It might be helpful if I were to comment at the outset of the mindset that I come to this conference. I think sometimes we think that guest speakers come with a sense of having it figured out and come as the answer man. My sense is that as I look at these topics that the other speakers will be addressing, I’m in tremendous need.
Back home at Bethlehem these are days of upheaval in a good sense, and we are perplexed in many ways. And so when I read these words under Peter Jensen’s picture, I feel needy.
- How do we find patterns and structures for our churches in such a changing situation with mission frontiers more fluid than ever?
- How do we enable and serve the task of missions while safeguarding the integrity of the faith once for all delivered to the saints?
- Can we take seriously precious distinctives and cherish church traditions while at the same time grasping opportunities offered to us by the shrinking world of globalization?
- What does the missionary church of the third millennium need to look like?
Nothing sounds more relevant to my church right now than that last question. I think I have a few treasured, precious things that I want to share with you, but there is so much I haven’t yet figured out about how to do church in an urban situation like I am in. And so, I come as a fellow hungry learner with you and will be here for every session and would not miss them. My wife and daughter are out doing the sightseeing thing, but I will be right here with you trying to figure out how to do Bethlehem Baptist Church for the next 10 or 15 years where I hope the Lord will keep me. So that’s the mindset with which I come hungry with you and I’d like to pray one more time that God would help me now do my part.
The Goal of Missions
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. It’s not the ultimate goal of God. Worship is the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is the ultimate goal of God. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. And one of these days when the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord like the waters fill the sea, and all that is ungodly and all that is unbelieving is cast out into outer darkness, missions will be no more. We must keep this ranking clearly in mind. Missions is a temporary necessity for the sake of the accomplishment of the ultimate thing, namely, the white hot worship of God from a people gathered from all the tribes and tongues and peoples and nations and nothing short of that.
And therefore, every one of us in this room has a calling to join God in that purpose of gathering worshipers.
God Pursues the Worship of God
I have just a few texts to underline this purpose. You all know John 4:23 where Jesus is interacting with the woman at the well. Then finally he comes to say:
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
That’s what God is doing in the world today. God is moving and seeking people to worship him. That’s the reason Christ came.
The same thing is said about the reason he rose from the dead. And keep in mind this is God’s design, not ours.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9–11).
What makes that so stunning is that if you go back to Philippians 2:9 and then connect it with Philippians 2:11 where it ends, it says, “God raised him from the dead and gave him a name . . . so that every tongue would glorify God.” God is doing this for God. God’s business in the world is to get glory for himself. That’s what missions is in the mind and heart of God. He is saying, “I will have worship. I am seeking worship for myself.” That’s what we have to underline.
Consider the second coming, not just the first coming, not just the resurrection, but the second coming. Second Thessalonians 1:10 is an amazing statement about why God appoints an hour to send the Son back to earth. Listen:
When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed . . .
I love to ask people, why do you think Jesus is coming back? Very few answer, “He’s coming back to be marveled at, that’s why he’s coming. He aims to get marvel from all the peoples of the world that have been gathered by missions.”
So God, according to John 4:23, is seeking worshipers. God, according Philippians 2:9–11, is doing everything by exalting Jesus in order that he might get glory. And God, through Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:10), is seeking for his Son to be marveled at in his appearing.
So it’s very clear what the design — or the title of this message, The Purpose — and the goal is in the heart of God; it is to get worship, to get glory, to get marvel for himself and all that he is in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. And very specifically, in order to make sure the mission’s focus is struck, he’s doing it in order to get worship, glory, marveling from every tongue and people and tribe.
A Vast Assembly of Worshipers
And you know where I’m getting that right? We know this verse. Revelation 5:9 is more important to me now in understanding my calling and the calling of the church than is Matthew 28:19–20. I mean, that’s crystal clear and gloriously powerful.
All authority in heaven on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .
But even more clear for the specific aim of God and the church is:
You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
Every people, every tongue, every tribe, every nation — those four words tell us it’s not about nation-states. This is one of the great clarifications you need to bring to your church. Missions is not about reaching every one of the 212 countries in the world. In those countries there are hundreds and thousands of peoples, tongues, tribes, and nations like Cherokee, Ojibwe, Huaorani, Fulani, English. I can’t say American. I probably shouldn’t say English either. I’m not quite sure what that means ethnically. In London, who knows, right? It’s the same in America. We are a stew pot nation. We used to call ourselves a melting pot, but it doesn’t melt. It’s a stew pot. All the lumps remain in the pot, which complicates missions tremendously, and it is a glorious calling.
