Brothers—Think, Feel, Preach God

Piper 2 Leaders Conference | Pretoria, South Africa

Thank you Martin and the team that put this together and honored me with the privilege of speaking to the most important people in the universe under God. I think more important than angels are the shepherds of God’s flock. So to speak to you — and I know not all of you are pastors, but that’s who I have mainly in mind — is an awesome thing for me. Thank you, Stuart. It has been good to follow you around a little bit.

I cannot overstate, both in settings like this and week by week in my local church, the enormity of the importance of corporate worship for my soul. I think that when I lay my head down to die, it will still be true that the moments of my sweetest communion with God will have been standing with my people in song to the living God.

I am sanctified more in worship than any other time. I am brought low for my sin in corporate worship more than any other time. I am given hope for my marriage and my children and my church when I’m feeling despondent in corporate worship more than any other time. I don’t know how it is with you, but the gift that God has given to the church in the last 30 years or so in a kind of awakening of corporate, God-centered worship in song that’s very earnest and very joyful is a gift to me personally. So those whom he has raised up to lead local churches and then to share in events like this are hugely important to me because God has ordained, in my case anyway, that those moments be sanctifying.

I generally feel grieved about myself because as I stand, sometimes with my hands lifted and sometimes with my eyes closed, articulating God’s majesty in song, I feel so foolish about the way I treat people 12 hours earlier. I just feel so foolish. I feel like, “Why did that become such a big deal? Why did I get so angry? Why did I get so discouraged over such a little thing?” And my world comes into focus in worship and I just wish — pray for me in this regard — that I could just stay like that.

I think when you are introduced, you said your hope is that you help people begin it and then it just continues. It just continues. We just worship all day. So when we’re upset that somebody said something, we just say, “This is not big enough to be mean about. This is just small. We’re a little vapor. We’re going to get blown away. Why am I so angry?” All of that is to say we do have a great God, and he is worthy of song. He’s worthy of everything.

Crisis and Reformation

In 1993, we went through the biggest crisis in our church. I’ve been at our church now for about 30 years and we went through the biggest crisis we’ve ever had. It was a huge moral crisis in some lives, and then there was a big split in an attitude towards certain things. And 230 people left the church and we were brought to our faces and we called the next year “the year of tears,” and the next year after that we called “the year of self-searching and identity.” We didn’t grow at all for four years flat. Nobody wanted to be a part of this mess.

And in that second year called “the year of searching our own souls” and who we were, God gave us, I believe, a mission statement. I don’t think every church has to have a mission statement and all mission statements are inadequate and imperfect because they always leave important things out, but we have one.It was 17 years ago, and it still burns inside of me. I had been there at the time, 13 years, and so the church and I had grown together. So the church’s mission statement and my mission statement for my life are virtually identical.

I want to say it to you, unpack it for maybe three or four minutes, and make it the background of why I’m going to say what I’m going to say in this message. What we did was that we formed a group of people. You might want to try this during some crisis moment in your ministry. The church was probably a 1,000 folks at that time, I don’t know. And we took 23 people, four staff and the rest lay folks, and we met together every two weeks maybe for a year or so, just talking and praying about who we were. It included everything under the sun: music identity, ministry identity, style identity, theological identity, outreach identity. It was all kinds of, “What do we want to do? What does God want to make us?”

They sent me away after months of that and said, “Go draft a document, a statement, and then some fleshing out, then bring it back and we’ll pick it apart and refine it,” because that’s the way I think things happen. Committees don’t write documents. They just refine things that others do. So I went away and I brought this back and we tweaked it, and then a few years later we added another phrase but here’s what it is:

We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

That’s our mission statement.

Spreading a Passion

Right up there at the top is, “We exist to spread,” and that gives some people the willies like, “Whoa, what about inside? What about us?” And of course, you can’t spread anything you don’t have. So children’s ministries really matter in order to raise them up to have this passion so they can spread it.

