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By John Piper — 6 months ago
Good Monday morning to you. Maybe you’re listening on your way to class or to work. Monday, for many of us, is a day to re-enter the complexities of life as God’s redeemed children, living out our faith in a world that is hostile to our heavenly Father. And that raises questions like this: Should the world like us, or should the world hate us? Which result shows us to be most faithful? It’s a huge question — one for another day. We’ll get to it in two Fridays.
Today’s question, Pastor John, is about the sinfully vile in this world. Should we despise them, or should we love them? Here’s the question: “My name is Parker. I’m 14. Psalm 15:4 says, speaking of a blameless man, that ‘in [their] eyes a vile person is despised.’ How can we both despise the vile, and yet also love our enemies?” And the same question came from a listener named Peter. “Hello to you, Pastor John. David says in Psalm 15:1–2, 4, ‘O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right . . . in whose eyes a vile person is despised.’ But Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ These categories of (1) vile people and (2) enemies and persecutors are not entirely overlapping, but I think it’s safe to say that there’s at least some overlap between them. I suspect David had his enemies in mind in Psalm 15 when he was talking about vile people. Do you agree? If you do, how are we to simultaneously despise and love the sinfully vile?”
“It is indeed possible to love someone you despise.”
The short answer is that it is indeed possible to love someone you despise. In fact, it is not just possible but necessary, because the psalm says that one of the marks of the person who dwells with God, who enjoys God’s fellowship, is that “in [his] eyes a vile person is despised.” That’s a mark of being welcomed into God favor. In fact, we don’t even need to jump from the psalm to Jesus in order to see what love requires toward a vile person.
Who Shall Dwell on Your Hill?
Let me read Psalm 15:1–5, because the whole thing is remarkable in this regard. I’ll just pause and mark the key parts as we go along. “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?” That’s the question. Who gets to enjoy fellowship with God? “Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (Psalm 15:1). In other words, what are the marks of a person who can enjoy the presence and the fellowship of God? And here comes the answer: “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right” (Psalm 15:2). So he’s not free. This person who qualifies to be with God is not free to call just anything right. He does what is right — namely, what God calls right.
Now, continuing, “And [he] speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor” (Psalm 15:2–3). Now that’s very crucial, because it comes just before the word about despising. Paul said in Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” So when the psalmist says, “[He] does no evil to his neighbor,” he is saying, “I must love my neighbor. I may not wrong him.”
And then the text continues, “. . . nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:3–4). That means he keeps his promises even when it hurts him. “Who does not put out his money at interest” — which means he doesn’t take advantage of anyone financially — “and does not take a bribe against the innocent” (Psalm 15:5). So he won’t let himself be lured by money to treat anyone unjustly. And then, “He who does these things shall never be moved.” End of psalm.
Posture of the Heart
So, what do we make of this? Here’s David (a psalm of David), the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). And he says that the person who can dwell with God and enjoy God’s fellowship (1) does what is right, (2) does not slander anyone, (3) does no evil to his neighbor, (4) doesn’t charge interest to gouge anyone, and (5) doesn’t let bribery pervert justice in his hands.
In other words, this is not a careless moment for David, in which he’s on some kind of hate tirade against evildoers. This is a thoughtful listing of beautiful traits of the person God delights to have near him. And right after saying, “[He] does no evil to his neighbor,” one phrase later, he says that in this godly man’s eyes a vile person is despised and one who fears the Lord is honored (Psalm 15:3–4).
So, we take Paul’s definition of love from Romans 13:10 (“Love does no wrong to a neighbor”), and then David who is saying, “The man whom God welcomes loves his neighbor and despises him if he’s vile.” Notice the two halves of Psalm 15:4. We call this kind of poetic parallelism “antithetical.” That means the two halves express opposites. Here’s what he says in verse 4: “In whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors [which is the opposite of despised] those who fear the Lord [which is the opposite of vile].” What David is drawing attention to in the godly person’s heart is not how they act, not how they treat people. That’s not the point of verse 4. That’s the point of verse 3: you do no wrong to a neighbor. But the point of verse 4 is what they feel about the character of a person — what they admire in their hearts or don’t admire, what they praise, glorify, honor.
The godly person does not glorify the vile person. He glorifies the one who fears the Lord. The godly person does not admire, or venerate, or want to be like the vile person. He admires, he wants to be near and be like the person who fears the Lord. In other words, to despise in Psalm 15 does not mean you desire to destroy a person, or to see a person come to ruin. To despise means you regard the person’s character — not their body — as ugly, dishonorable, shameful, disgraceful, unworthy of praise. There are people like that, and it would be ungodly not to despise them.
And David is saying, “If you have the kind of heart that enjoys being around vile people who don’t fear God, if you admire and esteem vile people, you’re not fit for the presence of God.” That’s what he’s saying.
