Desiring God by John Piper
REASON ONE: IT’S MY PLEASURE!
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. (2 Corinthians 2:3)
We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:4)
When you are a starving man among starving people and you discover a banquet in the wilderness, you become a debtor to all. And the payment of that debt is delightful in proportion to the magnificence of the banquet.
I have felt like the lepers of Samaria. The Syrians surrounded the capital of
Israel. Inside the besieged city, the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung sold for five shekels, and women boiled their children for food. But outside the city, unknown to the people within, the Lord had sent the Syrians fleeing. And there in the wilderness was laid a banquet of salvation.
The lepers realized they had nothing to lose. So they ventured into the
enemy camp and found that the enemy had gone but left all their provisions
behind. At first they began to hoard the treasures for themselves. But then the first rays of Christian Hedonism began to dawn on them:
They said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of
good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment
will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s
household.” (2 Kings 7:9)
This was the text from which Daniel Fuller preached at my ordination service in 1975. It was prophetic. For I have been a leper stumbling again and again onto the banquet of God in the wilderness of this world. And I have discovered that the banquet tastes far sweeter when I eat it with the widows of Samaria than when I hoard it in the desert.
I am radically committed to the pursuit of full and lasting joy. And so my
ear has not been deaf to the wisdom of words like these from Karl Barth:
It must be said that we can have joy, and therefore will it, only as we
give it to others.… There may be cases where a man can be really merry
in isolation. But these are exceptional and dangerous.… It certainly
gives us ground to suspect the nature of his joy as real joy if he does not
desire—“Rejoice with me”—that at least one or some or many others,
as representatives of the rest, should share this joy.… We may succeed in
willing joy exclusively for ourselves, but we have to realize that in this
case, unless a miracle happens (and miracles are difficult to imagine for
such a purpose), this joy will not be true, radiant and sincere.1
The motive for writing this book is the desire to double my joy in God’s
banquet of grace by sharing it with as many as I can. I write this to you that my joy might be full.
REASON TWO: GOD IS BREATHTAKING
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may
dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the
beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III, 4 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961): 379–80.
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train
of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had
six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his
feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy,
holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of this glory.”
If you are a guide on a sightseeing trip and you know the people are longing
to enjoy beauty and you come upon some breathtaking ravine, then you should show it to them and urge them to enjoy it. Well, the human race does in fact crave the experience of awe and wonder. And there is no reality more breathtaking than God.
The Preacher said,
[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity
into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has
done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Eternity is in the heart of man, filling him with longing. But we know not
what we long for until we see the breathtaking God. This is the cause of universal restlessness.
Thou madest us for Thyself,
and our heart is restless,
until it rest in Thee.
Saint Augustine 2
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:
2. Saint Augustine, Confessions, in Documents of the Christian Church, ed. Henry Bettenson (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), book 1, chapter 1.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.
George Herbert, “The Pulley” 3
The world has an inconsolable longing. It tries to satisfy the longing with
scenic vacations, accomplishments of creativity, stunning cinematic productions, sexual exploits, sports extravaganzas, hallucinogenic drugs, ascetic rigors, managerial excellence, et cetera. But the longing remains. What does this mean?
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.4
3. George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (Harmondworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1991), 150.
4. C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis, ed. Clyde Kilby (New York: Harcourt, Brace &World, 1968), 22.
It was when I was happiest that I longed most.… The sweetest thing in
all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty
The tragedy of the world is that the echo is mistaken for the Original
Shout. When our back is to the breathtaking beauty of God, we cast a shadow
on the earth and fall in love with it. But it does not satisfy.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located
will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came
through them, and what came through them was longing. These
things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of
what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they
turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they
are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not
found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we
have never yet visited.6
I have written this book because the breathtaking Beauty has visited us:
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory [His beauty!], glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). How can we not cry, “Look!”
REASON THREE: THE WORD OF GOD COMMANDS US TO PURSUE OUR JOY
Delight yourself in the LORD. (Psalm 37:4)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
And the Word of God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy:
5. Ibid., 25.
6. Ibid., 22–3.
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and
gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you
shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you.
But there are numerous objections to Christian Hedonism at this point.
Someone may object, “No, you should not pursue your joy. You should pursue God.” This is a helpful objection. It forces us to make several needed clarifications.
The objector is absolutely right that if we focus our attention on our own
subjective experience of joy, we will most certainly be frustrated, and God will not be honored. When you go to an art museum, you had better attend to the paintings, and not your pulse. Otherwise, there will be no delight in the beauty of the art.
