Getting at the Heart of God-Focused Ministry, Session 4

North Hills Community Church

Taylors, SC

I want to talk about Christian Hedonism now, because my goal to have you desire and pursue a God-centered ministry and a God-centered life, because God is God-centered, is not going to happen unless I can persuade you of, and the Holy Spirit can work in you, the convictions of a Christian Hedonist. I don’t care whether you like my phrase or buy it; you can throw it out. But I need a place to hang these thoughts that I’ve been thinking for thirty years or so, and I hang it on the phrase, Christian Hedonism. Hedonism means a life devoted to pleasure. That’s exactly what I mean by it. So I’m not playing games with the word. I mean what I say in a most radical, ultimate way.

I think you should develop in yourself and pursue in your people, a life devoted to the deepest and longest lasting pleasure possible and never relent from that pursuit. Because if you do relent, you will not be able to love people or worship God. The essence of worship is delighting in God and the essence of loving people is delighting in God so much you’re willing to lay down your life for them that they might delight in God. And if you don’t care about delighting in God, you don’t care about God and you don’t care about other people. And therefore, to be indifferent to the pursuit of your joy is sin and so I care a lot. This is not a game to me. This is not a language event. This is reality and I want to try to persuade you, biblically, that the only way to be God-centered is to be radically devoted to the pursuit of your joy in God.

God’s Glory, Our Joy

Now, here’s the sentence that makes the connection: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That’s my key sentence. That’s why Desiring God exists. The ministry exists, my life exists, because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. I said last night that I was going to answer today how a God-centered God is a loving God, when the Bible says, “Love seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). And I argued for sixty minutes last night that God spends all of his time seeking his own glory. And so how can he be a loving God? I’m going to give you the essence of the answer now, and I’m going to give it again tonight, but I’ll come at it a very different way tonight, from a new insight I’ve had in the last five weeks or so. So you’ll get something newer tonight and something older here.

But this is the heart and essence of the issue: If you were persuaded at all last night that your life and ministry should be God-centered and that you should join God in doing everything for God’s glory, then you need to ask, “How? How do I do that?” And what you find is that you do it by delighting in God: that God is honored and shown to be infinitely valuable to the degree that you value him with passion, with heartfelt zeal, or joy, or delight, or pleasure. The heart is going out to and embracing him as your highest value, your highest treasure, your hope, your all, your tower, your strength, your refuge. Everything he is for you in Jesus, you are embracing with emotional energy, not emotional indifference. If there’s emotional indifference, he’s not being honored the way he should by your life. Therefore, you can’t love the glory of God and be indifferent to your life of emotion, which so many Reformed people think you can be. We have this thing so unbelievably carved into pieces so that you can somehow do worship or honor and glorify God, but bracket this whole emotional component. That is unthinkable in the Bible and in the best historic Christian theology.

Now, here’s what I want to do. I want to show you the essence of that from Philippians 1, then I want to quote Jonathan Edwards to show you that it’s not new at all, and then we’ll go to the Bible and give some other foundational pieces for it.

Eternal Win

Let’s go to Philippians 1 together and just nail down the sentence: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Where does that come from in the Bible? Maybe it sounds clever, sounds like a rhyme, but is it biblical?

I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as 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 [magnified or exalted] in my body. (Philippians 1:19–20)

So this is his passion. This is God-centeredness from last night — Christ-centeredness in this case. “My passion,” he said, “is that Christ be exalted, magnified, in my body whether by life or death.” So that’s his goal. That should be your goal: a ministry and a life that makes Christ look magnificent. You should get up in the morning and ask about everything you do, “Will it help make Christ look magnificent?” That’s what magnified means here or exalted. I want him in my body, whether it’s a dying event or a living event, to be shown to be magnificent. That’s a Christ-centered life. I hope everybody in this room agrees with that goal. That’s last night.

When Dying Is Gain

Now the question is: What stance, what emotional framework, brings that about? Verse 20 starts with this all-important word for or because:

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

Notice, die corresponds in verse 21 with death in verse 20, and live in verse 21 corresponds with life at the end of verse 20. See the pairs, how they fit? “I want to magnify him whether by life or death” (verse 20), and then he explains how that can come about. It comes about because living, which corresponds with life, is Christ, and dying, which corresponds with death, is gain. So let’s just take one of those pairs and read it without the other pair being in there, and see if it gets a little clearer what his logic is here.

