Think Christ (with Russian Interpretation)

Samara Preachers Conference | Samara, Russia

Briefly, by way of review, my main point this morning was that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And I just mentioned briefly, at the end this morning, that it’s especially true in times of suffering and hardship. So please don’t leave here and say that John Piper told us that to pursue our joy means avoiding hardship.

Never Called Away from Suffering

Jesus said very clearly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). There’s something more deeply satisfying in the human soul when you give yourself away than when you use other people to get. I don’t know anybody who has said that the bright, sunny, easy days have made them most happy in God. It’s just the opposite. Walking through deep waters of suffering have driven people down into God where they find him most satisfying.

When you have a large church, somebody is always dying. So at our church we wave the flag of 2 Corinthians 6:10. There’s one phrase in that verse which comes in the context of Paul’s sufferings. And the phrase is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” None of you has suffered more than the apostle Paul. Five times his back was lacerated with 39 lashes. Some of you may have suffered much, but none of you has been lacerated with your back five times with 39 lashes. He was beaten with rods three times. He was shipwrecked over and over. He was continually imprisoned. He had enemies around him all the time, even in the church. He was in danger on the highways. And he said, “I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

You get a picture of it in the Philippian jail, don’t you, in Acts 16. There are Silas and Paul at midnight, after being beaten, and they are in stocks with their legs, and they are singing hymns. That’s the kind of man I want to be. I want to embrace suffering for Christ, and I want to rejoice in it. So please do not interpret this morning’s message as calling you to avoid hardship. What makes the glory of Christ shine most brightly in your life is when your satisfaction in God is unshakable by suffering.

Protected from Error by Our Joy in God

So this morning, we saw that for you as a pastor, it matters that you do your work out of a sense of joy in God. I said that I had one more point to make at the end of this morning’s message. Let me make that point just briefly before we begin tonight’s message. If joy in God is central to our ministry, we will be protected from many errors. For example, one of the errors that begins to rise in the church is intellectualism, or an over-intellectualized view of the faith. Then people look at that emphasis, and they begin to react, and they go in the other direction. That’s where you get many of the worst extremes of the charismatic movement. I find many people come to our church out of the extremes of the charismatic movement because they’re hungry for good doctrine, but they don’t want to give up emotion.

Here’s another example. If we keep joy in God at the center, we will avoid much legalism. Legalism happens when there is a huge emphasis on outward behaviors without an appropriate emphasis on inward joy. And then people see that error, and they start swinging to the other extreme, into antinomianism, where you don’t have any proper behaviors. So my point is that if you keep joy in God at the center of your ministry, you will be protected from these kinds of extremes.

The Relationship of the Head and the Heart

Now tonight, I want to shift away from focusing on joy to focusing on how the life of the mind (thinking) relates to that joy. Let me state my main point in several different ways:

  • Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God.
  • Logic exists for the sake of love.
  • Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing.
  • Doctrine exists for the sake of delight.
  • Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God.
  • The head is meant to serve the heart.
  • Knowing truth is the proper means of admiring truth.

So both thinking and feeling are indispensable, but they are not both ultimate. Thinking exists to serve admiring, or worshiping, or delighting in, or being satisfied in God. The devil himself has many right thoughts about God. My guess is the devil on some doctrines is more orthodox than you are and more correct than you are. But none of these doctrines cause in the devil any love for God, any worship for God, or any delight in God. The devil totally believes that Jesus died for sinners. The devil believes that Jesus rose from the dead. The devil believes that he’s coming back. And the devil hates him. So knowing right things about Jesus doesn’t automatically produce right affections. But knowing those right things about Christ is essential for having right affections for God. Let me try to illustrate why it is that a well-reasoned delight honors Christ.

