Previous: Desiring God Part One
Hello, and welcome back to the book club! Last time, we looked at the first half of John Piper’s Desiring God. Now we look at the rest of the book. In Chapter Six, Piper looks at the connection between prayer and Christian Hedonism. As in the earlier chapters, Piper counters the criticism that his philosophy of Christian Hedonism reduces prayer to serving our needs and pleasures. Rather, it is ‘the pursuit of our interest and our happiness is never above God’s, but always in God’s. The most precious truth of the Bible is that God’s greatest interest is to glorify the wealth of His grace by making sinners happy in Him – in Him! … In John 14:13, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In John 16:24, He says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” The unity of these two goals – the glory of God and the joy of His children – is clearly preserved in the act of prayer.’ (Pgs.159 & 160).
Piper goes on to elaborate that the reason we seek God’s glory is because He is able to give blessings from His presence, in the same manner that Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman He was the everlasting water. ‘God gets the glory; we get the delight. He gets the glory precisely because He shows Himself full and strong to deliver us into joy. And we attain fullness of joy precisely because He is the all-glorious source and goal of life’ (Pg.163). We should also rejoice in God when He answers our prayer, not in a begrudging indifferent sense, but in a way that shows that we joyfully love the blessings that He gives us. However, we should not be enamored with the things of this world otherwise we end up becoming what the Epistle of James calls an “adulterous people”, where we wish for “friendship” with the world. The only antidote to this, while keeping God in mind is to see the material things and sensations of this world as gifts from God: ‘In other words, if created thing are seen and handled as gifts of God and as mirrors of His glory, they need not be occasions of idolatry – if our delight in them is always also a delight in their Maker. Therefore, it may or may not be idolatry to pray for the mailman to come. If we are only enamored by the short-term, worldly pleasures his uniform gives, it is idolatry. But if we consider the uniform a gracious bonus to the real delight of the divine messages, then it is not idolatry’ (Pgs.166, 167).
Another aspect that Piper focuses on is the idea that, in praying, we are actually asking God to perform our needs, not asking if we can do His needs for Him. Serving God is not, in itself, a bad thing; however in the Bible in texts like Acts 17:24-25 and Psalm 50:12, 15 it states that He is not bound with any temples, nor does he need human servants to help him do His bidding. To treat God in a manner where we are just trying to do his work for him is saying that he is just the same as the idols that were denounced by Isaiah and Jeremiah, which cannot do anything because they were made of stone and wood. In the end, ‘God aims to exalt Himself by working for those who wait for Him. Prayer is the essential activity of waiting for God – acknowledging our helplessness and His power, calling upon Him for help, seeking His counsel. Since His purpose in the world is to be exalted for His mercy, it is evident why prayer is so often commanded by God. Prayer is the antidote for the disease of self-confidence, which opposes God’s goal of getting glory by working for those who wait for Him’ (Pgs.170-171). Therefore we as sinful human beings must depend upon Him at all times because we are cannot do good without Him.
God is the giver of good gifts who provide us with these gifts to help us on our journey and, in turn, we give Him the glory. Serving God without asking for his help and without any joy whatsoever, does Him a disservice and robs Him of much. Therefore, prayer is important, because as our “nerve center”, it in turn gives us joy: ‘Separation from Jesus means sadness. Restoration of fellowship means joy. Therefore, we learn that no Christian can have fullness of joy without a vital fellowship with Jesus Christ. Knowledge about Him will not do. Work for Him will not do. We must have personal, vital fellowship with Him; otherwise, Christianity becomes a joyless burden’ (Pg.175). Also prayer is our “walkie-talkie” to Jesus during this battle on earth because it gives us power to fight the forces of darkness that would surround and stop us. Prayer is not really a domestic intercom for our personal needs. Besides, our joy in God will overflow to other people who will be touched and converted by our joy. And that is the final reason for prayer: that it will touch millions and lead them to Jesus.
Most of us found the arguments that Piper uses in this chapter to be good. GM says that we often pray for ourselves, however when he and his wife are praying for something they would like to happen, they are usually praying for someone else. This led to the question I asked “Do we often feel glory and joy when spending time with God?” In the case of J, she said that those feelings are generally present during her longer and deeper prayers.
