The Pursuit of Joy in Life and Ministry
The next thing we want to do is look at section four in our outline. Section four is the foundation of Christian Hedonism in God’s God-centeredness. Now, in your outline there are 35 biblical texts to illustrate God’s pursuit of God’s glory above all things. I’m going to go at it a completely different way. Because what I found in the few times I’ve taught this is that if I tried to do 35 of those it takes forever because I find myself preaching on each of those texts. So what I’ve done is taken six great works of redemption in their chronological order from predestination, before history, to consummation, at the end of history, and show you in each of those six stages of redemptive history that God’s main passion is his glory.
For God’s Glory or for My Joy?
Why am I doing this? Maybe I should step back and answer the question, “Why are you going here? What’s that have to do with what we’ve just been talking about?” I can remember lying in the third floor of Elliot Hall as a senior at Wheaton College, asking myself, “Well, do I marry Noël for the glory of God, or because there’s joy in it? Do I read and write poetry for the glory of God, or because there’s joy in it? Do I go and witness on the street in Chicago on the weekend for the glory of God, or because there’s joy in it?” In those days it was just a conundrum to me. You may think, “That’s not a hard answer,” but it was. It just was. I knew that from my dad that I should do all things for God’s glory. He would tell me, “Whatever you do, Johnny, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” That I knew, but how that fit together with joy I couldn’t figure out.
So what I want to do is make sure that you see what I saw intuitively, because I grew up drinking this from my mother’s breast. They said, “Johnny, whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.” That was in my blood from the get-go in the Bill and Ruth Piper household. It may not be in yours, and therefore we need to lay that foundation. What my mom and dad never told me, however, is that it isn’t only that I should do everything for God’s glory, but that God does everything for God’s glory. That has become very powerful for me, and very controversial for others.
If I don’t do this first I’m sure more of you will leave this seminar as un-born again, pleasure-seekers saying that I told you that’s okay than if I do it this way. That’s because what I’m about to show you is so unsettling to the unregenerate soul that people get mad. By the way, this is a means to joy, but right now you need to see God does everything for the glory of God, and then we’ll connect it to joy.
Let’s start with predestination. Ephesians 1:3–6 says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us . . .
Now, watch these phrases as they come. Why did God do this? You should be asking why he predestined you.
He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
What does that mean? He predestined us for adoption through Jesus, and it accords with something, and it’s unto something. It accords with the purpose of his will. So nobody can constrain him from outside against his will to chose or predestine what he did. It’s all coming from his own sovereign will. And why? To what end? It is to the end, the purpose, of the praise of the glory of his grace. So you were elected as a Christian and predestined to be adopted into God’s family so that you would spend eternity praising the glory of the grace of God, which makes God the goal of your predestination.
Do you get that? God’s glory is the goal of your election and your predestination. That’s why it was done. This is not unclear. This is clear. He predestined us unto adoption into his family, it accords with his sovereign will, not anybody else’s will determining it, and it’s unto praising him. He is saying, “I chose you so that you praise me. Praise me.”
C.S. Lewis hated this at age 29 until he got on the bus and headed for the zoo. He wrote about that change on this issue. I’ll quote him in a few minutes. I’ve spoken to so many people for 30 years who hate this. I hope you don’t. You can ask questions. I did too. I wrestled with this for years. Asking questions humbly about how this can fit with other texts is fine. That makes you a thoughtful theologian. But to say, “If that’s the way God is, I’m out of here,” is different. And I pray that not happen.
Here is the second stage. After predestination in eternity comes creation. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
The first question was, why were you predestined? You were predestined unto the praise of the glory of the grace of God. And the second question is, why were you created? You were created for God’s glory. That doesn’t mean you make God glorious; it means you display God’s glory and you reflect God’s glory.
When you think of the world we live in, and how many people don’t make that their life goal, do you not stand in awe that this planet still exists? That the sun comes up everyday on Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, on Minneapolis, and on unbelievers who don’t make this their goal at all? And God, in his great long-suffering, gives people year after year after year to watch the sun come up, and he is saying, “Don’t you know I’m doing that?” The heavens are telling the what? The glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Why? So that the world will see and start praising him, and start living for him. God says, “I created you for my glory.”
