Let me tell you where what I’m going to talk about tonight is coming from. On the plane coming out here on Friday I was rethinking some old thoughts that I had that I thought I would be talking about. And the reason I was rethinking them is that I had been in a conversation with a woman in my church, and she had gently criticized something that I say customarily across the country. I’ll tell you later what that was. The criticism was totally supportive and totally encouraging. Not any anger at all in it. She was just wondering whether I had the balance right, and if the way I said it was as helpful as I wanted it to be. And so I took away from that a genuine concern that I might not be saying it as well as I could or seeing it as well as I should.
So on the plane for three hours, between Minneapolis and Seattle, I began to doodle on my paper and the result was this, what you’re going to hear now. So it got new. I mean, I’ve rethought an old thought in such a way that I have it on six sheets of paper here. You’re going to get front-burner Piper reflections, which is dangerous because they’re so fresh. They may not be well thought through, but I thought that’s what pastors like to do. We like to sit with each other and share thoughts and think through things. So that’s where we’re going to go. So let me pray that God would guide us, and then I’ll launch into it and try to explain what I’m dealing with.
Reassessing Our Ideas
Now, one of the reasons I do this sort of thing of listening to what people are saying critically and affirmatively about what I say and what I see in the Bible is that I’m very suspicious, frankly, about my own brain — especially with regard to the great things of the world, the great realities of the world. I don’t think the human brain is a very safe place to get ideas. I think the Bible is a safe place to get ideas.
I understand that it takes a human brain to process this, but to treat the brain, our own heads, and our own lives as a safe spring from which to draw out wisdom, that’s not safe. I’m a sinner and I’m finite. I’m not a good source of wisdom and of knowledge. This is an excellent, authoritative, and infallible source of wisdom and knowledge.
So if I could get under the Bible and let my brain be saturated with this, then I’d be safe. I’m suspicious of me. And therefore, I very much want to be alert to seeing the world through other people’s eyes. I see the world through very culturally-colored, Piper-colored, background-colored, genetic-colored eyes. And that means I see a little slice of the world. You see it differently. Everybody sees it differently. And if we could have the privilege of seeing the world through each other’s eyes, my oh my, what lights would go on inside our heads.
Since I distrust myself about the great things, one of the great things I’m distrustful of myself about is the reality of love. Love is a great thing. The Bible says, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
So it’s the greatest. It’s the greatest thing, and my poor little brain is supposed to get around the greatest thing and say true things about it. Well, I’ve been trying to do that for a long time. I’ve been in Bethlehem for 30 years, and I’ve been trying to understand the big issue of love in relationship to other big issues. One of the other big issues in the Bible is the glory of God.
I mean, if you were to pick two big things in the Bible, love would be a big one. John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), and then Paul says love is the greatest — greater than faith and greater than hope. So it’s really big. And then you trace the theme of the glory of God in the Bible, and it’s really big. So you have these two mammoth things, love and glory. And I want to know how they relate to each other. I’ve been saying it certain ways over the years, and some people don’t find the way I say it helpful. She was pointing this out to me.
Balancing the Tension
Let me do this. I’m going to give you about seven passages of Scripture that create a problem as it’s being presented to me. And then I’m going to tell you how I used to say it, and the fault that was found with it and the new thought I had about it coming out here, okay? So let’s go to the Bible. You can either listen or you can look these passages up with me. I might go through them so fast. You might not want to look them up. I’m not sure. We’ll see. I’ve chosen these texts because they are mammoth statements of love, and they are all said to be done for the glory of God.
There are people who when you point out to them, “God is loving you like this,” they like it. But as soon as you say, “He’s loving you for his glory,” it ruins it. They kind of go, “There you go again. I was just feeling loved, warmly accepted, affirmed, and embraced by God, and you directed it all back to God. Now, I feel not loved as much.” And I’m trying to figure out what is that?
Okay, let me give you the texts and see if you have the same kind of response. Let’s start before creation with Ephesians 1:5–6 with the concept of God’s predestination unto adoption. If you’re a believer in this room, you’re a child of God. You’re a son of God, and he predestined you for that. So let me read this passage:
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 . . .
