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When the Christian Hedonist sees a person without hope or joy, that person’s need becomes like a low-pressure zone approaching the high-pressure zone of joy in God’s grace. In this spiritual atmosphere, a draft is created from the Christian Hedonist’s high-pressure zone of joy to the low-pressure zone of need, as joy tends to expand to fill the need. That draft is called love.
Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. The overflow is experienced consciously as the pursuit of our joy in the joy of another.
We double our delight in God as we expand it in the lives of others. If our ultimate goal were anything less than joy in God, we would be idolaters and no eternal help to anyone. Therefore, the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. And if you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.
C hristian Hedonism is much aware that every day with Jesus is not “sweeter than the day before.” Some days with Jesus our disposition is sour. Some days with Jesus, we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus, we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry.
Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. We know it from experience and we know it from Scripture. For David says in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” If every day with Jesus were sweeter than the day before, if life were a steady ascent with no dips in our affection for God, we wouldn’t need to be re-vived.
In another place, David extolls the Lord with similar words: “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2–3). This means David must have had bad days.
There were days when his soul needed to be restored. It’s the same phrase used in Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” Normal Christian life is a repeated process of restoration and renewal. Our joy is not static. It fluctuates with real life. It is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.
When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:24, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy,” we should emphasize it this way: “We work JOHN PIPER with you for your joy.” The preservation of our joy in God takes work. It is a fight. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), and he has an insatiable appetite to destroy one thing: the joy of faith. But the Holy Spirit has given us a sword called the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17) for the defense of our joy.
Or, to change the image, when Satan huffs and puffs and tries to blow out the flame of our joy, we have an endless supply of kindling in the Word of God.
Even on days when every cinder in our soul feels cold, if we crawl to the Word of God and cry out for ears to hear, the cold ashes will be lifted and the tiny spark of life will be fanned. For “the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” The Bible is the kindling of Christian Hedonism.
My aim in this chapter is to help you wear the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and wield it to preserve your joy in God. There are three steps we
need to climb together:
First, we need to know why we accept the Bible as the reliable Word of God.
Second, we need to see the benefits and power of Scripture and how it kindles our joy.
Third, we need to hear a practical challenge to renew our daily meditation in the Word of God and to bind that sword so closely around our waist that we are never without it.
I have added appendix 2, “Is the Bible a Reliable Guide to Lasting Joy?” I hope it will help some to stand confidently on the Scriptures as the very Word of God.
If our quest for lasting happiness is to succeed, we must seek it in relationship with our Creator. We can do that only by listening to His Word. This we have in the Bible. And the best news of all is that what God has said in His book is the kindling of Christian Hedonism.
The Bible Is Your Life Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:46–47, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.” The Word of God is not a trifle; it is a matter of life and death. If you treat the Scriptures as a trifle or as empty words, you forfeit life.
Even our physical life depends on God’s Word, because by His Word we were created (Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 11:3) and “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Our spiritual life begins by the Word of God: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). “You have been born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
Not only do we begin to live by God’s Word, but we also go on living by God’s Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). Our physical life is created and upheld by the Word of God, and our spiritual life is quickened and sustained by the Word of God.
How many stories could be gathered to bear witness to the life-giving power of the Word of God! Consider the story of “Little Bilney, an early English
Reformer born in 1495. He studied law and was outwardly rigorous in his efforts at religion. But there was no life within. Then he happened to receive a
Latin translation of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. Here is what happened:
I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) in 1 Timothy 1: “It is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief and principal.” This one sentence, through God’s instruction and inward working, which I did not then perceive, did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that…immediately I…felt a marvelous comfort and quietness, in so much that “my bruised bones leaped for joy.” After this, the Scriptures began to be more pleasant to me than the honey or the honeycomb.1 Indeed, the Bible is “no empty word for you”—it is your life! The foundation of all joy is life. Nothing is more fundamental than sheer existence—our creation and our preservation. All this is owing to the Word of God’s power. By that same power, He has spoken in Scripture for the creation and sustenance of our spiritual life. Therefore, the Bible is no empty word, but is your very life— the kindling of your joy!
Faith Comes by Hearing The Word of God begets and sustains spiritual life because it begets and sustains faith: “These are written,” John says, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). “Faith comes from hearing,” writes the apostle Paul, “and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The faith that starts our life in Christ and by which we go on living comes from hearing the Word of God.
