The point this morning was that God is passionate for his glory, and that he is not an egomaniac in being self-exalting. Among the reasons why he’s not is that he is seeking our praise, not because he won’t be fully God until he gets it, but we won’t be fully glad until we give it, which means that his pursuit of our praise is love. It’s the definition of divine love that God does whatever it takes, including the death of his Son, to enable us to make much of him forever by enjoying him forever. You don’t ever have to choose between glorifying God and being happy if your happiness is in God.
Now I’m going to go a step farther tonight to say that God isn’t just loving in exalting himself for our enjoyment so that our joy rises as his glory is lifted up, but that he has also set up the universe in a way that his glory rises and is manifest and magnified in my delighting in it. My delight is not just a response to his glory, seeing his glory, but my delight in his glory is an essential way that his glory is magnified and that he is glorified. The banner that flies over my life, church, and ministry is God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
If that’s true, and I’ll have to defend it biblically, the implications are simply staggering for your people and for your ministry. We want to look at some of those tonight. Let me start by telling you what the mission statement of our church is. One of the great benefits of being at a church for 31 years is that the church’s ethos and mindset and the pastor’s ethos and mindset merge so that the church’s mission statement, written on the wall of our sanctuary, and my personal mission statement are the same. The reason I’m on the planet and the reason this church exists in our mindset is this: 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 that’s on the wall and on the paper that comes out of our church.
Passion for the Supremacy of God
It might help if I just say a sentence about each of those components.
We exist to spread a passion — I exist to spread something, meaning my existence is defined vertically. I exist vertically, but my joy is not complete vertcially, but horizontally. It comes down and then goes out. Until it moves horizontally, it’s not full. If God showed himself to me, and then put me in a bottle and threw me in the ocean, I wouldn’t be happy. God has ordained that human happiness grow by drawing others into it. I exist to spread a passion.
Why would we define our mission statement with the word passion? You could use the biblical word, zeal. I’d be fine with that word. I exist to spread zeal, not just right theology. I will put the highest premium you can almost imagine tomorrow on right theology, but right now, we’re on passion. This is the Feel Christ talk. A joyful people is what I’m after.
Let the nations be glad … (Psalm 67:4).
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name … (Psalm 96:1).
What else should be our mission? It should be to bring gladness to the nations in God.
For the supremacy of God — Passion for the supremacy of God, as in God’s greatness, God’s glory, God’s power, God’s wonder, and God’s full array of attributes, is what we’re about. We want him to be known and treasured for all that he is in all things.
In all things — God is supreme in all things. There’s nobody in your church who has a job where God should not be supreme. If God can’t be supreme in their job, they should quit. Our job is to help them do it. They should make him supreme as a postal worker, a housewife, nurse, or a teacher.
For the joy of all peoples — The “s” on the end of peoples is to make it global and to make it missiological. There are thousands of people groups in the world who have no self-sustaining church. This is why missions is not over, and won’t be over until Jesus comes.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy…Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:4–5)
We exist for the nations, for the globe. We exist for those who’ve come to us, 50,000 Somalis across the street from our church, all of the Muslim. That didn’t exist 10 years ago. Things change, so our ministry better as well.
Through Jesus Christ — None of that happens except through the gracious work of the dying and the rising of our Lord Jesus.
That’s just a taste of how a mission statement gets crafted growing up out of the things that I’m trying to say here.
This talk is Feel Christ. I want to give four clarifying introductory comments.
First clarification: I’m using the terms feeling, emotion, and affection interchangeably. Sometimes I’ll say affections, sometimes I’ll say emotions, and sometimes I’ll say feelings. That cluster of stuff is what this talk is about.
