Desiring God (Session 2)

Desiring God 2011 Regional Conference

Desiring God

Thank you so much to Pat and the team for leading us to the Lord in worship. I love to speak as worship into worship. That’s my conception of what’s going on when preaching happens. Preaching doesn’t follow worship, preaching is worship. So I’m glad to have a little part in what we’ve been doing already.

I want to give another thank you for all the help here at Saddleback. Thank you so much to Rick and the whole team for letting us be a part of this amazing campus.

God’s Passion for His Glory

Let me summarize where we’ve been, and then spend time on the last two steps we have to go through still. I said there were five things I wanted to say.

Number one: God exists to be God. That is, he exists to uphold and display the infinite value of his glory. And I might comment here that when I think about the term and the reality of holiness, as it relates to glory, the way I think is this — and I get this from Isaiah 6:3. It says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Why did he shift? Why didn’t he say, “Holy, holy, holy . . . the whole earth is full of his holiness?” The reason, I think, is that glory is holiness gone public. In other words, holiness is God’s intrinsic worth and perfection and beauty in himself. When it begins to radiate, the Bible calls it glory. So, when God goes public in creation and redemption, it talks mainly about glory streaming out. You see his glory, you don’t see his holiness except as it streams in glory.

So when I say, God exists to be God, and God is passionate about upholding and displaying the worth of his glory, I could say the worth of his holiness, but I’ve encountered it in his glory. It says the heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). So that wind out there is a parable.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

You should see parables of God everywhere on the planet. God is radiating his intrinsic and infinite worth. The universe is like a peanut in his pocket. He’s God. This universe is as nothing compared to God. God is big. God is great. God is glorious. God is valuable. The universe, he just did it with his pinky.

Number two: God summons us into that purpose. He exists to uphold and display his glory for everybody to see and enjoy, and now he wants us to join him in that. And so he says, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Join him in his purpose.

Happily Lost in the Greatness of God

Now, we ended last night and I haven’t gotten to point three yet, which is the main discovery. We ended last night arguing that C.S. Lewis’s discovery of point three is the answer to so many objections to the first two points. I mentioned objections from Michael Prowse, Brad Pitt, and Erik Reece. The objections that the first two make are that God just sounds like a megalomaniac. That’s what he’s been called in history. Eric Reece called Jesus an egomaniac because Jesus said that you have to love him more than you love your dad. And Erik Reece thought, “Who are you to talk like that?” So is he an egomaniac, and is God a megalomaniac because God is totally into magnifying God?

The third discovery that I made solves that problem and sets me on a course to point four, which we didn’t get to last night, but we go to now. The third point was, if I’m to join God in magnifying him, if my life is supposed to make God look good, then it’s a wonderful thing to discover God is most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in him. So, his so-called megalomania — namely, his seeking his glory — means he’s ultimately seeking my joy, because my joy reaches its consummation in my adoration of him.

Why do people go to the Grand Canyon? It’s not to feel big. It makes you feel small. It makes you feel fragile. But people go there and they give money to go feel small. I gave those illustrations about the granola bar advertisement that says, “You’ve never felt more alive. You’ve never felt more insignificant.” What is that, selling granola bars to people’s desire to be insignificant? It means if you get close enough to something majestic, you feel better than if you try to be majestic.

They’re about to sell trips around the moon, right? That’s the new cruise. People will get on a ship and go up around the moon. People will pay money to do that. They’ll risk their lives to do that. Why? Because the buzz you will get on the backside of the moon will be better than being God. It really will be. That’s why we were made.

So, when God lifts himself up and says, “Look,” and when Jesus stretches out his arms and says, “Look,” he’s loving us. He’s taking us to the fullest joy imaginable. He just happens to be God. He can’t direct us anywhere else for joy. If he directed us anywhere else besides himself, he would be cruel. He’s just stuck with being glorious. And he will give us everything a human being can possibly have for joy, if we will have it. That is why his so-called megalomania is not sin. It’s not wickedness. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act. You can’t copy him in this.

Pursuing Joy as a Way of Life

So people who make a simplistic connection, saying, “If Piper came here and said, ‘Look at me, look at me. Everybody, love me. Everybody, like me. Everybody, praise me,’ we’d say he was sick, so God must be sick,” are using bad logic. He’s God, I’m not. If I said, “Praise me,” you should leave. You should say, “He’s sick.” But if God says, “Praise me,” you should look around to see if there is any other thing that is above him, which, if you praised it, would give you more satisfaction. The answer is no. He’s beckoning you to have your deepest experience of joy. You were made to know him, love him, enjoy him, be amazed at him, and be stunned at him.

