You Must All Become Hedonists

Missions In Focus

Wheaton College

What I would like to do with you tonight is to draw out the implication of this morning’s message and give five or six reasons for why I believe it’s true, in addition to the one that it follows from the truths that I tried to make plain this morning.

And the implication is that if God’s glory and our gain are not on a collision course, and if God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, then if you love the glory of God, you cannot be indifferent to the pursuit of your own satisfaction; it becomes your highest duty. So you must all become hedonists. You must make the pursuit of pleasure your lifelong passion. And anybody who tells you that this is a wrecking of morality because Immanuel Kant said so, should read their Bibles — at least as much as they read Mr. Kant.

So that’s my thesis tonight: that you should all, for the sake of the glory of God, pursue your maximum pleasures in him, and join him, therefore, in his global enterprise of magnifying himself among the nations. Because as you will discover before we’re done (if you haven’t already thought it through for yourself) your joy in God expands as it extends to draw others into it. You’ve got a lot of illustrations for that from your own life if you just think it through.

Six Reasons to Pursue Your Own Joy in God

That’s what we’re about tonight. And I have six reasons here for why you should believe what I just said and be about it, and so I’m on a quest to persuade you.

1. You have an inconsolable longing for a breathtaking God.

We should pursue our own joy in God because God is breathtaking, and man — every one of them all over the world in every people and tongue and tribe and nation, every person — has, as C.S. Lewis said, an inconsolable longing in their heart for this breathtaking God. Augustine said it, Lewis said it, and you’ve probably said it: that there is something in every human being that is God-shaped. And we have built all kinds of strange angularities about it, and tried to fit computer games, and sex, and drugs, and good performance on tests, and friendship, and spouses, and careers, into that hole and they just rattle around and do a lot of damage. They do not fill it up.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
     that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
     all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
     and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

Explode with Bigness

In the fall of 1968, I came back up here after I had graduated in June to bring my fiancé back to school, who had another semester to go. And I was heading for Fuller Seminary in my old hatchback, gold, ’55 Mustang. And I drove straight through from Wheaton to Pasadena, California. Because when you feel as bad as I felt leaving her behind, what’s the point in stopping? Get it all done fast — all 2,500 miles or whatever. But I did have to buy gas and I had to go to the bathroom, so I stopped on the top of a mountain in Utah. There were lights at the rest stop, and I decided to go up a hill to get away from the lights. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, or something like that. And I walked up there to the top of the mountain and I looked up into the sky, and I had never seen anything like that before. There were no dark spaces between the stars; it was a sheet of white. There wasn’t a cloud in sight.

And I understood for the first time what the Milky Way is. I’d never seen it before like that. And my soul was so drawn up out of me with the bigness of that moment that I never forgot it. It touched me at a level that was so profound, so spiritual. I think that must have been what Psalm 19:1 was meant to say, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Listen.

Kierkegaard had a parable about riding in a carriage out into the night. And in the parable of the carriage, they had lamps on the carriage. And as he looked up, he saw nothing because the lights on the carriage blotted it out. And he said that’s the way virtually everybody lives their life: we’ve got these little lamps we’ve made — they’re so pretty; they’re so effective. And they blot out everything glorious, because they’re so near and so small. And we need to get away from the littleness of our lives. Now, the point of that little story is to say, if the heavens have that effect on me, how much more will God — if I see God?

In 1971 (Noël and I were married now for three year almost), and we were on our way back, having graduated. And we decided to drive up to Oregon, visit friends from college, and then drive across, down through Wheaton to visit some friends, and then on to South Carolina. And this time, we were driving across Montana. Montana’s a pretty flat state, in parts of it any way. And we stopped to get some gas in a very, very, very flat place. And I got out of the car while the attendant filled the car for us. And I walked away a little bit and looked out over — not this time up into a mountain — but over the flattest land I’ve every seen in my life, which went on forever. There were no mountains, and there was no ocean, and there was no end. It was just land, just flat as far as you can see. And it was so far and so clear, that there were four layers of clouds. And the same thing happened: I felt just drawn up into bigness.

In 1978 (we had two little kids by this time), we went to the Grand Canyon, and the same thing happened. Three times in my life I have this memory. I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and just stood there, feeling myself, like I was going to explode with bigness.

Make Much of Him

Now, those have all been points for me where lessons have landed on me of what I’ve been trying to teach biblically — namely: the love of God toward us is not God’s making much of us, but God’s enabling us to have the capacity to feel what it’s like to make much of him, and be drawn out into his bigness.

