Let me try to sum up where we’ve been and get us on track here. In the first message, the aim was to show that everything God does, he does in order to magnify his glory. God is the most God-centered being in the universe. He is not an idolater; he does not put above himself anybody else, and therefore, the most passionate heart for God in the universe is God.
Then we asked the question: If that’s true, is it loving, since the Bible says, “love seeks not its own,” and God is passionately seeking his own glory all the times? Is he a loving God? And we answered that question. Yes, he is a loving God because he’s the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation and virtue are synonymous, or self-exaltation and love are synonymous. The reason that is true is that nothing will satisfy your heart, ultimately, but to know and delight in and be in the presence of God. Therefore, if God loves you, he must preserve his glory, unsullied for you. He must constantly present himself to you. He must constantly exalt himself in your presence for your enjoyment.
If he were to cease, if God were to become humble, in the way that we become humble, he would be cruel to you. Because he would conceal from you the very thing that would delight you — namely, himself. Therefore, if God is to be loving, he must be radically self-exalting in your life, he must lift himself up.
In the man-saturated cultures of Canada and America, we need to ask this question: Does being loved mean to you being made much of by God, or being freed by God to enjoy making much of him? How you answer that question will depend on whether you are shaped by the twentieth century or by the Bible. Because we are such a radically self-esteeming culture, that hardly anybody today can even imagine what it means to be loved any other way than to be made much of. If you cannot imagine being loved any other way than to be made much of, you can’t imagine being loved by God the way he loves you. Because the way God loves you is to free you from the bondage to that, so that you can enjoy an eternity of making much of him.
Then I asked: If this is true, that my satisfaction or delight in God is what exalts God, so that God’s being glorified and my being satisfied in him are the same thing — which is the best of all possible worlds as far as I’m concerned. This is the gospel to me: that God’s passion to be glorified, and John Piper’s passion to be happy and satisfied, are one. If that’s true, then I argued this morning, my chief vocation in life is to pursue happiness. And if I am deflected from the pursuit of happiness, I can neither worship God nor love people the way I ought. Now, I raised five objections this morning to that.
- The first one was: Is it taught in the Bible? I tried to answer that in four ways.
- What becomes of self-denial? Do you believe in the doctrine of self-denial? I tried to answer that this morning.
- Doesn’t this focus on joy as the goal of life make us emotionalistic and elevate emotions too highly? I tried to answer that.
4. Does God really need us to serve him?
And then we come now to objection number four, which I didn’t get to this morning, it goes like this: If what you’re saying is true, that we should pursue our joy as our chief vocation, because in it God is most glorified, then what becomes of the biblical teaching of serving God or giving God our best? Isn’t that all lost in the self-satisfying Christian Hedonism that you keep commending?
Here’s my answer to that: When you talk about serving God, you better be very, very careful. Needy people get served. If I were a cripple, I would need more service from you than if I were not a cripple. What does it say about God if we think of ourselves as having to serve him?
Not Served by Human Hands
Now lest you think that’s just my importation on to a fully biblical concept, let me just read a couple of verses. Acts 17:24–25:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
You dare not serve God as though he needed your service. That’s the height of presumption. When you speak of what becomes of serving God, I say, watch out. Watch out. What is your concept of this thing you’re calling “serving God”? Have you thought it through to the bottom so that you’re not putting God in the position of a needy plantation owner, in dependence on slave labor? Here’s another verse. Let me put before you Psalm 50:12–15:
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Now think that one through: “If I were hungry,” God says, “I wouldn’t ask you for anything. I own everything, I own you. I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I own every salmon in the rivers. I don’t need you to feed me or help me.” Rather, he says, “You call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify me.” Do you see the way it works? “You’re helpless; I help you. When you call upon me, and when I help you, you praise me, and I get the glory and you get the help. And that’s the gospel. If you want to switch roles with me, you die.” That’s what hell is for. People who want to switch roles with God — which is what Adam and Eve wanted to do, and what humans have wanted to do ever since. “I will decide for myself, thank you, how to run my business, how to do my sex life, how to handle my money.” We all want to be God. If we don’t stop wanting to be God, and let God be God, let God be the fountain and let us be the empty vessel that needs filling, then we will perish.
