God’s Passion for Others’ Joy

Engage 2011

Katoomba, Australia

Let me set the stage for where we’re going in this last message.

Displaying the Perfections of God

The first and big point has been that God is God, and he displays his Godness as the main point of the universe. He does everything he does, from creation to consummation, indeed, before creation and after the Second Coming, in order to make much of himself — to continually lift up his beauty, lift up his excellence, and lift up his power and all of his attributes.

That’s good news because we were made in his image to enjoy him. His love for us is most ultimately the gift of himself. You have texts like 1 Peter 3:18, which says:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God …

What was Christ doing in loving us on the cross? He was dying in our place. Why? That he might bring us to God because that’s eternal life. That’s joy. That’s satisfaction. That’s what we’re made for. The reason you can stand on the cliff and feel insignificant and alive and satisfied is that you weren’t made to be big, you were made to know big, see big, love big, and be satisfied by big, and your heart expands as you get near to God or near to some pointer to God. Your heart expands, and as your heart expands to draw it in, you feel, “That’s what I’m made for.” And you can just forget about the little old me.

The Bottom of Our Joy

Joshua and I, who’s traveling with me, were talking in the lobby of the hotel down in Sydney the other night and we pictured Jesus coming and sitting down beside us and saying to us, “I really love you guys and I’d like to spend the evening with you. Would that be okay? I will be doing a few things. I’ll do my own thing. You don’t have to worry about me.” We would hear the words “I love you.” Now, we could spend the whole evening saying, “He loves us. He loves us. Look at this. He loves us,” and we could just talk about that all night and never look at him.

We could do that. We could let our joy terminate on our being loved, which is what millions of evangelicals do around the world. All they talk about is love. We sing about it, but what is it? What is it to be loved? My answer is to be so accepted, so forgiven, so justified, so reconciled, and so transformed that I can now forget about little old me and watch him all night. He’s picking up little children, he’s touching lepers, he’s making bread out of a loaf to feed 5,000, and he’s walking on water. I’m spending all night long saying, “Just look at that. That’s amazing. You’re amazing.” That’s what I want to do all night long. I want my focus to be on, “You are amazing,” not, “Oh, look, I’m loved. I’m loved. Woohoo, I’m loved. I must be something.” What a sad way to spend the evening with Jesus.

Do you see the difference? It is so different — whether you are still in the self-mode that you are the bottom of your joy or whether Christ has become the bottom of your joy and his love for you is not to make much of you ultimately but to enable you to enjoy making much of him forever.

That’s where we were this morning. The implication of that is that God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied to him, so you should pursue your joy in him 24/7 until the day you’re dead and then forever also. Never, ever, ever stop trying to maximize your joy in God. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” You can’t get fuller than full. You can’t get longer than forever. There isn’t anything better than God. It can’t get any better.

Therefore, as in the second message, set your soul to pursue that with all your heart because when you do that, when you treasure him like that, you make him look really good. Whatever else you treasure beside him, you make that look good, just like the rose story was a still illustration horizontally of what is true vertically.

Is Joy Essential for Love?

Now here’s tonight’s question and then I’ll tell you the point. The question, it seems, someone could raise is, “Piper, if you persuade people to go after their pleasure all the time, you’re going to produce a really introverted, ingrown, indifferent kind of church, and they will think the world can just go to hell in a handbasket as far as they’re concerned because they’ve got their God and they’ve got their satisfaction. They can cross their legs under a tree and be happy until he comes. Who cares about the suffering and the injustices and the horrors of the world?”

That would be a good question to ask, really good. My answer to it is, “No, it does not produce that kind of church. The reason it doesn’t is that love is not just going to flow from, but I’m going to argue is going to be thrust out from, hearts that are satisfied in God. Tonight’s thesis is that you not only should love people out of the satisfaction you have in God but that you can’t love people if you don’t pursue your fullest satisfaction in God, which sounds counterintuitive like I said last night. Unless you pursue your joy in God to the fullest, you can’t be a loving person for others. That’s tonight’s point. To make that point, we’re going to spend all of our time in the Bible.

The text that was just read is the most important on this point. If you have a Bible, you can go there with me. Otherwise, listen carefully to 2 Corinthians 8:1–4. We’ll read the first verses and then jump down and pick up 2 Corinthians 8:8 because of a word in verse 8 that we need to make sense of what’s going on in the first part. Here’s what I’m looking for, and I know it’s here — that’s why I’m preaching on it. But once upon a time, I was looking in the Bible to see what love is, because if I can’t show you that the last two messages last night and this morning produce love for people — hurting people, unlovely people, suffering people, people who are being treated unjustly, cantankerous people — you probably should conclude something is defective.

