful, painful visit to them. He says, “[Because] if I cause you [sorrow], who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have [grieved]?” (2 Corinthians 2:1–2).

“In the fellowship of the Trinity, before there were any people to love, God was love. God was loving God.”

So, the first observation I make is that the reason Paul decides not to make a painful visit is because, if their joy goes down, Paul’s joy goes down, which implies that their joy is in some measure Paul’s joy. He finds his joy in their joy. If theirs goes up, his goes up; if theirs goes down, his goes down. That’s observation number one. Paul’s joy is in some measure theirs, or theirs is in some measure his, so that if theirs goes down — which a painful visit would cause — his would go down. He doesn’t want that, so he doesn’t go.

2. His joy is their joy.

He goes on, “And I wrote as I did” — so he’s writing this letter instead of going — “so that when I came I might not suffer [sorrow] from those who should have made me rejoice.” Now, why did Paul not want to be made sorrowful? I mean, you might think, Well, that’s obvious. But no, it’s not obvious. Listen — why did Paul not want to be made sorrowful? He says this: “[Because] I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all” (2 Corinthians 2:3).

So, my second observation is that the reason Paul wrote a letter instead of making this painful visit is that his joy was their joy. That’s what he says. I’m not even drawing it out as an implication. He just says it: “my joy would be the joy of you all.” So, if his joy goes down by a painful visit, their joy is going to go down, because his joy is, in some measure, he says, their joy. That’s my second observation.

3. Love finds joy in others’ joy.

Now, here’s the rest of the text, 2 Corinthians 2:4. He describes the same desire now — not to make a painful visit, but to write instead — only this time in terms of being motivated not by joy but by love. Here’s what he says: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you [sorrow] but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”

So, my third observation is that, in Paul’s mind, love means finding our joy in the joy of the other, the beloved. He didn’t want their joy to be undermined because their joy was his joy. And he didn’t want his joy to be undermined because his joy was their joy. And then he steps back and says, “That’s what it means to love you.”

We know Paul is writing as a Christian and, from other things that he says even in this book, that Christian joy is joy that has God in Christ as its focus. So, the definition of love that he gives here is this: love is finding our joy in the joy of the beloved in God. When they have joy in God, that’s our joy, and we’re willing to lay down our lives to bring about their joy in God. God is willing to lay down his life to bring about our joy in God.

Love Within the Trinity

Now, we need to step back and test this, to see if we’re onto something here, and I think we’re onto something vastly significant.

Let’s start by testing it with ultimate love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Before there was creation, God was God, and God was love. Which means that in the fellowship of the Trinity, before there were any people to love, God was love. And in the fellowship of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — God was loving God. In Matthew 3:17, God says to his Son, “This is my loved Son” (my translation). And then he says, “With [him] I am well pleased” — that is, delighted, joyful. That’s what it means for the Father to love the Son. “I enjoy my Son infinitely. He is perfectly enjoyable, and that’s what it means to love him.” It says the same thing in John 14:31 about the Son loving the Father.

So, within the Trinity, to love is to be infinitely pleased, infinitely delighted, infinitely joyful with each other. And what makes them pleasing? What is it that makes the Father pleasing to the Son and the Son pleasing to the Father? What makes them pleasing is that they are the kind of person — each one of them is the kind of person — who is perfectly pleased by what is perfectly pleasing. That’s what it means to be righteous, holy, just, good — namely, God. They find their joy in the joy of the beloved in God. The Father delights in the Son because the Son is perfectly delighting in the Father (and vice versa). So, the definition that Paul used works eternally in the Godhead.

Love Between God and Us

Now, what about God’s love for us? Here’s Psalm 147:10–11: “[God’s] delight . . .” Get that fixed in your mind: God’s delight. What delights God? “[God’s] delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure . . . in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Now, if hope is longing for and expecting something in the future that you delight in — that would make you happy — then this psalm teaches that God delights in those who delight in him. That is, divine love for us is God’s finding his joy in our joy in him. And we may add then, acting: God acts to secure our joy in him, and he acts at the cost of his own Son’s life, which is what the Bible underlines about the amazing aspect of this love.

“Love is finding our joy in the joy of the beloved in God — and our willingness to die to bring that about.”

What about our love for God? First Timothy 1:11 says that God is a happy God, a blessed God (makarios). And we’ve seen that, in the fellowship of the Trinity, God is a happy God. He’s delighting in the fellowship of the Trinity. God is an eternally happy God. So, for us to love God is to be glad that he is God. To love God is to say, “God, you are God, and I am glad, and you satisfy me. You are wonderful. You are perfect. I adore, I treasure, I am satisfied in you.” And our love for God, then, is to find our joy in God’s joy, which is joy in God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Love Between Us and Others

One more application. What about our love for each other? In 2 Corinthians 8:2, Paul says that the Macedonians had an abundance of joy in the grace of God. It was abundant; it was overflowing. And then he calls it love in 2 Corinthians 8:8 when this joy — this joy in grace, in God’s grace — overflows in generosity to the poor saints in Jerusalem.

And what is generosity? Generosity is the eagerness to give so that others experience more joy. That’s what you do when you’re generous. You want people to be bettered. You want them to have more joy, more lasting joy, deeper joy in what should give them the deepest joy — in this case, more joy in life (they were poor, they were suffering, they were dying). He wants more joy in life and more joy in God as they live. So, love is the overflow of the Macedonians’ joy as it expands to include the poor saints in Jerusalem in that very joy in God’s grace.

So, to my amazement, Tony — and I’m still blown away by this — a simple definition of love, turning up in Paul’s explanation of his travel plans in 2 Corinthians 2, turns out to be just about as profound and far-reaching as it can possibly be. Love is finding our joy in the joy of the beloved in God — and our willingness to die to bring that about — which proves to be the essence of love in the Trinity, love in God for us, our love for God, and our love for each other. And it shows how central joy is in defining ultimate reality.