Here’s another one. Mark 10:45:
Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Usually we read the verse way too fast, and we don’t stop and listen to the first half of the verse. But the first half is very important. “The Son of Man came not to be served.” Do not serve the Son of Man. You’ve got to include those verses. You are biblical theologians; you’re not just pick-and-choose systematic people who like certain verses and just take them out. No you’re Bible people; you believe this verse. The Son of Man did not come to be served by you, so don’t make his reason for coming of no effect by serving him.
What God Supplies
Of course, you’re all thinking of verses to the contrary right now. Let me give you a mediating verse that, to me, puts it all together. First Peter 4:11:
Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Now there you have the two sides put together. Yes, Paul calls himself a servant to the Lord Jesus. Yes, the Lord Jesus says, “Do not serve me.” Theologians are born out of people who become uncomfortable with things like that, and mull them over for years, and write in their journals, and penetrate and think and strive to affirm all of the Bible not just pieces of the Bible. The way, I think, to put it together is to say that if the image of service is to be embraced at all, after Acts 17:25 and after Mark 10:45 and after Psalm 50 say no to service — if we’re to embrace it — then we have to say this metaphor has to be adjusted, so that we don’t bring over all the implications of servanthood from the plantation into our biblical theology. What you bring over is this: he is God, I am not; therefore, he can tell me what to do, and I better do it. That’s what you can bring over from service. But if you bring over “he needs me, he’s dependent on me, he benefits from me,” then you’re in trouble. Because when you undertake to do what he says to do, you do it, according to 1 Peter 4:11, in the strength that he supplies, so that in everything he — not you — will get the glory.
My answer to the question, What becomes of the noble concept of serving God? is: it gets adjusted in such a way so that I’m constantly the beneficiary, and he is constantly the one who gets the glory.
God and Mammon
Now let me give you one other verse on this to try to put the pieces together a little more.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
Now ask this with me: How do you serve money? Do you serve money by meeting money’s needs? No. Do you serve money by improving upon money? No. How do you serve money? Because this is given as the alternative to serving God. And if you could figure out the one, you’d know the other. My answer is: You serve money by getting up in the morning and devoting all of your thought to how to benefit from money. Your whole energy is how can I maximize the benefits that money can bring in my life, so that I get in the market low and I get out high, so that all my investments are shrewd, so that I can maximize the usefulness of money in my life, so that I get all out of money that money has to give. That’s the service of money.
Now take that over to God. I would say that’s exactly what it means to serve God properly. You get up in the morning, and you devote all your thoughts to how you can benefit from God, how you can invest in such a way, so that you’re always under the grace of God, receiving from God. So that you live your life in such a way as to maximize the benefits of God in your life, rather than the benefits that the world has to offer in your life.
Grace on the Move
I picture it as a waterfall. God’s grace is like a great waterfall that moves. It’s not like Niagara Falls that moves quarter of an inch every century, but it moves from Minneapolis to Vancouver on Monday with me on the airplane. In my soul, I sense the waterfall is moving on Monday through Thursday from Minneapolis to Parksville, and I’m going to be on it. And I do pray and hope that tomorrow it’s going back the other direction. There is more than one waterfall; don’t worry. I lead my life asking, Where can I benefit most from God? And I don’t have money in mind. I don’t have in mind honoraria or applause or anything like that. The benefits I want from God are the security of my life, meaning for my existence, eternal joy in his presence, the forgiveness of sins, the thrill of no condemnation, the sweetness of his fellowship. These are the things I want from God, moment by moment in my life. If his waterfall of that kind of grace is moving this way, I’m moving, and that’s what it means to serve him.
