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Therefore, it is essential that we be Christian Hedonists on the horizontal level in our relationships with other people, and not just on the vertical axis in our relationship with God. If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of other people, and if God loves such joyful givers, then this joy in giving is a Christian duty, and the effort not to pursue it is sin.
But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much
affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Notice how Paul’s pursuit of their joy and his own joy relates to love. In
verse 2 he gives the reason he did not make another painful visit to Corinth:
“For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?” In other words, Paul’s motive here is to preserve his own joy. He says in effect: “If I destroy your joy, then my joy goes, too.” Why? Because their joy is precisely what gives him joy!
It is clear from 1:24 that the joy in view is the joy of faith. It is the joy of knowing and resting in God’s grace—the same joy that moved the Macedonians to be generous (8:1–3). When this joy abounds in his converts, Paul feels great joy himself, and he unashamedly tells them that the reason he does not want to rob them of their joy is that this would rob him of his joy. This is the way a Christian Hedonist talks.
In 2:3 he gives the reason he sent them a painful letter: “I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.” Here his motive is the same, up to a point. He says he did not want to be pained. He wants joy, not pain. He is a Christian Hedonist! But he goes a step further here than in verse 2. He says the reason he wants joy, not pain, is that he is confident that his joy is also their joy: “For I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.” So verse 3 is the converse of verse 2. In verse 2 the point is that their joy is his joy; that is, when they are glad, he feels glad in their gladness. And the point of verse 3 is that his joy is their joy; that is, when he is glad, they feel glad in his gladness.
Then verse 4 makes the connection with love explicit. He says the reason he had written them was “to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” So what is love? Love abounds between us when your joy is mine and my joy is yours. I am not loving just because I seek your joy, but because I seek it as mine.
LOV E Suppose I tell one of my sons, “Be nice to your brother; help him clean up the room; try to make him happy, not miserable.” What if he does help his brother clean up the room, but pouts the whole time and generally exudes unhappiness? Is there virtue in his effort? Not much. What’s wrong is that his brother’s happiness is not his own happiness. When he helps his brother, he does not pursue his joy in his brother’s happiness. He is not acting like a Christian Hedonist. His labor is not the labor of love. It is the labor of legalism—he acts out of mere duty to escape punishment.
LOVE DELIGHTS TO CAUSE AND
CONTEMPLATE JOY IN OTHERSNow consider the relationship between the images of love in 2 Corinthians 8 and 2. In chapter 8, love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others. It is the impulse of a fountain to overflow. It originates in the grace of God, which overflows freely because it delights to fill the empty. Love shares the nature of that grace because it too delights to overflow freely to meet the needs of others.
In chapter 2, love is what exists between people when they find their joy in each other’s joy. Is this in contradiction to the love of chapter 8, where joy comes from God and overflows to others? It sounds in chapter 2 like joy is coming from the joy of other people, not from God. How do these two ways of talking about love relate to each other?
I think the answer is that love not only delights to cause joy in those who are empty (2 Corinthians 8), but also delights to contemplate joy in those who are full (2 Corinthians 2). And these two delights are not at all in contradiction.
The grace of God delights to grant repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), and it rejoices over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). Therefore, when our hearts are filled with joy in the grace of God, we want not only to cause the joy of others, but also to contemplate it when it exists in others.
So it is not inconsistent to say that love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others and to say that love is finding your joy in the joy of another. If love is the labor of Christian Hedonism, which delights to
beget its joy in others, then it is also the leisure of Christian Hedonism, which delights to behold this joy begotten in others.5 LOVE WEEPS But Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2 raise another question. In verse 4 he says he wrote “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” Is this a heart of love? I have stressed so heavily that love is the overflow of joy that someone might think there is no place for grief or anguish in the heart of love and no place for tears on its face. That would be very wrong.
The contentment of a Christian Hedonist is not a Buddha-like serenity, unmoved by the hurts of others. It is a profoundly dissatisfied contentment. It is constantly hungry for more of the feast of God’s grace. And even the measure of contentment that God grants contains an insatiable impulse to expand itself to others (2 Corinthians 8:4; 1 John 1:4). Christian joy reveals itself as dissatisfied contentment whenever it perceives human need. It starts to expand in love to fill that need and bring about the joy of faith in the heart of the other person. But since there is often a time lapse between our perception of a person’s need and
5. Historically, ethicists have tended to distinguish these two forms of love as agape and eros, or benevolence and complacency. Not only is there no linguistic basis for such a distinction, but conceptually both resolve into one kind of love at the root.