I’m glad you feel that way because not everybody does. I mean, until you get to Ephesians 1:6 it’s sounding like, “He wants me. He’s adopted me. He’s taken me as his child into his family. And he’s done it with a plan before the foundation of the world.” And then you get to verse six and it tells you why he’s doing it — “so that you will praise the glory of his grace.” And people think, “Huh? I thought you wanted me? Now it’s all for your glory.” Is that a problem?
The first one was predestination. This is creation. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:
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 . . .
So he created us. He brought us into being. Presumably, he likes the idea that we exist. Our destiny is that he would be with us and be our God, and we would be his people, and that we would walk together in the cool of the garden in the new age, when all the problems of sin are solved. And this says that he did it all “for my glory.” So he predestined us in love to be his children for his glory, and he created us in his image to be his for his glory.
Let me do Luke 2:10. You all know this and by heart. It says:
The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest . . .”
So a baby has been born. God is coming to the world. God is on a mission to save sinners. God is on a rescue mission to gather a people for himself. And what did they say? “Glory to God.” Well, what about us? Do you catch what people are saying?
We’ve had predestination, creation, and incarnation; now let’s do salvation in the act of the cross. Go to 2 Corinthians 5:14–15. Now this is the central piece of love in the Bible, right? When God comes into the world in Jesus Christ and dies for sinners this is the manifestation of love like never before, and like never since. This is love if there was ever love. Paul says in this passage:
One has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that (and here’s the purpose) those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
He died for all so that we, for whom he died, might live for him. So someone could say, “Who did you die for, yourself or us? You died for us so that we can spend all our time living for you? So it’s all about you?”
Philippians 1:9–11 is a prayer of Paul. Now, when you pray, you’re talking to God and you’re asking God to do things. So when you ask God to do something, he’s the doer. And when he says he’s doing it for a purpose, it’s his purpose. And that’s what this does. So let’s read Philippians 1:9 and then skip down to Philippians 1:11. It says:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment . . . [so that you may be] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Shorten that down now. He is saying, “God, I’m praying for the Philippians, and I’m asking you that their love would increase because you increase it with knowledge and discernment, because I want you to fill them with the fruits of righteousness, and the reason you would want to do that is so that it will be to the glory and praise of God.”
He is saying, “God sanctify them for yourself. Sanctify them for the glory of God.” Is sanctification an act of love? It is. God is loving us when he makes us holy. He’s loving us when he makes us holy. And it says that he’s doing it for his glory. And I’m telling you, there are people who don’t feel loved when you talk like that. They say, “You’re ruining it. You say he’s loving me, and then you turn around and say he’s doing it for his glory, that doesn’t feel like love to me.”
Every one of the things we have discussed have been massive acts of love on God’s part toward us, and all of them for his glory. I have two more. I’m thinking here for example of Romans 1:5. I’ve got a whole slew of texts written down here like Psalm 96, Numbers 14, Malachi 1, and so on. But let’s just do Romans 1:5. Paul says:
We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations . . .
Paul gets a grace and an apostleship from the risen Christ. The risen Christ says to him, “Your are mine, and I’m sending you to the nations, the Gentiles, to take my gospel for the sake of my name.” Now, is the spread of the gospel an act of love in the world? It’s a massive act of love in the world. And it’s all for the glory of King Jesus according to Chapter 1:5 of Romans.
You didn’t know there could be so many “ations,” did you? There can be. This is consummation. This is 2nd Thessalonians 1:9–10. I’m focusing on the Second Coming. I assume that the Second Coming for the bride is a great, consummating act of love toward us. Oh for the day when this veil of tears will be over, and all the suffering, all the injustice, all the unrighteous, all the pain, all the cancer, all the leukemia, all the arthritis, all the sore throats, all the broken marriages, and all the wayward kids will be over. We’ll be home. That’s a great day. And that’s what’s being described here. So listen, why is he coming? It says:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord (he’s talking about unbelievers) 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.
