Brothers — Feel, Think, Preach God (Part 1)

Phoenix Conference for Pastors

Phoenix, Arizona

Our theme together is the centrality of God in your heart, and the centrality of God in your thinking, and the centrality of God in your preaching. So those of our three times together, and I pray that God would make himself central in your life.

I have an assumption now in this first talk. And let me tell you what the assumption is and then try to warrant it for a moment. It goes like this: A pastor’s heart, a pastor’s mind, a pastor’s preaching will not be God-centered unless God is the center of his joy. Your heart won’t be God-centered, your thinking and mind won’t be God-centered, and your preaching won’t be God-centered unless God is the center of your joy.

Gladness of All Your Joy

Let me read you a verse from Psalm 43:4: “I will go to the altar of God, to God, my exceeding joy.” Now there’s a really unusual Hebrew phrase behind that. “My exceeding joy” is literally two words: simchat gili, the gladness of my joy. “I will go to God, the gladness of my joy.” That’s very strange. I take it to mean that in all of our joy, God must be our joy. There are many things we rejoice in that are not God. And that’s incredibly dangerous. And he’s given them to us — family, beautiful sunrises, church, ministry, food. I think we’re idolaters if we don’t have God at the center of that joy. “I will go to the altar of God, to God, the gladness of my joy — the heart of my joy, the essence of my joy, the joy of all my joys. I will go to God.”

So I only mentioned that verse to illustrate what I mean by the phrase center of your joy. Your heart won’t be God-centered, your thinking won’t be God-centered, your preaching won’t be God-centered, unless God is the center of your joy — the joy of your joy, the gladness of your joy. Permeating all your joys is joy in God. You should be radically-God besotted people. And in that way, then, your heart would be God-centered, and your thinking will be God-centered, and your preaching will be God-centered.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
     And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
     but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26)

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
     I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:1–2)

The only way I can make sense out of a sentence like that is that in all the good I have that is not God, God is the center of that good. Otherwise, I just can’t make any sense out of a verse like Psalm 16:2 at all — “I have no good apart from you.”

So my assumption, then, is (and I’ve just tried to give it a warrant) that in these three messages, God cannot be, will not be, the center of your heart, the center of your thinking, or the center of your preaching, if he’s not the center of your joy. Now that’s a huge, huge claim. Because if that’s true, then your agenda in ministry must be the cultivation of that joy. That must be a passion for you. Joy cannot be for you icing on the cake of your pastoral life: Maybe it comes. Maybe it doesn’t. It’s nice when it’s there. It’s sad when it’s not. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is duty, devotion to the task, getting the preaching done, the visiting done, the counseling done, with obedience to the raw commands of the Bible. If that’s life for you, you will not have a God-centered heart, a God-centered mind, or a God-centered preaching.

So that’s my assumption, and the implication of it is that you, therefore, must pursue your joy in God. Or the other way to say it: pursue him at the center of your joy, so he’s the gladness of all your joy.

How God Is Most Glorified

Now, before I make a case for how utterly crucial that is in the pastoral life of your heart, let me give you two other reasons why that’s so crucial. One is that it is the way that you glorify God. And I’m just going to read here a text from Jonathan Edwards, my most important dead teacher outside the Bible. This quotation is probably, outside the Bible, the most important paragraph I have ever read in any book. That may not be true, but I think it is. I can’t remember all the paragraphs I’ve read so I don’t know if that’s true, but I think it is.

God is glorified within himself these two ways: (1) By appearing . . . to himself in his own perfect idea [of himself], or in his Son, who is the brightness of his glory. (2) By enjoying and delighting in himself, by flowing forth in infinite . . . delight towards himself, or in his Holy Spirit. . . . God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. (“The Miscellanies”)

That was the sense that changed my life. I’ll read it again: God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. This is the greatest mind that America has ever produced saying that God is glorified when you’re happy in him.

[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.

That is absolutely life-changing if you believe that. Because you all know — you’re preachers — that the Bible commands that we glorify God. My daddy said it every week of my life. “Son, whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do all to the glory of God, son” (1 Corinthians 10:31). I knew that.

But my daddy never told me — I’ve had to tell him — “God is most glorified in you, son, when you’re most satisfied in him. Therefore, if you want to make much of God, pursue your happiness, if it costs you your right arm. If you have to gouge out your, son, get happy in God.” He never said that. He was a very happy man, and he knew it in his heart, but he never put it into words. I had to go to Jonathan Edwards to see it put in massive theological form, that you cannot honor God as he would be honored if he is not the joy of your joy.

