I’ll have one more opportunity to interact with you this afternoon, so perhaps I’ll save words of farewell for that moment. I want to give a clarification and a recommendation before I launch into today’s message.
The clarification relates to yesterday’s theme regarding power because more than one of you, I think, expected under the banner The Supremacy of God in Missions: Power to hear perhaps an exposition on Romans 1:16 and the like — namely, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. And I didn’t talk about that. Why? It’s a very simple answer. I was trying to answer the question about the power to preach the gospel, not the power of the gospel to save sinners. What I wanted to answer yesterday was what enables pastors and missionaries to keep on preaching the gospel.
Now, if you want to know what I believe about the center and core of the gospel buy Counted Righteous in Christ, because I am burdened for the gospel today, deeply burdened. Some of the error is coming from your island and some of it is coming from the West Coast, and it is an assault on the imputation of Christ. I wrote that book to answer that assault as I feel it where I live because I love the gospel of justification by faith alone, meaning it isn’t some kind of salvific, general move of God to bring history to the climax to his glory or something like that; but rather, I mean it is Christ living out a perfect righteousness which I, by faith alone, have credited to me on the basis of which alone I can stand before a holy God.
So if you want to hear my passion and my burden for the gospel today and the assaults on it and how it needs to be preached, you needed a fourth talk or a book, and I did write the book.
The recommendation after the clarification is there is one other weakness in the way this conference is set up, and it had to be so. There’s no missionary talking here. There are three pastors talking. We ought to have a missionary standing here pleading with you with tears in his or her eyes, “Join me among the nations.” Now the best thing I think I can do to complete what needs to be done is to send you to Patrick Johnstone’s book: The Church Is Bigger Than You Think.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with that book, but it’s published in Great Britain and it’s available. I don’t know if it’s in the store, I didn’t look for it. I think it has a bad title. I told him so. I said, “I would like that book to be republished in America under a different title because in America that title sounds like it’s about the megachurch.” He didn’t mean it like that at all. He meant that globally God is doing more than you ever dreamed.
So if you pastors want to have your heart enlarged to the global work of God, get that book, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think by Patrick Johnstone, and do what I did last summer. I took that on vacation. I put my feet up and sat down on the couch and could hardly put it down, and when I was done I was on my face saying, “Oh God, make me useful for the nations.” So we can’t do everything in one conference that needs to be done. That’s why there’s a bookstore. That’s why there’s a Holy Spirit. That’s my clarification and my recommendation and now to the topic.
Love and the Pursuit of Joy
Here’s my thesis for today, and I’m trying to build on the other two mornings. Pursuing or cultivating satisfaction in God, nurturing it, and laboring to fight for it — like Paul said in Second Corinthians 1:24, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy” — is essential for missions, or world evangelization, not only because it is the inward essence of worship and worship is the fuel and the goal of missions, but also because it is essential for loving people. And missions won’t happen if you don’t love the unreached people of the world.
Now it’s very controversial to say that the pursuit of my joy is essential for loving you. That sounds contradictory to most ethicists. I will come back to the ethical problems of that assertion in a few minutes, but let me say it again. The thesis of today is that the pursuit, or the nurture, or the cultivation, of my joy in God — the satisfaction in all that God is for me — is essential to missions. And this is not only because it is the inward essence of worship, which is the fuel and the goal of missions, but also because it is essential if we are to love people, especially the unreached peoples of the world.
If you do not pursue, nurture, cultivate, labor for, fight for, and pray for your joy in God, you will not be able to love people. That’s my thesis today. We’ve covered the purpose and the power, and today is the price, or the suffering of love. If you engage to love people, you will suffer, especially if you love the people in northern India (Hindus who don’t want you to come), or Saudi Arabia (Muslims who don’t want you to come). No Christian missions happens without love.
