The Labor of the Christian Leader

Sanders Christian Foundation | South Hamilton, Massachusetts

Let me pick up with some implications from the second hour and then jump into the third. The first one was on God’s passion for God, the second hour was on your passion for God, and then this hour we want to be on your passion for others’ passion for God.

But I ran out of time, and therefore, I wasn’t able to give you some practical implications of what I said and I have four of them written down. I mentioned one in passing, but I’ll mention them again quickly.

1. Worship is a coming to get and not just a coming to give.

So don’t berate your people that a dead worship service is their fault because they’re coming to get. It might be their fault, but it isn’t because they’re coming to get; it’s probably because they’re coming to get the wrong thing, and they need to be taught that God is worth coming to get, that seeing God is worth coming to get, and they need to come on the search for God. I tell my people, “Come on the lookout for God, and leave on the lookout for people.” That’s the way I try to cultivate a holy prelude time of quiet personal pursuit, and a lively interaction with visitors and so on at the end of the service. Come on the lookout for God: bend down in prayer, pray for me, pray for yourselves, ask God to come down on the service. But when you leave, spot those people that you don’t know and show them the love that you’ve received.

2. This all leads to a radically God-centered life.

And that’s my goal in the ministry: to make God-centered people, who put God back on the agenda — everywhere in their business, everywhere in their family, everywhere in their recreation and their entertainment. God is central. God is on the agenda. For people who are troubled by whether or not they are idolaters because they enjoy ice cream or sex or sunrises, instead of yielding to a bifurcation in life or idolatry, pray with Augustine: He loves thee too little, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake. You bump into a sentence every now and then that changes your life and that’s one of them. That’s radical God-centeredness.

So if you’re going to love teaching, if you’re going to love sandwiches, if you’re going to love snow, if you’re going to love children, if you’re going to love collecting stamps, seeing sunrises, you must seek to love it for God’s sake. Otherwise, your life is going to be in little categories, and you will not be an integrated, God-centered person. That’s implied in what I’ve said.

3. We as leaders need to motivate people through joy.

I never call my people to do anything but be happy or to take steps that may look unhappy in the short run, to make them happier in the long run. Repentance is not immediately a pleasurable thing, but it’s a necessary means to a joyful end. And so I’m always couching my challenges, whether it’s missions or whether it’s serving in the nursery. I mean, if you’re a children’s worker and you’re responsible for the nursery, there are some awesome texts, awesome hedonistic texts. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). I mean that is simply mind-boggling, if you believe that. If you receive a child in the name of Jesus, into your arms for care, you receive the very Son of God. And “whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” D you want to receive God into your life and know fellowship with God? Work in the nursery. Powerful. Not, “Come on you parents. You get benefit from this, so put in your time.” That doesn’t do as good. Motivate with joy.

But now I have heard over the years, many pastors and leaders try to motivate with joy, and it falls flat as a pancake. They have not developed any vision of God that makes sense out of it. It’s just coming out of the blue. The Bible says here that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) So come on, seek blessing. Now that’s absolutely true. I’m going to argue for that in a few minutes.

But if you haven’t been teaching over the years that that’s the way God is, then there’s no foundation for hearing that with any integrity and depth. When my people hear me say, after eleven years of teaching, that it is more blessed to give than to receive, they’re hearing hundreds of sermons that all are moving in that direction with a vision of God that has been developed that supports that. And therefore, it doesn’t sound trite, it doesn’t sound cheap. But rather, it really is part of what makes this pastor and this church and this world tick.

And the other reason I think it has fallen flat is because it doesn’t really sound like the pastor lives that way. And we’ll get to that in a few minutes. A happy pastor is a great blessing to a church, and a pastor who does his work with drudgery will find it very hard to motivate his people with joy.

4. This vision of pursuing God and pursuing joy in God is the secret of sanctification.

It’s the secret of the holiness of your people. Because I believe the Bible really teaches that the way to drive out a sin is with a greater pleasure. Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon 175 years ago or so called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” I love that phrase: the expulsive power of a new affection. What it means is if you’ve got a bondage to a sinful pleasure — and all sin is pleasurable or otherwise nobody would do it — the best way, the most biblical way, most effective way, of getting that pleasure dislodged is with the expulsive power of a new affection, a new pleasure.

I wonder how many of you read about in Leadership Magazine, that really amazing story called “The Anatomy of Lust.” Anonymously, a pastor talked about his eleven-year bondage to lust. He’d go off, like I’m doing right now, to Boston to do a spiritual seminar, and he’d go off to peep shows on the side and strip shows. And he never committed adultery, he said, but he just was absolutely addicted to pornography of every kind. And what he described as his deliverance after eleven years was the overwhelming attractiveness of holiness that was borne in his life when he read a novel called The Red and the Black. He said, “All of a sudden, all the guilt that I had tried to use to get myself out of this and didn’t work fell away before the irresistible portrait of purity and holiness and beauty. It was borne in my life, and the desire to have that, and seeing what I was missing, liberated me from the bondage.” And in my life, my own fight against sexual mental misbehavior, is fought precisely hedonistically. You fight fire with fire, you fight image with image, you fight desire with desire.