You should think, “Something is defective in what he’s told us. It sounded right, but if it doesn’t produce love for people it’s defective.” And you know that’s right because Paul said very plainly in 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Paul is aiming at love. It is the more excellent way, as he says in 1 Corinthians 13:1–2:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love…I am nothing.

All of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks about this, so you have got a litmus test for this teaching. If put it in the Piper teaching to see and pull it out like love litmus paper, and say, “There’s no love for people,” you should just say, “Something’s wrong.”

The Logic of Sacrificial Love

Before I drive back to the airport tonight and get on a plane tomorrow morning, I must give an account of why I think if God really applies the last two messages to your heart, you will become an unusually risky, sacrificial, generous, outgoing person for others and the world will wonder, “Where’d that come from?” And then, you can talk about it.

Here we are at 2 Corinthians 8:1–3. Here’s the setting. You need to know this. Achaia is the lower part of Greece where Corinth and Athens are and Macedonia are. It’s also in the northern part of the Peninsula where Philippi and Thessalonica are. Paul has been there and he’s writing to the people down here — to the Corinthians. That’s why it’s called Corinthians.

He’s writing to them and he’s telling them that he’s going to come and he’s going to take up an offering, and the offering is for the poor in Jerusalem. All of 2 Corinthians 8–9 is a motivation to get this offering to be as big as it can be. One of the ways he motivates them to give is by telling the story of what happened in Macedonia — that’s Philippi and the other churches. That’s the situation, and here’s what happened in Macedonia. I want to know what love is and where it comes from, so see if you can see love here. Second Corinthians 8:1–3 says:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that was given among the churches of Macedonia …

The first thing he says happened up there in Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea and those churches up in the northern part is that the grace of God came powerfully. Now, what did it do when it came? He continues:

For in a severe test of affliction …

So when grace came, affliction came with it. According to Acts 14:22, Paul was going around saying, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.” Paul taught that everywhere. Discipleship 101 was, “If you believe in Jesus things will get worse.” If you’re discipling anybody, that should be near the front end of your story. In fact, it should probably be before conversion because Jesus said to those who wanted to follow him, “Count the cost. You shouldn’t even start building a tower if you don’t think you can finish it” (Luke 14:28–30).

Great Grace and Continuous Poverty

Second Corinthians 8:1–4 continues:

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

Now we have, on the front side of this abundant joy, affliction, and on the back side of this abundant joy, poverty. When grace came down, affliction went up and poverty didn’t go away. This is one of the reasons I think the prosperity gospel is a mistake. Christ is not honored if you make him the butler that brings Christians the same gifts that the world gets happy about. You just have a different butler bringing the meal. The thought would be, “We’ll give you a meal of prosperity, and the world gets a meal of prosperity. They’re both happy. Jesus gives it to you, and hard work gives it to them. That’s the difference.” I think that’s blasphemy.

Jesus doesn’t bring us, by his grace, the same meal that the world enjoys. If you buy into a religion that is selling Jesus as a means to be happy on the basis of the same things that make the world happy, you’re buying into another religion. There is a new ground of your happiness in Christianity; it’s called Jesus, whether you die or live, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re afflicted or not. You can see why I hate the prosperity gospel. That was a parenthesis, but here it is.

Joy in the Holy Spirit

Grace came in 2 Corinthians 8:1 along with a test of affliction, while abundant joy rose up and extreme poverty didn’t go away. The result of this abundance of joy sandwiched between affliction and poverty is that it overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

This is an amazing story. This is what I want to be like and I want you to be like. The world cannot account for this crazy behavior. They would think, “Afflictions are increasing, so why would you want to believe in him then? Poverty is not going away, so why would you want to believe in him then?” Abundant joy is rising, which must mean that joy isn’t in the absence of affliction and the absence of poverty. It must be from somewhere else. Where is it then? Grace. God’s grace came down and what did it give? It gave God. It gave the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It gave a revelation of the Son of God. It gave, to that end, forgiveness of sins, justification, the removal of wrath, reconciliation with God, friendship with the Almighty, and the hope of eternal life.

Yes, we’re going to have affliction, and yes, we may still have poverty, but look what we have. Look at this treasure. There’s the joy. That’s Christianity. That’s a really good message for the whole world, whether it’s rich Australia, poor Afghanistan, or pick your poor country. I don’t think rich Americans should go to poor countries and promise them gold rings and lots of cars, and tell them, “Your wife will never miscarry. Your pigs will never die. You won’t ever get malaria. Just come up and believe and give me lots of money so I can go home and have a TV ministry.” I think we should go and preach like this and tell them affliction may come and it could get worse. That is certainly the case in the Muslim world, and in the poorer countries, maybe your poverty will remain for a generation or two.