So God’s purpose in missions is to get worship, to get glory, to get marvel from all the peoples, tongues, tribes, and nations. You need to read Operation World and pray through it so that you get a feel of what those peoples are and where they’re unreached, so that you can inform your people over and over again what’s out there to be done, not just in our little neighborhood, which is crucial. I don’t to minimize that at all, but oh, the world of North Africa and the world of the Middle East and the world of Central Asia and the world of Asia, not to mention our post-Christian Europe and America.
Our role, therefore, in missions is to join God in seeking worshipers for God. We are called to partner with God by his power, through his strength with proclamation that is prayer-soaked and Spirit-filled and mercy-expressing so that people awaken to the glory of God in Christ. So how does it sound when missions is heard? Psalm 117:1 says:
Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
That’s the sound of missions if you ask, what does missions sound like? It says, “Extol him, all peoples! Praise him, all nations!” That’s the way it sounds.
Or like in Psalm 96:1–2 says, missions is the church saying to the nations, “Sing!”
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth! . . .
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised . . .
Don’t give him a little bit of praise, nations, give him lots of praise, great praise because great is the Lord and he is to be greatly praised. That’s the message of missions and we should burn inside until Saudi Arabia appraises Jesus Christ the King of kings and recognizes that Allah is not God.
A Tragic Lack of God-Centeredness
There are huge obstacles to this as that last comment notes. Here’s the main obstacle to this. The main obstacle to our passionate pursuit of the supremacy of God for the glory of God among the nations is that we are not a God-centered people. I risk saying that in a land where I don’t minister, and I mean it mainly about Americans, I just assume it’s true here. If it’s not, pass over this. We are not a God-centered church in America. I mean evangelical, liberal Protestant, and Catholic. We are not a God-centered church, and there are evidences of that that I’ll mention and you can judge whether they apply here or not.
1. A Poor Response to Tragedy
Here’s evidence number one. The reason I’m dwelling on this for a moment is that I think pastors must labor, preach, pray, and die if necessary to produce God-centered churches because until we have a passion for God’s supremacy above all things, we will not do missions the way God does missions, which is seeking worshipers, seeking his marvel. We’ll do it in some kind of man-centered way which will peter out in the end and will not last. Here’s the first evidence that we are not a God-centered people: the pathetic Christian response to 9/11. It was absolutely pathetic in three ways.
Oh poor God, he was helpless and he was not sovereign and there was nothing he could really do to cause those planes to swerve maybe 10 meters. How many pastors and Christians were embarrassed by their God, afraid to say he’s God and that if he chose to breathe they would move, and he didn’t.
It was also pathetic in the vague God-talk instead of the supremacy of Christ. How many radio interviews, how many times did you get an evangelical, a liberal Protestant, a Catholic, an imam, and a Jewish rabbi being interviewed and this evangelical rascal wouldn’t say Jesus if you paid him, lest somebody take offense at the Name.
And it was pathetic because of flag-waving instead of repentance. Oh, how many evangelical Americans put their flag on their front porch the day after? How many businesses flew their flag the day after? This happened to Jesus one time. They came and said to him, “What about those whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices in Galilee?” And they asked, “What about the tower of Siloam, which fell upon 18 people?” And Jesus said, “Do you think that those on whom that tower fell were more worthy to die than you and all those in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent you’re going to die too” (Luke 13:1–5). That was scarcely heard.
The point would have been that the amazing thing about 9/11 is that I wasn’t in the tower. That’s the amazing thing. The amazing thing about 9/11 is that the Church of Christ wasn’t in the airplane and in the tower. That’s the thing that should make us speechless. We should be amazed, saying, “I’m alive. I haven’t been cast into hell or brought into judgment. That’s the amazing thing.”
I heard R.C. Sproul preach one time on that text (Luke 13:1–5), and he entitled the sermon The Locus of Astonishment, which is a typical Sproul title. He meant that these people were stunned that the tower had fallen on 18 people. And Jesus said, “Do you want to hear what you should be stunned about? That it didn’t fall on you.” So repent while there’s time, America. That was the message, repent, America. England, yours will come. That’s why there’s so much security, you know it will come.