Just think when you have really clear moments late at night, early in the morning, whenever it happens to you, about why human beings do what they do in regard to bigness. Why do they go to certain kinds of movies? Why do people go to get scared at movies? Why does falling out of windows, jumping out of planes, and all these explosions make people interested? Why? Why do people like this?

I saw a trailer for The Fast Five, and everything was just blowing up. There were crashes and big explosions. Why? There’s a reason. You’re made for God. You’re made to see galaxies come into being, not stupid little movies with car crashes. Good grief. Get a life, or get a telescope. I mean, there’s some big stuff in the universe. It’s not in movies. They do their best, and it’s all a parable. If you just think clearly about what human beings are aching for, we’ve seen it.

So number three was that God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him, and that solves the problem of the accusation of megalomania, and it now leads us to a way of life. And the implication of it is that you should spend all of your life striving to be maximally happy in God.

This is why I call my philosophy of life Christian Hedonism. It’s a controversial phrase, and you don’t have to like it or use it at all. The reality is what matters, not the phrase. What I mean by Christian Hedonism is that once you discover that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, then you must set your face like flint to be most satisfied every day.

That’s where we’re going to go for half an hour or so, and then we’ll close with the last point which will be that on that path is the only way to love people, which sounds exactly the opposite of what it is. If I tell you on the one side, “Devote your whole life to your happiness,” somebody is going to say that’s the opposite of love, because love seeks not its own (1 Corinthians 13:5). Someone might say, “If you set yourself out to be as happy as you can be all the time and you’re thinking about being as happy as you can, you ain’t going to love people; you’re going to use people.” And I’m saying, “No, no, no — not if you understand the biblical way of pursuing your maximum joy.” So those are the two things left to do.

Answering Objections

Before I give you ten biblical pointers to this fourth statement that you should pursue your joy all the time in God, I want to preempt a misunderstanding, which was one of the most common objections early on when I began to write and teach on this — namely, that in the first edition of Desiring God there was no chapter on suffering. In every other edition since then, there’s been one. I realize that what I say is so easily misunderstood as a kind of breezy, praise-God-anyhow, be-happy-all-the-time, smile-no-matter-what attitude. It can be seen as so naïve in a world like ours.

I’m going to just preface it with some texts and then my own experience, and tell you where I am right now. I’m going to go see an old friend this afternoon. As soon as we’re done here, I’m going to drive up to Alhambra, and see the man who’s responsible for everything I’m saying today. I’m going to ask him the question of how to put all this together and see what he says at age 88 or so.

Romans 12:15 says, “Weep with those who weep.” If you know enough people that means you’ll always be crying. Romans 9:2 says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for my lost kinsmen.” Paul says he has unceasing anguish. Isn’t he the one who said, “Rejoice always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)? That’s what I’m going to ask my professor. How do you do that? He had unceasing anguish. Know anybody who’s lost care about them? You’ve got anguish. Maybe especially if it’s your child, or your dad. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, Paul says, “I have the daily pressure on me of anxiety for all the churches.” He had daily pressure and daily anxiety for all the churches. This is Paul, Mr. Joy.

Afflicted in Every Way

Second Corinthians 6:10 says, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” That’s the banner that flies over our ministry, my church, and my life. When you’re young and you have a little cluster of friends and you’re all happy, it doesn’t quite make as much sense, but as you begin to walk through dark times and you know more people, and then more people begin to get broken, get sick, get mentally ill, lose children, and life just becomes one series of losses and struggles, then the statement “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” becomes the challenge of your life. How do you do that? That just sounds like emotional schizophrenia, doesn’t it? Sorrowful yet always rejoicing. But if the Bible says rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, you always know people who are happy and you always know people who are weeping. So you have to always be weeping and always be rejoicing.

Second Corinthians 7:5 says, “We were afflicted at every turn — fightings without and fears within.” And 2 Corinthians 1:8 says, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength so that we despaired of life itself.” Those are just a sampling of descriptions of mature Christians in the New Testament.

So I’m just pre-empting anybody walking out of here to say, “Piper’s got this joy thing, and he’s just naïve about suffering. He’s just naïve about real life.” Right now in my life, at age 65, I’m wondering, “What am I supposed to do with the next chapter? How long should I stay at Bethlehem? What will it look like if I preach till I drop? Or should I quit while I’m strong?” That piece right now looks very opaque to me, and then I’ve got these clusters of people in my life, many of whom are broken, and not where I want them to be at church, in my family, or out there, and I just feel so heavy with so many things so much of the time. I said last night that joy is warfare. It’s something to be fought for. Here’s to helping you fight.