The Relief of the Saints

Second Corinthians 8:3–4 continues:

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

In other words, they’re poor, they’re afflicted, and they’re thrilled, and they beg, “Please take another offering from us. Please pass the plate again so that we can give more to the poor in Jerusalem because we have to love given how happy in God we are, given what God has given us in himself. We cannot not love.”

From Where Does Love Come?

Now the reason I’m using the word love — and I don’t want to import it here and say, “This is love,” without any textual warrant — is 2 Corinthians 3:8, where Paul says, “I say this not as a command.” In other words, he is saying, “I’m not trying to twist your arm and use apostolic force to get you to be generous, but here’s the way I want it to work…” And then the passage continues:

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others (namely, those Macedonians that I’ve just described to you) that your love also is genuine.

Now I’ve got the word love. When he says, “Your love also,” he means their love, now your love, their love, now your love. Now I have a textual warrant for calling 2 Corinthians 8:1–3 love. It is.

If this were a classroom, I would require that give me a definition of loving people on the basis of 2 Corinthians 8:1–3 and 2 Corinthians 8:8. I would have you answer, “What is love on the basis of these verses?” and then write it down. Here’s mine. I’ll give you two, maybe. One is simple and the other is more complex. The simple one goes like this: Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. I hope you can just see that’s read right off these verses. There’s nothing complicated about that at all. It’s straight out of the verses because even the word overflow is right there in 2 Corinthians 8:2, which says, “Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…”

They’re poor and they hear the story about how there are some really needy saints down there, and someone says, “Would you want to share to relieve some of that need?” And they say, “Oh, yes, we would.” And that “yes, we would,” along with the giving, is the overflow of something. What is it an overflow of? Joy. This is joy, and it is called love in 2 Corinthians 8:8. Therefore, my definition is that love — this sense of, “I want to help you, and I don’t like the stories I’m hearing about how horrible it is in Jerusalem” — is the overflow of joy in God and his grace from 2 Corinthians 8:1. That’s my definition of love. Love is the overflow of joy in God, which now defends, supports, and explains the thesis of tonight that you cannot love people if you don’t pursue your fullest joy in God.

More Than Meeting Needs

If you come to this text and say, “All that matters is giving money to the poor, period. That’s love,” I would say, “Well, you can say that but that’s just not in the text,” and we’ll get to see a lot more texts that show you God would not be impressed if you did not give out of the overflow of joy in him. Man probably has become your God at that point, or the approval of others, or some other human motive that has nothing to do with your satisfaction in the all-sufficient God.

The other definition that I said was a little more complicated is this, and the reason I came up with it is that the word overflow, even though it’s used right here in the Bible, could sound a little bit too passive, as if it’s just easy or it just bubbles over. There is sacrifice and risk, as the lyrics of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God say:

Let goods and kindred go,
     this mortal life also;
The body they may kill,
     God’s truth abideth still.

That could sound easy if you think it’s just like filling up a cup and it just rolls over. We all know that’s not the way we experience love, especially painful love, and doing good people who don’t like you and hurt you again and again. I’ll use some different language here for this definition: Love is the expansion of my joy in God into the lives of others, so as to include them in it. Now I’m choosing that word expansion because there’s a kind of pushing behind it in your heart, your will, and your mind; you’re pushing it somewhere.

The reason they were giving to the poor in Jerusalem is that they were hearing about the poor in Jerusalem and how their lives were threatened and their faith is threatened, and they wanted to encourage them and help them at spiritual levels and physical levels. They were giving because of the joy they had, and they were pushing that joy through money towards them. Maybe they wrote some really wonderful little notes to go with it about God, and they said things like, “Hang in there. We love you,” and they sent the notes, and they were pushing it because their goal was for their joy to go there, and to reach and get their arms around the saints in Jerusalem and pull them in because when our joy expands to get somebody else in it, it’s bigger.

Pursuing Greater Joy in God

I’m a hedonist. I’m always after bigger joy, always — bigger joy in God. The reason this is not compromising that pursuit is that the joy I want for them is joy in God. I get in these arguments with people at my church, not so much anymore, but there was a season when they would say things like, “John, if I go to build a well in a place that has only filthy water and people are getting eye diseases and dysentery from it, and I go there and provide that water, I have loved them well, whether they believe or not,” and I say, “That’s true. I’m not saying your practical expressions of love will convert them; what I’m saying is that the pressure from your soul is for that. If you are not pushing out from your joy in God to draw a community of diseased people into your joy in God, you’re not loving them.” If your attitude is, “I don’t care how much disease is healed. Let them go to hell,” that’s not love.