It doesn’t do any good, by and large, to address a sexual fantasy or desire with: “Thou shalt not do that.” What works is: “If you do that, you ram a sword into the side of Jesus and you miss fellowship with him. If you turn that television on and keep watching those ads or turn on that movie, you will become so impure that your love life with Christ will be jeopardized, and that’s infinitely more precious and infinitely more pure and wonderful. You have to so fall in love with the positive that’s jeopardized by the lust that you overcome the alluring power of the lust by the superior alluring power of the beauty of God.

So, I walked into my room down at Gordon the other night when I was lecturing down there, and lo and behold, there’s a TV in the corner. It’s 10:30 at night and I don’t have a TV. I don’t own a TV; haven’t had a TV in our home for 23 years. And my boys are growing up, they’re all accepted, they’re whole, they’re natural, they’re normal; they’re not weird. In fact, they’re cool, and I think they will be for eternity. But this is a big issue: whether to be culture-redeeming or culture-rejecting here. So I’m not commending that everybody get rid of their television. But I know my weaknesses. And so here’s this television, and I got to lecture to these students in 20 hours or whatever it was. And I didn’t turn it on the whole time — not even to get the news or weather or anything, just because everything has an advertisement and every advertisement is sexy or greedy. Ads only appeal to two things: greed or sex — that’s all advertising has ever appealed to.

And so I left it off, and it was wonderfully freeing for me to want so much to be full of the Holy Spirit, when I spoke to those students, that I would not compromise that desire. Because I knew if I were to be dragged down that night, just by a simple ad that sent a sexual fantasy in my mind, that was harder to get out than if I didn’t have it on, I would be less in perfect, clean communion with God. And I want that more than anything. So I just left it off and it was wonderful to be free from it. Now that’s what I mean by sanctification: the power of a superior longing, a superior desire, not just the negative: “Don’t do this, don’t do this.” So I just tried to breed into my boys and my church that sin is loss, not gain.

What Enables Love for Others

Now, this hour we want to talk about the horizontal dimensions of Christian Hedonism. If it’s true that we should pursue our joy all the time in relation to God, maximizing our delight in him, and thus showing that he’s infinitely worthy, and thus he gets glory and we get joy, and those two things — not being in conflict — make for the best world, what about my relationships to you and the people in my church? Should I also pursue joy all the time in relation to you?

And here’s my thesis: the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive in every good deed. Or to put it in another way: if you abandon the pursuit of pleasure — full and lasting pleasure, Psalm 16:11 pleasure — you cannot love people or please God.

So, these are pretty radical, pretty sweeping statements. If you abandon the pursuit of pleasure, you cannot love people or please God. So I’m not only saying it’s legitimate for you to pursue your pleasure in relation to other people and the way you serve them, I’m saying it’s necessary, as a necessary part of virtue. The last hour was: it’s a necessary part of worship, the very heart of worship. This hour is: it’s a necessary part of love or virtue in relation to people.

Alright, now let me try to undergird that biblically. Second Corinthians 8:1–8 has proved for me to be a paradigm of love, and has shown me the Christian Hedonism elements in Paul’s understanding of love. The situation here is that Paul is writing to Corinth to prepare a large gift to take to Jerusalem for the poor saints there. And to read these two chapters, chapters 8–9, is to read the way Paul motivated people to give money. And I recommend highly for your stewardship preaching these two chapters and the way Paul motivated. It’s really remarkable.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God, which has been given among the churches of Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 8:1)

So, he’s now talking to the Corinthians about what happened up in Macedonia, up in Thessalonica and Philippi and so on.

For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

I’m going to skip down to verse eight just to pick up the word love.

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Now, the reason I pick up verse 8 here is just to show you that the dynamic of this generosity is love. This is a fleshing out in practical experience of what Paul means by love because he says, “I’m telling you this story about the Macedonians so that I can allure you and test you and provoke you to love also.” Meaning: they were loving, now you love like they loved.

So, let’s go back and find out what love is. That’s what this session is about: horizontal love between people, love for the Jerusalem saints for example. And there’s several things to observe here.

1. Filled by the Grace of God

And the first thing is that they were filled up with the grace of God.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God, which has been given among the churches of Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 8:1)

So the first thing to see is that what’s happening here is grace: it’s the working of the power of grace in the lives of these Macedonian Christians. Grace is being poured out from God into the hearts of the people.

2. Abundance of Joy

Here’s the second thing to notice: they were filled with an abundance of joy.

For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

So, what happens when grace comes down is that joy comes up. The rain of grace comes down, and the flood of joy comes up, and it comes up to the brim.

3. Joy Overflows in Liberality

Third thing to observe: joy overflows in liberality. Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality. Now before I stress that third point, notice in the second point that the thing that was filling them with joy was not things. They were poor, extremely poor. Notice that. Their extreme poverty overflowed.

This is why I’m not real big on health, wealth, and prosperity. Let’s not think that the grace of God took away their poverty; it didn’t. The grace of God came down and in extreme poverty, they richly overflowed — they richly overflowed with a wealth of of liberality on their part. Verse says that they begged Paul earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. Now he mentions that just to show what the overflow is like: it wasn’t simply an overflow that slipped out accidentally; these people said, “Oh, Paul, please, I know you’ve taken one offering, but please take another offering.” That’s exactly what verse 4 says. They begged Paul earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. “Would you please not stop us from giving? Please don’t put any brakes on our giving. Please let us give some more.”