Let me define love now in those terms. Here’s my definition of love, then we’ll go to a text to see it. Love is the overflow of joy in God that seeks to expand itself by meeting the needs of others no matter the cost to my life. Love is the overflow of joy in God. This is why the pursuit of that joy is essential for love. Love is the overflow of joy in God that seeks to expand itself and meet the needs of others no matter the cost to me in this world, which is where suffering will come in.
Now let me just say a word about that middle piece where I say “that seeks to meet the needs of others”. The number one need of every human being on planet earth in every unreached people group and in London and every other city is the removal of the wrath of God upon them, and the consequent access to the God in whose presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. And I just want to put in a little parenthesis here about the gospel and how it comes across or not as good news.
The Greatest Good of the Good News
Somebody asked me, “Don’t you want to address the gospel? You seem to think there’s defects in a lot of other things. Are there defects in the way we do the gospel?” And I would only say this, when you preach salvation, justification, ransom, propitiation, reconciliation, and all the other vocabularies of euangelion (good news), preach it all the way through to the good news. What makes every one of those things good news is that they take us to God as friend and treasure and satisfaction. How much of our gospel preaching stops short of explaining why it’s good news? I mean, have you ever preached a sermon on forgiveness and asked the question, “Who cares about being forgiven?”
Why would you want to be forgiven? Now there are all kinds of reasons for wanting to be forgiven that don’t honor God: psychological relief, being able to sleep at night, etc. There’s only one God-exalting reason for wanting to be forgiven, and it’s the same reason I want to be forgiven by my wife Noël when I say something ugly as I get out of bed in the morning. Because when I go down to the kitchen and she’s standing ice-cold at the sink doing something, and I know it’s my problem and I need to be forgiven, there’s only one reason I want to be forgiven: when I kiss her on the back of the neck, I don’t want her to move away from me.
I want her back. I don’t like what’s in the air here. I want the hugs. I want the smiles. I want us to be able to say, “I love you.” I want her back. That’s all I care about in forgiveness, and that’s all I care about in God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness only means one thing: you get God. So in other words, on this point of “love meets the needs of the world,” the main need of the world is to have God’s wrath lifted from them, which is why Christ died for them. They become, by faith alone, justified. But who cares about being justified? Who cares about standing acquitted in the courtroom if you walk out and get hit by a truck? Justification has one thing about it that’s good news: I get God on my side. So when you preach the gospel, get all the way through every one of those words to God, and that’s where love is taking us. It’ll cost you your life to do that.
An Overflow of Joy in God
Let’s go to 2 Corinthians 8. I want to show you where I got this definition of love. I’ll read 2 Corinthians 8:1–4, and then skip down and read 2 Corinthians 8:8 to show you the name that Paul is putting on the event that’s happening in the first four verses. Here’s the situation. He’s writing to Corinth in order to motivate them to give liberally for the poor saints in Jerusalem, and he’s using the Macedonians, the people up there near Philippi, Thessalonica, as a model for how these folks should act:
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 (pause to let that sink in) 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 . . .
What is that? Look at 2 Corinthians 8:8. It says:
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others (namely, the Macedonians) that your love also is genuine.
Now I have a definition of love. Let’s unpack it for a moment. It’s crystal clear you don’t need any exposition of this. It is lucid, but I will do it anyway because it is so foreign to what people believe today, I can hardly imagine. I mean it’s so plain and yet people resist it.
So let’s just look at it. In a severe test of affliction, grace came down. Don’t miss the word grace in verse one. He says, “We want you to know about the grace of God that has been given.” So grace comes down. What’s the effect of grace? Second Corinthians 8:2 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.
So joy happened because grace came down. If you are a gracious minister in your church, this should happen. Joy happens when grace comes down. And what happens when joy begins to rise? It overflows. In what way does it overflow? It overflows in a wealth of generosity.