He says, “My goal and my passion is that Christ would be magnified or exalted, made to look magnificent, in my body when I die, because to me to die is gain.” Now, when you stop and reflect on that and what that means, that the magnificence of Jesus, the glory of Jesus, the exalted, superior worth and value of Jesus over all other reality, will be seen and known in my dying because when I experience dying, I will experience it as gain, does that make sense to you? “Gain” means benefit. “When I die, it’s going to be better.” It says that. I didn’t have to make that up, just read on.

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:22–23)

That’s why it’s gain: “Far better” means gain. This is hedonism. This is looking your death in the face and saying, “Should I be okay with this?” And the answer comes back from Paul, “This is really good. This is gain for you.” Gain, gain, that’s a hedonistic word. It is “very much better.” The Greek words are piled on top of each other there with prepositions to help us feel how superior being with Christ is to being on planet earth.

Now, think it through. His goal is to make Christ look magnificent. He says, “I want it to happen whether I die or whether I live.” He says, “The reason it’s going to happen, I hope, when I die, is that I will be dying as I count Christ gain, which means I will be pursuing my joy, my fullness, my all, my satisfaction, in Christ through death.” And in that he will be seen to be magnificent over all that life offers. That is easy enough for a child to understand. Nobody should have to break your brain to figure this out. Christ will be seen to be most glorified if you are so satisfied in him that you count death to be gain. This is not hard. This is right there in the text. His magnificence shines to the degree that you count him satisfying in dying.

If you lie on your deathbed and only murmur and only grumble because you have to go and be with Jesus, he will get no glory from your dying. You know who will get the glory? The person you want to stay with — your husband, your child, your church, they’ll get the glory. “I want to be with them more.” So they’re more valuable. That’s what it’ll say. You may not want to say that, but that’s what it will say. If you murmur and grumble and say, “But I don’t want to leave this good job. I don’t want to leave this.”

What We’re Living For

Now, Paul was torn, but he was torn because to live is Christ, and there may be some fruitful labor for me here and I could say, like he says in verse 25, “I know that I will stay for the advancement and joy of your faith.” So he wanted other people to get on board in this satisfaction thing before he died and got his full satisfaction, so he could take as many with him as he could into the presence of Jesus. That’s a good motive to stay.

So that’s my textual foundation for God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. If you can be so satisfied in Jesus that he is better than everything death will cost you, he will get a lot of glory from your dying. He will be seen as very magnificent. And when he says “to live is Christ,” the explanation of that’s given in chapter 3:

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

So if we value Christ supremely now and find more satisfaction in him now than in illicit sex, or excessive eating, or fame, or success, or marriage, or children, or health — if we find more in him and count everything else in comparison as rubbish — he gets lots of glory in a life like that.

People look at a life like that and say, “What are you living for?” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Because we’re doing everything with an angle on Jesus. We value him. We don’t value what the world values. We value him. All of our decisions are being made with the view to how we can advance his cause, his purpose; how we can maximize our joy in him and not on earth. That’s what all of our decisions are shaped by. And if you live that way, enough things will start to turn up that people will look at you and say, “That’s a pitiable life.” And you say, “Yeah, it would be if there’s no resurrection. And if there is a resurrection, this is the way to live.” So that’s the foundation, biblically, for the sentence that answers last night’s question.

Love in Self-Exaltation

Now maybe we better step back and see if you got that. You’ve got a self-exalting God everywhere in the Bible: “Praise me, praise me, praise me.” And we say, “I don’t like people like that.” Now why is that now love? The answer is that for God to love you, he must give you what’s best for you, and what’s best for you is God. God is your all-satisfying object of beauty and love and justice and wisdom and truth. To know God and to have him on your side is all-satisfying. But for God to do that for you, he must push God; he must puff God in the press of the Bible.

So God is the one being in all the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue, and he is the one being in the universe for whom exalting himself for your enjoyment is love. You can’t copy him in this. If you puff you for people to enjoy — “Here I am, enjoy me” — you’re cruel, because you deflect their attention from what could really satisfy them — namely, God. If you wanted to join God in self-centeredness, you must become God-centered. The only self God is interested in being centered on is himself. And the only self you should be interested in being centered on is himself.

