The Blazing Center

Part 6

Bethlehem Baptist Church Youth Retreat | Minneapolis

Let’s go to 2 Corinthians 9:7–8. He is still, for two chapters, motivating the Corinthians to be generous in their giving for the poor in Jerusalem. So what does he say in 2 Corinthians 9:7–8? It says:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

That sounds very familiar to 2 Corinthians 8:2, and then he gives the reason:

For God loves a cheerful giver.

Joyful Generosity

Now just think about that for a minute. It is a loving thing to give generously to the church, to the poor, to a friend, and to those in need. Giving is loving, if it’s cheerful. I mean, it’s a really shocking thing to say, “God loves a cheerful giver,” isn’t it? Have you ever asked, “Well, how does he feel about the dutiful giver who doesn’t have any joy in it?”

He doesn’t say, but it’s scary. God loves a cheerful giver. He looks really favorably, excitedly, kindly, and joyously upon the giver who says, “I love to give. It’s the overflow of my joy in God to give. That’s the way I want to be.” God loves that. But for those who are just raw hypocrites, who are going to give because they hope other people will see them, or they’re not going to give because they don’t want to give, or they give and it’s just sheer duty, thinking, “All this talk about emotions and desires and overflow is sheer, unnecessary icing on the cake of the dutiful, willpower religion called Christianity” — those kinds of people simply cannot handle this verse. God loves a cheerful giver.

Your goal must not be, “I have to give a 10th of all I get.” That’s not the main goal. The goal is to become the kind of person who loves to give a 10th and more. Do you see where the battle is to be fought? It took me years to figure out where the battle was fought. The battle is not first at the level of behavior, as if to think it’s all about the fact that you’re going to write the check, that you’re going to give the money or you’re not. That’s not the battleground. The battleground is what makes you glad? Does giving as the overflow of joy in God make you glad, or doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, you’ve got warfare on your hands, and you have to fight like crazy to get it right.

God Loves a Cheerful Pastor

Let me look at a couple of other texts with you about this. Let’s go to 1 Peter 5. I want to show you a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 9:7, and the paraphrase runs something like this: God loves a cheerful pastor. I’m at 1 Peter 5:1–2. It says:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly …

Now, how would you paraphrase that? Pastor Piper, shepherd the flock. Don’t shepherd the flock under compulsion and constraint, like, “Oh, I have to do this. It’s my job.” And don’t do it for shameful gain, thinking, “This is just the way I make my living. They pay me, so I’ll do it. I get a living. That’s why I do this ministry.” The Bible looks with tremendous disfavor upon that kind of attitude in a pastor. What does it say? It says, “Love to do your work. Do it eagerly. Love loving the sheep.” This is amazing. Have you ever memorized Micah 6:8, where it says:

God has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

It doesn’t say do mercy; it says love mercy — that is, love doing mercy. That’s what this text says to a pastor.

Serving with Gladness

Turn back a couple of books to Hebrews 13. This one is even more amazing to me, and it really affects how you relate to me as a pastor and how I relate to you. It’s all about what love does with joy. I’m going to read Hebrews 13:17, and I’ll show you another text where it applies to being a pastor. God loves a cheerful pastor, just like he loves a cheerful giver. This applies to you and your way of relating to me and helping me be joyful in serving you because you won’t get any advantage if I don’t take joy in serving you. So let’s read this. Hebrews 13:17 says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

If I don’t serve you with joy, you don’t get any advantage from me. When I get the joy, you get the advantage. So we need to ask, “What is love in this verse?” Love is ministering so that the people you minister to benefit and get an advantage. But this text says you can’t be an advantage to your people if you don’t serve with joy, which means I must pursue my joy in God if I am to be a loving pastor. If I am indifferent to whether I delight in God and delight in ministry, I cannot love my people. That’s what that text says:

Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Love doesn’t say, “I don’t care if I’m a benefit to my people. I’m doing my duty. I go to the hospital. I counsel. I preach sermons. I marry. I bury. I’ve done my duty.” If that’s the attitude of a pastor — duty, duty, duty, willpower, willpower, willpower — this text says he is of no benefit to his people.

Joy and Love

I don’t think joy is icing on the cake of love. I think joy is right at the heart of love. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. So the great battle to become a loving person is the battle to become joyful in God.

Let’s go back to that text I looked at this morning. It was Acts 20:35. There’s one thing to see in this text that I did not point out this morning that I think is tremendously important. Let me give you an illustration from my time in Germany.

I spent three years in Germany studying from 1971 to 1974. I was writing a doctoral dissertation on the topic Love Your Enemies: Jesus’s Love Command in Early Christian Ethical Teaching. I spent three years reading articles and books about love, what it is and what motivates it. And the things that I saw among biblical scholars absolutely appalled me in the way they thought about the motive for love. Let me read this verse and then I’ll tell you what I saw. This is Acts 20:35.