Here’s what I mean. I mean spiritual affections, not bodily humors or reactions. By spiritual, I mean Holy Spirit awakened, Holy Spirit sustained, and non-physical. Wobbly knees, fluttering eyelashes, and sweaty palms are not what I’m talking about. The reason that I say they are non-physical is that, first, God has them, and he has no body. I’m talking about things like joy. Now, God doesn’t have all of these. I’ll list some that he does and some that he doesn’t: Joy, fear, gratitude, desire, hate, anger, tenderheartedness, peace, loneliness, sorrow, regret, shame, and hope. That’s what I mean by affections, or emotions, or feelings. The world has these, and I’m not talking about that. I don’t give a rip what the world has. I want what the Holy Spirit makes.
I was in the car on the way over here, and actually, just walking in, it just clobbered me afresh — joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. God makes it. God Almighty creates it. Isn’t that amazing? The world doesn’t have that. That’s why I’m calling it spiritual. I mean the New Testament word spiritual over against carnal. These are the kinds of affections that are awakened by the Holy Spirit, sustained by the Holy Spirit, and aimed at the glory of God. Those are the kinds of feelings I’m talking about. All those feelings that I mentioned here are possible to be awakened by the Holy Spirit, including shame and sorrow. There’s a sorrow that leads to life and a sorrow that leads to death. There’s a carnal sorrow and a spiritual sorrow.
The other reason I say it’s not physical, besides that God has many of these, is that you will have them after you die. Your body is going to be in the ground, and you’re going to go to be with Jesus, which is far better. Why is it far better? You’re going to be really happy — really happy. I mean, this happiness will look like sadness compared to that happiness. You won’t have a body. There will be no trembling, there will be no eyelashes fluttering, and there will be no stomach butterflies, just joy, awe, wonder, gratitude, and all this cluster of non-physical, spiritual affections that are just pervasive in the Bible.
That’s the first clarification. When I talk about feelings, emotions, and affections, I mean spiritual ones, not physical ones. These are not synonymous with what the world experiences but something overlapping, similar to, and awakened by the Holy Spirit.
Second clarification: Why do I emphasize passion, joy, or affections over right doctrine and right-thinking? That is, why do I say they are more ultimate? And I do say that. I think right doctrine serves right affections. Theology serves doxology. Doxology, praising God from the heart, is ultimate; thinking rightly about him is penultimate and serves doxology. Both are massively important. These two talks, this one and the next one, are my attempt to get that in the right balance. I’m putting tonight’s time first because tomorrow serves this one. I could have done it the other way, but it seemed right to put them in this order. Here’s what Jesus says:
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).
What’s the truth for? It’s for freedom. From what? In the context, it’s sin. What is sin? That’s a very important question. It’s not the movement of the body in a sexual sin or in stealing from a bank. The movement of my arm taking that money, that muscular event is not sin. The heart is where sin happens, like coveting and wanting. It’s the heart that turns an action into sin. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free from those driving emotions that are making you so unhappy that uou have to steal, lie, cheat, and boast. Truth serves heart change. Heart change is about these massively powerful feelings that we have. Even people that say they don’t have them very much still have them; they’re just squished. They come out in ways that they can’t recognize as emotions. It would be good if they owned up to what they needed.
You will know the truth, and the truth will transform your affections. Beholding his glory, we are being changed from one degree of glory to the next. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Right theology serves right affections. Doxology grows out of right theology. That’s the second clarification.
Good Tree, Good Fruit
Third clarification: Why do you emphasize passion, joy, affections, or emotions over behavior? First, that question was about affections over thinking, and this is about them being over behavior. This is tricky. I don’t and I do. Let me see if I can just show you why I want to say yes and no. Jesus said:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad … (Matthews 12:33).
The fruit is behavior. It’s visible. You can see that someone’s life is different. There, the good tree, the transformed me, deep down at the roots of my being is giving rise to visible, tastable fruit. Behavior seems to be more ultimate.
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).
Speaking is behavior. That seems to be the outcome of the heart. Therefore, the outcome is more ultimate. God is after the outcome. God aims to be publicly, visibly known as glorious. This is why there is going to be a judgment according to works at the end of the age. He doesn’t need it. Goodness gracious, he knows our hearts, but he’s going to do a public judgment according to works. Why? Because he wants himself to be publicly vindicated before the devils and the angels, saying, “That’s my child. He was really born again. Here’s the evidences from his life.”