For him to be centered on himself is not vain, but love, because it beckons you to join him in exalting him, which is your only satisfaction in life and eternity. So he’s for you in being for him.

Affections That Match Our Theology

I said I was going to read Edwards. This is my favorite quote. I went to speak at a banquet the other night, a missionary banquet, last Tuesday, and the worship leader read my quote, my favorite quote. I said, “Oh, wonderful. This is great.” Worship leaders are reading Jonathan Edwards. Can you imagine such a thing? This comes from one of his miscellanies. Actually, his book The End for Which God Created the World, I think, is the most important thing he ever wrote, and he wrote some other very important things. Edwards was born in 1703 and died in 1758. He was the greatest theologian-philosopher this country has ever produced, even though he was a pastor — indeed, a missionary to the Indians in the last eight years of his life. And I quote him so that you don’t think this is a modern fandangle Piper device when I talk about this kind of theology of pursuing your joy in God as a way of glorifying God. Listen to Edwards. This is from 250 years ago:

God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it. (The “Miscellanies”)

Now it almost sounds as if he could be talking about Charismatics. Now what the Charismatics, in general, are missing is robust, God-centered, Calvinistic theology — though I’m not going to go there without some qualifications. And what the Calvinists are so often missing is they’re just scared to death of subjectivity. We have Charismatics who just emotionally engage over here, and we got these Calvinists over here who are scared of emotion; they’re just scared of it.

And so here comes John Piper and Jonathan Edwards and others of you, and, boy, some of these straight-lined Reformed people are just really suspicious. “What’s going on here? What’s this emotional stuff? What’s this cultivating subjectivity and emotion, and what’s this hand-lifting in worship? And oh, this is scary stuff. It’s going to just lead people right away.” So let’s get our theology right. Amen, yes, sir, I’m a five- to seven-point Calvinist. (And no offense to you who aren’t yet.) Edwards spoke of “he that testifies his idea of God’s glory.” So we want right theology. But that poor Calvinist doesn’t glorify God so much as “he that testifies also . . . his delight in it.”

My life is devoted to making that sentence real in as many lives as I can. That’s my goal. That’s all I want to do. I want to get theology right because God’s not honored by being misunderstood. And I want to get people’s hearts engaged with this God because he’s not honored by people whose hearts are indifferent toward him. Edwards said this unbelievably controversial sentence in Boston in his day. It caused Charles Chauncy the stiff, right-theology person to go bonkers and accuse him of being “an enthusiast.” Edwards said,

I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

Can you imagine a pastor having a goal like that, to get his people all whipped up emotionally, to get them as high as he possibly can? But note that he added this: “Provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with” — meaning, if you’re talking about hell, let there be tears. If you’re talking about heaven, let be there be leaping. So the proportion of the emotions must be taken into account according to the truth, and you mustn’t just do it with music, and you mustn’t just do it with little stories about pain and relationships and other stories. Every gifted communicators knows how to make people cry or laugh, for that matter; it means nothing spiritually.

Truth has got to grip people’s souls. A vision of God is what has to move the heart, or the heart moves into what we call “emotionalism.” When you put an -ism on the end of intellect or emotion, you’ve got a bad thing, right? And if you take the -ism off, you’ve got a good thing. Intellect, good; emotion, good. Intellectualism, bad; emotionalism, bad. So what’s the difference? Truth is the difference, and emotion. Intellect minus emotion is intellectualism. Emotion minus intellect is emotionalism. And I’m with Edwards, trying to get us together with red-hot hearts and clear biblical theology. That’s the goal of Christian Hedonism.

So the way I do it is to push this thing called Christian Hedonism to say God’s not going to be glorified if you don’t delight in him. Emotions are not the caboose at the end of the train. They’re not the icing on the cake of Christianity. They’re right at the essence. They’re at the heart of things. You don’t have emotion for God, you’re probably not a Christian. If your heart is not engaged with God with love and affection and treasuring and cherishing and honoring and valuing, you’ve got to go back to base one and say, “Have I been born of God? Has a new being been created in my heart?”