Now, when my children, at an amusement park, say, “Oh Daddy, please let us ride on the rollercoaster again, please one more time, please.” I do not assume that they are responding from a sense of moral duty. They are expressing a deep desire because it’ll make them happy. So I assume that when these people talk that way, they begged earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints that they were not saying, “Hmm, yeah, you’re supposed to tithe, then go beyond the tithe, and that’s what Christians do.” But rather they were saying, “This really makes us glad.”

Joy on the Move

Now, here’s my definition of love, therefore. That’s what I’m fishing for here. A definition of love, because Paul says in verse 8 that he wants to prove that their love too is genuine. This is love what we’ve just seen here. The dynamics of grace being out poured, joy filling up, spilling over in liberality to poor people, out of a sense of poverty yourself — this is love. Here’s my definition: love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. I think I can improve on that a little bit though, or maybe just add to it by saying (I get this from verse 4, where they’re begging), love is the impulse to increase your joy in God by extending it to others.

The grace comes down, the joy comes up, and when it gets to the brim, it starts flowing, and as it flows, it extends and expands; your joy expands. Now you’ve all experienced this. You all know what I’m talking about, even if you haven’t thought of it in these terms, that when God has blessed you, when God has filled you up, there is an impulse at that moment that wants so much to spread it. And when you spread it and another is folded in to that experience, your joy in God is increased by having it expanded out into that other person’s heart.

Now, right off the bat, I hope you can see that there’s no conflict here between being a joy-pursuing person and a loving person, but that they are, in fact, the same in this text. These people are asking, begging Paul, to let their joy in God increase by letting them give more to the saints. The presupposition is however: something radical has changed about these people’s orientation to the world; it’s called new birth. And many of our people are not born again. Many of our people are not born again. If you wonder why they don’t respond to this kind of preaching, and why they don’t sing for joy, and why they’re so flat and unresponsive — many of them are not born of God. And that’s why we cry out for revival again and again.

More Than a Feeling?

Now, I said earlier this morning that Joseph Fletcher said that love is not a feeling; love is an action; it’s a commitment of the will and so on. Now as I read this, I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is an overflow of joy. It’s a strong pursuit of maximizing that joy and letting me give more. And then I turned to 1 Corinthians 13:3 and I read these words:

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Now, if you can give away all that you have and not be loving, and give your body to be burned for somebody and not be loving, then I say loving cannot be reduced to action; it just can’t be because what more can you do than to die for somebody? What more can you do then to give away all you have for somebody? If that’s not love, then love can’t be just an action. It has to involve some dynamic of the heart. And the dynamic I believe is that love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. If you die out of delight in God for somebody, they are loved. If you give away all your goods out of delight in God for somebody, they are loved. Paul is so God-centered in his theology, he refuses to define the ultimate sacrifice for somebody as love, unless God is in the picture. That’s a radical thing. And that helps a lot in accounting for why God might be displeased with pagan beneficence, pagan philanthropy.

A lot of people ask me, “Well, don’t unbelievers do a lot of nice things for people? I say, “Well yeah, sure. They do nice things, if you just leave God out of existence and leave God out of the picture entirely.” But if God their Father is in the picture, and he’s standing there looking down on them, and knowing that he created them for his glory, and they totally ignore him — they make no bones about it, they don’t give a rip for God, but they’re going to do nice things for people — then the Father heart of God is not honored and those people are living so far outside the will of God that it’s scarcely to be exaggerated and so it is not righteousness. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). And faith is a being satisfied with all that God for us in Jesus Christ, and therefore, if you don’t do things for God’s sake, they are not loving and they do not please the Lord. They are sin, even if they are building hospitals and schools and saving babies lives and so on.

What Motivates Generosity

Second Corinthians 9:7 says,

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Now that is just remarkable to me. God does not want reluctant, compulsive obedience; he doesn’t like it. What he loves is a cheerful giver. God loves a cheerful giver. Now, that means that if you have an ethic that says how you feel about acts of obedience is not crucial, what you do is crucial (that’s pretty typical way of thinking today), that, in relation to this text, is saying you can be indifferent about what God loves. I think that’s sin. I think the definition of sin is to be indifferent about what God loves. What God loves is cheerfulness in giving. If you say, “That doesn’t count,” you look in God’s face and say, “I realize you love this and want this and call for this, but I’m indifferent to it. I think it’s irrelevant. I think it’s icing on the cake.” I can’t do that. And I don’t want to encourage anybody else to do it. God loves a cheerful giver.

That means that love toward people — that is, giving toward people — should be done cheerfully. Therefore, you must, in order to be faithful to that text, pursue cheer, gladness, joy, in your giving. If you say, “I will just give; I don’t need to pursue my joy because that’s selfish,” then you are saying, “I’m indifferent to what God is calling me to do.” This is why I said at the beginning that you are not able to please God if you forsake the pursuit of your own pleasure because this text right here says, “He loves when you give out of pleasure.” If you say, “That really doesn’t matter, that word right there is a negligible word.” Then you have really attacked the biblical contours of ethics.

Cheerful Pastor

There are a bunch of texts, and I have several of them here that relate directly to us elders in the church on the score of how to minister to our people in the pursuit of our own joy and their good. And one is 1 Peter 5:2:

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.