How many people don’t know that in your churches? They feel like the main way you glorify God is keeping your nose clean. It’s doing the stuff, gutting it out. Don’t, don’t, don’t — we’ve got ten of those, right? Oh, for churches where everyone knows in the core of their being that God is the kind of God who has set up a universe in which his glory shines most brightly when his people, through suffering, are satisfied in him. That’s a good deal: God totally glorified, me totally satisfied, forever. What a deal! What a universe!

So that’s the first reason it really matters. This is not optional that you pursue your joy with God at the center of all your joys.

Gospel Light

Here’s another reason: I’m not sure you can be saved if this is not true of you. This is risky, but let me give you a couple of texts for why I think that. And it’s important that pastors be saved, because there are many in my town who are not. And it breaks the heart of ten thousand parents when their kids go to their churches.

Hidden Treasure

Jesus said in Matthew 13:44,

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

That’s a one verse parable. That’s a description of conversion. There are other weird interpretations given to that verse. Don’t go there. This is pretty straightforward. The arrival of King Jesus in a life is like discovering ten million dollars in a bucket in a field. And you know, given the laws, that if you own the field, you get the bucket: “I’ve got to get this filled before anybody else gets this field.” So you over it over. And then the phrase that changed everything in the way I understood conversion: apo tes charas autou — “from his joy he sold everything he had.”

Now some people call that self-denial. It is — in one sense. You sell everything you have. Sell your wedding ring. Sell the old grandfather clock. Sell the house, sell the computer, sell all the books — all the books Piper, sell them all. Sell everything. In fact, Jesus would go further: hate your wife, hate your mother, hate your father, to get the kingdom (Luke 14:26). At any cost, value the kingdom most above everything, so that it makes all other relationships look like hate. Buy that kingdom.

I think that’s a description of conversion. I think it’s conversion. I don’t think it’s second-stage Christianity. I think to be saved is to have your eyes open to the value of Jesus.

Blind Eyes Open

Here’s the text that says that more clearly from the Apostle Paul.

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

People get saved when the light goes on in their heart. I remember meeting dozens and dozens of times with my son, when he was away from God, and I’d just say, “Can I say it one more time?” “Sure, go ahead.” And I’d just say the gospel — He died. He died. How can you turn away from him?” And he said, “It makes no sense, Daddy.” He never got mad at me. He just said, “It makes no sense, Daddy.” That’s blindness. That’s Satan and flesh and the world until verse 6 happens:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

What does it mean to get saved? It means that the devil is socked by the Lord, and the eyes go open, and the foolishness of the cross becomes wisdom and power. That’s what getting saved means. You were looking at him and he’s boring. “Why would anybody want to go worship him? And I’ve got television for goodness’ sake, and I got golf.” (I find that the most boring sport in the world. I haven’t played a game of golf for thirty years. I don’t have a line item in my budget for it. And if I did, it would be putt-putt golf.) The light goes on.

You were looking at golf, and you were looking at television, you were looking at money, and you were looking at fishing, and you were looking at booze, and you were looking at girls, and that’s life — “For goodness’ sake, you Christians, you’re so boring.” And then suddenly, late at night, light floods the heart and the cross is majestic. It’s the sweetest thing a kid ever heard at age 23, on his face in a van in Pensacola, Florida.

So, are you saved? Has he become the light which is the joy of all your joys?

True Reward

Another text to test whether you’re saved or not is Hebrews 11:6:

Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

If you don’t believe that, feel that, you’re not saved. If you think being saved is mainly doing stuff instead of getting rewards — and I would be very careful here, because I hate the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. And every time I talk about pursuing joy, I know I’m running a huge risk because that’s going to be translated in some brains into: “Cool, cool. Yeah, it’s okay to pursue the stuff.”

And it’s just the opposite. The reward is God, Jesus. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). That’s the reward: seeing face to face, no longer through a glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). So to be saved is to believe. And believing is (1) believing that he is, and (2) embracing him as our reward.

Shepherds, Pursue Your Own Joy

Now, all that introduction to what I want to say. What I want to say is: you’re pastors, and you must pursue your joy in God, or you cannot be a loving shepherd. That’s what I want to say for the rest of our time: you must pursue and succeed in finding (at least to some degree), your joy in God, or you can’t be a loving shepherd.