Suppose that you are walking down a street, and a total stranger comes up to you and gives you a bag with $10,000 in it, and asks you to deposit that money in his bank account and gives you his bank account number. You don’t know this man at all. And you ask him, “Who are you, and why are you trusting me with $10,000 in cash to deposit this in your bank account? Why don’t you think I will steal it?” And he says, “I don’t have any reason at all for trusting you. I just have this warm feeling in my heart that you are a trustworthy person.” Now, the question is, do you feel honored by that warm feeling in his heart? No, you don’t feel honored. He’s stupid. He’s crazy. He’s irrational. He has no reason to trust you. He doesn’t know you. We are not honored by good deep feelings toward us if they don’t have any basis.

But suppose when you ask him, “Why are you trusting me?” he says instead, “You don’t know me, but I have been watching you at work for over a year, learning about your character. I know you very well, and you are a reliable person. And therefore, I have a deep feeling of confidence that you will not steal my money. Because you are a man of character, and I have reasons for believing that.” Now, do you feel honored by that deep feeling in that man’s heart? Yes, you do. Because emotions that are well-grounded, feelings of confidence and trust and delight in a person that have reasons, are an honor to that person. They glorify that person. So when I say God is most honored or glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, I mean it’s a well-grounded satisfaction.

It means I see real things in Jesus Christ and in God the Father. I see real reasons for being satisfied in him. Therefore, my emotions are truly an honor to him because they are based on real reasons. So the mind is supposed to be engaged in seeing reality for what it is and awakening the heart to love God for all that he is.

Reasons for the Crucial Place of Thinking

Now, what I want to do for the rest of this evening is to give you 10 reasons from the Scriptures that the function of thinking is crucial in being satisfied in God.

Zeal Needs Knowledge

For the first reason, let’s go to Romans 10:1–2. It says:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Here is a group of people that have a zeal for God. And it is doing them no good at all. They’re not even saved. We know that they’re not saved, because in Romans 10:1 he’s praying for their salvation. So clearly, the problem is, according to Romans 10:2, their zeal does not accord with knowledge. So as much emphasis as I put this morning on zeal for God, now you can see how worthless that zeal is if it’s not based on true knowledge. So the use of the mind to come to true knowledge is necessary so that our satisfaction in God will be an honor to him.

Our Thinking and God’s Gift of Understanding

The second reason is from 2 Timothy 2:7, which says:

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Understanding is a gift of God. Do you see that in the second half of 2 Timothy 2:7? The Lord will give you understanding in everything. Many people believe that, and think that the understanding will be given to them without thinking. That’s the opposite of what Paul says. I don’t know if it’s in the Russian, but it’s there in the Greek, the word “for” at the beginning of the second half of the verse? It says, “For the Lord will give you understanding . . .” In other words, because God gives understanding, therefore think over what I say.

Don’t say, “Because God gives understanding, I don’t need to think.” And don’t say, “Because I’m thinking, God doesn’t need to give it to me. I can get it on my own.” It’s both-and, not either-or. He is saying, “Think over what I say, because in and through your thinking, God gives understanding.”

So when I am preparing a sermon. I open my Bible, or I turn on my computer Bible program, and I begin to think about the words, and think about the conjunctions, and think about the phrases and the order of the propositions. Every few minutes, I pause and I say, “Oh God, open my eyes. Grant me light. Grant me to see what is really here.” I know that I am dependent on the Holy Spirit to see the truth that is really here. But that does not stop me from thinking because Paul said, “Think over what I say.” Thinking hard about biblical truth is the means through which the Holy Spirit opens us to the truth.

God’s Appointed Means of Salvation

The third argument comes from Acts 17:2–3. The apostle Paul, time and time again, entered into the synagogue in order to persuade Jews to become Christians. Now, how did he do that? The passage says:

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Now, Paul knows that these unbelievers are blind, deaf, and dead in their trespasses and sins. So you might wonder, “Well, if all these people that he’s talking to are blind, deaf, and dead, why is he arguing with them?” It’s because God has ordained that the means through which life would be given and truth would be imparted is through Paul’s reasoning. Paul knows that according to 1 Peter 1:23 we are born again through the word of God. So the new birth is a supernatural, Holy-Spirit-caused miracle, but God does it through reasoning over the gospel.

Do you remember what Luke said about how Lydia, in Acts 16, was saved?

