Enduring Suffering for the Sake of Christ-Exalting Love

SCBO Evangelism Celebration | Cedarville

Jesus made it plain that one of the great means of defending and displaying the truth of himself, his Father, his gospel, and the faith, was by letting our light shine that men may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven. He said:

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

So evidently something very effective has happened, something compelling, something persuasive, and something moving has been exerted through the light, and people are now doing exactly what we want them to do: glorify our Father who is in heaven. The big question I have as a pastor is, what is the light? Or the salt? Because it says that if you do shine with this light, people are going to glorify God and the work of evangelism will be done. It’ll happen fruitfully, effectively. So if we could just figure out what the light is and then as pastors figure out how to make it happen by God’s help through the word, all with the appointed means of the ministry, then our work of mobilizing evangelism in our local church would be greatly advanced.

So that’s my question. What is the light or the salt, and how can I, week in and week out, be an instrument of making it more salty and making it more bright?

God-Glorifying Good Works

Now I think the answer to that is first of all so obvious in Matthew 5:16 that everybody would say, “It’s just not going to take you 35 minutes to answer this question.” Because it says plainly, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your” . . . Say it (good works). There’s the answer, partly. It’s good works. He says, “Let your light shine and men will see your good works.” Good works must be the light.

But it isn’t that simple because there’s a lot of people who see good works or who do good works and it doesn’t result in God getting any glory. In fact, it can make you get the glory.

So let’s make the question a little more precise. How do you do good works — that is, how do you love people — in such a way that they draw the conclusion that God is glorious? That’s the question. That’s not easy to answer. But I think the answer is given just in the flow of the context. So let’s back up to Matthew 5:11 and just get it all.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:11–16).

Now I think I’m going to add now to the meaning of the salt and the meaning of the light — I think those are overlapping phenomena, flavor and brightness, preservative if you want — this: the light, the brightness that draws attention to the beauty and the glory of God, not me, is when those good works or that love is done through suffering and sacrifice and persecution with overflowing joy sustained by the promise of reward in God. Now that’s all in the text. I feel like I’m doing Voddie Baucham when I do that. I have this long sentence and it’s all right there in the text. Wasn’t that good? So let’s go back and get the pieces.

Putting The Pieces Together

First he says, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you.” So there’s persecution, reviling, sacrifice, and suffering. That’s part and parcel of what it means to be a Christian.

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:25).

He is saying, “If I suffered, you’re going to suffer.” This is just normal Christianity. Through many tribulations you must enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22). Don’t think something strange is happening to you when the fiery ordeal comes upon you (1 Peter 4:12). Teach your people to suffer. This is part of what it means to be a Christian, both natural suffering and persecution will happen because this creation is groaning under the curse. So that’s the first thing we see there. He says, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you.”

And then comes this incredible statement: “Rejoice.” And the reason you rejoice while they’re persecuting you and reviling you is that you have a great reward in heaven. That persecution is an evidence that you are real. You’re on the side of the King. When you die, it’s going to be great because you’re going to be with him. To die is gain. He is the essence, if not the totality, of the reward.

Then the next statement is, “You’re the salt of the earth.” So I think it’s fair contextually to say, yes, doing good deeds of practical love to tsunami victims is the light of the world — if you keep on doing it when they don’t like you, and you keep on doing it when they persecute you, and you keep on doing it when you’re sick, and you keep on doing it when your kid dies of malaria, and you keep on doing it when the mission team splits open, and you keep on for 34 years like Graham Staines, and then when they burn you to pieces in the back of your little Jeep with your two sons, your wife stays there and keeps on doing it. Then all of India might rise up and say, “These good deeds, I think are being sustained by a hope that cannot be explained in ordinary human terms. I will check out the reward that is sustaining this kind of love,” and maybe they’ll give glory to God.

That’s the sequence that I think is at work here. So let me try to sum it up and then argue the implications for us pastors. I believe that our people will shine with a God-glorifying light when they are practically loving to people, especially the poor, through sacrifice, suffering, and persecution sustained by joy in the hope of the reward, who is Christ. That’s my Voddie Baucham sentence and the implication is plain. As a pastor, I must help them pursue that joy and find it every day of their life, and I must have it. The biggest battle of every pastor’s life is to find Christ more desirable than anything, including preaching.

Should Pastors Pursue Their Own Joy?

So what I want to talk about mainly is, is that the case biblically? Does the Bible teach that you should pursue your joy all the time in order to be a Christ-glorifying, loving person? Because most people think if you set your heart on the pursuit of your own joy, that’s the opposite of love. We have been taught that joy might sneak up on you as a reward for doing your duty, but if you get reward out here in front and pursue it, it won’t be love anymore. I’ve heard that a thousand times over my 59 years.