But beware of jumping to the conclusion that we should no longer say,
“Come and take delight in these paintings.” Do not jump to the conclusion that the command to pursue joy is misleading, while the command to look at the paintings is not.
What would you say is wrong with the person who comes to the art
museum looking for a particular painting because he knows he can make a big profit if he buys and resells it? He goes from room to room, looking carefully at each painting. He is not the least preoccupied with his subjective, aesthetic experience. What is wrong here?
He is mercenary. His reason for looking is not the reason the painting was
created. You see, it is not enough to say our pursuit should simply be the paintings.
For there are ways to pursue the paintings that are bad.
One common way of guarding against this mercenary spirit is to say we
should pursue art for art’s sake. But what does this mean? It means, I think, pursuing art in a way that honors art, not money. But how do you honor art? I would answer: You honor art mainly by experiencing an appropriate emotion when you look at it.
We know we will miss this emotion if we are self-conscious while beholding
the painting. We also know we will miss it if we are money-conscious or fameconscious or power-conscious when we look at the painting. It seems to me, therefore, that a helpful way to admonish visitors to the art museum is to say, “Delight yourself in the paintings!”
The word delight guards them from thinking they should pursue money or
fame or power with the paintings. And the phrase “in the paintings” guards
them from thinking the emotion that honors the paintings could be experienced any other way than by focusing on the paintings themselves.
So it is with God. We are commanded by the Word of God: “Delight yourself
in the LORD.” This means: Pursue joy in God. The word joy, or delight, protects us from a mercenary pursuit of God. And the phrase “in God” protects us from thinking joy somehow stands alone as an experience separate from our experience of God Himself.
The most common objection against the command to pursue joy is that Jesus commanded just the opposite when He called for our self-denial: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). We have dealt with this already (p. 241), but it may be helpful to draw in one other text to illustrate that biblical self-denial means “Deny yourselves lesser joys so you don’t lose the big ones.” Which is the same as saying: Really pursue joy! Don’t settle for anything less than full and lasting joy.
Consider Hebrews 12:15–17 as an example of how one person failed to
practice self-denial, to his own destruction:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of
bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become
defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold
his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he
desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance
to repent, though he sought it with tears.
Esau lost his life because he preferred the pleasure of a single meal above the blessings of his birthright in the chosen family. This is a picture of all people who refuse to deny themselves the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). But note well! The main evil is not in choosing a meal, but in despising his birthright. Self-denial is never a virtue in itself. It has value precisely in proportion to the superiority of the reality embraced above the one denied. Self-denial that is not based on a desire for some superior goal will become the ground of boasting.
The third objection to the command to seek our joy can be stated like this:
You have argued that the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all
worship and virtue. You have said that if we try to abandon this pursuit,
we cannot honor God or love people. But can you make this
square with Romans 9:3 and Exodus 32:32? It seems that Paul and
Moses do indeed abandon the pursuit of their own pleasure when they
express a willingness to be damned for the salvation of Israel.
These are startling verses!
In Romans 9:3, Paul expresses his heartaches over the cursed condition of most of his Jewish kinsmen. He says, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
In Exodus 32 the people of Israel have committed idolatry. The wrath of
God burns against them. Moses takes the place of a mediator to protect the
people. He prays, “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of your book that you have written” (vv. 31–32).
First, we must realize that these two instances do not present us with the
same problem. Moses’ prayer does not necessarily include a reference to eternal damnation like Paul’s does. We must not assume that the “book” he refers to here carries the same eternal significance that the “book of life” does, say, in Philippians 4:3 and Revelation 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; and 21:27.
George Bush (the Old Testament scholar, not the president of the United
States!) argues that in Exodus 32:32 being blotted out of the book is tantamount to being taken out of life while others survive:
There is no intimation in these words of any secret book of the divine
decrees, or of anything involving the question of Moses’ final salvation
or perdition. He simply expressed the wish rather to die than witness
the destruction of his people. The phraseology is an allusion, probably,
to the custom of having the names of a community enrolled in a register,
and whenever one died, of erasing his name from the number.7
A person’s willingness to die is not necessarily at odds with Christian
Hedonism. Hebrews 11:26 says that Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” There is no reason to think Moses stopped looking to the all-compensating reward when he struggled with the sin of Israel.
But this, of course, does not remove the main problem, which is Romans
9:3. Paul had written, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” This appears to be a willingness to abandon the pursuit of happiness. Did Paul then cease to be a Christian Hedonist in expressing this kind of love for the lost?
