Finding Joy Through Loving Others (with Portuguese Interpretation)

FIEL Conference for Pastors and Leaders | São Paulo, Brazil

God does everything to exalt his own name, and even though God is very self-exalting, this is not unloving. The reason is that when he preserves and exalts his own glory, he offers to us what will satisfy our heart. And so, he’s getting the glory, and we’re getting the joy. To me, right at the heart of the gospel is this truth: God’s zeal to be glorified and my longing to be happy are not at odds — they come together in worship.

The second night that we spent together, the point was that we should devote our lives to pursuing satisfaction in God. We glorify God by enjoying him forever. So if you want to glorify God, you must pursue your joy in God.

Now tonight, we ask a different question: If I am pursuing my joy in God, will I be a loving person toward other people? So let me give you the main point, or the thesis, of my message tonight. It goes like this: the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Or to put it another way: if you try to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.

Love and the Pursuit of Joy

I invite you to turn in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 8. We looked at this very briefly during the question and answer time, but I want to look at it again now more fully. The reason I’m pointing you to this text is because what we have here is a picture of what love looks like. I’ll read the first two verses, and then I’m going to read 2 Corinthians 8:8. The reason for reading 2 Corinthians 8:8 is because it shows that what Paul has been describing is love.

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)

Now, 2 Corinthians 8:8: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” Let me give you the background. Paul had just come through Macedonia, and God had done a great work there. His grace had been poured out. Paul was taking up an offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem, and the Macedonians had been very generous.

Love Defined

Paul is writing about this to encourage the people in Corinth to be just as generous. Notice three things in this text. First, all of this comes from grace. “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). Notice, secondly, that this grace had filled them with an abundance of joy. You can see that in 2 Corinthians 8:2. Notice, thirdly, that their abundant joy had overflowed in generosity, even though they were still poor. Now, that is a picture of love.

Love begins with the grace of God. The grace fills us up with joy, and the joy pours over in generosity to others. So here’s my definition of love: Love is the overflow of joy in God which meets the needs of others. Make sure you see the connection between joy and love.

Joy as the Motive of Love

Look at 2 Corinthians 8:4. I didn’t read it yet. Let me read it now. “[They begged Paul] earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

Now, this is amazing. They begged for the privilege of giving more money. Now, what this shows is that they were not acting out of obligation. They were doing what they really wanted to do. If I take my children to an amusement park and we go for a ride on the roller coaster, and the children say, “Oh, can’t we ride it again, Daddy. Let’s ride it again.” They’re not saying that because they have an obligation to ride the rollercoaster. Children talk like that when they are about to do something they really want to do, and that’s the way these Macedonians were talking.

They said, “Let us give some more.” They were pursuing a greater joy. Now, they were denying themselves — they were poor. They could have taken that money and bought some clothes, or some food, or some toys. So they denied themselves these lesser things to have the greater joy of giving. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.

Here’s another way to say it: Love is the impulse to increase your joy in God by extending it to others. You have a joy in God, and you want more joy in God. The way to get more joy in God is to expand your joy, to help others, and draw them into your joy. And as they come into your joy, your joy in God increases. And so, the motive of love is to expand your joy.

Love Clarified

Now, let me clarify something that I said. Was it this morning? I can’t remember. Something I said before. I quoted Joseph Fletcher and I disagreed with his argument. When he said, “You can’t command the emotion, but love is commanded. Therefore, love cannot be an emotion.”

I disagreed with that. Now, the reason I disagreed with it is that the first premise is wrong, but the conclusion is partly right. Love is more than a feeling, but I just wanted to say it is not less than a feeling. Love has in it the pursuit of more joy. Genuine love is also more than action.

Paul didn’t hold up these Macedonians as a model because they acted a certain way, at least not only because they acted a certain way. The reason he held them up as a model is because they acted out of joy. Their action was an overflow of joy in God. The only thing that the apostle Paul calls love is benevolent action that comes out of joy.

Let’s look at another verse to see if we are interpreting this correctly. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, the topic here is still raising money for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

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

If you don’t give cheerfully, God is not pleased with your giving. So if you say, “I don’t think it matters whether you are happy in your giving,” what you’re really saying is, “I don’t think it matters if God is pleased.” God loves a cheerful giver. If you are indifferent to your cheerfulness, you are indifferent to what pleases God. That’s the meaning of sin.

Cheerful Pastors Work for the Joy of Others

Now, I want to direct your attention, especially you pastors, to three passages of Scripture, which applies this principle to ministry. We’ll begin with 1 Peter 5. What Peter is doing here is instructing elders in how to do their work. First Peter 5:2: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.”

You see, it matters how you do your work. Do it willingly, not under constraint and do it eagerly, not for money. This is Peter’s way of saying God loves a cheerful pastor. Paul said God loves a cheerful giver. Peter is saying God loves a cheerful pastor.