And I can’t help but point out this connection: it’s the same ethical dynamic here. With regard to giving Paul said, “Don’t give reluctantly or under compulsion.” With regard to elders in their ministry Peter said, “Don’t shepherd your charge under constraint, but do it willingly; not for money, not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” And I translate eagerly as cheerfully or joyfully. What this is saying is God loves a cheerful pastor. Second Corinthians 9:7 says that God loves a cheerful giver. This says that God loves a cheerful pastor. That’s exactly what he’s teaching there. It’s not an option. It’s a warfare. It’s a battle. To say to yourself when you’re down, “Oh, it doesn’t matter that I’m down, or it doesn’t matter, these things,” then you are saying that a text like this is not a command. It’s not important.

More Blessed to Give

Here’s another one: Acts 20:35. This is to elders now. Remember Paul stops it Miletus, sends for the elders from Ephesus, and gives this amazing and wonderful message in Acts 20 that’s worth preaching about five weeks on I think. And then he closes like this:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Now, what’s the most important word in that verse I wonder? Here’s the word that I think is most important: remembering. Now, here’s why I think remembering is the most important word there. There are ethicists today — I ran across them mainly in my doctoral work on “love your enemies”, as I was trying to study the New Testament motivation for loving your enemies — who would say, when they read Jesus’s promise of reward, “Yes, a reward is coming to those who love, but, no, you shouldn’t aim at the reward because then you destroy the moral virtue of the act.” And that never worked for me because Jesus always seemed to use the reward as the motive right up front.

  • “Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:33). Do that. Provide yourself with it. Don’t turn away from it. Provide yourself with it.

  • “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).

  • “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you . . . for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11).

Jesus didn’t seem to hide it. Now you get here one of the only places outside the Gospels where Jesus is quoted, and Paul says to remember when you are about to cave in on this issue. Remember when you have toiled, and you’re weak, and you’re trying to help the weak, and you feel beat down, and you’re about to give up, and you don’t have enough motivation, remember something; call it to mind. Whereas, the ethicists are saying, “Forget this. This is very dangerous for your moral virtue. Forget this. Forget this promise of reward.” Paul says, “Remember the promise of reward.” And so he says, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Grace for the Moment

Now just, let’s be real practical and honest here. The phone rings. You’ve just gotten down on the floor to play a game of Connect Four with your eight-year-old and your eleven-year-old, and you’re tired. You put in eleven hours already today and somebody is in the hospital and wants you to come. And your emotions do not rise to the occasion and say, “Great, another pastoral opportunity to bless people.” Instead, most of what’s happening inside is resentment, some of it irrational; it’s not their fault they’re in the hospital. Or maybe resentment that the staff didn’t get called or whatever.

I think what Paul is saying to us at that moment is, “Remember something. Remember something. Call to your mind and let it have a moral effect upon your motivational structure at this moment. Remember that Jesus said, ‘There’s a big blessing in what you’re about to do, what you have to do, what you’re going to do.’” Preach to yourself this blessing. Preach. And so I do. I get in the car and head off, and generally I’m repenting for those echoes of selfishness in my life that don’t really want the big joy of love, but the little joy of leisure.

But so often, thank the Lord, I get in the elevator, push the button, still praying, “God, give me joy in this because I know I’m not going to bless this person if I go in there begrudgingly,” and I walk in there, and the Lord, either in the walking, at the bedside, or in the prayer or something, more often than not, answers my prayer and makes me delight in this moment of ministry. And I receive from him and often from that person in the moment of ministry. But the warfare has been performed with the word of God. Remember.

I just want to warn you: you will read again and again in sophisticated, philosophical, biblical literature, whenever you get to the commentary, on things like Luke 14:12–14, when Jesus talks about throwing a banquet, and says to not invite your friends who can pay you back, but rather, invite the poor and the lame and the blind and the naked for they cannot pay you back for you will be repaid at the resurrection — the comment of these sophisticated, philosophical commentators will be, “Well, of course there will be reward, but don’t let that be your motive.” You’ll hear it again and again and again because they say it destroys love.

Maximize Delight, Increase Love

And now what I’m trying to show you from biblical text is that it is love. To want to maximize your delight in God by moving toward others who need you, even at great cost to yourself — that is loving. And to go begrudgingly without any pursuit of joy, without any thought that this could benefit you, does not make people feel loved. And so just like this morning, the hindrance to loving is not what so many people think it is, just like the hindrance to worshiping is not what so many people think it is. I said this morning that the hindrance to worship is not that people come to get instead of to give. That’s not the hindrance. Nor is the hindrance to loving that people want joy. It’s that they settled for such little joys, little teeny joys, and we need to cry out to them to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, not on earth.

Most people are so bent on maximizing leisure, maximizing security, maximizing comfort, getting to the right neighborhood, getting the right job, having all the right toys around them and all the right things that they have set their hearts on — things that do not satisfy. What in fact satisfies is first to look to God, be filled up with him, and then to maximize that joy in God by extending it to others, at whatever costs to yourself. Joy is maximized as you extend it to others. That’s why in the book I really press hard on the wartime lifestyle of stripping down to the essentials of life for the sake of maximizing the amount of love and good that you can show because I think that things and the pursuit of things and the pursuit of security and the pursuit of comfort and the pursuit of leisure and the pursuit of recreation and maximizing all those things are just a dead-end street; they’re like throwing money down a rat hole.

