T4G 2008 Panel Discussion

Together for the Gospel Conference | Louisville

C.J. Mahaney: John, your stated purpose and passion from the outset of your message, I believe, was effectively transferred to the heart of everyone in attendance. And we are grateful for you and for that message. Thank you.

Now, most of the pastors here are laboring faithfully in the context of their local church, preaching faithfully in the context of the local church, caring faithfully for those who have been entrusted to them in their local church. They have been there for years or desire to stay there for years, hopefully to die in their church, to follow the example of men like you who’ve had a ministry in one church over the decades. So for many of them, if not most of them, they’re not going anywhere. For them, what does radical, risk-taking sacrifice look like?

John Piper: Well, it’ll look different for each of them, and one of the reasons it will be different for each is because what’s hard for one to do is not hard for another to do that ought to be done. And so, it’s not hard for me to do what I just did. There’s so much deep personal gratification in spending time in the word and preaching. This is no sacrifice. So I don’t count what I’m doing here as going outside the camp. It might be for you, to spend the time it would take. I mean, let’s say you’re a people person. You’re one of these Maybe you’re a Myers-Briggs “E” person, and you get strength by being with people instead of being with a book. That might mean study more, go deep, work at it, and go against your grain. So that’s one reason things look different. Circumstances are different.

But the principle is that the camp is the place where it’s comfortable, it’s secure, it’s relatively easy, and outside the camp are Golgotha and other things. And Jesus went outside the camp and then he tells us, “Take your cross and go with me.” You all know what’s hard for you to do in the cause of love. I’m not saying asceticism in an artificial way here, as if you create an aesthetic thing like taking a cold shower every morning. I mean, you have a neighbor and you’re scared to talk to him. You have a colleague and that colleague needs to be confronted about some bad habit that’s annoying. You have a marriage problem and you’ve been running from it forever and you need to tackle it, because it’s going to be emotionally exhausting to do it.

You read your Bible, you read the Romans 12 with all the exhortations, and you know that some of them are extremely difficult for you to do. So my prayer is that this message will help me, mainly, to have more affection for the treasure, Christ, that at that moment, when your will is locked into fear and locked into greed and locked into self-exaltation, and you see a pathway that’s costly but looks biblically right, there will be enough motive in the truths that I have seen that the Holy Spirit will take those truths and just move on them, and you’ll do it.

But I really think there are probably, in everybody’s circumstances, some more or less really risky things to do. There may be some really risky involvements in some causes that Christ has in the world. But especially, I’m mainly thinking of evangelism. Pastors run away from evangelism, because we believe it’s not our gift and we’re to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. And yet we have ringing in our ears to Timothy — who did not have the gift of evangelism because he was timid — “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). So whatever it is, whether it’s evangelism or marriage or your children, there is something risky to be done.

Some of you have your kids tying you around their little finger and you’re afraid to deal with it, especially if they’re 14, you’re afraid to deal with it, because they could run. And they’re just tying you up, because you don’t have the courage to get on their case. Tell them, “You won’t talk to her that way. We don’t tolerate that in this house. You go to your room, I’ll be there in a minute.” You’re just letting them run over you. You command them five times to do the same thing. Why? Because you’re sitting on the couch watching television and it’s a pain in the rear end to get up and go spank them.

Or since I got applause on spanking, some of you are so good at spanking, you’ve never touched your child’s heart. Never. You haven’t said anything to them that would open them like a flower, because your mother wasn’t that way and you got beat up as a kid and you’re not about to change. You say, “Deal with it, kid,” instead of, “How are you feeling? Talk to me about what’s going on inside of you.” So it’s whatever’s hard for you to do. I mean, the whole range of parenting and the whole range of marriage and the whole range of pastoring and the whole range of evangelism, all of it has hard stuff. So this is a message to say, find the hard stuff, get satisfied in Jesus, find him sufficiently motivating, and enjoy the fellowship of his sufferings.

Have you ever heard anybody say, “While walking on the primrose path of sunshine, I discovered the deepest and most lasting fellowship with Jesus”? Never. Never. You come to me after this if that’s you. Always, without exception — and I’ve never heard anybody gainsay this — human beings say, “I met him most, I went deepest with him, I enjoyed him most, I saw more of him on my dark road, on my hard road than anywhere else.” And so why would we not embrace commanded hard roads, like evangelism or anything that will stress you? I’ll share one more thing and then stop.

​​C.J. Mahaney: No, please, this is your panel.

John Piper: No, I want it to be give and take.