Falling in Love with Our Own Image
My picture is that Adam was created at a 45 degree angle as a mirror, and the glory of God was up above him and glanced off him, and Eve saw it, and she loved it, and delighted in it, and then she was at 45 degree angle too. When Satan came, Satan said, “You don’t have to be a recipient all the time. You can become glorious. What’s happening right here, if you would just turn around, this shining would shine on the ground, and you would be that.” And they did it. When you turn a mirror over, what does it do? It doesn’t shine, it casts a shadow, and they saw the man-shaped shadow on the ground, and they thought it was glorious, and we’ve been living to promote it ever since.
Apart from the Holy Spirit, you have turned your back on God, but you still exist in his image, and that you cast an image on the ground that’s really amazing, and it is amazing. I’m going to preach on Sunday that humans are amazing. We can get to the moon. We can shoot missiles that land on particular bedrooms a thousand miles away. We can produce medicines that conquer polio. Humans are amazing with their back to God, because this shadow is awesome, and that’s why it’s so hard to get people saved. The world is awesome, and they just have their back to God. They can’t see God. They didn’t know that he is more awesome — a million times more awesome. Our job now, since we’ve been put back at the 45 degree angle, is to keep our mirror clean so that we shine. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and give glory to your Father” (Matthew 5:16). That’s what we’re about. But we’re not so good at it. Creation is for his glory.
Third, consider the incarnation. This is Romans 15:8–9:
I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs . . .
Stop there. First, he says that Christ became a servant — that is, he became human, according to Philippians 2:5–8, and he was a servant even unto death — to the Jews in order to show God’s truthfulness. That’s one goal, to show his truthfulness and to confirm promises. It shows that God is a truth-teller and he keeps his promises. And that’s not all. There’s more than the Jewish purpose to magnify God’s truthfulness and his promise-keeping. He also came “in order that the Gentiles” — that’s the rest of us — “might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). So why did he come? Why did Christ come to be a servant? Answer: to vindicate the truthfulness of God and show that the promises will be kept, and then to declare and show and enable the Gentiles to make much of God’s glory because they’re getting mercy.
I used to argue with students who had to write position papers at the end of their seminary career. We would talk on the phone or in person about this closing paper that was meant to take all their seminary career and put it in a paper called the integrating paper. The point was to ask, what integrates everything you’ve learned? It would include all the Bible and all theology. I was asking, what is the big, overarching, integrating motif, or thesis, or reality?
People would chose kingdom of God, or they would chose love of God, or they would choose covenant, but some, if they hang around me at all, would chose glory of God — or if they had read Edwards. Then I would get into arguments if they didn’t choose that — for example, if they chose the love of God — and I would take them here to Romans 15:8–9, and I would say, “Okay, now just tell me logically, and in God’s way of doing and thinking, how do the glory of God and the mercy of God relate here?” It says, “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
My argument was and is, that mercy is precious, it is infinitely precious. I’d be dead without it. I’m in hell a long time ago without the mercy of God. But it’s not the end. The end is that I would, on the basis of having been treated so mercifully, spend the rest of my eternity making much of the glory of God that showed me mercy. So, ultimately, if you want to really go to the ultimate uniting motif of everything, it would not be mercy, though that’s really high; it would be the glory of God. At least that’s what I see here in Romans 15:9. That’s the incarnation. God did it for his glory.
Fourth, let’s consider propitiation. We’re right at the center of Christ’s work and right at the center of history in fact. In the cross, Romans 3:25 says:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation (that means an act by which wrath is removed, taken way, drained, or absorbed) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness . . .
That’s the reason he did it this way. It was to show his righteousness. And why did he need to prove that or show that? Why does he need to show anything? It continues:
Because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Why is that a problem? Why did he need to show his righteousness because he had passed over former sins? What’s the problem? Why do he need to have his Son die in order to magnify his righteousness just because he forgave sins in the Old Testament?
Here is the reason: when God passes over a sin and he does nothing fitting about it, no suitable punishment — he just passes over it, forgives it, or let’s it go — it looks as though his glory doesn’t have any worth because sin means, according to Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin is defined in terms of failing to glorify God. I think that’s what that verse means. So we all lack, or fall short of, the glory of God in that we don’t treasure his glory, love his glory, or live for his glory. And hat’s what sin is. We treasure other things more than his glory.
