Let Your Passion Be Single
Let your passion be single — it wasn’t always easy for me to love this topic because I couldn’t make my passions single. I knew from growing up in my father’s house that one passion was unavoidable and centrally biblical, and that was a passion for the glory of God. My father quoted as often as any other text, “Johnny, whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do everything to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). So, I grew up knowing that was one passion that had to be there.
As I meditated more and more in my formative intellectual years on the Scriptures, I saw that the reason it was so central is because it was the central and uniting passion of God himself. Let me give you a couple of texts that shocked me in those days.
God’s Glory Is God’s Passion
I’m reading through the Bible, as many of you are. In Ezekiel 20, just a couple of days ago, here is what I read: “Then I resolved to pour out my wrath on them in the midst of Egypt, says the Lord. But I acted for the sake of my name” (Ezekiel 20:8–9a). So, instead of pouring out his wrath on them, he saved them; and he states that his motive was for his namesake: “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:9).
And then in Ezekiel 20:14 it’s the same thing: “For the sake of my name I did not pour out my wrath on them in the wilderness.” Then, sixty times in the book of Ezekiel you find the phrase, “that they might know that I am Yahweh.” So, God is jealous for his glory and for his name.
Then, in Isaiah 48:9–10, “For the sake of my name, I delay my wrath” (talking about bringing them out of Babylon). “For the sake of my name I delay my wrath, and for my praise I restrain it for you in order not to cut you off. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I will act; For how can my name be profaned? And my glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:9–11).
So, I knew my daddy was right that the reason my passion for the glory of God should be central is because God’s passion for God is central to God. God is uppermost in God’s affections. God is the most God-centered person in the universe. God is not an idolater. He puts nothing before himself. Therefore, the number one passion in our lives has to be a passion for the glory of God.
A Second Passion Persists
Well, that was one. Now here I am a teenager, knowing, perhaps not as clearly from Scripture, but from my own soul, that I had another passion. I wanted to be happy. I couldn’t get rid of it. As much as I heard certain spokesmen in my church talk about the denial of my own desires in order to do God’s desires, that paradigm never ended it. I wanted to be happy.
Call it what you will: joy, satisfaction, contentment. It doesn’t matter, they are all in the Bible. The Bible is indiscriminate in its pleasure language. If you have nice little categories for “joy is what Christians have” and “happiness is what the world has,” you can scrap those when you go to the Bible, because the Bible is indiscriminate in its uses of the language of happiness and joy and contentment and satisfaction. It is lavish in all of them, and none of them is chosen above the other.
“The number one passion in our lives has to be a passion for the glory of God.”
So, I was torn in those days. I cast about as I finished Wheaton College and went out to Fuller Seminary, looking desperately for some unifying thing. “Let Your Passion Be Single” is my topic tonight. And that’s been the passion of my life for all these years. I must have a single passion. I can’t have a divided heart.
“Unite my heart O God to fear thy name” is the great goal of our lives. (Psalm 86:11) To have a united, not a divided heart. I couldn’t deny the one from Scripture. I couldn’t deny the other from experience. I also couldn’t deny it from reading. I was looking around to see whether I was the only one in the world who felt this way.
All Men Seek Happiness
I read in Pascal,
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. (Pascal’s Pensées, 113).
Well, that seems to be what I think, too. To find it in the Pensées gave me encouragement that this other passion to be happy was universal, undeniable and just as unavoidable as hunger in the stomach. How does it fit with this tremendously central, biblical passion for the glory of God?
Well I got help. First, from C.S. Lewis and then from Jonathan Edwards, and then the Bible broke open to me. So I want to tell you how Lewis helped me, then how Edwards helped me, and then spend some time showing that the Bible undergirds these things profoundly.
C.S. Lewis: Praise Is Joy’s Consummation
Lewis had an awful time accepting God’s centrality in the Bible. He called the demands for praise in the Psalms, when he was still an atheist, the soundings of an old woman seeking compliments for herself. That’s the way God sounded to him when the Psalms said, “Praise the Lord.” But this is God’s word, and it says over and over again, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” So, you have God up there saying, “Praise me! Praise me! Praise me!” which sounded very vain to Lewis.