But the point of that is to say, if everything we do terminates on me or on us, not only is the world told to go to hell, but I lose my biggest joy because a shared joy is a doubled joy. You don’t find your highest pleasures by isolating yourself in a room with God. You go from that room and speak his name, and when another person is drawn into your joy in him, it gets bigger. I’m a Christian Hedonist. I want maximum joy and I know it doesn’t come to me by myself. It comes when I am granted the privilege to talk to somebody about him, to sing with somebody about him. That’s when this joy that’s in there gets bigger, and I want it to be bigger.

Then it continues, “We exist to spread a passion . . .” We don’t just exist to spread a doctrine. I am reformed. I am Calvinistic. I like to be biblical, through and through, which is more important than any other way of describing me. And I regard that as absolutely important, but it’s not the end point, which is one of the points of the two messages I have.

I’m going to talk more about doctrine and thinking this evening, and I’m going to talk about passion mainly this morning. So I believe thinking rightly about God is not an end in itself but serves the heart’s passion for God. So we exist to spread, yes by means of right-thinking, right teaching, right doctrine, but we are after passionate hearts for Jesus. And of course you can hear how impossible this mission is. You can’t make any of that happen to anybody. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work, but he calls us to be involved. So this is our goal.

For the Supremacy of God in All Things

Then the statement continues, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God . . .” Matt, who’s traveling with me, and I were sitting over there a few minutes ago, waiting and praying, and I just looked at him and I said, “Matt, the most overwhelming thing in the world is that God exists,” and we just sat and tried to let it sink in. God exists. This stuff we think is so real, all of this is nothing. God is everything. God is absolute reality. He was there before any of this. In him we live and move and have our being. He sustains it by the word of his power. One change in his mind and we go poof out of existence.

God is reality. God is 10,000,000 times more important than you are, more important than your church, more important than South Africa, or the United States of America, or all the galaxies. They are as nothing. They are dust on the scales. You put God and the universe in the scales, and it falls down on the side of God.

Just the sheer being of God is breathtaking and humbling. So we exist to spread a passion for his supremacy. We want people to be stunned by the sheer existence of Almighty God as he is revealed in the Bible. It is not the God they make up; it’s this God.

And then, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things . . .” I don’t want everybody to become a pastor. I want there to be homemakers, nurses, teachers, street sweepers, garbage collectors, carpenters, brick masons, and computer programmers who do everything they do for the glory of God. They regard him as supreme in everything they do with their hands so that everything becomes an act of worship.

We want to permeate life with God. He is supreme in all things. In all the subjects of school, he is absolutely supreme.

For the Joy of All Peoples Through Jesus Christ

The statement continues: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples . . .” So we want joy to spread to all peoples. I wanted so much in the crafting of this mission statement to have missions in view, not just a vague sense of being missional or a vague sense of having some kind of impact. Rather, there are thousands of peoples, ethnic groups, that are on the planet that God means to reach. The church is to be planted in every ethnic group on the planet, and we exist to that end.

This is about missions in the historic sense of sending people across a culture, learning another language, going where there are no evangelists, ethnically and indigenously, to do the work. You have to have missionaries, whatever you call them, and they go there, often at the cost of their lives, and they plant God’s church. And he says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

And then we added at the end through Jesus Christ because we know that without the gospel and without his work, we can’t do this. Nobody has a passion for God that honors God, who doesn’t come to God through Christ, crucified and risen. So Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and non-Christian Jewish people do not honor God.

We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

God Makes Good Figs

Let me just say a word for my devotions this morning and then tackle my topic for the remainder of the time. Think about the phrase “through Jesus Christ” in that statement. What Christ did, as you know, was come from the Father as God, live a perfect life which we couldn’t, and die in our place in order to demonstrate the love of God for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He rose from the dead for our justification, ascended, and he intercedes forever before the Father for us, when we were absolutely and totally undeserving of this love. Nobody comes to the Father except through him, and nobody can honor the Father if they dishonor the Son, which all non-Christians do by rejecting Jesus. So Christ is absolutely essential.

This morning I was reading in Jeremiah, and I read these words which spoke very, very powerfully to me personally, and I felt like perhaps I should put them up here at this point. God had just used the analogy of good and bad figs, and then, concerning the exiles in Babylon, he says:

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah . . . (Jeremiah 24:5).

