Desiring God by John Piper
So far I have argued that disinterested benevolence toward God is evil.
C. S. Lewis puts it well: “It would be a bold and silly creature that
came before its Creator with the boast, ‘I’m no beggar. I love you disinterestedly.’”
1 If you come to God dutifully offering Him the reward of your
fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of His fellowship, then you
exalt yourself above God as His benefactor and belittle Him as a needy beneficiary—
and that is evil.
The only way to glorify the all-sufficiency of God in worship is to come to
Him because “in [His] presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are
pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). This has been the main point so far, and
we could call it vertical Christian Hedonism. Between man and God, on the vertical
axis of life, the pursuit of pleasure is not just tolerable; it is mandatory:
“Delight yourself in the LORD”! (Psalm 37:4). The chief end of man is to glorify
God by enjoying Him forever.
But now what about horizontal Christian Hedonism? What about our relationship
with other people? Is disinterested benevolence the ideal among men?
Or is the pursuit of pleasure proper and indeed mandatory for every kind of
human love that pleases God?
1. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960), 12.
This chapter’s answer is that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for
every good deed. Or, to put it another way: If you aim to abandon the pursuit
of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.
DOES LOVE SEEKS ITS OWN?
This will take some explaining and defending! I plead your patience and openness.
I am swimming against the current of a revered river in this chapter. When
I preached on this once, a philosophy professor wrote a letter to me with the following
Is it not the contention of morality that we should do the good because
it is the good?… We should do the good and perform virtuously, I suggest,
because it is good and virtuous; that God will bless it and cause us
to be happy is a consequence of it, but not the motive for doing it.
Another popular writer says:
For the Christian happiness is never a goal to be pursued. It is always
the unexpected surprise of a life of service.
I regard these quotes as contrary to Scripture and contrary to love and, in
the end (though unintentionally), dishonoring to God.
No doubt, biblical passages come to mind that seem to say exactly the
opposite of what I am saying. For example, in the great love chapter, the apostle
Paul says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NASB). Earlier
in the same book, he admonished the church, “Let no one seek his own good,
but the good of his neighbor.… I try to please everyone in everything I do, not
seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (10:24,
33). In Romans 15:1–3 he says, “We who are strong have an obligation to
bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us
please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please
An isolated and unreflective focus on texts like these gives the impression
that the essence of Christian morality is to free ourselves of all self-interest when
it comes to doing good deeds for other people. But there is good reason to
think that this impression is wrong. It does not take all of the context into
account, and it certainly cannot account for many other teachings in the New
Take the context of 1 Corinthians 13, for example. Verse 5 says love seeks
not its own. But is this meant so absolutely that it would be wrong to enjoy
being loving? First consider the wider biblical context.
SHOULD WE DELIGHT IN BEING MERCIFUL?
According to the prophet Micah, God has commanded us not simply to be
merciful, but to “love kindness”: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and
what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and
to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). In other words, the command is not
just to do acts of mercy, but to delight to be merciful or to want to be merciful. If
you love being merciful, how can you keep from satisfying your own desire in
doing acts of mercy? How can you keep from seeking your own joy in acts of
love when your joy consists in being loving? Does obedience to the command to
“love kindness” mean you must disobey the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13:5 that
love should “seek not its own”?
No. The more immediate context gives several clues that the point of 1
Corinthians 13:5 is not to forbid the pursuit of the joy of loving. Jonathan
Edwards gives the true sense:
[The error 1 Corinthians 13:5 opposes is not] the degree in which [a
person] loves his own happiness, but in his placing his happiness
where he ought not, and in limiting and confining his love. Some,
although they love their own happiness, do not place that happiness
in their own confined good, or in that good which is limited to themselves,
but more in the common good—in that which is the good of
others, or in the good to be enjoyed in and by others.… And when it
is said that Charity seeketh not her own, we are to understand it of
her own private good—good limited to herself.2
DOES PAUL ASSUME WE WILL WANT TO GAIN NOTHING?