Then in this life-changing page in Reflections on the Psalms, I read this:
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 . . .
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game . . . 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. (94–95).
That was almost the solution. Very close. That set my feet to dancing. That praise giving glory to God was described by Lewis as not something different from joy but joy in consummation — oh, that’s so close to having them be one passion.
Jonathan Edwards: God Gets Glory by Being Known and Enjoyed
But it was Jonathan Edwards with his absolutely profound mind Let me read you probably the most crucial quotation. I owe a debt to Jonathan Edwards that is really quite beyond repayment. I did my best last year by writing a book called God’s Passion For His Glory. Half of the book is Edwards and half of it is my love of Edwards. The second half, which is Edwards, is the book The End for Which God Created the World from which this quote is taken:
God is glorified within Himself these two ways: 1. By appearing . . . to Himself in His own perfect idea [of Himself], or in His Son, who is the brightness of His glory. [Second] By enjoying and delighting in Himself, by flowing forth in infinite love and delight towards Himself, or in his Holy Spirit. . . .
Now that’s worth a monograph. That’s the Trinity we heard laid out there.
So, God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.
God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.
And there it was, in one paragraph. Now this has been my project for about twenty years, to unpack that paragraph in sermon after sermon and book after book. I only have one thing to say. I say to people, “If you want to buy a Piper book, just get one. You don’t need the rest. I say the same thing in every book.” And it’s that paragraph. I sum it up in little words like this: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.”
These are not two projects. These are not two passions. These are one passion. To know him with the mind and delight in what you know of him in the heart is one passion. God is glorified by being delighted in.
Head and Heart Must Move Together
If I had time, I would unpack it for you from that great text in Philippians 1 where Paul says, “I want to magnify him in my body whether by life or by death, for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20–21). If you put the magnifying of Christ alongside the gain that you get in dying, you see immediately that the way you magnify him in death is by counting him more satisfying than everything you lose when you die.
God gets no glory from people who don’t enjoy God. If God is not great enough in your life that he is more enjoyable than the meal we are about to have, then you blaspheme in eating this meal. If he is not more precious to you — that you have taste buds that enable you to delight more in God than this fellowship, this hotel, this meal, your health, your family — then you don’t know God.
God is not just to be known with the mind. He is to be delighted in, savored. He is to be seen and savored. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). “Rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
If you don’t do that, you disobey God and do not bring him glory. Oh, how we need a generation that perceives truly with the mind and feels duly with the heart! And a due affection for God is a mighty affection!
“God is only half glorified when he is known accurately and not delighted in with the heart.”
It is so sad that these things are split with charismatics doing one thing over here and . . . what group shall I use over here? I don’t know. Those who cherish the mind and are so suspicious of the subjectivity of the other branch of Christendom.
How we need a bringing together of mind and heart, of thought and passion! God is only half glorified when he is known accurately and not delighted in with the heart.
Introducing Christian Hedonism
Now, biblically, is this so? Is this so? Is it just a Lewis thing and an Edwards thing kind of hanging out there in theological la-la land and you draw down some inferences from these great sentences? Or can you take a child or anybody and show him verses that make these things to be so?
Let me unpack from the Bible objections that have come to me over the years from saying these kinds of things. The implication, if you haven’t heard it already is Christian hedonism, which I define as a “living for pleasure.”
John Piper is sold out to pleasure. Pleasure seeking is the plain old dictionary definition of hedonism. And that is my life’s goal. Unashamed, unabashed, unapologetic. Well, that’s not quite true, because I write about it in order to make an apology for it in an intellectual sense.
The implication of God being glorified by hearts that are on fire for him, and delight in him, and are satisfied in him, and take joy in him, and savor him is that — if you believe that, if you see that in Scripture — you must pursue joy in God. You must.