It doesn’t sound like service, does it? Biblical concepts have to be radically adjusted in view of biblical sentences. And biblical sentences say he is not served by human hands as though he needed anything for he himself gives. And the only way to serve him is to be a beneficiary. Every preacher should preach every sermon under the waterfall. So he’s constantly receiving, receiving, receiving from the Lord, and it is a blessed thing. I’ll jump ahead and use a verse that I planned to use just a little later. Acts 20:35:
Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
If you conceive of service as giving to others, you’re right. But there comes the Bible again to adjust your concept. “It is more blessed to give,” which means you are the getter when you give, and if you aren’t the getter when you give, you’re a legalist.
5. Doesn’t pursuing our own joy make us self-centered rather than God-centered?
Doesn’t that really, John, make you self-centered rather than God-centered? Isn’t the pursuit of your joy all the time resulting in a very self-consumed person? Let me tell you a story to illustrate. It’s made up. This is an imaginary story, though I’m going to do this one of these days. And some of you have already done it. And my wife keeps waiting for me to do it because I’ve told the story so many times.
I’ve been married thirty years. Let’s say that for my anniversary, I come home with thirty long- stem, red roses behind my back. That’s expensive, but I did it. I ring the doorbell, which I don’t usually do. My wife comes to the door, kind of looks puzzled, and I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” And she says, “Aw, Johnny! They’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty.” Wrong answer. And your laughter shows you know it’s the wrong answer. But I ask you, What’s wrong with duty? Duty is a good thing. So what’s wrong with the answer?
Well, let’s rerun the tape and do the right answer. Ding-dong. Funny look. “Happy anniversary, Noël.” “Aw, Johnny! They’re beautiful. Why did you?” “Because nothing makes me happier than to buy roses for you. And by the way, I’ve hired a babysitter. Go change clothes. We’re going out tonight because there’s nothing I’d rather do tonight than spend time with you.” Not in a million years would she ever say, “Nothing makes you happier? Don’t you ever think of me?”
The objection that I’m trying to answer is this: Does not my pursuit of my joy in God make me self-centered? And the answer to that is a resounding no — no more than at that moment when I looked her in the eye and said, “Noël, nothing makes me happier than to spend the night with you,” made me self-centered. She did not feel at that moment that I was the center and she was the slave, not in a thousand years. What that sentence meant — “nothing makes me happier than to be with you” — is that you are the treasure of my life. That’s Noël-centeredness in our marriage.
Say that you ring the “doorbell” of heaven. Saint Peter opens the gate. “Ah, hello. Well, why do you expect to get in here?” You won’t answer, “Because I worked hard for Jesus.” You’ll answer, “Because I’ve trusted Jesus.” And Let’s just say Jesus has walked up now. “Why do you trust me?” What’s going to be your answer? “Why did you trust me?” Your answer is going to be: “Of all the people in the universe, nobody is more beautiful, nobody’s more glorious, nobody’s more trustworthy, nobody is more satisfying than you are. You are the only person in all the universe who could meet my needs and satisfy my soul forever.” Jesus is going to say, “Good answer.” And he will be praised; he will be praised by your saying, “Nobody else could make me satisfied but you.”
So I just deny the objection. I reject it out of hand. It does not work. In all the years I’ve been thinking about these things, no objection has stood before the relentless biblical teaching that we should pursue our joy as our vocation in God, with no exceptions all the time.
Now tonight’s message is just another objection and another answer and here it is: At the horizontal level, is it loving toward people to act this way? In other words, if I start doing nice things for you because they make me happy, is that love or selfishness? In other words, does my philosophy of life called Christian Hedonism destroy human love and replace it with human exploitation of people?
What I want to do is develop a definition of love from a description of love that Paul develops when he’s trying to raise money for the poor saints in Jerusalem. If you’ve studied 2 Corinthians you know that chapters 8–9 are fundraising chapters. This is Paul sending a letter ahead of time before he gets there to take up the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. He’s trying to motivate them to be generous. He motivates these Corinthians first of all, with the example of the generosity of the people up in Macedonia. Those are the people in Thessalonica and Philippi. Second Corinthians 8:1:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.