So they would say, “Don’t pursue joy. Don’t stand up in the pulpit and make that the aim of your life and the aim of your people’s life. Rather, let’s leave that aside and if it comes, it comes. It’s kind of like a caboose, or like icing on the cake. It may happen, and it may not happen. Joy is neither here nor there, it’s just duty to do the good works, to tithe, to witness.”

I went to a Southern Baptist church in a state I will not name, on vacation. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, okay? I can talk about Southern Baptists. White Oak Baptist Church was my home church in Greenville, South Carolina.

In this city, I was on vacation with my wife and we went in there on a Sunday morning and this guy hammered his people so hard for 30 minutes about coming to Tuesday night meetings and doing evangelism on the weekends and so on. My wife and I walked out. I’ve got the coolest wife in the world. I mean cool, not in the sense of chic but in the sense of unflappable. She’s really cool, the original meaning of cool, and she never criticizes anybody. We sat in the car and I was driving. I’m a total critic. I criticize everything under the sun, and I was resolved I was not going to say a word about that guy. It was awful, but I was not going to say a word. And we were driving and she said, “I’ll never go back there.”

That’s a mountain of criticism from my wife. This is a warning. That’s not the way to get your people happy in God. Now you might say, “It’s not my goal is to get my people happy in God. My goal is to get them there on Tuesday night.” Well, I have something to teach you. So let’s go to 2 Corinthians 8. Would you, if you have a Bible, turn to 2 Corinthians 8. I know none of you are like that, but just in case.

Love and the Pursuit of Joy

Here’s what I’m after. I’m just going to walk you through as many texts as I have time for in the next 15 minutes or so to prove from the Bible that your pursuit of joy and your people’s pursuit of joy in God is the necessary way of becoming loving in persecution to the glory of Christ. And that’s evangelism. You want people to give glory to Christ because of the behavior and the words of your people. So here we are at 2 Corinthians 8:1–3, and you all know as pastors, these are the fundraising chapters of Paul.

I hope that you do it right when you do it. But great, deep principles are found about all forms of love in the first four verses here, so let’s read them. Somebody asked me what version I’m using. This is the English Standard Version, and it came out about five years ago. I like it a lot, I recommend it. Second Corinthians 8:1–4 says:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia . . .

Paul is writing to the Corinthians, and the other churches have done it right and he’s using them as an example to stire up the church in Corinth. The first thing to see is that what’s happening here is grace coming down. Grace came down. This starts with God. What’s about to happen here starts with grace being shown, not with man going up, but God coming down. The passage continues:

For in a severe test of affliction . . . (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Now, we know that persecution has arisen and these people are in trouble. Christianity has produced a hard time. So we don’t teach people, “Become a Christian and things go better.” We say, “Become a Christian and things go worse.” That’s what this text says:

For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy . . .

Now that’s odd but very typical in the early church. Affliction rises and joy rises. How different is that from our churches. Our people get bent out of shape and get in God’s face when afflictions rise. It says:

For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty . . .

Christianity did not solve the poverty problem, not right away at least. They’re having more affliction and they’re still in poverty, and they’re so happy they can hardly stand it. And that’s pure exegesis. Watch it. Just watch it. I mean they are happier than you can imagine, and I’ll show you how you can know that.

For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed (that’s called love) in a wealth of generosity on their part.

Happy in the Midst of Affliction

Just stop there. We have one more verse to go, but stop there and get the picture. Grace is coming down and joy is coming up in the midst of persecution. This is Matthew 5:11–16 in the midst of persecution and affliction, and the effect of this joy is that it’s beginning to spill over. You call the spillover “generosity for the poor in Jerusalem.” That’s called love, sustained by joy in God in the midst of persecution.

Now to show you how happy they are, here’s 2 Corinthians 8:3–4:

For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints . . .

It’s like they were saying, “Please take another offering!” Isn’t that what it says? They’re saying, “I beg you. Let us give more. Please let us.” These folks are poor, extremely so. And it says they are under affliction. Why are they so generous? I mean if you’re under affliction and you’re poor, isn’t your whole mindset keep, not give? What’s going on here? I’ll tell you what’s going on. Grace-produced joy is going on. Grace-produced joy. These people are not finding their joy in money — they don’t have any, or at least they don’t have much. And they’re not finding their joy in ease and comfort because they’re under affliction. Where in the world is their joy coming from? First Corinthians 8:1 tells you. Grace showed up in Macedonia, which means that their joy is causing the overflow and it is coming from God.