Now a lot of people think that’s a contradiction because I’m saying at the front end of that statement you’re pursuing something for you, and I’m saying at the back end of the statement that that’s the only way to be loving. And most people say, “That can’t be. That is the opposite of what 1 Corinthians 13:5 says: ‘Love seeks not its own.’ You just said you can’t be loving unless you seek your own joy all the time.” That’s exactly what I said and what I mean. So we’ve got to figure this out. Because I think there are a lot of pastors who get confused by that logic: “Seeking my own would make me unloving. I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to love the sheep. Therefore, I shouldn’t do this. I won’t do this.” And it ruins your life.

Now that text in 1 Corinthians 13:5, we won’t spend any time there, except to say if you take that to mean that is a sin to enjoy loving people, you can’t make any sense out of the chapter. If it’s a sin to pursue your joy in God, that chapter won’t make sense, because the argument in the first three verses is: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” What kind of an argument is that, if it’s wrong to want profit?

The chapter won’t work if you take verse 5 to mean it’s wrong to pursue your joy in God. What it means is that love seeks not its own material gain. It doesn’t manipulate people. Love has found a way to be so satisfied in God that we become a means to other people’s ends. And when our love in and our joy in God spills over onto others, it multiplies ours.

It’s like a weather front. So here’s this big high-pressure zone filled with joy in God, and here’s this low-pressure zone of need in people. And the high-pressure zone starts moving into this neighborhood. And the low-pressure zone immediately creates wind. That’s called love, and what’s flowing is joy. This high-pressure zone has been created by joy in God. It’s moving into a low-pressure zone of absent joy, absent lots of stuff. And the effect on the high-pressure zone joy in the needy neighborhood is a draft called love. And here’s the beautiful thing. The high-pressure zone doesn’t get smaller. It gets bigger. It includes. It embraces. My joy in spending myself for my people doesn’t go down; it goes up. In fact, I’m going to argue, if it doesn’t go up, it ain’t love. That’s the thesis.

Minister with Joy

Let’s look at texts for the rest of our time. Turn with me to Hebrews 13. Every pastor has a Bible. You’ve got a sword if you’re a soldier — unless it’s all in your head; that’d be great. For me, as a pastor, this verse has been amazingly powerful. It looks like it is addressed only to the people in the church, but the implication for you is huge. So let’s read verse 17 slowly and think about joy and its implications for love.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

The you there at the end is the people. Let the pastors, the leaders, do this with joy and not with groaning. So they’re going to keep watch over your souls, guide the church, be apt to teach. They’re going to do all of this not with groaning but with joy because doing it with groaning is disadvantageous for the people.

If you say “I don’t care if I am a disadvantage to my people,” I don’t think you’re a loving guy. So if we all agree with that, the implication follows pretty powerfully from this verse that you must pursue your joy in God in ministry. You must, because this text says, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning” — because the groaning way of doing it hurts people.

I mean, do you want to see sick churches? Go to churches where pastors don’t like their job. Go to churches where pastors are afraid of joy, afraid to show it, afraid to feel it, don’t know what to do with it. It’s a foreign element. But boy, they know how to say “you must” and “you ought” and “you should.” That’s a sick church. It may be big because there are so many people who are afraid of hell and want to go to that church that’ll tell them what to do so they don’t. That’s very sick, very foreign to the gospel, and very sad.

So there’s my lead text for this message that a heart for the centrality of God, or the centrality of God in the heart, requires that he be central in our joy. That was the assumption at the beginning. And now I’m arguing: that he is central in our joy must be pursued, in order to be loving shepherds because that’s what the verse says.

If you don’t do it that way, you will be a disadvantage to the people. And there are a couple of reasons why you will be, or why if you did it with joy, you wouldn’t be.

A pastor whose heart is thrilled with God, even when his kid is not walking with the Lord, and the marriage is troubled, and the church is declining, and the giving is small, and the sickness is real, is one of the most powerful testimonies to the value of God in the world. What could show the value of God more than that? But if he goes down with everything else, God must not be sufficient. That’s the message many people get from their pastor: God’s not sufficient for my pastor’s joy. He certainly wouldn’t be for mine because I’m not as good as he is. You don’t want to give that message. You do not want to give that message.