Paul is talking to the elders on the beach at Miletus, and he’s speaking to the Ephesian elders. They’ve come down to say goodbye. He loves them deeply. He’s telling them his closing words, and his closing words are:

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.”

Do you know what the most controversial word in that sentence is among ethical writers? It’s the word remember. Paul says, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Why is that controversial? It seemed like it just hung in the air 25 years ago. It may still hang in the air today that if you do an act of love for any benefit that might come to you, you have ruined the moral virtue of the act of love. You’ve turned it from love into selfishness. You read in certain authors that, of course, rewards come to those who do loving things, but if you do them for the reward, it’s not love anymore. I read that everywhere.

More Blessed to Give

Now I want you to test that with Acts 20:35 and the word remember. If that were true, that you cannot be motivated by the blessedness that comes to you through giving, Jesus here would be a very bad teacher because Paul said, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed …” Really what he should have said is, “Be sure you forget that the Lord Jesus said this, because if you remember he said it, it’s going to contaminate your motives.”

Let’s say you are a pastor late at night on the way to the hospital, not feeling like it, trying to get your heart changed so that you love the person who’s in the hospital and love the ministry instead of being resentful that it’s late at night. You were having playtime with your little girl and you didn’t want to leave. You’ve been out every night this week, and you’re fed up with this thing called ministry. You’re battling in your heart to start loving people again out of the joy in the Lord. What should you do? Do you know what Paul says you should do? Remember something, right? Isn’t that what he says? He says, “Remember something, elders. Remember something.”

He didn’t say, “Keep it out of your mind. It’s dangerous. You’re going to contaminate your motives if you remember this.” He said, “Remember it.” And what you remember as you’re driving to the hospital is, “It is more blessed to give. It is more blessed to give. Jesus said it is more blessed. Oh, heart, believe this promise. It is more blessed. I will experience more blessing in standing over a sick person and praying for them than I would staying at home on my comfortable couch as a potato.”

And you preach to your heart and fight like crazy to become the right kind of person again. But you fight with this promise. You don’t put promises like this out of your mind. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of the person in the hospital, and if you’re not feeling like delighting in ministry to that person you need to fight for more joy to overflow. One of the ways you fight is by getting promises like this in your heart and asking the Lord to help you believe them.

Hospitality in Light of the Resurrection

Well, let me close by pointing you to one other text. Let’s go to Luke 14. I’m going to bring this right down, and we’ll come in for a landing here with very practical suggestions for how teenagers can love people. I preached on this text years ago at Bethlehem. In fact, I think I’ve preached on it twice. The first time I preached on it was about 23 years ago when there were about 300 Laotian people in our church because there were so many refugees in the early eighties.

The question was, “Are you going to have any over for Thanksgiving dinner, Bethlehem? They don’t speak English very well, and they’re going to make playing Monopoly really hard. They’re going to make conversations awkward. You’re going to have to make a sacrifice to have over a person on Thanksgiving who can’t speak English. They’re going to sit in your living room all afternoon, and you’re going to have to figure out how to love this person.” And I preached on this text. So let’s read Luke 14:12–14. It says:

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, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

That last phrase just drives people crazy who say you shouldn’t be motivated by reward. It drives them crazy. Jesus clearly means to motivate this by reward. He’s saying, “Don’t look for reward in this world. Invite the lame, the blind, the leper, and the people that others find it hard to have over for dinner. Get them into your house. Make life hard for yourself, and your enjoyment of Christ at his coming will be greater than you could imagine. Be motivated by the expansion of your joy as you draw other people into it.”

Love is the overflow of joy in God that seeks to extend itself to others and wrap them into it. Because when they get wrapped into your joy in God, your joy in God increases in their joy in God. And even if in this life there may be no payback materially, there will be payback from Jesus in the age to come. So I simply repudiate the notion that love renounces the idea of the pursuit of our own joy, and I say emphatically that we should pursue our joy in God unrelentingly, morning to night, all day long, every day, because love will not happen without it. We’ll build on this more tomorrow morning as we talk about suffering.

Exhortations to Love

But let me give you just a closing exhortation or two.

1. Love People, Not Their Approval

What would love look like in this group for the rest of our time here? What do we have? 15 hours. I don’t know. What would love look like? And you know what love would look like. You will talk to and befriend people that you don’t know, that aren’t in your comfort group, right? It’s not wrong to have friends, believe me. I’m so glad I’ve got friends at Bethlehem — people that are really close to me. I love my closest friends at Bethlehem. They know me better than anybody else. To be with them is to be totally relaxed. I can say anything I want and they understand it. They never take me wrong. But I better get out of that little circle a lot and walk up to new people and make an absolute fool of myself like I did Wednesday night, two weeks ago, when I walked up to a man who had been here for eight years, smiled at him and said, “Hi, I’m John Piper. Are you new?”

