Hallowing God's Name in Public Life

Alliance Defense Fund | Phoenix

In God’s great providence, a number of years ago, in 2003, it happened that a gentleman was speaking down the hall. Some of you may know the name Al Mohler. Al was just down the hall here and me, being Italian, decorum is not my strong suit, so I just barged in and said, “You should come and talk to some people who are future leaders in law and public policy.” Dr. Mohler came in and said, “I’m a theologian who loves the law and you’re going to be lawyers who must love theology,” and he proceeded to talk. In God’s great providence, it just so happened that another leader was around. He’s an author whose book, if I hadn’t already formed my top three books, would have been included as one of those formative books. But it was published after I formed my list of my most influential books. That book is called Desiring God.

The author of that book is Dr. John Piper. We’ve given you some of his books already, and he just happens to be in town for 28 hours, and was persuaded to come and say a few words to us and also to be able to take questions. Please, join me in welcoming Dr. John Piper.

Thanks for letting me come. I’m honored to be with you. What I was told to do is just prime the pump by maybe telling you what I just did with the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference and throw it open for questions. So you get to set the agenda.

I just spent 30 minutes, about 45 minutes ago, telling them that they should all be God-centered pastors, and then I unpacked the meaning of that from the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s interesting, I got an email from Josh Etter right after I left there, who was there. Here’s what he said:

Your message today reminded me of this quote from Ed Clowney. He says, “Yet rich as our meditation must become as we reflect on God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, there is a further step we must take in meditation and praise. Beyond even the works of God, we must praise the name of God. No prayer demands more meditation than the prayer Jesus gave his disciples: ‘Hallowed be thy name.’”

That’s what I just spent 30 minutes trying to do, meditate on it. Let me tell you the new insight that I got while I was on my leave of absence for eight months doing a soul check, marriage check, and a vocation ministry check last year. Up until then, I had seen the Lord’s prayer basically structured as three glorious, big, God-centered petitions followed by three on-the-ground, put-everything-in-place-with-that-end petitions.

He says, “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s big, that’s what we’re about on the planet. Then, under it he says, “Give us some bread, forgive us our sins, and protect us from the devil.” I just take those last three to be a means to the first three. That’s my basic understanding of the Lord’s prayer. I need bread or I’m going to die, and I can’t do the first three if I’m dead. And I need forgiveness, because I’m just so guilt-laden. I’m just going to lie in bed and feel depressed all day if I don’t have some relief from my conscience. And the devil is a great enemy and I’m going to be beat up and lose if he doesn’t protect me. So I can’t even begin to touch “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,” unless he does these three. That’s the gist of it. These are subordinate and these are big and major. That’s where we’re going.

Now, I went into the leave knowing and loving that. I still do. I love that picture. That’s where I want my ministry to sound. I don’t want to focus on bread, I don’t want to focus mainly on forgiveness, and I don’t want to focus mainly on the devil. I want to focus on the name of God, the will of God, and the kingdom of God. The new thing is this: it’s really not three petitions followed by three petitions. There is something unique about number one, so it really is one and five. What’s unique is this. Only one of the petitions of the Lord’s prayer asks God to act, to bring out of the human heart a specific response. None of the others do that. That response is hallowing. The Greek word hagiasthētō. It’s a third person imperative. “Let your name be hallowed” is a lousy translation. We don’t have third-person imperatives in English, they’re very unusual, so you have to grope around and ask, “What do they mean?”

It’s a way of telling God to do something, commanding him to do something in a polite and appropriate way. It’s saying, “Do this. Act so that your name gets hallowed. See to it that your name gets hallowed. Start here with my family, my church, and the world.” That’s the structure of the command, but the word “hallow” means “reverence as holy,” or, “treasure as holy,” or, “admire as holy.” It’s a heart action. It’s a subjective, feeling type of word. It’s something we are caught up in. When we see the infinite value of God’s holiness, our hearts respond with hallowing, reverencing, loving, cherishing, esteeming, and admiring. All those words are heart words. None of the other commands do that. So, “Thy kingdom come” doesn’t make explicit any heart response. “Do your will,” doesn’t define any heart response. “Eat daily bread,” doesn’t define any heart response. “Get forgiven for your sins,” doesn’t define any heart response. They all lead to heart responses, but they don’t define them, they don’t name them. But this one names it: hallowing.