In the case of Piper’s arguments, E says that it takes a bit to get your head around what he says, because he seems to turn everything upside-down. Especially where he talks about not serving God, but being served by Him. What Piper says needs thought. Understanding what he says isn’t automatic, though he makes a good argument. GM says that the whole book is a bit like that. Even the book title, “Christian Hedonism”, is unexpected. GK, in particular, had always thought of serving God as a positive thing and had not considered that serving God may actually be an insult to Him! It does make sense when you think about it. GM says that God wants us to do work for Him. He doesn’t need it, but He wants us to be involved. If you work for a higher cause, a better thing – at the end of the day you feel better for it – so by us working for God, it’s helping us. We’re doing God’s work, therefore we have more worth, and therefore it’s better for us. GK says that God gives us work to do because work is good for us – not because He needs the job done.
As for the topic of suffering, Piper goes on to say that you get joy and satisfaction from doing things for God – and that’s something that you gain. You get happiness by becoming involved in something that’s good and working at that, and then you get the by-product of standing back and saying, “ooh, I’m happy in what I’ve been doing.” We’re worshiping God, not for God, but for our sake. It’s good for us to worship God. Anything that we do that God is encouraging us to do, comes back to being good for us. In a way that’s what ‘hedonism’ is. It’s getting something good out of things, and that’s what happens as a Christian. For example, Piper shares that all the good times Malcolm Muggeridge had in his life, came from suffering. This in turn lead to us discussing the word “hedonism”. E says that the dictionary definition of ‘hedonism’ is, “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.” So what Piper is saying is that satisfaction of your desires is found in God, so the highest good is found with God. J says that, in the secular world, hedonism has an entirely different meaning. It relates to seeking pleasure by sensual means, such as wining, dining, parties, having plentiful sex etc. Which is why Piper used that word, because higher seeking of good is NOT found in that word. For both Christians and non-Christians alike, it is an inflammatory word.
In Chapter 7, Piper turns his attention to the subject of money. On the one hand, he says that there are verses in the Bible such as 1 Timothy 6, where Paul tells Timothy that the “love of money is the root of all evil”, especially since false teachers ‘think that godliness is a means for gain’ (Pg.186). This is very relevant to our capitalistic society where even the church is trying to get in on the act: ‘The godliness market is hot for bestsellers and music makers and dispensers of silver crosses and fish buckles and olivewood letter openers and bumper stickers and lucky-water crosses with Jesus on the front and miracle water inside guaranteed to make you win at bingo or your money back in ninety days. These are good days for gain in godliness’ (Pgs.186-187)!
But Piper also points out that, while Paul adds a caveat against gain in using godliness for money, he is not against Christians being motivated by profit. Rather he wants them to find greater gain in godliness with contentment: ‘Godliness is the way to get this great gain, but only if we are content with simplicity rather than greedy for riches, “Godliness with contentment is great gain’ (Pg.187). Also, Piper says that there is a difference in how we use our money, some people use the money to gain a power boost and an excuse to make more money, while others use it for an altruistic purpose. The difference is how a quality like contentment can help us handle wealth.
Piper shows how contentment can help us deal with wealth by citing from 1 Timothy 6:7-10 three reasons why wealth should not be our main goal:
‘1. In verse 7 (Paul) says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” ’ (Pg.188). In other words, we came into this world empty-handed and we cannot take material things with us beyond the grave, so there is no point in storing for something that will be left behind!
‘2. Then, in verse 8, Paul adds the second reason not to pursue wealth: “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Christians can be and ought to be content with simple necessities of life. … First, when you have God near you and for you, you don’t need extra money or extra things to give you peace and security. …
Second, we can be content with simplicity because the deepest, most satisfying delights God gives us through creation are free gifts from nature and from loving relationships with people. After your basic needs are met, accumulated money begins to diminish your capacity for these pleasures rather than increase them. Buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart’s capacity for joy.
‘Third, we should be content with the simple necessities of life because we could invest the extra we make for what really counts.’ Therefore, what Piper suggests is we send the money to evangelize the unconverted to Christian Hedonism instead of hoarding wealth for ourselves. ‘The revolution of joy and freedom it would cause at home would be the best local witness imaginable. The biblical call is that you can and ought to be content with life’s simple necessities.’