Notice that he says, “I could wish that I myself were accursed.” The reason
for translating the verb as “I could wish” is that the Greek imperfect tense is
used to soften the expression and show that it cannot be carried through. Henry Alford says, “The sense of the imperfect in such expression is the proper and strict one…the act is unfinished, an obstacle intervening.”8 Buist Fanning says that this “desiderative imperfect” is used “to contemplate the desire, but fail to bring oneself actually to the point of wishing.”9
7. George Bush, Notes on Exodus, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1976, orig. 1852), 225.
8. Henry Alford, The Greek New Testament, vol. 2 (Chicago: Moody, 1958, orig. 1852), 225.
9. B. M. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), 251, cited in Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 552 n. 27. Wallace translates it, “I could almost wish myself accursed.”
The obstacle is the immediately preceding promise of Romans 8:38–39:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul knows it is impossible to take the place of his kinsmen in hell.
But he says he is potentially willing to! This is the problem for Christian
Hedonism. We simply must take this seriously. Paul ponders the hypothetical possibility of a world in which such a thing might be possible. Suppose there were a world in which an unconverted sinner and a man of faith could stand before the bar of God to receive judgment. And suppose that if the saint were willing, God would reverse their roles. If the saint were willing, God would withdraw His saving grace from the saint so he becomes fit for hell in unbelief and rebellion, and He would give converting grace to the unbeliever so that he trusts Christ and becomes fit for heaven.
In such a world, what would love require? It would require total self-sacrifice. And the principle of Christian Hedonism would cease to apply. But mark well! This hypothetical world does not exist! God did not create a world in which a person could be eternally damned for an act of love.
In the real world God made, we are never asked to make such a choice: Are
you willing to become damnable for the salvation of others? Instead, we are constantly told that doing good to others will bring us great reward and that we should pursue that reward.
Paradoxically, Paul’s willingness to reach for a hypothetical case of ultimate
sacrifice is a deep and dramatic way of saying with as much force as he knows how, “This, even this, is how much I delight in the prospect of Israel’s salvation!” But immediately we see the impossibility of carrying through the wish: If their salvation were such a great delight to him, would hell really be hell? Could we really speak of hell as the place where Paul could achieve his deepest and noblest desire of love? This is the sort of incongruity you run into in hypothetical worlds that do not exist.
Happiness would be impossible in any case in such a world. For if God were to give a saint the option of becoming damnable to save another, such a
saint could never live with himself if he said no. And he would suffer forever in hell if he said yes. He loses both ways.
But Christian Hedonism is not a philosophy for hypothetical worlds. It is
based on the real world God has established and regulated in Holy Scripture. In this real world we are never urged or required to become evil that good may abound. We are always required to become good. This means becoming the kind of people who delight in the good, not just doing it dutifully. The Word of God commands us to pursue our joy.
REASON FOUR: AFFECTIONS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, NOT OPTIONAL
It is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in
terms of decisions, and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation to achieve. They are evidence of no true work of grace in the heart. People can make “decisions” about the truth of God while their hearts are far from Him.
We have moved far away from the Christianity of Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards pointed to 1 Peter 1:8 and argued that “true religion, in great part,
consists in the affections.”
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not
now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible
and filled with glory. (1 Peter 1:8)
He points out that “true religion” has two kinds of operation in the souls of
the saints, according to this test: love to Christ (“though you have not seen him, you love him”) and joy in Christ (“you rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory”). Both of these operations in the soul are affections, not merely decisions. Edwards’s conception of true Christianity was that the new birth really brought into being a new nature that had new affections.10
10. Jonathan Edwards, Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 236.
I find this supported throughout Scripture. We are commanded to feel, not
just to think or decide. We are commanded to experience dozens of emotions, not just to perform acts of willpower.
For example, we are commanded not to covet (Exodus 20:17), and it is
obvious that every commandment not to have a certain feeling is also a commandment to feel a certain way. The opposite of covetousness is contentment with what we have, and in Hebrews 13:5 this is exactly what we are commanded to experience (“Be content with what you have”).
We are commanded to bear no grudge, but to forgive from the heart
(Leviticus 19:17–18). Note: The law does not say, “Make a mere decision to
drop the matter.” Rather, it says, “Experience an event in the heart” (see
Matthew 18:35). Similarly, the intensity of the heart is commanded in 1 Peter 1:22 (“Love one another earnestly from a pure heart”) and in Romans 12:10 (“Love one another with brotherly affection”).
