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By John Piper — 7 months ago
On Wednesday we were in Holland. Today we are in Brazil. We are blessed with many friends in Brazil, and today’s email comes from one of them, a man named Cauã. Cauã lives in Rio de Janeiro. “Hello, Pastor John! I have been debating the following question in my head for a while. Does God command our praise because it glorifies him, or does he command our praise because he wants us to be happy? Does he command our worship for himself, or for our good? Or for both? Can you help me understand, please?”
Well, I will do my best, because this is what I’ve been trying to do for more or less fifty years. I think the answer to this question is just about the best news in all the world. At least in my own experience, to see the relationship between God’s command for praise and my experience of happiness was one of the most important discoveries that I ever made in my life. So I hope I can bring some clarity to it.
Glory at the Center
I don’t think there was any biblical text that my parents spoke to me or wrote to me after I left home more frequently than 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That command, that duty, was imprinted on my soul from as early as I can remember, and I am so thankful that it was. It was a wonderful thing. Whether you’re young, whether you’re old, to have a short, pithy summary of the purpose of human existence — what a gift! To know why you exist, to know why you are on this planet, indeed, to know why there is anything at all in existence — what a gift! What a privilege!
“God is committed to glorifying God.”
And it became obvious over time that this wasn’t simply my duty — to glorify God in everything I do — but this was God’s design for his own action. All of it. He does everything — he does everything he does — to the glory of God.
He predestines to the glory of God (Ephesians 1:5–6).
He creates to the glory of God (Isaiah 43:6–7; Psalm 19:1).
He guides history to the glory of God (Romans 11:33–36).
He sends Jesus to live and die for the glory of God (John 12:27–28; Philippians 2:9–11).
He sanctifies his church to the glory of God (Philippians 1:9–11).
Jesus is coming back to be marveled at and glorified among his people (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
Everywhere in the Bible, God is glorifying God. He does what he does to make God himself look as beautiful and glorious and great and wise and just and good and loving and gracious as he really is. So the duty that I grew up with expanded into a full-blown view of the universe. I think that’s really there in 1 Corinthians 10:31, because text after text pointed to the ultimate purpose of all things; namely, God is committed to glorifying God.
All to His Praise
And I remember seeing (this was in, I think, 1976 or so) for the first time those three verses in Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14 — all three of them saying, “unto the praise of his glory,” “unto the praise of his glory,” “unto the praise of his glory,” as if Paul were to say, “Hey, did you get it the third time, if not the second, if not the first time?” God does everything — and he saves especially — unto the praise of his glory.
So there’s absolutely no question how to answer the first part of Cauã’s question. Does God command our praise because it glorifies him? Yes. You are chosen, destined, adopted, redeemed unto the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:6). God plans for our praise, creates for our praise, rules the world for our praise, saves us through the death of Jesus for his praise. And that praise is, specifically, praise ultimately for the glory of God’s grace.
“You are chosen, destined, adopted, redeemed unto the praise of the glory of God’s grace.”
Now that vision of God’s God-centeredness in creation and redemption, salvation, all of history, — that God-centeredness of God himself — left me for a long time perplexed about the place of my happiness in this overarching divine purpose. My perplexity was compounded when I heard preachers — for example, during a call to missions — say things like, “Seek God’s will, not your own. Seek to please God, not yourself.” And I knew there were texts in the Bible that said things like that. But it left me wondering, “Well, will it always be the case that when I’m acting in obedience, I’m acting against my will and against my pleasure?” That seemed hopeless to me — as if you were to grow in your obedience and be condemned to unhappiness the rest of your days, or even for eternity.
Completion of Joy
Then came the great discovery. It came from several sides, but the most shocking and compelling statement of the discovery was in C.S. Lewis’s book Reflections on the Psalms. He not only nailed my confusion, my perplexity, but in doing so, he gave the answer to it. So I want you to hear what I heard. So I’m going to read the whole section, a couple of paragraphs. And remember that what he’s dealing with here is that parts of the Bible, especially the Psalms, sounded to him, when God commanded his own praise, like an old woman seeking compliments, and that really bothered him. So here’s what he wrote. And this was life-changing for me.
The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. . . .
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . .
I think he’s laughing.