Public evidences don’t justify the person; they don’t cause his regeneration. They’re just public demonstrations that show God’s ownership, as if to say, “That’s my boy.” God doesn’t want us to be secretive, as if we have all the emotions and nobody knows it, or we have all the regeneration and nobody knows it. He means to be a public God, a demonstrative God, so that people know. Behavior at one level is the goal. It is.
However, here’s the problem. If I were to say that, it could be so misleading because:
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matthew 15:8).
Right now, it is conceivable that all of my talk is a sham. I’m a charlatan. I’m a fake. All this God-talk is a cover for money, or some hidden thing I’m doing here in Sydney, or whatever. That’s possible. If that were true, behavior would not be the goal. God wouldn’t give a rip about what I’m doing right now. My heart would be totally wrong, and this would not be fruit. I’m wary of making behavior, pure and simple, the goal. Or what about this from 1 Corinthians 13:1–3?
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
That’s awesome. You can actually give your body to be burned and give all your possessions away and have not love. So behavior cannot be the goal, at least purely and simply. Or what about 2 Corinthians 9:7?
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Well, what about a non-cheerful giver who’s a really generous one in your church? How does God feel about that? He’s not pleased, so I can’t say giving is the goal; rather, cheerful giving is the goal. I’m supposed to be clarifying something here, and it may be making it worse. I don’t know. I am willing to say then, in order to try to get these two sets of texts together — which is what my life is all about, getting texts together — that if behavior embodies and is carried by the right heart, it is the goal. If it is manifesting, if it is exuding and displaying a valuing of God in my heart, the behavior is the goal. But I can never say that behavior, pure and simple, is the goal. These outward actions, pure and simple, are not the goal, which is why I put the stress so heavily on our affections and our heart. That’s clarification number three. At least, I hope it’s a clarification.
Affections and the Glory of God
Fourth clarification: How do affections relate to the glory of God? My answer that I gave earlier, and now I’ll say it and give the Bible argument for it, is that they relate like this: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Turn with me if you have a Bible to Philippians 1. If you don’t, just listen carefully. Here’s what I’m after. I want a textual warrant. I want a biblical warrant for what I just said so that you can stand on the Bible, not on what I say, for the truth that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, that being satisfied in God is an essential way by which God is made to look good in the world. That’s what I’m after.
The best one I know of is in Philippians 1:20–21. This is a very precious text to me. I preached on it when I came to my church 31 years ago, and maybe I’ll go out with this one too if I get to choose going out:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
There is his passion. He says, “I want Christ to be magnified, to be made to look magnificent in my body, by the way I use my body in life and the way my body dies.” Now the question is, in Paul’s mind, how would Christ be made to look magnificent in the way he lives and dies? We only have time for one of these halves, and I think the death half is the one that’s most clear. Let me read the text and leave out the life half. Notice that in Philippians 1:21 he’s continuing that pair. At the end of Philippians 1:20 he says, “By life or death,” and in Philippians 1:21 he says, “For me to live,” which corresponds to life, “is Christ, and to die,” which corresponds to death, “is gain.” Now we’re going to read this, leaving out the life half. Watch for the logic. This is an illustration of what I meant about how structures of biblical language show structures of reality.
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body…by death. For to me…to die is gain.
Now that’s a sermon. The for there is a sermon. It’s changed my whole way of looking at the world, that little word for. God, I want to die in a way that makes you look magnificent. Would you help me? And then he says, “Here’s how — ‘to me to die is gain.’” If you ask, why is it gain? The answer is in Philippians 1:23, which says:
I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart (which means to die) and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Dying is gain because he gets more of Christ. There is going to be more intimacy with Christ, more immediacy of Christ, and a clearer sight of Christ, and that’s gain. Gain is good. Gain is satisfying. Gain is pleasing. Gain is happy. That’s my argument. Do you get it? No, you probably don’t get it yet. Let me paraphrase Paul: “My passion is that Christ be made and shone to be magnificent in my death. The way it will happen is that when I die, I will count it gain. Or as I come to die and I see that I lose my wife, I lose my children, I lose my ministry, I lose my grandchildren, and I lose my retirement plan, and all I get is Jesus. I look out at that catastrophic loss, and I say, ‘Gain.’”