Always Pursuing Maximum Joy in God

Point number four is that you should always, all the time, be on a quest for your maximum joy in God. You should always be on a quest pursuing, tracking down, maximum joy in God. Please hear me say in God, not in his gifts. It’s not a sin to rejoice in God’s gifts. If he gives you a wife, health, food on the table, and some success in business, it’s not bad to be happy about that, but you’re an idolater if your happiness terminates on that. What’s at the bottom? I gave a whole talk at the Passion conference about what’s at the bottom of your life. Down, down, down, down you go with all the things that make you happy. What’s the bottom, where you stand? The bottom is God. The bottom is Jesus. All his gifts are gravy, but to lose them all and to have him only is gain. So you should pursue joy in him for these ten reasons.

1. The Necessity of Joy

Number one: The Bible commands you to rejoice.

Serve the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:2).

Delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).

Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).

There’s the simplest answer. Why should you pursue your joy? The Bible commands you to serve the Lord with gladness. It doesn’t say “23 hours out of the day.” It doesn’t say “except when you’re sad.” It doesn’t say “when life is easy.” It says, “Just do it. Go after it.” It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fail. I fail every day. This is a quest. This is where you know what you’re after, not what you’ve arrived at. Delight yourself in the Lord. That’s number one.

2. Workers for Your Joy

Number two: the Bible teaches that pastors — I have a few pastors here probably — should work for the joy of their people, which must mean that their people should go for that. Here’s the key verse. It’s 2 Corinthians 1:24:

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

He says, “We work with you.” Isn’t that amazing that Paul would define his apostolic mission as working with them for their joy? I just think that’s amazing, that this apostle who’s seen the Lord and has been caught up into the third heaven, who knows what he’s about and is going to lay his life down for Jesus, describes the purpose of his life as helping people be happy in God at the cost of their lives, if necessary. It’s just amazing.

He said it another time in Philippians 1:25:

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith . . .

He is saying, “I’m going to stay on the planet, instead of going to be with Jesus where I’d like to be, for your joy.” That’s what pastors should think. Every sermon, even if it’s a sermon on sin, repentance, hell, judgment, fire, and pain, should be aiming to help their people stay rock solid and contented in God through it all. That’s the goal. This means pastors are constantly spreading a feast for the people to eat and be glad.

3. The Nature of Faith

Number three: the Bible shows that we should pursue our joy by the way it conceives our faith, or the way it defines faith. I’ll just give you one verse. In John 6:35, Jesus says:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Now, let’s go back and say it slowly and you can see how this parallel works. He says, “I’m the bread of life. He who comes to me . . .” This is the spiritual movement of the soul and not the body. He continues, “He who draws near to me in his soul, comes to me, shall never hunger.” So we’re coming to eat. And then the parallel statement is, “And he who believes in me shall never thirst.” He replaces the word come with believe. He is relating come with eating, and believe with drinking. And those parallelisms should tell us what believing is.

Believing in Jesus is a coming to him to eat and drink for soul satisfaction. That’s what I get from John 6:35. That’s what believing is. Not telling people that is why there are so many nominal Christians who have had zero change in their lives. They’re not believing. They’re doing what devils do. They’re believing facts. They’re not believing by coming to eat and coming to drink to the soul’s satisfaction.

Believing is discovering bread when you’re hungry and discovering a fountain when you’re dying of thirst and putting your face in it, saying, “Yes. Thank you.” That’s faith. All this intellectualistic, here-are-the-facts, sign-the-card, join-the-church stuff is not faith. To have faith you have to see glory, bread, food, water, and gold, and want it. Go there. Get it. Rest in it. You think, “I found the end of my quest. I’m spending the rest of my life trying to be satisfied right here, and it’s called Jesus.” That’s number three, the nature of faith.

4. The Nature of Evil

Number four: the nature of evil tells us that we should pursue our joy in God all the time. What is evil? How would you define evil? There are lots of different definitions, but here’s one from Jeremiah 2:12–13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
     be shocked, be utterly desolate,
     declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
     the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
     broken cisterns that can hold no water.

So, what is evil? Evil is tasting God’s all-satisfying fountain and saying, “I don’t like it,” and turning to the world and spending your life scratching in the dirt of sin, eating dust, and liking it. That’s evil. All evil is a rejection of God as the all-satisfying fountain and an enjoyment of something lesser. That’s what evil is, which means if you don’t want to be evil, go to the fountain and drink and drink and say, “Ah.” That’s called worship. I have to worship. That’s what we should be doing every Sunday morning, which is why I don’t like it when pastors say, “We’d have a better service here if people came to give instead of coming to get. Everybody’s coming to get. What we want is to have people who come to give on Sunday morning.” That’s baloney.