Eight Reasons to Pursue Your Satisfaction in God

Let’s go to the Bible and look at reasons for believing what I just said is possible from the Bible. Because if it isn’t in the Bible, I don’t want you to believe it. I don’t want you to believe it. So if I can’t show you successfully that the pursuit of your joy is an essential means of bringing glory to God — essential — don’t buy it. No matter how clever it sounds or excited I sound, don’t buy it.

1. God commands you to pursue your joy.

  • Psalm 100:1–2: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!” That’s a command. It’s not “serve the Lord with sadness.” “Serve the Lord with gladness” is a command.

  • Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”

  • Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”

  • Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous.”

Over and over again in the Bible, we are commanded to be happy in God. It’s not optional. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. One time a person said to me, “Don’t you think we should tell people to pursue obedience rather than joy?” And I said, “That’s like telling them to eat fruit, not apples.” Obedience is the big, generic word for doing what God tells you to do. Do what he says — that’s obedience. Well, what does he say? He says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” So to pursue obedience (eat fruit) is to obey the command to delight yourself in the Lord (eat apples).

You can’t be obedient and not pursue your joy, which causes me to say crazy things like you can’t be a Christian and not be a Christian Hedonist. And you don’t have to buy the term, but given my definition of it, a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure in God, you’ve got to be that; it says so. Delight yourself in the Lord. You don’t have an option here. Pursue this. If you’re sitting there right now saying, “God, I’m not wired that way. I don’t feel those kinds of things for God,” well, that’s why this is threatening. It’s a threatening theology.

Some people have tried to make Christian Hedonism out to be a compromise with contemporary American self-exalting, self-saturated, self-everything culture. You know what it is? It’s exactly the opposite. It’s so threatening, it terrifies people. This message is a terrifying message because it means you may not be born again if you don’t love Jesus. I mean love him. Do you know what it says at the end of 1 Corinthians, in one of the final verses of the letter? “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). “Love for the Lord” — not believe, but love.

2. God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. (Deuteronomy 28:47)

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with a glad heart, you’re going to serve your enemies. Jeremy Taylor said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” It’s a very threatening message, Christian hedonism is. In other words, I am calling for something so radical to happen to people, they must be changed. They’re made happy by sex, they’re made happy by money, they’re made happy by TV, they’re made happy by long vacations, they’re made happy by A’s on tests, they’re made happy by a girlfriend, they’re made happy by shining sun — not God. And they say they’re not wired to be happy. No, they’re just idolaters, that’s all. But you can’t stop being an idolater by yourself. You must be born again.

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)

It’s a miracle. Someone asked me earlier, “Why do you pray, as a Calvinist?” Because I can’t make myself happy in the Bible. I can’t make myself like God. I can’t make myself enjoy holiness. This is a miracle of grace in my life, which means every morning, I get up and I cry out, “O God, incline my heart to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36). Why did David pray that? Because his heart was “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. Take my heart, Lord, and seal it, seal it for thy courts above. Bind me like a fetter.”

Don’t you pray that way? Or do you think you’ve got this thing in your back pocket? “Sure, I can enjoy God tomorrow morning. I’ll get up and I’ll always feel happy in God.” Baloney. You will not. So what do you do? You fight and you cry out, “O God, without you I’m lost. I’m a goner if you give me up, if you don’t take hold of me and keep me, and incline my heart to your testimonies, and open my eyes to see wonderful things in your word, and satisfy me in the morning.” I use the acronym I.O.U.S. This is my prayer every morning: I.O.U.S.

I — “Incline my hearts to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36).
O — “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
U — “Unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11).
S — “Satisfy [me] in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14).

I pray that way every day. Why? Because I’m wired to go backwards. I’m going to go backwards every day if God doesn’t lay hold on me and give me an inclination to his word. I don’t create inclinations; God creates inclinations. He threatens terrible things if we will not be happy. And if we find ourselves happier in our work than we are in Jesus, we must cry for help. We must cry for help.

