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«Desiring God DESIRING GOD JOHN PIPER DESIRING GOD published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc. © 1986, 1996, 2003 by Desiring God Foundation ...»

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Instead, the point seems to be that if you are deprived of your earthly family in the service of Christ, it will be made up a hundredfold in your spiritual family, the church. But even this may be too limiting. What about the lonely missionaries who labor for years without being surrounded by hundreds of sisters and brothers and mothers and children in the faith? Is the promise not true for them?


FOR Surely it is. Surely what Christ means is that He Himself makes up for every sacrifice. If you give up a mother’s nearby affection and concern, you get back one hundred times the affection and concern from the ever-present Christ. If you give up the warm comradeship of a brother, you get back one hundred times the warmth and comradeship of Christ. If you give up the sense of at-homeness you had in your house, you get back one hundred times the comfort and security of knowing that your Lord owns every house and land and stream and tree on earth. To prospective missionaries, Jesus says, “I promise to work for and be for you so much that you will not be able to speak of having sacrificed anything.” John G. Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides (today’s Vanuatu in the South Pacific) gives a beautiful testimony of the nearness and friendship of Christ when he was utterly alone, having lost his wife and child, and now surrounded by hostile natives as he hid in a tree.

I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in MISSIONS the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?16 What was Jesus’ attitude to Peter’s “sacrificial” spirit? Peter said, “We have left everything and followed you.” Is this the spirit of “self-denial” commended by Jesus? No, it is rebuked. Jesus said, “No one ever sacrifices anything for me that I do not pay back a hundredfold—yes, in one sense even in this life, not to mention eternal life in the age to come.” Why did Jesus rebuke Peter for thinking in terms of sacrifice? Jesus Himself had demanded “self-denial” (Mark 8:34).

The reason seems to be that Peter did not yet think about sacrifice the way a Christian Hedonist is supposed to.

How is that?

The response of Jesus indicates that the way to think about self-denial is to deny yourself only a lesser good for a greater good. You deny yourself one mother in order to get one hundred mothers. In other words, Jesus wants us to think about sacrifice in a way that rules out all self-pity. This is in fact just what the texts on self-denial teach.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34–35)17

The argument is inescapably hedonistic. Saint Augustine captured the paradox in these words:

If you love your soul, there is danger of its being destroyed. Therefore you may not love it, since you do not want it to be destroyed. But in not wanting it to be destroyed you love it.18

16. John G. Paton, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, An Autobiography Edited by His Brother (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891), 200.

17. See also Matthew 10:39 and 16:24–26, Luke 9:24–25 and 17:33, John 12:25, and Revelation 12:11.

18. Saint Augustine, Migne Patrologia Latina 39, 1652, Sermon 368.


Jesus knew this. It was the basis of His argument. He does not ask us to be indifferent to whether we are destroyed. On the contrary, He assumes that the very longing for true life (1 Peter 3:10) will move us to deny ourselves all the lesser pleasures and comforts of life. If we were indifferent to the value of God’s gift of life, we would dishonor it. The measure of your longing for life is the amount of comfort you are willing to give up to get it. The gift of eternal life in God’s presence is glorified if we are willing to “hate our lives in this world” in order to get it (John 12:25). Therein lies the God-centered value of self-denial.

–  –  –

In the evening, I was unexpectedly visited by a considerable number of people, with whom I was enabled to converse profitably of divine things.

Took pains to describe the difference between a regular and irregular self love; the one consisting with a supreme love to God, but the other not;

the former uniting God’s glory and the soul’s happiness that they became one common interest, but the latter disjoining and separating God’s glory and man’s happiness, seeking the latter with a neglect of the former. Illustrated this by that genuine love that is founded between the sexes, which is diverse from that which is wrought up towards a person only by rational argument, or the hope of self-interest.19 Brainerd knew in his soul that in seeking to live for the glory of God, he was loving himself! He knew there was no ultimate sacrifice going on, though

19. Jonathan Edwards, ed., The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (Chicago: Moody Press, 1949, original, 1749), 149. By “self-interest” I take Brainerd to mean “worldly, self-interest that does not have the glory of God for its pleasure.” He goes on to say that “love is a pleasing passion; it affords pleasure to the mind where it is.” But the object of love is never that pleasure. The object is God and the love is pleasurable.

This is why it is confusing at times when we speak of seeking pleasure. It sounds as though pleasure has taken the place of God. But this is not the case. As Brainerd says, God’s glory and our happiness become one common interest. We seek pleasure in God. Not from God.


he was dying of tuberculosis. Yet he knew that Jesus condemned some form of self-love and commended some form of self-denial. So he endorsed a distinction between a self-love that separates our pursuit of happiness from our pursuit of God’s glory, and a self-love that combines these pursuits into “one common interest.” In other words, he did not make Peter’s mistake of thinking that his suffering for Christ was ultimately sacrificial. With everything he gave, there came new experiences of the glory of God. A hundredfold!