They weren’t good. They hadn’t become good. And he says, “Now, after 70 years of punishment” — and they’re still not good because they rejected the Lord when he came — “I will regard them as good.” And then Jeremiah 24:7 says:

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord . . .

What is so precious about that is the order of those two statements. First, he says, “I will regard them as good,” and then he says, “I will give them a heart to know me.” This is our only hope, that God in election chooses to regard us in Christ as good, and then he pursues us and makes us good. If that order were not true, I would be undone. If I felt that I had to preach perfectly, or if I had to be a perfect husband, or if I had to do fathering right in order to get God to regard me as good, I couldn’t do it.

So when I say “through Jesus Christ” I am thinking that his righteousness is counted as mine so that the Father rightly can regard me as good, because by faith I’m united to Jesus and in him I am righteous. I am good in God’s sight so that now he can begin to make me good. And he’s working really slowly on me. I really felt this morning, maybe it will be 70 years. Maybe I’ll become good at 70, like the exiles, and I’ll come home and I’ll be a good husband and a good father to my 45-year-old children.

The Essential Place of Emotions

All that is introduction. What I want to talk about in the two sessions is why I prioritize (and why I believe, biblically, you should prioritize) emotions, affections, and passions as highly as I’ve just spoken about. And I’ll show you how high that is. Why? What will it do for us? What will it do for your church? What will it protect you from and what will it win?

I want to show you from the Bible why this is so important that the affections, or the emotions, are more ultimate than thinking. And then I’m going to talk about thinking and how important it is this evening. So that’s where I’m going and I want you to just go away feeling, “Okay, in my own soul and in my church, my goal must be a passion for God, joy in God, zeal for God, delight in God, and satisfaction in God.” All these are feeling words. Now let me give you four qualifying observations before I move into Scripture proper on that.

The Meaning of Affections

First, here’s a definition. When I talk about emotions or affections, I am not thinking primarily of physical phenomena — trembling hands, fluttering eyelashes, wobbling knees, butterflies in the stomach, tingling in the spine, you name it. I’m not talking about that. Those are great. I like them. They come, they go. But they’re not of the essence. When I think of emotion or affection, I am talking about a spiritual reality that is not identical with the evidences that sometimes happen in the body. I have in mind things like joy, fear, gratitude, desire, hate, anger, tenderheartedness, peace, loneliness, sorrow, regret, shame, and hope. All those are from the Bible. The list goes on and on. The Bible is just rich with emotional language, and I don’t mean that those emotions are bodily.

Now, how do we know that they’re more than bodily? Because we’re in bodies. We can’t deny that we’re in bodies and these things are so interwoven with our bodies that here and now, in this body, they often feel like bodily sensations. How do I know that they are more than that, deeper than that? There are two reasons why we know this. First, God has them. And don’t get bent out of shape here about the impassibility of God. I don’t think God is a victim of any of his emotions the way we are. There is a mystery in this, but I’m a Bible guy, not mainly a systematics guy. And the Bible talks endlessly about God’s emotions. He has them, and he gets really happy and really angry. Hosea 11:8 says:

My compassion grows warm and tender.

That’s God talking. Or Jeremiah 4:8 says that the “fierce anger of the Lord” is coming. God has no body, therefore fierce anger and warm, tender compassion cannot be bodily at their ultimate root. That’s the first argument.

The second argument is that we know it’s not bodily because you are going to have them after you die and go to heaven. Otherwise, I can’t make any sense out of Paul’s words in Philippians that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He says it is “far better” to go and be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). Does that mean it’s better with zero affections for him? No way. My love for him, my joy in him, my satisfaction in him, and my longing for him is going to be 1,000-fold intensified when I meet him face to face and my body is lying in the grave. So for those two reasons, please, when I talk about affections or emotions, don’t hear me talking about physical sensations. That is the way we experience them largely here, but that’s not what they are in their essence. That’s clarification number one.

