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Peter condemns two motives. One is “compulsion.” Don’t do your work under constraint. This means the impulse should come gladly from within, not oppressively from without. Parental pressure, congregational expectations, fear of failure or divine censure—these are not good motives for staying in the pastoral ministry. There should be an inner willingness. We should want to do the ministry. It should be our joy. Joy in ministry is a duty—a light burden and an easy yoke.
The other motive Peter condemns is the desire for money (“not for shameful gain, but eagerly”). If money is the motive, your joy comes not from the ministry, but from the stuff you can buy with your salary. This is what Lewis calls mercenary. The “eagerness” of ministry should not come from the extrinsic reward of money, but from the intrinsic reward of seeing God’s grace flow through you to others.
John gives a good example of this joy in 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” When this kind of reward creates joyful eagerness in ministry, Christ is honored (since He is the “truth” that our people follow) and the people are loved (since they can receive no greater benefit than the grace to follow Christ).
So the command of the apostle Peter is to pursue joy in the ministry. It is not optional. It is not a mere unexpected result. It is a duty! To say that you are indifferent to what the apostle commands you to experience is to be indifferent to the will of God. And that is sin.
Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian pastor in Boston a hundred years ago,
caught the spirit of Peter’s counsel to pastors:
I think, again, that it is essential to the preacher’s success that he should thoroughly enjoy his work. I mean in the actual doing of it, and not only in its idea. No man to whom the details of his task are repulsive can do his task well constantly, however full he may be of its spirit. He may make one bold dash at it and carry it over all his disgusts, but he cannot work on at it year after year, day after day. Therefore, count it not merely a perfectly legitimate pleasure, count it an essential element of your power, if you can feel a simple delight in what you have to do as a minister, in the fervor of writing, in the glow of speaking, in standing before men and moving them, in contact with the young. The more thoroughly you enjoy it, the better you will do it all.
This is all true of preaching. Its highest joy is in the great ambition that is set before it, the glorifying of the Lord and saving of the souls of men. No other joy on earth compares with that. The ministry that does not feel that joy is dead. But in behind that highest joy, beating in humble unison with it, as the healthy body thrills in sympathy with the deep thoughts and pure desires of the mind and soul, the best ministers have always been conscious of another pleasure which belonged to the very doing of the work itself. As we read the lives of all the most effective preachers of the past, or as we meet the men who are powerful preachers of the Word today, we feel how certainly and how deeply the very exercise of their ministry delights them.8
LOVE IS NOT EASILY PLEASEDCan we not then say that the hindrance to loving other people, whether through the pastoral ministry or any other avenue of life, is the same as the hindrance to worship we discovered in chapter 3? The obstacle that keeps us from obeying the first (vertical) commandment is the same obstacle that keeps us from obeying the second (horizontal) commandment. It is not that we are all trying to
8. Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1969, orig. 1907), 53–4, 82–3.
please ourselves, but that we are all far too easily pleased. We do not believe Jesus when He says there is more blessedness, more joy, more lasting pleasure in a life devoted to helping others than there is in a life devoted to our material comfort. And therefore, the very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.
The message that needs to be shouted from the houses of high finance is this: Secular man, you are not nearly hedonistic enough!
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20) Quit being satisfied with the little 5 percent yields of pleasure that get eaten up by the moths of inflation and the rust of death. Invest in the blue-chip, highyield, divinely insured security of heaven. Devoting a life to material comforts and thrills is like throwing money down a rat hole. But investing a life in the
labor of love yields dividends of joy unsurpassed and unending:
“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. [And thus] provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.” (Luke 12:33) This message is very good news: Come to Christ, in whose presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Join us in the labor of Christian Hedonism.
For the Lord has spoken: It is more blessed to love than to live in luxury!
rainy atmosphere of suffering. “The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears.”9 The costly joy of love is illustrated repeatedly in Hebrews 10–12. Consider three examples.
Hebrews 10:32–35 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
Based on my limited experience with suffering, I would have no right in myself to say such a thing is possible—to accept joyfully the plundering of my property. But the authority of Christian Hedonism is not in me; it is in the Bible. I have no right in myself to say, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13). But Peter does because he and the other apostles were beaten for the gospel and “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
And the Christians in Hebrews 10:32–35 have earned the right to teach us about costly love. The situation appears to be this: In the early days of their conversion, some of them were imprisoned for the faith. The others were confronted with a difficult choice: Shall we go underground and stay “safe,” or shall we visit our brothers and sisters in prison and risk our lives and property? They chose the way of love and accepted the cost. “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” But were they losers? No. They lost property and gained joy! They joyfully
9. A Minquass proverb. See Guy A. Zona, ed., The Soul Would Have No Rainbow If the Eye Had No Tears: And Other Native American Proverbs (New York: TouchStone, 1994).
accepted the loss. In one sense they denied themselves. But in another they did not. They chose the way of joy. Evidently, these Christians were motivated for prison ministry the same way the Macedonians (of 2 Corinthians 8:1–9) were motivated to relieve the poor. Their joy in God overflowed in love for others.