3. The nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Last Sunday, at the Lord’s table, I stood up and I quoted 1 Peter 2:6–7,

Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, he is precious. (NKJV)

If he isn’t precious, then you don’t really believe. I fear that many pastors have bred a kind of theology that separates the decision called faith from the heart experience called precious. “Jesus is precious to me.” Do your people use the language of preciousness in their praying? Listen for it. If you don’t hear it, preach differently. Do they speak the language of affection for Jesus? “To you who believe, [Jesus] is precious.” Part of what faith is, is embracing him as precious.

Here’s one of the things we’re doing differently in evangelism in the last year at my church. As I’m preaching, I want to see people saved. And I know that many people who are not saved say they believe in Jesus. In fact, everybody in my neighborhood in Minneapolis believes in Jesus. Drunks believe in Jesus; prostitutes believe in Jesus. It’s a burned-over district because there’s a Bible college in the area. They’re always canvassing the area, telling these drunks and prostitutes how to get saved, and they’ve got all the answers figured out.

So here’s this pastor walking to his church. “Hey, Rev!” And I strike up a conversation, and ask him a few questions. “Oh, yeah, I believe, man. I believe in Jesus.” So what are you going to do? They’ve done what they’re supposed to do according to Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” “Good! See you! I’ll talk to somebody else now.” No way. They’re not saved. What’s wrong? The brown bag and the bottle is more precious than Jesus.

So you know what we’ve done? We’ve just tweaked our language a little bit to draw out the reality behind the word believe. John 1:12 says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” “Receive him.” How? As a joke? Receive him as a fire-insurance policy? Receive him as a social expectation in the church? We need to fill up this word with some meaning, pastor. Come on, in your witnessing, you’ve got to fill it up. You can’t just mouth biblical language and have people respond, “Oh, we know all about that.” They don’t know all about that. Well, what do we need to say? We need to say, “When you receive him, what do you receive him as?” And even the words “Lord and Savior” won’t cut it anymore. That’s just too old. I mean, it’s precious beyond words. Please don’t get me wrong. To have him as Lord and Savior is awesome. But if we love people, we’ll grasp for another word.

And right now, we’re banking on the word treasure at Bethlehem. Because if you turn the word treasure into a verb, you’ve got faith. Do you treasure him? Do you treasure him? Do you count him as precious? Do you esteem him, love him, cherish him? Help me, just help me with the language. You do it. It’s not my job to do it for you. I’m just throwing out possibilities of how to communicate his reality to our day because we’ve got to have new hearts in people that treasure him, cherish him, love him, count him as precious, esteem him, delight in him, take pleasure in him, be satisfied with him. This is the language of the Christian faith, which Calvinists are scared to death of, which is why so many of them have little dead churches.

That’s argument number three: the nature of faith. If you understand what faith is, you’ll understand it’s calling people to pursue their joy and their satisfaction in God.

4. The nature of evil teaches us about satisfaction in God.

What’s the nature of evil? What is evil? Well, according to Jeremiah, he says,

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.

That’s evil. So what is evil? What’s the essence of evil in these two verses? The essence of evil is to sniff at the fountain of life that satisfies the soul with increasing joy forever and ever, and say, “No, thank you,” and to turn to the world and hew out of this dirt, cisterns that can hold no water, and then put your mouth to the ground and try to get satisfied all your life. That’s evil.

Christian Hedonism says, “Give up the broken cisterns! Go to the fountain of life! Or to use Isaiah’s words,

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?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
     and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1–2)

That’s evangelism: Wine, milk, water, no money required. Free, bought by the blood of Jesus. Preach this stuff. Preach Christian Hedonism. It’s radical on the one side; it’s the most precious thing in the world on the other. We need God to give us the courage to preach a hard message, to preach to draw a line, to lift up a sovereign God, a God that many people don’t want to hear. And once you’ve made it sound absolutely counterculturally unacceptable, show them how it’s the best news in all the world. Show them how it is the incredibly best news in all the world: to have a God on your side.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

I mean, the gospel cannot be improved upon. It is absolutely, stunningly, gloriously, hedonistically good news — and it may cost you your life. But Psalm 63:3 is in the Bible, and it says, “Your steadfast love is better than life.” I have a new book that just came out three days ago called The Dangerous Duty of Delight. It’s just a distillation of Desiring God. If you’ve read Desiring God, you don’t need to buy this, unless you know somebody who looks at a four-hundred-page book and says, “I won’t read a four-hundred-page book if you give me a thousand years.” But they might read an eighty-six-page book. So then you buy it and give it to them.