C.J. Mahaney: We are serving you, and we’re here to interview you and draw you out. By the way, I dare anybody to come to you after this meeting and say to you that their deepest fellowship with Jesus has taken place in the midst of the primrose path of sunshine. I just want to be there for it. So if you’re going to do that, if you’d alert me ahead of time, I just want to watch what kind of fellowship takes place between the two of you.

John Piper: It would be so unusual for that to happen that it would be like going outside the camp.

C.J. Mahaney: Well, that’s certainly calling them out, John.

John Piper: Last Sunday, I did a sermon on evangelism, and I prayed — because somebody prayed it in the prayer room before the sermon and I went up and prayed it with the people — “God, give us the emotions before the moment of evangelism that we have after the moment.”

C.J. Mahaney: Excellent, John. Excellent.

John Piper: Because you all know what those emotions afterwards are. Yes. You think, “Yes, I’m real. I opened my mouth. I had a little tiny bit of Holy Spirit courage. Yes.” And you sleep well. And yet before, you think, “I don’t think this is my gift, and they might this and they might that, and this isn’t the right time,” and there are endless demonic excuses to avoid joy. It’s suicide. It’s crazy. We’re crazy. I am, anyway. I’m a chicken.

C.J. Mahaney: Most of these guys are already in the process of preparing a sermon for this Sunday. If they were to meet with you for lunch, how would you counsel them about both the preparation process and the preaching event? Prepare us as pastors for the preparation process, week in, week out. And address the preaching event, because we watch you and we are affected and amazed, and we want to seize this time to learn from you. What are you doing in private, in preparation, that could be transferred, that would make a difference? And what’s taking place or what are you thinking about in the preaching event that could be transferred in any way, assuming that we can ultimately emulate the gifting in your life?

John Piper: The most important thing I want to say in answer to that question is there isn’t any technique to preaching. It’s not a technique. It’s not a profession that you go to a homiletics class to learn how to do. Your question is a temptation to go there, and I know you don’t want me to go there. God is doing sermon preparation when your throat is blazing with yellow pustules and you’ve got a fever and you feel like quitting. He’s doing sermon preparation there.

Don’t begrudge the seminary of suffering. Don’t begrudge marriage difficulties. Don’t begrudge the parental stuff that’s so hard. He’s making you a preacher. He’s making you a pastor. So the main preparation work is walking with him through it all and going deep with him, and being there and not running away from it into endless food or television. Get rid of the television. That would be a very practical thing to do. Get rid of your television so that you have some time, family time, reading time, and reflection time, and basically keep your mind free from so many empty things.

We were talking about this pornography thing over lunch the other day, and we who are 60 were reflecting on how hard it was to get pornography when we were teenagers. And the implication of that is that in my brain, I have two pornographic images from my teen years. I found a Playboy in a laundromat and they were passing a really weird book around in the locker room one day. I remember both of them like they were yesterday.

Most of you have a thousand images in your brain. That really makes sermon preparation hard. However, it’s not impossible. He died to purify our conscience and our heart. Although, you make your job a lot harder if you keep going to that cesspool. So I heard out of the mouth of R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur yesterday that neither of them has ever been on the internet for anything. They don’t have it in their house.

C.J. Mahaney: But they do watch TV.

John Piper: Do they?

C.J. Mahaney: Yeah.

John Piper: So, back to the question.

C.J. Mahaney: Talk about preparation.

John Piper: All of it includes suffering and keeping your mind from being contaminated, because the preparation moment is a heart and mind thing, in which every three minutes maybe, you are crying out to the Lord. As you’re reading your text, whether in Greek or Hebrew or English, you’re reading it and you’re saying, “God, please, I have to have a word. I have to have a word for my people. Let me see what’s really here.” That’s the mind part. You pray for the mind part. It has to be really here. I can’t make this up. My people have to see it. I have to see it. I don’t want to pull rank on these folks by quoting Greek and having them say, “I don’t see that,” and replying, “Well, believe me, it’s there.”

I don’t want to do that. I want them to see what’s really there, so I need to see what’s really there. So I’m pleading with the Lord, “Show me what’s there.” And then I’m pleading just as strongly, “Help me to feel what’s there. If it’s a horrible thing, help me to feel horrible. If it’s a beautiful thing, help me to feel thrilled over its beauty. Bring this dead heart into some kind of moral conformity, affectional conformity, to what’s really there.” Those are my two kinds of prayers, you could call them prayers for light and heat, or whatever you want to call it. Because if you try to work it up without the Holy Spirit giving it, people will know. They’ll know. Your people will know sooner or later, and they’ll say, “I don’t think that was a real affection. That was planned.”

