Life-Risking Courage in the Cause of Love

Where Does It Come From?

New Canaan Society | Washington D.C.


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

Yesterday, I argued that the ultimate reason that God created the world and that Christ died was so that God would be glorified by our being satisfied in him. This creation is about God — not about us. And this issue is: How do we then feel or act in order to make him look great?

Therefore, I said the reason for wanting to be declared righteous, wanting to be free from the wrath of God, wanting to have our ransom paid, and rescue from hell and everlasting life with no pain, and forgiven for all our sins is so that we would come to God. Those are all means, glorious means. And the end is: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Bring us to God.

Discover Joy

And what do we find when we come? “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That’s why we come to God. The end of our quest is God glorified by our being satisfied in him. And I argue that those two go together like that because of Philippians 1:20–21.

“You cannot glorify God if you are not pursuing your supreme satisfaction in God.”

Then I argued that the implication of our glorifying God through being satisfied in God is that we should seek our satisfaction in him as a lifelong vocation — 24/7. Everything hangs on being satisfied in God. If you’re a fighter justice, and you are not doing it for the glory of God, and not satisfied in God in the doing of it, two things will happen.

  1. It will peter out because you will not have the courage and the strength to risk it.
  2. If you succeed in measures of it, God will get no glory in it, and we’ll be right where we were one hundred years from now.

It was the disappearance of God from the Civil Rights Movement that put us where we are now. Carl Ellis has written a great book called Free At Last, which shows and documents the horrific impact on the glory days.

There is a connection between these two messages, and I hope you hear it. I gave you nine reasons from the Bible for why you should passionately seek your joy in God above your joy in anything else. If God is not number one in your affections and your passions, you’re an idolater.

How Love Is Possible

And I left out one of those arguments. And that’s the one we’re dealing with now. And the argument goes like this. I’ll state it, explain it a little bit, then go to the Bible. God’s command in the Bible that we love each other is not possible if you are not pursuing your supreme and everlasting satisfaction in God. That’s the contention. That’s the argument. Loving people is not possible if you are not pursuing your supreme and everlasting satisfaction in God above all of the devil’s sinful allurements and all of God’s precious gifts.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

Or you could say, “He who loves racial justice more than me is not worthy of me.” That argument that I left out, namely that you can’t love people unless you are pursuing supreme satisfaction in God, is the horizontal version of yesterday’s message. I would call yesterday’s message vertical Christian Hedonism. You cannot glorify God if you are not pursuing your supreme satisfaction in God. Today, you cannot love people if you are not pursuing your supreme satisfaction in God. Those are the vertical and horizontal dimensions of this understanding of the Bible.

The Nature of Love

Now, behind that contention is an understanding of the nature of love. And I’ll define it, and then we’ll get to the Bible, because you must test all things and see if these things are so. Whether I say it or anybody else says it, nobody should care. If the Bible says it, die for it. That’s where we’re going. You be good Bereans and test this. Here’s the claim about the nature of love. People are loved by us when, at any cost to ourselves we seek to expand our joy in God by including them in it. That’s my definition of love.

From every nation on the planet, every race, every socioeconomic level, we will lay down our lives to include others in our supreme and everlasting satisfaction in God, which enlarges our enjoyment of God. Therefore, you never have to choose between loving people and being happy in God. And my argument is you dare not choose, because if you cease to pursue the enlargement of your happiness in God, you cannot love people. That’s the argument. Now there are a couple of reasons for why that relationship matters.

Draw Others In

First, everlasting, all-satisfying joy in God is the greatest gift that you can give to anybody. There are many other gifts that love gives. This is the greatest. To give other gifts indifferent to the greatest is not love. All the other ways of loving people cease to be loving if you don’t love them this way.

This is thoroughly plain. If you make somebody supremely happy and prosperous for eighty years, and don’t give a rip whether they suffer for eighty million years, you don’t love them. That is just really clear to me. Therefore, the supreme act of love is drawing them in to your enjoyment of God. If you don’t have it, you can’t give it. Therefore, if you don’t pursue it, you can’t love.

When He Is My All

Second, if you don’t have supreme and everlasting joy in God, you will not have the resources to take the hits and the risk and the pain and the losses that it will require to love people like this — especially people across races, across nations, across religions.

Where else does missions come from? The kind of missions that packs your baggage in your coffin — where does that come from? Total, supreme satisfaction in God. I will be fine no matter what because he is my all.

Wealth of Generosity

Now we’ve got to go to the Bible to see if this is so. If you have a Bible, get them out and look at it with me because if you don’t see if for yourself, if you just hear somebody vaguely talking about things, it will not be very life changing over the long haul. We are going to look at 2 Corinthians. Now what we’re looking for in this text is confirmation that love is what we just said it was, and that you must pursue joy in God in order to be loving.