So why is he coming? He’s coming to be marveled at. He’s coming to be glorified. Is it an act of love that he’s coming? It is an act of love that he’s coming, and there are people who don’t feel it that way. That’s the issue.
Seeking Clarity for the Love and Glory of God
Let me try to pose some questions here and then give some answers if I can. Is the divine creation and affirmation of our worth eternally and fully satisfying to us (and I’m not denying that it exists), or is God fully satisfying to us?
Now, I was talking to this woman whom I love and admire. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have taken her so seriously. She’ll probably watch this video, so I’m speaking with respect. She said, “John, you’ve said so often across the country and in Bethlehem this question: Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or do you feel more loved by God because he frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?” I’ve asked that question dozens of times across the country to provoke people with God’s God-centeredness. She said, “When you say that, it sounds like you don’t believe God makes much of us. Could it be, John, that not only does he make much of us, but that knowing that he makes much of us is and should be part of what it is to be loved by God and is precious and shouldn’t be minimized?”
If one of your parishioners said that to you, what would you do with it? I affirm it. I mean, it seems true to me. I have never meant in asking the question, “Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you or because he frees you from sin and self-centeredness to enjoy making much of him?” I’ve never meant in those two to deny that the first one is real. I’m trying to get at what the bottom and root foundation of your joy is. So let me try to clarify.
I’m talking to her, I’m talking to you, I’m talking to myself, and I’m trying to rethink how to say this in a way that is more biblically helpful — more biblically right, balanced, and full. Let me affirm loud and clear that God almighty makes much of us who do not deserve to be made much of.
And let me tell you what I mean. I mean this: He is going to say one day to imperfect pastors, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). The only kind of pastors that exist are sinners. The only kind of pastors that there are those who do C-plus, C-minus, or B-minus jobs. I never met an A-plus pastor, especially in the mirror. Nevertheless, since there are only that kind and somebody is going to hear it, we’re going to hear, “Well done.” CS Lewis has a sermon about this. Alan Jacobs calls it his most famous and best sermon. It’s called The Weight of Glory. You know what the weight of glory is in CS Lewis’s sermon? It’s hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
He said, “You cannot imagine what it will be like for the Creator of the universe to endorse you. You won’t be able to bear it. It will be so heavy. The glory of that moment of God affirming our life and ministry will be overwhelming to sinners.” So there’s one illustration of God making much of us.
As a Father with His Children
Secondly, he has adopted us into his family. God almighty has a family. He has kids. Do you love your kids? Would you do anything for your kids? He’s our Father. We were nothing. We were lying in the street, weltering in our blood as Ezekiel 16:6 says. And he comes along and he picks us up, worthless as we are, cleans us off, forgives us, puts us in the family, and grows us up. And then add to that, he makes us fellow heirs with his own divine Son. And what do you inherit when you are made the heir of God almighty’s Son? Everything. You’re the heir of the world.
Already, Not Yet
Now, right here I’m tempted to preach on the prosperity gospel, which I abominate. You get this, but I wasn’t invited here to preach on that. Well, I could preach on anything I want, I suppose. When I say that we are heirs of the world, it says, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Do you remember in 1 Corinthians 3:4 where the people are saying, “I’m of Paul, I’m of a Apollos, I’m of Cephas,” and Paul rises and says, “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–22).
He is saying, “Get over it. Stop boasting in, ‘I have Paul as a teacher, I have something.’” He says, “What? You have everything, so you don’t need to boast about having Paul.” You have everything coming to you. Remember he said, “You have everything. You have death.” In other words, “Do you want that gift like early in the church with the lions in the Colosseum or under a sword like Paul? Do you want that? If you want to share the sufferings of Christ, you do, maybe.” The prosperity gospel takes a truth and makes it come too early.
Of course, we’re going to have everything, but not now. And we’re not intended to have it now. We take the gospel to the world at great cost. We suffer to bring people. We don’t kill to bring people, and we don’t drive the finest cars, live in the finest hotels, and fly our finest jets to the poorest countries, built for a billion dollars, and then come home and live in our mansions on the coast of California, and our wives walk away from us last week. Do you know what I’m talking about? He said, “I won’t let anything stop my ministry.” And Rick Warren, bless his heart, tweeted on Twitter, “Maybe that’s why she left.” I don’t like the prosperity gospel, close that chapter, that’s a parenthesis.