You don’t want to go there. You don’t want to play that game. If it isn’t real, just be Swedish or whatever. Just be blank. Just talk, and God will use the truth. There are a thousand details I could say about the preparation moment as far as poking at the text, but the preaching moment is the same. You plead with the Lord. I do “A.P.T.A.T.” Before I stand up. A, I admit that I can do nothing of any lasting value; P, I pray for self-forgetfulness, for fullness of the Holy Spirit, for love, for humility, for passion, for zeal, for prophetic utterance that may come to my mind while I’m preaching so that I can say things I hadn’t prepared that might penetrate where nothing else would. T, I trust a particular promise from the Lord that I have found in my devotions early in the morning.

So today, I read Deborah’s song in Judges 5, as well as Psalm 84, between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. or so this morning, and pointed out a verse to Mark as we were sitting there, “Oh, my soul, ride on in strength” (Judges 5:21). That was my word this morning. The Lord gave a word from his Word this morning that said, “Ride on in strength.” So I take that. That’s my T, trust. As I’m walking up, I’m saying, “This is your work. Just come. Don’t leave me here. You’ve got to do something here. I’m counting on you.” And he’s saying, “I have this under control.”

Then comes A, you act. Let’s do it. You have to do it. It’s your hands that are moving, it’s your voice that’s speaking. You have to do this. Walking by the Spirit, putting the death of deeds of the body by the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, and bearing the fruit of the Spirit is a mystery. Because Paul says, “I worked harder than any of them, but it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). That’s the mystery. So sermon preparation is you putting that out. When you’re preparing and when you’re preaching, you put that out. But if you’ve prayed and done APTAT and God is merciful, you won’t be putting it out. He’ll be putting it out.

C.J. Mahaney: Excellent.

John Piper: That’s what it says. That’s 1 Corinthians 15:10. And when you’ve acted and you go sit down, you thank him, which is the last T.

C.J. Mahaney: Amen.

John Piper: He regularly does more than you think he does. I said this to the guys I met the other night. I don’t think after 28 years of preaching that I can correlate, with any degree of confidence, my sense of effectiveness in the moment and the truth effectiveness of the Lord. I just don’t know any keys to know how to correlate those two, which keeps me from being too excited, thinking, “That was good,” or from getting too depressed, thinking, “That was a total wipeout.”

C.J. Mahaney: Excellent, excellent.

John Piper: Because the Lord will be sure to put me in my place if I do the one and lift me up if I do the other, because he said, “I’m working out there in ways you can’t make happen at all. You thought that was a good thing to say? That wasn’t it. You missed it. That wasn’t what did it. This thing over here that you didn’t even know I gave you did it.” And you’ll find out in heaven that happened.

C.J. Mahaney: Excellent. Excellent. That’s very helpful. Al, pick a track.

Albert Mohler: Oh, my first track is gratitude and thankfulness. The Lord has given you an incredible ability to reach the heart through your messages. And that happened to me as I was listening. I want to also say that you said something very profound and very true. After you read the Scripture, you said, “This really doesn’t require much exposition.” It’s true and it’s not true. In a sense it’s true because there’s just too little Scripture being read in churches and being read too carelessly. And the way you walked us through just reading those texts was a sermon. We got two sermons. Thank you for preaching the second sermon as well. But you actually took us through that and I just wanted to just rejoice in that, and also encourage pastors, learn how to skillfully read the biblical text. There are points at which the Lord was just using you as an instrument to read the text. When you lift an eyebrow, all of a sudden we think, “Yeah, that’s it, and that’s where it connects.” So thank you.

Mark Dever: John, let me tell you the difficulty I have in applying what you were saying and maybe you can help me with it. In Hebrews 12, we were looking at the call to endure hardship and talking about God’s discipline. It says, “God is treating you as sons, for what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined, and everyone undergoes discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons” (Hebrews 12:7–8).

My response to that is that I want to look around and I want to find the hardships that I’m enduring. I don’t know if it’s a personality thing or a pastoral instinct, but anything I go through that I regard as being a difficulty, I innately want to reinterpret it. I want to get that away. I don’t want to think about that. I want to think of it as a good thing. And so, when I turn around and look for difficulties, I’ve told them all to leave, either by my constitution or something else. Even if somebody objectively would look at it and say, “That’s a difficulty,” I’ve tried to make myself think of it as not being a difficulty. And yet you’re calling me to be introspective, or the writer of the Hebrews is, in saying, “Look, you need to find these hardships as proof that you’re a legitimate son.” Have you ever run across any case like that in pastoral work?