We had a lot of arguments there. Now, did you get it straight? I am not saying that you must succeed in converting people. You may spend five years there or a lifetime and not succeed in including them in your joy. But I’m saying that’s your passion. That’s your goal. If you don’t care that others be drawn into your joy in God, you probably don’t have any. Because you know it is so good, to not care that they have it is to not love them. I really do not like all the stress on social action and social engagement that does not care about people’s salvation. I think it is worldly, demonic, and hypocritical.

If you know God, if you have experienced 2 Corinthians 8:2, where affliction increased, poverty didn’t go away, grace came down, and joy came up, and you’re going to send money to the poor in Jerusalem, you want that money to be a big expansion of your joy to get around them and draw them into it. It will grieve you if they go to hell, if they never taste what you’ve tasted in the forgiveness of sins, justification, eternal life, reconciliation with God, and joy that is full and forever in his presence. If you would say, “Yeah, but I love them because I gave them water or food,” I would say, “Baloney; you didn’t love them if your heart is not going after their everlasting joy with you.”

So my answer to what love is from this text is one of the two definitions I gave. The first one is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. I think that is perfectly biblical, right out of 2 Corinthians 8:1–2. And you can also say that love is the costly, grace-enabled expansion of our joy through all kinds of practical ways where people need help in order to get our love and our joy around them so that they’re drawn into it. Because when they experience joy in God and I experience their joy in God, my joy in God gets bigger, and I’m a hedonist and I want maximum joy in God. The more people I can draw into my joy in God, the bigger mine gets.

Building the Case for Joy and Love

I could just quit now and say, “Okay, I made my case.” And I think I have, but I don’t think it works that way. I think God maybe gets you started in the first 15 minutes and then some other texts just might do it for you, so we’re going to just keep going with other texts.

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

Go over to the other page to 2 Corinthians 9:6–7, and let’s just confirm that we’re on the right track. Sometimes, I think it’s easy to overinterpret a text, and the way to test whether you’ve overinterpreted a text or not — that is, drawn more out of it than is actually there — is to see whether what you just got out of it is in the nearby vicinity, and maybe said in some other ways. In this passage, he’s still trying to motivate giving. Paul says:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly (Paul is collecting money to go down to give it to the poor), and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion …

In other words, this is not twisting their arm just like Paul said back in 2 Corinthians 8:8. They gave out of their own free will; that is, without any external pressure or constraint of any artificial kind. He is just trying to awaken something inside of them that would make them give joyfully. He continues in 2 Corinthians 9:7:

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

God loves a cheerful giver. You shouldn’t buy into an ethical theory that says that it’s only the giving that counts, and the cheer is ethically irrelevant, or that it’s only nice to like what you do but that to find joy in giving to the poor is not not ethically essential. I say to that comment, “You’re sinning because God says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, ‘God loves a cheerful giver,’ and you are saying back, ‘I think you can be indifferent to what God finds as worthy of love.’” I just think that’s sin. That’s the definition of sin, to say to God, “You may love cheerful givers, but we’re just going to give. We don’t care that you love cheerful givers. We won’t pursue what you prefer.” I call that sin. That’s the definition of sin.

An Impossible Calling

I would say on the basis of 2 Corinthians 9:7 that you don’t have any option. You must be happy in your giving, which just takes me right back to 2 Corinthians 8:2. How does it happen? It happens because grace showed up in Macedonia — God’s almighty grace. Joy isn’t something you can make happen. This is why Christianity is a miracle, and that’s why you should feel desperate if you’re not happy in generosity right now because you can’t make that happen. People will say, “You’re telling me to do something I can’t control,” and I say, “Absolutely. I’m telling you to do something you can’t control. You must be born again. You must have the Holy Spirit. Miracles must happen in our lives. Every morning a miracle has to happen in my life. The Christian life can’t be lived except by the power of Almighty God.”

These texts are calling on us to experience things we cannot control. You can’t turn on and off the happiness of your life. You can’t turn on and off cheerfulness in giving. If you want an iPad more than you want to give your tithe, you can’t push a button and like tithing. It’s a miracle, so what you do is say, “Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so out of sync with your heart this morning when I should be loving to give, to support this ministry. I love this church. Here I’m just craving this toy over here so much that I don’t want to give my $25 or $50. It would be just so right to give. I’m sorry. Restore to me the joy of my generosity, oh God, and release me from this bondage to the love of stuff.”

That’s the way you live your Christian life. You can’t make it happen and hopefully, God will show up, either before the plate gets there or while you’re writing the check. Second Corinthians 9:7: “God loves a cheerful giver.”

A Mixture of Sorrow and Joy

Before I go to another set of texts, let me make sure I insert something I wrote down here, lest I be misunderstood. I’m not saying that cheerfulness (2 Corinthians 9:7), or joy (2 Corinthians 8:2) — and you can use in other words like contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or happiness — doesn’t mean a kind of experience that is incompatible with sorrow and pain. Rather, sorrow and pain and this kind of joy exist together in one soul at the same time, often. I’m talking about a spiritual joy produced by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc (Gal 5:22). This is not something we produce. This is something God produces. It’s a kind of miracle.