Making Much of Us
What I’m saying here is that God makes much of us, and he does it by making us co-heirs with Christ, and Christ owns everything. Therefore, we will be co-owners of everything. I mean, can you believe what it says in Revelation 3:21? Jesus is talking to the church in Laodicea and he says:
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
That’s scary talk. I mean, that’s almost heresy. What? You mean I’m going to be God? There are people that go there, right? They say, “We are going to be gods. We’re going to be a god. We’re going to be deified.” Whatever it means, I will be a co-ruler. “Don’t you know that you will judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3), Paul says. And in Zephaniah 3:17 it says:
He will exult over you with loud singing.
Or in Matthew 10:31 Jesus says:
You are of more value than many sparrows.
All that is to say, to concede, to lift up anything I’ve minimized, and say, “Yes, God makes much of us.” So when I ask the question, “Do you feel more loved that he makes much of you, or that he frees you from sin in order to enjoy making much of him forever?” I don’t mean to minimize that. So what do I mean to do? I mean, why do I even talk like that? Don’t I run the risk of poo-pooing something that’s really precious in the Bible by asking that kind of question?
Praising God or Praising Yourself?
The other problem with my question, besides making it look like I didn’t value being made much of by God, is that the second half of the question — “enjoy making much of God” — includes in it that this God is the very God who makes much of me. So what I’m making much of in God, part of what he is, is that he makes much of me, which creates a huge danger. Here’s the question: In your making much of God, if you focus on the fact that he makes much of you is your making much of God really just to make much of you? Is the reason you like God that he likes you? Is the reason you are praising God that he praises you, so that your praise of him is really praise of you?
That’s what I’m concerned about. Now, I think that the reason those seven passages of Scripture — and they’re just typical of the whole Bible — are written the way they’re written and happened the way they happened is to keep us from making that mistake. The reason every time a great work of love happens in the world, the Bible says, “He does it for his glory,” is to keep us from letting our joy, our excitement, our significance, rest on being made much of as the bottom of our joy, as the end point of our joy. It’s not wrong to be glad that you’re made much of. It’s not wrong. It wouldn’t be revealed to us as good news if we weren’t supposed to hear it and like it. The danger is that we may hear it, like it, and stop on it and say, “Oh great. I’m the goal of the universe. God does everything for me.” and it stops right there and makes you feel really good. Is that a good thing to feel good about? Satan thought so.
This is really tricky. This is really subtle. God makes much of us so that we will see him as the kind of God who is extraordinarily gracious to make much of nobodies like us, so that we admire him more. Or, let me put it like this. I think the Bible accomplishes two things in revealing God’s love in the context of, “He’s doing it for his own glory.” Two things are accomplished. Number one: He rescues us from the God-belittling idolatry of putting our joy, finally and decisively, in being made much of and having our ourselves as the bottom of our joy.
I think every time the Bible says something wonderful about the way God treats us, it adds for “for his glory” so that we will be cut off from the idolatry that makes ourselves the bottom of our joy. It cuts us off from thinking that where we really stand in our final standing place to be happy is us and how valuable we are, and how precious we are to God. And I’m arguing, “It’s not wrong to be there, but if that’s your final standing place, if that’s the bottom, if that’s the ultimate deepest foundation of your joy — which it is for the flesh, for the devil — you’re not saved.”
What happens when you’re converted is that God becomes your ultimate treasure. God becomes your ultimate joy. God becomes the final deepest, strongest, fullest, most satisfying foundation of our joy, and our being made much of is part of the revelation of the kind of gracious Father that we have.