They looked at their own lives and said, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (see Psalm 63:3). They looked at all their possessions and said, “We have a possession in heaven that is better and lasts longer than any of this” (Hebrews 10:34).
Then they looked at each other and said:
With joy they “renounced all they had” (Luke 14:33) and followed Christ into the prison to visit their brothers and sisters. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.
Hebrews 11:24–26 To drive the point home, the author of Hebrews gives Moses as an example of this sort of Christian Hedonism. Notice how similar his motivation is to that of
the early Christians in chapter 10:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he [looked] to the reward.
In 10:34 the author said that the desire of the Christians for a better and lasting possession overflowed in joyful love, which cost them their property.
Here in chapter 11, Moses is a hero for the church because his delight in the promised reward overflowed in such joy that he counted the pleasures of Egypt rubbish by comparison and was bound forever to God’s people in love.
There is nothing here about ultimate self-denial. He was given eyes to see that the pleasures of Egypt were “fleeting,” not eternal. He was granted to see that suffering for the cause of the Messiah was “greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” As he considered these things, he was constrained to give himself to the labor of Christian Hedonism—love. And he spent the rest of his days channeling the grace of God to the people of Israel. His joy in God overflowed in a lifetime of service to a recalcitrant and needy people. He chose the way of maximum joy, not the way of “fleeting pleasures.” Hebrews 12:1–2 We raised the question earlier whether the example of Jesus contradicts the principle of Christian Hedonism; namely, that love is the way of joy and that one should choose it for that very reason, lest one be found begrudging obedience to the Almighty or chafing under the privilege of being a channel of grace or belittling the promised reward. Hebrews 12:2 seems to say fairly clearly that Jesus
did not contradict this principle:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The greatest labor of love that ever happened was possible because Jesus pursued the greatest imaginable joy, namely, the joy of being exalted to God’s right hand in the assembly of a redeemed people: “For the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross!” Back in December of 1978, I was trying to explain some of these things to a LOV E college class. As usual, I found some of them quite skeptical. One of the more thoughtful wrote me a letter to express his disagreement. Since this is one of the most serious objections raised against Christian Hedonism, I think it will be helpful to others if I print Ronn’s letter here and my response.
I disagree with your position that love seeks or is motivated by its own pleasure. I suggest that all of your examples are true: You have cited many cases in which personal joy is increased and may even be the motivation for a person to love God or another human.
But you cannot establish a doctrine on the fact that some evidence supports it unless you can show that no evidence contradicts it.
Two examples of the second type:
Picture yourself in Gethsemane with Christ. He is about to perform the supreme act of love in all of history. Walking up to him, you decide to test your position on Christian Hedonism. Should not this supreme love bring great pleasure, abundant joy? Yet what is this you see? Christ is sweating terribly, in anguish, crying. Joy is nowhere to be found. Christ is praying. You hear him ask God if there is any way out.
He tells God the upcoming act will be so hard, so painful. Can’t there be a fun way?
Thank God that Christ chose the hard way.
My second example is not biblical, though there are many more of them. Are you familiar with Dorothy Day? She is a very old woman who has devoted her life to loving others, especially the poor, displaced, downtrodden. Her experience of loving when there was no joy has led her to say: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.” I could not agree more with her than I do.
I would like to know your response to these thoughts. In truth, I do feel this presentation is too simplistic. But it is sincere.
I responded to Ronn the same week. Since then, Dorothy Day has died, but I will leave the references as they were back then. Incidentally, to this day I count Ronn a friend and a sharp thinker about the Christian worldview.
Ronn, Thanks very much for your concern to have a fully biblical stance on this matter of Christian Hedonism—a stance which honors all the evidence. This is my concern, too. So I must ask whether your two examples (Christ in Gethsemane and Dorothy Day in painful service of love) contradict or confirm my position.
(1) Take Gethsemane first. For my thesis to stand I need to be able to show that in spite of the horror of the cross, Jesus’ decision to accept it was motivated by his conviction that this way would bring him more joy than the way of disobedience. Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy that was set before him Christ endured the cross, despising the shame.” In saying this, the writer means to give Jesus as another example, along with the saints of Hebrews 11, of those who are so eager for, and confident in, the joy God offers that they reject the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (11:25) and choose ill-treatment in order to be aligned with God’s will.
It is not unbiblical, therefore, to say that what sustained Christ in the dark hours of Gethsemane was the hope of joy beyond the cross.