Let me quote from a pastor who lived about a hundred years ago. His name is Philip Brooks, he wrote the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This is what he says:

I think that it is essential to the preacher’s success that he should thoroughly enjoy his work. I mean in the actual doing of it, and not only in its idea. No man to whom the details of his task are repulsive can do his task well constantly. Therefore, consider it not merely a legitimate pleasure, but consider it an essential element of your power, if you can feel a simple delight in what you have to do as a minister.

Now we can see this in another biblical text, namely Hebrews 13:17. What we will see in this text is that unless a pastor pursues his joy, he can’t love his people. So this text is a proof of my thesis, namely that the pursuit of your joy is an essential motive for good deeds. Let’s read Hebrews 13:17:

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.

Now think about this for a moment. If a pastor loves his people, he will want to pursue their advantage. He will want to benefit them, and this text says he will not be an advantage to them if he does his work sadly. He must do his work with joy in order to be a benefit to his people. So if he wants to pursue their benefit, he must pursue his joy. If he is indifferent to his own joy, he’s indifferent to the benefit of his people, and that is not love. Love demands that he pursue his joy. I almost wish we could stop right here and let you ask questions.

If that is not clear, write down the problem and send it to me, but let me try to show it from another text: Acts 20:35. The situation here is that Paul is talking to the elders from Ephesus, and he says, “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.’”

It is more blessed to give than to receive. More joy comes to you in giving than in getting. So if you want to maximize your joy, you love people.

Joy as the Result and Motive

Now, I wonder if you have ever heard anybody say this. I’ve read this in many books. They say it is okay for joy to come as the result of love, but it is not okay for the pursuit of joy to be the motive of love. Joy can come as a result but not as a goal.

Now, I think this verse contradicts that statement. The word that contradicts it is the word remembering. Paul says to these elders, “Remember that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Keep this truth in your mind. The only reason for keeping it in your mind is so that it will function as a motive. Paul is saying, “Keep on remembering that you get more happiness from giving.”

Let me give you an illustration of how this works in my life. It’s about eight o’clock in the evening, and I’m very tired. I’m at home playing with my children, it’s been a long hard day, and the telephone rings, and someone is very critically sick in the hospital, and they want me to come. Well, to be honest, I don’t feel like coming, but everything I’m saying here says I’m supposed to feel like it. So what do I do?

I get in my car and start driving to the hospital, and I confess to the Lord that I don’t feel like doing this good deed. Secondly, I ask him to change my heart and give me joy. And thirdly, I remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed to give than to receive. I don’t put that out of my mind as though the pursuit of joy would contaminate my virtue. I do what the apostle says, I remember it, and how many times the Lord has answered my prayer.

I’m going up in the elevator in the hospital, I walk toward the room, and as I walk into the room of my sick friend, the joy comes, and I’m able to look at them and say, “It’s good to be here.” What if they say, “Oh pastor, you didn’t have to come. Why did you come?” And I said, “Pastors are supposed to come.”

It’s the same situation as with my wife last night. The person lying in bed would not feel loved if I said that. People do not feel loved when you do nice things for them out of obligation. People feel loved when you enjoy doing good things for them. If the sick person asks me, “Why did you come?” The best thing I could say, if it’s true, is it gives me joy to minister to you.

So, I conclude that the obstacle to loving is the same as the obstacle to worship that we saw last night. The obstacle to love is not that people are pursuing their pleasure, the obstacle to love is that they’re pursuing it in the wrong places.

People don’t believe Jesus when he says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” There’s more joy in serving others than in serving yourself. What we ought to do is join Paul in loving people in order that we might maximize our joy. We ought to obey Jesus when he says, in Matthew 6:19–20:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

In other words, stop being satisfied on the earth with little 2 percent yields of pleasure that get eaten up by the moths of inflation. A life devoted to material comforts is like throwing money down a rat hole. Jesus says in Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”

We really do have good news for people. We are calling them to give up their small, unsatisfying, temporary pleasures and to join us in the cause of loving other people because loving other people brings our joy in God to consummation.

The Pursuit of Joy Is the Power to Love

Now, let me take you to some texts from the book of Hebrews, and what these texts illustrate is that the pursuit of your joy is the power to love. Let’s begin with Hebrews 10:32–34. The situation here is that, in the early church, there had been a persecution. Some of the Christians were in jail and some were going to visit them in jail, and when they visit them, their possessions are stolen or plundered. And the question is, Where did they get the courage and the love to take that kind of risk?

Let’s read, starting at Hebrews 10:32:

Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property. (Hebrews 10:32–34)

Now, that’s unbelievable. They joyfully accepted the plundering of their property in an act of love. Where did they get the joy like that? The next phrase gives the answer. “since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34).

So they looked to this reward, this better possession, and they compared it to the risk they would have to take to love their friends. And if Martin Luther had been alive, they would’ve quoted the last verse of his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever!