That’s evidence number one for why I think we are not a God-centered people.
2. A Psychologized View of the Love of God
Evidence number two is the psychologized view of the love of God. This is far more pervasive than 9/11 or anything close. This has been going on for maybe 60 years in America. And I don’t doubt the same psychologization of the love of God is prevalent here. And what I mean by that is the gospel of self-esteem, by which all problems in America are solved, all educational problems are solved with self-esteem. All parenting problems are solved with self-esteem. All depression problems, when it’s not medicine, are solved with self-esteem. All educational issues in the church and outside are solved with self-esteem. We will teach you how to help people feel good about themselves. That is the gospel in America — evangelical and liberal — and it’s tragic.
I’m just going to lay this on you because I would take 60 minutes to argue it if you wanted me to, but I have a limit. The love of God is not his devotion to making much of you. The love of God for you is his doing what must be done at great cost to himself to enable you to make much of him joyfully forever. Now I’ll say that again. The love of God is not, contrary to 60 years of man-centered psychologization of the love of God, making much of you. His love is his doing whatever he must do, at the cost of his Son’s life, to enable you to enjoy making much of him forever.
There’s a whole theology in that sentence, and it takes books to unpack it. But if you understand that you will understand how not God-centered our churches are because most of the people in my church, unless they’ve been getting it, and I hope some have, can’t even compute or conceive of a way to be loved that is not mainly making much of me. The thought is, “I just feel so good when it happens. How can it not be love? If you say nice things about me, I feel loved. If God says nice things about me or does things to help me feel good about myself I feel loved because I’m an American, not biblical.” But oh, once he becomes central then I know that if somebody bends every effort to help me feel good about me or if God bends every effort to help me feel good about me and does not bend every effort to help me enjoy him, he’s cruel. He feeds me ashes, unless he enables me to enjoy him and he is the bottom of my joy, not me. That’s evidence number two for why we are not a God-centered people.
3. A Lack of Affectionate Devotion
The last thing would simply be to just ask these questions. How many of your people say things like Psalm 73:25–26 says:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
How many of your people talk like that spontaneously? How many of them say with Augustine, pray with Augustine, “He loves thee too little, Father, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for their sake.” How many people talk like that? How many people say with David Livingstone, “I will not value anything I have or possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ.” We need to teach our people how to have things and be glad about it for the kingdom’s sake because many of our people are happy to have and that’s where their joy terminates.
That’s enough about the evidence of not being a God-centered people and therefore being unable as churches to do missions the way God does missions, namely for the glory of God, for the marvel of his Son, for worship. God is seeking worshipers. If we don’t have in our churches a passion for the supremacy of God as our chief joy, how in the world will we with any authenticity say to the nations, “Sing to the Lord a new song”? We’re not singing it. We’re just going through motions.
So pastors, ministers, we have to change this. If you want to become a world Christian pastor, if you would like to see your church count, in some increasing measure, for global evangelization, you have to labor and pray and preach and suffer and live and model God-centeredness and a passion for God’s supremacy above all things for the sake of the nations.
The God-Centeredness of God
And how does one do that? That’s my last crucial question. How does one help people not stumble over God’s God-centeredness in missions, that God himself is seeking the worship of God, that Christ himself is seeking the exaltation of Christ? How do we help our people overcome their resistance to God-centeredness?
I think everything that will be said in this pulpit is a partial answer to that question in these three days. I don’t doubt it. So I’m just giving you part of the answer. Here’s my part. We must show our people that the essence of worship is that God is glorified by our enjoying him. In other words, they need to be taught and shown what it is to glorify God. What is it to magnify God? What is it to worship God? What is it to make much of God? Because my guess is that most people, when you say, “Tell me what it means to glorify God, to magnify God, to make much of God, to worship God,” will come back to you with actions. Well let that be said.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me . . . (Matthew 15:8–9).
So if you only answer the worship question with actions, it is vain. They can perform all the actions in the world, even give their body to be burned, and not worship God, not glorify God, not magnify God. They can come to church every Sunday, sing every hymn, pray every prayer, read every text, give away their goods to feed the poor and their bodies to be burned and go to hell, and God would get no glory but the glory of his punitive justice.