God’s agape does not “transcend” His eros, but expresses it. God’s redeeming, sacrificial love for His sinful people is described by Hosea in the most erotic terms: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger…for I am God and not a man” (11:8–9). Concerning His exiled people who had sinned so grievously, God says later through Jeremiah, “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (32:41).
The divine motive of self-satisfying joy is seen also in Jesus’ own ministry. When He was called to give an account of why He lowered Himself to eat with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:1–2), His answer was “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7). Finally, we are told in Hebrews 12:2 by what power Jesus endured suffering: “For the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Should we not infer that in the painful work of redeeming love, God is very interested in the satisfaction that comes from His efforts and that He does demand the pleasure of a great return on His sacrifice?
While there is a sense in which God has no need for creation at all (Acts 17:25) and is profoundly fulfilled and happy in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, yet there is in joy an urge to increase, by expanding itself to others who, if necessary, must first be created and redeemed. This divine urge is God’s desire for the compounded joy that comes from having others share the very joy He has in Himself.
It becomes evident therefore that one should not ask, “Does God seek His own happiness as a means to the happiness of His people, or does He seek their happiness as a means to His own?” For there
is no either-or. They are one. This is what distinguishes a holy, divine eros from a fallen, human one:
God’s eros longs for and delights in the eternal and holy joy of His people.
our eventual rejoicing in the person’s restored joy, there is a place for weeping in that interval. The weeping of compassion is the weeping of joy impeded in the extension of itself to another.
LOVE KEEPS REWARD LOVE MINDTHE OF IN Another tearful experience comes when Paul uncovers his commitment to Christian Hedonism. In Acts 20 he gathers for the last time with elders of the church of Ephesus. There are many tears and much embracing as Paul finishes his farewell address (20:37). But these tears only accent the poignancy of affection the elders have for one who taught them the joy of ministry.
In verse 35, Paul says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” The last thing Paul left ringing in their ears on the beach at Miletus was the ministerial charge of Christian Hedonism: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Most people do not feel the hedonistic force of these words because they do not meditate on the meaning of the word remember. Literally, Paul says, “In all things I have shown you that, so laboring, it is necessary to help the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” In other words, Paul says that two things are necessary: (1) to help the weak and (2) to remember that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Why are both of these things necessary? Why not just help the weak? Why must one also remember that giving brings blessing?
Most Christians today think that while it is true that giving brings blessing, it is not true that one should “remember” this. Popular Christian wisdom says that blessing will come as a result of giving, but that if you keep this fact before you as a motive, it will ruin the moral value of your giving and turn you into a mercenary. The word remember in Acts 20:35 is a great obstacle to this popular wisdom. Why would Paul tell church elders to keep in mind the benefits of ministry, if in fact their doing so would turn ministers into mercenaries?
Christian Hedonism’s answer is that it is necessary to keep in mind the true
rewards of ministry so we will not become mercenaries. C. S. Lewis sees this
We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the thing you do to earn6 it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he married a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.7 I do not see how anyone can honor the word remember in Acts 20:35 and still think it is wrong to pursue the reward of joy in the ministry. On the contrary, Paul thinks it is necessary to keep the joy set firmly before us. This is the last and perhaps most important thing he has to say to the Ephesian elders before he departs. “Remember! It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
LOVE ENJOYS MINISTRYNor is Paul the only apostle who counseled elders to remember and pursue the
blessedness of ministry. In 1 Peter 5:1–2, Peter writes:
I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion,
6. I would never use the word earn for the way Christians come to enjoy the rewards of love. Earn implies the exchange of value from one to another that obligates the other to pay because of the value he has received. But in truth, everything Christians “give” to God is simply a rebound of God’s gift to them. All our service is done “in the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11), so that it is in fact God who “earns” the reward for us and through us. But this does not diminish the helpfulness of Lewis’s comment on the nature of rewards.
7. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 2.
but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.
In other words, “God loves a cheerful pastor.” Notice how hedonistic these admonitions are. Peter does not admonish pastors to simply do their work, come what may. Perseverance through the hard times is good. It is essential! But it is not all that is commanded of pastors. We are commanded to enjoy our work!