Since it’s the only one that names a heart response, and it’s number one and it uses the word “name of God”, not “kingdom of God” or “will of God” — name is more close to his character — I conclude this is the point of the prayer. Everything is leading to this. We pray, “Your kingdom come” so that we would hallow his name. We pray, “Your will be done” so that we would hallow his name. We pray, “Give us some bread” so that we can hallow his name. We pray, “Forgive our sins” so that we can hallow his name. We pray, “Guard us from the devil” so that we can hallow his name. My conclusion is that the point of the universe and all your lives is that you exist and the universe exists for the hallowing of God’s name. When this world is over and we are in the new heavens and the new earth, and there’s no sin anymore anywhere to be found on the planet, we will not hallow the name of God in order that anything happen; we will hallow the name of God because that’s the end of everything.

It will have been reached. You won’t step on it in order to get somewhere, you have stepped on everything else in order to get there. The goal of all things is the hallowing from the heart of the name of God. I said to them, be a God-centered pastor and make that your goal.

Now, here’s a little transition to this setting. Whenever you talk like that and you push through penultimate goals to ultimate goals, and you say that the ultimate goal is a heart goal, it immediately raises the question of culture and creation. If the ultimate goal is a heart goal, which God can have without a body and angels can have without bodies, why do we need bodies? Why did he bother with bodies? Why did he bother with dirt and social structures? You’re all legal people, I’m told. That’s where you live. You live on the earth with people who have bodies who can kill each other, or do wonderful things for each other, and who make culture.

They write and they build and they arrange and they organize, so the question is, “What is all that in relation to hallowing?” Here’s my little short answer, and I don’t have lots of answers to these things. I am not a social scientist. I don’t think about culture very much, and I don’t think about laws very much. I just try to help people die well, and I was in the hospital with two of them — one on Saturday and one on Sunday. That’s my main job, to get people ready to meet Jesus and not be afraid, so then they live happily ever after, and I mean ever.

Here’s my little bit of thought about it. If you hallow the name of God — that is, if you cherish and esteem and value his supreme worth above all things, so much so that it profoundly satisfies your soul, that yields a kind of life — it yields fruit, and since God created us with bodies and in cultures, that fruit gets expressed in invisible, tangible ways. This talk is one of those. How you think about the fruit of hallowing makes a huge difference. Here’s two possible ways of thinking about fruit.

One would be to say that culture or bodily activity in the world is the fruit of hallowing, like vocation is the fruit of university training. That would be dead wrong, because you leave university training behind. That’s four years. You work hard and then you do something else. It is fruit, but it’s a bad analogy because if you leave hallowing behind and then do a physical cultural thing, and leave that behind, that’s idolatry, wickedness. I don’t care how good it is culturally. It’s displeasing to the Lord, because hallowing is what we’re created for, from the heart.

What’s a better analogy? It’s like speaking being the fruit of thinking. Now, maybe you can come up with a better analogy, but here’s what I mean. If in the analogy thinking corresponds to hallowing God’s name — cherishing, admiring, esteeming, treasuring, reverencing from the heart — and the fruit of that is that I’m speaking or writing, that’s not leaving behind the thinking; rather, it’s expressing the thinking. My thinking about what I should say here is now coming out of my mouth. If you said, “Leave the thinking and just talk,” it would be gibberish. It would mean nothing. Speaking is the fruit of thinking, and for too many people that connection is no good and, therefore, their speaking is lousy. You listen to interviews on NPR and you just want to turn it off because you think, “Did you hear the question? That’s not the question she just asked you.” I get very irritated listening to political interviews.

My point now is that our job, culturally, is to work towards fruit of the second kind. That is, what kinds of speaking, what kinds of culture making, what kinds of social structuring is an outgrowth and expression of hallowing?