Now who looks good at that moment? Jesus. He looks magnificent to the nurses around your bed in the hospital, doesn’t he? If you’re lying there with tubes coming out every hole in your body, you’re struggling for your last breath, and your family is around you, singing, and God enables you to smile and say, “Gain, gain,” I tell you, in that moment, Christ is magnified because he’s satisfying your soul. You’re losing everything you’ve known except one thing — him. Being so satisfied in him that you can call it gain while you lose everything else, that’s a glory. That’s my argument.
This is the way it works. I’ll lay my life down for this. I would stake my life on this. The Bible says, “Christ is shone to be more magnificent in you when you are more satisfied in him.” That’s biblical. I base it all right there on Philippians 1:20–23.
Implications for God’s Glory in Our Joy
I’m done arguing for the thesis. Now I’m going to work out implications because they are massive. If you get persuaded by the Bible, not by me, but by the Bible, that God exalts himself not just in order to be seen by me and enjoyed by me, but he has set up the universe in such a way that my joy in him is precisely what magnifies him — if that persuades you, it changes everything about life and ministry.
Here’s what we’ll do. I’m going to give you some implications for your people, then implications for pastoral work, then implications for preaching, and maybe if we have time, implications for the wider evangelical challenges in the church. There are implications everywhere regarding this.
For the Sake of God’s People
Here are some implications for your people. I’m a pastor, and I was persuaded by this in 1969. Everything opened up to me from 1968 to 1971, and everything changed in my worldview. I saw these things, and I’ve been trying to work them out and live them out ever since. Here’s the implication for your people: The pursuit of maximum joy and the pursuit of the glory of God are never at odds. I can’t tell you how many people have been liberated by that statement. The pursuit of your maximum joy and your living for the glory of God are never at odds. Here’s the reason from Psalm 16:11:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Now I ask you, and I’ll ask anybody on the planet, can you improve upon full and forever? Nobody can improve upon full and forever. Let’s just say the world offers me 89 years of 99 percent happiness. I’m going to say, “No, thank you,” because my God offers me 100 percent forever. The issue for our people is not that they’re seeking their happiness, but that they’re seeking it in the wrong place. If we try to beat it out of them by duty and sacrifice, we lose, because we’re being unbiblical.
Your people should pursue maximum joy all the time, without fail, every minute of their lives, even if it kills them, which it may because maximum joy for many of you should be in Afghanistan, Iraq, China, and Northern India. That’s where God has the highest peaks of joy for you. It will cost you your life. If anybody hears me, walks out of here, and says, “Oh, John Piper says you should just be happy all the time, and get it any way you want,” you’re willfully sinning. This is clear. I’m making this clear. This is on tape, right?
This will cost you your life. To pursue your maximum joy in God will mean tremendous eye-gouging and hand-cutting because those sights will kill you, and you don’t want to die. You want to be happy, so cut off your hand and gouge out your eye. This is not cheap. This is a costly lifestyle. One of the most gratifying things in my life, as many times as I’ve been misunderstood, is that hundreds and hundreds of missionaries are on the field because they’ve just been blown away by the all-sufficiency of God to satisfy their souls. They can let goods and kindred go. They can leave mom and dad. They can hate their own life, as it were. This is not cheap.
Maybe it would be helpful to take a few minutes and give a little more biblical foundation for this. Let me run through some arguments. I’ll just give you texts, and I’ll try not to linger over them too long because we could stay all night on each one of these. We’re still on my first implication — the implication for your people, that they should seek maximum joy all the time in God, even if it costs them their lives. We’ll talk about the implications for your pastoral role in a few minutes.