He’s telling the churches down there in Achaia about the churches up in Macedonia. It’s alright to have models and examples that stir you up to something good.
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 8:2, 8)
Now the reason I brought in verse 8 is so that you can see the little phrase “your love also” — meaning, “What I’m really describing to you is the love of the Macedonians.” Do you see that? Paul is saying, “I’m telling you this illustration of Macedonian generosity to prove that your love is genuine like their love proved to be genuine.” Now if you buy that, you can go back and read the first two verses with me again as a definition or a description of love. That’s what I’m after: What is love? I want a biblical definition of love. I don’t want to import my ideas of love out of the twentieth century into this book.
1. Love results from grace.
Love seems to result from God’s grace. Verse 1: “We want you to know about the grace of God that has been shown in the churches of Macedonia.” So picture it again, I think, like a waterfall. Grace is being shown in the churches of Macedonia. It’s coming out of heaven, and it’s landing on a church. That’s step one in the origin of love.
2. Grace fills us with joy.
Secondly, these Macedonians got filled up with this down-coming grace, only it’s called joy in verse 2: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of liberality.” So the rains came down and the floods came up. That’s the way it works. The rains of grace are coming down and the floods of joy are filling up.
I have an empty cup. It’s my life. I am one desire factory; that’s who John Piper is: his heart is just one continual desire factory. I can empty a cup faster than anybody can imagine. I stay perpetually, longing, longing, longing for something, which is why I write what I write, preach what I preach, and do what I do. I’m wired to be a desirer, a longer, a yearner. And so the grace comes down on John Piper and the cup starts to come up.
3. Abundant joy overflows.
Thirdly, their abundant joy overflowed in liberality. Do you see the picture? Grace comes down, joy comes up, and liberality overflows. Here’s my definition of love: love is the overflow of joy in God. I’m not talking about love to God now. Love to people, liberality toward the poor, is the overflow of joy in God.
These are really crucial verse to me. Now notice: they wanted to do this. They were not operating under constraint. They begged Paul earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:4). That’s like you folks, at the end of the offertory, saying, “Would you please take another offering? Please take another offering from us.” Isn’t that what’s saying? They begged Paul earnestly for the grace, the favor, of taking part in the relief of the saints. “Please let us give some more. Please.”
Now when my children say to me, “Please Daddy, please, can we ride on the roller coaster again. Please?” I do not assume they’re acting out of duty. Nor do I assume here when I read 2 Corinthians 8:4 that the Macedonians are acting out of mere duty. This is love folks; this is a massive miracle in the wicked human heart. Something has happened in those Macedonians that is inexplicable at the human level. Do you know why it’s inexplicable here? Because it says it came from extreme poverty. I hate the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. I hate it. It is no gospel; it’s idolatry. Look at this. The grace of God being poured out in these wonderful saints did not get them out of poverty. It says that in extreme poverty, they overflowed.
So where did they get their money? Do you know what they did? They probably obeyed Jesus from Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” Why would he say that if they had a lot of liquid assets? Because they had no liquid assets, and they didn’t have any frozen ones either; they were poor. In order to get some money to give, they had to sell a little something. A bowl of rice, perhaps, or a little leather handiwork, and then they gave it. This is love folks; this is love big time here in Macedonia. It’s no wonder why he used this as an example for the Achaians down in Corinth.
Grace Come Down
But what is it? It is grace coming down into empty, bankrupt people. Joy — apart from any human reason for joy but only divine reasons for joy — coming up, and liberality out of poverty overflowing for other poor people. That’s love. And it all comes from the willingness to receive joy for God. If you try to stick stoicism or selflessness into this text, it will not work, will it? These are people being bathed in grace. Joy is flowing like a river. Poverty is abounding so that their joy is not rooted in any human things, but in God and heaven, and the result is an avalanche of love.