And believing that, they went to the prison, their possessions were plundered, and they sang with joy. My conclusion from that text is this: the strength to love comes from the pursuit of the greater possession.

Let me show you another passage of Scripture in Hebrews 11:24–26:

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

Now, how could he do that? The next phrase gives the answer: “For he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26). Now, that’s amazing. Moses has tremendous pleasure and wealth in Egypt, but God calls him to a life of difficulty. To love the people of Israel in the wilderness was not easy.

Where did Moses get the strength to love like that? The text says he looked to the reward. It’s the reward that satisfied his heart, the reward freed him from the love of Egypt, the reward freed him to love. That’s why I say if you abandon your pursuit of joy in God, you won’t have the strength to love like Moses.

One other passage from Hebrews 12:2: “[Look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” There it is again. The greatest act of love that has ever been performed is the cross. What sustained Jesus through the garden of Gethsemane and through the cross? The text says “the joy that was set before him.”

Now, if even the Lord Jesus is carried in his love by the strength of joy, who are we to think that we can have higher motives? Let’s humble ourselves and acknowledge that the pursuit of joy is what we all are about, what we all want.

Maybe there is one other text in Hebrews 13:13–14. It says: “Let us go to [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Why? “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

How do you seek the city which is to come? How do you seek the joys of heaven? By following Jesus to Calvary and suffering with him and for him, but it’s the pursuit of joy in the city that enables us to do the acts of love with Jesus. And so I say again, if you abandon your pursuit of joy in God, you will not be able to love people, and you will not please the Lord.

Love Seeks Not Its Own

Now, let me raise an objection here. One objection to what I’m saying would be this. First Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love seeks not its own.” So am I contradicting that text? Because I’m telling you to seek your own joy in God, and I’m telling you that that’s an essential motive of love.

And Paul says, “Love does not seek its own.” So how will we put these together? I think what Paul means is this: Stop seeking your own private, limited pleasures. Don’t seek your joy at the expense of anyone else, but he’s not saying don’t seek your joy in doing good to others. If you find joy in loving others, you’re not contradicting this text.

Now, we can see that in a few other passages. For example, in Romans 12:8, Paul says, “The one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Now that’s virtually saying enjoy your acts of love, so it can’t be wrong to enjoy loving people.

Or consider Micah 6:8. The prophet says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness?” Now think about that for a moment. He doesn’t say just do mercy. He says love mercy, delight in acts of mercy. It is more blessed to do acts of mercy than not to do so. It just can’t be wrong to enjoy being a merciful person. Here’s one other text in response to this objection.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the very place where he says love seeks not its own, move back up two verses to 1 Corinthians 13:3, and in verse 3, he says, “If I do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Now, doesn’t that mean that Paul is appealing to our desire for gain? So if Paul is telling us to be motivated to love by gain, it can’t be wrong to seek your own joy in loving. So I think what Paul is really saying is this: let’s join Jesus on the Calvary road, not with grumbling, but because we see the joy that is set before us, and because we know that God loves a cheerful giver, and because we know he wants eager pastors, and because we know it is more blessed to give than to receive, and because we know that suffering with Christ is greater wealth than Egypt, and because we know that if we lose our lives, we’re going to gain them.

Now, there is self-denial. We deny ourselves sand so that we can stand on a rock. We deny ourselves the praise of men so that we can have the approval of God. We deny ourselves these moth-eaten treasures that don’t last so that we can have eternal treasure. We deny ourselves safety among men so that we can have security with God. We deny ourselves drunkenness and gluttony so that we can have a banquet in heaven. We deny ourselves self-reliance so that we can say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). But we never deny ourselves greater pleasures for lesser ones.

Saints Who Knew the Cost of Love

Now let me close with a couple of quotes from great saints who suffered a lot — saints who knew the cost of love. Many of you have heard of George Müller, a British pastor who built orphanages. Here’s what he wrote:

I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.

The reason that was his first priority is not that he was selfish but because he knew that joy in the Lord was the strength to love.

One other illustration: the daughter of Hudson Taylor said this,

After a riot, when our lives had been saved by a miracle, when we were sitting bruised and bleeding amidst the ruins of our home, in that hour, believe me, heaven itself was opened to us, and we tasted then and afterwards a joy so marvelous that I scarcely like to speak about it here, as we realized that we had been permitted to suffer something for Christ’s sake.

And so my conclusion is this: the pursuit of your joy in God is an essential part of the motive for all good deeds. It’s the strength in which we can love. If you try to abandon the pursuit of joy because you think that’s more noble, you will not have the strength to love people and you will not please the Lord who is pleased by cheerful givers or lovers.

Let me sum up where we’ve been.

  1. The chief end of God is to glorify God.
  2. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him.
  3. And that joy in God comes to its completion when it expands to meet the needs of other people.