Great Grace and Persistent Poverty
And notice something. I’ll take a little poke here at something that I don’t need to poke at in this assembly at all, but I’m going to poke anyway — namely, the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. These folks got saved by grace and they’re still poor and the affliction is still on them, and they’re overflowing with joy and liberality in spite of the affliction and the poverty. Grace didn’t make them healthy, wealthy and prosperous, at least for this season. They’re still there.
The gospel is first this miraculous power to make people thrilled with God in affliction and in suffering. So do not take all of my hedonistic language of joy and delight and satisfaction and say, “He’s just another one of those American health, wealth, and prosperity guys.” I abominate that gospel. My whole effort is to undermine it by calling people to be so delighted in God that they let goods and kindred go. They don’t care about new cars and gold rings and expensive suits. They want to lay their lives down to make this God known. That’s what I’m about. So there it is. The definition of love is that grace comes down, joy in that grace and in that God comes up, and it overflows. That sounds like a Sunday school song, doesn’t it?
The rains came down and the floods came up; The rains came down and the floods came up . . .
So I just rewrite that song:
The grace came down and the joy came up; The grace came down and the joy came up, And the love overflowed for the peoples of the world.
This is so clear and so powerful. Now I said there were problems with defining love as the overflow of joy in God that seeks to expand itself. You might want to know why I am saying that. Why am I saying it seeks to expand itself? Why am I saying that? I’m saying it because these folks were really wanting the joy of giving. They were pleading, “Please take a second offering. Please let us give some more.” These were not begrudging people saying, “Oh yeah, I guess they’re poor. I guess we should really give more.” That’s not the attitude in this text. This text is pleading with us that they might give more. It’s very strange for poor people to talk that way. They were seeking to expand their joy in meeting the needs of others.
An Ethical Objection to Joy
Now here’s the ethical problem. I spent three years in Germany, 20 or 30 years ago, working on a dissertation called Love Your Enemies: Jesus’ Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Paraenesis. And I just read and read and read and read on what ethicists and systematic theologians and New Testament scholars said about the motivation of love. It is unbelievable how there can be, in the scholarly world, assumptions that nobody questions on the basis of the Bible because they’re so accepted, and here’s one of them: if you try to love somebody for the sake of reward, that’s not love anymore.
It’s in the air. You don’t have to argue for that. Kant taught us that, and it is accepted. If you say that you are loving me and you’re doing it for a reward, you’re not loving me. That’s assumed and totally unbiblical.
More Blessed to Give
Let me illustrate why I think it’s unbiblical with a text and illustration. The text is Acts 20:35. It’s one of the two or three quotations of the Lord Jesus outside the Gospels, and the way it is introduced might be worth your turning there. Paul is talking to the elders on the beach at Miletus, and he says:
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.”
Now the ethicist that I was reading said, “Oh, that’s true. That’s true. You will be blessed if you give, but if you try to aim at the blessing, it’s not love anymore.” There’s one word in this text that shatters that whole assumption, and it’s the word remember. Read it again:
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.”
So here you are tempted to slack off in love and giving and sacrifice, and Paul says, “Remember something, elders at Ephesus, when you’re tempted to be lazy, self-protecting, or pad yourself with a nice salary, living in the nicest place, driving the nicest car, getting the nicest retirement plan and slacking off on the ministry, not taking any risks, not pushing to the limits of the nations; remember something.”
Now all these ethicists would have to say, “Forget this. Forget this because if you remember this, it’s going to corrupt your motives.” If you take into your mind, “Now, he told me I should remember something tonight when I’m struggling with how to be a loving person. He said I should remember something. What should I remember? Oh, I should remember there’s blessing in it through it and beyond it,” all the ethicists would have to say, “No, don’t remember that. Don’t corrupt your motives with that. Forget that. Let it be a surprise to you on the other side of love.”
I read that over and over again, and so have you in the air you breathe. That’s not true. Brothers, when you are tempted not to love somebody, not to lay down your life, not to get up late at night or rise up early in the morning, not to do the hard thing, I say with the apostle Paul, and against all the ethicists, remember something: it’s a blessed way to live. There’s blessing in it.