1. From a letter cited in Norman Anderson, God’s Word for God’s World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981), 25.
And there is no true joy without faith: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). “I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith” (Philippians 1:25, KJV). How else can we sustain our joy in dark hours except by the promises of God’s Word that He will work it all together for our good (Romans 8:28)?
A great testimony to the power of the Word to beget and sustain faith is found in the story of the conversion and execution of Tokichi Ichii—a man who was hanged for murder in Tokyo in 1918. He had been sent to prison more than twenty times and was known for being as cruel as a tiger. On one occasion, after attacking a prison official, he was gagged and bound, and his body was suspended in such a way that his toes barely reached the ground. But he stubbornly refused to say he was sorry for what he had done.
Just before being sentenced to death, Tokichi was sent a New Testament by two Christian missionaries, Miss West and Miss McDonald. After a visit from Miss West, he began to read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution. His attention was riveted by the sentence “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” This sentence transformed his life.
I stopped: I was stabbed to the heart, as if by a five-inch nail. What did the verse reveal to me? Shall I call it the love of the heart of Christ?
Shall I call it His compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that with an unspeakably grateful heart I believed.
Tokichi was sentenced to death and accepted it as “the fair, impartial judgment of God.” Now the Word that had brought him to faith also sustained his faith in an amazing way. Near the end, Miss West directed him to the words of 2 Corinthians 6:8–10 concerning the suffering of the righteous. The words
moved him very deeply, and he wrote:
“As sorrowing, yet always rejoicing.” People will say that I must have a very sorrowful heart because I am daily awaiting the execution of the
death sentence. This is not the case. I feel neither sorrow nor distress nor any pain. Locked up in a prison cell six feet by nine in size I am infinitely happier than I was in the days of my sinning when I did not know God. Day and night…I am talking with Jesus Christ.
“As poor, yet making many rich.” This certainly does not apply to the evil life I led before I repented. But perhaps in the future, someone in the world may hear that the most desperate villain that ever lived repented of his sins and was saved by the power of Christ, and so may come to repent also. Then it may be that though I am poor myself, I shall be able to make many rich.
The Word sustained him to the end, and on the scaffold, with great humility and earnestness, he uttered his last words, “My soul, purified, today returns to the City of God.”2 Faith is born and sustained by the Word of God, and out of faith grows the flower of joy.
God Supplies the Spirit Through the Hearing of Faith We are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
How does the Spirit come? In Galatians 3:2, Paul asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” The answer, of course, is “by hearing with faith.” Hearing what? The Word of God!
The Spirit inspired the Word and therefore goes where the Word goes. The more of God’s Word you know and love, the more of God’s Spirit you will experience. Instead of drinking wine, we should drink the Spirit. How? By setting our minds on the things of the Spirit: “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).
What are the things of the Spirit? When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit,” he was referring to
2. The story is recounted in Ibid., 38–41.
his own Spirit-inspired teachings (2:13). Therefore, above all, the teachings of Scripture are the “things of the Spirit.” We drink in the Spirit by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, namely, the Word of God. And the fruit of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).
The Scriptures Give Hope Sometimes faith and hope are virtual synonyms in Scripture: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Without this hope for the future, we get discouraged and depressed, and our joy drains away. Hope is absolutely essential to Christian joy: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces…hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
And how do we maintain hope? The psalmist puts it like this: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children…so that they should set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:5, 7). In other words, the “testimony” and the “law”—the Word of God—are kindling for the hope of our children.
Paul puts it so plainly: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The whole Bible has this aim and this power: to create hope in the hearts of God’s people. And when hope abounds, the heart is filled with joy.
The Truth Shall Make You Free Another essential element of joy is freedom. None of us would be happy if we were not free from what we hate and free for what we love. And where do we find true freedom? Psalm 119:45 says, “I shall walk in freedom, for I sought your precepts” (author’s translation). The picture is one of open spaces. The Word frees us from smallness of mind (1 Kings 4:29) and from threatening confinements (Psalm 18:19).
Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The freedom He has in mind is freedom from the slavery of sin (v. 34).
Or, to put it positively, it is freedom for holiness. The promises of God’s grace
provide the power that makes the demands of God’s holiness an experience of freedom rather than fear. Peter described the freeing power of God’s promises like this: “Through [His precious and very great promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4). In other words, when we trust the promises of God, we sever the root of corruption by the power of a superior promise.