One Life: Don’t Waste It

Campus Outreach National Conference | Chattanooga, Tennessee


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

You’re born. You live. You die. That life defines your eternity. Heaven and hell follow, in a straight line, from what you’ve made of this life — and that’s it. You waste your life if you don’t bring it into sync with God’s purposes for you, for your life. I’m focusing on three of those purposes.

Made to Glorify God

First, God made you for his glory. That is, he made you to put him on display by the way you live, the way you think, the way you feel. Here are a few verses to prove it:

  • “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” (Isaiah 43:7)

  • “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

  • “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

  • “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 honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)

It’s all over the Bible. You’re on the planet by God’s design in order to make him look magnificent. You’re not your own. You were made, and you were redeemed, bought, for his glory. To make him look great. That’s why we’re here. That’s number one. If you don’t bring your life into sync with that, you waste it. You throw it away, and in the end, you lose it.

Made to Delight in God

The second purpose of your life is that he made you for joy. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). It’s just amazing to hear the Son of God tell you that: “I have come. I speak. I live. I die, that my joy, which is a joy in my Father that is infinitely powerful, never-ending, might be in you, and therefore your joy might be explosively full.” That’s stunning, and that’s why you’re on the planet: to be happy in God.

“You waste your life if you don’t bring it into sync with God’s purposes for you.”

In his presence, his fullness of joy, at his right hand, are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). You’re called into his presence by creation. You’re called into his presence by redemption. In his presence it is full, and it is forever. You can’t increase “full.” You can’t increase “forever.” Joy is why you’re made. It’s amazing.

These two — the glory of God and the joy of people — are not alternatives. These two aren’t even in competition. These two are one. That you live for God’s glory and that you be happy in God are one. God is made to look good, glorious, valuable, treasured, praiseworthy, satisfying, when you are more satisfied in him than anything else. That’s what makes him look great.

So, if you’re not satisfied in God, you’re making him look bad, which means you’re not doing what he created you to do. That’s the point so far.

Made to Do Good to Others

The third reason that you exist, with which you need to bring your life into conformity, is that he made you to love other people, to do them good. How do you do good to others? You include them in what you’ve experienced. They need to glorify God, and they need to be happy in God ultimately.

I spoke at Lausanne over a year ago in South Africa, at this big, global conference where Christians from every country of the world were present. I pleaded with them, that they would all agree with one sentence. I’m going to give you that sentence, and I’m going to plead with you. It has to do with the issue of social, physical caring for people and spiritual caring for people. There’s a big conflict between the two.

Christians Care About All Suffering

Some people want to give their lives away for human trafficking, and clean water, and good education, and world hunger. They say, “Let’s have food on the table. Let’s put food in people’s bellies. Let’s help them. They can’t even survive without help.” Then there are others who say, “They’re going to go to hell. They need the gospel.”

I’m pleading with you: don’t separate those. They’re both absolutely true. You’re not called to choose between physically caring for people and spiritually caring for people. When I say, “God made you to love people,” I’m not asking you to choose.

So, here’s the sentence: Christians, Bible-believing people, care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. That’s it. That’s what I’d like you to feel.

Wired to Help from the Heart

I would like you to look on any pain in your friend’s life with compassion. A sore throat, or the loss of their mom, or the announcement that they have cancer — whatever it is. I want you to be the kind of person from Jesus’s parable, the good Samaritan, who can’t walk by on the other side. You can’t. You’re just wired to think like this: “I can’t walk by and leave this person alone. They have a need. I have some resource.”

But in that, I want your heart to be whole, and real, and inclusive of all that God is and all that he teaches. That means there’s a heaven, and there’s a hell, and everybody is bound one way or the other. If you try to fill a person’s belly but don’t care about where they’re going, you don’t love them. I don’t care what you feel in your heart or how many needs on this planet you have laid down your life to meet.

I’m not saying that you have to succeed, and I’m not saying that filling their bellies is contingent upon them getting saved. No. I’m saying that if you don’t care, if your heart is not moving toward their salvation and their eternal joy in God, where they glorify him forever, then you don’t love them. God made you to love people: to love each other as believers and to love the world as not believing yet. To love everyone on your college campuses.