But to give your money into missions and to keep your life relatively simple, to put a cap on your spending and to earn as much as you can like Wesley says, and give as much as you can, maximizes the real joy inside. The accumulation of things has never increased anybody’s capacity for pleasure. In fact, it works in the inverse. The more things we come to depend on, the less our capacity for true joy in what matters and what counts. Sell your possessions, give alms. “Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:33).

In other words, go for broke. Stop being satisfied with little 5.25 percent yields; rather, go for the real blue chip stuff in heaven that’s divinely secured. That’s the kind of message I think we need to herald to our thing- and material-addicted culture. It’s really good news. It really is good news: come to Christ and find pleasure forevermore.

Now, let me take you through a little series of texts in Hebrews. This author has a way of motivating love and virtue that is so hedonistic. It’s the most consistent set of texts to undergird what I’m saying that there is in the Bible that I have found. I want to carry you through three or four of these Hebrews texts. I love this first one especially because it’s so relevant to the pro-life effort that I’ve been involved in, and numerous other kinds of battles we have to fight.

Plundering of Our Property

The situation, evidently, is that in the early days of this church, there was persecution. Some of the people were put in prison and others of them were not captured and had to make a choice: Shall we go underground and be quiet, and let our brothers and sisters sit there? Or shall we go public and visit them in prison, and let everybody see that we too are Christians, and risk having our house burned and ourselves captured? What’s the choice? And they made the choice in the latter. And how they did it — this was love — how they were motivated, is described here.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Hebrews 10:32–36)

Isn’t that awesome? I just don’t know how anybody reads that and does not become a Christian Hedonist. Just picture them now: They’re in the house. Probably, in those days, if people survived in prison, it was because their relatives took them food. They didn’t have a big, sophisticated $30,000-a-year support for prisoners like we do today. So, you take people food or they die. So they’re sitting there wondering: Shall we love them and risk our lives, or shall we not? And they pray, and they remember the Psalm, “Your steadfast love is better than life” (63:3). And then they remember Martin Luther’s hymn: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.” Let’s go. And they go.

And when they get halfway to the prison, they turn around, and their house is on fire. And they sing, they sing. Furniture is thrown out in the streets. And they sing. “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” Where does that power come from? “You had a better possession and an abiding one.” You had great reward. You will receive what is promised. Anybody that tells me that I should not live for my promise, live for my reward, live for my inheritance, be willing to let goods and kindred go, precisely because I have a kingdom, anybody that tells me that that is not a proper motive, strikes at the heart of biblical ethics, in my judgment.

And do you see how God gets glory here? God gets the glory. The people look at them, they turn over their shoulders, their houses burning, their furniture being thrown out in the streets, and they’re singing. And these people look at them, and you know what they ask? “Tell us a reason for the hope that is in you.” Hope, promise, hope, reward, hope, possession. When Peter said to live so that people will ask you where your hope is (1 Peter 3:15), he meant: be so happy in loving others at cost to your present worldly status that people will have to say he must have another payoff. And the answer is this: Yes, I’ve got another payoff. The answer is not: No, I’m a stoic, and I just do things because they are right. That’s an atheistic ethic; I really believe that.

And I’ve dialogued with a philosopher with Augsburg College. And he’s an evangelical, he says. I think it’s an atheistic ethic. “Do right for right’s sake”; I think that’s atheism. You ought to do right for God’s sake. And the way God gets glory for doing right is because you are taking delight in God to give you the strength to do it. And the strength comes from the promise. I’m no hero. If I’m going to die for somebody, there better be a payoff. And if you think that sounds self-centered, you’re forgetting the images. I want God. And God says, “If you die for these people, or get arrested for standing in front of the abortion clinic, I will be your God in prison. I will be there. I will bless you. I will make up to you everything you’ve left behind. You can’t out-sacrifice me.” That humbles us, makes us empty.

Looking to the Reward

Let’s see whether or not this pattern is followed through. So we’re into chapter 11 now, the hall of fame, faith’s hall of fame.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24–25)

That doesn’t sound hedonistic, does it? Hang on. Nobody likes to have his goods plundered. There are pleasures in not having your furniture burned. Nobody wants that. But what we have learned in the Bible is that the pleasures of comfort and leisure and wealth are fleeting. At least we ought to have learned. They are so fleeting. They last maximally eighty years. And what’s that to eternity? Tell me who gives a rip about eighty years when you’re talking eighty million ages of years?

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:26)

Just like they had a better possession and an abiding one, he had greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. It’s exactly the same motivational structure.

Joy Set Before Him

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him [just like Moses and just like those early saints] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

The greatest act of love that was ever performed was performed hedonistically. The greatest act of love that was ever performed was performed in quest of joy. For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross. Do you realize how close you come to attacking the very heart of the gospel if you attack the pursuit of pleasure in love, or if you deny that the motive of pursuing joy is the very heartbeat of the pursuit of love?

The reason this was not unloving of Jesus is because the joy that was set before him was the exaltation of his Father and himself on the praises of a redeemed people through this suffering. The people were swept up into the joy that he lived for. He wasn’t choosing joy over against people; he was choosing the joy that sweeps people into it. And that’s what I mean when I say we should pursue joy. When you go into the hospital room pursuing joy, you are thinking, “Lord, I want to sweep those people into my joy. I don’t have anything to give them but joy in you at this moment. And if I don’t have it, I don’t have it to share and to give and to extend. And so grant me to draw them in to my joy.”

