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“LOVE SEEKS NOT ITS OWN”—EXCEPT
IN THE JOY OF OTHERSThe second reason people stumble over the teaching that God exalts His own glory and seeks to be praised by His people is that the Bible teaches us not to be like that. For example, the Bible says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NASB). How can God be loving and yet be utterly devoted to “seeking His own” glory and praise and joy? How can God be for us if He is so utterly for Himself?
The answer I propose is this: Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry.
This would be no gain for us. For where can we go when our God has become unrighteous? Where will we find a Rock of integrity in the universe when the heart of God has ceased to value supremely the supremely valuable?
Where shall we turn with our adoration when God Himself has forsaken the claims of infinite worth and beauty?
No, we do not turn God’s self-exaltation into love by demanding that God cease to be God. Instead, we must come to see that God is love precisely because He relentlessly pursues the praises of His name in the hearts of His people.
DELIGHT IS INCOMPLETE UNTIL IT IS EXPRESSEDConsider this question: In view of God’s infinite power and wisdom and beauty,
what would His love for a human being involve? Or to put it another way:
What could God give us to enjoy that would prove Him most loving? There is
only one possible answer: Himself! If He withholds Himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.
Now we are on the brink of what for me was a life-changing discovery.
What do we all do when we are given or shown something beautiful or excellent? We praise it! We praise new little babies: “Oh, look at that nice round head!
And all that hair! And her hands! Aren’t they perfect?” We praise a lover after a long absence: “Your eyes are like a cloudless sky! Your hair like forest silk!” We praise a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth when we are down by three. We praise the October trees along the banks of the St. Croix.
But the great discovery for me, as I said, came while I was reading “A Word about Praise” in C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms. His recorded thoughts—
born from wrestling with the idea that God not only wants our praise, but commands it—bear looking at again, in fuller form:
But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or any thing—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole,
THE HAPPINESS OF GODmore general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.12 There is the solution! We praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of what we value and celebrate what we love and praise what we admire, our joy would not be full. So if God loves us enough to make our joy full, He must not only give us Himself; He must also win from us the praise of our hearts—not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising Him, the most magnificent of all Beings. If He is truly for us, He must be for Himself!
God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimately loving act. For Him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When He does all things “for the praise of His glory,” He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings. God is for us!
And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be for Himself.
SUMMARY God is absolutely sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Therefore He is not frustrated. He rejoices in all His works when He contemplates them as colors of the magnificent mosaic of
12. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), 93–5.
redemptive history. He is an unshakably happy God.
His happiness is the delight He has in Himself. Before creation, He rejoiced in the image of His glory in the person of His Son. Then the joy of God “went public” in the works of creation and redemption. These works delight the heart of God because they reflect His glory. He does everything He does to preserve and display that glory, for in this His soul rejoices.
All the works of God culminate in the praises of His redeemed people. The climax of His happiness is the delight He takes in the echoes of His excellence in the praises of the saints. This praise is the consummation of our own joy in God. Therefore, God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in Him are the same pursuit. This is the great gospel! This is the foundation of Christian Hedonism.
I f everyone were bound to enter the kingdom of heaven, we might not have to speak of conversion. But not everyone is bound to enter: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14).
Chapter 1 ended with the discovery that God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in Him are one and the same pursuit. God’s quest to
be glorified and our quest to be satisfied reach their goal in this one experience:
our delight in God, which overflows in praise. For God, praise is the sweet echo of His own excellence in the hearts of His people. For us, praise is the summit of satisfaction that comes from living in fellowship with God.
The stunning implication of this discovery is that all the omnipotent energy that drives the heart of God to pursue His own glory also drives Him to satisfy the hearts of those who seek their joy in Him. The good news of the Bible is that God is not at all disinclined to satisfy the hearts of those who hope in Him.
Just the opposite: The very thing that can make us happiest is what God
delights in with all His heart and with all His soul:
With all His heart and with all His soul, God joins us in the pursuit of our everlasting joy because the consummation of that joy in Him redounds to the glory of His own infinite worth. All who cast themselves on God find that they
are carried into endless joy by God’s omnipotent commitment to His own glory:
“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11) Yes, Omnipotent Joy pursues the good of all who cast themselves on God!
“The LORD takes pleasure in those who…hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:11). But this is not everyone.
“For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)—but not for everyone. There are sheep and there are goats (Matthew 25:32). There are wise and there are foolish (Matthew 25:2). There are those who are being saved and those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). And the difference is that one group has been converted and the other hasn’t.
The aim of this chapter is to show the necessity of conversion and to argue that it is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist. I don’t mean you have to use this phrase, or even like this phrase. I mean that no one is a Christian who does not embrace Jesus gladly as his most valued treasure, and then pursue the fullness of that joy in Christ that honors Him.
WHY NOT JUST SAY, “BELIEVE”?
Someone may ask, “If your aim is conversion, why don’t you just use the straightforward, biblical command ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31)? Why bring in this new terminology of Christian Hedonism?” My answer has two parts. First, we are surrounded by unconverted people who think they do believe in Jesus. Drunks on the street say they believe.
Unmarried couples sleeping together say they believe. Elderly people who haven’t sought worship or fellowship for forty years say they believe. All kinds of lukewarm, world-loving church attenders say they believe. The world CO N V E R S I O N abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they believe in Jesus.
It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth. In my neighborhood, every drunk on the street “believes” in Jesus. Drug dealers “believe” in Jesus. Panhandlers who haven’t been to church in forty years “believe” in Jesus. So I use different words to unpack what believe means. In recent years I have asked, “Do you receive Jesus as your Treasure?” Not just Savior (everybody wants out of hell, but not to be with Jesus). Not just Lord (they might submit begrudgingly). The key is: Do you treasure Him more than everything? Converts to Christian Hedonism say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
This leads to the second part of my answer. There are other straightforward biblical commands besides “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” The reason for introducing the idea of Christian Hedonism is to force these commands to our attention.
Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, “Believe in the Lord,” but, “Delight yourself in the LORD”? And might not many slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake by the words “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God”?
SIX CRUCIAL TRUTHS TO SUMMARIZEOUR NEED AND GOD’S PROVISION 1 Why is conversion so crucial? What is there about God and man that makes it necessary? And what has God done to meet our desperate need? And what must we do to enjoy the benefits of His provision? These are huge questions. I attempt a summary answer with the following six truths from Scripture.
1. If this summary of the gospel would be helpful in your own relationships with others, it is available in an attractive tract format entitled “Quest for Joy” from Desiring God Ministries, 2601 East Franklin
Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55406; phone: 1-888-346-4700; fax: 612-338-4372; e-mail:
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” (Isaiah 43:6–7) The proper understanding of everything in life begins with God. No one will ever understand the necessity of conversion who does not know why God created us. He created us “in His image” so that we would image forth His glory in the world. We were made to be prisms refracting the light of God’s glory into all of life. Why God should want to give us a share in shining with His glory is a great mystery. Call it grace or mercy or love—it is an unspeakable wonder. Once we were not. Then we existed—for the glory of God!
If God made us for His glory, it is clear that we should live for His glory.
Our duty comes from God’s design.
What does it mean to glorify God?
It does not mean to make Him more glorious. It means to acknowledge His glory, to value it above all things, and to make it known. It implies heartfelt gratitude: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalm 50:23). It also implies trust: Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20).
Glorifying God is the duty not only of those who have heard the preaching of the gospel, but also of peoples who have only the witness of nature and their
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