When I returned from the leave of absence earlier this year, Noël and I sat down with representatives of the Elder Care Committee who are charged to help us watch over the pace of our lives, and they suggested that on the weekends when I am teaching a five-hour seminar (like I did for Desiring God this weekend), I preach what they affectionately called a “classic sermon.” I thought that was a good idea because it accomplishes two things. One is to take some of the pressure of preparation off by preaching on something familiar; and the other is to strengthen some of the biblical pillars of our church that newer people may not be as aware of as those who have been here for a while.
So that’s what today’s sermon is. I don’t know if “classic” is the right word. But “pillar-strengthening” is. So, this is a topical message on the pillar of the truth of Christian Hedonism. And the reason I say the pillar of “the truth” of Christian Hedonism is because the phrase “Christian Hedonism” is not of the essence and is not in any of our official documents. That’s intentional. It’s the truth that matters, not the name.
What it refers to is the truth that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him” — along with the astonishing implications of that truth. After the Bible, which alone is infallible, the most formative document of this church is the “Elder Affirmation of Faith.” The truth (not the phrase) of Christian Hedonism runs through the document, creating the aroma that we aim at in all we do. For example:
2.2: We believe that God is supremely joyful in the fellowship of the Trinity, each Person beholding and expressing His eternal and unsurpassed delight in the all-satisfying perfections of the triune God.
3.1: We believe that God, from all eternity, in order to display the full extent of His glory for the eternal and ever-increasing enjoyment of all who love Him, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His will, freely and unchangeably ordain and foreknow whatever comes to pass.
4.1: We believe that God created the universe, and everything in it, out of nothing, by the Word of His power. Having no deficiency in Himself, nor moved by any incompleteness in His joyful self-sufficiency, God was pleased in creation to display His glory for the everlasting joy of the redeemed, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
4.2: We believe that God directly created Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from his side. We believe that Adam and Eve were the historical parents of the entire human race; that they were created male and female equally in the image of God, without sin; that they were created to glorify their Maker, Ruler, Provider, and Friend by trusting His all-sufficient goodness, admiring His infinite beauty, enjoying His personal fellowship, and obeying His all-wise counsel. . . .
12.1: . . . We believe that the ultimate purpose of the Church is to glorify God in the everlasting and ever-increasing gladness of worship.
13: We believe . . . the ultimate aim of world missions is that God would create, by His Word, worshippers who glorify His name through glad-hearted faith and obedience.
14.2: We believe in the blessed hope that at the end of the age Jesus Christ will return to this earth personally, visibly, physically, and suddenly in power and great glory. . . . We believe that the righteous will enter into the everlasting joy of their Master, and those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness will be consigned to everlasting, conscious misery.
14.3: We believe that the end of all things in this age will be the beginning of a never-ending, ever-increasing happiness in the hearts of the redeemed, as God displays more and more of His infinite and inexhaustible greatness and glory for the enjoyment of His people.
15.2: . . . We believe that the supreme virtue of love is nourished by the strong meat of God-centered doctrine. And we believe that a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ is sustained in an atmosphere of deep and joyful knowledge of God and His wonderful works.
In other words, Christian Hedonism is woven into the fabric of this foundational document and thus into the faith and life of our church. This document is the way all your elders understand the Bible. In it are the pillars of our common faith — what we believe and what we teach. And so it is fitting that from time to time we explain and strengthen the pillars with sermons like this.
So, here’s where we are going. First, we will go to Philippians 1 for one of the foundational texts underneath this pillar of Christian Hedonism — the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Then we will spell out nine implications for our lives and our ministry.
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:20–23)
God himself, most fully revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, is the supreme value in the universe. That’s why Paul says in Philippians 1:20: “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . now as always Christ will be honored in my body.” That is the greatest goal for all of life because it is the goal of the creation of the universe. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). Valuing God and the glory of God above all else permeates the leadership of Bethlehem.
Joyfully treasuring Jesus above all things in life and death displays his worth and glory.
Since God is the most glorious of all beings, and since that glory shines most brightly in us when we are most satisfied in him, it is therefore our duty to pursue the greatest and longest happiness in God every hour of the day and forever. Psalm 16 is one of the great expressions of this. I get the words “greatest” and “longest” from this psalm. Here is composite of verses 8–11:
I have set the Lord always before me [so this is intentional; this is pursuit]. . . . Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; For . . . You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Further, we are commanded to pursue our joy in God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1–2)
Delight yourself in the Lord. (Psalm 37:4)
Rejoice in the Lord. . . . (Philippians 4:4)
[Illustration of objection: Pursue obedience not joy. That’s like saying eat fruit, not apples.]
When we say you should pursue your joy in God all the time, no exceptions, we do not make a god out of joy. We say that you have already made a god out of whatever you find most pleasure in.
We don’t worship joy; we say that joy in God is the heart of worship. What you find most joy in is what you worship. That’s what worship is — valuing, treasuring, cherishing, enjoying, and being satisfied in God — or, if you are an idolater, anything other than God.
The aim of corporate worship is to awaken and express together our joyful admiration of all the wonders and works of God.
I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4)
I do not criticize you for coming to “get.” I think God is greatly honored when people come to corporate worship starving for God and deeply desiring that they will meet him and hear from him.
The word of God and preaching exist to reveal God to us for the sake of our joy in him.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul . . .
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart. (Psalm 19:7–8)
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
Therefore, my job in worship is to set a table for you where you eat and rejoice in the God you taste. I’m aiming not merely to change your ideas about God, but to change your affections for God. God’s glory in your life, hangs in the balance.
The aim of all discipling and all Christian relationships is to help each other maintain our joy in God above all things. This was Paul’s whole ministry.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Cor 1:24)
I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:25)
Seeking your greatest and longest joy in God severs the root of sin. Sin only has power because of the promises it makes, promises for happiness. Nobody sins out of duty. We sin because we believe the promise of sin that we will be happier. The only way to defeat the power of sin’s promise is with the power of a superior promise. For example, how does the Bible free us from the love of money and the sin of anxiety and greed?
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
We are freed from the sin of loving money by the pursuit of “contentment” in God. And that contentment is rooted in a superior promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
This is the whole secret of sanctification: the expulsive power of a new affection!
The pursuit of joy in God is essential not only because God is glorified by it, but because people are loved by it. Pursuing your joy in God is essential to your loving people.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Corinthians 8:1–2)
Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Or: love is the grace-enabled impulse to increase your joy by seeing it expand into other people.
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.” (Acts 20:35)
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. (Hebrews 10:34)
If leaders would love their people, they must pursue their joy in ministry, and the people must help them.
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 you. (Hebrews 13:17)
If husbands are to love their wives, they must pursue their own joy in the joy of their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . so that he might present the church to himself in splendor . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:25–30)
We love them well when we find our joy in their joy. Cherish her, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. Seek her joy for she is you. Her joy is yours.
And the implications go on and on. But we close. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Therefore, since glorifying God is the main goal of the universe and your life, be relentless and unwavering in fighting for joy in God. This is your lifelong vocation.
And here is a wonderful note to close on: since God is sovereign, he guarantees the triumph of your joy in the end. In the text from the Gospel of John that was read at the beginning, Jesus said to the disciples who were about to lose him in death and get him back at his resurrection, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
No one. It is invincible. Full. Solid. Eternal. No one will take this joy from you. God is our exceeding joy. And he cannot fail.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.