Despise the Vile
What David meant and what Jesus meant by loving our neighbor is not that we should admire their wickedness. We should despise their wickedness. And I know there’s someone who’s saying, “But you shouldn’t say it like that.” If you think I should be saying here, “Despise the sin and not the sinner” (that’s what some of you are thinking), that would be true if despising meant feeling desires for their ruin, but the problem with that traditional way of expressing love — love for the sinner, not the sin — is that it is precisely the person who is vile. That’s what it says.
And there are vile people. The vileness is not an alien intruder into a good person. Sin is not the only thing that’s vile; people are vile. People produce sins; sins don’t produce people. “Evil comes from the heart,” Jesus said (see Matthew 15:18). It doesn’t come from outside and contaminate the innocent heart. It’s people who will be judged for being vile, not just their vileness. Vileness doesn’t go to hell; people go to hell.
Love Your Enemies
So let me say it again. What David meant and what Jesus meant by loving our neighbor is not that we admire their wickedness. We should despise their wickedness. And that includes despising the kind of person that loves and does wickedness. And we should love them and be willing to lay down our lives for them. Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He was praying for people whom just days before he had said were fools, whitewashed tombs, full of wickedness and greed (Matthew 23:27), and who on Pentecost, fifty days later, would be saved. His prayer would be answered. Three thousand came to Jesus, including many priests (see Acts 2:41; 6:7).
“It is a godly trait to feel that vileness is repulsive and despicable. To admire it would be sin.”
Now besides Jesus himself, the clearest example in the New Testament of loving someone we despise is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans are chosen in this parable because they despised each other. (Look at John 4:9, and numerous other texts.) And so Jesus illustrated what neighbor love involves by portraying a Samaritan stopping to help a wounded Jew. There’s not a word in this parable about his liking him or admiring him as a Jew — only that he had compassion on him in his misery and took practical steps to relieve his suffering.
So my answer to Parker and Peter’s question is that it is a godly trait to feel that vileness is repulsive and despicable. To admire it would be sin. Admiration belongs to the fear of the Lord; despising belongs to despicable vileness. But the radical call on our lives as Christians is to love even those we despise and join Jesus in saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
By Abigail Dodds — 7 months ago
Complementarian is a strange word. I never heard my parents or my pastor use it as I was growing up. I can’t recall the first time I heard it — though it was likely sometime in the early 2000s, as a young married woman, sitting under the teaching of John Piper.
However, long before I heard the strange word, I had seen the concept. I saw it when my dad’s heart to be generous and hospitable was taken up by my mom and transposed into a welcoming home that operated like a bed-and-breakfast for family, friends, and strangers. I saw it when my dad would take the initiative to warm the car and pull it up to the curb, always hopping out to open the door for my mom — my fearless mom, who wielded chainsaws and rode young green horses, yet gladly welcomed this kindness from her husband. I saw it when my mom helped shoulder my dad’s call to be a physician, making the best of a constantly changing schedule. I saw it in my dad’s hard work and provision for us and in my mom’s labor in the home to turn that provision into something truly wonderful. And I saw it when my dad led us in prayer and gratitude to God for everything, especially God’s Son.
Woven Through All of God’s Word
Yet there was another place I’d seen complementarity: the Scriptures. From the opening pages — the genesis of Adam and Eve — to the final chapters revealing the marriage supper of the Lamb, this concept of part and counterpart; of the distinctiveness of man and woman (in Hebrew, ish and ishah); of the design and order of husband and wife, lord and lady, bridegroom and bride, was everywhere. From Sarah’s willingness to obey Abraham to Boaz’s noble protection of Ruth, the stories of Scripture show us both the beauty of complementarity and the consequences of rejecting God’s design for men and women — as when Adam submitted to Eve rather than to God in the garden.
“The husband is head, and the wife is glory — just as Christ is head, and the church is body.”
Even the gospel itself is intertwined with this foundational reality of creation: the husband is head, and the wife is glory — just as Christ is head, and the church is body (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22–33). The husband loves his wife, and the wife respects her husband — just as Christ lovingly sacrifices, and the church gladly submits and receives (Ephesians 5:22–33; Colossians 3:18–19). I had observed, too, how the Epistles reiterate the distinctions between men and women as they give separate and particular instructions for older women, younger women, older men, younger men, wives, husbands, and widows (Titus 2:1–6; 1 Timothy 2:8–15; 1 Peter 3:1–7).
By the time the strange word complementarian became part of my vocabulary, with its accompanying pushback against the idea that men and women are interchangeable, I didn’t need to be convinced it was true or scriptural. I’d seen it — both in print and in life.