The Motivation of Love: Duty or Delight?
Now if somebody says, “Yeah, but isn’t that manipulative? You’re just kind of using people to get your blessing?” No, that’s not the case because the blessing lies in expanding your joy into their joy, and when they join you in your joy, your joy is fuller with their joy. Why would they ever resent you for enjoying their joy in God? No way. Oh, how we need to think more biblically and less culturally.
Now here’s the illustration. That was the text, and here’s the illustration. I was at a conference, though I won’t give you the city because you’ll start identifying people if I do. There was a well-known American spokesman, whom I love and approve of and would have him come and preach at my church in a minute if he would be willing, but he wouldn’t because he’s so busy, and he stood up and said an illustration. I was sitting there in the audience, and I was supposed to speak the next morning to 3,000 folks, and I stayed up all night to write a new message to correct what he said. Isn’t that awful? People still talk about it to this day. I have been invited back one time. Here’s what he said. It was a beautiful illustration, and I think he made the wrong point out of it.
He said that in the South Pacific during the second World War — and I’m going to leave out a few details here because I might get them wrong and the details don’t matter — there were prisoners taken and they were forced into a kind of concentration camp where they were each given a shovel and were required to do very painful labor all through the day, and at the end of the day they came in groups of 20, put their shovels against the wall, then they counted the shovels, counted the men, and sent them off to their barracks. One day 20 men came in, they put the shovels up, and the guard counted one, two, three, four, five, and he got to 19, and he pulled his gun out on the 20, and he said, “Which one of you broke his shovel?”
There was no answer. He said, “I’m going to shoot five of you if you don’t admit who broke and lost the shovel.” And in about three seconds, a 19-year-old kid stepped forward and he shot him dead. And just before they dismissed the other 19, they counted the shovels and there were 20. He had miscounted. And the point this speaker made was that this is what we need in America, the duty of sacrifice. That’s all right. That’s all right. I don’t want to be too hard on that. But do you know what that sounds like to most Americans, and here probably? The chief motive for love is duty. It’s the thought, “We were told to, so do it.” Now, you know what I think should have gone on inside the head of that 19-year-old lover of these 19 men?
He Loved them. He loved them, and he gave his life for them. He knows, “I didn’t do it, but they’re going to kill five of us. I’ll step forward.” What should have gone on inside his head? I’ll tell you what, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That’s what he should have thought, and I don’t doubt he did think it if he was a believer. He should think, “It is more blessed. I want to be blessed. I love these brothers. Grant me the blessing of love as I trust in future grace that to die for them now and be dispatched to paradise will mean gain for me.” Do you think Paul had suddenly stopped loving people when he said, “For me to live as Christ and to die is gain?” (Philippians 1:21).
Rewarded at the Resurrection
It might be helpful to look at Luke 14 to underline this. The point I’m making here is that in order to bear the price of love, you must cultivate an abiding satisfaction in God, in and through and beyond the painful acts of love. And if you don’t, you might muster the moral wherewithal to do something sacrificial but you will get the glory because the giver gets the glory. If you serve in the strength that he supplies, the joy that he gives, and the hope that he promises, he’ll get the glory. But if you say, “I must do my duty here and I will muster the spiritual wherewithal to sacrifice myself,” you’ll get the glory.
This is Luke 14:12–14:
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 . . .
Now stop there and just picture this. Why invite these folks? They’re hard. I mean if you invite somebody like that to, I would say if I were in America, Thanksgiving dinner, a big Turkey dinner, and have the family over, you will want to have conversations and they can’t even speak English. I preached a sermon one time the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and asked, “Who are you inviting to dinner this week?” Because we had refugees all around us and it just makes the day hard, right? If you invite somebody to dinner who can’t speak English for goodness’ sake, you’re going to ruin the family time. Jesus says, “Invite those who are hard who can’t pay you back.” And then, in Luke 14:14 he says:
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Typical 20th and 21st century ethicists would call that an immoral motivation to the Lord Jesus’s face. They would say it. But he says, “Invite people over for dinner who are hard to have over for dinner and who can’t pay you back at all on this earth.” Why? “Because you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” If that contaminates love, let it be contaminated. I go with Jesus and not the ethicists.