John Piper: Sure. I am one. I mean, I’m a Christian Hedonist. I only do what makes me happy. I have the same problem, right? Whether you’re looking in the front or the back, my theology is saying, “Get over the difficulty.” Now the reason I am one is because it’s biblical to be that way, and the verse is, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character” (Romans 5:3). So there’s the paradox. If it was only joy, it wouldn’t be suffering. If there’s no joy, it’s not doing what Paul says. So you have to do what you said.

Now, I doubt that if the difficulty you faced were hard enough, you would completely in retrospect be able to convert it into only pleasure. It would have its spiritual dimension of pleasure, but when they did that surgery, or when that child walked away, or when that marriage broke down, or when that person slandered you, it remains painful. Otherwise, the whole thing breaks down. I mean, there’s no “outside the camp” anymore. There’s no suffering anymore. There’s nothing, because we’ve got it all reinterpreted as “praise God anyhow.” And I’m not saying that.

I’m saying it is really painful. It really hurts, front and back. But what you’re trying to do, it seems to me, is exactly what Romans 5:3 and Hebrews 12:7–8 says we’re supposed to do, namely, embrace it as God’s design and good gift to you, painful as it is, working holiness in you, and intensifying your love for the Lord and making you a better pastor. The list of benefits from suffering goes on and on, if we’ll have it, so that you can actually say, “Okay, devil, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. I’m embracing his intention.” But goodness gracious, Joseph had 13 years, I believe, before he really knew what was going to happen. So it’s bad to worse, to worse, to worse, and then he’s the vice president of Egypt, and then he can say, “Okay, I see that. I rejoice in that, but to be sold into slavery and to be lied about, to be kept in prison didn’t suddenly become pleasant.” Does that help?

Mark Dever: Yeah, yeah.

John Piper: You don’t look like it helped very much.

Mark Dever: Well, no, I’m still thinking. I mean, these are great thoughts. I’ll pray about it.

John Piper: Tell me when you get more discovery, because I’m in the same place.

Ligon Duncan: Thank you, John. You are a theological F5 tornado in my soul.

John Piper: Leaving devastation in Jackson, Mississippi.

Ligon Duncan: Gracious devastation. In their preaching, the Puritans were sometimes called those who ripped up consciences, and I think that’s why we’re asking all these questions right now. A lot of times, we’ll say that good preaching does the counseling for you, and there’s a truth to that. But sometimes, good preaching starts the counseling, and we’ve already started counseling with our pastor here to try and find out how this message specifically relates to our own soul. I mean, that’s good preaching. It raises problems of conscience that you haven’t had before, but you should’ve. And there are 5,500 different ways that radical sacrifice is going to work out in this room. For some people it will mean that they’re going to pack up and they’re going to go to Africa.

John Piper: Yeah, thanks for saying that.

Ligon Duncan: Or they’re going to go into an urban work out of their suburban setting, for which they feel utterly unequipped in terms of all of their background and experience and connection with different types of people groups, and they’re going to do that. For some people, it’s going to mean staying in a church where they’re preaching their hearts out and the people are okay to have them there, but they’re not really seeing the fruit in their people that they so long to see, the dramatic changes, the embracing of this radical sacrifice in their lives. There are 5,500 different applications, but it was just so incredibly helpful to me. Thank you for your message.

Albert Mohler: I think your explanation here as you were answering C.J. was actually very helpful, because I have to tell you my problem with Hebrews 11 — or Hebrews 11’s problem with me — is that I look at this and I see in Hebrews 11:33–37 that “by faith [they] conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword.” Then it goes on, saying, “Women received back their dead by resurrection and others were tortured, not accepting their release . . . Others experienced mockings and scourgings, chains and imprisonment . . . They were sawn in two.”

I haven’t known anybody yet who has been sawn in two. I’ll know some in heaven. I know you’re exactly right, there are people right now who are suffering for the cause of the gospel. I think it’s really difficult. It is for me. It is for me as president of the seminary looking out at all these students. It is for me as ministering the church, looking at mostly middle class people. I mean, what kind of suffering is the right kind of suffering? There could be an artificiality to this, but there has to be a willingness for this.

Mark Dever: When we started having this conversation the other day, that’s why I said to you that yes, you have a ton of books and nice things in your study, and I understand that, but I think those of us who’ve been around you for years have seen you go through all kinds of stuff. I don’t just mean physical ailments, brother. I mean, things because of the change in the seminary, ways that you have deliberately walked in places that you knew were going to be exceedingly unpleasant. It’s not that you have a pugnacious personality.