Speed Bumps Along the Way
Of course, seeing a reality and living a reality are two different experiences. I could see the reality of complementarity. I could see the beauty of God’s intent for men and women. But stepping into that reality as a young woman and trying it on was more difficult. From the time I was little, the word equality was a good word. Especially as an American, I was proud to consider everyone equal. I’d heard that egalitarianism was simply that: equality between men and women. Who could be opposed to equality?
Thankfully, a complementarian position was able to account for both the equalities and the inequalities of men and women. To embrace the Bible’s teaching on men and women is to acknowledge an equality of value alongside physical and positional differences.
“What a gift to be a woman! What a gift to be endowed with a woman’s body and to have a woman’s mind and instincts!”
I found over time that, rather than bristling at this reality, there was great relief in stating the obvious. I came to acknowledge that treating men and women as the same was actually an affront to God — and at the same time, I became free to acknowledge that how he designed men and women was truly good and beautiful. Many women are indoctrinated by the world to believe that we will lose something essential in ourselves if we admit that we are physically weaker or inherently different than men. When we acknowledge that we don’t choose what we are but are created to be what we are — man or woman — the world teaches us to shudder and rebel, but God teaches us to say thank you for his good gift. What a gift to be a woman! What a gift to be endowed with a woman’s body and to have a woman’s mind and instincts!
Two Precious Tutors
Two books were especially helpful to me as I began to really practice the complementarity I saw in Scripture, both in my marriage and in how I conceived of myself as a Christian woman in the world. The first was Matthew Henry’s The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, and the second was Jim Wilson’s How to Be Free from Bitterness. Neither book mentions complementarianism, neither is about the differences between men and women, and neither is written particularly for women. But both books helped me gain a frame of mind and heart and soul that served my submission to God and his ways — and helped me flourish as a result.
The books gave me a window into the inner workings of a heart that truly trusts and obeys God. And it just so happens that the kind of heart that trusts and obeys God is the same kind of heart that does not rebel against God-ordained relationships of authority and submission. Whether submitting to the elders of my church or the authorities who make our traffic laws or my own husband as he leads us on a new adventure, my frame of heart and mind must be wholly trusting God. I need a stability of soul born of meekness and a faith-filled heart that is free from bitterness.
Henry and Wilson fanned the flames of my happiness in day-to-day life as they helped me turn from sins of grasping, bitterness, and inward strife and replace them with simple gratitude, peace, and joy in Christ. I commend them to you. My happiness in complementarity was directly tied to my own sanctification and my willingness to bow my knee in submission to King Jesus, no matter what the world or anyone else thought.
To agree with God’s word that a wife ought to submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22), or that woman is the glory of man and man is the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3), or that God himself ordains who is a man and who is a woman — these positions won’t earn you accolades or applause in many circles. But agreeing with God — even more, loving what God has said and done — will bring you peace and hope and joy, both now and in the age to come. Complementarian is a strange word, but that’s alright. Christians have often been strange to the world.
By John Piper — 5 months ago
Welcome back on this Friday. Pastor John, back in June of 2021, here on the podcast, you gave us a personal update. And at the very end of that update, like a little footnote, you briefly mentioned that you were about to head off for a two-month writing leave to write a whole book about 2 Timothy 4:8 on the second coming of Christ. That was back in APJ 1641. In God’s kindness, the book you alluded to there got written, edited, and published, and is now out under the title Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ (Crossway, 2023). We’re going to look at that book over the next week or so on the podcast in four episodes of questions that I have for you.
First off, in this new book, what becomes pretty obvious to any reader is that you don’t spend too much time dwelling on wrong views of the end times. Your goal really was to clarify what actually happens when Christ returns and to celebrate it and encourage us to love his appearing. That’s the main theme of the book. But I wonder if you would be willing to take ten minutes or so on this episode to sketch for us some of the misconceptions — the blunders and the urban legends — about the second coming that you hope your book will help people to avoid in the future.
In general, I do think it’s right that we do the most good for the church with regard to the second coming when we don’t focus on distortions and misconceptions, but rather on the truth and the beauty of what it really is in the Bible. And yet, it’s right, now and then, to make our people understand there are misconceptions; there are errors.
Frankly, I’m really happy that my book is viewed as being mainly proactive and positive rather than critical. But of course, even that positive view can be overstated. If we never focus on what’s wrong and show how harmful it is, we won’t really be biblical, because the biblical witness itself describes errors and their harmfulness — like Jesus did with the scribes and Pharisees or like Paul in exposing errors of false teaching in Colossians and other places.
So yes, I am willing to point out some misconceptions about the second coming. Let’s just take them one at a time, and I’ll try to explain why I think they’re a problem.