As the Father Has Sent Me
Now, I think what remains for us to do this morning is to stress that the missionary life, and the life senders who send them — if they’re really radically serious — is a very dangerous life, and it’s full of suffering and there may be martyrdom.
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you (John 20:21).
I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16).
What do wolves do with sheep? They eat them.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (John 15:18).
These are all things that Jesus said to his emissaries. It’s still true today. The missionary life is a dangerous life. Brothers and sisters, we will not finish the Great Commission without martyrs and without mega suffering. I heard George Otis say one time at a great missionary gathering in Manila, “Is it possible that we are not penetrating the Muslim world because we don’t have enough martyrs?”
Now make sure you hear me differently than Islamic martyrdom. Christians die to save people; they don’t kill to save people. Martyrdoms of Christians do not take people with them to hell. They send people to heaven. It’s dangerous to talk about martyrdom today. I know that, especially within yards of events. But I talk about it because Revelation 6:11 talks about the martyrs under the altar who are crying out, “When will you vindicate us?” And it says, “Clothe them and tell them to be still until the full number come in of their brethren who are to be killed.”
Some are in this room, some are in your churches, one may be in my family. If you come to me and say, “Well, how would you feel about it if it was one of your boys, Karsten, Benjamin, Abraham, or Barnabas?” My boys are in-your-face kinds of Christians. They’re ready to lay down their lives. If someone said, “What would you say if it was one of them?” I would say, “There would be no funeral at which I would rather preach.” What a glory for a son to lay down his life for the gospel. What a glory for a father to have. And yet our parents are so, “Oh, what about our children if we move to the city, what about our children if we go to India or Pakistan?” Oh, we’re so far from where they were once, which is why the world was taken once and why today it isn’t.
The Source of Costly Love
So let me point you to texts. Let’s go to Hebrews 10. Here’s what I’m trying to do in the rest of our time. I’ll stay the rest of the time in Hebrews because I’ve been overwhelmed and moved and provoked by Hebrews in this regard. What we’re trying to do now is demonstrate from texts what we have seen, namely that nurturing, cultivating, and pursuing joy in God as the satisfaction of our souls above all earthly satisfactions is necessary for love with all of its suffering to happen. That’s what I’m after in these texts.
Let’s start at Hebrews 10:32, and I hope that in the minutes we have left, it will become plain that this is not an isolated New Testament thought, but a theme in the New Testament and a theme in the book of Hebrews.
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings . . .
Remember that. Remember those days just like the Macedonians. The early Christians suffered almost immediately. Hebrews 10:33 says:
Sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.
Now pause here and get the picture. Some were immediately persecuted. Others were not immediately persecuted but had to decide whether to partner with those who were. In what situation? That’s given now in the next verse:
For you had compassion on those in prison . . . (Hebrews 10:34).
So now we get the situation. Some had been thrown in prison and others had not been thrown in prison. What do you do if you haven’t been thrown in prison and your family, your neighbors, your fellow believers, have been thrown in prison in a day when to go to prison was not like going to a motel. There was a day when if you wanted food, family would bring the food, but if the family brought the food, everybody saw the connection. They would understand that these are Christians and they’re in jail, so the other people must be Christians.
So they had a prayer meeting and they wrestled, thinking, “What should we do? Do we go underground and make ourselves safe?” All the arguments could be given, “What about our children? If we die, who will raise our children? Or how will the gospel be preached if all of us get put in jail?” And on the reasons went. But instead of drawing that conclusion, at least some of them said, “Let’s go. Let’s go. Let God handle the problems. Let’s go. They’re going to die there. We have to go visit them. We have to identify with them.”