And this is the lesson: nobody goes to stand on the edge of Grand Canyon to enhance their self-esteem, do they? Yet they go; they go. They leave their therapist behind. By and large the American gospel is found in the room with the therapist, trying desperately to help you feel good about yourself: just how significant you are, and how great you are, how worthy you are. That’s the gospel in America. Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon for that.

We go to the Grand Canyon, we go to the top of mountains in Utah, we go to the flat places of the earth — we even try to do it with cinematic productions; we try to do it with big glossy books on our coffee tables. We try to do it because there is something in us that is not satisfied with being told how good we are; we want to be drawn out into something that’s huge and magnificent and great and glorious. And at those moments we feel, “If I could be caught up into this, if I could have a soul big enough to encompass this, I would be infinitely satisfied.”

God is breathtaking, and you should pursue that with all your might. That’s the first point. And the way it relates to missions, by the way, is that: that is true of every human being you will meet in every tribe in the world. I don’t care what culture they’re in, I don’t care what language they speak, they are created for God, and therefore, there is that kind of passion and desire in them for this great God. And you, in missiologically sensitive ways, can tap into that and win them.

2. God desires you to delight in him.

Reason number two you should devote yourself to pursuing joy in God is that the Bible commands you to pursue your joy. I was asked to do a seminar with a person recently on motivation and mission, and I entitled the seminar something like “The Pursuit of Joy in God for the Sake of Missions” or something like that. And this person wrote that and said, “I don’t like the title because I don’t think we do missions out of the pursuit of joy. I think Dr. Piper knows as well as I do that we should do things whether we like to or not. It’s our duty to obey God and not pursue our joy.” And I thought: How am I ever going to do a seminar with this?

Delight Is Your Duty

Well, here’s the problem with that response, if you juxtapose duty to delight and make them at odds, you’re just not asking a simple question. What if it’s your duty to delight? Which it is because the Bible says so. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” That’s a command. It’s a category confusion. It’s a category confusion to say you should choose duty not delight. It’s like saying you should choose obedience, not love. Wait a minute! Love is obedience. Right — so is delight. Just read the commandments of the Bible; they’re all over the place.

On the first floor of Blanchard, you would walk in and take a left (before they gutted the place), and there was a room there. And I had a class on apologetics from Millard Erickson in 1967. And we read four contemporary apologetic works, and one of the contemporary apologetic works in that day was Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher. And in that class and in that book, Joseph Fletcher argued like this. He said that we know that love cannot be essentially affectional or emotional. It has to be volitional and relate to decisions you make not things you feel. The reason is: we are commanded to love, and you can’t command the affections; you can only command volition. Therefore love must be volitional not affectional. He wasn’t into quoting Scripture.

And as a 20-year-old junior I was reading this book. And I didn’t know a lot of theology. I’d just been growing up, reading my Bible as a teenager, and underlining and trying to understand the best I could. And I just kept saying to myself, “Something’s not right here.” This sounds philosophically sophisticated and kind of compelling, but it doesn’t fit. There’s something wrong here. And you know what’s wrong? There are hundreds of commands in the Bible addressed to the emotion. It’s so simple: read your Bible.

Reason from the Bible

I just want to make a parenthetical exhortation to all of you Wheaton students on how to do serious philosophy and theology. Don’t bring your own rationalizations about what must be because of certain syllogisms you worked out in your head — like:

  1. Love is commanded. That’s premise number one.
  2. Premise number two: you can only command volition.
  3. Conclusion: (according to Aristotle now) therefore, love can only be a volition.

Don’t bring those manmade things to the Bible saying, “You can’t mean what you say.” Do it exactly the opposite: go to the Bible, and as much as lies within you, draw out meaning there, and then, think your way out into philosophy — faith seeking understanding. You will be far deeper. The Bible says “ Oh how I love your law! . . . I have more understanding than all my teachers” (Psalm 119:97, 99). And I have seen it proven through over and over again. I think that the best teachers on this campus know that and will encourage you, not to be proof-texters, not be superficial text-slingers, opposing anti-intellectually any thought that originates from a pagan. Let us plunder the Egyptians. When you dine with the devil, use a long spoon, as Os Guiness says. But let us not let them write the recipe. God wrote the recipe.

The problem with Joseph Fletcher is: not only had he not read his Bible, but he was an Armenian. The fundamental thesis of Arminianism is: you must have the ability to do what you’re told to do. And the fundamental premise of Calvinism is: you’re not able to do what you’re told to do; you need God. That’s the difference between those two views.