It coexists with affliction, at the front of 2 Corinthians 8:1–3, and poverty at the back of the passage. It’s not rooted in those things; it’s rooted in God. That’s why it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. You can’t make it be rooted in God. The Spirit roots it in God.

Giving Thanks in All Things

Here are some texts that make that plain:

Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

If you know more than 10 people, there’s somebody weeping and somebody rejoicing all the time, which means your heart is doing both all the time. At least in the ministry, that’s the way it is. If you have a church of more than 30 people somebody is going to be weeping and somebody is going to be laughing, and you’re called to be empathetic with both of them in your heart.

In Romans 9:2, Paul says of his kinsmen, his Jewish kinsmen, that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart for these Jews who are lost. Did you hear those two words — unceasing anguish? Now Paul is the one who said in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice always.” That would be unceasing. And again he says, lest you misunderstand, “Rejoice.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Ephesians 5:20, he says, “Give thanks in all things,” and, “give thanks for all things”. And now he’s saying, “I have unceasing anguish in my heart for my kinsmen according to the flesh because they are cut off from Christ and perishing.”

It is possible to have anguish in your heart and be rejoicing simultaneously. If that seems utterly foreign to your experience, you’re just too young. Your mom hasn’t died yet.

When Calamity Comes

I say that because that’s where I think I tasted it most deeply first. I got that phone call when I was 28. My brother-in-law called me from South Carolina, and I was in Minnesota. My mother and dad were in Israel on a tour. They were the tour guides to see all the wonderful biblical sites, and a van with lumber on top smashed into the front of their bus and my mother was killed instantly by these missiles of lumber coming through the front of the bus. My dad was very seriously injured.

The phone call I got said, “John, I have bad news.” And I said, “Okay, Bob, what?” He said, “Your mom is dead, and I don’t know if your dad’s going to make it.” It took me about three more minutes to get as many facts as he had, while my little two-year-old, Karsten, was pulling at my legs saying, “Daddy sad? Daddy sad?” Then, I hung up and I said to Noel, “Mama has been killed in a wreck, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to Daddy. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Just let me be alone for a while.” I went back and knelt down by our double bed and cried for two hours. I just cried. While I was crying, just heaving with sobs, I had joy in many ways — the simultaneity of joy.

She was an awesome mom, and I thanked God for her. She was a believer and went straight to heaven. From what I heard, she didn’t have to suffer much at all. It was instantaneous. There were three or four other things that I could focus on. I looked inside my soul. If you cry long enough, the tears dry up and you just are heaving these empty, these dry heaves, and you can watch yourself do it and wonder what’s going on. You see yourself happy and utterly devastated at the same time.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, if nothing has ever entered your life of that kind so that your soul has somehow managed both, then it will come. If you’re a Christian, it will come. If you’re not, then you will probably be devastated without joy.

Deep Pain and Profound Joy

Second Corinthians 11:28 says:

And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Paul talked about the unbelievable pressure he had on himself from all the churches. He bore it. He was the buck-stopper apostle, and everything just stopped right here and he carried it day by day. Or consider to 2 Corinthians 6:10, which has the phrase “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…”

All of that is just to say that when I speak of joy, I hope you taste something really unusual. It’s not a rah-rah, praise-God-anyhow, put-a-smiley-face-on kind of joy that communicates a lot of crappy inauthenticity to people — that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about something really profound here.

Affliction is increasing, poverty is not going away, and joy is just exploding in our hearts. That’s what I’m after. It’s the thought, “This hurts and this is grievous. I can’t buy all the Christmas presents for my kids I’d like to get, not like those other folks who don’t follow Jesus and seem to prosper. I don’t prosper. They prosper. Their kids get everything they want. My kids don’t. That’s grievous and hurts, and I am thrilled with God.” That’s what I’m after and that’s what I would like you to be like.

More Blessed to Give

Let’s go to Acts 20. This is the final message of Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus. He has called them down to Miletus and he met them on the beach down there, and he’s giving them a short speech. He ends the speech with an amazing incentive for how these elders should love their people.

Now look at this motive and see if this motive doesn’t sound like what we’ve seen in 2 Corinthians. In Acts 20:35, he says:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak …

He’s saying, “Love these weaker saints, and if you have to, work with your hands so that if they can’t pay you, you can still keep serving them, just like I have by making tents.” And then he continues:

Help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

He’s telling them a motive here. He saying, “When it’s hard to help the weak, remember something. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ If you give, remember there’s a blessedness coming back to you in the giving. You are extending your joy to the weak, working hard for them in order to draw them into your joy in God, grow them up into Christ, meet their practical needs, and help them get on the way. When you do that, just know this, remember this, there’s a blessing coming to you. You’re going to be happier, more satisfied, richer, deeper, stronger. There’s a blessing coming back now.”