‘3. The third reason not to pursue wealth is that the pursuit will end in the destruction of your life’ (Pg.191). Part of the reason is because all the images associated with our Western culture will tempt and lead astray, but instead of getting better, we will only be more disconcerted and unhappy. Therefore, Piper encourages us to simply say “no” to the desire for more riches and “yes” to the Christian truth, especially when we learn to be content with what we have already.
The only way for Christian Hedonists (especially rich ones) to live with wealth is to pursue the rewards of heaven, our union with God, which is the only wealth that we should aim for in this life. We should also share with others this reward and, by doing so, bring them to salvation. Ironically, some commentators have said that this is “selfish”, but Piper says that it is only selfish when we do it for material gain. ‘The aim of this parable [of the Shrewd Steward] is to instruct the disciples in the right and loving use of world possessions. Jesus does not say that the result of such use is to receive eternal dwellings. He says to make it your aim to secure an eternal dwelling by the use of your possessions’ (Pgs.194-195).
This leads to Piper’s advice concerning wealth, derived again from 1 Timothy 6. First, we must not let our wealth lead us into a false sense of pride concerning our money and possessions, such as who has the most toys. ‘Money’s chief attractions are the power it gives and the pride it feeds. Paul says, Don’t let this happen’ (Pg.197). The second admonition is that we should never set our hopes on material gain and, in doing so, lose sight of God. Piper goes on to criticize the “prosperity doctrine”, saying that it does nothing except contribute to our own welfare, with nothing to offer the rest of the world materially and spiritually. At the same time, when Piper asks us to be content with the “simple necessities of life”, he is not asking us to be content with too little. Rather, we should have what he calls a “wartime” lifestyle, which is ‘style of life that is unencumbered with nonessentials –… A wartime lifestyle implies that there is a great and worthy cause for which to spend and be spent (2 Corinthians 12:15)’ (Pgs.199 & 200).
The third and final piece of advice to Christians is to ‘“be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). Once they are liberated from the magnet of pride and once their hope is set on God, not money, only one thing can happen: Their money will flow freely to multiply the manifold ministries of Christ’ (Pg.201). There is nothing wrong with having material gain, the only sin is letting it get in the way of both God and helping others. Therefore, a Christian should simply use his or her material wealth for the good of others.
E thinks that money should be a no-brainer. You cannot be more keen on money than you are on God. GM says that money isn’t actually the thing. No-one actually gets excited about the notes, the coins. It’s what they feel money can do for them, what thing you can get. E says that sometimes it is about the status people get from money. GM agrees, saying it is not the money itself, it’s what you aim to do with it. That’s what Piper is saying. It’s what comes with money, and that is material things. J in turn wondered about where the boundary is with money, how much is OK to spend on small treats for oneself. The ideal is of course to not want anything but God. GK adds that we should also accept the blessings He showers on us.
This lead to asking if we should keep money to look after ourselves. GM posited that if you said, “I’ll give everything away”, someone’s then got to look after you. God will actually do it, but someone will have to give you the money. Paul talks about being married and the responsibilities that go with that. GK says that it is all about having the right level of money that makes you most effective. Having more, or having less than the right level of money, makes you less effective. If you’re not looking after your family, yourself, or even your local church, then you’re not being effective. GM says that most people look upon money as a form of security, e.g., the large numbers of people who always buy tickets in Tattslotto. J says that the media have followed the lives of some of those who won $1 million, and the major finding was that they had more comfortable surroundings, but the money hadn’t solved any of their other problems. E says that you need to be sensible and practical with money. We were born with a brain and God expects us to use it. One of us mentioned the example of St. Francis of Assisi who gave up all he owned, but maybe not everybody is called to do that. In the end, it is all about your attitude to money. To which GM added the old saying: “The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.”