Therefore, if I wanted to help you be loving people, which I do, what should I do? I should help you sell everything, according to Matthew 13:44, for the joy of having the treasure that you buried in the field. These people have found the treasure it’s called grace. And now they’re willing to let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, in order to be loving people.
This is the making of missionaries, young people. This is the making of radical saints who don’t conform to the standards of the Canadian or US culture of prosperity. Oh, how many Christians have so unbelievably naively embraced the standards of life of our Western Disney World culture? America is the Disneyland of the universe. We have running water toilets to flush away our refuse without a thought. Refrigerators to keep our food cold. We have 911. We have died and gone to heaven as far as two-thirds of the world is concerned. And we murmur, murmur, murmur, murmur. We need to have a great catastrophe. That’s what we need, so that the true saints would be shown and the rest would shake their fist in God’s face and say, “Why, why, why hurricane Mitch?”
Hedonism in the Ministry
So my definition of love is the overflow of joy that meets the needs of others — joy in God that meets the needs of others. Now we need to test this. You shouldn’t base everything on a single verse alone, lest you misuse the verse.
Let’s go down to 2 Corinthians 9:7, where he gives the overarching principle here about fundraising and he says,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
How does he feel about the non-cheerful ones? I think this is a scary text. If he doesn’t love them, how does he feel about them? Do you get a feel for why this is important to me? Why joy is not a caboose? “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” This is heavy. This is not some little thing on the circumference out here. The love of God is important to me. If you say, “Look, when that offering plate is coming down the row, it doesn’t matter whether you feel anything; just do what you’re supposed to do and put your tithe in.” If that’s the way you feel, what you are saying is, I am either opposed to or probably indifferent to cheerfulness in giving, which means you are indifferent to that which God loves, which means you sin. It is sin to be indifferent to what God loves.
If you say that emotions don’t matter in our giving, or to generalize it, emotions don’t matter in our loving, you sin. Which is why I said that if you don’t continually pursue your own joy, you cannot love people. Because this verse cannot be fulfilled in your life. You cannot give the way you ought to give, lovingly, if you don’t obey this verse. God loves a cheerful giver. There are many Christians who have been taught that it doesn’t matter how you feel as long as you just obey. They are being indifferent to what pleases God and that is sin. That is a deadly teaching pastors. Deadly, deadly, deadly.
Now let’s confirm it again. Let’s just keep confirming, and let’s get more texts out there to test and see if these things are so. Let’s be good Bereans and test these things. Go with me to 1 Peter, and I’ll give you the same principle only this time, pastors, I’m going to focus on you for two or three verses here, to see whether you love your people the way you ought. And laypeople can listen in and learn also, I believe how to do leadership ministry at the lay level. First Peter 5:2 says to us pastors, elders,
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.
That’s exactly 2 Corinthians 9:7: The Lord doesn’t want you to give under constraint; he loves a cheerful giver. The Lord doesn’t want a pastor to attend to flock under constraint; he wants them to tend it eagerly, willingly. Not with an arm bent behind his back, lest he’ll lose his job; or with a hook in his nose being pulled around like a goat in pursuit of money. Tend the flock of God, not under constraint, but willingly; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. I mean, is there any other way to paraphrase this than: Enjoy your work. Want to preach. Want to visit. Want to care for the sick. Want to get your arms around wayward people. Want to love the young people. Want to do your work. Or weep until God gives you the want to — or take a leave.
Watch over with Joy
Let’s check this out, pastors, in Hebrews 13. These verses are even more explicit about joy. Let me keep before you what I’m trying to demonstrate: I am trying to demonstrate that the pursuit of joy — the want to — is not counter to love, but undergirds, upholds, and is essential to love. That’s what I’m trying to show. Hebrews 13:17 is a dynamite verse that every lay man should know because it is written to you about pastors. And pastors need to learn from it, and laypeople need to learn from it. It says to the people,
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.