Paul finds this group of women beside a river, and he shares the gospel with me. He reasons with them out of his mind and his mouth. And Lydia is listening, with her mind, to a rational presentation of the gospel. And Luke says, “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was spoken” (Acts 16:14). So you have to have both. You have to have Paul’s mind and mouth speaking a rational presentation of the gospel, and you have to have the Holy Spirit opening Lydia’s heart to receive it.

Pursuing the Right Use of Logic

Here’s the fourth argument. Let’s go to Luke 12. My point here is that Jesus assumes that human beings use logic, and he holds them accountable to use their logic well. Sometimes I have been told that Aristotelian logic is Western, Greek, and not Hebraic or biblical, and therefore, it doesn’t belong in the presentation of the gospel. Let me just explain briefly what I mean by Aristotelian logic. We all know what a syllogism is:

  • Premise number one: all men are mortal.
  • Premise number two: Plato is a man.
  • Conclusion: Plato is mortal.

That’s a syllogism. That came straight from Aristotle. And I believe it came straight from God. Now, you have to decide, does God hold you accountable to think clearly like that? Would God be pleased if you used a syllogism like this?

  • Cows have four legs.
  • My dog has four legs.
  • Therefore, my dog is a cow.

I don’t think God would be pleased. Because that’s bad logic. You should not care at all about my opinion about logic. But you should care a lot about what Jesus thinks about logic. Now, listen carefully as we read Luke 12:54–57:

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?

Now, let’s notice the syllogism implied in Luke 12:55. Jesus is saying to these people, “You are really good at using your minds when it comes to matters like weather.” So here’s the syllogism:

-Premise number one: It always gets hot when a south wind blows. - Premise number two: a south wind is blowing. - Conclusion: it will be hot today.

Now, that is pure Aristotelian logic, which I believe is straight out of the mind of God and confirmed by the example of Jesus. Jesus is holding these people accountable to use it well. What do you think he means in verse Luke 12:57? He says, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” In other words, “Your minds are so effective when they’re dealing in natural things. But when your mind is applied to spiritual things, you don’t think clearly at all.” It would be like contemporary Russians and Americans being able to do amazing scientific things. Secular man without the gospel creates medicines, he creates cars, and he puts people in space. Secular man without the gospel uses his mind in amazing ways. I think Jesus would say to a university-educated secular American or secular Russian, “Why do you not use your brilliant mind to understand and know me?”

Thinking Corrupted by the Fear of Man

For argument number five, let’s go to Matthew 21:23–27. Now, what I want you to look for in this paragraph is this. There is a kind of use of the mind that Jesus hates. And I want you to ask, as we read this paragraph, what are these people doing with their minds that Jesus abominates? I’ll read the paragraph, and then Alexi can read it:

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

What were they doing with their minds? These are very bright people. They’re smart. They say, “Well, if we give him this answer, we’re trapped because we didn’t believe. But if we give him this other answer, we’re trapped because the people are going to be angry with us. So how can we get out of the trap? Let’s use our minds to get out of the trap. Here’s a good way to get out of the trap. We will say, ‘We don’t know.’”

That text makes me very angry. I am surrounded in America by people like that. Instead of using their minds to come to strong convictions and let the chips fall where they will and suffer for what’s true, they’re always angling to get out of traps. I want you, young pastors especially, but all of you, to not be this kind of person.

If your mind, in studying the truth, leads you to a conviction that will get you into trouble, believe it and speak it. There are so many pastors who conceal from their people their convictions because they’re afraid of conflict. Let me read you one verse that is the exact opposite of the way these people use their minds. Second Corinthians 4:3 says:

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

That is a beautiful description of a godly pastor. I want to be that kind of preacher so badly. I just want to stand before God on the last day and say, “I tried to be faithful and let people think what they wanted to think.” I don’t want to be the kind of pastor who’s always watching what people are going to say and then governing what comes out of his mouth by what the people are going to say.

Knowledge and Appropriate Behavior

Here’s argument number six. There are 13 times in Paul’s letters where he uses the rhetorical question, “Do you not know?” Let me just give you a few examples without looking them up.

  • Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? (1 Corinthians 6:19).
  • Do you not know that we will judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3).
  • Do you not know that when you lie with a prostitute, you become one body with her? (1 Corinthians 6:16).
  • Do you not know that a little leavens the whole lump? (1 Corinthians 5:6).
  • Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom? (1 Corinthians 6:9).
  • Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:15).

Paul uses that phrase 13 times. He says, “Do you not know? Do you not know?” Now, what is he thinking when he uses that question? He’s thinking, if you knew, you would be acting differently. If you knew these things, your hearts would be different. So he’s writing his letters to help them have the kind of knowledge that will change their lives. This is the way we transform our churches. We don’t manipulate them and coerce them into trying to act certain ways.

My wife and I visited a church in Asheville, North Carolina. You probably won’t know where that is. We visited a church while we were on vacation. And my wife, who is very tolerant, left the church saying, “I don’t think we’ll ever go back there.” This preacher had spent his whole sermon hammering on his people to come to the meeting on Wednesday nights. He was hammering on them to give money the way they should give money. And we sat there thinking, “This isn’t working.” We just wanted to go away. And the people were going away. The only thing he knew to do to help them not go away is to tell them, “Don’t go away.” That’s not what Paul did.

Paul said, “Don’t you know that it is more blessed to give than to receive? I want you to know the blessing of giving. I love you people. I want you to know the blessing of giving.” You can’t manipulate people. You can’t coerce people and make them do things. It has to come from inside, from their heart. And that means they have to have knowledge that awakens love.

Pastors and Teachers Given to the Church

Argument number seven is that the Bible tells us that God, or Christ, has given to his church pastors and teachers. I find that in Ephesians 4:11. And he tells us in 1 Timothy 3 that these leaders should be able to teach. They should be good teachers. So all of you pastors or young men who are hoping to be pastors should be thinking, “God is giving me as a gift to my church” (Ephesians 4:11). And then he tells us that the way you’ll be a gift to your church is if you are an effective teacher.

Now, I think that implies that ordinary folks in the pew need help understanding their Bible. If the sheep didn’t need help understanding their Bibles, God would not have given shepherds who had to be able to teach. So our job is to look at the Bible and work hard to understand what’s there, and then work hard to make it understandable and attractive and compelling to our people. A few Sundays ago, I was reading in Luke 24, and I read that passage where they say, “Did not our hearts burn within us as Jesus opened to us the Scriptures about himself.” I wrote in my journal after I read that, “Oh God, make me that kind of teacher. I want the hearts of my people to burn as I open to them the Scriptures.”

The Whole Counsel of God

Argument number eight comes from Acts 20:27. There’s a phrase here that is very important. Paul is speaking to the elders of Ephesus, and he says:

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

What is the whole counsel of God? That would be another sermon series to unpack what that is. But here’s the one point I want to make tonight. In order to give to our people the whole counsel of God, it takes tremendous mental effort to find the whole counsel of God in the Bible. In one sense, the Bible is the whole counsel of God. But that’s not what Paul meant here. This is too big. He didn’t read the Bible to them on the beach in the afternoon. There must be a faithful way to sum this up in what’s called a coherent and a unified whole counsel of God. And my point is it takes mental work to find what that is.

You don’t read through your Bible once or twice, or 10 times, and suddenly know the whole counsel of God. You have to ask hard questions about how the different parts of revelation fit together. I think this is why, in 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul calls the expositor a workman who “rightly handles the word.” It takes hard mental work to rightly handle the word of God, according to that verse. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that hard mental work is unspiritual. You are using your mind to understand God’s word, and you are depending, in prayer, upon the Holy Spirit to guide your mind.

God Gave Us a Book

Argument number nine is that the Bible is a book. Jesus Christ came in the flesh and was called “the Word of God.” He taught many things, and he did many things. He died for sins, and he rose again. He founded the church and poured out the Holy Spirit. And all of that foundational speaking and doing is preserved in a book. And my point is simply that reading a book is very hard work.

