Well ever since I was a little boy, with my dad praying over and over again when we gathered together in the evening as a family, I’ve struggled with what it means to glorify God, and how you go about it. And that’s what my life has been on this quest ever since then, and I want to reflect on that with you now tonight.
We all know 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That’s very, very crucial, because that’s absolutely sweeping. I wrote a little article for our church newsletter called “How to Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God,” because my guess is most people don’t reflect on that, but that is what Paul said. Is that not what he said? I mean, why did he choose the words “whatever you do,” and then groping for some practical illustration he said “whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” So pizza and Pepsi to the glory of God — if that’s possible. Which I do hope it is because every Tuesday night I go with our staff to Pizza Hut, and we eat pizza, and drink Pepsi to the glory of God. So you must reflect on these things: How do you do that?
Joy of It All
Now nobody told me in my growing up years that I can recall, what I have come to learn as absolutely essential to put dynamite under these words: that the ground of my pursuit of the glory of God is God’s pursuit of the glory of God. That I did not learn in my growing up years in Greenville, South Carolina, or in my home, though I think it was implicit in many of the things my father said about God, and the way he prayed to God. But that reality, in 1968 and ’69 began to revolutionize my thinking, and through that, my life. And so I’m going to talk about that tonight.
But let me step back a little bit, and tell you where I’m going, and how these next four talks sort of fit together. I presume one of the reasons I was asked here to talk about the theme enjoying God is because that’s been the theme of what I’ve preached and written now for these last twenty years or so. And the major statement of it is found in the book Desiring God, the subtitle of which is Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. I am a Christian Hedonist — at least I’m trying to grow into being one. And so I want to unpack for you the essence of this philosophy of life in these four messages called Christian Hedonism.
I had a little girl come up one time just very distressed that I was talking about Christian Heathenism, which is exactly what a lot of people think it is when I use the term, because they can’t imagine that there’s anything like Christian Hedonism. They think it’s health, wealth, and prosperity when I start talking about it — which it is absolutely not. In fact, it is designed intentionally to undermine the teaching of health, wealth, and prosperity. And if you don’t learn that until the end, then you haven’t heard what I’m saying, but only what your ears are hearing. And that’s what a lot of people do: they hear what they want to hear, and then criticize it the way they want to criticize it.
I am a Christian Hedonist, and I want to outline for you what that is in these days. I want to talk about the foundations of it tonight in God’s joy in God’s glory. And then tomorrow morning: my joy in God’s glory. And then tomorrow evening: my joy in your joy in God’s glory. And then in the last talk: How do you become and maintain a person with that kind of joy? So that’s the outline of the four talks.
Five Theses of Christian Hedonism
But let me step back and give you the five thesis of Christian Hedonism:
1. Everybody longs for happiness.
The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful. The longing to be happy is absolutely universal, and it is good, not sinful. It is no more wrong to want to be happy than it is to get hungry. The longing to be happy is to the soul what the growling of the stomach is to the body. It is neither good nor bad in a moral sense. It becomes good or bad by what you eat when your soul gets hungry, and everybody’s soul in this room is hungry. Whether you’re a good person or a bad person is not determined by whether you want to be happy. Everybody in this room wants to be happy. Goodness or badness emerges by where you find it.
2. We should not resist our desire for happiness.
We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad thing. Instead we should intensify that longing, and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and longest happiness. Don’t ever let anybody talk you into thinking that it is a moral virtue to deny or crucify or mortify your longing to be happy. If they succeed in persuading you of that, they will destroy all your worship and all your virtue. Rather, intensify it, cultivate it, nurture it, feed it, and do not be satisfied until you have found the fountain where the deepest and longest happiness is found.
3. God is the source of enduring happiness.
The deepest and most enduring happiness is found in God — and God alone. 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 don’t miss the adjective, or let’s just say: don’t miss the qualifiers. What kind of joy is in God’s presence? Fullness of joy. So there we’re talking about qualitative measure. How long are the pleasures? Forevermore.