–  –  –

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.20 One sentence of this quote is, I think, unhelpful and inconsistent: “Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?” I don’t think it is helpful

20. Cited in Samuel Zwemer, “The Glory of the Impossible,” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Stephen C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey, 1999), 315, emphasis added.

–  –  –

to describe our obedience as an attempt (albeit impossible) to pay God back for His grace.21 It is a contradiction of free grace to think of it that way. Not only is it unhelpful; it is inconsistent with the rest of what Livingstone says.

He says his obedience is in fact more receiving—healthful, peaceful, hopeful.

It would honor God’s grace and value more if we dropped the notion of paying Him back at all. We are not involved in a trade or purchase. We have received a gift. But this reservation aside, the last line is magnificent: “I never made a sacrifice.” This is what Jesus’ rebuke to Peter’s sacrificial (self-pitying?) spirit was supposed to teach. Our great incentive for throwing our lives into the cause of Frontier Missions is the 10,000 percent return on the investment.

Missionaries have borne witness to this from the beginning—since the apostle Paul.

Paul was bold to say that everything was garbage22 compared to knowing

and suffering with Jesus:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings. (Philippians 3:7–8, 10) This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17) I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

21. See John Piper, Future Grace (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1995), passim.

22. BDAG, the standard Greek lexicon, says that skubalon, in various senses, means “excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps.” See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

–  –  –

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:23)23


It is simply amazing how consistent are the testimonies of missionaries who have suffered for the gospel. Virtually all of them bear witness to the abundant joy and overriding compensations (a hundredfold!).

Colin Grant describes how the Moravian Brethren were sending missionaries out from the mountains of Saxony in central Europe sixty years before William Carey set out for India. Between 1732 and 1742, with utter abandon, they reached the West Indies, Surinam, North America, Greenland, South Africa, China, and Persia—“a record without parallel in the post–New Testament era of world evangelization.” In recounting the main characteristics of this movement, Grant puts “glad obedience” at the top of the list: “In the first place, the missionary obedience of the Moravian Brethren was essentially glad and spontaneous, ‘the response of a healthy organism to the law of its life.’”24 Andrew Murray refers to this “law of life” in his missionary classic, Key to the Missionary Problem. Nature teaches us that every believer should be a soulwinner: “It is an essential part of the new nature. We see it in every child who loves to tell of his happiness and to bring others to share his joys.”25 Missions is the automatic outflow and overflow of love for Christ. We delight to enlarge our joy in Him by extending it to others. As Lottie Moon said, “Surely there can be

23. On this last text Adolf Schlatter comments powerfully:

Paul cannot look at his position as a Christian in isolation, separated from his work in the service of Jesus, as though the way he performed his ministry had no significant connection with his salvation. Since it was the Lord who gave him his ministry Paul stays bound to Him only if he carries it out faithfully. And the Gospel would no longer be valid in his own life, if he forsook his ministry. That gives Paul’s love its purity. He enters into community with all, that he might win them. But his will remains free from the presumption that says to others that only they are in danger and need salvation. Rather the question of salvation retains for him, as also for them its full seriousness. He takes pains therefore that he save others for his own salvation.

Die Korintherbriefe, vol. 6, Erlaeuterungen zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1974), 118.

24. Colin A. Grant, “Europe’s Moravians: A Pioneer Missionary Church” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 274. Grant is using Harry Boer’s words in the last phrase.

25. Andrew Murray, Key to the Missionary Problem (Fort Washington, Penn.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1979, orig. 1905), 127.


no greater joy than that of saving souls.”26 What Lottie Moon did in promoting the cause of foreign missions among Southern Baptist women in the United States, Amy Carmichael did among the Christian women of all denominations in the United Kingdom. She wrote thirtyfive books detailing her fifty-five years in India. Sherwood Eddy, a missionary statesman and author who knew her well, said, “Amy Wilson Carmichael was the most Christlike character I ever met, and…her life was the most fragrant, the most joyfully sacrificial, that I ever knew.”27 “Joyfully sacrificial!” That is what Jesus was after when he rebuked Peter’s sacrificial spirit in Mark 10:29–30.

John Hyde, better known as “Praying Hyde,” led a life of incredibly intense prayer as a missionary to India at the turn of the century. Some thought him morose. But a story about him reveals the true spirit behind his life of sacrificial prayer.

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