The Bible commands you to do what you cannot do on almost everything. It commands the emotions everywhere. Emotions, emotions, emotions are commanded by the Lord.

3. The Scriptures command our emotions.

Doesn’t just make too much of emotions. And a lot of people hear me talk and they say, “Whoa, you’re saying now: devote your whole life to pursuing your happiness or your pleasure or your satisfaction. Doesn’t that elevate emotions or affections way out of proportion to what they should be in the Bible?” And I answer, “No, because the Bible makes them essential.”

  • We’re commanded not to covet — that feeling, the desire for what we ought not to have.
  • We’re commanded to be content — that’s feeling.
  • We’re commanded to bear no grudges.
  • We’re commanded to love one another “earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Petert 1:22).
  • We’re commanded to love with brotherly affection, not just with will.
  • We’re commanded to rejoice (Psalm 100:2).
  • We’re commanded to hope (Psalm 42:5).
  • We’re commanded to fear (Luke 12:5).
  • We’re commanded to be at peace in ourselves (Romans 5:1).
  • We’re commanded to be zealous (Romans 12:11).
  • We’re commanded to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
  • We’re commanded to desire the sincere milk of the word (1 Peter 2:2).
  • We’re commanded to be tenderhearted.
  • We’re commanded to be grateful.

Try that on your kid at Christmas, when he gets a pair of black socks from his grandmother. “Say thank you.” Well, of course, he can say “thank you,” but he can’t feel gratitude if he doesn’t feel gratitude.

When You Don’t ‘Feel It’

Therefore to command gratitude when you don’t feel gratitude — what are you going to do? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do: despair of yourself and fall on your face in desperate need of grace. That’s what you’re going to do. All over the Bible, these things are commanded: brokenness, gratitude, lowliness — which means, I can’t produce those things. You tell me to be happy when I’m not happy, what am I going to do? You tell me to feel hope when I’m not hopeful, what am I going to do? Tell me to feel grateful, tell me to weep when I don’t feel any compassion for anybody, what am I going to do? *Be born again.*And how does a child decide how to do that?

You can tell I’m a Calvinist, and I am because I cannot escape the implication of these things in the Scriptures. If the Bible tells you tonight to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4), and you don’t feel any joy, here are the steps: Do not say emotions are not essential. “I have decided for Jesus and that’s all that counts.” Don’t say that; you may not be born again. To decide requires no transformation. Decisions for Jesus require no transformation. Pagans can will to jump on a grenade and many other strange things. What transforms is the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith is more than a decision, to sign a card or pray a prayer or do a thing; it is to be changed. Faith has love and affection for God as its core.

Cut Off Without Love

Do you ever wonder why in 1 Corinthians 16:22, it says “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed”? Did that ever shock you who believe in justification by faith alone? He didn’t say “let those who have no faith be accursed.” He said “let those who do not love the Lord be anathema.” If justification by faith is true — which it absolutely is —love must be an essential component of faith — which it is. We have stripped down faith to such an unbelievably manageable, American, utilitarian means to get signatures on the beach, that there are many unregenerate people in our churches. Don’t say they emotions are unessential; say they are essential, and then repent.

So if you leave tonight, you heard this message, you’re walking home in the dark, you’re not feeling especially joyful in God, you say, “I’m so sorry; I don’t know what’s wrong with my heart. Sorry that I’m so cool, I’m so lukewarm. And I’m frightened. I don’t know what it is about.” And then you cry for help: “Oh God, help me; restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” Isn’t it a comfort that the psalmist prayed that way? (Psalm 51:12). I take such comfort in my own ups and downs of emotion that the psalmist prayed that way.

Well, that’s reason number three: emotions are not secondary. They’re not icing on the cake; they are part of the cake.

4. Pursuing your joy battles boasting and self-pity.

Reason number four for why you should pursue your joy in God relentlessly, always, and join him in his self-glorifying mission in the world is that to do this, you’ll combat boasting and self-pity; it will combat boasting and self-pity. If you say to God, “I am empty, and I need fullness from you. I am bankrupt, and I need riches from you. I am weak, and I need strength from you. I am hungry, and I need food from you. I am thirsty, and I need drink from you. And you are my only hope,” that is not pride talking.

And that’s the way a Christian Hedonist talks: “I want food, I want drink, I want strength, I want help, I want treasure, I want joy, I want satisfaction, I want gain, and I want it in you. Come, give, fill.” That’s hedonism through and through. And it’s not proud, it’s not proud; it’s empty, helpless, hopeless apart from God.