One clue that this is in fact what Paul means is the way he tries to motivate
genuine love in verse 3. He says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my
body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” If genuine love dare not
set its sights on its own gain, isn’t it strange that Paul warns us that not having
love will rob us of “gain”? But this is in fact what he says: “If you don’t have real
love, you won’t have real gain.”
Someone, no doubt, will say that the gain is a sure result of genuine love,
but if it is the motive of love, then love is not really love. In other words, it is
good for God to reward acts of love, but it is not good for us to be drawn into
love by the promise of reward. But if this is true, then why did Paul tell us in
verse 3 that we would lose our reward if we were not really loving? If longing for
the “gain” of loving ruins the moral value of love, it is very bad pedagogy to tell
someone to be loving lest he lose his “gain.”
Giving Paul the benefit of the doubt, should we not rather say there is a
kind of gain that is wrong to be motivated by (hence, “Love seeks not its
own”), as well as a kind of gain that is right to be motivated by (hence, “If I
do not have love, I gain nothing”)? Edwards says the proper gain to be motivated
by is the happiness one gets in the act of love itself or in the good
achieved by it.
CAN DISINTERESTED LOVE REJOICE IN THE TRUTH?
The second clue that Edwards is on the right track is verse 6: “[Love] does not
rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Love is not a bare choice or
mere act. It involves the affections. It does not just do the truth. Nor does it just
2. Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969, orig. 1852), 164.
choose the right. It rejoices in the way of truth. So Micah 6:8 is not a strained
parallel at all: We must “love kindness”!
But if love rejoices in the choices it makes, it cannot be disinterested. It cannot
be indifferent to its own joy! To rejoice in an act is to get joy from it. And
this joy is “gain.” It may be that there is much more gain than this, or that this
joy is in fact the firstfruits of an indestructible and eternal joy. At this point,
though, the least we can say is that Paul does not think the moral value of an act
of love is ruined when we are motivated to do it by the anticipation of our own
joy in it and from it. If it were, then a bad man who hated the prospect of loving
could engage in pure love, since he would take no joy in it; while a good man
who delighted in the prospect of loving could not love, since he would “gain”
joy from it and thus ruin it.
Therefore, 1 Corinthians 13:5 (“Love seeks not its own”) does not stand in
the way of the thesis that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every
good deed. In fact, surprisingly, the context supports it by saying that “love
rejoices with the truth” and by implying that one should be vigilant in love so as
not to lose one’s “gain”—the gain of joy that comes in being a loving person,
both now and forever.
If this is Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 13:5, the same thing can be said
of 10:24 and 33. These are simply specific instances of the basic principle laid
down in 13:5: “Love seeks not its own.” When Paul says we should not seek our
own advantage, but that of our neighbors so that they may be saved, he does not
mean we should not delight in the salvation of our neighbors.
In fact, Paul said of his converts, “You are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians
2:20). In another place he said, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is
that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
This is not the voice of disinterested benevolence. The salvation of others
was the joy and passion of his life! When he denied himself comforts for this, he
was a Christian Hedonist, not a dutiful stoic. So the point of 1 Corinthians
10:24 and 33 is that we should not count any private comfort a greater joy than
the joy of seeing our labor lead to another’s salvation.
This is also the point of Romans 15:1–3, where Paul says we should not
please ourselves, but instead should please our neighbor for his good, to edify
him. This too is an application of the principle “Love seeks not its own.” He
does not mean we shouldn’t seek the joy of edifying others, but that we
should let this joy free us from bondage to private pleasures that make us
indifferent to the good of others. Love does not seek its own private, limited
joy, but instead seeks its own joy in the good—the salvation and edification—
In this way, we begin to love the way God loves. He loves because He
delights to love. He does not seek to hide from Himself the reward of love lest
His act be ruined by the anticipated joy that comes from it.