Love Your Enemies

I spent three years in Germany, working on a degree and my dissertation was called Love Your Enemies: Jesus’ Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Teaching. I spent three years reading articles and books about motivation and love. I got so weary of this because I read over and over again things like this. I could give you exact quotes: “If you do good for others, rewards will come to you; but if you do the good for the reward, you have ruined the goodness of the good deed.”

I read that everywhere. It comes from Immanuel Kant. I’m so glad that I grew up in a fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christian home, and I just smelled, “That’s just not biblical.” And this is a key verse just to show you that it’s not, because if that were true and you doing your good deed toward the weak should not look for the reward, this text would have to read, “In all things I have shown you, by working hard in this way, you must help the weak and you must forget the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” That’s exactly what it would have to say.

If Paul says to you, “Now, as you’re going to do the good deed, remember, blessing is coming to you,” then he’s just wrecked it, right? He’s ruined the good deed. He’s just pressing the corrupting influence of reward into your head. I just don’t buy it. I don’t care how many PhDs are behind their name, how many fat books they’ve written, or how many philosophers agree with you, I just say, “Baloney. I go with the Bible because the Bible says, ‘If you want to help the weak and it gets hard, remember something: Our Lord Jesus said, ‘You’re going to get a blessing from this.’”

Responding to Crisis

Now, let me give you a story, almost like the rose story, to illustrate this. I’m a pastor, and I am called upon to respond to emergencies sometimes that are very inconvenient. I’m just making this story up, but this has really happened in various ways. I’m just creating a situation.

Let’s say I get a phone call at 8:00 p.m. while I’m playing with my kids and it’s playtime. I haven’t had this time with them for several days and I should be there with my kids, but Mabel, who is 85 years old, just had a heart attack and the family would really like me to come because they don’t know if she’s going to live. So I say, “Okay, I’ll be right there.” Let’s say it’s at Abbott Hospital, which is a five-minute drive from my house — not a problem. I can be there, but sorry kids, I have to go. But I don’t want to go.

I’m not in a frame of loving the weak and loving the needy and poor. I’m not overflowing. My joy in God is not overflowing towards Mabel. I’m resentful towards this phone call because there are other staff members they could have called. This is a really bad attitude. I’m in the car and I’m driving there and I’m confessing because I know my own theology, right? I’m confessing my sin and I’m saying, “Oh God, I’m not going to be useful here if I don’t get my heart right, so please come and restore to me the joy of my ministry and the joy in you that Mabel is going to need right now. The family is going to need me, and I have to be there and my heart’s not right.”

I’m in the elevator and I’m crying out to God, and when I go into the room nobody is there, maybe they’re downstairs getting something to eat. Mabel has tubes in her nose and her eyes are closed. I have no idea how she is and I walk over. I’m still praying, “God, help me to love this woman well and help her into heaven if that’s where she’s going.” I put my hand on her arm, and she opens her eyes and she says, “Oh, Pastor.” That’s what old people always say. She says, “Oh, Pastor, you didn’t need to come.” The young people say, “About time you came.” Old people are just gracious. They don’t expect much and young people are demanding, they expect everything, but she’s not. She just opens her eyes, “Oh, Pastor, you didn’t have to come.”

Now, what if I said, “I know I didn’t have to come and I didn’t want to come, but it’s my duty to come.” That’s like the rose story but we’re not illustrating worship this time. What I’m trying to illustrate here is that when I say it is more blessed to give than to receive, I am not corrupting love; I’m defining love. Because if I said to Mabel, “Mabel, I know. I know I didn’t have to come in and I didn’t want to come. I’m here because that’s what pastors have to do. I’d rather be at home with my kids,” she would at that moment not feel especially cared for, right? She would feel a little, “Well, sorry for being such a bother,” and she should.

Grace for the Moment

I just bear witness at age 65 that more often than not — I would say usually — God in his mercy to me, a sinful pastor, either at the elevator, the door, or the arm touch, has given me affection for my people. He’s just given them to me at that very moment so that my answer could be truthful. She says, “Oh, Pastor, you didn’t need to come.” And I say, “Mabel, one of the great joys of my life is sharing my faith, my hope, and my joy with you in this crisis, and I don’t know how you’re doing. How are you doing? I don’t know, but I would love to be able to let some of my confidence in God and joy in God spill over onto you, so you and I could get bigger in happiness together.” I might say something like that. She’s been in my church long enough to know that’s my language, and I think at that moment she would feel really, really loved.