Here’s the situation: Paul is writing to Corinth in the lower part of Greece. He’s using Macedonians, who are in the upper part of the Grecian Peninsula, and their example to stir up the Corinthians to love.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. . . . I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (2 Corinthians 1–2, 8)

Grace Come Down

So, what is your definition of love on the basis of these verses? In a severe test of affliction there was an abundance of joy, because grace had come down. And extreme poverty overflowed in generosity. Do you have a definition in your head now of what love is? This is what you do. This is what thinkers do. They get meaning from God’s word and live by it. They pray themselves into it.

Grace had come down and abundance of joy was welling up. In what? Extreme poverty over here and severe affliction over here. These people are hedged in by poverty and affliction, and they’re just exploding with joy. So, what’s the joy in?

I hate the prosperity gospel because the prosperity gospel cannot handle this verse. They say if I can just give you a message that will keep your wife from miscarrying, and all your pigs have eight piglets, and you never get malaria — we’ll export this from America, fly out in our jets, and leave you to prosper. No, they don’t.

Joy in Affliction

This text says that the first response was not that poverty went away and affliction went away. In fact, affliction increased, and joy exploded, which means it’s joy in the grace of God. It’s joy in God. And what did it produce? This abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity. It’s always the poor who are the most generous. You guys aren’t the most generous. You know that. You’ve read the statistics. The poor, percentage-wise, always give more than the rich. The rich they think they give a lot because they give ten percent. Most of the people in this room should be living on ten percent, right?

There’s no question where generosity comes from. It comes from an unbelievable satisfaction: “God is all to me.” And when you become that free that you can “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still — home free. Make my day.” Then you will change the world. Without those kind of deep inner resources, everything we’ve talked about is going to abort. And America will just keep living off of its high-hog selfishness that it has for the last couple of hundred years.

Here’s my definition of love from 2 Corinthians 2: Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Let’s make it a little more precise: Love is the God-given, grace-enabled impulse to expand your joy in God by including others in it. And in the case of the Macedonians, extending resources: Even though you’re poor and afflicted, the folks in Jerusalem were poorer, and you’re going to help them out.

Cheerful Giving

Paul began with that model of Macedonia and the effect it had on them. And now he’s going to draw out some implications here in 2 Corinthians 9:7–8:

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

So how does he feel about non-cheerful givers? That’s a really tough question, isn’t it? Because the opposite of love would seem to be something negative. It is negative. I won’t name it. You choose what to name it. God loves a cheerful giver. In the context of 2 Corinthians 8:2, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed with a wealth of generosity. The Macedonians were pleading that they might have the opportunity to give (2 Corinthians 8:4). “Please let us give. Please take another offering.” They wanted to do this. This is cheerful. This is desired. “We want to do this. This is making our day. We are loving giving.”

When you get over to 2 Corinthians 9:7, and it says, “God loves that kind of giving — a cheerful giver,” it means that God doesn’t love dutiful giving, minus joy. He doesn’t. He feels something else: grief, anger, disappointment.

Therefore, if you are indifferent to the cheer, joy, expanding itself in giving, you can’t please God or love people. It’s not called love. You can write your check, but it won’t please God. And it won’t lead people to delight in God.

Labor with Joy

Hebrews 13:17 starts out like it’s addressing the people in the movement or the church, and ends up addressing the leader.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

So people, help your pastors enjoy the ministry. Let those leaders give an account for your souls with joy, lead with joy, and not with groaning. Some leaders might be tempted to groan and groan because of the hardship their people give them. But this says, “Don’t let your leaders lead like that.” Let them do this with joy, not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Do you follow the logic? If leaders fail to pursue and find their joy in the leading of the church, their flock will not be helped.

Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

You can’t love your people if you don’t delight in God through that ministry for their sake. There can be a lot of anti-church sentiment in our day. I don’t like it, but I understand it because there are a lot of sick churches. And you know why there are a lot of sick churches? Sick pastors who groan in the ministry and don’t rejoice over their people and rejoice in the Lord and the people can’t feel that their pastor loves God more than anything. Instead, they go and they can’t tell what he loves. He’s telling a story and reading an article there and making some application here. And he has not been with God.

My exhortation to all of us: Grow up and love the church. Love the church. Die for the church. Get into the church. Give yourself to the church. It’s the bride. It’s the only institution in the world he died for. Love the church. Love it and die for it like Jesus did. He died for his enemies.

Hebrews 13:17 teaches that unless our hearts as leaders are passionately in love with Jesus, we can’t be good for our people.