I want hungry, starving people. I don’t want them to come to give me anything or give God anything. I want them to come on a quest to get God and all of God they can get. That’s what worship is for. And my job as one of the lead worshipers is to put up a table so people will say, “Yes. Yes. Give me more. I’ll have more.”

Now, back up. I don’t want to be too hard on people who use this “come-to-give” language. It is appropriate, once you have drunk at the fountain, to give praise, okay? If that’s what they mean, all right. But I fear that’s not what they mean. That’s why I get bent out of shape about this. I think God is honored by broken people gathering together, desperate for God, rather than full, happy, bubbly people who gather and look like everything’s totally okay and think, “God? We have him at home and we’re coming here to tell everybody that’s true.” That would be okay I suppose; it’s just not reality. The reality is that God is greatly honored when he’s treated like a fountain and living bread, and everybody coming to this room is about to die of thirst. And if they don’t get him, they die. That’s a huge honor to God. That’s number four, the nature of evil.

5. The Nature of Conversion

The nature of conversion sets us on a quest to pursue God and pursue our joy in him. Matthew 13:44 says:

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 conversion. You’re walking through a field, you stub your toe on something and you scrape it away. It’s an old chest that’s been there a long time evidently. You open the chest, and it’s full of gold, and it could be worth millions of dollars. You cover it, close it, and evidently, there’s some kind of legal proceeding that if you own the field, what’s in the field is yours. I mean, I assume that explains why he bought the field. So he runs off, thinking, “I have to buy the field. How much does the field cost? It’s $80,000? How am I going to get $80,000? Should I sell my car, sell my kids?” The point of the parable is that nothing is as precious as the king, which is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s kind of a general principle of describing what it’s like to be in the kingdom. To be in the kingdom is to have a king that valuable. So, to be converted is to not make a bad deal and get a bad reward, but to get a treasure.

We have, in the last ten years at our church, elevated the treasure language of the Bible very high, because I think of all the words that I can know that help unpack the nature of saving faith like we just talked about, treasuring Christ is as good as I can do at this stage in my life. To treasure Christ is what it means to be converted. Once you were treasuring the world, once you were treasuring money, once you were treasuring family, once you were treasuring what the world treasures — good things and bad things — and Jesus was boring and disinteresting and mythological or whatever. And now, because of the new birth and the work of the Holy Spirit and this thing called conversion, he’s precious to you. That’s conversion.

He’s a treasure to you, and now you devote the rest of your life to know him, to enjoy him, and to treasure him. I’m so glad treasure is a noun and a verb. It really helps. When you have a treasure what should you do with it? Treasure it. And if you wake up in the morning and you happen to be treasuring something else more, you have work to do. It’s work. Paul said, “I work for your joy.” And we’ll be talking a little more about that.

6. Threats for Joyless Christianity

Number six: the Bible threatens terrible things if we will not be happy. That was a quote from Jeremy Taylor that I read in C.S. Lewis 30 years ago. He said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy,” and I thought, “That’s clever. Is it biblical?” Here’s the verse that it comes from. This is Deuteronomy 28:47:

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

That’s a threat. He’s saying, “You are going to serve your enemies.” Why? What did I do? The reply is, “You didn’t serve God happily.” I’ll read it again.

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies . . . (Deuteronomy 28:47).

7. Joy and Self-Denial

Number seven: paradoxically, this is one of the most important ones because it’s an answer to an objection. The very first objection that a Bible-saturated person will give to Christian hedonism is this objection, namely, it contradicts the teaching of Jesus to deny yourself. So my seventh point is, paradoxically, the Bible’s teaching about self-denial teaches us to seek our fullest joy in God. Get that? The Bible’s teaching about self-denial is real and I’m not contradicting it. It’s real and there’s a place for it. The question is, what does it mean? That teaching impels us to seek our fullest joy in God, all the time. And here are a few passages. The passage that’s usually brought up to me is one like Mark 8:34, which says:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Let’s stop right there and think about this. Someone might say, “See, you’re spending the whole morning telling these people how not to be disciples, because Jesus said, ‘If you want to come after me, deny yourself. Take up your electric chair, your gallows, your gas chamber, your lethal injection, and follow me, and it’s going to cost you everything.’” And my response to that is, keep reading. Read the next verse. So let’s keep reading. This is his argument:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).

What’s the argument? The argument is, “You don’t want to lose your life, do you?” And we think, “No.” And he says, “Well, then lose it.” That’s the argument. So you have to dig here. You have to think, “What do you mean? I don’t want to be lost.” He’s arguing, and he doesn’t want you to be lost. He’s arguing so that you won’t be lost. He says:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).

And he wants you to save it. If he didn’t want you to save your life, he wouldn’t argue like this, would he? No, he wouldn’t. He wants you to save your life, so lose it. So we have to figure out why that is not double talk. And there are other passages that show why it’s not double talk.