Albert Mohler: And I didn’t mean it only about me. I appreciate your counsel there, but I just mean thinking about how I’m to encourage the people to whom I’m preaching and serving. I appreciate what Ligon just said, because I think one of the things I’m so burdened with when I pray for the students on my campuses is that I know a lot of them are going to go out and have a tough time, I mean, a very tough time. It’s going to be exactly the kind of tough time you just talked about, Ligon, where you’re preaching repeatedly and you don’t see anything. Or you’re preaching, and they say, “Thank you, you’re fired.”

And all I want, I’m just thinking with you here. We have to be willing to be sawn in two. Thank you for just demonstrating Stephen for us. If I’m not willing to do that, I’m not worthy of the kingdom. But I think most of us are more likely to see suffering of a more frustrating kind, a kind that’s more about endurance. And then, I do appreciate the fact that when you look at the text here in Hebrews 11:37, it says, “They were stoned, they were sawn in two,” and then before it says they were put to death with the sword, it says they were tempted. There’s a lot of suffering going on in the temptations of ministry as well.

Ligon Duncan: I’ve been preaching through Philippians for about a year now. I was telling John before the conference started that I’ll do my work, and then I’ll go back and I’ll listen to his preaching from the Desiring God website. You’ve done a pretty extended exposition on kinds of suffering in the course of your work through Philippians. That’s on the Desiring God website. You’ve done it in different forms. Do you want to elaborate on some of the ways of suffering that you talked about in that series, John?

Because you’re addressing this very question that people think suffering just means taking a bullet or getting your head hacked off. You address everything from cancer to the kinds of things you’ve been talking about earlier today with problems with your mother-in-law, or your problems with your wife, or problems with your children, or problems with your elders or whatever else. You make a great point in that message about how any kind of suffering can become suffering for Christ, if you’ll embrace it that way. You want to elaborate on that?

John Piper: That part of the question I can remember, because it’s a major issue. If you pick a text on suffering and you try to apply it to cancer when it’s dealing with persecution, a lot of people will say, “I don’t think that applies to me, because that’s really applying to getting suffering from somebody hurting you or saying something evil.” So I have often developed an argument that all suffering that a Christian endures in the path of obedience is suffering with Christ and for Christ, though not in the same way. And there are a couple of reasons for that.

One reason is that in suffering, the temptation is the same, whether it’s coming from cancer or slander. The temptation is to say God is not good and it’s not worth serving him, and escaping from this suffering in some sinful way is to be preferred. Those are the same. And so, the real battle is the same whether it’s coming from a physical thing or another. The second reason is that I don’t think historically you can draw a line between suffering from persecution and suffering from physical pain. Try to imagine a particular kind of Pauline persecution, like being whipped 39 lashes, five times. Let’s just take the third time.

You have to imagine what his back must have looked like. Thirty-nine times five is a lot. It healed five times. The third time it happens his back is turned into jelly again. Now they don’t know anything about antibiotics. They’re done with him and they throw him on the floor. And his back is now covered with dirt. What happens when your back is lacerated and it’s covered with dirt? I’ll tell you what happens, infection happens. What happens when you get an infection? Fever happens. Now which is the physical suffering here and which is the persecution suffering?

Where are you going to draw that line between the fever and the lashes? That’s why I say that any fever experienced in the path of obedience is suffering for Christ. I’m getting my sermon ready, I’m making hard calls, I had to stay up late with the suicide situation and not enough rest, and I’ve got this awful sore throat. Tell me that’s not the same suffering as being criticized for your ministry. It is the same essential suffering. And so, I think I can develop textual and thoughtful arguments for why almost all texts on suffering can help our people, whether their pain is coming from a difficult marriage or coming from slander or coming from cancer or coming from wherever.

Ligon Duncan: That’s right.

John Piper: The issue is in all suffering, will we trust him? Will we find in this some evidence of his sovereign mercy toward us? And the source of it is a very minor part when it comes to the real battle down here of saying, “Will I trust him? Will I hold on to him or not?”

C.J. Mahaney: Knowing you, John, and knowing your church, you have devoted much time to addressing the topic of suffering and to preparing your church for suffering. Why and how would you recommend local pastors here do the same?