Think about that now. He says to the church, “See to it that you do all you can do, so that your pastor serves you with joy, not sadly, for (here comes this incredible hedonistic argument) if he served you sadly, that would be of no advantage to you.” But let’s deal with pastors not to lay people. Pastor, what does that mean about the pursuit of loving your people? Doesn’t love mean you want their advantage — not their disadvantage? You want the advantage of your people. This text says with crystal clarity: if you serve them sadly, you will be of no advantage to them — that is, you won’t love them. So how must you serve them in order to love them? Joyfully.
“Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” If a pastor wants to love his people and be of an advantage to them, he must not do his work sadly, but joyfully. Therefore, if a pastor says, “It doesn’t matter whether I’m happy in this place — I’m going to do my duty, I’m going to gut this thing out, I am going to obey God” — that pastor will not benefit his people. I’m not saying he should resign. I say the first thing is he should repent, get on his face, and cry out to God. And if it lasts a long, long time, he should go to his elders or his deacons and say, “Something’s wrong. I’m in desperate trouble, and I need your help. Would you pray for me? And maybe I need a few weeks away. I don’t know what it is, please help me.” That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to do that. You can’t go on year after year after year, gutting it out and hating the ministry, in order to make a buck and keep your job; you can’t do that. You’ve just got to seek help.
More Blessed to Give
Now here’s the other text for pastors. In Acts 20:35, Paul is now talking about his own role there among the elders, who’ve come down to Miletus from Ephesus before he leaves them. And he says,
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak . . .
Now that’s love, right? Helping the weak is love. I want to know: How do you get energized, motivated, sustained to love people? And he says,
. . . and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Do you know what the most important ethical word is in that verse? It’s the word remembering. Because there are ten thousand teachers of ethics and pastors and Sunday school teachers, who, given their own philosophy of virtue — namely, that if you do it for your own benefit, you ruin the virtue of it — who would say, if they were consistent in translating this verse, “Genuinely love the weak, forgetting the word of the Lord, how he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Because if you remember it, it will contaminate your virtue. Jesus, according to that frame of reference, contaminates our virtue by reminding us there’s benefit in giving. “Oh, don’t think about benefit; you ruin your virtue if you think about the benefits of going to the hospital, or preaching a sermon.
I know a philosopher who teaches at Augsburg College across the highway from my church. He hates my philosophy of life. And he’s an evangelical Christian. “Do good for good’s sake, John Piper, not for reward — not for the benefits there are in it. Do good because it’s good.” Do you know what I call that? Atheism. I wrote him and I told him that. We have exchanged numerous letters over the years. Good for good’s sake is atheism. Good for God’s sake is theism.
And if you ask, How does God get glory through your giving? the answer is: when your giving is getting from him. And that’s the only way you can give him glory in giving. If you presume to give out of the resources that are resident in you, you get the glory — not God. If you can only give with resources that flow down like grace upon you, he gets the glory — which is why the pursuit of your fullness and your joy in giving glorifies him as the giver, and blesses the socks off of other people.
Overflow of Joy
Here’s a little question, just to see if this helps You go to the hospital one night, and you walk into the room, and say you’re visiting someone like a member at my church who has lupus. Her kidneys are dead. It’s a terrible case. She’s probably 28 years old. She’s a beautiful girl, and now you can hardly recognize her because of the steroids. We went, as a staff, to her room. They’re doing this internal dialysis because she got infected, and she couldn’t do it the regular way. And eight of us walked in — all the pastors went. It blew her away. She and her husband were sitting there. She cried immediately. She was so happy and so amazed that we would all come over there on our way out of town to a retreat, and drive by the hospital. She knows my theology well enough to not ask this, but suppose she had said, “Oh, Pastor John, you shouldn’t have taken the time out with all those guys. You’re too busy. Other things are more important.” If we had all said, “Yeah, we know we shouldn’t have, but it’s our duty to be here like good pastors.” If we had said that we would have ruined her day.