There are ethicists all over the world trying to get you not to, because, they say, if you pursue pleasure in doing a good deed or in worship, you contaminate it and turn it into reward seeking. But if you buy what they’re saying, you can neither worship God nor love people as you ought. Or to put it positively, the very essence of worship and the essence of virtue is a delighting in God.
Five Objections to Christian Hedonism
- Does the Bible really teach that?
- What about self-denial?
- Doesn’t it put emphasis on emotions?
- What about the noble concept of duty and serving God?
- Doesn’t that make you the center of the universe, not God?
I wonder if I can fly through those objections by giving you biblical answers to all those questions.
1. Is this in the Bible?
Let me give you several arguments why what I say is biblical. Four reasons:
1. The Bible commands that you pursue your delight.
Delight yourself in the Lord. (Psalm 37:4)
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy.” (Psalm 32:11)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
These are commands, not suggestions. These are commandments. We are commanded to be happy.
2. We are threatened with terrible things if we will not be happy.
I read that Jeremy Taylor said that one time and I thought, “That’s clever. God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy. I wonder if that is biblical?”
And then I found it in Deuteronomy 28:47–48:
Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart ... therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you.
That’s serious. Joy is a serious issue. There is a world of difference between levity and joy. It is a serious issue. He threatens terrible things if you will not be happy in him.
3. The very nature of faith implies this.
For example, Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe [two things], that he [is] and that he rewards. . . . ”
You cannot please God if you don’t come to him for reward, namely, himself as the reward and the sum of all. This text says you cannot please God without faith. And then it defines faith as resting in and hoping in God, confident in two things: that he is and that he is the rewarder of those who come to him. If you don’t come to him as the satisfaction of your reward-longing soul, you don’t have faith and cannot please him. This is serious. It’s not icing on the cake of Christianity or some little neat thing to think about. This is Christianity.
4. The nature of evil implies this.
What is evil? What is ultimate evil according to Jeremiah 2:13?
Be appalled, O heavens at this; be shocked, be utterly [dismayed]...for my people have committed two [great] evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12–13)
That’s evil. So what is evil? Evil is to be presented by the Living God with a fountain of water that will carry you into eternity and satisfy your heart forever and ever — never ending — and then to turn your nose at it! Then you turn around and take a little shovel and start digging in dry dirt, putting your mouth to it, trying to get something satisfying out of it. That’s evil!
This means that to do good — the opposite of evil — is to be a hedonist. Go to the Fountain! The opposite of coming to the fountain is evil. The essence of coming to the fountain is drinking and drinking until it satisfies your soul, and you say, “Ah!” And then you begin to commend it in Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam at cost to your life.
These are the four reasons I say it is biblical. That’s my answer to the first objection, “Is it biblical?”
2. What About Self-Denial?
Being a hedonist and constantly pursuing your own pleasure and your own delight in God doesn’t sound like Jesus’s teachings, such as, “He who would be my disciple let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
My response to that kind of objection, as with many objections from the Bible, is usually to say, “Read the rest of the passage.” If anyone objects to something biblical by reading a portion of the Bible, generally the best response is “Read the rest of the passage.”
If anyone wants to be my disciple “let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would [gain] his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25).
Now, what’s the argument there? The argument is, “You don’t want to lose your life, do you? Then lose your life, and you will gain it.” It’s an appeal to the desire to gain your life. C.S. Lewis was so right that the Gospels are filled with such unblushing promises of reward at every turn that our problem is that our desires are too weak and not too strong.
There is self-denial, oh yes. Look at Matthew 13:44. Remember that parable? “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Don’t miss that phrase: “From his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field.” That’s the kingdom of God!
So, what’s the point of the parable? Deny yourself everything except the kingdom. There is self-denial, but not ultimate self-denial. Ultimate self-denial is atheism. Deny yourself everything that stands between you and the living water. Become a real Christian hedonist, not the kind of two-bit, half-hearted hedonist that live in the world today who suck on these broken cisterns until they yield disease.
The Gold of God’s Fellowship
I just read on the plane from Ezekiel that they are “sick with their harlotries.” And I thought, “Oh, are they ever.” The world is sick with its harlotry. It’s saying to Husband God, “Just give me enough money so I can pay my paramour down at the store.” They are sick with their harlotries. We should deny ourselves these harlotries that we may marry the all-satisfying God of the universe.