Now, I have one last comment and then you can go for your questions. I’m not sure I know the answer to the question. What if a cluster of socio-cultural structures grew out of hallowing God’s name and then the ing disappeared? How does God feel about those structures? Is he indifferent to them? Do they please him more than structures that grew out of non-hallowing of his name, even though both of them are devoid of hallowing God’s name now? That’s a huge question that you need to answer, because you’re all walking into laws, judicial systems, and structures that more or less came out of certain kinds of regard for the name of God.

There may be zero regard for God’s name in a given structure now, and you may look at the structure and say, “It’s a pretty good structure, the kind of structure I would put in place if I were hallowing God’s name.” Does God want you to give your life to the refining and preserving of godless structures because they may have come from God? Here’s a text to weigh in on. Matthew 15:8 says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.” Now, how does God feel about that lip work? Truth is coming out of the mouths in the synagogue and the heart is gone, it’s just gone. There’s no hallowing going on here at all. It’s in vain, zero. He says, “In vain do they worship me.” How does God feel about that form?

That’s not an easy question to answer. I’ll give you two biblical takes on it. The prophets say it stinks to God. He holds his nose with that kind of worship. He’s going to wipe it away with Assyria. On the other hand, he says in Matthew 23:3, “Do what those Pharisees say, not what they do.” Here are these whitewashed tombs saying cultural things, and God is saying, “That’s right, do that.” Okay, I think I’m done. That’s as far as I go. I don’t know anything else after that, as far as implications of inner hallowing. You can go in absolutely any direction you want. If you pursue this one, I’ve probably said all I have to say, but if you want to go any other direction or this one, I’ll just say I don’t know if I don’t know.

Hi, Pastor Piper. I’m Courtney Martin from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. I’ve heard Tim Keller say that “righteousness is pursuing what’s best for the community.” Would you agree with that definition, or partially agree with it? How would you define righteousness?

I would not define righteousness that way, but I would say righteousness does that. The way I just answered that flows right out of my debate about the meaning of justification, because there are so many people today who are defining righteousness as “covenant faithfulness.” They say that God keeping covenant and God doing righteousness are equivalent. I’d say they are absolutely not equivalent. Covenant-keeping is one of the things a righteous God does, and he does it because he’s righteous. If Tim were standing here, he’d agree with everything I’m saying right now.

We speak without great precision most of the time, and me included, which includes right now. I’ll state a simple definition and then a more perplexing definition. The simple definition is that righteousness is God’s unwavering commitment to do right. That’s a sixth-grade definition and it’s right, it’s a good definition. God’s righteousness is his unwavering allegiance and commitment to do right.

Now, the question is, for God — who has no book to read, since he wrote it — what is right? That’s the ultimate question with regard to righteousness. What’s right for God to do? Who does he consult? I know what I consult. I consult God. God tells me what’s right. I bow and I don’t argue. He says, “Don’t eat from the tree.” I say, “Yes, sir.” That’s right. He says, “Love your enemy.” I say, “Yes, sir.” That’s right. Who does God consult? What book does he read? None. How does he come up with what is right?

My answer is that what’s right for God is thinking, feeling, and acting in a way that is in perfect accord with his infinite value. That’s my definition of what is right for God. He consults his value, his nature, and he acts in accord with the infinite value of his nature.

Now, this is my last definition. His righteousness is his unwavering commitment to uphold and display his glory, always and in everything he does. Now, it will not work, therefore, to say he always does what is best for a community, and that’s, I suppose, qualifying what I said earlier. Because he kills communities. He wipes out communities and sends them to hell.

Just read your Old Testament. God is righteous in judging the wicked. It is righteous to put people in jail for a lifetime. It is righteous to execute people for high capital crimes and treason. That’s right, but it’s not for their good. You can’t defend capital punishment on the ground that it’s the best thing for the one being killed. CS Lewis was very strong on this. If you have only a remedial view of punishment, you will never believe in capital punishment. The Bible does not have a merely remedial view of punishment, because hell wouldn’t exist otherwise. If you believe in hell, you lose your remedial argument against capital punishment. Now, let me go back to Tim Keller. What was he trying to say? Say it again. Righteousness always does what is good for the community?