In Chapter Eight, Piper turns his attention to the subject of marriage. He starts off by focusing on Ephesians 5, where husbands are encouraged to love their wives in much the same way that Jesus loves the church. Jesus also wants to cleanse and sanctify His bride in order to make her holy as well as sharing His joy with her. However, as mentioned in the introduction of this book, there are some who object to this passage, saying that it should be a “selfless” love, especially in keeping with Christ’s command of “hating” his life and “losing” it for the sake of the gospel. But Piper disagrees:
‘According to this text (Ephesians 5:29-30), love is the pursuit of our joy in the holy joy of the beloved. There is no way to exclude self-interest from love, for self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be full in the life and purity of the beloved.’
As for the text about “hating” our lives, Piper says that Jesus did it for the joy set before Him, of saving our lives from sin and bringing us to salvation. The same applies to the saints who, at the end of the age, ‘were willing to be killed for Jesus, but by hating their lives in this way, they “conquered” Satan and gained the glory of heaven: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10)’ (Pg.207).
Piper says that humans have a natural desire for seeking happiness, joy, and delight in everything. Piper even quotes Paul on the subject of loving our neighbor but in the dispassionate way we are (assumed) to love ourselves in the same way. The same also applies to marriage where the husband would love his wife in the same manner as he loves himself and not for any selfish and lustful gain.
Piper then goes on to give us a biblical definition of marriage, that Ephesians 5:31 gives quoting Genesis 2:24: ‘ “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Paul adds in verse 32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Pg.210). Piper then looks at the creation of Eve because ‘God made man to be a sharer. God created us not to be cul-de-sacs of His bounty, but conduits. No man is complete unless he is conducting grace (like electricity) between God and another person’ (Pg.210). It was for this that God created Eve because only she can be a counterpart to Adam, not like any other animal because animals cannot appreciate grace in the same way a human can. However, in Eve there are also some subtle differences as well:
‘By creating a person like Adam, yet very unlike Adam, God provided the possibility of a profound unity that otherwise would have been impossible. A different kind of unity is enjoyed by the joining of diverse counterparts than is enjoyed by joining two things just alike. When we all sing the same melody line, it is called unison, which means “one sound.” But when we unite diverse lines of soprano and alto and tenor and bass, we call it harmony; and everyone who has an ear to hear knows that something deeper in us is touched by great harmony than by mere unison.’
This is also re-enforced by the words that Adam uses for Eve: “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” because it illustrates the fact that Eve is a part of Adam, which is also described in Paul’s writing about why a man should leave his parents and become one with his wife. ‘Verse 24 (in Genesis 2) draws out the lesson that marriage is just that: a man leaving father and mother because God has given him another; a man holding fast to this woman alone and no other; and a man discovering the experience of being one flesh with this woman’ (Pg.212). Piper then elaborates on the marriage being a mystery that shows that we, as Christians, are one with Jesus and share His grace with others. In his epistles, Paul mentions the relationship between Christ and the church as a husband and wife. Some think that Paul was using marriage to describe the relationship between Christ and the church, when actually it was the other way around:
‘Therefore, marriage is a mystery – it contains and conceals a meaning far greater than what we see on the outside. God created man male and female and ordained marriage so that the eternal covenant relationship between Christ and His church would be imaged forth in the marriage union. As Geoffrey Bromiley has written, “As God made man in his own image, so he made marriage in the image of his own eternal marriage with his people.”
Piper then goes on to give the proper definition of the roles between wives and husbands. In the case of the wife, we need to properly understand it’s meaning in scripture, especially with the claim that “wives should submit to their husbands”. Piper says that we need to look at what Paul wrote in context with classical writers. For example, Philo, a contemporary of Paul’s, wrote that the husband should be “head” in the same sense that an actual head be in charge of the whole body in the sense that it is supreme. In Paul’s case, however, the husband also possesses authority over his wife, but, because he is “head” of a “body” the husband gain “nourishment” from his wife, especially in terms of the five senses and other forms of nourishment. But even Piper states that there are limits to the idea that wives should submit to their husband:
‘The reason I say a disposition to yield and an inclination to follow is that no submission of one human being to another is absolute. The husband does not replace Christ as the woman’s supreme authority. She must never follow her husband’s leadership into sin. But even when a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.’