That’s what I’m after. Don’t ever try to sell me eighty percent proof joy, and don’t every try to get me to be satisfied with joy that only lasts eight thousand years. I will not be content with 99 percent joy or nine thousand ages of joy — and then nothing or sadness. I want one hundred percent proof, and I want it to last forever, and I will not cease searching until I know where, and I’m answering with this point: I do know where. The Bible has taught me where, and it is in his presence, and at his right hand, and he is it.
4. My joy draws others in.
The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it expands to be shared with others, and draws them into it. In other words, my joy in God does not reach its consummation until it expands to delight in your joy in God. My philosophy of life and my quest for joy does not end Buddha-like, cross-legged under a certain kind of magical tree, absorbed in my own Nirvana while you go to hell, or starve to death.
There’s something about joy, both in God and in man, that dies if it does not expand. There is an expansive quality to joy, and our joy expands into the joy of other’s joy in God, which is why, as we’ll find out tomorrow, it is not idolatrous, and it is not a competition with God for me to say, or for Paul to write to the Thessalonians, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). Wait a minute; I thought it was God. There’s no contradiction there if you understand that the only way to love somebody is to pursue their joy in God, so that your joy in their joy in God will be made complete.
Read the first four verses of 1 John: “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). And the whole book is designed for their joy: “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He’s after their joy big time.
5. Pleasure is essential to worship and love in the Christian life.
This is the fifth and last thesis of Christian Hedonism. It’s a big conclusion drawn from the first four. Therefore, to the extent that you try to abandon the pursuit of your own pleasure, you will dishonor God and fail to love people. So over the next three messages, I have to demonstrate this: that if you try (and there are many ethicists and many pastors who are convincing you to try) to abandon your pursuit of pleasure, you will not be able to honor God, and you will not be able to love people.
Or let’s put it positively, and this relates to worship, which is what this conference is all about also: the pursuit of pleasure is an essential(you take it away, you don’t have this anymore) component of all authentic worship and all authentic love. The pursuit of pleasure is an essential component of all authentic worship and all authentic love.
That’s the summary of my philosophy of life called Christian Hedonism.
God’s Delight in God
Now tonight what I want to do is put a foundation under all that — namely, the foundation of God’s delight in God. God is passionately in the pursuit of his glory being manifested and enjoyed in the world, which is why worship is the goal of everything. But I had not seen clearly this tremendously important issues — now for me the foundation of everything — which is the fact that God is the most God-centered person in the universe. The person with the highest passion for God, and the greatest delight in God is God. The person who wants to glorify God most in the universe is God.
God is not an idolater. He does not put creation above God in the affections of his own heart. He does not put human beings above himself, manifest to himself eternally in the person of his eternally begotten Son. He does not put his creatures above his everlastingly begotten Son in the delight of his own heart. He has always taken, does now, and ever will, enjoy the glory of himself reflected back to him in the image of his Son, far above any delight that he takes in us. He’s not an idolater. He’s not unrighteous in that he would value something that is less valuable than the most valuable thing in the universe — namely, God. And until we get gripped by this truth — that God is radically God-centered — we will not understand the Bible as it ought to be understood. Because this is the theme of the Bible: God’s pursuit of the glory of God is the theme of the Bible. Everything else is subordinate to it.
The energy of the universe, of ultimate reality, is the energy of worship in the Godhead. I don’t know how you conceive of the Trinity, but I will give you just a glimpse of how I conceive of the Trinity here. The Trinity existed before you existed. The Trinity existed before the universe existed. The Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — is absolute reality; it was there forever. Little children ask the hardest questions don’t they?
- Where did God come from?
- How did God get to be good?
- Who helped God learn how to be generous?