She wouldn’t say — like I said before my wife wouldn’t say — “Oh, Pastor. All you ever think about is yourself. You’re just wanting to do what makes you happy,” which I do. That’s why I’m there. At least starting at that point, that’s why I’m here. Duty got me this far, but if I carried through only with duty and no joy, she wouldn’t have felt very cared for. Why is my wanting my own blessing in caring for Mabel loving to her? Why is it loving to her? Here’s the reason: The reward that I want, the increase of my joy in God, is a joy that I want her included in. That’s why it’s love.

If she wants to get feisty with me and say, “I’ve heard you preach, Pastor. You just really want to be happy here, right? You want to get your joy really big by visiting me, so how’s that love for me?” I wouldn’t have a problem answering that question. I’d say, “The reason I want to be happy here, Mabel, is because your joy in God at the point of near-death will make my joy bigger, and I really, really want you included in my joy. I want you and me to go to heaven together. I want you and me to depend on God together. That togetherness is a bigger thing than just me being happy in God. I want you in it.” And I think she would say, “Okay, I’m glad you want me in your joy.”

That’s what you can say to everybody you work with. You can say, “I want your joy in my joy because if your joy in God would join me in enjoying God, our combined joy would be bigger and I want to be as happy as I can be. Your inclusion into it would make me happier in God than if you didn’t come.” Acts 20:35, I think, is a strong argument that if you don’t pursue your blessing in God, then you can’t love people the way you should.

Rejoicing in the Plundering of Your Property

Let me take you to one last set of texts. Let’s go to Hebrews 10. I’ll leave you with this and I hope you never forget it. I never forgot it when I first saw it. I come back to it over and over again. There is a pattern in Chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13. I’m going to take 10 minutes to show you and then we’ll be done.

The pattern is so clear to make the point that this night is about making. I don’t know of any better place in the Bible to take you, and if you see the pattern then you’ll see that this idea of pursuing your maximum joy in God and God as your supreme reward is the power and the impulse to love other people, even if it cost you your life. That’s what I’m after. That’s in these texts from Hebrews 10, 11, 12, and 13. That’s the pattern I want you to see for yourself so that God can say it to you, not just me.

Recall the Former Days

Here we are at Hebrews 10:32–33:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings …

This is just like in Corinth or Macedonia. Grace came down and afflictions increased. Here it says they were enlightened. Their eyes were opened. They saw the truth of Christ. They embraced him and they endured a hard struggle with sufferings. It continues:

Sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

It wasn’t equal. Some people got more harsh treatment, and others saw it happening and they had to decide, “Shall I partner with them and try to help them or shall I go underground and keep my skin safe?” Then Hebrews 10:34 says:

For you had compassion on those in prison …

They made the decision, “When others got thrown in prison, we’re going to identify with them. We’re going to go take them some food and befriend them, even if it risks our lives.” Then look what happens:

You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering (or confiscation) of your property, since …

Now stop there before I give you the since clause in order to get the situation. Some of their comrades had gone to prison, and they were thinking, “Now, we have to decide what are we going to do because we have kids and we have houses. If we go visit them in prison and take them food, people are going to say, ‘Aha, they’re one of them so let’s throw them in too.’” What would you do?

A Better and Abiding Possession

Maybe they had a prayer meeting and they asked God. Whatever God did there, they decided, “We’re going,” and as they went, they looked over their shoulder and they saw their houses being either written on with graffiti, or torched, or having rocks thrown through the window, or something. It says “the plundering of your property” (Hebrews 10:34). People were smashing up the windows and taking their stuff out. How did they experience that? How did they joyfully accept the plundering of their property? That’s crazy. That’s the kind of life I want to you to be living.

It would be worth it if I could get on a plane tomorrow and think a few of you became like that, that you would be so committed to loving people that when it costs you your house, you sing. That’s just impossible unless supernatural grace has come down.

Now, where did that come from? I want to know where that kind of human being comes from. Where does that impulse to sing on their way to the prison while their houses are being plundered come from? Now, the last clause is all-important. This happened, it says:

Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

Do those two words remind you of anything, better and abiding? What’s the text here? Does anybody remember? Psalm 16:11 says:

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fulness of joy (better possession);
     at your right hand are pleasure forevermore (abiding one).

The Cure for Murmuring

This is the same reality. This is God saying, “Your mine, forever in my presence, is that enough? Is that a treasure enough to sell everything for with joy, or to lose everything with joy?” They said, “Enough.”

I gave a devotional to the Desiring God staff a few weeks ago, and I just said, “The greatest need of my life is to fall in love with my future more deeply.” Because I tend to murmur. For example, if the plane were late tomorrow morning, I’m going to be likely to murmur. If the food isn’t good on the plane, I’m going to murmur. If we have a flat tire on the way down to Sydney, I’m going to murmur. Murmur, murmur, murmur.