The same applies to the husband, that he not be a complete and utter brute but, rather, be the submissive leader that Christ was for His bride, the church. And sometimes, their roles can change from time to time, for example a husband who may not be good at Bible reading would often allow the wife to lead the family devotions. In the end, though, what Piper is saying is that most marriage and human sexual roles have become tainted by the Fall and both need redemption: ‘The redemption we anticipate at the coming of Christ is not the dismantling of the created order of loving headship and willing submission, but a recovery of it. This is precisely what we find in Ephesians 5:21-33. Wives, redeem your fallen submission by modeling it after God’s intention for the church! Husbands, redeem your fallen headship by modeling it after God’s intention for Christ!’
We talked about the “perfect marriage”, and we agree on one point: it’s non-existent. GK thought that the idea that marriage was a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church and not the other way around was an interesting view.
Most of us agreed that Paul’s view of husbands and wives is not a popular one these days. E says that, when people talk about it they always focus on the wife, when actually it’s the husband that has got the hardest job. He has to love his wife the way Christ loved the church which is to give himself completely to her. Our modern version of the word submission has connotations that don’t help things. Piper does allow all that there may be something that the husband is not good at, such as the example given above, of a husband whose his wife does the Bible readings. It’s not ‘submission’ in the sense that the husband always has to be right and has to do everything perfectly. The husband does have the final responsibility for making the decisions.
However, this chapter also puzzled us. We noted that, elsewhere, Piper seems to turn everything upside down but somehow it all makes perfect sense. Here, one of us, GM, was unable to see how this chapter fits in with the rest of the book. In all the other chapters he turns things on their head – he attends to switch things around – but in this chapter it’s all pretty classical. It doesn’t mesh with the general style of the book. It was noted that the church has not been the submissive bride to Christ that it should have been, and it is suffering because of it. J expressed sadness regarding the damage done to God’s reputation. The world doesn’t seem to make the distinction between the bad behaviour of Christians, who are human beings – and Lord Jesus/God, who is perfect in every way.
In Chapter Nine, Piper turns his attention to the topic of missions, especially in relation to Christian Hedonism. Piper begins by quoting from Ralph Winter, founder of the US Center for World Mission who stated that most people in retirement die within two years. Winter and Piper use this to show that even Christians today who retire can still use their time and talent to foster the Christian faith, especially in other countries. In fact, even figures like Moses and Paul didn’t just “retire” in today’s sense of the word, they still did God’s work and died with their boots on! This is relevant in today’s Christian culture where even Christians just shrug at the concept of evangelization and assume that God can save everybody even if they haven’t heard the gospel preached. But Piper disagrees saying that ‘(t)hose who have never heard the gospel will be judged by their failure to own up to the light of God’s grace and power in nature and in their own conscience. … Apart from the special, saving grace of God, people are dead in sin, darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, and hardened in heart (Ephesians 2:1, 4:18). And the means God has ordained to administer that special grace is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (Pgs.227-228).
The best way of achieving this is to become “World Christians”, in which their sole focus is the conversion of the world. But all they need to do is to believe that God can do the impossible, which is something that Piper uses from the account of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31). ‘If God were not in charge of the affair, doing the humanly impossible, the missionary task would be hopeless. Who but God can raise the spiritually dead and give them an ear for the gospel? “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). The great missionary hope is that when the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, God Himself does what man cannot do – He creates the faith that saves’ (Pg.235). Our God is a powerful God who can do mighty miracles and He can lead people from different countries to faith. And Christian Hedonists really delight in the missionary emphasis of leading others to Christ.
‘This great confidence of the missionary enterprise is given again by Jesus with different words in John 10:16:
‘ “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
‘Notice three powerful encouragements in this text for frontier missionaries:
‘1. Christ does indeed have other sheep outside the present fold!’ There are many sheep out there and God not only sends out missionaries but encourages them even during the most difficult of circumstances, as in the case of Paul, who had encouragement in a dream when working in Corinth (Acts 18).
‘2. … Christ is under a divine necessity to gather His own sheep.’ God can bring men to faith, but He chose to use us to do so. This is especially true in the case of the missionary William Carey, who considered himself ‘ a poor and helpless worm”, nevertheless was instrumental in bringing others to Christ.