Enthralled with God

Now if you were a pastor and you read that and you wanted people to be that generous and loving to poor people so that poor people would give glory to God because they saw that, what would you do? I’ll tell you what I would do. I would preach every Sunday to enthrall my people with God. I wouldn’t preach duty, though I would mention duty. You die if you don’t do you duty, but it does not please God when people merely do their duty. Look at 2 Corinthians 9:7. You all know this one by heart:

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

If you do not delight in giving, God does not delight in you. Isn’t that what it says? God loves a cheerful giver. It doesn’t say, “Well how does he feel about the dutiful giver?” Otherwise. Let’s just leave it. You decide. God loves a cheerful giver. As a pastor, if I want to produce the kind of love, the kind of generosity, the kind of sacrifice that God delights in, I cannot say to people, “Do your duty whether you feel like it or not.” When I see written across t-shirts, “Just do it,” I say, “Bad ethics.” I don’t care if the “Just do it” is tithing, witnessing, going to church, going to the mission field, or anything else. “Just do it” is bad advice.

You don’t just do it. Atheists just do it. Atheists just go to church. Atheists just give charitably. Atheists just serve the poor. That isn’t going to get any glory for God. You don’t just do it. Grace has to come down. Hearts have to rise with joy in God. And when joy in God happens, it spills over through suffering and sacrifice and persecution. And when it lands on the poor in Jerusalem and they’ve seen how poor the people were who just gave, they say, “Their God must be all-satisfying. I will honor their God. I will praise their God.” That’s where I want the love of my people to come from because he just doesn’t delight in the other kind.

God Loves a Cheerful Pastor

Let’s go to Hebrews 13. I want to show something to you pastors, although it relates to you if you aren’t as pastor as well. Hebrews 13 is a word for pastors and people. It’s addressed to the people, but it’s very largely for pastors and it underlines my point. Let me say my point again. I am asking how, as a pastor, I can help my people so love others practically in the midst of persecution, in the midst of pain, in the midst of sacrifice and suffering, such that their love is sustained by joy in God and people are drawn to draw the inference, “That’s coming from God. I will glorify him.” That’s my job. Okay, let’s read Hebrews 13:17. It says:

[People], 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 (sadness), for that would be of no advantage to you.

When I first saw that in its true light years ago, I wanted to leap and dance. Do you realize what that says to a pastor about how to be of advantage to his people? It’s speaking about how the loving thing to do as a pastor is to be of advantage to your people — that is, to so serve them that they get help. This is unlike the lawyers, of whom Jesus said, “[You] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” How many pastors does that describe? That pastor that we went to on that vacation, that’s what it felt like. This pastor is all about, “Load, load load. Now go do it. Be a good Southern Baptist.” Come on. That’s not what a Southern Baptist is. It’s not what a Christian is, and you know it.

Now look at it. It says, “Let them lead with joy, for” — here’s the reason why you should try to cultivate the joy of your pastor, and the pastor should try to pursue his own joy — “that would be of no advantage if they just groaned in the ministry.” Here’s my paraphrase: if you, as a pastor, are indifferent to whether you are experiencing joy in the ministry, you are indifferent to the good of your people. That’s what it says. They will not be advantaged. They will not be helped if a pastor is doing his work groaning, dutifully, heavily, with no joy in it. Therefore, since that’s true and he knows it, he cannot be indifferent to whether he is laboring under duty religion instead of delight religion. He must pursue his joy, and then by implication he must pursue theirs as well.

More Blessed to Give

Let’s go to Acts 20. This is the simplest, straightforward argument there probably is on this point, and you all know this. This is one of the very few words of Jesus recorded outside the Gospels in the New Testament.

He has met with the Ephesian elders on the beach in Miletus, and he’s about to leave them and everybody’s heart is aching. He doesn’t know whether he’ll see them again, that he’s bearing witness, that he has declared the whole counsel of God to them and therefore their blood is not on his hands. And he says in Acts 20:35:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember (that’s a very important word) the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

When I was in Germany working on my degree, it was on the topic, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). So I wrote my dissertation on that command, and for three years I read hundreds of articles and books on ethics and the motivation for love. There are untold numbers of highfalutin, well-educated writers on ethics who say very unbiblical things. And one of the most common things I read was, “To do a deed for the reward you would get in it is to ruin the moral virtue of the deed.” If the reward followed inadvertently, without your desire for it or pursuit of it, they thought it was fine. The reward wasn’t a problem. But if you aim at the reward, you become morally defective and not loving. It’s not loving to love for reward. You read that everywhere. It’s in the air that you breathe probably. And I would read it and I would say, “Have these PhDs ever read the Bible?” Jesus is promising reward on almost every page.