John Piper: The why is because the Bible promises through many tribulations we will enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22), and there are many such texts. It is a given that to come to Jesus is to compound your suffering, not minimize your suffering. Certain kinds of suffering get minimized. The suffering that comes from drunkenness will probably go down, along with others. So don’t hear me saying nothing changes and there’s no benefits on the planet. That’s not true. There is amazing relief of conscience. A lot of psychological things will improve, but others will get worse. If you’re now in a marriage or one of you is a believer and one’s not it will be hard.

The people of your church will suffer. That’s the first reason. And the second reason is because you see it out there. You see the little Down syndrome kids and you see the people in the wheelchair and you see the painful marriages that are out there. You see it and you’re either going to just ignore it or you’re going to give them something to help. And then third, I don’t think Christ is glorified anywhere more than when suffering people rejoice in him as their treasure. I’m on the primrose thing again here.

If everything’s going rosy for all my people, the possibilities of us making a name for Jesus in the city is smaller than if things are going hard for our folks. Then the possibility of making a name for Jesus is greater. Because what the world wants to see is not for you to tell them, “Jesus makes things go well for me.” They’re going well for them, too. It’s probably better than for you. And it’s money that’s doing it and it’s doctors that are doing it, and whatever, so that argument has teeny weeny effectiveness.

Rather, when neighbors know that the baby in your womb has a liver outside his body and no spinal column, and you have to carry this baby to the end and they watch you, the possibilities of making much of Jesus are staggering. Not many people see life that way. My job as a preacher is to help that mom way before the pregnancy happens to get ready for it, so that she has some resources. One of the most satisfying things in ministry, guys, is to do this long enough so that you get a steady stream of testimonies that come to you at funerals and in hospitals and other places, where a mom or a son or a relative just takes you by the hand and says, “So glad we’d been at Bethlehem. We’d be insane if we didn’t have a big God, if we didn’t have a strong God, if we didn’t have a sovereign God, if we didn’t have a holy God.” I love those testimonies.

Ligon Duncan: Amen.

John Piper: I get a lot of mileage for late-night work out of testimonies like that. And they are a pretty common stream. We have a lot of strong women at our church. They bear a lot of things. They endure pain through marriages and through kids that are disabled, and in other ways. And I look at them and, like I said, and I’d just like to marry them all and I just want to bless them. I love strong women. I think they are magnificent testimonies to Christ. Because if they’re complementarian, which I hope they are, at our church, then they’re combining things the world can’t explain. They’re combining a sweet, tender, kind, loving, submissive, feminine beauty with this massive steel in their backs and theology in their brain. And the world thinks, “You really want to be at that church? John Piper hates women, don’t you know that? John Piper hates women.”

Albert Mohler: You want to marry them all?

C.J. Mahaney: Yeah, you’ve dispelled that with your statements about wanting to marry them all. There’s no doubt about that.

Albert Mohler: That’s really helpful in terms of what you just said. That’s really helpful. I think you did a kind of take-home value for pastors here, for all of us, to go back and even look at that differently than we’ve looked at it before, in terms of calling women out to that kind of strength, the right kind of strength. That’s sweet. So thank you.

Ligon Duncan: Amen.

John Piper: Let me give you a word. This word has served me so well. I saw some of our women sitting over there a few minutes ago, I think. I hope this is true for them. But in a controversial situation concerning complementarianism and egalitarianism, I grope for ways to celebrate and articulate magnificence in women. People say, “What do you think that looks like? Because you don’t think they should be elders, so you must think they’re dumb, or you don’t think they should call the final, decisive shots in the marriage, but be responsive and supportive. So what is magnificence here?”

And one of the words that has proved to be remarkably vision-giving for me and them is that my goal for the women of our churches is that they become sages. It’s an unusual word. We all tend to know what it means. It’s a Huldah-like word. They streamed to Huldah. She was a prophet, but she evidently didn’t do public prophetic ministry. They came to her quietly. I don’t know the details. But I just want our women to study Wayne Grudem’s theology and read my books and read your books, and have rich, deep, strong theology and unshakeable faith, and have tender, sweet, kind, supportive, loving hearts towards their husbands and the church. And as they get to be 40, 55, 60, people are streaming to them for wisdom.

Women, don’t begrudge suffering. You’ll become a sage. People will stream to you. Men will seek you out, which will not be inappropriate in the right setting. They will say “I need your help. I need insight into how to deal with this. You’ve walked through 30 years and you’ve carried this and your arm has been lamed, and you’ve loved this husband who’s never believed, and he’s with you and you’re with him. And you’ve had this child who you’ve now nursed for 35 years and he lives at home with you still and has the brain of a two-year-old. Talk to me about perseverance, ma’am.” So I just want to see sages. Plead with the Lord to so lead male and female in your church that they all grow up, and give women the vision, “I could become a sage.” Because frankly, one of the reasons I thought of this is because one of the complaints among the 20 and 30 year old women is that they don’t have sages in their lives.

