My aim in this message is to deepen and intensify your passion for God — your pleasure in the supreme beauty and worth of God. Deepen, so that it won’t be blown away by the winds of cancer or depression or bankruptcy or divorce or prodigal children. Intensify, so that your joy in God will be full, and his supreme beauty and worth will shine more brightly in your life.
There are some convictions behind this aim to deepen and intensify your pleasure in God’s beauty and worth. I call these convictions Christian Hedonism, which I think is simply a provocative phrase for radical Christian living — that is, normal Christian living. So you might say my aim is really that you would all become Christian Hedonists. And that’s true. I don’t know any better way to deepen and intensify your joy in God than to show you from his word that Christian Hedonism is true — and stunningly wonderful. It’s the way I have tried to live my life since I was about twenty-two.
Pursue Maximum Pleasure
So here’s my summary of Christian Hedonism. Christian Hedonism affirms that God intends for all people to pursue maximum pleasure in both quality and duration.
“The highest pleasure is found not merely in his gifts, but in God himself.”
Then Christian Hedonism affirms that the highest quality and the most durable pleasure is found only in God — not merely in his gifts, but in God himself as supremely beautiful and supremely valuable. In him is where every person is to seek maximum pleasure.
Philippians 4:4 — “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say rejoice!” This is a command not a suggestion.
Psalm 37:4 — “Delight yourself in the Lord.”
Psalm 32:11 — “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous!”
Psalm 90:14 — “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
This is the first and great commandment — Love God! Rejoice in God. Ge glad in God. Delight in God. Enjoy God. Be satisfied in the greatest beauty and the greatest treasure in the universe.
This pleasure that God demands for us to pursue in him is in fact the best and the longest.
In your presence is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I have often said to groups, and I will say it to you: If you can truly provide me with a joy that is fuller than completely full and longer than forever, I will stop being a Christian and follow your way. This is no dishonor to my Lord Jesus. I think he smiles as he hears me say that. Because it is a forceful way of saying, Not only can you not offer me anything better than Christ provides, but you can’t even conceive of anything better. Joy that is fuller than full, or longer than eternal, is inconceivable. It’s a contradiction. It doesn’t exist even in possibility, let alone reality.
God created us to enjoy the fullest and longest happiness. In his presence is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures for evermore. And that is what Jesus died to restore. Because we have lost it through sin — by preferring other things to God.
We Don’t Deserve It
Christian Hedonism affirms that none of us deserves to be happy. Happiness is not the natural state of guilty sinners. And we are all guilty sinners. We deserve destruction, not delight. But God, in great mercy, sent his Son into the world “and laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Whose sin did God condemn in the flesh? Ours. Jesus had no sin. Whose flesh was our sin condemned in? His. Not ours. We are spared. Forever. “And everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
But forgiveness is not the ultimate goal of the gospel. Forgiveness is always a means to something greater. If you sin against your spouse, and wound her with your words, you need forgiveness. But not as an end in itself. You want forgiveness because you want her. The enjoyment of her presence without the icy barrier of offense.
“Be satisfied in the greatest beauty and the greatest treasure in the universe.”
And so it is with God. If we are truly born again, and our sins are forgiven for Jesus’s sake, forgiveness is not our goal, God is our goal — his smiling presence without the barrier of offense. Forgiveness is precious because it removes barriers to God. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). In whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). That’s the goal of the gospel.
So Christian Hedonism affirms that God made us to enjoy full and lasting pleasure, and that he sent his Son to restore that pleasure to people who don’t deserve to be happy. And then it affirms that this joy is found only in the beauty and worth of God through Jesus Christ.
Joy Isn’t Optional
And finally, Christian Hedonism affirms two very striking things. It says, if you abandon your pursuit of supreme pleasure in God (1) you will not be able to glorify God from your heart, and (2) you will not be able to love people. Or to say it positively, joy in God is essential to glorifying God and loving people.
Or to bring it home to our context here on generous giving: If you do not pursue and find your supreme joy in God through Christ, you will not be able to be generous with your resources from a heart that glorifies God and loves people.
You can see why Christian Hedonists are so serious about joy. Without joy in God, as the supreme beauty and treasure, our hearts do not glorify God, and do not have the power or the substance with which to love people. Whatever kind of generosity we may be able to muster, if God is not our joy, he will not be glorified by it. And no matter how much good people may get from our generosity, God will not view it is an act of love from our hearts.
Those are pretty radical statements. Finding your supreme joy in God (1) is essential to glorifying him, and (2) is essential to loving people. Why would that be? I’ll put the answer in two sentences. And then we will go to the Bible to see if these two sentences are true.
Why is joy in God essential to glorifying God? Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially in times of suffering. It is precisely in our being satisfied in him that he is glorified in us.
Why is joy in God essential to loving people? Because people are most loved by us when our joy in God overflows in generosity in order to bring them into our joy, especially when we overflow in spite of suffering.
Let’s test the first statement from Philippians 1:20–23.
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified [honored, glorified] in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
The reason I go to this text is because Paul says that his eager expectation is that Christ would be magnified or glorified in his body whether by life or by death. And this is our issue. How do we magnify or glorify Christ or God? How do we make God look glorious? How do we make him look magnificent?. So, Paul, how do you do that? Show us.