City to Come

One more in Hebrews 13:13–14. This is a call to radical suffering and the Christian life.

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Even if you could escape abuse for eighty years, it wouldn’t last. If you could build a city with every possible pleasure in it, it’s over folks, it’s over in the twinkling of an eye. My life is a two-second vapor’s breath. And it’s gone. And then what have you got? Nothing but hell. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” So when you head with Jesus on the Calvary road, out of Jerusalem into abuse, what are you seeking? The city which is to come. And there’s no conflict here: Jesus was pursuing the joy set before him, we’re seeking the city which is to come, and in the process we’re laying down our lives for our people. And they are most blessed when we do that with joy. If we do that begrudgingly, if we have a spirit of loss about us, boy, does that communicate that God is not worth very much.

‘Love Seeks Not Its Own’

Let me go back to that problem in I Corinthians 13. Remember I raised the problem of “love seeks not its own”?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. (1 Corinthians 13:1–5)

The literal wording for love “does not insist on its own way” is, from the King James, “love seeks not its own.” Now, I’ve just told you to seek your own in all acts. In fact, I’ve said it’s an essential part of all virtue to be seeking your own joy in expanding God’s love and joy to other people in your life. How do I get over that: “love seeks not its own”? It’s not love if you’re seeking your own.

I do it by simply noticing clues in the context here that Paul didn’t mean to indict the joy I get from teaching. He didn’t mean to say, “Piper, if you love to preach, if you love to teach and you get a lot of joy out of it, you’re not loving when you do it.” He didn’t mean to say that. The clue that he didn’t mean to say that is here:

If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2–3)

Now what kind of argument is that? That’s an argument that appeals to your desire to gain. If I give away all I have and have not love, I gain nothing. And you don’t want to not gain, do you? And that’s the assumption of the argument. You don’t want to lose everything, you want to gain. So be willing to lose your life in love. He cannot, therefore, down here be indicting all pursuit of gain. What he’s indicting is the manipulation and the use of people for material temporal gain, when he says love seeks not its own.

One of you guys asked me a great question, you came up and you said, “Are you saying that when I compliment you and say, ‘I like your sweater’ or ‘I like your talk,’ and it gives me pleasure, that that’s okay? It doesn’t diminish the value and the worth of my compliment, that, in fact, it is giving me pleasure? And I said, “No, that’s the very essence of what I’m trying to say. That in fact, your expression of love to me is enhanced in its moral character if you enjoy it.” I think the enjoyment of doing good makes the doing of good better, not worse. And therefore, I don’t think when Paul says that loves seeks not its own, he meant love gets no joy out of loving. Can you think of an Old Testament verse that says you should really enjoy loving?

He 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? (Micah 6:8)

Isn’t that remarkable? So, Paul surely doesn’t mean when he says love seeks not its own that love does not enjoy loving. That’s just not what he means. He means love does not try to manipulate. Love does not stand here and say, “I like your sweater,” in order to get the sweater. If your motive is to get the sweater — that is, material gain — then it’s not love. Or if your motive is to compliment somebody in order to put them in a position to flattery so that they respond by hiring you for a job, then it’s not love. There’s a way to use kindness to manipulate people into giving you earthly, temporal, material benefits. That’s what Paul’s indicting here. But if your goal is to have the maximizing of the joy of loving or the joy in God, extending that joy in God to others, then it’s not being indicted. That’s not what Paul has in mind when he indicts self-seeking.

Never a Sacrifice

There is such a thing as self-denial in loving one another. But we deny ourselves sand in order to stand on a rock. And we deny ourselves tin in order to have gold. And we deny ourselves moth-eaten treasure in order to have heavenly treasure. And we deny ourselves drunkenness and gluttony in order to have the biggest, longest banquet of the universe. And we deny ourselves self-reliance in order to have the assurance of saying the Lord is my shepherd. But we never deny ourselves a greater value for a lesser value. It’s always the other way around.

Let me close by reading a quote from David Livingstone that I mentioned earlier. Things like this for missionary sufferers have meant a lot to me in my unfolding of this. Livingstone delivered this in 1857 to students of Cambridge:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 1981, 259)

If God could put within us that kind of conviction, our people would be tremendously blessed. God’s passion for God is the foundation of our passion for God, and when our passion for God is filled up by grace and begins to overflow, then we maximize our joy in God by extending it to others. That’s missions. That’s evangelism. That’s every manner of loving, counseling, caring activity in the church for God’s sake, for God’s glory.

Come to Your Great Physician

There are two kinds of people we’re trying to direct out of what they’re doing. One is those who are pursuing pleasure in places where it really can’t be found — in sin — and those who are serving God dutifully and slavishly and dysfunctionally because they are wounded or shaped by a dysfunctional past.