In the context he was talking about, the Old Testament definition of righteousness throughout the Proverbs — the righteous man and what the righteous man does — is that it’s the man who pursues what is good for the community.

The righteous man always does what is good for the community and, since there are competing goods, he will have to make some really hard choices about who he helps to prosper and who he limits. We just had a man sentenced to 10 years in jail in our church last Thursday because of what he did to his children. That was good for the community, and I hope good for him. He’s penitent and, God willing, all will be sweet one day, but right now it’s not. Yes, at the horizontal level of men acting towards men, we should maximize the good we do for the community, always taking God in as our ultimate good.

Hi, Pastor. My name is Tanya and I’m from England. I’ve watched several of your videos and I’m very inspired by them, particularly your videos on the prosperity gospel. Having lived in Sri Lanka, I’ve come across this preaching and I’d like to know how developing countries like Sri Lanka can counteract the prosperity gospel.

That is absolutely a super question, because I have had to be more nuanced — not because anybody chastised me, but because I have chastised myself — in the way I express my anger towards the prosperity gospel. It’s easy for a rich westerner who has all the medical resources he needs, has clean water every place he turns, has food on every shelf, who has 911 at his disposal in a minute, whose sewer is carried away perfectly, to talk about these things. We live in a dream world compared to most of the world, and it is easy for us to say, “If you go to the gospel for prosperity, you don’t go to the gospel.” I can imagine a person in a poorer country saying, “Excuse me, I think it might’ve been the gospel that got you guys where you are.”

That’s very significant to say. I still hate the prosperity gospel the way it is sold, because I think it is basically not for the good of the community. I think it is good for the rich westerner flying in his jet and leaving with his pockets full with the promise that your wife won’t miscarry anymore, because you have his beads, or you prayed, or something. This is the wicked thing that’s being marketed out of America into poorer countries. They say, “Pray to God and your crops will prosper,” or, “Pray to God and your pigs won’t die,” or, “Pray to God and your wife won’t miscarry,” and of course, the whole world is desperate to be healthy and desperate to have children. This is a cheap, quick fix that misapplies the truth.

Here, Wayne Grudem is very helpful, I think. The truth is the gospel does bring prosperity. If you seek the gospel for the gospel, if you seek the gospel for Christ, it brings character structures into the soul and it brings relational dynamics that, in the end, are going to prosper. The main way you can see it is if Christ triumphs gradually in a culture, corruption goes away. That’s an overstatement, totally. We have plenty of corruption in America, but corruption ceases to be acceptable and taken for granted. You’ve got to be really tricky to be corrupt in America. You have to evade and evade and evade. In many cultures around the world, corruption is just in the structure, which means they’re cut off. I would want to make some of those qualifications and say, while I’m not preaching a prosperity gospel in the first way I defined it, I am preaching gospel that, if you are transformed by it, your family is transformed by it and, out from that, structures are transformed by, and you will inevitably be more prosperous than before.

Hello, Pastor Piper. My name is Jaron Robinson and I’m from the University of Idaho Law School. We’ve heard a lot of things this past week that have been flaming us up in our zeal for God’s glory and for the work that he’s setting out for us to do. I just wondered if you could share some words on how we could maintain our zeal for God’s glory. I guess, speak to us on what that zeal ought to look like and what kinds of things we can do to maintain it.

The how of getting and maintaining passion has been the most common question I have received for 30 years, because my specialty is to talk about Christian Hedonism, which is telling people that God gets most glory in you when you’re most satisfied in him. And after I finish making that biblical case, lots of people feel devastated, because they don’t feel satisfied in God. I’ve just told them, “God gets glory when you’re satisfied in him,” and therefore, they feel like, “I don’t even know if I’m saved anymore.” I start like that just to make sure that, when I’m done with my inadequate answer, I have written a book called When I Don’t Desire God. That is my effort to put the answer to the question that you just asked in book form. When I don’t desire God, how do I fight for joy? How to fight for joy is what I just heard you ask. How can we maintain zeal or passion? Let me just talk for two minutes about the way the Bible appoints for us to do that.