“Deny yourself tin so you can have the gold of God’s fellowship.”
So, I believe in self-denial. Deny yourself tin so you can have the gold of God’s fellowship. When I say the “gold of God’s fellowship,” I don’t mean a posh hotel or nice clothes, or a big meal, or health, wealth and prosperity gospel. We know that kind of gospel is not the gospel. We are called to live streamlined lives in this broken age so that the money that’s in this room flows in gospel channels in tremendous measure. And we keep a cap on our lifestyles so that we are not viewed by the world as, “Oh, they just have the same values we do, so what good is their faith?”
Be ready to give an answer if anybody asks the reason for the hope that is in you. Has anybody asked about the reason for the hope that is in you recently? The reason they don’t is that we look like we are hoping in the same things they do.
It’s one thing to have an answer ready, and it’s another thing to live a lifestyle that causes people to ask you for it. That’s a suffering lifestyle. You go to a hard place. You go through a divided pancreas and you keep a certain demeanor about yourself rooted in God, and people begin to wonder, “Life doesn’t seem to be his ultimate value.”
What then is your hope in? At those points we may be asked. I believe in self-denial in order to get the best.
3. Aren’t You Making Too Much of Emotions?
You talk about delighting in God and being satisfied in God and rejoicing in God and being happy in God and content in God. Aren’t you going to get carried away with subjectivity and subjectivism? Emotions will take over your life. Isn’t Christianity really a commitment? Isn’t it a decision? Isn’t it a will to follow King Jesus? Let the emotions come along if they will, and if they don’t, no loss.”
No, that’s not Christianity. I remember at Wheaton I had a good course on apologetics from Millard Erickson. He had us read Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics in 1967. Bad book. I wasn’t real smart in those days. I was a B+ student at Wheaton because the competition at Wheaton was unbelievable. I think I had a 3.2 average or so.
I was working my tail off to understand these books he was having us read. I remember sniffing in this book and reading this: one argument said, “Love cannot be an emotion because it’s commanded. And you can’t command the emotions, you can only command the will.” That didn’t smell right to me. I was nineteen years old and it didn’t smell right. I couldn’t quite figure that out. I hardly knew what Calvinism and Arminianism meant yet.
Now I know I was a Calvinist in the making. That’s why it didn’t smell right. “You can’t command the emotions. You can only command the will. Love is commanded therefore love is not an emotion.” Sounds so neat. I remember many of my classmates saying, “Alright! That’s good! Now I’ve grown. I know what love is now!”
“Baloney,” I say on that argument. You know why? Emotions are commanded everywhere in the Bible. Everywhere.
Emotions Are Commanded in Scripture
Joy is commanded: “Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4).
Hope is commanded: “Hope in God” (Psalm 42:5).
Fear is commanded: “Fear him who can cast both soul and body into hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Peace is commanded: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart” (Colossians 3:15).
Zeal is commanded: “Never flag in zeal” (Romans 12:11).
Grief is commanded: “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). “Be wretched, mourn and weep” (James 4:9).
Desire is commanded: “Earnestly desire the sincere spiritual milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2).
Tenderheartedness is commanded (Ephesians 4:32).
Brokenness and contrition are commanded (Psalm 51:17).
Gratitude is commanded: “Give thanks for everything” (Ephesians 5:20).
You have a little six-year-old child on Christmas day who wants a big, red fire engine for Christmas. And some insensitive relative gives him a pair of black socks instead. As he opens it and the relative is sitting there, his mother can say to him, “Johnny, say ‘Thank you’ to your grandmother.” And he can say, “Thank you, Grandmother, for the black socks.” He can obey that command. But that’s not gratitude.
Saying the words, “I thank you, God, for my pancreas,” or “my health,” or “my wife,” or “my loss of my wife,” is not gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion. When you get the red truck you have it, and when you don’t, you don’t. And yet it’s commanded.