Love for Others Stems from Joy in God

Now, here’s what has to be established in view of last night.

You told us last night, Piper, that we should devote our lives — 24/7 until we’re dead — to maximizing our joy in God.

Yes. I did.

Now you’re telling us that we should devote ourselves to loving people, and caring about people, and relieving the suffering of people, and drawing people into the fullest possible experience of their own joy.

Yes. I am. That’s right. All of it — to the glory of God.

So, what has to be established now from the Bible? Not from my mouth. Who cares about what Piper thinks? What matters is what God thinks. We have to take you to the Bible. What I need to show you is that if what I said last night isn’t true, you can’t love people. I’m going to argue that if you’re not pursuing satisfaction in God, if you’re not experiencing a significant measure of deep joy in God, you can’t love people. That’s today’s message. That’s what I have to establish.

“Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.”

Here is where we are going: the unwasted life, the life that really counts, is a life lived to make Christ look magnificent by being satisfied in him more than anything else, which overflows to meet the needs of others. That’s the summary of my two talks.

Here’s the way we’re going to do it. My point is going to be that the power and the freedom to love other people is being satisfied with all that God is for you and all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. That’s the thesis of this message. You can’t love people unless you are satisfied with all that God is and promises to be for you in Jesus. That’s the power. That’s the freeing, liberating power to love.

Defining ‘Love’

Let’s look first at 2 Corinthians 8. I’m going here because I’m looking for a definition of love. I want to be biblical. I don’t want to just assume that what I just said is all right. I’m looking for a source of love. I want to know what it is and where it comes from, because I want to get it.

I know if there’s anything clear in the Bible, it’s 1 Timothy 1:5: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Paul is saying, “Everything that I’m teaching aims that you would be a loving person.” Look at the whole of 1 Corinthians 13, which ends by saying, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

I’m going to waste my life if I’m not a loving person. If I’m not a loving husband, if I’m not a loving father, if I’m not a loving neighbor, if I’m not a loving pastor, if I’m not a loving embracer of the world — I have wasted it.

Doing as the Macedonians

So, we are looking for what love is and where it comes from in 2 Corinthians 8:1–3, and I want to set the stage. The brothers that Paul mentions are the Christians in Corinth, which is in southern Greece. He’s going to allude to those who are in Macedonia, which is northern. He has been there already, and as he is collecting money for the poor saints in Jerusalem, something amazing happens among the believers in Macedonia: they respond with amazing generosity. He’s going to tell that story to motivate the Corinthians.

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. (2 Corinthians 8:1–2)

That’s just the first two verses. Drop down a few verses, where Paul gives a name to that experience that they had in Macedonia: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:8).

Now, I’ve got a name. It’s called love: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:8). The word also means that what I just described about them is love, and I want you to love like that. You love like they love.

Now, let’s go back and see how they loved in 2 Corinthians 8:1–2 again. Let’s walk through it.

Where Is Your Happiness?

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia . . . (2 Corinthians 2:1)

So, God showed up in power. What happened when grace came down in power? Sovereign grace came. Just like we heard earlier: it came and is coming in China. It came into your life. What did it do in 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. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

This happens over and over again. When Christ comes into a person’s life, affliction increases. They get persecuted. People reject them. They make fun of them. They don’t want to associate with them anymore. They become “weird” — believing that crazy, mythological stuff and changing some of their lifestyle. That makes people upset, makes them feel guilty. So, that happened. Affliction came.

The Macedonians fall in love with Jesus, and what happens? They’re still poor, and they get afflicted on top of it. This is not a good text for the prosperity gospel. Their poverty didn’t disappear — at least, not right away. Its disappearance was not the foundation of their joy, neither was the absence of affliction.

So, check yourself here. Where’s your joy? “Poverty going away makes me happy. Affliction going away makes me happy” — do you think like that? If so, you’re not like these people.

Relentless Joy

Let’s read 2 Corinthians 8:2 again.

. . . for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty . . .

