Life-Risking Courage in the Cause of Love

Congresso Missione | Montesilvano, Italy


The following are John Piper’s speaking notes for this message.

I have argued that the ultimate reason God created the world and the ultimate reason Christ died for sinners is: so his redeemed people would glorify God by enjoying him forever.

And the reason I said that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him is because that is the way Paul argues in Philippians 1:20–21:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

I’ll put a sharper point on it. God is glorified more ways in this world than by his people being satisfied in him. His justice will be glorified in the damnation of those who don’t repent. But if you aim to glorify him, you must make it your aim to be supremely satisfied in him over all things good and evil:

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)

Then I mentioned nine arguments from the Bible for why you should pursue supreme satisfaction in God as your life’s greatest vocation.

The Unrelenting Pursuit of Joy

And I said I left out one of them that would be today’s message. And it is this: God’s command in the Bible that we love people implied that we must be unrelenting in our pursuit of joy in God.

Yesterday the point was: If you abandon the quest to be supremely satisfied in God to the fullest measure, you will not glorify God to the fullest measure.

Today the point is: If you abandon your quest to be satisfied in God to the fullest measure, will not be able to love people to the fullest measure.

All of that assumes a certain understanding of love. I will try to show it from the Bible. But here’s the key sentence: Loving people means seeking to expand your joy in God by including them in it, whatever the cost, even if it costs you your life.

So joy in God — treasuring God as your supreme satisfaction above life itself (Psalm 63:3) — is essential to loving people for two reasons:

  1. Everlasting and all-satisfying joy in God is the greatest gift anyone can receive, and if you don’t have it, you can’t share it.

  2. This everlasting, all-satisfying joy in God is what sustains you in the sacrifices required to love people like this.

That’s the conviction. Now the argument from the Bible.

Overflowing Joy

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the Macedonians to model for them how generosity happened in Macedonia, and he calls it 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. 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 . . . I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (2 Corinthians 8: 1–4, 8)

Grace (verse 1) leads to abundant joy (not in wealth, and not in freedom from affliction, but the glory a gracious God, verse 2) which produces an overflow of generosity. Verse 8 calls this way of life love.

Therefore, love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others — even if you are suffering, and even it if may increase your suffering.

Or you might say that love is the God-given (grace-enabled) impulse to expand your joy in God by extending it to others — even if you are suffering, and even it if may increase your suffering.

Objection: Love cannot be a feeling, but only a volition or action.

Joseph Fletcher makes the following argument in his Situation Ethics.

  1. Love is commanded.
  2. Authentic emotion cannot be commanded.
  3. Therefore love is not an emotion.

Answer: This is valid logic, but the conclusion is false because premise 2 is false.

Emotions are commanded throughout the Bible: gratitude (Psalm 100); hope (1 Peter 1); joy (Philippians 4); sorrow (Romans 12); compassion (Ephesians 4); fear (Romans 11); contentment (Hebrews 13); tender-heartedness (1 Peter 3:8), and so on.

The assumption behind Fletcher’s claim is that God can’t command what we are morally incapable of doing without his sovereign grace. That is false. Augustine is right: Command what you will and give what you command. Pelagius was appalled at Augustine’s Confessions: “Give me the grace [O Lord] to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! . . . O holy God . . . when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.” That is the end of absolute human autonomy.

One of the reasons this whole way of understanding God and Christian life is radical — and is devastating to a person who thinks they are in ultimate control — is that it makes it humanly impossible. It demands sovereign grace

Cheerful Generosity

This passage confirms that our grasp of 2 Corinthians 8:1–2 is not idiosyncratic.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:7–8)

In this context, cheerful giving means making giving an extension of your cheer — your joy — in God. As in 8:2, let your abundant joy overflow in giving. This is love. This confirms for us that God calls not just to giving or serving, but to cheerful giving — giving as an overflow of our joy in God:

Let the one who does acts of mercy, do so with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:8)

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Should you give if you don’t feel this cheer?

One group says: Of course, it’s the obedience not the feeling. This is false. The feeling is part of the obedience. Another group says: No, only authentic cheerful giving counts. The Scriptures compel me to say:

  1. Repent for lack of overflowing joy.
  2. Pray for the restoration of your joy.
  3. Trust a promise (verse 8: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”).
  4. Give, praying that the joy will be given as you do.
  5. Thank God for the grace to do what you were able.

Pursue Your Joy

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. (Hebrews 13:17)

Seeking to be “an advantage” to your people is an act of love. If you are indifferent to the benefit or advantage of your people, you are not loving. Therefore, if you are indifferent to your joy in ministry, you are indifferent to the advantage of your people and indifferent to love.

Therefore, you must pursue your joy in ministry for their sake. A pastor who is just going through the motions does not make a healthy church. Joy in the ministry is not optional. It is an essential ingredient for the health and power of the church.

Shepherd Willingly and Eagerly

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.

Willingly and eagerly are the same as “with joy.” Don’t be driven by money. Don’t be driven by the compulsion of what others think or the expectations of your parents or the shame of quitting. If your calling is to pursue the joy of others, it is inconsistent not to pursue your own. And you calling is indeed to pursue the joy of others:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

What if you are in a season of joylessness?

Don’t make a quick decision to leave your position. We all face trying periods in ministry. What do you do? Here are fifteen strategies drawn from work I did in When I Don’t Desire God

  1. Realize that authentic joy in God is a gift.
  2. Realize that joy must be fought for relentlessly.
  3. Resolve to attack all known sin in your life.
  4. Learn the secret of gutsy guilt - how to fight like a justified sinner.
  5. Realize that the battle is primarily a fight to see God for who he is.
  6. Meditate on the Word of God day and night.
  7. Pray earnestly and continually for open heart-eyes and an inclination for God.
  8. Learn to preach to yourself rather than listen to yourself.
  9. Spend time with God-saturated people who help you see God and fight the fight.
  10. Be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence.
  11. Get the rest, exercise, and proper diet that your body was designed by God to have.
  12. Make a proper use of God’s revelation in nature.
  13. Read great books about God and biographies of great saints.
  14. Do the hard and loving thing for the sake of others (witness and mercy).
  15. Get a global vision for the cause of Christ and pour yourself out for the unreached.

More Blessed to Give

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.” (Acts 20:35)

Ethical teachers like Kant said: You can get a blessing from giving but you can’t be motivated by it. But this is a motivation.

Why isn't giving in pursuit of blessing selfish?

In the case of cheerful giving, we are not pursuing our own ends. What makes us glad is their gladness. The reward we hope for includes their participation in it. We don’t want to use them for our ends; we want to include them in our end. We don’t want to gain at their expense; We want to pay any expense for them to share in our gain.

This reality highlights a great difference between Christianity and radical Islam. We don’t kill as a way of gaining paradise; we die as a way of drawing others with us into paradise.

The blessedness of giving is not completely received here in this world.

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12–14)

Joy in God Sustains

Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to pray for them and do them good. What will sustain us for that when persecuted and slandered?

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:11–16)

Joy in God is the hope that sustains us for the sacrifices of love.

The Joy Set Before Us

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 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.*Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32–35)

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 than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24–26)

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:13–14)

Radically Pursue Your Joy in God

Gouge out your eye, cut off your hand, pummel your body, rise early, stay up late, or be still and know that he is God — do whatever you must do to find supreme and lasting satisfaction in God above all Satan’s allurements. This supreme and everlasting joy in God is the greatest treasure you have to give to anyone else, and is the strength that will sustain you in the sacrifices of love.