‘3. The third encouragement from this verse is that the sheep He calls will surely come. … What is impossible with man is possible with God! When Paul was finished preaching in the city of Antioch, Luke described the result like this: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48). God has a people in every people group. He will call them with Creator power. And they will believe!’
Another great piece for Christian Hedonists from Mark 10:17-31, is that the missionaries who lose their lives for Jesus’ sake and the Gospel’s will receive a hundredfold in the life to come. This will be of great comfort to missionaries who suffer greatly because their main desire is found in God alone and nowhere else. GM noted the interesting worldwide trend in relation to people being converted. The way it is going, it looks like everyone will soon be converted. Missionary work is not so much about converting people. It has more to do with letting people know about the Gospel and leaving it up to God to do the rest. Our job is to let as many people know about the Word as we can. In today’s modern secular society, past missionaries have received a lot of flack for the harm they did to the non-Christian cultures they came across. To someone like GM, all other religious beliefs are misguided, or wrong, or worse than that, because they’re not Christian. But that’s looked upon as being very arrogant and intolerant. What right have I to say that they’re wrong? Well, my right is that the Bible says they’re wrong. But that’s not counted as an argument, if you don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God. There might be some aspects of other religions that might come close to seeing God, however the idea that we’re all going to end up going the same way, we’ve just got different names for God…well, they’re different. They have different ideas, and the ideas don’t mesh. To be a missionary, you really have to have a strong desire for God, because missionary work is not easy work.
In Chapter Ten, Piper focuses his attention on suffering. He starts off with a quote from a Cistercian abbot about whether, after his life on earth is done, he will discover that there is no God and all his prayers and activity were for nothing. The abbot replied by saying that ‘ “Holiness, silence, and sacrifice are beautiful in themselves, even without promise of reward. I still will have used my life well.” ’ (Pg.254). This statement, to Piper, runs against what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” This runs against the grain of our prosperous Western societies:
‘The answer seems to be that the Christian life for Paul was not the so-called good life of prosperity and ease. Instead, it was a life of freely chosen suffering beyond anything we ordinarily experience. Paul’s belief in God and his confidence in resurrection and his hope in eternal fellowship with Christ did not produce a life of comfort and ease that would have been satisfying even without resurrection. No, what his hope produced was a life of chosen suffering. Yes, he knew joy unspeakable. But it was a “rejoicing in hope” (Romans 12:12 NASB). And that hope freed him to embrace sufferings that he never would have chosen apart from the hope of his own resurrection and the resurrection of those for whom he suffered. If there is no resurrection, Paul’s sacrificial choices, by his own testimony, were pitiable. Yes, there was joy and a sense of great significance in his suffering. But the joy was there only because of the joyful hope beyond suffering’ (Pgs.255-256).
Piper points out that ‘Christians accept as part of a choice to be openly Christian in risky situations’ (Pg.256) can lead to suffering. Now there maybe different types of suffering as well as many different reasons behind it. However, a Christian can still suffer when caring for the sick and vulnerable because it reflects the Christian’s commitment to God and to undergoing any type of torment for His glory. Piper even says that suffering can come from the devil as well as God but there is a big difference between the two: ‘(Suffering is) intended by Satan for the destruction of our faith and governed by God for the purifying of our faith’ (Pg.257). This is true in the case of the apostle Paul who, in 2 Corinthians, complained of having a thorn in his flesh and, in spite of begging God to be rid of it, realized that this “thorn” was a way of making sure that Paul would rely less on his own strength and more on God’s grace.
It is this attitude that helps to differentiate the Christian hedonism from just indulging ourselves in gluttony. In earthy gluttony, we are merely being satisfied with what is only temporary, while in fulfilling our glory with Christ, we are residing in what is eternal. This includes suffering in both persecution and illness. The reason is because, in our flesh, we are revealing Christ’s sufferings:
‘As Paul contemplated the path of his Master, he was moved to follow. But just at this point I have been astonished by Paul’s words. When he describes the relationship between Christ’s sufferings and his own, he speaks what seems unspeakable. He says to the Colossian church, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up (antanaplero) what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (hustremata) for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). This may be the most powerful motive for Paul’s choosing a life of suffering. These words have filled me with longing for the church of Jesus Christ. Oh, that we would embrace the necessary suffering appointed for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world!