‘Be My All in All’

So ironically, people ask me, “Doesn’t this hedonism create great self-centeredness?” I say, “Exactly the opposite: it creates great God-centeredness.” Because we’re looking for this fullness outside of ourselves. We’ve looked enough within. We’re so sick of looking within and finding brokenness and emptiness and sinfulness. We’ve despaired of ourselves, and yet we still want to be happy, we want satisfaction, as we look outside of ourselves and say, “God, you’re our only hope, you’re the only way that I could ever survive in this world, in this ministry, through death. Come, fill, satisfy, be my all in all.” That’s the way a hedonist talks — a Christian Hedonist.

And that is not pride; it’s the opposite of pride. Pride is when you go to God as a benefactor rather than a beneficiary, and say, “I have these many gifts here. I’ve been at Wheaton, and I’ve got this education, I’ve got this degree. Position me, so that I can serve you.” Be poor in spirit, be hungry, and you will not be proud. I love most contemporary worship because there’s so much of that in it. There’s so much hunger in it, so much longing for God in it.

Flip Side of Pride

Self-pity is just the flip side of pride; it’s the form that pride takes in the heart of the weak. Boasting is the form that pride takes in the heart of the strong; self-pity is the form that pride takes in the heart of the weak. Self-pity is what you feel when you have been denied of privilege you feel like you deserve: your wife didn’t treat you the way you should, or some teacher didn’t recognize you were there. “Oh, I feel so bad inside.” We live in an utterly victim-mentality age. We are the most whining nation and generation I’ve ever seen: it’s always somebody else’s fault, and I have every right to bellyache, and sue, and be litigious, and whine and feel sorry for myself. Grow up; get a grip — that’s what you people need to be told.

I’m the oldest baby boomer in the world, born in January of 1946. They don’t get any older than me. And our generation was sort of the beginning of the whining. And it just goes forward with great strength across the nation. “It’s my parents, the way they brought me up. It’s this daycare center, it’s the church” — it’s whatever. Christian Hedonism is the remedy for that.

Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler? He comes to Jesus, and Jesus says, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). And he’s so rich, he can’t do it. He loves his money so much, he can’t love Jesus. So he walks away and Jesus says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). And the disciples, it takes their breath away. “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). And Jesus says well, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” So God has the capacity to change your values around so that you can give everything away and follow Jesus. Then Peter (the precursor of the whining generation) says, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” What about us?

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

But what was he saying? He was saying, “Peter, if you feel a millimeter of self-pity because you left everything and chosen me, you don’t understand who I am. There is no sacrifice in this trade. I am greatly offended and dishonored by your thinking that to leave all those people and all those things, just to get the Son of God is a bad deal. I’m offended.” Let’s not be excessively critical here. No person is going to say in the twentieth century, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You’re offending God by your self-pity.”

When It’s All Over

God is infinitely valuable. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). That’s the end of self-pity, folks; that’s the end of self-pity. I don’t care if they cut your throat; it’s the end of self-pity. Or if you lose all your children or all your house or you all have cancer before the year’s over, there is no loss in the end — if you’ve got Jesus.

When it’s all over, Jesus is going to be my song. When it’s all over, and everybody’s dead, and you outlive all your friends and you’re 94, slumped over in the fourth floor of a senior home, drooling and nobody comes to visit you anymore, and you’ve got Jesus — you’ve got the universe. That’s what 1 Corinthians 3:21 says, “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours.” In other words, “Don’t boast in men because in me you have everything.” So to be a Christian Hedonist — that is, to find satisfaction in Jesus, takes away boasting and takes away self-pity.

5. Your satisfaction in God produces love.

Reason number five for why you should pursue your own joy in God for the rest of your life with all your might, and join him in a great global enterprise of self-glorification, is that it promotes genuine love. Now that one required the most thought for me when I wrote the book Desiring God, because the Bible says love seeks not its own (1 Corinthians 13:5). And I’m telling you all to seek your own happiness with everything that lies within you.

Love “does not insist on its own way”(1 Corinthians 13:5). I don’t think that text means love does not seek joy in loving. I don’t think that’s what that text means because of Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
     and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
     and to walk humbly with your God?

So the middle one is “love mercy;” don’t just do mercy, but love doing mercy — enjoy serving others.