Ligon Duncan: That’s right.

John Piper: The older generation that I inherited from previous ministries wasn’t theological. Everything was so thin at this church that I came to, that all the older women were intimidated by the younger women. The younger women were aggressively inquiring into the meaning of the Bible and how things in the world work. They want to think and they want to know. And they want women, 30 years older, to know as much as they know and teach them a little bit and help them, and that generation didn’t do that. Part of it is just circumstance. So 30 years out I want to raise up something different. I want the women of our church, who are now in their 20s and 30s, when in their 50s, to not be intimidated by anybody and be just overflowing with wisdom and strength for the other women in the church. I want the older women to disciple the younger women.

Ligon Duncan: I want to focus again on the issue of taking suffering and helping people to embrace it for Christ with joy. John’s Don’t Waste Your Cancer is an excellent book. A third of my elders either have or are in remission from cancer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given that book out. It’s a great way to put the meat on the plate of this discussion on how to train your people in how to approach suffering.

C.J. Mahaney: I also recommend How Long, O Lord? by Don Carson where he says at the outset that all one has to do is live long enough and one will suffer. And then he argues there that we develop a theology of suffering before one’s suffering, so that theology sustains us in the midst of suffering.

Albert Mohler: Can I offer one other observation that you just alluded to in terms of your own ministry? I think there’s always a danger in a conference like this, especially for a lot of younger pastors. They think they’re going to see this right away. And the reality is that in middle-class America, in the vast majority of America’s middle class, in terms of just what we’re going to meet in terms of expectation, the comfort level is going to be very high, and the apathy level is going to be very high. The theological knowledge level is going to be very low. The passion meter is going to be barely moving when they get there. Just encourage them to stay there. John has been 28 years at Bethlehem, and it wasn’t like that when you got there. It wasn’t like that five years after you were there. You’ve had to be there until you’re 62 now in order to see this. So encourage us about staying somewhere until the Lord brings pleasure to himself in changing things.

John Piper: The Lord does that. And there are decisions you can make, but my story is one of providences. When I came, I asked the search committee, “Well, how long do you want me to stay?” And they said, “How long are you willing to stay?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m brand new. I’ve never been a pastor anywhere else. I don’t know.” And so they said, “Would you give us 10 years?” I said, “I hope so.” That was the dynamic of that moment. No big decision. I didn’t say, “I’m here for life!”

Here’s the story. This is to celebrate providence, not any shrewd decision. I was six years teaching Bible in college. I wanted very much during those six years to teach seminary. I was feeling like I wanted to get nearer to the frontline, but I don’t think I’m called to be on the frontline as a the pastor. I want to get up close. And I didn’t get a single invitation to go to any seminary for six years, okay? My buddies did. Wayne Grudem did and John Sailhamer did. They just all left. And I was there teaching 18-year-old blonde Swedes who asked the same questions in every class, thinking, “This is getting old.”

So the thought continually enters your mind, “If you get a little pastoral experience, they might want you in seminary.” It’s really dangerous to do pastoral ministry like a stepping stone. So on the night of October 14, 1979, after a year’s sabbatical, feeling driven toward the church and yet not wanting that motive to be there at all. On that night, I was up till probably 1:00 a.m. writing nine pages in my journal about my life and my calling, and came to the conclusion that if Noël would say yes in the morning, I would resign and seek a church. And the thought about stepping on the church toward the seminary hit me about a week or two later, but it never entered my mind that night. That’s a miracle. That’s all I had been thinking about. That was a gift.

Mark Dever: Was that partly because you were not satisfied with the teaching? I mean, it wasn’t just a positive call to pastoral ministry?

John Piper: Oh, it was a total push and pull. It was hard to know which is which. I was getting bored with what I was doing. The students were saying, “Good job,” when I gave devotions, not “Good job,” about the classes. I thought, that’s preaching. And then there was the pull towards the whole church. These are real people in the church. They’re old, they’re young, and they have problems. You get the whole range and not this little artificial bubble in college.

Now, the other piece of providence is this. As soon as I got on the ground at Bethlehem, I got five invitations to seminary. Five different seminaries asked me to consider being a professor. Well, it was too late. I can’t walk away now. I had only been there a year. And when I had been there long enough to think, “Now it might work,” they didn’t call it anymore. If they called today, I wouldn’t even think about it. I’m not going anywhere. And that’s been true for probably 15 years. I got over that. I really got over the seminary thing. I tasted the real thing.