So the message of satisfaction in God through trouble is a loud, clear witness to this hungry people: God’s enough. They need to hear it so bad. They need to see it. They need to feel it. It’s got to be embodied in front of them week after week. God’s enough, God’s great, God’s precious, God’s valuable. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” I’ve got God. That’s what’s got to come through.

Better Possession

It also is an advantage for the people because it releases radical sacrificial love. This is where love comes from, brothers. This is where love comes from. God-exalting love comes from God-exalting joy. Let’s go to Hebrews 10:34. I’m going to stay in Hebrews for a while. I would love to go all over the New Testament, but let’s see how far we can get with Hebrews, and then if there’s time we’ll go to Jesus, and if there’s time we’ll go to Peter, and if there’s time we’ll go to Paul. My point here is that sacrificial love for people comes from joy in God.

Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, . . .

So much for the health, wealth, and prosperity, right? They become Christians, and they get in trouble. That’s what happens all the time. If you had lived a godly life, you would be persecuted. That’s a promise.

. . . sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

So sometimes they were in jail, and you went to visit them in jail, and you got in trouble.

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, . . .

It might mean an official confiscation, the confiscating of your property. Either way it works. Now before I read the ground clause, get the picture. Some of the saints have been thrown in jail. You’re not one of them. But if you go visit them, they’ll know you are one of them. So what are you going to do? You’re going to say, “I’ve got kids. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a nice house. I’ve seen what they do to the houses of people in jail: all the windows are broken out and they burn it down. I’ve got a nice house, and I’ve got kids. I don’t think I should go visit them. I think I should go underground. We’ll call it underground church.”

That’s not what they do. You had compassion on those in prison, and they did burn your house down, and you sang all the way to the prison. That’s what the verse says — clear as day. That’s Christianity — not American Christianity, by and large, but that’s Christianity. And oh, that Phoenix would set the pattern. Of course, this is the hardest place in the world to do that. People come here to get away from that. So what are you going to do with them? Stoke them? Tell them what they want to hear? They’re all coming here to get away from that. Now here comes the way you can do that in the “since” clause:

. . . since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:32–34)

There it is. What’s the possession? God. Heaven with God. You knew in your head, as you watched them torch your house, “I’ve got a better house.” And you sang. That’s what it says. They rejoiced. They joyfully accepted this. I mean, if this weren’t in the Bible, I wouldn’t say it. I’m in no position to say this. “You ever done that Piper?” I’m not talking Piper. I’m talking God. This is God’s word, brothers. This is the kind of heart that pastors people with love. You can do the hard thing because you’ve got a better and lasting possession. They call you at eight o’clock, when you’ve worked eighteen days in a row without a day off. And you’ve not had one evening at home, and you’re playing with your little girl. And it’s a suicide situation. In the car on the way you say, “I’ve got an eternal rest coming. I’ve got an eternal rest coming.”

I had a professor when I was in Germany who worked, worked, worked for kingdom purposes. And when people asked him why he worked so hard, he said, “I’m saving sleep for the eternal rest.” I’m not asking you to kill yourself all the time — just when love demands it. And the strength to do it will be given by the last part of that verse: “You knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

Look to Greater Reward

Turn to chapter Hebrews 11:24. I want to show you this theme. This is not an isolated point. The last four chapters of the book of Hebrews are to make this point. This is the radical, Christ-on-the-ground point in the world for Hebrews. We think Hebrews about Melchizedek. It’s about radical Christianity laying its life down out of joy in God.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Why would anybody choose a 401k or retirement in Phoenix when you can retire in northern Iraq. Why? Moses didn’t.

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, . . .

What’s that look like in Phoenix? Or Minneapolis? I’m not picking on Phoenix. We’re just as bad. I am picking on Phoenix, but we’re just as bad, so I pick on Minneapolis also. And here’s that same ground clause as at the end of Hebrews 10:34. You see at the end of verse 26, that same ground clause. How could he do this?

. . . for he was looking to the reward.

That’s the ground brothers: “I’ve got a king. I’ve got a kingdom. I’ve got treasures laid up in heaven. I don’t need this stuff. I don’t need this stuff. I’m going to lay my life down. There are so many nations to be reached, so many people to be reached, so few hours in the day.” It’s so short, this life — so short. And then in a face-to-face meeting with the king: “Give an account, Piper. Did you waste it?” You don’t want to take your last twenty years playing, whether it’s golf, fishing, bowling. You don’t want to take your last twenty years playing before you meet the king. You don’t. I promise you, you don’t.