You don’t want to preach like that and you don’t want to produce a church like that. You want to produce a church with heart. “This people honors me with their lips.” Flap, flap, flap goes their lips. You want to get to their heart, that organ of passion, that organ of zeal, that organ of love, that organ of joy and fear and reverence and hate, that organ you must touch and you can’t without the power of God on your ministry. And so my little point is that our people are vastly ignorant about what it means to worship God and they have misconceptions everywhere. And the one truth that I would like to commend is that the essence of worship is being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. Or you can put it any other way you want. The essence of worship is to enjoy God. The essence of worship is to delight in God, and so on.
God Glorified by Heart and Mind
Where did I get that idea? Well, let me take you on a very brief chronological path. It’s not a priority path because the Bible is the key, but I’m going to quote a few other people. Jonathan Edwards, whose 300th birthday will be celebrated on October 5 of this year (2003), is the most important dead theologian in my life outside the Bible. And Edwards said this amazing statement which I think is absolutely true and utterly transformative of ministry. Here’s a quote:
God glorifies himself toward the creatures in two ways. First, by appearing to their understanding. Second, by communicating himself to their hearts and in their rejoicing and delighting in him and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. God is glorified not only by his glory being seen but by being rejoiced in.
That was a ministry transforming sentence for me. If you believe that, it will have profound effects. Let me keep reading:
When those that see it (his glory) delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that he might communicate and the creature receive his glory, and that it might be received both by the mind and the heart.
And here comes a crucial sentence:
He that testifies his idea of God’s glory doesn’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also of his approbation of it and his delight in it.
All I add to Edwards is to make it rhyme because I say God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We must therefore labor in our churches, if we would have God-glorifying, God-centered, missions-pursuing people, to awaken their joy in God.
Willie handed me last week up in Scotland a quotation from William Still as I was saying some of these things. So I’ll quote from him:
Spontaneous praise is not the iced cake of Christian worship and service, but it’s the bread and butter. It is not worship or service at all without joy and thanksgiving.
So if worship is to be the purpose and goal of missions, we want worshipers, it must be the fuel of missions at home. If we want to draw people into marveling at him, we must marvel at him. If we want to commend him as the all-satisfying treasure of the universe, he must be our all-satisfying treasure. Otherwise, we will be hypocrites. Or more than likely, we will simply not do missions because it feels so inauthentic to go around the world, commending Christ as the great satisfying joy of the human heart, but he’s not ours. And so how could we ever do that? How could we go to Pakistan and say, “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all of Pakistan,” when we’re not spontaneously praising the Lord from a heart that is ravished by the king of kings?
So that is our task. We must labor, preach, pray, suffer long, and model for the church a passion for God’s supremacy, for the joy of all peoples. That’s our task. It is an essential element in worship.
Implications for Pursuing Our Joy in God
Now let me close with as many implications as I can fit into the minutes I have to close because I have five of them and I don’t know if I can get them all in. Let’s try. These are implications of saying God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, implications of drawing out the truth that, therefore, you should labor to help your people be satisfied in him for his glory and the good of the nations and the neighborhoods. What are the implications?
1. Freedom from Deadening Philosophy
Number one: your people will be set free from the deadening effects of Kantian morality. By Kantian, I mean the morality taught and fostered all over the world today by the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
The legacy of Immanuel Kant is tragic in the church. Kant said something that almost all of you, probably at one time in your life said, and maybe many of you believe today — “Do right for right’s sake.” How many have said to our children, how many have said to our churches,”Do right because it’s right.” The subplot under that, as Kant made very clear, was that if you do right for joy, it’s not right anymore. It’s sub-ethical. It’s un-virtuous if you try to do the right for the joy that there is in doing right. That has killed worship in thousands of churches because it makes people suspicious of their longing to be happy. It makes people have convictions that if they walk into church and the essence of worship might be to be satisfied in him, they have to clamp it down. Because they think, “If I do this for that, I am turning it into immorality, not morality.”
That’s the legacy that lands on most of our churches and it’s the air we breathe and it is deadly. Here’s the problem with Kant. You can’t define right without the pursuit of joy in it if God says, “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). We think we can split that up, take the first half, do it, and fear the second half and the pursuit of the obedience of it. It’s amazing how broadspread it is that we are afraid to tell people, “God tells you, ‘Serve the Lord with gladness.’” Therefore, if you try to serve him with indifference to your gladness in the serving, you are indifferent to obedience.