I had to wrestle with the publisher to name it The Dangerous Duty of Delight. And I’m so glad I did because right now, everybody in America feels endangered, and everybody wants to be happy. And here comes the lone little book that says, “This is a dangerous desire to want to be happy.” And I thought, “Maybe God would be pleased to use it.” But when I said it may cost you your life to buy into this good news, I really mean that, and that’s what I’ll talk about tonight more. That’s argument number four.

5. The nature of discipleship teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

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.

So you want, in your youth group, or in your adult group, or singles group, or retired group, you want people to become radical disciples of Jesus who are willing to sell everything and follow him, whatever the call on their lives is. Don’t you want that to happen? Yes, we do, in our churches. Well, how does it happen? It happens if they start to see Jesus as such an incredible treasure that from joy, they sell everything they have to buy that treasure — not from a noble, heroic, self-sacrificial mentality. “Well, I guess Jesus calls me to sell all and deny myself and follow him. So since he has authority and I don’t, I will obey because otherwise, I might go to hell.” It isn’t anything like that.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found.” So here you are, walking through the field. You stumble over a box and clear the dirt away. You lift the box up. “That must be five million dollars.” You cover it over, put the grass over it, or stones. And evidently there’s some kind of law that says if you own the field, what’s in it is yours. So the man says, “I’ve got to buy this field. I’ve got to buy this field.” Jesus is willing to use these kind of risky analogies. And the man says, “I don’t have any money to buy the field. But I’ve got to have this treasure.” This is Jesus. This is King Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is like this. This is King Jesus. “I’ve got to have him more than anything.” I take off my wedding ring, I sell my house, I sell the grandfather clock that my grandmother left me, I sell anything to have that field. That’s discipleship.

So what’s your job as a leader, a preacher? You’ve got to paint that picture that good. You’ve got to preach Jesus that good, so when people walk out, they’re willing to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”

6. Self-denial shows us the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Somebody might hear me and say, “You’re teaching people all over America to pursue their own joy? You’re calling them to be Christian Hedonists? Don’t you believe Mark 8? Don’t you believe John 12? Don’t you believe Luke 14, that the Bible says, ‘He who would come after me must take up his cross and deny himself’? Deny himself, Piper. Where is self-denial in your theology?” Let’s read the whole verse. This is Mark 8:34–35:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross [that’s an instrument of execution; it’s very dangerous to pursue Jesus in this way] and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Now what’s he appealing to? Hedonism. You want to save your life, don’t you? Well, lose it. That’s the argument. The argument is straight to the passion to live: “I want to live. I want to be happy. I don’t want to die and be sad for eternity or suffer. I want to live.” And Jesus says, “Good, I made you that way. Now, I’ll tell you how: die.”

So you have to make some distinctions here. “Die” seems like a contradiction.” The text that helps make the distinction is the same concept in John 12:25. Here’s the way he says it there:

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

Now there’s a distinction for you. In this world, you will choose to do things that look to the world like you’re crazy. “You must hate your life. You’re going to go be a missionary in a Muslim land at a time like this? I mean, give it a few years to settle down. You must hate your family. You must hate your own life.” “Well, kind of. But really, that’s not why I’m going. I’m going because I love eternity. I love to hear Jesus approve. I love to see my rewards by an increased capacity to enjoy him multiply. I love to take people with me because they multiply my enjoyment of him, by their enjoyment of him. I’m really driven by the second half of the verse, not the first half of the verse.” Or Philippians 3:7–8:

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. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

So there is self-denial. But why? What’s the motive? In order that I might gain Christ. That’s not self-denial. That’s self-satisfaction in Jesus. So the teaching of self-denial is to deny yourself tin, so that you can have gold. Deny yourself brackish mud pies, so that you can have holiday at the sea (to use C. S. Lewis’s analogy). Deny yourself two-day-old coffee for a new latte off the burner.