Joy Set Before Us

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . . (Hebrews 12:2)

There it is; the third time now. Here’s the reward for Jesus. It’s in front of him. On the other side of the pain, on the other side of the love is the reward. It’s restoration with his Father. It’s being surrounded by all the redeemed. And he’s looking, and it’s getting him through: it’s getting him through Gethsemane, it’s getting him through the cross. For the joy that we said before him, he endured the cross.

That’s the way we do it, brothers. The joy streams back into the present. We feel it. It’s a foretaste now. We know it’s going to be big, huge, and perfect there. And that there and this here gets us into love, sacrificing our lives for our people with joy. There’s no self-pity. A pastor that stands up and documents his pain is a bad pastor. “I worked this hard, and I worked this hard, and I worked.” Or you could kind of do it indirectly, so people kind of think, “Oh poor, poor, poor pastor.”

Or we do this with our wives. I’m as guilty of this as anybody. I’m a little boy who wants a mom. I want a mom at home, right? I like sex, but I want a mom. And I want Mom to feel sorry for me: “Oh, you’ve worked so hard. Come here to me.” That is the absence of joy in God substituting my worship with sex or with a claim or with approval — “Please feel sorry for me, Noël.

City to Come

Finally, let’s look at Hebrews 13:12–14. I’m just showing you the theme. You do the rest. Preach this to your people. Preach a series on these crazy texts. See if it doesn’t turn them upside down. The young people want to hear it anyway. I don’t know if retirees do or not. I know some do. Call them finishers.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

So there he is, doing it for us.

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Stop there. I’m going to give you that ground clause one more time, but get this: “Let’s go to the reproach” — not “Let’s go away from the reproach. I get reproach if I go there. I’m not going to go there anymore.” You go toward reproach, you go toward the prison, you go toward the Red Sea, you go toward the cross, and you go outside the camp. And here’s the ground clause one more time in verse 14:

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Whether it’s Phoenix, Minneapolis. And guess who’s the king there? Jesus. And that’s why the city is so attractive to us. That’s Hebrews.

Rejoice and Be Glad

Let’s go to Jesus in Matthew 5. I’m trying to argue for the point from the Bible, not John Piper, that joy in God now and the anticipation of the full joy later in God is the spring from which sacrificial, pastoral shepherding flows. That’s my argument. I don’t have anything new to say, just more texts. Let’s do the end of chapter and the beginning and see how they fit together.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43–44)

Now that includes enemies in the church, and everybody’s got some. Not just enemies outside, but everybody — anybody who is making life hard for you. Love your enemy. Now where’s that going to come from? Where’s it going to come from? Those two verses don’t say. What is the spring of enemy love for a person who for year after year after year is making your life hard? They don’t ever get it. They say negative things at almost every meeting. They write you crummy notes and almost never affirm. They just make life hard. And then, of course, there are plenty outside the church who don’t understand what’s going on at all and think you’re weird to the extreme.

The answer to where it comes from is given in Matthew 5:11–12:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Now that’s the same situation we just had in Matthew 5:43–44: they’re persecuting you. Verse 12:

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

So your response to being hurt is joy, according to Jesus — if you get it. “Rejoice and be glad.” Your reward is great in heaven. That’s where God is. That’s where Jesus is. It’s where everything that you’ve ever longed for is summed up in him. Now my way of putting these two together is to ask this: Here you have “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” and here you have “persecution is happening; rejoice in it.” Now which is harder? To pray for those who persecute you, or to rejoice in persecution? There’s no trick here. I want a real honest answer.

I think joy in the midst of being hurt is impossible, without a miracle, without the Holy Spirit, without the cross, without forgiveness, and without heaven. So if you need to love your enemy and pray for your persecutor, and you’re doing it very well, the battle should be fought here. Can you rejoice in this church that’s making life so hard for you? Can you rejoice? And I don’t mean, brothers, a toe-tipping “rejoice in God like there no tears.” I’m talking through tears and sobs.