“Jesus died to restore our fullest and longest happiness in God.“
In Life and Death
And he tells us in an amazing sentence how he does it. Notice the connection between verse 20 and 21. Here’s verse 20: “My eager expectation is that Christ will be magnified in my body whether by life or by death.” That’s verse 20. Then verse 21 begins with “for” or “because.” Which means he’s going to now explain on what basis Christ will be magnified in his body in life and in death.
Here’s what he says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This has proven to be one of the most important sentences in my life for understanding how to glorify Christ. In verse 20 Christ is going to be magnified by life or death. In verse 21 he says this is going to happen because to live is Christ and to die is gain. To see the implication of that reasoning, let’s just take the pair it relates to death.
Verse 20: Christ is going to be magnified by my death. Verse 21: Because for me to die is gain. Do you see it? Do you see what this implies about how we magnify or glorify Christ? Christ is magnified in my death because I experience death as gain. Why does he experience death as gain?
Verse 23 tells us, “My desire is to depart [in death] and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Death is gain because I get more of Christ. To be sure, I know Christ deeply and sweetly here in this life. But it can’t compare to what I will see and what I will experience when I die. When I die, I will be with Christ in a whole new way, and that will be far, far better.
No Greater Gain
So now back to verse 20 and 21. Christ is magnified in my death because I experience death as gain. This now means that Christ is magnified in my death because Christ satisfies me so fully in death that, in spite of all I lose by dying, I experience death as gain. Christ is shown to be magnificent in my dying when I experience my dying as gain because I get more of Christ.
So here’s the sentence I quoted earlier that we’re trying to defend from the Bible: Why is joy in God essential to glorifying God? Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially in times of suffering. I think that is exactly what Philippians 1:20–23 teaches. Christ, God incarnate, is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him especially at the hour of our greatest loss — the hour of death. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially in times of suffering. If you want to glorify God, deepen and intensify your passion for him, so that he completely satisfies in suffering and death.
Generosity Overflows to Greater Joy
The other statement we wanted to test was this: Why is joy in God essential to loving people? Because people are most loved by us when our joy in God overflows in generosity in order to bring them into our joy, especially when we overflow in spite of suffering. Let’s test this statement from 2 Corinthians 8:1–2, including verse 8.
Before I read it to you, here’s the situation: Paul has seen a great outpouring of generosity in the churches of Macedonia, in the north of Greece, for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Now he’s writing to Corinth in the southern part of Greece to inspire them with the example of the Macedonians so that they too will be generous. And the reason I choose this text is because in verse 8, Paul calls the Macedonian way of generosity a demonstration of love. And that’s the issue before us. What is love? How does love for people relate to joy in God? How does joy in God relate to generosity?
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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 say this . . . to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine
This is simply stunning! Every time I read it fills me with longing to be like this, and repentance, because I fall so short.
“Joy in God is essential to glorifying God and loving people.“
Grace and Joy in Abundance
Verse 1: the grace of God had been poured out on the churches of Macedonia. We can read about that in the book of Acts in the City of Philippi. We can read about it in the letter to the Philippians. God had saved people by his grace, had forgiven all their sins, had united them to Christ, given them the hope of eternal life, brought them into relationship with the living God, and here’s the result.
Verse 2: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” So we have four things:
- their abundance of joy,
- the overflow of that joy in a wealth of generosity,
- a severe test of affliction, and
- extreme poverty.
Every one of these is utterly important for seeing our point. Here is a group of people who have tasted the grace of God so deeply that their joy is described in being in a great, overflowing abundance. This abundance of joy is flourishing in the presence of “severe affliction.” And this abundance of joy is flourishing in the presence of “extreme poverty.” Why is that important? It’s important because it shows that their joy was not prosperity or safety. They had not escaped from poverty. They had not be delivered from affliction. The poverty is still extreme. And the affliction is still severe. Their joy was not in God’s material gifts. It was in God.
I can imagine a million nominal Christians saying, “Look, God, if this is how you treat your children, then I’m out of here. I didn’t sign up for affliction and poverty. I signed up for protection and prosperity. If you don’t deliver, I can do better on my own.” I fear for much Western Christianity — that it is simply not real.
What made the Macedonian Christianity real? The answer is their joy was in God himself. The gospel of grace had removed every barrier between them and God. Jesus Christ had taken away their sins and saved them from hell into the very presence of God and promised them full and everlasting joy. They had seen the smile of God. They knew the friendship of God. They saw the beauty of his holiness and love.
Therefore, their joy was not in freedom from affliction. Their joy was not in freedom from poverty. Their joy was not in comfort and their joy was not earthly security. Their joy was in God. And it was abundant.
Love Overflows to Meet Needs
And the result is that “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” And in verse 8 Paul calls this love. So my definition of love — Christian love, not worldly love, but love as God defines it — is: Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others, especially when it’s costly. Or to be more precise: Love is the impulse of joy in God to expand to draw others into it no matter what it costs.
So I am praying that God would take this weekend and use it to deepen and intensify your joy in God. That he would remove every obstacle through the gospel of Christ, and make himself your all-satisfying treasure. So that Christ would be magnified in your body in life and death. And so that you would overflow in generosity from hearts of authentic love.