Among other examples of emotions that the Scriptures command are these:
joy (Psalm 100:2; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; Romans 12:8, 12, 15)
hope (Psalm 42:5; 1 Peter 1:13)
fear (Luke 12:5; Romans 11:20; 1 Peter 1:17)
peace (Colossians 3:15)
zeal (Romans 12:11)
grief (Romans 12:15; James 4:9)
desire (1 Peter 2:2)
tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32)
brokenness and contrition (Psalm 51:17)
gratitude (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17)
lowliness (Philippians 2:3)
I do not believe it is possible to say that Scriptures like these all refer to
optional icing on the cake of decision. They are commanded by the Lord who said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
It is true that our hearts are often sluggish. We do not feel the depth or
intensity of affections appropriate for God or His cause. It is true that at those times we must, insofar as it lies within us, exert our wills and make decisions that we hope will rekindle our joy. Though joyless love is not our aim (“God loves a cheerful giver!”), nevertheless it is better to do a joyless duty than not to do it, provided there is a spirit of repentance for the deadness of our hearts.
I am often asked what a Christian should do if the cheerfulness of obedience
is not there. It is a good question. My answer is not to simply get on with
your duty because feelings are irrelevant! My answer has three steps. First, confess the sin of joylessness. Acknowledge the culpable coldness of your heart. Don’t say that it doesn’t matter how you feel. Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of obedience. Third, go ahead and do the outward dimension of your duty in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight. (For more practical counsel on fighting for joy, see appendix 4.)
This is very different from saying, “Do your duty because feelings don’t
count.” These steps are predicated on the assumption that there is such a thing as hypocrisy. They are based on the belief that our goal is the reunion of pleasure and duty and that a justification of their separation is a justification of sin. John Murray puts it like this:
There is no conflict between gratification of desire and the enhancement
of man’s pleasure, on the one hand, and fulfillment of God’s
command on the other.… The tension that often exists within us
between a sense of duty and wholehearted spontaneity is a tension that
arises from sin and a disobedient will. No such tension would have
invaded the heart of unfallen man. And the operations of saving grace
redirected to the end of removing the tension so that there may be, as
there was with man at the beginning, the perfect complementation of
duty and pleasure, of commandment and love.11
This is the goal of saving grace and the goal of this book.
11. John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1957), 38–9.
REASON FIVE: CHRISTIAN HEDONISM COMBATS PRIDE AND SELF-PITY
God does everything He does to exalt His mercy and abase man’s pride:
So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of
his grace…so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:7, 9)
In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…to
the praise of the glory of His grace. (Ephesians 1:4–6, NASB)
God chose what is low and despised in the world…so that no human
being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:28–29)
Christian Hedonism combats pride by putting man in the category of an
empty vessel beneath the fountain of God. It guards us from the presumption of trying to be God’s benefactors. Philanthropists can boast. Welfare recipients can’t. The primary experience of the Christian Hedonist is need. When a little, helpless child is swept off his feet by the undercurrent on the beach and his father catches him just in time, the child does not boast; he hugs.
The nature and depth of human pride are illuminated by comparing boasting with self-pity. Both are manifestations of pride. Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.” Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing.
The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy.
But the need arises from a wounded ego, and the desire of the self-pitying is not really for others to see them as helpless, but as heroes. The need self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.
Christian Hedonism severs the root of self-pity. People don’t feel self-pity
when suffering is accepted for the sake of joy.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for
your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who
were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12)
This is the ax laid to the root of self-pity. When we have to suffer on
account of Christ, we do not summon up our own resources like heroes. Rather, we become like little children who trust the strength of their father and who want the joy of his reward. As we saw in the last chapter, the greatest sufferers for Christ have always deflected praise and pity by testifying to their Christian Hedonism.
“I never made a sacrifice,” said Hudson Taylor in later years, looking
back over a life in which that element was certainly not lacking. But
what he said was true, for the compensations were so real and lasting
that he came to see that giving up is inevitably receiving, when one is
dealing heart to heart with God.… The sacrifice was great, but the
reward far greater.
“Unspeakable joy [he tells us] all day long and every day, was my
happy experience. God, even my God, was a living bright reality, and
all I had to do was joyful service.”12
“Giving up is inevitably receiving.” This is the motto of Christian
Hedonism and the demise of self-pity. You can see the principle at work among the godly again and again. For example, I knew a seminary professor who also served as an usher in the balcony of a big church. Once when he was to have part in a service, the pastor extolled him for his willingness to serve in this
12. Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody, n. d., original 1932), 30.
unglamorous role even though he had a doctorate in theology. The professor humbly deflected the praise by quoting Psalm 84:10:
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would
rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents
In other words, don’t think I am heroically overcoming great obstacles of
disinclination to keep the doors of the sanctuary. The Word of God says it will bring great blessing!