Therefore, if God just passes over my trampling of his glory it looks like he approves the trampling of his glory, and he doesn’t. So how is he going to vindicate this? It looks so wrong. It looks so unrighteous of God to just pass over glory-trampling sins, and the answer is that he doesn’t take it lightly. He takes it so seriously that if he forgives those who are trampling his glory, he forgives them on the basis of trampling his Son. It is God saying, “I will trample my Son. I will vindicate the worth of my glory by punishing my Son instead of punishing you.” That’s what’s going on here, which means that at the very heart of the cross and the propitiation is God’s passion to vindicate God.
Is it a passion to save? For sure. We’re getting saved, but we’re not getting saved without any reference to his glory, as if he said, “Oh, I’ll just save people. We’ll just sweep sins under the rug of the universe and let bygones be bygones.” That’s not the God of the New Testament. It was very costly for us to be shown mercy. The passage continues:
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
That is an awesome paragraph. It may be the most important paragraph in the Bible. That’s propitiation. There are two more.
Fifth, here is sanctification. Here’s a prayer of Paul in Philippians 1:9–11 for you and me to be holy, to be sanctified. Watch how it develops:
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more . . .
That’s right at the heart of what it is to be holy. It means to be a loving person. He continues:
That your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Now what makes this so remarkable is that he’s praying. Who’s he talking to? Come on, this is easy. He’s talking to God. That’s what prayer is. He’s talking to God, and he’s asking God to do these things. That’s what prayer is. Do you pray like this? Do you ask God to do things like this?
He prays that love will abound. He prays for knowledge and discernment. He prays that God would give them the ability to discern what is excellent. He prays that they would be pure and blameless. He prays that God would fill them with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus, and he prays that God would do it all for God. I pointed out that it’s prayer because the whole point of this text is not just that we get holy in order to make God look good, but that God does it that way. Paul is saying, “God, do these things for your glory. Do these things in your people for your glory, unto the glory and praise of your name.” That’s his prayer. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve said the Lord’s Prayer a few thousand times. What’s the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer? And it is a petition. It begins with “hallowed be thy name.”
Why are you asking God to do that? I grew up thinking that was an ascription, meaning, “Your name is hallowed.” It’s not. It’s a third person singular imperative in the Greek. It means, “Let your name be hallowed” (Matthew 6:9). We are asking God to be zealous for his glory, to be zealous that his name be hallowed.
Hallowed Be Your Name
My most common prayer is that, I think. I have a new pattern now in my life. Some of the second-year seminary guys heard me talk about this. I’m setting my alarm earlier since the new year started because my devotions were getting all dribbled away by things that came too quickly in the day.
I’m getting up earlier. I go to my room, and I still have my bathrobe on. I don’t even take time to dress yet because I even get distracted doing that. I have my slippers on to keep my feet from getting cold. I have a blanket by my prayer bench to throw on me because it’s cold in my study, and I go to the window and I look at the city. I’ve got a magnificent cityscape of downtown Minneapolis, and I think of the thousands of unbelievers there.
My most common prayer as I move in my concentric circles out from me, to my family, to the elders, to the city is, “God, your name be hallowed. It’s not hallowed in Minneapolis. The IDS Tower, the Pillsbury Tower, the First Bank Building, and the International Tower have thousands of people working there that don’t hallow your name everyday. Hallowed be your name. Oh God, use Bethlehem. Use all the churches of the Twin Cities. In fact, grant that your name would be hallowed in the churches. Make these churches radically God-centered places where the hallowing of your name is the highest value.” That’s a prayer.
That’s the way you pray for sanctification. What do you pray for your children? I have four sons, four daughters in-law, and 10 grandchildren as of Wednesday. Dianne Audrey was born, number 10, in Wheaton, so what did I pray for her? I have a new baby to pray for everyday of my life. I’m praying for my grandbabies everyday of my life until I’m dead or demented. What do you pray for these 10 little ones? You pray, “Hallowed be thy name in their lives. May they grow up hallowing, cherishing, loving, delighting in, and passionately pursuing you more than anything.”