Thinking as a Means to Feeling

Here’s the second clarification. Why do I rank these affections above thinking? I just want to say briefly here why that is, and then we’ll talk about it more this evening. John 8:32 says:

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Free from what? Well, in the context it’s sin. And what is sin? It’s not just bad actions, it’s bad attitudes. It’s bad feelings. It’s bad motives. And therefore, to know rightly is to be set free from the bondage upon our spiritual affections that cause them to go after illicit sex or money or notoriety. These are horrible bondages that our affections live in while we don’t know the truth.

And so Jesus is saying, “If you know rightly, you will then, as a consequence, have something else happen,” which means the other thing is more ultimate. The goal is to have all those things set free for God. That’s why I think they are more ultimate than right-thinking. Right-thinking is a means to right feeling. I’ll say more on that later.

Religious Actions Without Heart Affections Are Worthless

Here’s a third qualifying or clarifying observation at the beginning. Why do I rank right feeling over right doing? This is a little more controversial maybe. Someone might ask, “Are you sure you want to rank right feeling over right doing?” Yes I do.

Matthew 15:8–9 says:

This people honors me with their lips,
     but their heart is far from me;
In vain do they worship me . . .

He’s looking at a group of people singing, or reciting a liturgy, or lifting their hands, or hugging each other — all physical manifestations — and he’s looking at their heart and saying, “I don’t like this. I don’t like what’s going on here. I don’t like these lifted hands. I don’t like these hugs. I don’t like these songs. I don’t like this bodily action because their hearts are not with me.” Which means bodily action minus heart affections is worthless. It’s worse than worthless. It stinks to God.

So yes, I’m going to rank this heart of mine over this body of mine in all of its doing, doing, doing. Doing good deeds without a heart for God is blasphemy. It has a name in the Bible. If they’re religious, it’s called hypocrisy. There is such a thing as hypocrisy. I wonder if we had a little vote here about what Jesus hated most as revealed in the Gospels what our vote would be. My vote would be hypocrisy. He gets more bent out of shape about hypocrites than anything. The language Jesus uses in Matthew 23 is just over the top towards hypocrites. He calls them “whitewashed tombs” with vile insides like graves that people walk over. They stink. He’s talking about religious people, and they just stink to him.

I tremble at the thought of my body, my voice, my hands, and my feet doing the right stuff with my heart a mile away from God Almighty. So yes, I’m ranking my heart and its affections for God as more essential than doing, more ultimate than doing. Imagine yourself in heaven, or on the new heavens and the new earth, what will be the ultimate thing? And the ultimate will be that our thinking and our doing rightly expresses massive and unsullied joy in God, and the joy in God will be what makes the thinking and makes the doing as beautiful as it will be. That’s clarification number three.

The Glory of God and Human Affections

Clarification number four is this: how does this prioritizing of affections and feelings so highly relate to the glory of God, which in the Bible is manifestly the most important reality in the universe? I’m totally with Jonathan Edwards in his book The End For Which God Created The World that it is the display of his glory, that it might be reverberating back to him in all appropriate ways, so that all things are from him and through him and to him, and to him be glory forever (Romans 11:33–36). There is no doubt that I am subordinate. I am dependent. God is majestically absolutely important and I’m not.

So how does my prioritizing of the heart so highly relate to that? My life sentence to try to capture this is that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, and therefore, I think prioritizing satisfaction in God as the ultimate goal of my life is the indispensable way of making much of him as I should.

Biblical Foundations for Christian Hedonism

Now, we need the Bible under this. And so I think the outline that I have left is this. I want to give you some biblical evidence for that last sentence: God is most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in him. So all you lovers of the glory of God, at least I hope you are, will feel a sense not of some tension or competition between the elevation of affections, but rather, that the elevation is an essential, necessary means of glorifying God. That’s the first thing we’re going to do next. I will give biblical evidence of that and then four implications for our people, for our pastoral work, for our preaching, and for the wider challenges of evangelicalism, if we can do that in the next little while.

Let’s go to Philippians 1. This was the text in chapter one that I preached on when I candidated at my church in February of 1980. And it has not ceased to be pivotal for me for all of ministry and theology. Everything I do, more or less, flows from this. I’m starting at Philippians 1:20:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed (how many times I fail, but it is my eager expectation and hope), but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored (megalynō) in my body, whether by life or by death.