The question is right because Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith, Timothy. Take hold of eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12), which means being a believer is war. Fight the good fight means, “If you don’t fight, you may fail. If you don’t fight, the devil is just going to water down and water down and water down until there’s nothing left in your soul.” Maintaining zeal for God is war. “I pommel my body,” Paul said, “lest I be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). What did that mean? It means, if his body was too lazy, he beat himself up. If his body was starting to click on internet pornography, he would cut his hand off, figuratively speaking. Cut your hand off and gouge your eye out (Matthew 5:29–30). This is war. You do what you have to do in order not to be taken in by the enemy.

First, read your Bible deeply and immersively, because 90 percent of our lives are lived by instinct, not principle, if you agree with that. That means that 90 percent of your decisions — that is, your actions each day — are not premeditated. Like right now, I don’t say, “Now a gesture like this would be appropriate for these three reasons. I’m convinced.” That just went up. I’m going to stop thinking about this now, but I don’t think about that. I’m arguing 90 percent of your life is that. You don’t think about the words that are coming out of your mouth 95 percent of the time, and that’s how you influence people most of the time. You don’t ponder, “Before this sentence, give me some reasons. Before this sentence, give me some reasons. Before this sentence, give me some biblical reasons.” You don’t. You just start talking.

What does that mean, as far as reflecting God? It means if you haven’t immersed your brain in the Bible and marinated in it, your instincts will be wrong. So become people of the book. It’s really easy for me to tell, when I’m among professionals of whatever kind, which of them are steeped in the Bible. I don’t mean superficial Sunday-school, surface-level awareness; I mean they have thought and thought. They have meditated on the Lord’s prayer long enough to see some things like, “There are three of these and there are three of these, and these relate that way.” You don’t have to know any Greek to see that. You don’t have to go to seminary to see that, but you have to linger pretty long.

Fast reading kills souls. Slow down. Legal people, I don’t even know how you survive. I took a speed reading class in the 11th grade in high school called “Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics,” and I totally bombed. I cannot read faster than I can talk, but I knew I needed to, because maybe I’ll be a legislator someday. I’ve seen the stacks of stuff they have to read. I don’t know how anybody does it. It’s scandalous that we vote for laws that we haven’t read. But I’m pleading for you to get even slower, which means you take longer and you get up earlier.

Second, pray like crazy. You pray, “Hallowed be your name in my life. Open my eyes to see wonderful things. Incline my heart to your testimonies. Unite my heart to fear your name. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love.” Those are all prayers from the Psalms, prayed by people whose hearts are cooling off and they’re scared. I prayed with a young woman after church Saturday night and she came up and said, “I’m scared, because I’m not feeling any affection for God, and I haven’t for weeks. I’m scared.” Your question is just so pervasively relevant.

Third, after whatever the first two were. Be in a church that is passionate for Jesus. If you can’t find one, get a group together who stir each other up to love and good works.

Fourth, read great books about God, not just the latest contemporary stuff. Most of the stuff written in the last 200 years isn’t worth reading, and most of the stuff written that’s still in print from 300 years ago is worth reading. I was just thumbing through John Bunyan’s All Loves Excelling, which is a 150-page exposition of Ephesians 3:17–19. My mouth watered as I started reading. I love John Bunyan. He’s the Pilgrim’s Progress guy. I’m listening right now to a reading of John Bunyan’s The Holy War. It’s on my cell phone. I could let you hear what it sounds like.

Okay, so that’s what I’m listening to. She’s a really good reader and it comes from LibriVox. I want my heart red-hot for Jesus, so I’m listening to The Holy War. While I’m brushing my teeth, I click that on and I put it right there on the sink. While I’m getting dressed, I click that, and listen to her read The Holy War. This is John Bunyan talking about the war between Diabolus, the devil, and Emmanuel over Mansoul. The town is called Mansoul. I’m listening to it and there are points where I’m just trembling at what he’s showing me about the war for my soul.