What does Paul mean that he “fills what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ”? Is this a belittling of the all-sufficient, atoning worth of the death of Jesus? Did not Jesus Himself say as He died, “It is finished” (John 19:30)? Is it not true that “by a single offering [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14)? And that “he entered once for all into the holy places … by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12)? Paul knew and taught that the afflictions of Christ were a complete and sufficient ground for our justification. We are “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9). Paul taught that Christ chose suffering and was “obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:8). That obedient suffering, as the climax of a perfect life of righteousness (Matthew 3:15), was the all-sufficient ground of our righteousness before God. “As by [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the obedience of [Christ] the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). So Paul does not mean that his suffering complete the atoning worth of Jesus’ afflictions.’
To illustrate this point, Piper looks at a whole variety of Christians who suffered for their faith such as Epaphroditus and a 20th century Russian Christian named Natasha Zhdanova, who underwent much sufferings and touched the lives of all who witnessed their sufferings. Suffering might also help the church to grow in numbers and influence.
But the most important question to ask is what has suffering got to do with Christian Hedonism? To this Piper answers that, after the end of all pain and persecution, the chief end of all is the hope and resurrection in Jesus:
‘Christian Hedonism says that there are different ways to rejoice in suffering as a Christian. … One way is expressed by Jesus in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (cf. Luke 6:22-23). One way of rejoicing in suffering comes from fixing our minds firmly on the greatness of the reward that will come to us in the resurrection. The effect of this kind of focus is to make our present pain seem small in comparison to what is coming.’ … . Another way of rejoicing in suffering comes from the effects of suffering on our assurance of hope. Joy in affliction is rooted in the hope of resurrection, but our experience of suffering also deepens the root of that hope.
‘Another way of rejoicing in suffering is kindled by the truth that our joy itself is a proven pathway to glory. Joy in suffering comes not only (1) from focusing on our reward and (2) from the solidifying effect of suffering on our sense of genuineness, but also (3) from the promise that joy in suffering will secure eternal joy in the future. …
‘The fourth way of rejoicing in suffering we have seen already. It comes from realizing that through our suffering others are seeing the worth of Christ and standing firm because of our faith in the fire. … This is the joy of Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” When we suffer to show others the love of Christ and the worth of Christ, it is because every new convert that stands firm in faith is a new, unique prism for refracting the all-satisfying glory of Christ.’
It is this view of suffering that Piper claims should make Christian Hedonists embrace suffering and to do it for the sake of God.
In my case, suffering has made me open myself up to my parents more often, especially when I have problems in my life that I can’t get my head around. Sometimes it’s impossible to be self-sufficient. J loved all the stories of extreme suffering for Christ in this chapter. She felt very inspired by the descriptions of the great joy the people experienced, whilst in the midst of their profound suffering. GM says that there’s the classic case of the martyrs and the way they withstood what was done to them. They died so bravely that it converted so many of the Romans. To which I added the quote from Tertullian: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
GM says that Piper is actually putting up with the suffering now because of the future glory that is coming. So it is a hedonistic attitude, but we can also take pleasure in things right now, because we have this hope ahead of us. For example, in Revelation chapter 7 where Christian martyrs rejoiced for in dying for Jesus. Yet, the idea of suffering can be taken to a perverse direction. For example, Thomas A’Beckitt, who died, and was found to be wearing a hair shirt underneath his clothing, plus in the example of some people who kept flogging themselves. So, you can take the idea to an extreme. There’s suffering for a cause, and then there’s just suffering.