And that little word for there has become all important. Paul says:

For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

You can see how thinking is functioning for me here in relation to affections. I’m going after affections in this verse because they’re here massively, but I have to think to make this happen. And the word for forces me to think about why it’s there because Paul didn’t throw his words around under inspiration carelessly. So why is that little word for at the beginning of Philippians 1:21? How does it support or clarify what went before? So let’s read and try to get that. He says his passion, his aim, his longing, his eager expectation is that Christ would be magnified or honored in his body. And then he says, “Either way, whether I live, I want my life to be a magnifying of Christ. Or if I’m called to die in Rome, I want my dying to be a magnifying of Christ.”

He is saying, “When I die, I want Christ to look really good, and when I live, I want Christ to look really good.” That’s why I’m on the planet. That’s why you’re on the planet. You exist to make Christ look good. That’s why you’re here. That’s why you exist. That’s why the universe exists. Creation exists to make Christ look good, and the linking of the old and the new creation is a great thing.

Christ Magnified in Our Dying

Now, the question is how? Let’s just take the death pair in Philippians 1:20–21. You have two pairs, right? Life and death. And then Philippians 1:21 says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” So “life” corresponds in verse 20 with “live” in verse 21, and “death” in verse 20 corresponds with “die” in verse 21. Do you see that?

That’s not an accident, those pairs, and so we’re supposed to learn from the word for that what he says about living sheds light back on how you magnify Christ in your life in verse 20, and what he says about dying sheds light back on how you magnify Christ in your death. And the death pair is the most illuminating. We could unpack the life pair by going over to Philippians 3:8, where he talks about life and treasuring and valuing Christ above all things now, but let’s talk about the death pair. So let’s just leave out the life pair and read it like this: “My eager expectation and hope is that now as always Christ would be honored in my body when I die, for to me to die is gain.”

Does that make sense? He is saying, “My passion is to magnify Christ in my dying.” Paul knew he was going to die. He could smell it. He thought, “I want to make him look good in my dying, for . . .” The support for that, the explanation of that, the ground for that is, “To me, to die is gain.” That’s how Christ is made to look good in your dying. That is, in the moment of your dying, or the process, the last hours, the last days, the last year as life drains out of your body with some horrid disease or some persecution or some imprisonment, Christ looks good if you are communicating, “Gain, gain, gain.”

And people around you say, “How can this be gain? You’re losing your wife, you’re losing your children, you’re losing your job, you’re losing your retirement, you’re losing your plans, you’re losing comfort. What do you mean ‘gain’?”

Better Than Life

And then to get answers like that, you keep reading. So let’s keep reading. He says:

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Philippians 1:23).

To be with Christ is better than to be with my wife; to be with Christ is better than grandchildren; to be with Christ is better than comfort; to be with Christ is better than retirement; to be with Christ is better than all my plans. Bring it on, death. Bring it on, loss, because I say, “Gain.”

Now, all my theology is there. When I say God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, I’m getting that right there. That’s there. In my moment of dying, God will be most magnified when I am so satisfied in being with Jesus that I can let goods in kindred go, this mortal life also, right? The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever. Make my day, death.

Would that God would work in me and in you so that it wouldn’t just be words. Right now, it could just be words, right? I could be a fake. I could come to my dying day, under the demonic power of the devil and the horrible suffering of physical evil, and mess it up big time, which is why crying to God for help is the right thing to do because Piper can just be all big talk. Maybe someone would say, “We’ll see. We’ll check you out when that day comes.” So don’t assume, just pray. Okay?

So there it is. That’s my biblical foundation for saying that (using this text) Christ is most magnified in my body when I, in my body at the point of death, am most satisfied in him. I just want to make sure that you don’t make this mistake. Sometimes when you talk about joy, you talk about satisfaction, or you talk about the affections, if you haven’t suffered much in life, those words sound light and superficial. And you might say, “Well, yeah, it’s easy for an American citizen to say that — someone who is nicely clothed, well-fed, surrounded with social supports, has a good family, drives a car, lives in a house, and has indoor plumbing and refrigeration. He calls 911 anytime he wants. They’re here to put the fire out or to rescue him from the robbers within five minutes. I mean, this guy is living in heaven already. What does he know about how to magnify Christ in dying or how to magnify Christ in suffering?”