Joy Through Sorrow

Paul’s got this great phrase. We use it at our church all the time because we want this flavor every Sunday: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). That’s us. I’ve got three worship leaders on three campuses. And every time I meet with them, just about, on Monday for half an hour, I’ll say, “Brothers, we didn’t quite get it. It’s sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” That’s real hard for a worship leader. That’s really hard. But I make it hard because out in that audience are mostly miserable broken people, and if you just stand up there and do the rah-rah thing, they’re going to say, “This disconnect is so big, those people don’t live where I live.” But there are sorrowful songs and there are high, energetic powerful songs, and there is a gift of worship leadership that can get this. And oh, that we would all have brothers and sisters who can help us as pastors set these tones of sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

Almost nothing means more to me than when I hear a mom of a six-year-old who’s had seizures for six years and is now no longer developed any beyond one and a half years old, and they walked through so many surgeries, and they just took out forty percent of his brain hoping it would work, and it did work. And she walks up to me after a sermon and says, “Thank you for holding up the sovereignty of our great God.” Almost nothing means more to me.

To have so spent yourself for people that they begin to get that God is more valuable than this little baby, and God is more valuable than my having a normal life without a child like this, and God is so valuable and so sufficient and so sovereign, he can take this, sanctify it to my soul, turn it for my children’s good, turn it for the nation’s good. Wow, I could tell you so many stories of suffering in our church that are sustained by joy, and thus produce love.

When Joy and Grace Overflow

I want to give you a witness from Paul. Remember what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to argue that pastoral, sacrificial, shepherding love flows from having God at the center of your joy. Chapter 8 verse 1 and 2.

We want you to know, brothers [down in Corinth], about the grace of God that has been shown among the churches in Macedonia [up in the northern part of the peninsula], for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty . . .

Mark that: Affliction rose up and so did joy. People who think that you can only have joy rising where affliction is going down, they just don’t get it. Christianity is the opposite. Affliction goes up and joy goes up. That’s what it says. And they didn’t get prosperous all of a sudden when they became a Christian either. So they got affliction. They got poverty. And these people are as happy as they can be. What in the world? How un-American.

. . . have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Corinthians 8:1–2)

Now I call that love. In fact, Paul calls it love down in verse 8:

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Joy came from the grace of verse 1: the grace of God was shown. So God is the ground of this joy. The abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have, like a high-pressure zone, overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. And this generosity, of course, is going to the poor in Jerusalem. That’s what the point is there: taking up an offering. And it’s overflowing. So if joy in grace is overflowing in generosity, where does love come from? It’s not rocket science. Love comes from joy and grace. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. That’s my definition of love, based on 2 Corinthians 8:2. There are other ways to define it, legitimate ways. But here, since Paul calls it love in verse 8, I’m going to define love as: grace comes down, God is manifested, lights go on, glory is seen, joy rises, generosity flows. That’s love.

And that’s the way I want to minister to my people. Therefore brothers, my main battle is joy in him — not writing books, not preaching sermons, not going to conferences, not having a happy family that works. My main battle is keeping God as my treasure.

If we would stay in 2 Corinthians, I would go down to 9:7 where it says, “God loves a cheerful giver” — which I would paraphrase: “God loves a cheerful pastor,” because he’s mainly giving all the time. And God says, “Don’t give begrudgingly or under compulsion.” God loves a cheerful giver. That applies to the pulpit.

No Lack

But now Peter says it better than I do, so let’s read Peter.

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Now that’s just like 2 Corinthians 9:7 — “not under compulsion, but willingly.” Want to do this. Want to do this. And this isn’t for material gain. Don’t make your money at this; if you’re just doing this for a living, get out of the job. “Eagerly” — that’s the same as saying God loves a cheerful giver, God loves a cheerful pastor. And what are we examples of? Eager love and sacrifice through whatever pain because I have found, as one of your shepherds, that my over-shepherd always leads me in green pastures. I mean do you believe the first verse of Psalm 23? We still translate it with the Old English usage of the verb want. And almost nobody means want by what they meant by want in the 1600s. It meant lack, and the word is lack: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have no lack.” If you’ve got cancer, or kids aren’t following Jesus, or the budget’s two million behind, you have no lack. Why? How can you say that? God. God.

Workers for Joy

One last verse just to show you, brothers, how what I’ve tried to help you see, you must help your people see, because Paul said that was his apostolic charge in 2 Corinthians 1:24. It’s an amazing verse — wonderful, precious, pastoral verse.

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

Brothers, you cannot fulfill that apostolic pattern if God’s not the gladness of your joy.