Now, if your joy is not in affliction going away, and your joy is not in poverty going away, what’s it in? Grace. God. Look again at 2 Corinthians 8:1. The grace of God showed up in Macedonia, and its effect was that joy came in, and that joy wasn’t rooted in the absence of poverty. That joy wasn’t rooted in the absence of affliction, and the increase of affliction didn’t make it go away.

It’s like Paul said in Romans 5: “We rejoice in our sufferings.” I want to be like this. I’ll bet hundreds of you do. I want my joy to be undaunted and indestructable by material wealth and by persecution or any kind of affliction or hardship. I want it to be in God.

Joy in God Is Generous

Now, the next phrase of 2 Corinthians 8:2.

. . . 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. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

So, Paul was collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem. We know that from numerous other texts in his epistles. He said to these poor people who were being persecuted, “Would you give? Would you be generous? Would you get outside your own little selfish world and minister to the poor in Jerusalem?”

And they said, “With joy.” In fact, if you read on, 2 Corinthians 8:3 says this: “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.” They said, “Oh, yes. You don’t have to twist our arms to give. We want you to take a second offering, Paul, because it is making our day to give out of our affliction and out of our poverty. Because our joy is overflowing.”

Need-Meeting Love Flows Out of Joy in God

So, here’s my definition of love from that text. You can get other definitions from other texts, but here’s my definition of love from that text. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.

Do you think that’s faithful to the text? Love is the overflow of joy, because that’s what it says.

. . . 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. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

I’m just trying to say what it says. Their joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity. Where does generosity come from? That is, Where does love, and blessing other people, and helping other people, and lifting other people, and ministering to other people — where does it come from? Joy overflowing in God. So, I’ve got my answer to my two questions. Now I know what love is, and I know where it comes from.

Satisfaction Frees You

My agenda is set for my life. There it is. I mean, the Bible is a wonderful book. You don’t have to read all of it in order to know what it tells you to do. This is clear. Grace comes down. It’s coming down right now in this room. The Holy Spirit is here. He’s speaking. If I’m in accord with his word, grace is coming down. If he’s at work in your heart, joy is starting to awaken. You’re beginning to think, “This is liberating.”

“If you’re not experiencing a significant measure of deep joy in God, you can’t love people.”

Joy is rising. It rises to such a point that, when you look around at the people you’ve been mad at, people you envy, things begin to change. “I don’t want to feel envy. I’ve got joy in God. I don’t want to be mad. I don’t want to be driven by bitterness and anger.” All that stuff starts to bleed away. You can even love your enemy.

I could stop my sermon right now. I really could. I think I have made my case, that the power and the freedom to love other people is being satisfied with all that God is for you and promises to be for you in Jesus. I think that’s all in 2 Corinthians 8:1–2. But God’s word is big for a reason, and so let’s go to Acts 20.

Maximizing Joy Through Giving

Acts 20 is the place where Paul is talking to the elders of Ephesus on the beach in Miletus, giving them final words, because he may never see them again. He has loved them and spent a couple of years with them. He has some final words regarding what they should be like, what they should do, and how they should shepherd the church. Afterwards, they weep, and they kiss him. He was a much-loved apostle.

Here’s the way he closes his talk: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak” — this is love — “and remember the words of the Lord Jesus,” — now he’s trying to motivate them, to give them some freedom and some power to do this love — “how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

Blessed. Some of you have probably been taught this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). That word, which is makarios in Greek, means joyful. Happy. A deep sense of wellbeing that God imparts to you. It’s used in a lot of places.

In Acts 20:35, it’s used to describe those who give. It is “more happy.” It is “more satisfying.” It is more — you get a sense of wellbeing from giving, rather than receiving.

Happiness Begets Happiness

Now, it sure sounds like he’s trying to motivate these elders to give, to work with your hands to help the weak, because Jesus said it’s more blessed. You’ll be happier. There’s a completion of joy in loving. You’re happy in God. It starts to overflow. I’m adding this text to 2 Corinthians now. Put the two together.

As it overflows and others are drawn into it, it gets bigger. Your joy in God gets bigger as it presses out to draw others into it. When you have your arms around others, drawing them into your joy, your joy gets bigger in their joy.