I asked GM about the quote from the Cisterian abbot, because, to him, it seemed to imply that it means nothing. GM says that he felt that it was a pretty weak answer, and that he sometimes think that we have lost our nerve in stating what is right and true. In a modern society we’re too scared to make a stand. We want to say, “It’s wrong”, but we say, “It’s not wrong”. So we tend to say wishy-washy things. Some examples GM cites is the debate on same-sex marriage and the attack on Israel Folau for expressing his views on homosexuality. However, J says that she thought that it was the way the message was delivered by him that was the main problem, especially given today’s social media. As for suffering for our faith, GM says that he has not had to do that. But J says that she has a little bit . Looking back now though, J can see that the problem lay in her delivery, when she was a much newer Christian, trying to share the Gospel, doing it badly, and getting frog-marched out of someone’s house. Actually she had that done to her a few times! She is not afraid to suffer in order to get some sort of message across, and hopefully her delivery these days is much gentler, though one can never be sure!
At the end of the book, Piper gives seven reasons why he wishes to share his philosophy of Christian Hedonism:
Reason One: It’s My Pleasure
Piper sincerely feels that it is his pleasure to share this idea with the rest of the world, especially when he compares himself to the lepers in 2 Kings 7 when they see God’s victory over the Syrians. Piper just wants to share the good news with others.
Reason Two: God is Breathtaking
Piper feels that God, seen through the prism of Christian Hedonism, is simply awe-inspiring. This is evident given the human appreciation of beauty in everything, ranging from nature to material objects. Yet these will not ultimately satisfy until we have tasted the eternal God.
Reason Three: The Word of God Commands Us to Pursue Our Joy
Piper urges us to eagerly pursue our joy in God. Some people may object to it, stating that Christians are not meant to have any joy. But Piper says that we should not treat our joy in God in a “mechanical” manner, nor should we place “lesser” joys above and beyond the joy of God. As for scripture such as Exodus 32:32 and Romans 9:3, where both Moses and Paul express a wish to die rather than witness the destruction of their people, Piper explains that this is hypothetical conjecture on their (Moses’ and Paul’s) part rather than a legitimate wish.
Reason Four: Affections are Essential to the Christian Life, Not Optional
Piper argues that our affections are very essential to our enjoyment of God, and we are to take delight in Christ. In fact, the Bible even mentions many emotions, such as joy, fear, and desire. The only sin we need to combat against is that of cold-hearted sense of “duty” which would kill our affections stone-cold dead.
Reason Five: Christian Hedonism Combats Pride and Self-Pity
The reason Christian Hedonism is opposed to both boasting (glorifying in our works) and self-pity (glorifying in our suffering) is because they can lead to pride. Both come from pride, especially pity because it comes from a wounded ego, and when we glorify God, we take the axe to our proud behaviour and leave the rest in God’s hands. Even Matthew 6 says that we should rejoice in our suffering!
Reason Six: Christian Hedonism Promotes Genuine Love for People
Piper says that, once we are born of God, we will love to be kind and, once motivated by a true love for God, we will want to share with the rest of the world. We also should do so cheerfully because “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor.9:7).
Reason Seven: Christian Hedonism Glorifies God
Finally, we should place our own pleasure in God. This is against doing things that do not honour Him, such as taking part in “solemn assemblies” and not delighting in God alone during the Sabbath. ‘The enjoyment and the glorification of God are one. His eternal purpose and our eternal pleasure unite. To magnify His name and multiply your joy is the reason I have written this book, for:
‘The chief end of man is to glorify God
‘enjoying Him forever.’
One of the things we liked about his book was the topsy-turvy aspect, except for the chapter on marriage. Piper has deliberately twisted everything around and made a very good case in most instances. GM like the general idea that we should have emotion and should enjoy our experience with God. We’ve come from a tradition of things being very solemn in church. Piper is reinforcing the idea that there is emotion in worship, and there should be joy in worshipping God. Especially given those who remember growing up in church, where it was solemn, and you had to wear your Sunday best too.
We discussed the difference between happiness and joy. Also noted the importance of attending church and groups with fellow Christians, as often our joy in worshipping and glorifying God is magnified at those times. GK said ‘joy’ is not an emotion. As for E, she says joy is a state of being more than anything. We all agreed that we had enjoyed reading Piper’s book. Whilst she enjoyed this book, J said her favourite for the year had been Tim Keller’s book, as she found it deeper and more satisfyingly complex.
Thanks for joining us on our discussion of John Piper’s book. Join next time as we look at Part One of Tim Costello’s A Lot with a Little.
John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Multnomah Books. (Rev. Ed.) 2011