There isn’t any answer to that question. There is no answer to the question, Where did God come from? Or, How did he get to be the way he is? How did he decide to be righteous before he was righteous? There was no “before he was righteous.” The Trinity is absolute reality. All other reality is derivative. I so struggle with knowing how to respond to people who say that things I can’t see are not real. That’s ultimate blasphemy. The real is God. Everything else is derivative. Everything is derivative and dependent on the reality, which always has been. This hasn’t always been. This is a Johnny-come-lately pulpit. This is a Johnny-come-lately creation: flesh, hair, coat, flower, these things came on the scene a mere ten or fifteen thousand years ago maybe. And that’s nothing — nothing. God has always been.
I just finished an article this afternoon. I had to run away and disappear from everybody, because I had a deadline for an article I was working on for my denominational magazine on the knowledge of Christ, the glory of the knowledge of Christ. And my concluding paragraph said, “The way to know the infinite, glorious knowledge of Christ the Son of God is that he knows God. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). The Son knows the Father. The Father is infinite. The universe, with its billions of galaxies, is a toy on the floor of heaven. The Father is all. The Son knows the Father, which means his knowledge is absolutely infinite. If you knew everything there was to know about the universe both its subatomic dimensions, and its galactic dimensions, you would know child’s play — ABC’s is what you would know compared to what Jesus knows, because he knows God.
God’s Love in Me
Now the Trinity, therefore, has always existed, and the Father has always known himself standing forth perfectly in the image of himself in the Son. The Son is all that the Father is standing forth for the Father to enjoy. And the Father has enjoyed the fellowship of the Son, and the Son has enjoyed the fellowship of the Father everlastingly, never having a beginning. And the Holy Spirit is the person who stands forth as the enjoyment and the love between the Father and the Son. Which is why, in Romans 5:5, when it says that the love of God has been poured out into our hearts it says “through the Holy Spirit.” If you press it all the way to the limit and survey the whole of Scripture, what you will find is that the Holy Spirit is the love of God — namely, the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father. And when the Holy Spirit is poured out in your life, what you are enabled to do is, by the person of the Holy Spirit embodying the love of the Son for the Father and the love of the Father for the Son, you are enabled — this will come true fully someday — you are enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to love the Father and the Son with the love of the Father and the Son.
And if right now you are frustrated that you can’t love God as you ought, take heart because in John 17:24 Jesus prays that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Someday the full — at least as full as a creature’s heart can take it — the love of the Trinity will become my love for the Trinity, and then I will be infinitely happy.
Justice of God
So what I want to show you tonight from the Scriptures is God’s zeal for the glory of God. Now here’s one more reason why this is so important, before I turn to the texts. We live — in both Canada and in the US — in a milieu that is absolutely man-centered to the core. In church, and out of church, we are a man-saturated culture, and everybody in this room is utterly infected with it. I’m infected with it and you’re infected with it, so that we can scarcely see straight when we read the Bible. We can scarcely interpret the cross, for example, the way the cross was meant to be interpreted according to Romans 3:25–26, as a vindication of the glory of God and the upholding of the righteousness of God. The cross is all about God and his love for the glory of God in the salvation of absolutely unworthy sinners. That he might be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.
Will he be just? Whether he is just is the crucial issue of the cross. If he didn’t have to be just, he wouldn’t need a cross; he could just let bygones be bygones, sweep all of our sin under the rug, and say, “Alright, we’ll call it even-Steven, and now you’re saved.” But he is massively concerned with his justice — so much so that he killed his Son to be just. It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). It wasn’t Roman soldiers that killed Jesus. It wasn’t Pilate that killed Jesus. It wasn’t Herod that killed Jesus. It wasn’t the crowds crying, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Who killed Jesus? His Father killed him. It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief. Why? Because he loves his glory so much that he put forth his Son to be a demonstration of his own righteousness.