Now the shame that you’re feeling right now is why we don’t do it, and you know what’s behind that? The love of approval and the fear of disapproval. If your joy in God is deep and strong, you can handle those kinds of stupidities. I do them all the time. I called Marcia Lane Dan Lane’s mother. I said that in the first meeting here. Dan Lane is not her son; he’s her brother-in-law. I do things like that all the time. I mean, I would quit preaching if I were afraid of having to apologize for all the mistakes that I make. The reason I can weather that is number one, because she’s so absolutely gracious. And number two, it’s because I’ve got Jesus on my side.

I’ve got Jesus. Everybody in the world can reject me. I’ve got the King of the universe on my side. So tonight when you go to your cabin thing, or if you do some gym stuff after that, be free and take risks. Talk to people. Get outside your comfort zone because you’ve got Christ. That’s one application.

2. Deny Lust for the Sake of Love

Here’s another application. Boys and girls listen to this. I used to think this was just a boy thing, but this is not just a boy thing. I have had girls come up to me and confess this. For love’s sake, say no to pornography. I’d love to do a whole weekend on this with you sometime, but it probably should be separate groups — boys and girls separated. We do that sometime on how to battle this thing in your life, but I’m just saying tonight for love’s sake, for the love of your future spouse, I can not tell you how much horror is going on at our church right now in marriages because some men and some women are hooked on pornography, and they got hooked at age 14.

Now they’re 29, and they’re ruining their marriages and they cannot get free from this thing. And so for the sake of love, the solution to this problem is not duty, okay? The answer is not, “I’m not supposed to do this. I won’t do this. Duty.” That will fail. You know it will fail. It has failed. What will not fail, what will succeed over time, is, “I am going to fight for a superior pleasure that severs the root of the lie that comes to me out of this monitor that says I will be happier and I will experience more pleasure if I go there with this mouse, then if I don’t go there.” There has to be a superior pleasure, a triumph over lower pleasures by higher pleasures. So one of the goals I’m hoping will come out of this weekend is that we are increased in our ability to cultivate deeper, higher, longer pleasures.

I’ll be really honest with you, and I’ll risk boasting here, because you need to know this about your preaching pastor. I have never, ever seen a pornographic picture on the internet, and I haven’t looked at a pornographic magazine since I was 16. I found a Playboy at a laundromat one time and hid it so I could keep looking at it for a while, but I only say that because the battle can be won. I’m not perfect in my head, and I’ve got plenty to do in my heart. But God has enabled me to sit in front of a computer for hours on end, knowing I could go anywhere I want, see anything I want — there’s no guard on my computer — and I think about my King Jesus. I think about being able to look all of you right in the eye and be a faithful shepherd. I think about wanting to have Matthew 5:8 fulfilled in my life, which says:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

I know if I can’t see God clearly in the Bible, I can’t minister anymore with power, and if I defile my mind and my heart with picture after picture after picture, I will not be able to see God clearly. And if I can’t see him, clearly my joy falls.

If my joy falls, I am a sitting duck for every sin that comes along. I tell you, the Bible does not say, “Cut off your hand and gouge out your eye rather than lust,” for nothing. This is war. And the main place to fight the battle is not by making a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s by fighting for a joy that is superior to the quick surge that comes from pornography. It is so cheap, so low, and so small, and the kickback afterwards is so weak and so miserable. Oh that God would do a deep work of joy that weans you off of that pleasure.

3. Pursue Radical Love for the Poor

The third application is this: Do something radical for the poor. It could be on the mission field, it could be in the city, or it could be at your school. Dan Holst told me of going to a city meeting of Mounds View where a report was given that one school in the Mountain View school district has 40% of the kids below the poverty line. You thought that was just Minneapolis downtown, right? No. All over the inner ring suburbs, and perhaps beyond, there are people who may not be physically poor, or needy in other ways, but they are the kind of kid that nobody gives a hoot about. They seem to be really lonely. They’re the kind of people that shoot up Columbine students and so on in the end, because nobody ever reached out to them. Reach out in some radical way to the poor.

I said, when I was doing the interview this afternoon, “When you lay your head down after masturbation to go to sleep, you might get to sleep but it won’t be sweet. It won’t be sweet. But when you lay your head down after spending an evening tutoring an inner city kid, or helping a kid in algebra who just can’t do it and you can do it, or just giving yourself away, you’re going to sleep sweet. It’s going to be so sweet.

You were made first to be satisfied in God, and then to have that spill over at cost to yourself onto other people. That’s called love. You were made to love people, and have it be an extension of your joy in God. I’ll say more on that tomorrow morning.