Going Outside Ourselves
That’s the first thing that I think this accomplishes. The second thing that I think it accomplishes is this: When those texts, and hundreds of others like them, reveal that God loves us for his glory, it leads us out of ourselves, out of joy in self into an infinite greatness that really satisfies the soul. Let me put it this way. Suppose God loves you enough, and he does, to glorify you. Romans 8:30 says:
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
He will glorify you so that one day you shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father, which you will (Matthew 13:43). Our faces will be so radiant. It will be like the sun that nobody can look at. You will have to have new eyes to look at anybody because everybody’s face is going to be so bright that it’ll be like the sun, and you can’t look at the sun with natural eyes. You have to have redeemed eyes. You have to have a new body to look at anybody’s body. Our bodies are going to be so amazingly angel-like and God-like that if we tried to look at each other, we’d be blinded.
So you are going to be glorious. Glorious beyond anything you’ve ever known, glorious like a galaxy is glorious. All right, suppose that happens, and it’s going to happen, and God said, “Now here’s the final and wonderful experience for you.” And he puts up a magnificent mirror in front of you and says, “Behold.” And you stand there and you look at yourself. Now my question is — and I promise you that you’ll like what you see — will that awesomely glorified human being be sufficient to satisfy your soul? No. Your soul was made for God.
He gave you that glorified state in order that you might know something more of him and have a capacity to see more of him, delight in more of Him, and be satisfied with more of him. So it can’t be that his making much of us is the final basis of our fullest joy. It can’t be. Because no matter how glorious we become, we’ll never be great enough to satisfy our own souls. Only God can satisfy our souls. So I concluded this on the airplane, that the love of God that makes much of us for his glory is a greater love than a love that only makes much of us.
Let me say it again: The love of God that makes much of us for his glory in all the ways that I’ve said it, and 100 times more, is a greater love for us than if he only made much of us. That’s my argument. Because in making much of us for his glory, he directs our attention outside of ourselves as the ultimate foundation to himself.
Safe in the Everlasting Arms
Let me use one other illustration before I close that I think might be helpful. I have said dozens of times, in trying to drive home that the greatness of God is the end of our joy rather than our own self-esteem, things like, “Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase his self-esteem.” And yet people go to the Grand Canyon. So why do they go to the Grand Canyon? If self-esteem is the source of happiness, why do they go? Because you feel little when you go to the Grand Canyon. In fact, you feel precarious.
What if somebody said to me, like this young woman who spoke to me before, “Well, what you’re leaving out is that when God brings me to the Grand Canyon to see the depth and the width and the ancient greatness of his glory, and he sets me on the edge, if I spend my whole afternoon worrying that I’m going to fall in, I’m not going to see anything. So I need something more than a glimpse of greatness here. I need some arms around me. I need to feel safe.”
That’s a very helpful observation because I can maybe give a lopsided presentation of God that he’s like a Grand Canyon. He’s like the Alps. He’s like the Himalayas, like a satisfying glimpse of glory. And this poor, fragile, beat-up person who grew up in an abusive home is feeling so insecure and so unaccepted and so unloved that they can’t even see anything. They can’t see anything. They’re just scared.
They think, “Does he care for me?” So, to make the picture complete, you have to say, “This God is the kind of God who is a Grand Canyon. He is the Alps. He is the Himalayas. He is the Pacific Ocean. He is a galaxy, and he is a very tender, kind, loving, friend and Father, and he draws near to you and he puts his arms around you. He will never, never, never let you fall in. He won’t ever let you fall in. He would never push you over the edge. He won’t let anybody push you over the edge. You can walk over the edge. He can dangle you over the edge one mile straight down and you can be totally secure.”
And if she could ever relax there, she just might see the Canyon. She might see the Canyon. It might take awhile, right? It might take five, 10, or 20 years maybe. You have people like that in your church. Some of them are ready. They think, “Just show me the Canyon. Preach. Show me the mountains.” And you have others who are so beat up that they just wonder, “Is he about to squish me? Tell me something about him making much of me as a Father and putting me on his knee and getting his arm around me and telling me he’s not going to kill me because of what I’ve done.”
Here’s the upshot of that. I’ll say this sentence and pray and we’ll take a break. You are precious to him, and the greatest gift that he has for you is not to let that preciousness become your God, but rather that he becomes your God.