To persuade your people of that, or to persuade you of that, let’s give a few more arguments. First, the Bible commands your people to be happy. It is not optional:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4).
Delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad (Psalm 32:11).
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! (Psalm 100:1–2).
It’s simply not an option to be unhappy. Of course, we’re unhappy and depressed. Goodnight, you’re not alone because it’s obvious that every pastor is depressed sometimes. My goodness, I get so depressed sometimes that I can’t remember my childrens’ names. I want to sit out in the grass between the garage and the house. Sometimes you don’t feel anything. That’s not a good situation. I’m not commending that, but that’s just reality. So don’t hear me as a perfectionistic, as if this is always this way; I’m saying it ought to be. That’s why I need the cross. I love the cross because I’m sad so often, and I shouldn’t be. I’ve got a million reasons not to be downcast today, and I’m downcast. Jesus, have mercy upon me.
Second, the nature of faith teaches that we should pursue our satisfaction all the time. How do you define the heart and essence of faith? I’m going to give you two texts. John 6:35 says:
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Now based on that verse, how would you define faith? Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me…” There’s a geographic metaphor of movement. And then there is a parallel, which says, “He who believes…” So then you have the word believe in the place of come. This the reality and the image. The one who believes will never thirst.
Both of those — no hunger and no thirst — trace back to coming to Jesus or believing in Jesus. Here’s my definition of believing: Believing in Jesus savingly is a coming to him for the stilling of my soul’s thirst and the satisfaction of my soul’s hunger. If that doesn’t happen, I’m not saved. If I’m going to money for the stilling of my thirst and my hunger, or sex, or pride, or the praise of man — if I’m using some other thing besides Jesus to still this ache, I don’t have faith. It really makes a big difference whether you define faith solely in terms of believing facts, which you can’t do because the devil believes all of them, or whether you define faith in terms of the affectional embrace of Jesus as our supreme treasure because he’s Savior and Lord.
Savior, Lord, Treasure
In my context anyway, in Minneapolis, I always say, “Come to Christ. You need a Savior. You need a guide. You need a treasure. Embrace him as your Savior. Embrace him as your Lord. Embrace him as the supreme treasure of your life.” If they say, “I’ll take the first two, not the third,” I say, “You don’t have him yet. You haven’t been born again.” To be born again is to have our values turned upside down so that we cherish Christ. These affectional words are super important — we cherish, we embrace, we love, we delight in, and we’re satisfied by Jesus because he’s so infinitely valuable. That is a component. It’s not the whole, it’s a component of saving faith.
Another text in that regard is Hebrews 11:6:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
If you have faith, you come to God for reward. If you don’t come to him for reward, you don’t have faith. What’s the reward? It isn’t money. I hate the prosperity gospel. It’s Christ, or better, it’s all that God is for us in Christ. That’s our reward. Saving faith comes to him for that. Our people need to hear this. So easily, we present the gospel in terms of duties they have to do — even faith — but faith is a drinking at a fountain.
Here is another text. The nature of evil teaches us that our people need to pursue satisfaction in God all the time. What is evil? Here’s God’s definition of evil in the book of Jeremiah. We can define evil in different ways and be biblical, but here’s one biblical and really important way. This is 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.
I love that definition of evil. Evil is tasting the fountain of life, the all-satisfying river of God’s delight, and saying, “Eh. No thank you,” then turning to the desert, digging, and sucking on the sand until we’re dead, and go to hell, calling it pleasure. That’s the world. Our job is to look at people and say, “What are you doing that for? Look. That’s evil. Evil is forsaking your joy and trying to dig for it where it cannot be found. Don’t do that. Why would you commit suicide? Why would you die? Come and live.”
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:1–2)
That’s the way Isaiah invited people. Don’t you? You do. I’m sure you do because that’s what the good news is. It’s good news. Stop getting your pleasure where it can’t be found. Whatever little thing you think you’re finding, it’s over in 80 years, and you’re history in hell. Don’t give it away. Oh, how we need to plead with people because evil is the forsaking of joy.