Had he not put Jesus forward as a demonstration of his righteousness, and just passed over sins done beforehand, the whole universe would have cried out, “Impeach the King of the universe.” Because it’s absolutely unjust to say to David after the rape of Bathsheba, and the killing of Uriah, “Not guilty.” Which is what God said through Nathan. “You are the man.” And David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan says, “The Lord has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). Put yourself in Bathsheba’s father’s position at that moment: “Just like that, huh? Just like that. He rapes my daughter, he kills my son-in-law, and you just say, ‘I forgive you’?” Any judge who does that in Hennepin County is impeached.
That’s why there had to be a cross. God would be impeached as the judge of the universe without the cross of Christ, and he would be removed from office. There was a crisis in heaven when your sins were forgiven. And we are so man-centered we don’t lose any sleep over that crisis at all. We think we should be forgiven; that’s the way God is: He forgives sins. He’s nice. God is not nice. Blood was shed of the most precious, perfect being in the universe, so that God would not be impeached for forgiving your sin. How in the world is Canada going to understand that with man-centered preaching? It isn’t going to happen. That’s why the gospel isn’t known by many, many people — even people in church.
Passion for His Glory
I want to show you that God is passionately concerned for the glory of God, and thus provides a foundation for my being passionately concerned for the glory of God. Let me take you on a survey of redemptive history that shows, at the high points of redemptive history, God’s passion for his glory. And I’ll just give you the survey. This is in at least three of the books that I’ve written, and let me just make some comments as I go along.
Chosen for Glory
God chose you, saints, for his glory. Ephesians 1:4–6 says,
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.
So if you read the grammar carefully — he chose us, he predestined us — unto what end? What purpose? Unto the praise of the glory of his grace. You were chosen for the glory of God’s grace. That’s why you were chosen. It’s all about praising the grace of God.
Created for Glory
Then you were created for the glory of God after you were chosen for the glory of God. Isaiah 43:6–7:
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
If you have any teenagers in your house who wonder why they exist, take them to Isaiah 43:7, and at least give them something they can reject. They can cluck their tongues at it perhaps, but they may not ever forget it if you say, “Abraham, Carson, Benjamin, Barnabas, Talitha, I know why you were born, and I know why you were created. You were created to magnify the glory of God, and there is nobody like you, and you are a prism for the refracting of that glory in all the world. If you fail, he will have to get the glory by killing you, and giving you torment in hell forever. If you succeed, you will forever, and ever, and ever, refract the light of the glory of God with colors that nobody else can refract, and that will be your life. You exist to magnify the glory of God.”
And there are blasphemous ways to magnify and worshipful ways to magnify, just as there are microscopes that magnify and telescopes that magnify. And if you think of magnifying God like a microscope magnifies, you blaspheme. Because microscopes are designed to make teeny-weeny little things look very big, which is blasphemy if you try to relate to God that way. “Poor, teeny-weeny little God, I will make him look bigger than he is, like a paramecium.” Whereas if you conceive of the magnifying of God the way a telescope magnifies, you will worship, and you will cause others to worship, because the function of a telescope is to take an absolutely gargantuan thing like Eta Carinae — have you been reading about this misbehaving star up here recently? The star that nobody can figure out, this two-headed star. They can’t decide whether it’s one or two, and it’s so big, it’s five million times brighter than the sun. And they’ve seen it with the Hubble Telescope now. The point of telescopes is to make Eta Carinae, which looks like a little teeny speck, look like what it really is. That’s the way you magnify God.
Now that’s a weighty calling, but that’s why you’re here. You exist to be a telescope for the distant infinite star God, Jehovah, so that all these blind people in the world who are looking into the night sky, and considering a cloud of money, or sex, or success as big, and saying, “Look at that cloud; it fills the sky. Whoa, I’ll live for that.” Do you know how big a cloud is compared to Eta Carinae? A thimble to the Pacific Ocean would be an understatement. Your job is to get people to fall out of love with the clouds, and in love with Eta Carinae God. You were created for the glory of God (Isaiah 43:7).
Delivered for Glory
Israel was called to be God’s people for the glory of God.” Jeremiah 13:11 says,
I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.