The implication, therefore, of what I’m saying is that it will free your people both to worship corporately, to worship in the Romans 12:1–2 kind of obedience, and to bring worship among the nations like they’ve never been free before. And I long for that to happen. Nothing kills personal and corporate worship like the suspicion or the conviction that the pursuit of joy is wrong.
2. A Life-Risking Summons to Worship
Number two: missions becomes the joyful, dangerous, life-risking summons to the nations to join us in our joy in God. You couldn’t write that down because it was probably too complicated. I wonder if I can simplify it. Missions becomes the summons to the nations. Join us in our joy in God because that’s what glorifies him.
Now that implication is not deduced merely logically from what I’ve said. I’m a little bit afraid of theologies built mainly on deductive logic. I must have texts because we are so fallible in our logic, we draw all kinds of unbiblical inferences out of premises, even though the premises are biblical. So I want texts. For example, in Romans 15:9 Paul says:
[Christ came] in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
Christ came that the nations would glorify God for his mercy. And one verse later he says:
And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
There it is. That’s all I want. Now I have a text. What does the nations and the Gentiles glorifying God for his mercy translate into? He goes back and he quotes Deuteronomy, he says, “Rejoice, O nations (or rejoice, O peoples, or rejoice, O Gentiles) with his people.”
Missions is done by churches that have been brought to see God as the most joyful, all-satisfying treasure of the universe for which they can let goods in kindred go and this mortal life also, the body they may kill, our treasure, God, abideth still. Let’s go tell the nations to join us in the joy we have in God. That’s the kind of churches that will do missions, and that’s what we want to labor for. My prayer is that as you leave this place, you will be a flame to set your people on fire with joy in God, not because it’s icing on the cake, as William Still says, but because it’s the cake, it’s worship. All of life is worship, and therefore everything must be done for joy in God.
3. Relief from the Tension of Our Motives
Number three: saying that God is glorified in us when we are satisfied in him, and that, therefore, we should try to cultivate churches that are passionate for God overcomes the tension between the missionary motive of compassion and the missionary motive of the glory of God. I’ve lived with this tension for so long until I saw these things. I’d love to give you illustrations from my own family about my wayward son Abraham, who, praise God, after three years of terrible wandering and making an absolute mess of his life, came home to Jesus last October. The Wednesday after I get back from this trip we will have a restoration service. We excommunicated my son three years ago and we will have a service of restoration on the 30th. And the only reason I mention that is because during those three years I knew compassion for the lost like I’d never known before.
And that’s the sign of my weakness. I admit that. He’s my son. It’s easy to have compassion for my son, but it caused me to wrestle with what the relationship is between my compassion for a lost person and my zeal for the glory of God. And now do you see how the two come together? What is compassion for people who are about to spend eternity in misery? Compassion means to save them forever for everlasting joy in God.
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
You rescue them for that. And now I’ve discovered if they have joy in God, God is glorified in that joy, and therefore, I don’t have to choose between a motive to pursue the glory of God and to pursue compassion for people. They’re the same.
4. Relief from Divided Aspirations
Number four: it overcomes the tension between the impulse to a life of sacrifice and the impulse to a life of joy. All right, we’re torn. Someone might say, “John Piper, you go around telling people to pursue their joy. What about sacrifice?” Well, if you understand me right, here’s what I’m saying. If, for the joy set before you, you will join Jesus on the Calvary road and lay down your life to extend your joy to others, yours will only be deepened as you die for Jesus.
I really am on a recruitment here for martyrs, and I mean that. The Bible says there is a certain number of martyrs who have to come in before the last day, according to Revelation 6:11. And therefore I’m expecting that there will be some in this church because some of you will be so inflamed by this world evangelization issue that you will leave your churches like William Carey did and become one of those.
You don’t have to choose between sacrifice and joy. The people who have lived the most sacrificial lives, including David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor, said, “I never made a sacrifice.”
5. God as the Center of Worship and Missions
Number five: it keeps God as the center of worship and missions, if you teach your people and model for your people that God is most glorified in them when they are most satisfied in him. Because nothing makes God more supreme and more central than when people are utterly persuaded that nothing, not prestige or leisure or family or job or health or sports or toys or life itself, is more precious than God. Nothing satisfies like God.
So brothers and sisters, labor to display God for your people in such lavish colors that they say, “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).