Why do I murmur so much? It’s because I don’t love my future enough. They were losing their houses, their goods were being plundered, they were on their way to who knows what in prison to care for their friends, and they were singing all the way. They weren’t murmuring. Since they knew that in the future they had a better and abiding possession.

An Imminent Inheritance

Here’s a little story that stuck with me when I read it. John Newton told the story of an American. This is in the 1800s before cars. A man was in his carriage going to New York to receive his million-dollar inheritance. The wheel broke in his carriage and it went clunk. He was one mile from New York and a million dollars. This is us on our way to heaven. He got off and he look at it and he just got angry. He walked one mile to get his million-dollar inheritance saying all the way, “My carriage is broken. My carriage is broken” — murmur, murmur, murmur to get a million dollars.

Is he weird? He’s weird. And that’s us. That’s me because I haven’t fallen in love with my million-dollar God. This is where we are folks. Oh, may God work this in you. May God so open your eyes because what a difference you would make in Australia if you were this kind of human being.

Looking to the Reward

Let me quickly give you Hebrews 11. I won’t spend nearly this long on all of them. Here’s Hebrews 11:24–25. This is about 1,300 years before the early church, and the same exact structure of motivation is in place:

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 (that’s like choosing to go to the prison) than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Oh, there are pleasures in sin, but they are so ephemeral. He calls them the fleeting pleasures of sin. Then Hebrews 11:26 continues:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt (and how did he do that?), for he was looking to the reward.

He had exactly the same mindset, thinking, “God, you’re calling me to serve this thankless, murmuring people through the wilderness to the promised land. This is going to be really hard. I could stay here and be rich as Pharaoh’s son. I could be here.” And as he considered the reproach and difficulty and sorrow and trouble with Jesus, the Christ, and he considered Egypt, he said, “Fleeting.” How did he make that choice? He looked to the reward. He fell in love with his future.

For the Joy Set Before Him

Hebrews 12:1–2 says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who (here it comes) for the joy that was set before him endured the cross …

Now, this is so serious. Let me see if I can say it in a really urgent way. Beware lest anybody tricks you into being motivated by a more noble incentive than your Lord Jesus, as if to say, “Oh, I’m going to forget rewards, I’m going to forget future joy, and I’m not going to do things because I have a reward waiting for me.” If that’s the way you’re talking, you are belittling your Jesus at the moment when he suffered most for you.

This text says that he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him, and that’s exactly what we do. He’s simply joining the church in Hebrews 10 and Moses in Hebrews 11 — he’s joining them. He was the ground of what they did. As he was sweating blood for us in Gethsemane and as he was having spikes put through his wrists or hands on the cross, what sustained him was, “I’m coming out of this. I’m coming out of this. I have the power to lay down my life, and I have the power to take it up again. I will take it up again. I’ll rise from the dead. I’ll ascend. I’ll gather and elect from all the peoples of the world. They’ll surround me as an innumerable host and praise me forever. That’s my joy and I will endure anything to have that people.”

Don’t ever say, “I’m going to be motivated by something nobler or more selfless than my Lord Jesus." This was the highest act of love that has ever been performed and ever will be performed on the face of this planet. It was motivated by the joy that was set before him just like Hebrews 10:34, just like Hebrews 11:26, and just like the one we’re going to close with in Hebrews 13.

No Lasting City

This is Hebrews 13:12–14:

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp …

Now, an immediate application of this is how that happens for most of you tomorrow around midday. This is an easy place to be a Christian. It’s wonderful and sweet, and we’re singing together. We’re talking together and we’re seeing magnificent displays of God’s glory. We’re hanging out with people we like to hang out with. This is easy. This is the camp. It’s good to be here. You should be in a camp like this, and then, you should leave it. Why? How? Where did you get the strength? The passage continues:

Let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach (this what it will cost you in your workplace) he endured (here’s the ground clause). For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

If you don’t fall in love with that city, that reward, and that treasure, full in his presence with pleasures forevermore, you won’t love people. You will not have the resources and you won’t have the expanding impulse to get your arms around suffering and thankless people unless your joy in God is being pursued relentlessly.

It is a fight until the day you die. I bear witness to somebody who’s 40 years older than most of you that it is a fight to the end to be happy in Jesus, to get up in the morning and take the Bible and find him your treasure. Reestablish your covenant walk with him. Get your roots down deep into him and then go out into the day operating from the confidence that is fixed on the glory that will be revealed to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. That’s the end of my three-part message for you, and I’m going to pray for you now that God would tonight, with Rory’s help tomorrow, just take it down deep.