My Pleasure

Let me ask you this question, a very existential question: If you’re in the hospital, and a friend or a pastor comes to visit you, do you feel more love if he comes begrudgingly or joyfully? If you’re lying there and you open your eyes and the pastor’s standing over you, and you say, “Oh, you didn’t have to drive all the way down here, Pastor John.” And I say, “Well, I know I didn’t, but I’m a pastor and I’m supposed to. As a pastor, it’s my duty.” We all laugh because, evidently, you don’t think duty is a good motivation.

But you wouldn’t laugh if that person opened his eyes and saw me and said, “Oh, Pastor John, you drove all the way down here? You didn’t have to do that.” And I said, “I enjoy sharing God with people in the hospital. It gives me great pleasure to come and be with you, and delight in God and encourage your faith. I came because I wanted to come.” I’m a hedonist. Not a person in a million would take offense at that answer. Why? Because you feel more love.

There is no contradiction. Mark this: your experience is a better teacher here, probably, than your own philosophical reflection. There is no contradiction between pursuing your joy in caring for others, and their feeling loved by you. That you happened to come there for your joy in their good is no offense. In fact, it deepens your character. They marvel that you’re the kind of person who could find pleasure in love. It’s an amazing thing how we can work ourselves up against the Scriptures with all kinds of strange things.

Remember the Blessing

Acts 20:35 is a very important verse here. Paul comes to the end of his time with the elders there on the beach in Miletus, and he says, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Do you know what the key word in that verse is, to really wallop you? It’s the word remember. Do you know why? Because if I was writing my dissertation over in Germany on the love command to love your enemies — I read so much ethical bad stuff, that I got so tired of reading things like: “Well, yes, there is reward in the Christian life, but you must keep it out of your mind, lest it contaminate good motives. Don’t love for the sake of reward of any kind. Love because it’s right to love.”

Now again, you go to the Bible and you read Acts 20:35, where Paul says, “Remember . . . ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Don’t put it out of our mind as though it’s a contaminating influence to remember that when you give, you get blessed. Remember it. Remember it. Remember it. When you’re heading to the hospital, your play time with your kids has been interrupted, you’re tired and exhausted, and somebody’s in a crisis at the hospital, and you don’t feel like going, remember it. Preach it to yourself: “it is more blessed to give, more blessed to give,” until this unsanctified power in you is subdued, and you’re able to walk into that room again, rejoicing that you have the awesome privilege of resting in God, and bringing that rest to other people.

Join in Satisfaction

Suppose the person were a little bit philosophically oriented in their hospital bed and said, “Well now, you just said it makes you happy to come down here. Why should that make me feel good? Because you’re just coming for you.” I think the answer should be: “Because if I didn’t delight in God more than I delight in you, and if I didn’t have the kind of God who brought me deep satisfaction in extending him to others, I’d have nothing to give you. It’s precisely because I love God more than you, and God satisfies me and enlarges my satisfaction in coming to you, that I have something worthwhile to give you — namely, joining me in being so satisfied in God.

Now, that will only make sense to people who have broken free from the gospel of self-esteem. Because what that person who asked that philosophical question really wanted to just say is: “Would you please say something that makes me feel good about me?” And if that’s what they’re asking, you don’t have good news for them. You want to free them from the bondage of that and cause them to realize they might die any day. And then what? If God isn’t their all, if they can’t say, “To die is gain because to die is to get Jesus,” then what difference does it make how good they feel about themselves in those last hours before they meet the Judge. And there are answers to those things. So it really does promote love; I promise you it does.

6. Your delight makes God look good.

You should pursue your joy in God because it glorifies God. It glorifies God. How do you glorify an all-sufficient, all-satisfying fountain?

If there’s a spring in a mountain, and it is overflowing with the sweetest, all-satisfying, life-giving water, how do you glorify it? By going down into the valley, and taking your buckets of Christian service, and filling up the buckets from some river, and hauling them up and say, “Here, may I be of service, spring?” and dumping those mighty buckets into the spring? “I served you, I magnified you, because I sacrificed — I sweat, I sweat, to get that bucket up here.” And the spring would say, “Thank you, anyway; I have all the water I need. Do you want to glorify me? You want to magnify me? Drop your buckets.”

I’m telling you tonight, folks, would you drop your buckets, Wheaton students? Just drop your buckets. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Fall on your face at the fountain, and put your mouth in the water and drink.

Come, everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
     come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
     and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
     and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1–2)

You’re broke, you’re thirsty, you’re hungry. You glorify an all-satisfying fountain by dropping all your buckets, falling on your face, drinking, lifting up your face and saying, “Ahh,” and then in the strength which that supplies, you go back down to the valley and tell everybody about the spring.