C.J. Mahaney: Yeah. And who knew that as a means of grace, we have a group of 18-year-old, blonde Swedes, to thank for all we have received ultimately from your life. Who knew? Thanks to those ladies.

John Piper: Here’s one other celebration of providence. There was a trickle of churches who sought me, not many. Maybe every six months or a year somebody might inquire if I would leave Bethlehem and do something different. God so worked it that those letters never arrived when I was emotionally ready to leave. They only arrived when I was really happy to be there. Isn’t that amazing?

C.J. Mahaney: That is amazing.

John Piper: I mean, God knows how unbelievably fickle and weak I am. So he says, “We won’t let them ask when he’s down. We’ll only let them ask when he’s up.”

Ligon Duncan: That’s great.

John Piper: So I read them, and wrote a little letter, saying, “Thank you anyway, I’m very happy here. My work’s not done.” Those don’t come anymore either. But it was providence. But Al, really, to get at your question, I think one should resolve to stay there a long time. This may not be the right thing to say, but especially in urban settings. Let’s put it like this. Wherever the people come and go, the pastor shouldn’t.

Wherever the people never leave, pastors can come and go and the church doesn’t change much. In little settings in the country where nobody ever leaves it isn’t as big of a deal. There are 50 people. They’ve been the same 50 forever, and their children. They can probably handle pastoral changes. But even there, I don’t want to make it sound like every two years they get a new pastor and they don’t care. You could probably do vastly more for their view of missions and race and Bible exposition and service than if you leave quickly.

C.J. Mahaney: All right, here’s one final question. Let’s say I’m teaching through Hebrews, trying to draw attention to all the wonderful themes that you brought to our attention. And then, I get to Hebrews 13:17. How would you teach Hebrews 13:17 without that verse appearing to be self-serving?

John Piper: This looks like a softball.

C.J. Mahaney: That’s my job here is to serve you with softballs.

John Piper: Let’s read the whole thing:

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 (the pastors) do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).

A pastor has to joyfully do his work or he’s of no advantage to the people. The softball that I was really eager to hit out of the park was that this is Christian hedonist pastoral text to the max. Because it says, “If you don’t serve your people with joy, you’re of no advantage to them,” which means you don’t love them. That means you must seek your own joy in the ministry in order to be of use to them, which means you have to pursue your own joy.

John Piper: So having made clear then that the pastoral ministry is to be done with joy, with a view to being advantageous to the people, those people must feel that this man lives for our advantage. He’s not manipulating them. He’s not on a power trip here. He’s not using this church to get anywhere or do anything. He’s living to their advantage. He’s pouring his life out. They are sheep, and he’s the shepherd. He wants them to be fed well, be protected from wolves, and to be carried and loved when they need to be carried and loved. So then, you’re asking how to preach this that says, “Obey your leaders.”

I say to the people, “All human structures that God has ordained have an obedience and submission component. With the family, there are parents and children — authority and submission. With marriage, you have a husband and wife — authority and submission. With the government, there is a government and there are people — authority and submission. With the employee and employer relationship, this employer can tell you when to get there and you should submit. And none of that is absolute. Well, these are all relativized by the lordship of Jesus. So the lordship of Jesus is over family, marriage, church, and government, and it is relativizing the commands that a husband can give and a parent can give and so on. It’s the same way in the church as well.

I’m trying to make way for them to hear this hopefully positively. I’m saying, “I am not your God. I am not the Lord in your life. We don’t do sects. We don’t do that here. We’re not a cult here in such a way that I’m creating my harem or whatever. So once they can relax and say, “He looks loving, he looks caring, and he subordinates his own private desires to our good,” then we say to them, and you know that there are elders that God has ordained to be here. The function of elders is authority. That’s why women are called not to do that, but to do other kinds of things. Authority has an echo in the people. It’s called obedience here. I don’t think that word means absolute obedience. These elders do not have divine authority, therefore they should view us under the Bible.

If we go away from the Bible, don’t follow us. So the Bible and God remain the final authority. But if we’re inside the Bible, your demeanor towards us should be blessing and support. You should like our leadership. And I frankly don’t think a pastor should preach on that for a few years. I really don’t. I don’t think you have proved that you’re a good shepherd until it’s several years out. To come into a church and say on the first Sunday, “Obey me,” would be a terribly unwise and foolish thing to say because the context in our culture of obedience won’t be there for understanding it biblically.