I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve suffered much in this life, but I read sufferers and I read my Bible and I talk to sufferers, and all the testimony that comes back to me from godly sufferers is that I’m speaking truth.

Suffering and Joy

I remember one time in seminary I wrote a paper on 1 Peter, which is all about suffering, and I argued this. I was just learning these things and I argued that those who suffer most discover most of God and, therefore, have the deepest joy. That’s the way I argued. There I was, 23 years old and I knew nothing. I was just trying to echo back what I saw, and that professor was very upset with me and he said, “What about Richard Wurmbrand? You’ve never suffered. There’s somebody who was tortured for Christ.” I don’t know if you know the Romanian I’m talking about. So I said, “Oh, okay.”

So I went to the library and I checked out Tortured for Christ, and one or two other books, and I found what I said all over the place. This is all over the place.

I wrote a little addendum to the paper. He had given me a C- on the paper. That’s below average. And I wrote this little thing and I said, “Professor, I know I’m an American, I’m a Westerner, and I don’t know anything by way of experience, but when I read Wurmbrand like you said, he says that in his sufferings, in these horrible 14 years where they hurt his feet so bad that now he has to take off his shoes when he speaks, that he met Christ so deeply that there was joy surpassing everything. There it is. It’s in the book.” And he raised my grade to a B-. I guess there were other problems with it.

So the point of that was that I know I haven’t suffered as much as many of you have, and I live in a very abundant land and it’s easier for me to talk about this maybe than it would be if I didn’t have the leisure to study, but I do believe what I’m saying is biblical and those who’ve suffered more could say it more authentically and it would be true. So that’s the first thing I want to do in my little remaining four-part outline or whatever.

Implications of Christian Hedonism

The next thing is implications for your people. If this is so, if we rank emotions, affections, and satisfaction as highly as I’m commending for the glory of God, because he’s most glorified when we are most satisfied in him, then what does that mean for your people? I’m talking to pastors now.

1. The Constant Vocation of Our Lives

What it means is that you should tell them that this is the 24/7 vocation of their life — namely, to pursue maximum joy in God. This is their vocation. When I was a teenager, I don’t remember anybody telling me that. I was told, “Do the will of God, and sometimes it brings happiness.” Nobody ever said to me, “Pursue joy like a hungry tiger going after an antelope. Pursue it. Go for it. Don’t let it get away from you. Pursue this joy, and watch out because other joys are clawing for your heart all the time. And if you don’t set your face to pursue joy in God, you will get it somewhere else because your heart is a desire factory.”

Nobody doesn’t want. Everybody wants. We are a wanting beings — want, want, want, want, want. That’s who we are. God made us that way. We want, and either we’re going to want God or we’re going to want ourselves to look good in the mirror. So set your people on this quest. Tell them, “Go for it. Pursue it. Chop your hand off if you have to get it. Gouge out your eye if you have to in order to get this.” There are all kinds of arguments you can give to your people. Let me just give you a few.

Reasons to Pursue Joy

First, the Bible commands that we pursue joy:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

That’s a command. It’s not a suggestion.

Serve the Lord with gladness!
     Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2).

Don’t serve the Lord any other way. It’s a bad advertisement. He is dishonored by gloomy servants.

Or you could also say that the Bible threatens terrible things if we don’t pursue our joy in God. Deuteronomy 28:47–48 says:

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies . . .

That’s a terrible threat. So many arguments could be given. I’m going to pass over those and go to implication number two.

Not Playing Games

The first implication was to teach your people and model for your people that the quest for joy in God is their most important vocation. It’s very costly. It will cost some of them their lives because God’s going to say to some of them, “I want you to do this in Libya. I want you to do this in Afghanistan.”

I got an email the other day from one of our families in Afghanistan and the 10 who were murdered a few weeks ago in Afghanistan. One of them was on their team and another one was reading one of my books, Don’t Waste Your Life, when he was shot. And his mother said at the funeral — what she said to my friend, Ryan — that a sermon doing missions when dying is gain that I preached 20 years ago or whenever, was sustaining her in this moment. And I read this with trembling. I thought, “I am not playing games.”