Somebody sent me a letter. Listen to this. I love her, and I didn’t even know her. She lives in Texas. She said:
I pray for your Noël that the Lord would give her great joy in the ministry he has given you both, and I pray vehemently for your children. I pray that they would not give a hoot for the things or praises of men, and that they will give great glory to God with their lives.
When I read that I got out my email, and I emailed Talitha, Karsten, Benjamin, Abraham, and Barnabas. I said, “Did you know that there’s a woman in Texas praying vehemently for you?” Talitha came to me and she said, “What does vehemently mean?” If you want to pray vehemently for my children I would be happy about that. But the point is that when you’re praying like Paul, the goal of all prayers, all of them, is the glory of God, which means you’re telling God to glorify God, pleading with him to glorify his name.
Here’s the sixth one, consummation. Second Thessalonians 1:9–10 is about the second coming, and it says:
They (those who don’t believe) will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
If you want to give a little quiz to any believer that you know, or unbeliever, you could ask them, “Why is Jesus coming back?” One right answer is that he’s coming back to be glorified in his saints. The second right answer is that he’s coming back to be marveled at among all those who have believed. He’s coming to get praise. He’s coming to be admired. He’s coming for a big, big ceremony with himself at the center of the admiration. That’s why he’s coming.
Breathing the Air of Man-Centeredness
Now, the question of course that left me with as a college student was, “That doesn’t sound very loving. In fact, it says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love seeks not its own, and you just spent the last 25 minutes telling us God does everything for his own glory, so you just made a powerful case that God is not a loving God.” That’s the way this is heard by a lot of people because we’re operating in a world in which the preparations for this kind of talk are so absent.
We are so man-centered. We grow up breathing the air of man-centeredness, and talk like this — which is based on biblical views of God’s God-centeredness — are so foreign to the air we breathe. It’s so foreign to what you hear on television, what you hear in so many churches, and what you read in so many books. People think, “This can’t be a loving God. This is just a megalomaniac.” That’s the way it’s heard, so we have work to do.
Is Christ’s self-exaltation loving? It is loving. In fact, his love consists in the pursuit of his own glory to the max. Instead of going to the text I’m going to go to C.S. Lewis first. I know we’re shifting gears over to number five.
The Chief End of Man
The essence of Christian Hedonism is that man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him. There is the answer to the how it can be loving, but let me take you on the autobiographical pilgrimage of how it happened.
This is C.S. Lewis in his book Reflections on the Psalms. It was a paradigm-forming and shattering quote when I read it years and years ago. This is the pivotal quote from C.S. Lewis.
What he’s wrestling with is the thought, “Why is God not like an old woman who needs compliments?” That’s his language. He’s wondering, “How is God not like that when he says, ‘Praise me, praise me, praise me.’” And I just spent 20 minutes arguing that’s what he says. He says, “I’m coming back to be praised. I created you to be praised. I predestined you to be praised. I died for you to be praised. I sanctify you to be praised. I’m coming again to get praise from you.” And C.S. Lewis, when he was 29 years old, hated that message. Here is how he escaped into love and appreciation:
But the most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless, sometimes even if, shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars . . . I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious (large, expansive), minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least . . .
Now, just that far — and we’re not done yet with the quote — he had hooked me, because when I first read it I think probably the worst sin in my life was grumbling. I would just grumble, grumble, grumble; criticize, criticize, criticize; find fault, find fault, find fault; blame, blame, blame; and that just felt like me. I wasn’t the humblest, and the most balanced, and the most large and capacious minds praised the most. I wasn’t a praising person. I was a grumbling person. I would bellyache, bellyache, bellyache, and I rarely praised anything or anybody spontaneously. I was sick. I still struggle with that. He said that the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Okay, the quote goes on:
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
The Appointed Consummation of Joy
You know what you value by what you praise, what you talk about. If you never praise or talk about anything, you’ve lost your capacity to value. Your heart isn’t capacious; it’s shriveling up. In a book, I use the phrase “like a dried peach, forgotten at the back of the refrigerator for about five months.” That’s a sad state to be in, but God is willing to wake you up.