I’m Arma Banian from Stanford. There is a point of view that you often hear that says churches shouldn’t be too focused on things like abortion and gay marriage because it dilutes the gospel and it blurs the message of the gospel. People say that maybe, as individuals, we are called to focus on things like that, but churches, denominations, and preaching in churches shouldn’t be focused on things like that. I was just wondering if you can give some wisdom as to when there is maybe some truth to something like that and how we can approach those things the right way as individuals and as members of churches.

I wish I had more wisdom. I have more questions than I do wisdom, I think, as to how a pastor should navigate the particularities of legal expressions of moral truth. I preach on abortion every year, and I have for about 20 years, on Sanctity of Life Sunday. I have never advocated a particular law or candidate in those sermons, but I am violently pro-life. Meaning it’s a wicked sin to kill unborn children. That’s the feeling people come away with. They think, “Whoa, that’s serious. John thinks that’s really serious.” I realize that laws are not the main answer and they are so complex that I’m not going to become an advocate for a particular law. I would probably vote for particular laws, so you’re hearing me distinguish between pulpit, advocacy, and personal advocacy. The reason I make that distinction — and I’m not going to judge any pastor who makes that distinction differently from me — is because of what you said.

I want to be, in my pulpit, a prophetic voice, not a political voice. The distinction I make is this: as a prophet, I am free. I’m going to cut republican, I’m going to cut democrat, and I’m going to cut independent. I’m cutting every way the Bible cuts. I’m cutting. I want my people to feel, “He’s not partisan. He’s God’s man. He’s a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, which has intersected this world and we have to live here.” You have to vote. When my people are done hearing me not take a position on a particular law, they’re going to go vote, and I hope that I’ve influenced them one way or the other. I’m just not telling them which candidate. See, the world can’t make many distinctions when it comes to spiritual things. As soon as the world hears me start giving an argument for a particular statute or a particular candidate, all they hear is partisan politics, and as soon as they’re hearing partisan politics, my gospel prophetic voice is blunted, like you suggested.

Every pastor makes a different call on this, as to how specific in his public advocacy and ministry he should be when it comes to taking biblical principles. We take “Thou shalt not murder,” and then we are putting that into laws in America and what those laws should be. Should we have an amendment that defines a person? Probably. I haven’t thought through all the implications of how you would do that, and so on. That gives you a little flavor.

My bent is to say that, to the degree that a pastor for the gospel’s sake becomes political, he probably, in the long run, blunts his gospel power to transform culture. In hoping that speaking of culture more and more and more and more culture is changed, I doubt it will happen. It probably would be that a strong, powerful, prophetic, gospel, God-centered witness over time will do more to change culture than if he immerses himself in all the specificities of cultural laws and structures. But there’s so much debate on that, and I don’t claim to have the last word on that.

I particularly liked what you said about hallowing God’s name resulting in certain power structures within society, certain institutions. That’s how I interpret it. Now, I’d like to ask you, what do you think is the proper method of applying study and prayer to really discerning whether a power structure or an institution is a result of hallowing God’s name.

Are you saying what is the role of study and prayer?

No, what is the method? You could apply other things to the method, but the method of discernment to really know about these things. Because what I’m looking at is that you have institutions that develop over history and you don’t know how much of that institution is really the result. Whether or not right now there’s a problem, or in the past, how do you know that the structure itself is a result of hallowing God’s name?

I think, ultimately, you don’t have to know in order for you to make the discerning call that the structure would be an appropriate expression of hallowing God’s name. Do you see the difference? One of the reasons I like to read Rodney Stark is because he tries to make a case for how Christianity formed all these Western structures. That’s interesting as a kind of apologetic advocacy, but in the end, the fact that we use wheels and drink clean water, I think is a good idea, wherever it came from. What I’m saying is the historical question of etiology, of causation, is not essential. It informs, it helps, and it might encourage a young person to take history seriously, because you can learn where these things came from. It makes you ask, “How did America get here? How did this amazing experiment happen?”

But when you’re trying to decide in your study, “Will this power structure or this law be a proper and fitting expression of people today who hallow God’s name?” you don’t need to know where it came from. I could be wrong on that, but what you need to see are the biblical reasons for why the existence of that particular configuration of power and restraint of power is biblically balanced. That would be my take on that.