Do you think you’re playing games? These people are dead because they love like this, because they believed Afghanistan was where their maximum, deepest knowing and loving of Jesus was going to be found. They thought, “As I spread this through a dentistry ministry, my deepest joy in their joy is going to be found there. And it may cost me my life to pursue this, but I’m going after the maximizing of my joy in their joy.” I don’t know if you think that way. That’s the way I think. So when I commend this to my people, I’m saying, “This will cost you.”

2. No Gain from Gloomy Pastors

Here’s the second implication for your pastoral role, let’s look at Hebrews 13:17. Pastors, listen up very carefully. It sounds like this verse is about how your people are supposed to respond to you, and it is, but there’s an implication that is crystal clear about how you are to pursue joy here for their sake.

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).

Do you see the implication of that for joy? Pastor, if you are indifferent to your pursuit of joy in ministry, you are indifferent to your people’s good. That’s what it says. It says, “Let them do this ministry with joy, not with groaning, because if he does it with groaning instead of joy, you don’t get any benefit.” So pastor, if you love your people — that is, if you want them to be benefited by your ministry — you must pursue joy. I commend that verse to you for very serious heart-searching.

That’s implication number two for your pastoral ministry, which means you get up every morning and you get on your face before God, as you’re feeling discouraged and as you’re feeling low and depressed and lonely or embattled, and you say, “God, please restore to me the joy of my relationship to you and my love for my people. And in all the embattled circumstances of my life, would you please give me a centering on Christ that is rooted deeply in him and joyful, so that when I walk out of here into a committee meeting or into a hospital room or into the pulpit, I have something of use for my people. They don’t need my groaning.” I know that’s an overstatement because they do need your groaning. You understand, don’t you, that you’re a real person? They need to see that you’re real, okay?

If you’re having issues and problems and pain, they need to know that. Let that show. “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10) is the banner that flies over my ministry. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing. There’s not a day in my life I’m not sorrowful. I just know too many people, and I hope — though this may not be true — that there’s not a day in my life in which I’m not joyful in the sorrow. The Christian life is a mystery, isn’t it?

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

I’ve experienced this so many times. My mother was killed in Israel in 1974 in a bus accident, and I got the phone call. I was 28 years old. It’s the most I’ve ever cried. I hung up the phone, and I had a two-year-old hanging onto my leg saying, “Daddy’s sad, daddy’s sad.” And my wife was looking with trembling, thinking, “What are you getting on the phone?” I hung up, and I said, “Mama’s dead and daddy’s seriously wounded. They don’t know if he’s going to make it. Just let me be alone for a while.”

I went back, I knelt down by the bed, and I cried for two hours. This is what you do. I cried for two hours, and God showed up in such amazing joy. I never stopped crying. That’s why I know sorrowful yet always rejoicing is not a contradiction. I just know it. It’s in the Bible and I’ve been there so many times. There are so many things to be happy about in that moment of pain and loss and sorrow.

3. Workers for Your Joy

Here’s the third implication for your preaching. This is not too much different from the first point, but let’s read it in a verse. This is 2 Corinthians 1:24. We’re almost finished.

Not that we lord it over your faith . . .

Oh, don’t lord it over your people. Don’t be a big shot. Be a servant.

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

Isn’t this amazing? Here’s the apostolic mission. Paul says, “What am I about? I’m not about lording it over my Corinthian children. That’s not what it’s about. I am an apostle. I have divine authority. It’s just not about me huffing and puffing and wielding my authority in this church. That’s not what it’s about. It’s coming alongside and working with you,” and he could have said, “for your faith,” but he didn’t. He said, “For your joy.” That’s what you should do. Get up in the morning and say, “God, help me today to live for the joy of my people” — their joy in God.

4. Challenges for Evangelicals

Finally, implication number four is about the wider challenges of evangelicals, and we’ll end with this. Let me try to give you a bigger picture here of why theologically, culturally, and ecclesiologically, what I’m saying really matters in the big picture. I just want to give you two pairs of errors in the church today, which I think come from the failure to do what I’ve talked about for the last hour.