1. Christ will come after a golden age of Christendom.
First, I would mention the view that the second coming of Christ is far into the future. It will not happen until the kingdom of God is established as the ruling earthly power, including the Christianization of the cultures and societal structures of the earth. This is usually called postmillennialism, meaning that the second coming happens after (or post) the millennium. And the millennium in that view is understood to be an extended period in this age when the gospel has triumphed in such a way that a golden age of Christendom holds sway around the world and the powers of civil government, for example, are brought into the service of promoting Christian doctrine.
Now, I think this view does not adequately come to terms with both the teaching and the spirit of the New Testament that we are to live with a consciousness of the nearness of the coming of the Lord. I don’t think it comes to terms adequately with the teaching of the New Testament concerning this present age as lying “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), or how Paul describes this age till Jesus comes as this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), or the statement in Hebrews that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14), or how the movement toward the end is described with a movement of greater evil, not less evil (2 Timothy 3:1–5). And practically, I think this view pushes the appearing of the Lord so far out into the distant future that it becomes inconsequential in the daily consciousness of the churches that embrace this view.
“There is no New Testament promise that the church, in this fallen age, will transform any given culture.”
And I think it skews the mission focus of the New Testament away from world evangelization and personal disciple-making and the process of sanctification. It reorients people’s passions onto culture transformation as a foregrounded goal rather than a possible secondary consequence of speaking truth and doing love to the glory of Christ. And the reason I say “a possible secondary consequence” is that the culture is not the report card of the church. There is no New Testament promise that the church, in this fallen age, will transform any given culture. It may. It has. And it may not. It is as likely in any given setting that martyrdom, not transformation, will be the effect of obedience. And when that happens, the church has not failed. Just read the book of Revelation. Martyrdom is not failure.
2. Christ has already come.
Second, there is a view of the second coming that basically says it’s already happened — for example, in the events of AD 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. It’s not a very common view, I admit, but in that view, the descriptions of his coming that sound globally visible and world-shaking and obvious were really just traditional apocalyptic language to say that the Lord comes in historical judgments in this age, and then he carries it out for the rest of the time — namely, his rule over the world through the church, with no expectation of any literal second coming at all.
And I don’t think the language of the New Testament that describes Christ coming can be reduced to symbolic statements of historical events like AD 70. Paul’s understanding of the second coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17 is that it involves the resurrection of all the Christians from the grave. That did not happen in AD 70 or at any time. It’s going to happen when the Lord’s appearing comes.
3. No events need to happen before Christ comes.
Third, I think it’s a mistake to say that there are no events that are yet to happen in history before the Lord comes. Second Thessalonians 2:1–12 describes an apostasy and the appearance of the “man of lawlessness.” And Paul gives these two realities as an answer to the question for those who thought that the day of the Lord was upon them. And he says, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
4. Christ will spare his people from the tribulation.
Fourth, perhaps the most common misconception of the second coming is that it happens, so to speak, in two stages. First, he comes and takes Christians out of the world and returns them to heaven with him while there’s a great tribulation on the earth. And then, after a short time, maybe seven years, he returns with his saints to establish his kingdom.
Now, that’s one misconception I do deal with in the book. I devote a whole chapter to it, in fact. So I’m not going to go into any detail here. It is probably the most common misconception, and people will be surprised. “Whoa, I didn’t know that was a misconception. That’s what I’ve always believed.” I grew up with this view. My dad held this view. I love my dad to death, to the day he died, and we got along just fine. But gradually I came to see that this view did not have the Bible on its side.
I think the primary danger of a view like this is not that it undermines any important doctrine (at least I’m not aware of anybody going off the rails in any fundamental way because they hold this view). But the danger is that it fosters the expectation that God will spare his people from suffering in the latter days. I think that’s a mistake. And it could be a harmful mistake if people lost their faith because suddenly they found themselves enduring end-time hardships that they thought they were going to escape.
“God’s own people experience some of the suffering of judgment, but we don’t experience it as punishment.”
First Peter 4:17 says, “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” I think he’s showing in that statement that God’s own people, the apple of his eye, experience some of the suffering of judgment, but we don’t experience it as punishment. Christ took our punishment. We experience it as testing, proving, purifying us.
5. Christ will never come.
Finally, I think it’s a mistake to say what the skeptics did in 2 Peter 3:4: “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” In other words, it’s a serious mistake, Peter says, to think, “Well, it’s just been too long. Everything just goes on. He’s just not coming. It was all a myth.” That is a tragic mistake. And here is Peter’s response: “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2 Peter 3:8–9). Wow — what a response.
Love the Lord’s Appearing
So again, Tony, like I said at the beginning, I would much rather spend three hundred pages in a book meditating on the beauty and the power and the wonder of what’s really going to happen when the Lord comes than I would talking about mistakes. So that’s what I tried to do in the book. The aim isn’t mainly to correct errors. It’s mainly to help people love the Lord’s appearing.