I have found that while most of those kinds of problems are deeper than any simple sermon or mere theology will rectify, it is a very freeing thing for a person to hear that there is a biblical way of understanding the dos and don’ts of the Bible. One of the most common issues I have to deal with are those who have been told that their healing lies in unconditional love. I don’t see any unconditional love in the Bible except electing love; that is, I think that in order to get to heaven we must meet conditions: we must believe and we must obey. And it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does say,

If we walk in the light as he is in the light . . . the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

If you don’t walk in the light, you don’t get cleansing and you go to hell. Now, counselors, by and large, will tell me that’s an unhelpful thing to say to broken people. And so they don’t say it, by and large. Nothing is said by way of blaming, shaming, ought, must, should. Those are words that are ruled out of the counseling setting: ought, must, should. However, everybody who reads the Bible know that those words are all over the place and is working for biblical people. If you’re willing to surrender the Bible to the counseling motif of unconditional love, then it works. But if you’re not willing to surrender the Bible with its shoulds and musts and oughts and its conditions, then it doesn’t work.

What’s freeing is to say to those people, the shoulds and the musts and the oughts are spoken by a doctor, not an employer. The doctor wants you well. He has a passion for your wholeness and your heavenliness and your freedom. The shoulds, the musts, and the oughts of the Bible are the doctor’s therapy and the doctor’s prescription to make you well. They are not a job description by which you earn his favor. So this analogy of a doctor with a doctor’s prescription versus an employer with a job description has proved to be tremendously helpful to those people because they all know that the musts and shoulds are in the Bible. They all know they’re there. They may hear somebody say, “All grace is unconditional and you get to heaven without meeting any conditions.” And they just know it’s not true because all over the Bible we’re told to meet conditions.

And so they hear the conditions are delivered to us as those who show their trust in their doctor by taking the pill of the command. The doctor has already taken them into his clinic. The doctor has already declared that he knows how to get them well. He will make them well. He loves them and wants them well and he gives them the medicine and the test is: Do you trust the doctor? So that’s the context in which I deliver the oughts and shoulds and musts of the Bible. Do you trust the doctor? He’s good for you. So if he says, “Flee fornication, single people out there,” if he says, “Flee fornication,” it’s good for you. Take that medicine. It’s not bad for you. And instead of feeling it as another weight, you deliver it as a way to get well and then you say, “Don’t be like the lawyers.” Jesus criticized them for loading heavy loads on men’s backs and wouldn’t lift a finger to help them carry those loads.

My whole theology is designed to help people carry the load of obedience. And so I want to try to show them the pursuit of joy is the way toward obedience, that wanting to get well is the proper paradigm for thinking about the biblical commands — not an employee who just hopes he might get paid eternal life or paid some reward. It’s not payment from an employer; it’s getting well from a physician. So really, the essence of my answer is to reinterpret the service of God for them with the models that I have used.

Ambition for Excellence

I’m sure that none of us is ever pure in our motives. And I just want to make sure you understand what impurity is. Impurity is not wanting to be happy in what you do, but impurity is the desire for the praise of man. I think that’s probably the most insidious thing for a person like me who writes a book and then gets invited to a conference in Worcester. Did I come here because I have a longing to expand my joy in God by extending it to you? Or does it just feel good to be in front of new people? I don’t know the full answer to that question. But as I’ve wrestled over the years with the purity of my own motives, I have come to the conclusion that I’m always going to be fighting that battle, whether I come or whether I stay.

If I choose to stay home, I have to wrestle with the same thing. I’m going to be standing before my people or I’m going to be visiting somebody in the hospital or I’m going to be writing an article or I’m going to be talking to my staff. At every point the question arises: Am I doing this now to enhance my reputation and get more praise from my own people and to get strokes from them? Or am I doing it to maximize my pleasure in God? So I’ve decided it just won’t do to say, “Well, don’t go speak anywhere or don’t write books.” Because that just postpones the problem. It just shifts the problem onto another thing. We cannot escape ambition.

So, Paul had an ambition. Paul said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). He had a holy, powerful ambition to get a great job done. So I want to say yes to ambition, yes to goals, yes to drive, but just put God right at the center. And once you catch on to the maximizing of your pleasure in God by expanding it to as many people as you can, then I think it liberates you to just be like William Carey, who said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

That order is very important. It’s theologically thought through. Mary Drewery in her biography of Carey points out very carefully that the order of those two sentences was intentional on Carey’s part. He expected great things from God, so that he could attempt great things for God. He didn’t attempt the great things in order to get the great things from God. It’s the other way around. Philippians 2:12–13 says,

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It doesn’t say to work out your salvation so that God will work in you his will and good pleasure. So, yes to ambition, if it’s God-centered in pursuing maximum joy in him.

Scheduling Demands

Someone asked me here: As a pastor, how important is structure practically in your week in and week out days so that you can get into the word to study?

I don’t do very well right now. I don’t write books during regular pastoral duties. I did, way back at the beginning, get one book written that way. I don’t anymore. I have to ask for a month away or something to write. I’m not a good example of what you’re just talking about. I sound like I am, I suppose, but I’m not. It always sounds better when you’re up in front and you’re giving out the fruit of a long time, but it’s never as nice as it sounds like.

And if I were to tell you how I do it, you’d get discouraged. Because I have seven people on my staff, seven pastors, and you probably don’t. I’m very blessed, you see. I have a lot of people helping me, so I can almost write my ticket in my church. I can just say, you do this and you do this, I don’t want to. That’s not encouraging to you guys who are pastoring by yourself, and frankly I respect tremendously the challenges that those of you have who are the only pastor.