Israel was chosen to be for God a glorious garment. Why did God rescue them from Egypt? Why? Psalm 106:7 –8 says,
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
Have you ever asked why God chose to deliver the people of Israel with ten plagues instead of one plague? Why is he so inefficient? He could have started with the death angel. Why flies? Why frogs? Why dust? Why darkness? Why? At the risk of disrespect, I will say it’s because he’s a showoff. Because that’s what Exodus 14 says he is, and so does Romans 9:17. To Pharaoh God says,
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)
God is not content with one demonstration of power, or two demonstrations of power, or three demonstrations of power. He’s going to round it off with ten demonstrations of power. And just to give you a little foretaste of where we’re heading, Rahab got saved because of that reputation. Therefore, God’s pursuit of his glory is not at odds with his pursuit of a prostitute’s salvation. Any prostitutes in the room? Any people with horrible sins in your background? And you’re shaking because if God is in the pursuit of his own glory, then you have utterly scorned his glory through your misbehavior that he’s going to crush you? Take heart, he didn’t crush Rahab. He saved Rahab, harlot though she be. And she said, “It’s because I heard of the reputation, and what you did to Pharaoh, and I tremble at not fearing the living God.” He saved her by his reputation.
Spared for Glory
He spared Israel again and again in the wilderness for his glory. Listen to Ezekiel 20:14:
But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.
He conquered Canaan for the sake of his name, and brought his people in. Second Samuel 7:23 says,
And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?
Here’s a beautiful one. Do you remember the time when they asked for a king? We want a king so we can be like the other nations. He had given them judges for a season, and now they come along and say, “We want a king.” And it was a great sin to want a king to be like the other nations because God was their king. And Samuel made it very clear to them, and there was rain, and there was thunder, and there was lightning, and the people trembled that they had chosen a human to be their king, and they cried out for fear.
And here’s what Samuel said to them in 1 Samuel 12:20: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.” Now stop right there; that’s a very strange sentence. Surely that’s not the right words. It’s supposed to say, “Fear; you have done all this evil.” That’s logic. But it says, “Fear not; you have done all this evil.” That’s gospel. This is Old Testament gospel. “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.” Now what’s that based on? What do you base such gospel preaching on? I’ll read the rest of it.
And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. (1 Samuel 12:21–22)
The foundation of the gospel is God’s commitment to God, which is why so many people’s gospel doesn’t stand on a very solid foundation; it’s so fragile. There are so many fragile Christians in the world. A little adversity blows and they say, “O God, where are you?” Because they’ve never learned the massive commitment of God to God underneath the gospel, and in all the providences of the world. They’ve never been willing to bow before that kind of God, and therefore, when they come into crisis, they put God in the dock immediately, and call him to account. They become the judge. He becomes the judged.
“Where were you when my mother was killed in 1974?” I never said that. I’m very sympathetic with people who do say that. I may sound tough. I’m a real pansy when it comes to pastoral care. Just ask my people. Don’t worry; I really do pastor a church. I find it easy to cry at funerals. I find it easy to cry when that box is there, and the family is right there where you guys are. And I try to look at them, and say to a husband, for example — who is healthy, strong, able to love a wife in every way — that God reigns. God reigns. Underneath this kind of pastoral care is a massive God-centered God.
Coming and Returning for Glory
Let me jump over to the New Testament. I’ll pass over a lot of these texts. There are just dozens and dozens of them that I could read you. Let’s go to Jesus and let him say a word or two about this. Here’s Jesus at Gethsemane. Here he comes to the hardest hour of his life, and he says in John 12:27–28,
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
“Your life Son has been one great echo of my excellence, and as you go to the cross tomorrow, glory is going to be restored. All the injured glory done by the elect, by their sins, will be repaired and restored, and the whole universe will have to cry out if they have eyes to see.” Oh, how infinitely valuable is the glory of God, because in order to repair it, and restore it, look what he was willing to pay.