“I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in
the earth. For in these things I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:24)
LOVE IS MORE THAN DEEDS
We turn now from defense to offense. There are texts that seem to be a problem,
but many others point positively to the truth of Christian Hedonism. We
can take 1 Corinthians 13:3 as a starting point: “If I give away all I have, and if I
deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” This is a
startling text. For Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that
someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How can Paul say that
laying down your life may in fact be a loveless act?
One thing is for sure: Love cannot be equated with sacrificial action! It cannot
be equated with any action! This is a powerful antidote to the common
teaching that love is not what you feel, but what you do. The good in this popular
teaching is the twofold intention to show (1) that mere warm feelings can
never replace actual deeds of love (James 2:16; 1 John 3:18) and (2) that efforts
of love must be made even in the absence of the joy that one might wish were
present. But it is careless and inaccurate to support these two truths by saying
3. This passage in Romans includes the sentence “For Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written,
‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (15:3). Concerning this, see the discussion of
Hebrews 12:1–2 under the heading “Love Suffers for Joy” later in this chapter.
that love is simply what you do, and not what you feel.4 (See Epilogue, Reason
Four, for a further discussion of how to obey when you don’t feel like it.)
The very definition of love in 1 Corinthians refutes this narrow conception
of love. For example, Paul says love is not jealous and not easily provoked and
that it rejoices in the truth and hopes all things (13:4–7). All these are feelings! If
you feel things like unholy jealousy and irritation, you are not loving. And if
you do not feel things like joy in the truth and hope, you are not loving. In
other words, yes, love is more than feelings; but, no, love is not less than feelings.
This may help account for the startling statement that it is possible to give
your body to be burned and yet not have love. Evidently, an act does not qualify as
love unless it involves right motives. But isn’t the willingness to die a sign of good
motives? You would think so if the essence of love were disinterestedness. But
someone might say that what ruined the self-sacrificing act of apparent love was
the intention to inherit reward after death or to leave a noble memory on earth.
That may be part of the answer. But it is not complete. It does not distinguish
what sort of reward after death might be appropriate to aim at in an act of
love (if any!). Nor does it describe what feelings, if any, must accompany an outward
“act” of love for it to be truly loving.
In answering these questions, we need to ask another: What does love to
man have to do with our love for God and His grace toward us? Could it be
that the reason a person could give his body to be burned and not have love is
that his act had no connection to a genuine love for God? Could it be that Paul’s
conception of horizontal love between people is such that it is authentic only
when it is the extension of a vertical love for God? It would be strange indeed if
the apostle who said “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans
14:23) could define genuine love without reference to God.
4. For example, one popular book says, “Love isn’t something you necessarily feel; it’s something you do.
Good feelings may accompany loving deeds, but we are commanded to love whether we feel like it or
not. Jesus didn’t feel like giving His life to redeem humankind (Matthew 26:38–39).” Josh McDowell
and Norman Geisler, Love Is Always Right: A Defense of the One Moral Absolute (Dallas: Word, 1996),
73. It is an oversimplification to say that Jesus did not feel like giving His life to redeem mankind. Yes,
He knew it would be excruciating, and, yes, He shrank back from the pain. But Hebrews 12:2 says it
was “for the joy set before” Him that He endured the cross. The joy of the future flowed back into the
present in Gethsemane, and the taste of it sustained Him. Yes, there are acts of love that are more pleasant
than others. But that does not mean that there is no painful joy in the hard ones.
LOVE IS THE OVERFLOW OF JOY IN GOD
Second Corinthians 8:1–4, 8 shows that Paul thinks of genuine love only in
relation to God:
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which
has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of
affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in
the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability,
and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with
much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the
saints.… I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through
the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. (NASB)
The reason Paul wants the Corinthians to know about this remarkable work
of grace among the Macedonians is that he hopes the same will prove true among
them. He is traveling among the churches collecting funds for the poor saints in
Jerusalem (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4). He writes 2 Corinthians 8 and
9 to motivate the Corinthians to be generous. For our purpose, the crucial thing
to notice is that in 8:8 he says this is a test of their love: “I say this not as a command,
but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.”