But I will say, I will call you to be tough on yourself here and carve out time to preserve your languages, your Greek and your Hebrew. Keep your languages up and read a little Greek and Hebrew each day. Ten minutes a day will save Greek and Hebrew for years to come. You don’t have to have hours a day to do that. It takes tremendous discipline, however, just to get ten minutes a day.

And then carve out the time when you’re going to read. If you use a day-timer — I don’t know how you couldn’t — then whenever you start one of these, go through like I did and slash off appointments with your books or appointments with yourself or with God or with your wife. And then if you have a secretary who’s part-time or whatever, who fields people’s appointments, I give it to her and all my appointments are on here, including the ones with myself. And therefore, you’re not stuck when people ask you to do something by having an open calendar and having in the moment to decide between whether you’re free or not, because he always looks free. “My goodness, look at all those blank pages.” So, you need a lot of black marks in here from the word go.

And the reason I said to be tough on yourself is because I was just reprimanded by one of our women a week ago. This is part of the tears. I mean, you try your best to find the pattern of life and she just raked me over the coals. “You’re never available, Pastor John. You’re so busy, you can’t even talk to people.” And I just wanted to cry right there in her presence because I had just spent three hours that morning on the phone, trying to talk a woman out of abortion. I just wanted to smash her in the face, frankly, and say, “You don’t know anything about what I do.” But you see, she doesn’t know what I do. She just knows I’m not available. I’m booked till December 15th. I can’t talk to anybody. And that makes people unhappy.

You have to find a balance of minimizing that unhappiness and maximizing your usefulness. You will always have the unhappiness and you must have the usefulness and only you know you you. You can’t be me and I can’t be you, but you have to carve out enough reading to stay alive, enough reflection to stay intense. If you find yourself going dry, it really doesn’t matter how many people criticize you. You must get away with God. And I don’t know the answer. I mean, I’m so discouraged about some of this stuff right now in scheduling that I don’t know where to turn. I’m on my face before the Lord thing saying: Is she right? What should I do? How many more hours should I make myself available? So I just am with you in the struggle. I don’t have a real good solution.

Joy in Worship

We have a question: How have you found in your time of worship that a sense of joy can be experienced and enhance and that new affection can be grown?

Well, I think the number one key is for the pastor to worship. I have seen so many pastors, not worship. They’re getting ready to preach; they’re not worshiping. They communicate loud and clear that the time of worship in singing doesn’t count. It’s like the are saying, “This is not important what we are now doing. I just want to greet you, and I just want to make sure I’ve got my notes in order.”

So very simply: the secret is worship. Go hard after God. It has to do with your posture. It has to do with the way you sing those hymns. It has to do with the way you pray. Your people will feel and know if you are going hard after God. I know after eleven years that the dominant influence in our Sunday morning service is my passion for God. I’m not a Spurgeon — not by a long shot am I a Spurgeon. He could get a masterpiece forty-five minutes ready in a Saturday evening. I work two days to get a thirty-minute talk ready and have to use a manuscript and don’t and don’t have people getting saved every Sunday.

But this I will say about myself and think you should be able to say it too in some way: Spurgeon said, “My people come to watch me burn.” The way I’ve put it is, and I’ll just say it right out to my people: “I realize that my job is to be a torch in this pulpit. And you come in here with your little flickering torches, they stick their torch in my fire and light it.” And some of them, it goes out by Wednesday and they come back. So, it’s a very simple strategy. You must be red hot for God.

McCheyne said, “What my people need most is my personal holiness.” And what I think that means is my personal flame of love for the righteousness of God. You must find a way. So I fight like crazy on Friday and Saturday.

Now, where this is hard is that I’ll be so depressed on Thursday, I can’t remember my kids’ names sometimes. I will go to the park and I’ll sit down in the grass and I will be numb. Sometimes it’s just lack of sleep. I know that’s a big physiological issue. But I’m a pretty easily depressed kind of person. You wouldn’t know it maybe, but I am. And so, I’ll sit there on Thursday and I’ll say sometimes, I don’t even have the strength to say it out loud, “Lord, I must preach on Sunday. I must flame on Sunday, and it must be real — no fake.” And in eleven years, he’s never failed me. Never once have I not loved what I have to say and had the energy and the passion to say it. You know why that is? My people pray for me. That’s what Spurgeon said. That’s what I say.

I can tell because my people know my sermon preparation days are all day Friday and all day Saturday. I tell them that repeatedly. Remember me, remember me, and it’s like a miracle. Thursdays are my down days, and something happens on Friday, and I’m soaring almost every Sunday morning. And I can crash like a straight-down jet on Sunday night, with my wife, and maybe we can’t talk with each other because we’re so mad or something like that, but I’ll just be soaring on Sunday morning so that I’m not phony. I’ll tell my people this. I’ll tell them what I felt like on Thursday. I tell them that tonight it might be awful, but right now I love what I’m saying, and I love you and I want you to be excited about it. That’s the spiritual warfare that you must fight.

And then I’m up at 4:45 on Sunday morning. I preach twice. The first sermon is at 9 o’clock and the second one is at 10:30. I’m up at 4:45 and on my face, desperate. “God, I must have you. If I go in there with just a piece of paper and my brain, it’s all over. You come and you bless this service.” And I just wrestle with him every Sunday morning for that fire to fall. So my answer is: worship God on Sunday.