We praise. If you get certain guys at a ball game, or get certain guys at a tractor thing where they drive over cars with tires that are ten feet tall. You find out what they like, what they praise. Lewis continues:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
When I hear that, I thought, “If that’s true, my problem is solved.” Praise is not just the expression of joy, it’s the completion of joy. So if God doesn’t just reveal himself to us so that we can see and enjoy him, but also demands from us that we praise him, he’s demanding that we not settle for anything less than complete joy, and that’s the definition of love. Are you with me? It’s mind-boggling.
What you thought was megalomania is the definition of love. It is its appointed consummation, praise is the appointed consummation of the joy you have in the wine, or the mistress, or the football game, or God. Lewis says:
It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
Now, if that’s true, if expressing, displaying, showing, and praising God as the supreme treasure of our life is the consummation of that joy, then for him to demand that we praise him, hallow him, glorify him, is the command that our joy be full. It’s the command that our joy be full, and his willingness to work to make it full is what love is.
Here’s something to think about to see if you’re getting it. Go back with me to the Bethlehem Mission Statement. It says:
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
Somebody asked me a good question one time. They said, “So why don’t you have love for people anywhere in your mission statement?” Now, on the basis of what you just heard, what do you my answer would be? My answer is, that is our definition of love for people. When we do that at cost to ourselves, willing to die for that to happen, we’re loving people. If you can spread a passion for God’s supremacy into others so that they have joy forever, you have done the most loving thing.
Joining Head and Heart
Now, if you’re really sharp you may be wondering about something. Lewis argues that praise consummates joy, but when I described the essence of Christian Hedonism that’s not quite what I said. What I said was that joy in God is the essence of glorifying him. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
We need another quote and then some Bible because Lewis and Edwards are not Bible. Bible is Bible. But let’s get Edwards on the overhead. Now, this is in the top three paragraphs that I’ve ever read in my life outside the Bible, as far as influence goes. So here’s how it goes:
God glorifies himself towards the creatures also two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understandings (head); (2) in communicating himself to their hearts (heart), and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself.
That’s amazing, but this is the key sentence:
God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in . . .
That is the essence of Christian Hedonism. God is glorified not only in his glory being seen — that is, perceived with the mind — but in its being rejoiced in, which is what the heart does. Edwards continues:
When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it (delight magnifies his value better than simply understanding); his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receives, his glory, but that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory don’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation (approval) of it and his delight in it.
That was a very important paragraph for me. What he’s saying is this, and you know it’s true: if you discover a treasure, and your mind computes, “This is worth a lot,” but you feel no attraction to it, you can say, doctrinally speaking, “That’s a valuable treasure. Would someone like to buy it?” But if you see it as something that you would really like to have, or if you have it and really want to keep it, your heart will be engaged, and when people see that they compute, “This is more valuable, at least to you, than if you didn’t have that.” And that’s the way it works with God. When our hearts are not treasuring him, valuing him above other things, he does not look attractive to the world.
Love and the Glory of God
I have argued from Lewis and from Edwards that it is not megalomania that describes accurately God’s doing everything for his own glory. It is, in fact, love. Now, where would you see that in the Bible? Let’s go to John 11:1–4:
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved (it has said this twice now) Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11:1–6).
Lazarus is dying, and they’re thinking, “Please come.” Jesus loved him, and since he loved him, the passage says:
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
This is the Greek word oun (therefore). Now, that therefore carries a ton of theology in it. How do you explain that? He is saying, “I love you. I love you. You’re sick and dying, and since I heard that you’re sick and dying, and I love you, therefore I will stay where I am until you are dead.” It’s not hard to figure out because he’s given us the key right here in John 11:4 hasn’t he? Jesus says, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God.” Think it through. He is saying, “I love you. I’m not going to save you from death right away. In fact, I’m going to arrange for you to die twice in this world. And the reason this is love — the reason I will wait for you to die — is that revealing my glory to you is better than escaping death the first time.”
Does that work? Works for me. The argument is, “I love you, and since I love you I will let really hard and terrible things come into your life, because through them you will see more of me and my glory than if I didn’t let hard things happen.” Therefore, love consists in the superior revelation of glory, not the escape from harm and difficulty.