The clear implication of 8:8 (especially the word also) is that the
Macedonians’ generosity is a model of love that the Corinthians “also” should
copy. By recounting the earnest love of the Macedonians, Paul aims to stir up
the Corinthians also to genuine love. So here we have a test case to see just what
the love of 1 Corinthians 13 looks like in real life. The Macedonians have given
away their possessions, just as 1 Corinthians 13:3 says (“If I give away all I
have”). But here it is real love, while there it was not love at all. What makes the
Macedonian generosity a genuine act of love?
The nature of genuine love can be seen in four things.
First, it is a work of divine grace: “We want you to know, brothers,
about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of
Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). The generosity of the Macedonians was not
of human origin. Even though verse 3 says they gave “of their own accord,” the
willingness was a gift of God—a work of grace.
You can see this same combination of God’s sovereign grace resulting in
man’s willingness in verses 16–17:
Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I
have for you. For he…is going to you of his own accord.
God put it in his heart. So he goes of his own accord. The willingness is a
gift—a work of divine grace.
Second, this experience of God’s grace filled the Macedonians with joy: “In
a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have
overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (v. 2). Note that their joy was not owing to
the fact that God had prospered them financially. He hadn’t! In “extreme
poverty” they had joy. Therefore, the joy was a joy in God—in the experience of
Third, their joy in God’s grace overflowed in generosity to meet the needs of
others: “Their abundance of joy…overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (v. 2).
Therefore, the generosity expressed horizontally toward men was an overflow of
joy in God’s grace.
Fourth, the Macedonians begged for the opportunity to sacrifice their meager
possessions for the saints in Jerusalem: “Beyond their ability, they gave of
their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the
support of the saints” (8:3–4, NASB). In other words, the way their joy in God
overflowed was in the joy of giving. They wanted to give. It was their joy!
Now we can give a definition of love that takes God into account and also
includes the feelings that should accompany the outward acts of love: Love is the
overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.
Paul does not set up the Macedonians as a model of love just because
they sacrificed in order to meet the needs of others. What he stresses is how
they loved doing this (remember Micah 6:8!). It was the overflow of joy! They
“begged earnestly” to give. They found their pleasure in channeling the grace
of God through their poverty to the poverty in Jerusalem. It is simply astonishing!
This is why a person can give his body to be burned and not have love.
Love is the overflow of joy—in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake or right for
right’s sake. It is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely
to the good of the other person. It is first a deeply satisfying experience of the
fullness of God’s grace, and then a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that
grace with another person.
When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving
money to other poor saints, we may assume that this is not just what they
ought to do or have to do, but what they really long to do. It is their joy—an
extension of their joy in God. To be sure, they are “denying themselves” whatever
pleasures or comforts they could have from the money they give away, but
the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything
money could buy. The Macedonians have discovered the labor of Christian
Hedonism: love! It is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of
GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER
In 2 Corinthians 9:6–7 we get a confirmation that we are on the right track.
Paul continues to motivate the Corinthians to be generous. He says:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows
bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has
made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves
a cheerful giver.
I take this to mean that God is not pleased when people act benevolently
but don’t do it gladly. When people don’t find pleasure (Paul’s word is cheer) in
their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them. He loves cheerful
givers, cheerful servants. What sort of cheer? Surely the safest way to answer
that question is to remember what sort of cheer moved the Macedonians to be
generous. It was the overflow of joy in the grace of God. Therefore, the giver
God loves is the one whose joy in Him overflows “cheerfully” in generosity to
Perhaps it is becoming clear why part of the thesis of this chapter is that if
you try to abandon the pursuit of your full and lasting joy, you cannot love
people or please God. If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the
needs of others, then to abandon the pursuit of this joy is to abandon the pursuit
of love. And if God is pleased by cheerful givers, then to abandon the pursuit
of this cheerfulness sets you on a course in which God takes no delight. If
we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to
what pleases God. For God loves a cheerful giver.
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.