It is an inversion of the gospel to picture yourself as a diamond in the rough, worth the death of the Son of God, which is evangelical, standard doctrine today: “How valuable I must be! Look what he paid for me.” That puts grace on its head. He died for unworthy sinners, all who deserved to burn in hell justly forever in order that his glorious grace might be reflected in your life. And he did it at the price of his Son in order to repair the glory that your whole life of sinning has done to injure that glory. In your sharing the gospel, have you ever focused on the second half of Romans 3:23? And I’ll start there, or at least that’s the second step. God is a holy God. Second step: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What does that mean? Why is that an issue? Why is glory stirred into sin? It’s because sin is all about glory.
Sin is the trampling of glory. Sin is the exchange of glory for something else. Sin is a lack of delighting in glory, a lack of valuing in glory, a lack of worshiping glory, a lack of obeying 1 Corinthians 10:31. It’s all about glory: Sin is about glory. The cross is about glory. Sanctification is about glory. Glorification is about glory. From beginning to end, the universe is about the glory of God. Well he’s coming back someday. Why is he coming? Second Thessalonians 1:9–10 says,
Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed
That’s why he’s coming: He’s coming to be glorified. He’s coming to be marveled at. Now those are just a few of the peaks of redemptive history to show that God is passionate for the glory of God. And underneath his command for you to pursue the glory of God, whether you eat, or drink Pepsi and pop and orange juice, or whether you sleep, or whether you have sex, or whether you make meals, or whether you lay brick, or hammer nails, or computers, or whatever — all that to the glory of God. Underneath that, holding that duty of yours, is God’s massive delight in the glory of God.
Our Joy in His Glory
I have spent the last twenty years thinking about this issue, and these things, and I have spoken about this dozens and dozens of times, and the question that comes back most often in regard to what I’ve said is that this does not sound very loving of him: to be so consumed with his own glory. In fact, does it not say in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love seeks not its own”? And you just spent the all that time trying to persuade us that God, in everything he does, pursues his own glory. So how can that possibly be loving? We’ve got a megalomaniac at the center of the universe. He’s on an ego trip
Praise and Glory
That’s a very important question. And a simplistic answer to that question keeps many people from becoming Christians, and from being deep, profound Christians. There is an answer to that question, and so I want to spend the last few minutes giving it to you. I got help in it from C.S. Lewis, a lot of help, as I was wrestling with this. Crucial insights were coming to me in the fall of ’68, ’69, early ’70, as I was crying over these things, and losing sleep over these things, and my whole world was being shattered by Dan Fuller, and Jonathan Edwards, and C.S. Lewis, and all my categories were being bent out of shape, and blown to pieces. And when that happens you stay awake at night, and you tremble, and you wonder if you’ve been a Christian, and you cry with your face in your hands, and your elbows on either side of the Bible — those seasons of life are very important, very important; don’t run from them, or you’ll just be stuck where you are. You’ll never grow. And 2 Peter 3:18 says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Don’t stay where you are; grow. So if you see trembling coming, don’t resist it; embrace it.
Well I picked up a book from C.S. Lewis, a couple of books. One was The Weight of Glory, and the other was Reflections On the Psalms. Here’s the issue that Lewis helped me with: Lewis, before he was Christian, was being convicted, was reading his Bible, and was struggling with Almighty God, because he knew he had longings in his soul, and he didn’t know where they could be satisfied, and he thought maybe God. And so he began to read, and as he read all the demands for praise in the Bible, it seemed selfish to him. “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” This is God’s word here. So he said it struck him like a vain woman asking for compliments. “Praise me! Praise me! Praise me!” And he had a tremendous stumbling block. Why would God go around telling people to praise him? It doesn’t sound humble. It doesn’t sound loving. It sounds like he’s got a defective view of self, so that he has to have reinforcements all the time coming from his creatures. So let me read what he discovered. He said,
But the most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole, more general difficulty, about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (Reflections on the Psalms, 93–95)
What’s Best for Us
That makes the wheels start turning doesn’t it? So if God is a loving God, what must he give us? Answer: the best — the best for us. What would be best for us? That’s what he must give us if he’s loving. If he’s infinitely loving, give us the best. And what’s the best? Answer: God is best. So if God loves you infinitely, he must give you himself to enjoy. Now this sounds very vain. If I were to say to you, “What’s the best thing I could give you to enjoy?” “Me — take me.” That would be absolutely vain for one simple reason: If I love you, I will point you to what’s best for you. If God loves you, he will do the same. He’s just stuck with being the best. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act. You may not imitate him in this. Adam and Eve tried, and that’s been our problem ever since. God is the one being in the universe for whom 1 Corinthians 13:5 does not work: “Love seeks not its own.” If God were to cease seeking to uphold his glory and his its infinite worth, he would cease being committed to that which is your infinite joy — and thus he would become unloving.