God has the right to command of you what you cannot turn on and off with a spigot. That’s why I’m a Calvinist. That’s my definition of Calvinism. God can command of me what I ought to give even if by virtue of my profound rebellion and corruption I cannot give it until I am born of God and transformed from within.
So, I’d simply reject the third objection. No, it does not make too much of emotion. It gets emotion back on the screen. It gets it back on the table. It gets it from the caboose back into the fiery furnace of the engine where it belongs.
Emotions, Not Emotionalism
It will not yield emotionalism if we are like Edwards. There are so many quotes from Edwards that are so precious to me as a pastor that I’ve memorized, because he was a pastor for twenty-three years. Edwards said as a pastor, “I count it my duty to lift and raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can.”
Now “affections” is an eighteenth-century word for emotions. Not clammy palms. He called that “animal spirits”. Fluttering eyelashes, beating heart, sweaty palms, wavering knees is not emotion; it’s the physical fallout of emotion. Emotions can be had by God who has no body. You will have emotions between the day you die and the second coming, and you will have no body during that period. You will love Jesus. You will hate sin. You will rejoice in heaven with no body. No sweaty palms, but everything powerful that is real emotion.
“I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections (emotions) of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided” — then he gave two qualifications — “provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”
Some truths are worth a little bit of emotion like, “We are going to have one amazing meal in a minute!” That’s worth a little emotion. That “God rules over your life and loves you and gave his Son to die for you and will take you into his everlasting fellowship forever and ever,” is worth ten thousand times more emotion than what this meal will produce for us. Both are good and given to be enjoyed according to 2 Timothy 4.
So, “No” to objection number three.
4. What Becomes of the Noble Ideal of Duty and Service?
John, you describe the Christian life as though it were just one pursuit of pleasure after the other. It doesn’t seem to fit certain biblical concepts like duty and service of God. Paul constantly introduced himself as the slave of Jesus Christ. Now you are talking about hedonism, and they just jar in my mind, Piper. I don’t see how you can put that together.”
Well, join the jarring. I get jarred when I read the Bible, too. Then I think, and I think. And I pray, and I ask, “Lord, I’m really ready to be refined. I’m ready to be contradicted. I’m ready to be changed. I’m ready to scrap the whole thing if it doesn’t fit the Scriptures. I want nothing to do with it.”
The Giver Gets the Glory
Then I find texts like this with regard to serving the Lord: “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, for he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). So, we are not supposed to serve God as though he needed anything. Well, if he doesn’t need anything, then what is my serving? It’s a receiving, that I might meet people’s needs, not his needs.
In my serving, Christ remains the giver because the Giver gets the glory. I base that on 1 Peter 4:11: “Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God may get the glory through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The Giver gets the glory. If you try to serve God in a way that you are providing for him, meeting his needs, increasing his glory in some way, then you get the glory.
“Oh, poor God needs you and you will meet his need. And you get the glory and he becomes the beneficiary, you the benefactor,” and I call that blasphemy.
Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came not to be served.” Don’t serve the Son of Man, or you contradict the incarnation! Of course, this is a provocative statement since it’s written all over the New Testament that we are to serve the Lord. So, we must make distinctions here. There is a service that blasphemes, and there is a service that leans on him for provision and gives him the glory as the Benefactor and we the beneficiary. It’s all in 1 Peter 4:11: “Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies.”
So, yes, I believe in serving the Lord. Yes, I believe in that wonderful biblical concept, provided you are constantly the receiver in relation to God as you serve people. Leaning on him, depending, drawing down help at every millisecond of your life so that he is the Benefactor, with all its glory, and you the beneficiary.
Duty That Honors God
What about duty? Just a quote from one of my favorite theologians. I wish he had lived longer and I wish I’d known him. He died the year before I got to Fuller Seminary. It’s Edward J. Carnell. Carnell wrote a book which in my mind is one of the top books in my apologetics library called Christian Commitment. Somebody should get it back into print. Just a powerful book, way out of print.
Nobody reads it anymore, but here is a quote on duty: “Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her answer is, ‘You must, but not that kind of must.’”