Heaven’s Logic

For example, how does he say it in John 12:25? Listen to this:

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world (interesting addition) will keep it for eternal life.

Now, what’s the argument? Is it saying, “If you love your life, you’re going to lose it. If you listen to John Piper telling you to seek your happiness and all these ways you’re going to lose your life”? No, no, no. He who hates his life in this world will keep it. That is, he will love it forever.

So he must mean losing your life to gain your life is losing your life the way Matthew 13:44 describes — he sold everything he had and bought that field. It’s about losing anything you have to lose on this planet in order to have the fullest enjoyment of Jesus now and forever, and it may be everything. In fact, you must forsake everything, as Jesus said in Luke 14:33:

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

You have to let everything go. Nothing is clutched. You can’t think, “I have to have this and Jesus or I can’t be happy.” No, no, no. You have to let it go. Now he may not require that you not have a house, a car, or health, but he might. At any moment, he might take your house away with a tornado and make it just as flat as a pancake, like those pictures on the Boston Globe. Unbelievable. The neighborhood was flattened — taken away, just like that. Or there could be a big earthquake that would just make this campus right here look like rubble. He could do that three minutes from now, and we would have to say that’s okay. That’s okay. You have to be willing to let that go. Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? That has to be okay.

People ask me since I had cancer five years ago, “How’s your health?” I say, “I don’t have a clue. I feel fine, but I felt fine the day before the biopsy.” You don’t know how you are. I don’t know how I am. If people say, “How are you?” say, “I feel fine.” That’s all you know. That’s my answer. I have no idea whether I have cancer. You don’t either. But you have to be okay with that to follow Jesus. There are huge things we got to give up. My wife and I are in our 60s, and we just talk to each other and we say, “Life is just one series of losses.” That’s an overstatement. It just feels like that sometimes. The word just is the overstatement. Life is a series of losses. It is. My hair is gone. My eyes are gone. She says I can’t hear. She started talking softer when she turned 60, didn’t she?

Never Ultimate Self-Denial

We’re still on point seven. This is about why the real self-denial that God requires of us is not ultimate self-denial. He never, never, never, says what you need to sacrifice in order to have him is to sacrifice him. He never says that. This is Paul’s way of saying this. This is Philippians 3:7–8:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:7–8).

So I’m saying yes, yes, yes to self-denial if it means that, which is what Jesus meant by it. Paul said, “I count everything as loss.” So God, in your life, will call you to some real sacrifices. Oh yes, he will. Some of you, and I do pray this happens — if you’re wondering, this may be God’s word for you — should go to that people group you’ve been praying about that does not have the gospel. It could be a pocket of people right in L.A., like the Somalis in Minneapolis. There are 80,000 Muslims with maybe six believers. You may not cross an ocean but it may be Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Northern India, China, Tibet, Mongolia, or North Korea. It may be.

Now that will involve huge sacrifices, and you might say, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). I love Esther, don’t you? She said that. That’s the celebrative high point of the book. She says, “If I perish, I perish.” I just love her. I would give her a big hug. I love that kind of woman.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30).

You just love Esther types. Link arms with a husband, or be single, and be into the face of the devil with God’s Spirit. So yes, there’s self-denial. There really is. Deny yourself tin so you can have gold. Deny yourself brackish water in the gutter so you can have a holiday at the sea.

8. Gladness in Our Weakness

Number eight: the Bible teaches that our gladness in weakness magnifies the power of Christ. Gladness in weakness magnifies the power of Christ. Second Corinthians 12:9 says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Do you want the power of Christ in your life, and do you want it to rest on you like a glory so that people see that Jesus is powerful in your life? How does that happen? Be weak and be happy about it, because the world just doesn’t know what to do with that. They can’t explain it. Let me read it again. He says, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.”

I can give a concrete example. Rick Warren has strengths that I don’t have — unbelievable strengths that I don’t have. One of them is that if he wanted to he could read a book a day. He told me he used to do that. He hasn’t had time recently. A book a day, seriously? I didn’t start reading till I was in the 11th grade, except picture books. To this day, I cannot read any book — I don’t care if it’s a novel or philosophy book — faster than I can talk, which is about 250 words a minute. That’s it. Do you know how long it takes me to read a book? Weeks. Now, should I be jealous? Don’t ask me am I jealous? I said, should I be jealous? No, because I should all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses. God has helped me. You’ve all got these weaknesses, just take them by the throat and say, “Alright God, why? Why? I’ll just do whatever I can with this.”