7. Love for others requires the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

This is the one that’s really perplexing. I had to work on this longer than any others over the years. Can you really be a lover of people if you’re always pursuing your joy in God? Can you really be a lover of people? Why don’t you just be a lover of you or a lover of Jesus? Can you really love people and say you’re motivated by your satisfaction in God? And my answer is: if you don’t pursue your satisfaction in God, you can’t love people. In Acts 20:35, Paul is talking to the elders on the beach in Miletus and 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.” (Acts 20:35)

It is more blessed to give than to receive. It is more happy-producing, more satisfying, to give than to receive. Now there are many ethicists today who would say, “That’s true, but you should not be motivated by it. That’s true: it is more satisfying to give than to receive, but you should not be motivated by that because if you’re motivated by it, you’re not really giving; you’re just receiving.” Now if that were true, Jesus is a very bad teacher. Or let’s say Paul is a very bad teacher, because Paul said, in talking to the elders at Miletus, “When you serve your people, remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” He should have said, “Be sure, when it comes to the crucial point of motivation, to forget the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ because those words contaminate your motives.”

Why would Jesus tell us this if it were just contaminating? If it’s just going to make life hard for us and ruin our morals, why would he teach us this truth? I reject it entirely. And it has been spoken by big, highfalutin ethicists for centuries — especially Immanuel Kant and the whole Enlightenment tradition afterwards. “If you do anything that gets a kickback for you, it is less moral than if you did it for no kickback for you.” That devastates worship and destroys love. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Jesus also said,

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. (Matthew 5:11–12)

What a terrible way to motivate us, if the desire for that reward contaminates the motive for blessing the people. It’s not a bad motive. Now here’s the reason it’s not and the reason it’s love: Say you go to visit an older lady in the hospital who just had a heart attack. The phone call comes, and you’re having your play time with your little girl, and you think, “Shoot, I was hoping to have one evening alone with my little girl to finish playing house” — which is a new thing for me to learn after four boys, but that’s another story. But you get up and you say, “We’ll play some more tomorrow.”

And you head to the hospital, knowing that you’ve got some spiritual work to do in your heart here. And you’re doing it with Acts 20:35: “It’s more blessed to give. It’s more blessed to give. It’s more blessed to give.” And so you’ve persuaded yourself now, by the Holy Spirit. You’re on the right track. You’re doing the right thing. And it’s going to be satisfying to minister the grace of God in this situation, better than if you were at home, just having a restful evening with your little girl.

So you walk in to the hospital room and you see her. She’s got her eyes closed and you don’t know how she is. You put your arm on her arm. She opens her eyes, and she sees you. And she’s older. Now older people talk this way. She says, “Oh, Pastor, you’re so busy. You didn’t have to come.” And if you want to be loving, you don’t say, “I know I didn’t have to come, and I didn’t want to come either. But I’m a pastor, and it’s my duty to come, and so I’m here.” Now at that moment, your noble, heroic triumph over your disinclination to come would not make her feel especially loved.

But if you said, “Margaret, you know what? At first, I didn’t feel like coming. But on the way down here, I was preaching to myself that there’s nothing I’d rather do than pour grace that I’ve tasted into your life for healing and for sustaining grace, and so I’m really glad to be here.” How does she feel about that? She feels loved. And you’ve just spoken like an out-and-out hedonist: “I’m glad to be here.” She doesn’t say, “All you ever think about is what makes you glad. I want you to sacrifice some. Feel bad about being here. Then I’ll really feel loved.”

I think love delights to love. Isn’t that what it says in Micah 6:8? “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [or mercy], and to walk humbly with your God? Love mercy; love it. Love being merciful. Want to be merciful. Delight to get satisfaction from multiplying your joy in God by drawing her up into your joy in God. And if you don’t have a delight in God and you don’t want to maximize it with other people’s joy in God, you can’t love them, at least not with a God-centered love.

8. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

And so when all is said and done, and you’ve preached Christian Hedonism (or whatever word you want to use for it), and you’ve called people to seek their satisfaction in God and everything they do all the time — full bore, as passionate as they can be — if somebody raises the question, “I thought the glory of God was supposed to be central,” well, it is. Because he is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

And it’s real clear that when you are being driven by satisfaction in God, freed from all the vanities of the world, willing to let them go and die because you count God gain, he gets a lot of glory that way — not a little glory but a lot of glory.