Most people can recognize that doing something for the joy of it is a humbling experience. When a man takes friends out for dinner and picks up the check, his friends may begin to say how good it was of him to pay for them. But he simply lifts his hand in a gesture that says, “Stop.” And he says, “It’s my pleasure.” In other words, if I do a good deed for the joy of it, the impulse of pride is broken.
The breaking of that impulse is the will of God, and that is one of the reasons
I have written this book.
REASON SIX: CHRISTIAN HEDONISM PROMOTES GENUINE LOVE FOR PEOPLE
No one has ever felt unloved because he was told that the attainment of his joy would make another person happy. I have never been accused of selfishness when justifying a kindness on the basis that it delights me. On the contrary, loving acts are genuine to the degree that they are not done begrudgingly. And the good alternative to begrudgingly is not neutrally or dutifully, but gladly. The authentic heart of love “loves kindness” (Micah 6:8); it doesn’t just do kindness. Christian Hedonism forces this truth into consideration.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and
obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his
commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. (1 John 5:2–4)
Read these sentences in reverse order and notice the logic. First, being born
of God gives a power that conquers the world. This is given as the ground or
basis (“For”) for the statement that the commandments of God are not burdensome. So being born of God gives a power that conquers our worldly aversion to the will of God. Now His commandments are not “burdensome,” but are the desire and delight of our heart. This is the love of God: not just that we do His commandments, but also that they are not burdensome.
Then in verse 2 the evidence of the genuineness of our love for the children
of God is said to be the love of God. What does this teach us about our love for the children of God? Since love for God is doing His will gladly rather than with a sense of burden, and since love for God is the measure of the genuineness of our love for the children of God, therefore our love for the children of God must also be done gladly rather than begrudgingly. Christian Hedonism stands squarely in the service of love, for it presses us on to glad obedience.
Jesus was big on giving to the needy. How did He motivate giving? He said,
“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:33). In other words, stop craving two-bit possessions on earth when you can have endless treasures in heaven by giving alms! (Remember Hudson Taylor: “Giving up is inevitably receiving.”)
Or, a bit differently, but basically the same, He said, “When you give to the
needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that
your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3–4). In other words, stop being motivated by the praises of men, and let the thought of God’s reward move you to love.
Yes, it is real love when our giving is motivated by the heavenly treasure. It
is not exploitation, because the loving almsgiver aims for His alms to rescue the beggar for that same reward. A Christian Hedonist is always aware that his own enjoyment of the Father’s reward will be even greater when shared with the ones He has drawn into the heavenly fellowship.
My point is this: If Jesus thought it wise to motivate acts of love with promises of reward (Matthew 6:4) and treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33), it
accords with His teaching to say that Christian Hedonism promotes genuine
love for people.
Consider another illustration. Hebrews 13:17 gives the following counsel to
every local church:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over
your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this
with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to
Now, if it is not profitable for pastors to do their oversight sadly instead of
joyfully, then a pastor who does not seek to do his work with joy does not care for his flock. Not to pursue our joy in ministry is not to pursue the profit of our people. This is why Paul admonished those who do acts of mercy to do them “with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:8), and why God loves a “cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Begrudging service does not qualify as genuine love.
The pursuit of joy through mercy is what makes love real. And that is one
of the reasons I have written this book.
REASON SEVEN: CHRISTIAN HEDONISM GLORIFIES GOD
We have come back to where we began. And this is as it should be: “For from
him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
Does Christian Hedonism put man’s pleasure above God’s glory? No. It
puts man’s pleasure in God’s glory. Our quest is not merely joy. It is joy in God. And there is no way for a creature to consciously manifest the infinite worth and beauty of God without delighting in Him. It is better to say that we pursue our joy in God than to simply say that we pursue God. For one can pursue God in ways that do not honor Him:
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the LORD; “I
have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed
beasts.” (Isaiah 1:11)
Our solemn assemblies may be a stench in God’s nose (Amos 5:21–24). It is
possible to pursue God without glorifying God. If we want our quest to honor God, we must pursue Him for the joy in fellowship with Him.
Consider the Sabbath as an illustration of this. The Lord rebukes His
people for seeking “their own” pleasure on His holy day. But what does He
mean? He means they are delighting in their business and not in the beauty of their God. He does not rebuke their hedonism. He rebukes the weakness of it. They have settled for secular interests and thus honor them above the Lord.
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13–14)
Notice that calling the Sabbath a delight is parallel to calling the holy day of
the Lord honorable. This simply means you honor what you delight in. Or you glorify what you enjoy.
The enjoyment and the glorification of God are one. His eternal purpose
and our eternal pleasure unite. To magnify His name and multiply your joy is the reason I have written this book, for:
The chief end of man is to glorify God
enjoying Him forever.