You’ve all tasted this. You know you have. Even if you’re not a believer, you’ve tasted some form of this, that when you’ve given of yourself just a little bit to bless another person, to help another person, they’re getting help makes that initial okay-ness about you feel bigger.

What Essays on Ethics Get Wrong

Now, I went to graduate school in Germany for three years and read dozens and dozens of essays on ethics. Years ago, from 1971 to 1974, I was writing a dissertation about the motivation to love your enemies.

Over and over and over again, I would read things like this: “Well, reward is certainly promised to acts of love, but if you do them to pursue the reward, you’re not loving.” I just read that over and over in standard ethical stuff. “If you seek your blessing in loving another, it’s not love. It’s selfish. It’s manipulative. It’s using people.”

“When Christ comes into a person’s life, affliction increases.”

Being an old Southern Baptist, a Bible-thumping and Bible-saturated kid, I just kept saying to myself, “That doesn’t smell right to me. It doesn’t smell right. It doesn’t smell like the Bible.” I just think it’s a wonderful thing. You don’t need to have a big education to have a good nose.

Some of you are super discerning. When some teacher in your class says something, and you say, “That doesn’t smell right,” you’re being way more discerning than many scholars. So, it’s not good just to be a smeller. You need to go to the Bible and say, “Why doesn’t that smell right?”

So, I went ahead and I looked at this text. Now, if they’re right, if all those ethical theorists are right in saying that my loving you for my benefit, for my reward, ruins the act of love and makes me a manipulator, then Paul should have written it like this: “In all things I have shown you, that by working hard in this way, you must help the weak, forgetting the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

‘Love, and Be Blessed’

But Paul wrote this: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ’It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). Because if you remember them, the words of Jesus, they’re going to contaminate you and ruin your act of love — at least, that’s what the ethicists would say. Because Jesus said, “Come on. Come on. Love — because you’ll get blessed.”

Either Jesus is a very bad teacher, lamely ruining the acts of love he’s commending, or the ethicists are wrong. They are wrong.

What Makes You Feel Most Loved?

If you’re on your way to the hospital, and you don’t know what you’re going to say, you just know that they’ve been in an accident, and you don’t know if they’re going to live or going to die, and all you know is love is driving you there, and you want to help, and you’re scared, and you think, “Maybe I even shouldn’t go, because I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t know if I’m going to be of any use,” Paul has something to say to you.

He says, “Remember something. Remember that Jesus said, ‘It’s more blessed for you to just go in there and give yourself than it is to get the security and safety of just going home and praying.’” Paul said that we should remember Jesus’s words, which means that your mind should work something like this:

You walk into the hospital room, and tubes are everywhere, and their eyes are closed. You walk over, and you put your hand on their arm. They open their eyes and smile. It will not offend them if you say, “You know, I didn’t know if I should come or not, but I just felt like I would get a great blessing if I could somehow minister to you. It would make me happy if I could strengthen your faith, if I could pray a word of healing into your life. It would make me happy.”

That’s the way love works. Would that person lying there say, “You don’t love me. You love yourself, because it would make you happy to bless me”? They would never say that. Ask yourself this question: do you feel more loved when people care for you begrudgingly or when they care for you joyfully?

Imagine that you look them in the eye and say, “If I could make you happy, if I could relieve your suffering, it would enlarge my joy.” They would never say, “Enlarge your joy?” No. They wouldn’t. They would say, “You’re an unusual kind of person that your joy is found in my joy.” Yes. They would. It is more blessed to give than to receive, because as you extend your joy in God into the life of another person to try to draw them in, that joy in God gets bigger.

I conclude, after the second text we’ve looked at, that the freedom and the power to love other people is being satisfied in God and all that he promises to be for us in Jesus, because that joy has an expansive force to it. It wants to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger — so that my joy in God gets larger when your joy in God increases, because of my spreading it to you. That’s Acts 20:35. Now let’s go to Hebrews.