LOVE REJOICES IN THE JOY OF THE BELOVED
Before we leave 2 Corinthians, consider one more passage that brims with
implications about the nature of love. In 1:23–2:4, Paul writes about a visit he
didn’t make and a painful letter he had to send. He explains the inner workings
of his heart in all this:
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
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
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 OTHERS
Now 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
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 THE REWARD OF LOVE IN MIND
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 MINISTRY
Nor 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
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
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
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 PLEASED
Can 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!
LOVE SUFFERS FOR JOY
Love is costly. It always involves some kind of self-denial. It often demands suffering.
But Christian Hedonism insists that the gain outweighs the pain. It
affirms that there are rare and wonderful species of joy that flourish only in the
rainy atmosphere of suffering. “The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had
The costly joy of love is illustrated repeatedly in Hebrews 10–12. Consider
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:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
This does not diminish the reality and greatness of his love for us,
because the joy in which he hoped was the joy of leading many sons to
glory (Hebrews 2:10). His joy is in our redemption, which redounds to
God’s glory. To abandon the cross and thus to abandon us and the
Father’s will was a prospect so horrible in Christ’s mind that he repulsed
it and embraced death.
But my essay on “Dissatisfied Contentment” [this is what Ronn
was responding to; its content has been incorporated into this chapter]
suggests even more: namely, that in some profound sense there must be
joy in the very act of love, if it is to be pleasing to God.
You have shown clearly that if this is true in the case of Jesus’
death, there must be a radical difference between joy and “fun.” But we
all know that there is.
It is not fair when you shift from saying there is no “fun way” in
Gethsemane, to saying “Joy is nowhere to be found.” I know that at
those times in my life when I have chosen to do the most costly good
deeds, I have (with and under the hurts) felt a very deep joy at doing
I think that when Jesus rose from his final prayer in Gethsemane
with the resolve to die, there flowed through his soul a glorious sense of
triumph over the night’s temptation. Did he not say, “My food is to do
the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34)?
Jesus cherished his Father’s will like we cherish food. To finish his
Father’s work was what he fed upon; to abandon it would be to choose
starvation. I think there was joy in Gethsemane as Jesus was led away—
not fun, not sensual pleasure, not laughter, in fact not anything that
this world can offer. But there was a good feeling deep in Jesus’ heart that
his action was pleasing to his Father, and that the reward to come would
outweigh all the pain. This profoundly good feeling is the joy that
enabled Jesus to do for us what he did.
(2) You say of Dorothy Day: “Her experience of loving [the poor,
displaced, downtrodden] when there was no joy has led her to say this:
‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’” I will try to respond in
First, don’t jump to the conclusion that there is no joy in things
that are “harsh and dreadful.” There are mountain climbers who have
spent sleepless nights on the faces of cliffs, have lost fingers and toes in
sub-zero temperatures, and have gone through horrible misery to reach
a peak. They say, “It was harsh and dreadful.” But if you ask them why
they do it, the answer will come back in various forms: “There is an
exhilaration in the soul that feels so good it is worth all the pain.”
If this is how it is with mountain climbing, cannot the same be
true of love? Is it not rather an indictment of our own worldliness that
we are more inclined to sense exhilaration at mountain climbing than
at conquering the precipices of un-love in our own lives and in society?
Yes, love is often a “harsh and dreadful” thing, but I do not see how a
person who cherishes what is good and admires Jesus can help but
sense a joyful exhilaration when (by grace) he is able to love another
Now let me approach Dorothy Day’s situation in another way.
Let’s pretend that I am one of the poor that she is trying to help at great cost to herself. I think a conversation might go like this:
Piper: Why are you doing this for me, Miss Day?
Day: Because I love you.
Piper: What do you mean, you love me? I don’t have anything to offer. I’m not worth loving.
Day: Perhaps. But there are no application forms for my love. I learned that from Jesus. What I mean is, I want to help you because Jesus has helped me so much.
Piper: So you are trying to satisfy your “wants”?
Day: I suppose so, if you want to put it like that. One of my deepest wants is to make you a happy and purposeful person.