So you know what I can do? I can study a paragraph and write about it and preach about it. That’s what I can do. I can take a paragraph and wring it and wring it until every juice is dripped out of it, and I can just spray it all over everybody. And to this day, I have to kick myself not to be upset that God cut me off at the legs in reading. He did. I only know little glimpses of why he did it. The list would be quite long if you stack up a Warren and a Piper beside each other. Warren can do this, Warren can do this, and Warren can do this. And I could think, “I just want to go home.” You know? And you may feel that way about me or something, or the person next to you.

We just all have these weaknesses and we get really frustrated. We think, “I’m not tall enough,” or, “I’m not pretty enough,” or, “I’ve got this funny nose.” But Paul says, “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest on me.” Would you please be okay with the way God made you? And just lay envy down. Lay jealousy down. It’s a burden that’s just not worth carrying. You are you, just you — little, insignificant, wonderful you. Just be okay. And then just take it, and say, “Okay you made no mistake. You made no mistake, and I’m giving every little crummy, weak thing I’ve got for your maximum usage.” Oh man, does he love that attitude. That’s number eight. The Bible teaches that we should be glad in our weakness because when we are, the power of Christ rests on us.

Selfless Love and the Pursuit of Maximum Joy

I’m going to skip nine and ten because they’re part of the last part of this message, and we need to really run in order to do point number five. Point number four we just finished.

The first point is that God loves being God and devotes all of his energies all time to upholding and displaying the infinite worth of his glory.

Number two: God summons us, calls us, commands us, to join him in this — to live for his glory and live to make him look good.

Number three: God is most glorified — that’s accomplished — when I’m most glad in him.

Therefore, number four: strive to be maximally happy in him all the time. I emphasize in him because it may cost you your life when all you’ll have is him, and you should not lose any joy when you lose everything but him.

That’s all four and now we’re at number five. I argue against the apparent contradiction that a life devoted to your happiness will produce selfishness instead of love. It won’t. If you get what I’ve said in these first four, you will now become a radically, sacrificially loving person, ready to lay down your life for people around you, starting with your wife, husband, your kids, and those people in that little inner circle. You’ll be laying down your life. You’re going to go there if you get what I’m saying. And then you’ll go to the people nearby, then the church, then now the world, the people you don’t like, and your enemies. You’re going to start just living for others. How can that be when I’ve just told you to devote all your time to being as happy as you can be?

Grace Abounding in Unremitting Affliction

Here are the texts. Let’s go to 2 Corinthians 8, if you have a Bible. Otherwise, you can just listen. This is 2 Corinthians 8:1–3, and it is a picture of love. So I’m now trying to define love because I just said that you’re going to become a loving person if you get this. We need to define love because the world has all kinds of definitions of love. Here’s what I mean because I think it’s what Paul means, and he’s the inspired writer.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia . . . (2 Corinthians 8:1–3).

He’s writing to Corinthians. They’re down in the bottom of Greece. Macedonia is up there with Philippi, and grace has been shown there and he’s telling the people down here about it so that they will be generous givers to the poor in Jerusalem when he comes to take the offering. That’s what’s going on. He says:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part (2 Corinthians 8:1–2).

Then skip down to 2 Corinthians 8:8, which says:

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

I go down to 2 Corinthians 8:8 to pick up the word love. Paul is calling what he just described love. Now I’ve got a picture of love, so let’s go back and squeeze it. What is love? Here are the pieces: the grace of God was shown in these churches. So grace came down — sovereign, almighty, transforming, divine, blood-bought, cross-centered, Christ-exalting grace came down and took hold of these people. And what happened? Affliction increased (1 Corinthians 8:2). In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy increased. Their extreme poverty did not go away. And the joy overflowed with a wealth of generosity, and Paul calls that love.

The Overflow of Joy in God

So can we put it in a sentence? Here’s mine. I have two. I’ll give you the simple one and then the more complex one: love is the overflow of joy in God (God’s grace) that meets the needs of others. That’s my definition of love from this text. You can get other definitions from other texts, but that’s this text. In 2 Corinthians 8:8 it’s called love. It’s the overflow. He calls it overflow, right? It overflowed (2 Corinthians 8:2). I’m getting that word from the text. Their joy is the subject and the verb is overflow. So joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity. That’s for the poor in Jerusalem that he’s collecting the money for. So, love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.

Now, here’s the more complex sentence. One of the reasons I choose another sentence is because overflow may sound a little bit passive. You wish it were like that. You wish love was passive; that is, you wish it were spontaneous and always overflowing out of your life. You wish that. However, it isn’t always that way. So my other sentence is that love is the grace-enabled impulse to expand itself by extending itself to others. It’s a grace-enabled impulse.