Faith in All Circumstances

We’ll start at Hebrews 10:32. What the last few chapters of Hebrews teach is that by faith God works miracles for you, and by faith you are cut down, beheaded, and sewn in two — with no miracle bailing you out. In the middle of Hebrews 11:35, you shift from the miracles happening by faith to the suffering happening by faith — because faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus and being assured that that’s the way it’s going to be in the future.

Faith says, “His promises will come true for me.” And by that faith, we sometimes experience miracles like healing, and we sometimes endure suffering for his sake. That’s what these texts are about. Now let’s just glimpse a few of these verses to close.

Singing in Suffering

Hebrews 10:32: “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened,” — that is, after you were saved — “you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” So, there it is again. You get saved, and things get worse. Yes, they do.

I have no promise to any of you that things will go materially or relationally better for you if you follow Jesus. They might go — and probably will go — worse in many regards. So, no invitation here to an easy life, just a powerfully significant one: “Sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:33). So, some were arrested and were put in jail, and others associated with them at great risk.

“I want my joy to be undaunted and indestructible.”

Hebrews 10:34: “You had compassion on those in prison.” This turns out to be very costly for them. Look at what happens: “You had compassion on those in prison,” — now, that’s love in action, but where’d it come from? — “and you joyfully” — this is utterly unheard of — “accepted the plundering of your property.”

They said, “Now, some of our comrades are in jail, because of their faith. We’re believers. If we go visit them, they will know we’re believers, and something bad is going to happen to us and our families. Shall we go? Shall we just disappear? No. We won’t. We’ll go.”

What happens? Their house gets trashed. It’s called “the plundering of your property” (Hebrews 10:34). What did they do as they were walking to the jail in love, looking over their shoulder at their trashed house? They sang, or as it says, “They joyfully accepted the plundering of their property.”

‘God’s Truth Abideth Still’

I’ll tell you, that’s what I want to be. That is so utterly different from every other person on the planet who’s not satisfied with God. The question is, How did they become like that? How might you in the next five minutes have such a touch from God that you would be the kind of human being who says, “I’m going to the jail to visit my fellow Christians. I don’t care if they trash my house. In fact, if I see them trashing my house, I’m going to sing with Martin Luther:

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

“His kingdom is forever. I’m going to the jail, because I love my friends.” That’s the kind of being you want to be. Where did that come from? It’s real clear where it came from. We just haven’t read it yet. So, let’s read it.

Love Hangs Upon Christ

Hebrews 10:34: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” You joyfully accepted persecution and the trashing of your stuff, because you knew, “My treasure, my inheritance, my God, my Christ is better and abiding.”

“Love comes from being satisfied in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus.”

Does that remind you of something? Perhaps Psalm 16:11: “In your presence there is fullness of joy” — it can’t get better — “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” — it can’t get longer. Here in Hebrews 10:34 it says, “Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

Love comes from being satisfied in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. I’ll tell you, all the voices of advertising on the web and on television are telling you the opposite. Satisfaction is now, here in the stuff you can have.

I promise you, at age sixty-six, having walked with the Lord a long time: having stuff is not the source of joy. Knowing him — being satisfied in him — is. That joy, when it’s full, overflows to meet the needs of others and makes you a loving person.

Whatever the Cost

So, I’m going to stop here. We could have looked at Hebrews 11:24–36. We could have looked at Hebrews 12:1–2. We could have looked at Hebrews 13:13–14. They all say the same thing, but Hebrews 10:32–34 is the clearest: you love people at great cost to yourself, because you know and are satisfied in all that God promises to be for you. This is what faith is.

If you try to abandon your pursuit of full and lasting joy in God, you can’t glorify him, and you can’t love people. That’s the negative summary of my two talks. Let’s put it positively: the root of loving people and glorifying God is the same. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

Therefore, make this your passion: “I will seek satisfaction in God above all other satisfactions. Even if it costs me my arms, and my legs, and my eyes, I will go on that quest. I will find it at any cost. I’ll chop off my hands and gouge out my eyes. I will have this joy, because, therein, is my God made to look really good.”

And the Bible teaches that — in 2 Corinthians 8:2, Acts 20:35, Hebrews 10:34 — that joy in that God is the freedom and the power to die loving people with joy. This country, and this world, need you to be like that.