Piper: Does it upset you that I am happier and that I feel more purposeful since you’ve come?
Day: Heavens, no! What could make me happier?
Piper: So you really spend all those sleepless nights here for what makes you happy, don’t you?
Day: If I say yes, someone might misunderstand me. They might think I don’t care for you at all, but only for myself.
Piper: But won’t you say it at least for me?
Day: Yes, I’ll say it for you: I work for what brings me the greatest joy: your joy.
Piper: Thank you. Now I know that you love me.
LOVE’S DEED AND REWARD ARE ORGANICALLY RELATED
One thing touched on briefly in this letter that might need some elaboration is
the question concerning the relationship between the joy that comes in the
actual deed of love and the joy that comes from the reward promised in the
more distant future. The reason I think this question is important is that the
motivation of receiving a future reward could turn love into a mercenary affair
(as we have seen) if the hoped-for reward were not somehow organically related
to the act one is doing to get the reward.
If the nature of the deed did not partake of the nature of the reward, you
could do things you thought were stupid or evil to get the reward you considered
wise or good. But it would be stretching the word love beyond biblical limits
to say that one is loving when he does a thing he thinks is stupid or evil. A
loving act (even if very painful) must be approved by our conscience.
So to say that it is right and good to be motivated by the hope of reward (as
Moses and the early Christians and Jesus were, according to Hebrews 11:26 and
10:34 and 12:2) does not mean that this view to the future nullifies the need to
choose acts that in their nature are organically related to the hoped-for reward.
What I mean by “organically related” is this: Any act of love we choose for
the sake of a holy reward must compel us because we see in that act the moral
traits of that promised reward. Or to put it the other way around, the only fitting
reward for an act of love is the experience of divine glory whose moral
dimension is what made the chosen act attractive.
The reward to which we look as Christian Hedonists for all the good we are
commanded to do is distilled for us in Romans 8:29: “Those whom he
foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” There are two goals of
our predestination mentioned here: one highlighting our glory and one highlighting
The first goal of our predestination is to be like Christ. This includes new
resurrection bodies of glory like His (Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49).
But most importantly, it includes spiritual and moral qualities and capacities
like Christ’s (1 John 3:2–3).
The second and more ultimate goal of our predestination is “that Christ
might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In other words, God aims to surround
His Son with living images of Himself so that the preeminent excellency
of the original will shine the more brightly in His images. The goals of predestination
are (1) our delight in becoming holy as He is holy and (2) His delight in
being exalted as preeminent over all in the midst of a transformed, joyful people.
But if the reward we long for is to behold and be like the preeminent
Christ, then it would be a contradiction if the actions we choose were not
morally consistent with the character of Christ. If we really are being attracted
by the reward of being made holy as He is holy, then we will be attracted to
those acts that partake of His holiness. If we delight in the prospect of knowing
Christ even as we are known, we will delight in the sorts of acts and attitudes
that reflect His moral character.
So in true Christian Hedonism there is an organic relationship between the
love Christ commands and the reward He promises. It is never a mercenary
affair in which we do what we despise to get what we enjoy. Jesus illustrates this
connection between act and reward in Luke 6:35:
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in
return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most
High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Even though we should not care about human reward (“expecting nothing
in return”), the Lord Himself gives us an incentive to love by promising His
reward, namely, that we will be sons of the Most High. This sonship implies
likeness (“for he is kind to the ungrateful”). So the command and the reward are
one piece of fabric. The command is to love. The reward is to become like one
So it is important to emphasize, on the one hand, that the reward a
Christian Hedonist pursues is the incomparable delight of being like God and
loving what He loves with an intensity approaching His own (John 17:26). And
it is important to emphasize, on the other hand, that the acts of love a Christian
Hedonist performs are themselves therefore delightful in measure because they
have about them the aroma of this final reward. This, as we saw, was also C. S.
Lewis’s point when he spoke of an activity’s “proper rewards,” which “are the
activity in itself in consummation.”