Not Deliverance from Difficulty
If you want test the love of God, don’t ask the question, “Is he helping me avoid problems?” Instead, ask, “Am I able through these problems to see more of his sustaining grace? Am I, like Paul, being weaned off the reliances of this world?” That’s what recessions are for. This is a work of God to help wean people off of excessive reliance, and create an awesome situation where the church can shine more brightly than the world.
I hope you don’t have all the same anxieties as the world, because if you do you’re wasting the recession. The recession is here for Christians to shine with superior confidence in God. Be anxious for nothing. All the nations seek these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Seek his kingdom first. That’s what recessions are for, as well as cancer and leukemia, and any other bad thing in your life.
The Love of Christ Our High Priest
Listen to how Jesus starts his prayer in John 17:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son . . . (John 17:1).
The first thing he prays for is for his own glory. This is a prayer for us, and the first thing he prays for in a high priestly prayer is for his own glory. He continues:
Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . . (John 17:1).
He is praying, “I want you glorified as well. So You glorify me, and I’ll glorify you.” This is a conspiracy of mutual admiration. Then he prays:
Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (John 17:2–5).
That’s a really strange way to begin a prayer for his people, unless the most loving thing is that Christ be lifted up in supreme glory for our everlasting enjoyment, which is exactly the way the prayer ends. I’ll show it to you. This is the last verse of the prayer:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory . . . (John 17:24).
Now there is the connection to the first five verses. He is praying, “Glorify me, glorify me, don’t let me die in this grave. Bring me up. Surround me with millions of praising people at the throne as we sit together forever. And now, Father, when you do that, I want them to be there, to see my glory that you have given me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Oh, righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:24–26).
Drawn into Perfect Enjoyment of the Glory of Christ
Now put these together. The love with which God loved him, he wants that to be in us. How did God love him? God didn’t love Jesus in a merciful way. Jesus needs no mercy from God because he’s perfectly deserving of everything good. We need mercy because we’re sinners. Jesus never sinned. He needs no mercy. How did God love him? He loved him as a Son that delights him totally. Everything he sees in Jesus delights him, so he’s thrilled with Jesus. He says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). That’s a real, powerful, deep, God-sized well pleased. That’s how he loves him.
Now, when I get to this part of the prayer where he prays that I would see his glory, inside me, do you know what I fear? I can go to the alps, I can go to the Grand Canyon, I can see a new baby, and for a few seconds feel some awe and wonder. If I got a chalet in the alps with a picture window, I’d be watching TV within three days. I will lose my capacity for awe quickly. So when I read this I say, “Okay, heaven is going to be seeing the glory of Jesus, and three days later I’m looking for a television?” That would be unless something changes, and that’s what this verse is. Isn’t it? He prays:
[Father], I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
I am someday going to be able to love Jesus with the love with which the Father loves Jesus. I will not be dependent on the capacities of this teeny, weeny, shriveled up Piper heart, capable of little flashes of awe and joy. I will be given, by the Holy Spirit fully taking over my life, a genuine me — it will be me, I’m not going to vanish — but it will be the Father in me, so ravished by his Son, that I will be enabled by some power to delight in Jesus in a way that is somehow appropriate to his infinite beauty, which is good news because I don’t feel capable of that right now.
So for him to pray that for me — “I want them to see my glory, Father” — sounds like megalomania if you just take it like that, but if it’s like this, “Oh, God, surround me with redeemed sinners that I have died for, so that they now, for the first time in their life in one sense, see the fullness of the glory that I am, so that they can have fullness of joy forevermore,” then it sounds like love.
We’re going to stop here, but let me just summarize something from the beginning. I said at the beginning that the way to solve your sin problem is not by stopping desire. You sin because you desire. The solution to that is not, “I will no longer desire.” The solution to that is, first, to be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. I assume most of you are, though I’m sure not all of you are. If you are, then the next step is praying.
Tomorrow, we’re going to spend almost the whole last section on how you pursue this, because the goal is not to stop desiring but to get our desires off of television, off of sex, off of money, off of the praise and approval of men, off of success in job, off of wife and children, and off of all the good things of the world that can be idols, onto Jesus Christ as supreme so that we have something to go back to them with called spreading a passion for God’s supremacy, or love.