So here’s what happened:
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property . . . (Hebrews 10:34).
Let’s stop there and let both of those things sink in. Regarding the plundering, or the confiscation, of property there’s some argument about whether it’s official confiscation or whether it’s mob-related graffiti, or house burning, or whatever it was. It was painful. Their property was plundered because people saw them going to the prison, and they said, “Ah, more Christians. Let’s go burn their house, or write on their house, or throw their furniture out and burn it, or break their windows.” If they had windows, which they didn’t in those days. How did they do that? Well, the way they did it was joyfully. That’s a miracle. If you ask me, “Piper, what’s your passion for your people at Bethlehem?” That’s my passion.
Wouldn’t you love to see a congregation like that, joyfully accepting the burning of their houses, joyfully accepting the torching of their cars? Wouldn’t you want a congregation like that? I don’t know how to water down that verse folks, they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. That is, they started on their way to the prison trembling inside, no doubt, and they looked over their shoulder, they saw their houses on fire, they got down on their knees, and they sang. They thought, “Oh, that we have been counted worthy to be shamed for the Name.”
And that’s exactly what happened in Act 5:41, where Peter says, “I rejoice that I’ve been counted worthy to be shamed for the Name. I rejoice that I can share in the sufferings of my Savior in the burning of my house and the risking of my life.” I tell you, that’s a miracle. No pastor can produce a church like that, but you can try. You can try. God might be pleased to come down and anoint your labors to absolutely transform your people so that they fall out of love with cars, and fall out of love with houses, and fall out of love with power, and fall out of love with sex, and fall out of love with esteem in the community, and fall out of love with ease, health, wealth, and prosperity, and fall in love with the cause of the almighty God. You might be used to accomplish that. You want to be, don’t you? You do. I know you do because the Spirit of God wants it and he’s in you.
A Better and Abiding Possession
How then shall you produce joyful people like that in the face of suffering for the sake of love? The answer is given at the end of the verse:
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).
There it is. They know something about the future joy God has promised them — a better possession than the houses and an abiding one. It lasts. Do those two words better and abiding ring any bells from the Psalms to you?
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
That’s a better kind of joy than the world offers. It’s full, not 99 percent but 100%. It’s full joy and pleasures forevermore. It’s not eight years, or 80 years, or 800 years, or 8 million years, but forever. You can’t beat that. That’s what they looked to. So now, isn’t this like saying, “Remember something. Remember, it’s more blessed to go to the prison and die, or go to the prison and lose your house. Remember something, you’ve got a better and lasting possession. Remember that.”
But if you teach in your churches forever and ever that it’s wrong to think about that, it’s wrong to want that, and it’s wrong to count on that and cultivate joy and satisfaction in that, I’ll tell you, you’re going to produce worldly people, until your people engage this with their whole soul. Look, this little thing called the head up here has no power to change lives unless those concepts and ideas about God transform this all-governing, passionate place called the heart. People don’t have sex because they think about it, but because it feels good. People don’t collect money because they think it’s a good idea, but because it feels powerful. People are driven by their souls. Unless you touch them at the core of their being, where they have treasuring, cherishing, loving, delighting, hating, and fearing, you’ll have a worldly people by default, clothed with right doctrine.
Therefore, I’m saying it is essential that we cultivate and nurture a joy in God that results in that. That’s what I’m after in my church.
Forsaking the Fleeting Pleasure of Sin
Next, consider Hebrews 11:24–25. I’m just tracing the theme with you now:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated . . .
What a choice. That’s the same way that the early Christians chose to go to the prison. It continues:
Choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 10:25).
Fleeting is a crucial word. Oh, we would sever that in our churches, wouldn’t we? People are living for the fleeting, half-baked, two-bit, unreliable, let-you-down-in-the-end pleasures of this world. Then it says:
He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt . . . (Hebrews 10:26).