LOVE LONGS FOR THE POWER OF GRACE
One last question belongs to this chapter. I have defined love as the overflow of
joy in God that meets the needs of others. It will be practically helpful in conclusion
to ask how this actually works in experience. What is the psychological
process that moves us from joy in God to the actual deed of love?
We start with a miracle; namely, that I, a sinner, should delight in God! Not
just in His material rewards, but in Him, in all His manifold excellencies! This
conversion experience, as we saw, is the “creation” of a Christian Hedonist. Now
how does practical love emerge from this heart of joy in God?
When the object of our delight is moral beauty, the longing to behold is
inseparable from the longing to be. When the Holy Spirit awakens the heart of a
person to delight in the holiness of God, an insatiable desire is born not only to
behold that holiness, but also to be holy as God is holy. Our joy is incomplete if
we can only stand outside beholding the glory of God, but are not allowed to
share it. It is one thing for a little boy to cheer in the grandstands at a football
game. But his joy is complete if he can go home and get a team together and
actually play the game.
We don’t want to just see the grace of God in all its beauty, saving sinners
and sanctifying saints. We want to share the power of that grace. We want to
feel it saving.
We want to feel it conquer temptation in our lives. We want to feel it using
us to save others. But why? Because our joy in God is insatiably greedy. The
more we have, the more we want. The more we see, the more we want to see.
The more we feel, the more we want to feel.
This means that the holy greed for joy in God that wants to see and feel
more and more manifestations of His glory will push a person into love. My
desire to feel the power of God’s grace conquering the pride and selfishness in
my life inclines me to behavior that demonstrates the victory of grace, namely,
love. Genuine love is so contrary to human nature that its presence bears witness
to an extraordinary power. The Christian Hedonist pursues love because he is
addicted to the experience of that power. He wants to feel more and more of the
grace of God reigning in his life.
CONQUERING THE INTERNAL MOUNTAIN OF PRIDE
There is an analogy here to a powerful motive that exists in unbelieving hearts as
well. Virtually all people outside Christ are possessed by the desire to find happiness
by overcoming some limitation in their lives and having the sensation of
power. Heinrich Harrer, a member of the first team to climb the north wall of
the Eiger in the Swiss Alps, confessed that his reason for attempting such a
climb was to overcome a sense of insecurity. “Self-confidence,” he said, “is the
most valuable gift a man can possess…but to possess this true confidence it is
necessary to have learned to know oneself at moments when one was standing at
the very frontier of things.… On the ‘Spider’ in the Eiger’s North Face, I experienced
such borderline situations, while the avalanches were roaring down over
The all-important difference between the non-Christian and the Christian
Hedonist in this pursuit of joy is that the Christian Hedonist has discovered that
self-confidence will never satisfy the longing of his heart to overcome finitude.
He has learned that what we are really made for is not the thrill of feeling
our own power increase, but the thrill of feeling God’s power increase, conquering
the precipices of un-love in our sinful hearts.
As I said in the letter to my friend Ronn, it is an indictment of our own
worldliness that we feel more exhilaration when we conquer an external mountain
of granite in our own strength than when we conquer the internal mountain
of pride in God’s strength. The miracle of Christian Hedonism is that over-
10. Quoted in Daniel P. Fuller, Hermeneutics (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1969), 7:4–5.
coming obstacles to love by the grace of God has become more enticing than
every form of self-confidence. The joy of experiencing the power of God’s grace
defeating selfishness is an insatiable addiction.
JOY DOUBLED IN THE JOY OF ANOTHER
But there is another way of describing the psychological process that leads from
delight in God to labors of love. When a person delights in the display of the
glorious grace of God, that person will want to see as many displays of it as possible
in other people. If I can be God’s means of another person’s miraculous
conversion, I will count it all joy, because what would I rather see than another
display of the beauty of God’s grace in the joy of another person? My joy is doubled
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.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart.… More to be desired
are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
PSALM 19:8, 10–11
I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business
to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.
The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve
the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into
a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished.…
I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself
to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it.
GEORGE MÜLLER OF BRISTOL