Remember last night I said if you have a high-pressure zone here called joy and you bump up against the low-pressure zone called need, *lostness, poverty, pain, sickness, or weeping? What happens when a high-pressure zone of joy meets a low-pressure zone of need? Wind. And I said, what’s the name of the wind? It’s love. That came from this text. That image came from this text. They have joy inside, but now that wind sometimes has to be prayed out, pushed out, and cried out, and it isn’t always just as spontaneous as you’d like it to be.

There’s an impulse that comes. Go test yourself on this. This is why you won’t become a selfish person on the basis of the last hour. The more authentic your joy in Jesus is, the more it will have this impulse to push itself out to include others in it. It will want to be bigger. It will be near a need and it will not be content.

So here comes the priest and the Levite, and they see the guy in need, and they walk by on the other side. There is no overflow at all. What’s wrong with them? They’re not delighting in the God of mercy. The Samaritan comes by and something says, “I can’t leave him. I can’t leave him. I want him to be well, forever.” Oh, how important it is in all of our good deeds to want people’s fullest good, not just their temporary good. That is, we want their salvation. Evangelicals care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. They don’t walk by and say, “I have a meeting.” They say, “I want you in what I know of Jesus, what I love about Jesus, and my contentment in Jesus. I want you in it. I’ve got health. I want you healthy. I’ve got eternal life. I want you to have eternal life. I want you in it. Because when you’re in it mine is bigger.” Does that sound selfish? It’s called love.

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

Go to 2 Corinthians 9:7. See it confirmed:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Okay, if he loves a cheerful giver, what would it be called if you said, “Giving what’s important and how you feel about your giving doesn’t matter”? What would you call that? I call it sin, or audacious disobedience, or, “God, you’re a fool,” or something like that. God says, “I love cheerful giving,” which means as the plate is coming down the row, and you’ve got your checkbook in your hand, he doesn’t just want to check, he wants your happiness in the writing of the check. That’s the goal. It may not be there, but it’s the goal. And if it’s not there, should you write the check? Maybe not. Maybe so. The maybe not would be if you’re writing it so the two people on either side will think you’re a giver. If that’s the case, you’re a hypocrite and Jesus hates it. So you shouldn’t write it.

If your heart is saying, “I’m so sorry, Jesus, that my heart is not in this and I’m loving this new iPod that I want to buy more than I want to give this thing to you and have the mission go forward. I’m just so sorry I feel that way right now. I would like you in the writing of this check to restore to me the joy of my salvation and my service. So yes, I’m going to write it even though I don’t feel happy giving it.” That’s not hypocrisy. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s a pathway to pleasure and hoping God will restore the joy in due time.

More Blessed to Give

Let’s go to Acts 20:35. We just have a few more minutes and I’m being selective. This is a very important one in my own history, and it might prove the same for you. Paul is talking to the elders on the beach in Miletus, who’ve come down from Ephesus, and he’s trying to motivate them to care for the flock and be good lovers of the people that they’re in charge of.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Now that last phrase — “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” quoting Jesus — means, if you don’t give you won’t be as happy, ultimately, as if you do give. Blessedness here is an experiential reality of being satisfied, contented, enriched, loved, and peaceful — just blessed. You’ll be blessed if you give, and if you don’t, your blessing shrivels up. So, it’s saying, be a giver, be a lover for the sake of the blessing.

Stumbling Over Reward

Now that causes ethicists to gag. I did my doctoral dissertation on Jesus’s love command and spent months and months reading about ethical motivation from 1971 through 1974. Over and over, I would read these philosophical ethicists and these theological, ethical thinkers who said things like, “It is right to get a reward for loving people, but it is wrong to want a reward for loving people.” I read that everywhere. And I would come to this verse, and I’d say, “Jesus, if that’s true, help me, because this verse seems to say the opposite.”

This verse says to help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I would think, “Jesus, if those ethicists are right, wouldn’t it have to say, ‘Help the weak, forgetting the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Because if I remember them, I’m going to be motivated the way you said I should.” He said, “You’re going to get a blessing if you go to the hospital. You’re going to get a blessing if you stop and help the person fix their tire. You’re going to get a blessing if you go serve in the short term in Congo. You’re going to get a blessing.” And he doesn’t seem to say, “I said it, but don’t believe it. Get it out of your mind as soon as you can, because it’s going to contaminate your motives and turn them into selfishness.” I just can’t make that work.

Or if I go to Luke 14:13–14, where it says, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the lame, the blind, and the naked for they cannot repay you . . . ” Do you know what the next line is? It says, “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” And we could think, “What? Don’t tell me that. It’s going to ruin everything. I was going to be so self-sacrificing and I was going to be so selfless when I had the banquet and I knew they couldn’t repay me, and now you’ve told me God is going to repay me.”