I am not putting icing on the cake of life in this message. I’m talking about the cake. So it’s really important, and I think the failure to prioritize passion and heart and satisfaction and joy in God through suffering results in these kinds of errors in the church today. Here are two pairs of errors.

The first pair is related to right-thinking. If somebody begins to say, “Right-thinking really matters, right-thinking really matters,” and they take it away from this, there’s a name we give to that; we call it intellectualism. When you put the ism on the end it’s bad — intellectualism. It’s the brain and it’s doctrine out of whack, out of balance. It’s hurting people, not doing what it’s supposed to do.

It’s like a prostitute in your head. Your brain isn’t supposed to do that with her. The brain is supposed to serve the wife of passion for God, and if right-thinking becomes so uppermost that it becomes dead orthodoxy or intellectualism, that’s an error and it’s widespread. I don’t know how widespread it is. I don’t know South Africa’s situation, but it crops up in history every now and then. You can call it intellectualism and dead orthodoxy.

Then I said there’s a pair. There’s another group who watch that happening. They think, “Oh, I don’t like that. I do not like that.” And the pendulum goes “whoosh”, way over here and you get anti-intellectualism, which is an equally horrible error. The excesses of charismatics — and I want to say excesses because Charismatics aren’t the problem — are just like excesses of doctrinaire life.

So where does that come from? It comes from not getting the emotions in the right place so that their reaction is like, “Oh, we got to think right here and think more and not be emotionalistic.” So they go off and they leave the heart behind and do all that. And then another group watches that and says, “Whoa, I don’t want that,” and they go off in the other direction. And both of those could have been avoided if we had the heart and the affections nurtured and expressed in a mature, full, powerful way so that nobody feels you have to choose between right-thinking and right feeling, and so that nobody has to swing towards emotionalism or swing toward intellectualism.

The Dangers of Doing

That’s the first pair. Here’s the last one and we’ll stop. That was right-thinking gone awry, and here’s right doing gone haywire. If right doing is not invested with right affections and emotions, what happens? Legalism happens. One of the meanings of legalism is a person who knows he’s got to do stuff. They think, “I know the Bible has commands in it. It says, ‘Don’t fornicate,’ and, ‘Don’t steal,’ and, ‘Don’t murder,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor,’ and, ‘Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together,’ and, ‘Meditate on the word.’ There are hundreds of commands in the Bible and I know they’re there, so I have to do them.”

What’s a legalist? A legalist is a person who does them with no heart. It’s not coming from any root. It’s not fruit; it’s just work. It’s not fruit. It becomes fruit when it’s got a root, and the root is joy in God. If we don’t breed joy in God and we stay religious, we produce legalists. That’s all you can produce. It’s a doer with no heart. It has no root in joy, no root in resting and peaceful, delighting satisfaction in God so that you’re not trying to impress him. He’s already regarded you as a good fig. He just said, “I’m choosing you from my own. I love you. I sent my Son to die for you. You’re mine now.” So everything becomes fruit. It just grows out of that kind of tree.

And when legalism happens, there’s another group watching it happen and they say something different. Oh, how many people have left our church like this? They’re watching it happen, and they think, “Look at all these religious people. They do stuff and inside they’re just in the same place. I don’t want to be like them. They’re just doers. They sing and they read their bibles and they go to church and they’re crabby. I don’t like them.”

So what becomes of those people? They become antinomians because they’re going to react against legalism. And then they go, “No law. No law.” And they often do it in the name of grace. The Book of Jude was written about people like that who “turn grace into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4).

Now, how could we avoid those two errors — legalism over here and antinomianism over here — that are rampant in the church. This is the emergent church in its worst forms. Pick your group over here. I don’t know who the legalist would be — me maybe, in my worst moments. And I think the solution to that is to get the affections right. Get the heart right. Make your ministry a heart ministry.

What we’ll do this evening, having put so much emphasis on the heart and the emotions and the affections and satisfaction in God, is to come around underneath tonight and say that thinking and doctrine really matters because emotions, or let’s just say worship from the heart that is not rooted in right views of God, is worthless.