Remember the Words of the Christ

Do you know what the most important word is in Acts 20:35? It’s the word remember. You see, it says, “I’ve shown you that by working hard you must help the weak remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Now if these ethical writers are accurate, it should read, “Forgetting the words of the Lord, how he said it is more blessed to give than to receive,” because you have to get this incentive out of your head because it’s constantly corrupting your motives. You have to get this word of Jesus out of your head. Don’t let Jesus talk to you this way. He is a bad teacher. He’s corrupting your morals every time he opens his mouth and says “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” He’s wrecking your motivational structure and ruining your potential for loving people.

I simply won’t buy that. I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe in the Bible. I believe that the word remember applies when the phone rings at 8:00 p.m. and I’m on the floor, playing with my little nine year old, Talatha, and I haven’t been home for 16 nights in a row, and it’s finally time for some playtime with my little girl and the phone rings and there’s an emergency at the hospital. They say that somebody’s tried to commit suicide. They’re down at the emergency room, and they’re not sure they’re going to make it. Their tummy is full of pills and they need me to come. And I say, “Okay.” And I am dutifully on my way to the hospital as a pastor, wanting to be at home and angry at providence, which is a very dangerous thing to be angry at.

The Bible says, “Piper, remember something. Remember something. You’re going to get a blessing at the hospital. It’s more blessed to give than to keep your schedule the way you want it. It’s more blessed to give.” So you start praying that your heart would get in tune with the Bible instead of in tune with your own desires merely. And you say, “Oh God, make me into the kind of person all over again that delights to bless and enter into the unknown. I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t know what the situation is. I don’t know what the relatives are feeling. I hate these situations. Please God, be there through me. Help me.”

He Meets Us in our Ministry

How many times, pastors, how many times in the elevator on the way to the floor, praying that prayer, does the longing start to come, for me anyway. Do you know the place where God closes in on me? I walk into the room, and I don’t see the relatives anywhere. They’re probably down in the waiting room. The nurses point me to the room and they’re lying there unconscious. You don’t know what’s going on, and you walk over and you put your hand on the arm and the eyes open. And in a voice that may be strong or may be weak, the person says, “Oh pastor, you didn’t need to come.”

Not in a thousand years would you say, “I know I didn’t need to come and I didn’t want to come. It’s my duty to come. I went to the right course in seminary. This is what you’re supposed to do. I’m here. So what do you need?” No, that’s not the way you’re going to respond. The way the Lord works in my heart at that moment is to actually make me say and mean — I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it — “I know I didn’t have to come, Mike, but it would make me very happy if I could be a blessing to you. It would make me very happy if I could be a means of your salvation, a means of your rescue. I want you to live, Michael.”

Is that an okay sentence? Is it okay to say, “It would make me very happy to be a blessing to you”? Would it be okay to say, “It would make me very happy if you lived”? Would it be okay if it would make me happy if I could tell Talatha when I went home, “God used your daddy tonight to save a man’s life.” Would he say to that, “Oh nothing makes you happier. Why don’t you think about me? I’m lying here in this bed, and I’m about to die. And you’re talking about what makes you happy”? He wouldn’t say that and I’ll tell you why he wouldn’t. Everybody knows that they feel more loved when you bless them joyfully than when you bless them begrudgingly. Everybody knows that. Begrudging, dutiful good deeds don’t get any glory for God. I want people in my church to love the hurting in a way that gets glory for God.

And I have learned now from these texts, and oh so many more that I don’t have time to talk about, that it comes from joy in God. It’s the overflow. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. That’s what love is. It’s the overflow of joy in God. Or to use this morning, if you were here for the students session; it’s the overflow that enthralls another person with what will satisfy them eternally, namely God. And if we had time, which we don’t because I’m out of time now, I would just take you to Hebrews 10, Hebrews 11, Hebrews 12, and Hebrews 13, and show you all the verses. I’ll just take you to one and close. Everybody knows this one so we can just quote it, right? The writer of Hebrews said:

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).

So I’m going to say to a hundred ethicists with PhDs who tell me that to pursue my joy is defective, blasphemy. It’s blasphemy against the Son of God because there was not a greater act of love that has ever been performed in the history of the world than the death of the Son of God. And what sustained him through Gethsemane, what kept him hanging there, was the joy set before him. It’s just like Matthew 5:13 says, “Great is your reward in heaven.” Keep on dying for the poor, keep on the mission field, keep on pastoring in the hard place, keep on witnessing at work, and keep on sharing with the inner city folks who don’t seem to be thankful. Keep it up because Jesus kept it up for the joy that was set before him. But pastors, it isn’t going to happen unless we feel it and unless we preach it, we must so preach as to enthrall our people with the all-satisfying glory of God in Christ, so that Sunday by Sunday, they walk out with a 2 Corinthians 8:2 overflow. Grace came down, joy came up, persecution abounded, poverty remained, and generosity spilled everywhere, because joy was rooted not in money and not in comfort. It was rooted in God.