So go back to C.S. Lewis for a minute. I asked the question, “What must God do for you if he loves you infinitely?” Answer: he must give you what’s best for you. What’s best for you? God is best for you. What does Lewis teach us in this quote that we do when we receive what is best for us? Answer: we praise it. When you walk out after a long spring of rain — I heard you had a lot of rain out here this spring, too cold, too rainy. So what if you got tomorrow a day where it’s 68 degrees, no humidity, with glorious sunshine? Would you not, as you walked out, say something? You might say, “Look at this day.” If you were with somebody, “Look at this. This is quite a day. This is a glorious day. The heavens are telling the glory of God today.” You praise it. And if somebody were to say, “You can have full enjoyment in this day, but you can’t say anything about it.” Your joy would be incomplete, and therefore, God must not only pursue your delight in him, he must pursue your praise of him, because that’s the consummation of your delight in him.
God has to be God; I am not God. I don’t go around seeking people to praise me. If I did, I would cease to be a preacher of the cross. That’s exactly what Paul said in Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I don’t expect this message to win everybody’s approval; I expect people to be offended by a God-centered God. But I expect, since I’m talking to saints here, that the Holy Spirit is wildly at work in this room, awakening you to the truth of these things, and making you to delight in God’s delight in your delight in him. If God ceased to pursue his own delight in his own glory, he would cease to pursue your delight in his glory. And if he ceased to pursue your delight in glory, he would be cruel and not loving.
Satisfaction in His Honor
So here’s the summary statement we shall to unpack for the rest of our time together. This summarizes all of my theology. I believe it’s a summary of biblical theology, though much more would need to be said: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, so that God’s pursuit of his glory, and your pursuit of satisfaction are not at odds.
This is the gospel to me. This is the best news that John Piper, at age 21 or 22 heard in 1968, because I knew two things: (1) from my soul I knew I want to be happy; I want to be satisfied, (2) from the Bible I knew God intends to be glorified. And if I thought today that these two things were alternatives, I would quit the ministry, and eat, drink, and be merry, for there is no satisfaction eternally, or there is no glorious God eternally. But the good news is God has so designed the world that his glory shines most brightly in your delight in his glory. Therefore God is as passionate about your happiness in God as he is passionate about his glory.
I brought a book along by Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was a great theologian, and great preacher, and when he was twenty years old preached a sermon called, “Nothing upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven.” If you wonder where my theology is coming from, I will tip my entire hand now. I have not said one original word tonight.
This glory of God, therefore, consists in the creature’s admiring, rejoicing, and exulting in the manifestation of his beauty and excellency.
That’s a long sentence to say: his glory consists in your joy and his glory. Next sentence:
For God has no glory actively from those that behold his glory and take no pleasure in it. But the essence of glorifying God consists, therefore, in the creature’s rejoicing in God’s manifestation of his beauty, which is the joy and happiness we speak of.
So here’s the question raised for tomorrow morning, if I can entice some of you to come back: If this is so, that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, your highest obligation and duty is to pursue joy with all your might, and never swerve from the path of that pursuit.