For the Sake of Pastors
Well, I think I better stop with those arguments. We have some other points to look at, but I’ve got a whole bunch more. They’re in books all over the place. The first implication was that your people should never choose between glorifying God and being happy. It’s a sin to choose between glorifying God and being happy because happiness is to be found in the glory of God, and his glory is shown to be magnificent when we’re most satisfied in it. Therefore, 24-7, we’re helping our people pursue happiness, which leads me now to the second implication — the pastoral role.
First, with regard to you, what about your soul? Here’s an answer to the question I was asked earlier about how you stay alive in ministry. Turn with me to Hebrews 13. I want to show you. You’ve probably seen this. I love it, and love to talk about it, so I want to talk about it some more here. This is Hebrews 13:17. It sounds like it’s addressed to the people, and it is, but at the end it’s about you, the pastor:
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.
There are few texts that keep me awake more than that one because I’ve got a lot of souls to give an account for. Then is says, “Let them do this with joy.” Whoa. Really? Let’s read that again. Let the pastors, let the leaders, “Do their ministry with joy and not with groaning, for…” Now this for here is massively important. It says, “for that would be of no advantage to you.” Now if you love your people, do you want them to get no advantage from your ministry? Well, according to this text, how do they get no advantage from your ministry? Answer: By your groaning in the ministry? How do they get advantage in the ministry? It’s by your joy in the ministry, which means you can’t love your people if you don’t pursue your joy.
This is really good news. I mean, how many jobs do you go and apply for that say, “Now if you’re not happy in this job, you can’t be of any service here.” Joy is the key to your people’s health. There are a lot of sick churches in the world because they’re led by sick pastors who don’t have any joy in the work. They’re gutting it out day after day, and their people look and say, “This is not a happy place to be. Following Jesus is a real drag.” That’s not a good advertisement for his glory.
I’ve said to myself and to others, “The news that God is glorified in you when you’re satisfied in him, and your people are loved when you’re satisfied in God, is both liberating and devastating.” It’s liberating because I suddenly get permission to seek as much happiness as I can possibly seek in serving my people in God’s power, and it’s devastating because I fail so regularly. I have to live with my wife who sees me so down so often. I sometimes wonder, “Can Noël even believe in Jesus when I preach this message, and she sees me at home?” That’s what I mean by it being devastating.
There it is. It’s not my voice. It’s Hebrews. It says, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” That’s implication number two. We pastors must fight for joy as though our people’s lives depend on it, and I mean our joy.
For the Sake of Preaching
Now the third implication is for our preaching. How did Paul state his goal as an apostle? In 2 Coritnhians 1:24, he stated it like this:
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
The apostolic goal was a worker with them, not over them, but with them, for their joy. I just think you ought to write that over every sermon: For their joy. Believe me, that does not mean you preach feel-good sermons. You preach deep, solid, glorious theologies of suffering so that their joy weathers the cancer and the dead baby. We get a lot of people that come to our church from thin churches — churches that have a lot of hype, a lot of emotion, and no substance. That won’t sustain joy in pain, and everybody’s in pain.
How in the world do we convince ourselves in some churches that you can have kind of a rah-rah Christianity when everybody dies? I mean, history is just a conveyor belt of corpses. Don’t you look at the news every day? There were 28 people blown up yesterday in a Sunni mosque in Iraq. Fifty-million people a year die in this world. The only way to help them be happy is to give them rock-solid theology under their feet for the day of their trial, and it will be tomorrow.
I hope that you will embrace Paul’s goal — I work with you for your joy. I want you to have a joy that will rejoice in tribulation because tribulation works patience, and patience works approvedness, and approvedness works hope, and hope doesn’t put us to shame because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:3–5). Oh, I think about that all the time. Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). They’re always weep, which mean the pastor’s always weeping. Rejoice with those who rejoice. My people are always rejoicing. All you have to have is 15 people for some to happy and some to be sad, which means you’re going to be happy and sad all the time, simultaneously. The pastorate is glorious miracle. I really mean that. I’ll say more about it maybe later. That’s implication number three, that we are workers with our people for their joy.