Let me interpret that before I read the next sentence. He is asking, “Is it my duty to kiss my wife good night?” She hears the question and thinks, “It is a duty, but it isn’t that kind of duty.” Here is the next sentence: “What she means is this: unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of moral value.”
Do you hear what that’s saying? That’s saying, yes, there is such a thing as duty in the world. All you veterans in this room who love the thought of duty during World War II, for example, you know there is such a thing as duty. There is, however, a duty that does no honor to country and no honor to wife and no honor to God, and it is a duty that has no heart in it.
Duty and Delight
I did a seminar with a well-known Christian a few years ago, and I was charged with coming up with the title. I gave it a Christian hedonist title like, “Serving God for the Joy in It” or something. This person wrote back and said, “I’m not comfortable with that title. I think we ought to say that our goal is obedience, not joy.”
“You can’t choose between duty and delight if duty is your delight or delight is your duty.”
What would the answer to the essay question be, “Explain why the objection has a built-in contradiction in it — we should pursue obedience, not joy”? My answer goes something like this: That’s like saying we should pursue fruit, not apples. That’s because obedience simply means doing what you are told, and God tells you, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” You can’t choose between duty and delight if duty is your delight or delight is your duty. You can’t choose them.
It’s a false dichotomy. It’s a category confusion. Category confusions cause all kinds of problems in philosophy. And one of them is, “You should go for obedience, not joy,” when, in fact, we are commanded by the God we should obey to be happy in him all over the Bible. So, I wrote back. We kept the title, and we had a friendly debate during the seminar.
That’s my answer to objection number four, “What about this noble concept of duty? What about this noble concept of serving God?”
5. Does Pursuing Joy Beget Self-Centered People?
Last objection: “Piper, for all your vaunted talk about the glory of God — saying to people they should pursue their joy with all their might in all they do without any exception — I think you are begetting self-centered people, not God-centered people.”
Is that true? This is my closing question. It takes us back to my two passions that I wanted so bad to be united and single: the glory of God and the desire to be happy. Are they really one, or is the pursuit of one going to lead to a self-centered life that denies the other?
As I have cast about over the years with human analogies to try to help me understand this and help you understand it, the one that I have found most helpful is in relation to my wife. We’ve been married thirty-one years now. As I look around this room at these gray heads, some of you have been married sixty years maybe? Sixty plus? You can tell me a few things. Thirty is half of that.
Suppose this December when it’s thirty-one years, I come home with thirty-one, long stem, red roses somehow held behind my back and ring the doorbell, which I never do. Noël, my wife, comes to the door, looks at me and asks, “Why did you do that?”
And I pull these out and say, “Happy Anniversary, Noël.” She says, “Oh, Johnny, they are beautiful! Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty.”
What’s wrong with that answer? It’s a true answer. What’s wrong with it? It’s a profoundly defective answer. Why? What’s wrong with duty? We want to extol duty. There is something wrong here.
Let me replay the tape and give you the right answer.
Ding-dong. “Happy anniversary, Noël.”
“Oh, Johnny, they are beautiful! Why did you?”
“I couldn’t help myself. Nothing makes me happier than to buy roses for you. And by the way, I’ve got a babysitter. Why don’t you go change clothes because we are going out tonight. There is nothing I’d rather do than spend the evening with you.”
Not in a million years would she ever say, “Nothing you’d rather do! Why don’t you think about me sometime?”
Why? Why doesn’t she accuse me of self-centered, Christian hedonism at that moment? Your whole laughter, your whole heart right now knows the answer. You don’t need me to explain, but I will put it in a sentence. You know that when I express delight in her wanting to spend the evening with her, I magnify her. I extol her. I lift her up. I honor her. That’s what worship is. Let your passion be single.
I am so thankful to you, Father, that you have not created humans who have to choose between your glory and their satisfaction. You have so designed us that we, in your image, will only find our true and lasting satisfaction in you.
So, my exhortation to you as I pray is that you would have one single passion, namely a passion to be happy in God. Because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.