More Blessing

In Acts 20:35, there’s a word that everybody skips. And ethically, philosophically, the word is controversial. Paul’s just closing his talk to the elders on the beach in Miletus, elders of Ephesus. He loves these people. They’re weeping over him, since this may be the last time they see him. This is a moving chapter to me. Any elder, any leader would love this chapter, I hope.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Richer, Deeper, Fuller

What does that mean? More blessed to give than to receive. It means you’ll be happier if you do it. You’ll be more blessed, more rich, more deep, more full of everything you were made to be. You’ll be more if you’re a giver than a receiver. Live for others, just pouring your life out for others. You want to be happy in God? Pour your God-centered happiness onto people. Die to include people in your joy in God.

Now I did a doctoral degree at the University of Munich on loving your enemies. I was reading for those three years, article after article, book after book, on ethical motivation. And I read so much to this effect: “It’s okay to be rewarded for a good deed. It is not okay to want the reward as a motivation for doing the good deed.”

Doubled Joy

I grew up in a fundamentalist, Bible-believing home, and love it to this day. That’s why I’m a fundamentalist, I suppose. I love my dad. Love my mom. They raised me on the Bible. And I smelled those highfalutin, philosophical arguments, and I said, “That doesn’t smell right. That doesn’t smell right.” Why not? Because Acts 20:35 is in the Bible. It’s not true that you shouldn’t want to be rewarded as a motive for loving people. It’s not biblical. Verse after verse after verse opposes that Kantian, philosophical, ethical notion, which has ruined worship and obedience in many cultures.

This text says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” but the word that’s overlooked ethically is the word remember. If you are trying to love someone, and you’re finding it difficult, Paul says, “Remember.” You see that word? What does that mean? It means: Call to mind what Jesus said, so that it has a motivating effect on you. And what did he say? It’ll be better for you if you love them. Every ethical thing that I was stumbling over said, “Forget, forget, forget,” because if you remember it, it will contaminate the moral act.

As soon as you remember that this is going to go better for me, you have just become selfish, not loving. Now you’re doing this for you, not them. That persuades a lot of people, a lot of you. It won’t work. Either Jesus was a very contaminating teacher, or that view of life is wrong, because Jesus said and Paul said, “Remember what I say to you: It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Now, why is that not selfish?

What Makes Us Happy

The good that others are experiencing through our love is what makes us happy. I’m not stepping on you to get to my happiness. I’m picking you up. I’m going to die to take you with me into this happiness. My blessedness isn’t leaving you behind. It is more blessed to give because, in giving, we’re going to take them into the riches that we’ve been enjoying, and we want to enjoy more and more. And we know that if we can take them with us, their joy and our joy makes our joy bigger. We’re not leaving them. We’re not using them.

Reward for love includes the participation of the beloved in the reward. If you don’t care whether the person you’re loving is going to join you in the blessedness that this act of love gives you, you’re not loving. And you’re not pursuing the fullest blessing. A great difference between Christianity and radical Islam is we don’t kill to gain paradise. We die as a way of drawing others into paradise. The most radical, fringe expressions of Islam believe that, in killing themselves and others, they go to paradise. We believe that along with Jesus, we will die for you, so that you might be included with us in paradise. That’s the definition of missions.

Hardship and Happiness

I’m going to end with Hebrews 10:34. The situation is that conversion had happened, enlightenment had come in this community. Persecution had arisen. Some had been thrown into jail. Others had been faced with the question of whether to take food to them and be identified with them and run the risk.

Miracle People

Right now, you can picture things in America just like that. There are people in big trouble an if we publicly identify within them, we get in big trouble. And so, should we go underground? Or should we be identifying with them?

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)

So, they made the right choice. They made the loving choice. How did they do it? “You had compassion on those in prison. And you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” Now, brothers, we are wealthy. All of us in America are wealthy. The poor are wealthy in America compared to the desperately poor in other parts of the world. We are a wealthy people. We don’t like it when our goods are plundered. If somebody writes on my wall, “Christian, go home,” I’m getting mad.

But look at these miracle people. I pray you’ll be like this. I prayed with Marshall before I came up here and said, “God, I want to be this sermon. I want to be this. I want to be this verse more than I want almost anything.”

Better and Abiding

How in the world can anybody be so upside down, so radically different from America? How can anybody be so un-American as to rejoice when they plunder my property? Do you hear it? This is so off-the-charts radical.

“I identified with somebody in prison and took some hits for it. And those hits made me glad.” That’s amazing. They joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. But let’s end on the ground clause. How did you do that? How did you become that kind of person? Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. That’s God, brothers.

Better and abiding. Full and lasting. “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). We have a better possession and an abiding one.

My one point is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. My subordinate point is you can’t love people unless you are glorifying God by pursuing your fullest satisfaction in him.

I would stake my entire two messages on Hebrews 10:34. They joyfully, joyfully accepted the plundering of their property, which happened because they loved. And the reason they could rejoice in God like that, and love like that, is because they knew in the depths of their being, I have a better and a lasting possession, and his name is Jesus.