I’ll close now with this last one that I said maybe there would be time for, so we’ll take a few more minutes. The wider challenge is in the Evangelical church. I first wrote this note here for Bonn, Germany and Samara, Russia. That’s when I first delivered these. I created this without you in mind, so we’ll see whether it’s relevant.
Here’s what I’m asking in closing. Are there issues out there, stresses in Evangelical church that would be ameliorated (made less bad) by embracing this truth that the pursuit of our joy for God’s glory is an essential part of life? Would making that prominent, making it real, help things in the bigger picture? I think there are two sets of errors that would be helped — one related to right thinking, one related to right doing. Let me describe them to you.
Here’s an error that I see. If right thinking is drifting away from this truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, what can happen and does happen is that it moves towards dead orthodoxy — a kind of dried up, dotting of the Is and crossing the Ts of precise and right theology. As far as others are concerned, it looks lifeless. A reaction to that in our churches is to say, “Yuck,” and pursue anti-intellectualism. People think, “Here’s what intellect produces. Look at that. Yuck. Who would want that? The intellect is obviously unhelpful. Now we will go over here and make a church or find a church where they don’t think much, but man, is there life there.” Now both of those are terrible, and where do they come from?
I’m arguing that one of the places it comes from, without oversimplifying it, is a neglect of this truth: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Where that is cultivated, right thinking produces life and affections for God. People see and say, “I see life there. Yes, they think hard; yes, there’s heavy theology there, but look, they’re alive. They love each other, and they love Jesus. It’s manifest.” That means you don’t lose as many people going over here to anti-intellectualism. In fact, it goes the other way and comes back from anti-intellectualism into substance.
That’s the first pair, namely dead orthodoxy and anti-intellectualism, or the excesses of charismania. Not everything in the charismatic world is excessive or wrong, but there are excesses. There are excesses of intellectualism over here and excesses of emotionalism over here, and I’m just saying, we might avoid both of these sad things if we embraced fully what I’ve been trying to say about God being most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him.
Here’s the last one. That was right thinking and what becomes when it gets disconnected. Now we’ll talk about right doing. There’s a lot of stress on doing in churches, meaning social action, evangelism, and missions. There is a stress on doing and keeping your nose clean in the process. What happens when that passion for good deeds, or right doing, gets disconnected from the truth that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him?
Here, the answer is not, “I’m going to think right, so forget that feeling stuff.” Rather, now it’s, “I’m going to do right, so forget that feeling stuff.” What happens as a result of that is legalism. There’s different kinds of legalism. One kind is moral performance, which starts to drifgt into the thought, “I will impress people and God with the good things I do.” Another kind is a kind of pragmatism that you might associate with the seeker-sensitive things where it’s just kind of plastic after a while because everything’s done in order to fit. Where did that come from? Where did that kind of legal orientation of disconnected doing come from? It came from somebody that lost a grip on the place of the affections and the place of the heart under and in the doing. What is the reaction to this? The Emergent church and antinomianism. I think that’s almost history now, but you get the flavor.
You can be a legalistic do-gooder. You can be a legalistic evangelist or legalistic missionary. Whatever it is, and wherever deeds are being disconnected from sweet, deep, hard, humble, passionate motives of delight in Jesus, that’s just skin. What’s the reaction? People see that and say, “Eh. That’s plastic and empty.” Then they light candles and draw on the wall. That won’t last. It can’t last. Or in a more sophisticated way, they move towards a kind of theology that really does become antinomianism in its full-blown historical sense.
That’s my little attempt to say that God being most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him is not only good for our people’s souls, it’s not only good for a pastor’s soul, but that it just could, without trying to overstate it, bless the Evangelical church by protecting us from these pairs of extremes that tend to give us so much grief around the world. Tomorrow, what we will try to do, Lord willing, is to balance this heavy emphasis upon the affections with a equally heavy emphasis on the mind and thinking underneath it.