What an inversion of values. He is saying, “Reproach is the greatest wealth I have.” How did he get to be like that? The end of Hebrews 10:26 says:
For he was looking to the reward.
And believe me, the reward there is not eternal sex with ever-new virgins. It’s not eternal golf, or pick your paradise. It is eternal fellowship with the living God. He fixed himself on the reward, and said, “I will choose my people. I will suffer for them and love them.” Go home and be like that, brothers. I’m sure some of you, when you read that, you feel the force of that. You think, “I’m going to go home and be mistreated with the people of God, and yes, by the people of God, knowing the history of Moses, because I’m not expecting much in this life, frankly, I really don’t expect much, not if I’m living in obedience.”
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
I don’t expect much in this life if I’m obedient.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).
That’s what I expect. That’s what I want.
For the Joy Set Before Us
Let’s go to Hebrews 12:1–2. We’re almost done. First we see the most awesome display of this, and then we see an exhortation and we finish.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (life is a race, life is a marathon), looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . .
Why would you look to Jesus? Because he sets up a model for how to live:
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.
That’s joy. I want to be there in his lap. Now ponder this, and let me say it provocatively. Beware, lest you have a concept of motivation for love that makes the Son of God immoral. Beware lest you have a concept, an ethical structure of motivation, that makes the Son of God sub-virtuous. Beware of the air you breathe. It says, “For the joy that was set before him.” What strengthened him in Gethsemane, raw duty? No. “Oh, Father, if you would but sustain me, I would get through this and enter again into your holy presence with the glory that you gave to me before the world was. And I would gather around me a praising people that would exalt me and you in your presence forever. And oh Father, what a day that will be forever.”
That’s what sustained him. It wasn’t some kind of raw, self-denying duty that had no hope of glory. Don’t lift yourself above the Son of man in your motivation. Get there on the ground with him in Gethsemane. Get on the cross with him and be sustained by promises of future joy and future grace and teach your people this is the only way to survive the suffering of missionary life.
It’s no accident that David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor talked this way. I don’t think they were depending on each other. Maybe it was just something that was said in those days. Both of them are quoted as saying, at the end of their embattled, tortured, sacrificial lives, “I never made a sacrifice.” What did they mean? What they meant was the Calvary road is a hard road, but the end is so stunningly rewarding it’s as though you never made a sacrifice.
Don’t you remember what Jesus said to Peter when the rich young man walked away, and Jesus said, “It’s hard for people to enter the kingdom. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom.” And the disciples were absolutely staggered at that. And they said, “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus said, “With man, it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And Peter piped up and said, “We’ve left everything and followed you. What about us? We’ve left everything. Oh, we’ve left everything” (Matthew 19:16–27).
I really think that’s the mood. I don’t think I’m abusing the text. I really think that’s the mood. He’s saying, “We’ve left everything. Oh, poor us. Now, what about us and all the sacrifices we have made to follow you?” And I don’t think the tone of Jesus’s voice was approving when he said, “Peter, nobody has left mother or father or lands or brothers and sisters or houses for my sake in the gospel’s who will not receive back in this life 100-fold with persecutions and then eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Do you catch the note of what Jesus is saying? He is saying, “Get off your self-pity kick. Of course I’m calling you to suffer. Of course it’s a life of embattled suffering. But look beyond. Look at me. Am I not your treasure? How can you be self-pitying?” I think that’s what he said.
No Lasting City
Okay, I close with an exhortation from Hebrews 13:13. All I need to do is read it and pray. I’ll read the great, big therefore in verse 13 and the theme is complete:
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
We must go outside England, outside America, and outside our comfortable places — maybe just outside your house and across the road, maybe across the little office barrier at work. And here it comes one last time:
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14).
How clear, how radical, how life-changing, how church-exploding, how mission-advancing is this theme in Hebrews.