For most of you, Russian is your native language. You learned it when you were two or three, or four years old. You didn’t know you were working when you did it. That’s just like me with English. With Russian, you assume that reading just comes naturally. There is a kind of passive reading, and there is an active reading that digs and wants to understand everything it sees. My point is that a pastor must be one of those active readers that will not rest until he can explain what he’s reading.

God did not have to give the church a book. He could have done it another way. He could just give daily dreams to us all. He could cause things to be written in the sky. He could communicate any way he wanted to. And he did it in a book. Which is why everywhere the Christian Church has spread, there have not only been churches and hospitals, but also schools. It’s because we’re dependent on a book that we want people to quickly learn how to read, and then quickly to have the Bible in their language, and quickly to learn how to think carefully and doctrinally about the book.

A Careful Reading of Grammar and Language

Here’s the tenth and final argument. What I want to do here in closing is simply show you what I mean by thinking carefully about a passage of Scripture. Let’s go to Matthew 7:7–12:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Now, what is Jesus doing in Matthew 7:11? The answer is that he’s reasoning. He’s reasoning from what is less likely to what is more likely. What is less likely is that an evil father will give good things to his children. But evil fathers do give good things to their children, Jesus says. The way the argument works is that God is a father who is not evil. And then Jesus draws the conclusion: “How much more will your Father give you good things when you ask him?” This is an argument. This is reasoning.

He expects the people in your church to follow this reasoning. Why? Because he wants them to feel joyful confidence that God answers prayer. Jesus doesn’t aim at right reasoning; he uses right reasoning to aim at joyful confidence.

So how are you going to help your people believe that God answers prayer? You will reason with them. You will use arguments like Jesus used arguments. You will say, “Look, here is a father. And he’s not a very good man, but oh, how kind he is now and then towards his children. Now, what kind of a father is God? He’s a perfect father. He doesn’t have any evil in him at all. Now, if an evil father gives good things, will not a perfect father give good things? Shall we not tonight pray with high expectation that he will move for our city?” You don’t just hammer people to try to make them pray. You use biblical arguments like this to awaken their sense of confidence in answered prayer.

The Logic of Christian Love

Now, there’s one last observation from this passage. I don’t know if the word is there in Russian. The beginning of Matthew 7:12 in the Greek has the Greek word oun. Some of you know now what that is. It means “therefore” or “so” in English. He is saying, “Therefore, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Now, if I were preaching on this, I would say to my people, “What is the relationship between your treating other people with love the way you would like to be treated and what Jesus had just said about prayer?” I would lean on it. I would press my people. I would say, “Think with me about this. What is the logical connection between Matthew 7:11 and Matthew 7:12?”

I just thought of something I’ll put in here that I hadn’t planned to say. I preached to the German Russian church in Bonn last Sunday morning. And I was preaching from the Bible. As far as I could tell, nobody had a Bible. That’s not because they’re poor. I don’t know what the reason was. Do they carry Bibles in your church?

That’s a bad habit. I couldn’t show them anything. I wanted to say, “Look with me. I want you to see this. You shouldn’t take my word for it. Who am I? I am just a man. The Bible is the most valuable thing in the universe after God. And you don’t bring it to church? What kind of preaching has caused that to come about?” They have to see the connection between Matthew 7:11 and Matthew 7:12, or they won’t live this way.

You can’t say to sinful human beings like me, “Treat everybody the way you would like to be treated.” That would totally transform American and Russian society, but none of us can live that way in our own strength. Where do you get the strength to treat somebody the way you would like to be treated, which means you inconvenience yourself for their benefit? The answer to that question is in the word “therefore” at the beginning of Matthew 7:12. Because you have a Father in heaven who promises to give you everything you really need, therefore, you can love other people at great cost to yourself.

In summary, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And when we are most satisfied in him, our lives are freed from greed and fear to become radical, risk-taking, sacrificial lovers of other people. And that kind of satisfaction in God comes from right thinking about God in the Bible. The last thing we’ll do tomorrow morning, Lord willing, is ask, “How does this stream of satisfaction in God and right thinking about God produce preaching?”