The question is: Do you feel more loved when somebody does something good for you cheerfully or begrudgingly? I think the answer is: you feel more loved when they do something for you cheerfully rather than begrudgingly — even though there’s a whole ethical system that would say that if you pursue your joy in going to the hospital, you ruin the virtue of the going; you turn it into a selfish act. And now I’m saying exactly the opposite — namely, that the essence of love consists in your delighting in going to the hospital. And if you don’t delight in going to the hospital, she will get no advantage from your going, probably. Or at least not as much advantage as if you had gone cheerfully. I would have said to my congregant, had she asked the question, “The reason we eight stopped here is that we know that our joy will be made full when we spill over onto you, and pray for you to see God work in your life and sustain you another day. That’s our joy.”
Love is the overflow of joy in God that extends itself to meet the needs of others and draw them into that joy. That’s the meaning of love in the Bible. Did you ever wonder why Paul said, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing”? What greater sacrifice can you make than to give your body to be burned? And it might not be love. Why? Because you didn’t do it out of joy in God. That’s why. And your goal was not that your joy, through your sacrifice, would spill over onto other people, so that they would have joy in God.
I want to direct your attention to a cluster of text in Hebrews, to just drive home, one last time, my point tonight — namely, that it is not a problem for love that you pursue your joy, but the essence of love that you pursue your joy in the God-centered joy of other people. Love is the pursuit of your joy in the God-centered joy of other people. And it is the most freeing, powerful, life-changing thing you could ever experience. I want you to see that this is a pattern and not an isolated event in Scripture.
Hebrews 10:32–34 says,
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.
Do you see what happened? They went to visit the prisoners in jail. They knew it might cost them the plundering of their property back home. As they looked over their shoulder, they were torching their house and throwing their furniture out, throwing rocks through the windows (if they had windows in those days), their goods were being plundered. And it says they joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, and they went to do love in the prison. Now where did that come from?
Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
They had set their hearts on God, and their treasure in God was so full and so strong, that they could let goods and kindred go and become the most radical kinds of saints imaginable, and actually rejoice in the loss of their house. How many of you could do that? Oh, how we love our houses, love our furniture, love our hobbies, love our collections, love our boats, love our cars, love our computers, love our things. And when they burn, we’re undone. And we find out where our hearts are. These people, because they were on their way to love in the prison, rejoiced. “We’ve got a treasure in heaven.”
Reproach of Christ
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. (Hebrews 11:24–25)
We’re talking about self-denial here: deny yourself fleeting pleasures, rather than have 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.
He was a hedonist through and through, and it freed him from Egypt. You want to be free tonight? If you want to be free from Egypt tonight, you have to pursue a superior satisfaction in heaven. And if you can get your heart ravished with Christ, so that you can say with Paul, “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ” (), then you’ll be free from Egypt. Your houses, and your family, and your quest for a great job, and a great everything, you’ll be free — free to be satisfied in Jesus. And that will make you the most dangerous Canadian in the world. Because they can’t threaten you with death anymore. To die is gain. And you become the most dangerous kind of Christian in the world. But if you love your things, you are no threat to anybody.
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. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
The greatest act of love that was ever performed, was sustained by and performed in the pursuit of joy — namely, the cross. Are you above that? Do you have a higher standard for motivation than our Lord Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him, loved you to the uttermost? Are you going to tell him that was selfish? “Love me for my sake, not your own joy with the Father as your glory is exalted in the salvation of sinners.”
A Home Yet to Come
This is the climax to the book of Hebrews. If you ever wondered, what’s the point of the book of Hebrews, the point of the book of Hebrews is to produce radical saints. Don’t get lost in Melchizidek. Here’s what the point of the book of Hebrews is.
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)
How do you get the wherewithal to love people enough to leave your favorite home in order to go to some hard slum in Manila or Bangkok or Vancouver? How do you get that free? And the answer is: we have a city that is to come. And that’s where our citizenship is. That’s where our joy is. And we can let it go.
I hope, I hope, I hope you’re at least willing to consider that the pursuit of your joy is not at odds with the pursuit of love, but is the essence and the sustaining power of the pursuit of love.