I just felt blasphemous to believe what they were saying. I felt like I had to say to Jesus, “You’re a bad teacher. You’re just ruining my motives all the time by telling me how good it’s going to go for me. And in fact, you’re not just telling me but arguing that I should do more good because of how much blessing is going to come to me.” And I think Jesus responded by saying, “You don’t have to believe those guys, you can believe me.”

Ignoring Ethicists with Christ’s Permission

So now here’s the question then, if you’re going to get a blow those guys off — I mean, they have the PhDs — you need an answer to the question. Number one: why would people feel loved if you’re loving them for your happiness? And number two: why wouldn’t it be manipulative and using them? I have to have answers to those questions because this text says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Therefore, go ahead, serve the weak, stay up late, work with your hands, care for them, and be patient with them because there’s going to be a great blessing.

Now, here’s my answer to the first one. I go to the hospital, and I’m not wanting to go. Let’s just pretend I’m ticked. I got the phone call, and I have to go to the hospital. None of my other staff is available, and I have to go make this call because Mildred just had a heart attack, and they don’t know if she’s going to live. And my attitude is rotten. I’m in the elevator it’s on the fourth floor. It happened at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, and I’m going up in the elevator and I’m praying, “God, please, please, this is a bad attitude to go in there. I need to be going because I delight to help her. I have to want it. I have to enjoy being here for her.”

So I walk into the room. God has done this. This is not a made-up story. God has done this so many times for me. I walk in the room and there she is with her mask on, and I don’t know how she’s doing. I walk over, I put my hand on her arm, and she wakes up. All the old people do this. The young people never talk like this. She says, “Oh pastor, you didn’t have to come.” The young people say, “It’s about time.” But she says, “You didn’t have to come.” Now, if I said to her, “I know, and I didn’t want to come and I wish I weren’t here, but I’m supposed to because I’m a pastor,” how would she feel? She wouldn’t feel loved. Well, what should I say? What would make her feel loved?

I should say, “I know Mildred, but you know what? It’s a great delight to me to stand by you and bring the word of God to you, and it just fills me with joy to share hope with you.” Now she would not say, “Oh, it fills you with joy. All you care about is yourself being happy.” She wouldn’t say that. Why? Because there’s something about wanting to love people, finding your joy in loving people, finding your joy increased by loving people, that doesn’t make them feel like you’re selfish; it makes them feel like you're real. You love, you really love. You’re not there because you’re a pastor; you’re there because you get joy in bringing blessing. It’s like Paul said. That’s not selfish.

Folding Others into Our Joy

The second question is, how is this not using her? How is this love when I’m doing it because it makes me so glad? The answer is really quite simple. Her hope and her joy are the enlargement of my gladness. I’m drawing her into what I’m after. I’m not saying, “I want this, so I step on you to go there. See you, I got my happiness. You can just do whatever now.” That’s not at all the feeling. The point is that you don’t step on her, you pick her up; and in picking her up and sharing the gospel and giving her hope for this last hour (maybe) of her life, your joy is getting bigger and bigger because she’s in it. She doesn’t resent that. That’s love.

Love between a husband and wife, love in churches, is when my joy is in your joy. When your joy goes up, my joy gets bigger. And therefore, when I pour myself out for you at some cost to myself in the middle of the night or whatever, yes, there’s self-denial in it, but it’s for the sake of our joy together getting bigger. I think that’s why God created churches and not just individual, silo Christians to have contented hearts in him and not even relate to each other. The joy in him gets bigger when somebody else’s joy in him combines with it, then we go up.

I have to wrap it up even though I have a zillion more things to say. I’m so glad there’s a book, so just go there. We’ll have a Q&A and you can pursue it further on any of these things you want. But please don’t say that these first four points — which terminated on you pursuing your joy maximally all the time, because God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied him — lead to a life of self-centeredness. It leads to a life of Christ-centeredness and others-centeredness in Christ. And the pursuit of your joy is not by using others to go somewhere else, but by folding more and more people into your joy so that yours gets bigger and bigger as it includes theirs.

Here’s the last word here before we take a little break, and then do the Q&A. Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18), at whose right hand are pleasure is forevermore (Psalm 16:11). I can say as well, as I hope maybe God gave me in my devotions this morning for you from Psalm 40:16:

May those who love your salvation
     say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

It doesn’t say, “Let them say continually, ‘Great is the salvation.’” But it says, “Let those who love your salvation, say continually, ‘Great is the Lord.’” He shed his blood to bring us to the Lord. The Lord is the end of our quest. He’s our joy. Delight yourself in the Lord. All the gifts that he gives are secondary, and he’s primary.