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
Here’s the nub of the matter:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (109–11, emphasis added)
Glory and Gladness Bound
Do you see where that led me? Every time God commanded me to praise him for his glory, he was commanding me to bring my pleasure in him to its fullest delight. That’s what he was commanding. My pleasure in God is not complete unless it overflows in praise. And my praise of
God is not glorifying to God unless it is the overflow of pleasure in God. God is not an egomaniac when he commands me to praise him. He’s acting in love, because my praising him is the apex of my pleasure in him. What a discovery!
So, the answer to the question is this: We should not, we dare not, choose between praising God as an expression of the glory of God and praising God as an overflow of our pleasure in God. We dare not choose between those or separate those. And after fifty years of pondering this, I don’t know any better way to say it than God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If we try to choose between glorifying God and being glad in God, we will fail at both. The great discovery is that God has bound them together in his children forever.
By Joe Rigney — 6 months ago
“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The words of Jesus, quoted in the book of Acts, are some of the most famous in the Bible. They celebrate the goodness and blessing of generosity. The Christian virtue of generosity, however, is surprisingly nuanced, involving both receiving and giving, and doing so in particular ways.
To understand generosity, we might begin by considering the opposite vice — greed or avarice. Dante’s treatment of this sin in Inferno shows us how greed corrupts both receiving and giving.
When Dante arrives in the fourth circle of hell, he sees two mobs rolling large stones at each other and jeering. Both are greedy, but the form of their greed is different. On one side are the misers, those like tightfisted Scrooge, whose philosophy is best summarized as “Get all you can; can all you get; and sit on the can.” Opposed to them are the squanderers, those who fritter away their goods in wastefulness and luxury. Dante’s keen insight is that while these two groups may outwardly look different, at heart they are the same. Both are in the grip of greed, since greed can either manifest as ill-receiving or ill-giving.
In both cases, the greedy have gone cross-eyed in the mind; they can’t see reality rightly since they are fixated on earthly goods.
Receive, Don’t Take
Recognizing that both our receiving and our giving can be corrupted helps us to see the wisdom and beauty of the biblical virtue of generosity.
Perhaps surprisingly, generosity begins with receiving. And not just any kind of receiving, but a particular kind. We can grasp it if we consider the difference between receiving and taking. In both cases, we end up with some good, but there is a difference between gratefully receiving the good and sinfully seizing the good. Thus, one of Paul’s many exhortations to generosity begins with, “Let the thief no longer steal” (Ephesians 4:28).
“The first step toward Christian generosity is to receive what God has supplied with deep and heartfelt gratitude.”
But theft is only one form of taking — or rather, there are many kinds of theft. The obvious kind involves plundering your neighbor’s goods, but we also can steal from God. When we refuse to receive his gifts with gratitude, but instead act as though the things we have are ours by birthright, we rob him of his rightful glory as the Giver. So Paul can rebuke the Corinthians by saying, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Thus, the first step toward Christian generosity is to receive what God has supplied with deep and heartfelt gratitude.
Receive to Give
It’s not enough, however, to merely gratefully receive. Grateful reception can quickly turn into ill-keeping or ill-giving. The thief who stops stealing must now labor honestly in order to have enough to share with others (Ephesians 4:28).
Here we consider the difference between sharing and wasting, between well-giving and ill-giving. James 4:3 warns of the danger of asking God for blessing with the wrong motives: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Desiring wealth in order to selfishly spend it on our passions is wasteful. God loves a cheerful giver, not an indulgent squanderer.
Wealth is a gift from God for the sake of his mission. He gives to us that we might give to others.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17–19)
God has richly provided us with everything for four purposes. First, for our enjoyment; it is good for us to gladly receive what God supplies and to enjoy it for his sake. Second, he provides so that we might do good, that our wealth might serve the joy of others. Third, he provides so that we would be rich in good works. Not just rich in wealth, but rich in deeds of charity and mercy. He meets our needs so that we can gladly meet the needs of others. Fourth, he provides so that we would be generous and ready to share.
This readiness is crucial. It challenges the greed in our hearts. When we have good gifts, are our eyes locked onto the gifts alone? Like the avaricious, have we gone cross-eyed in our fixation on earthly goods? Or are our eyes up, looking around for opportunities to share what we’ve received? Is there an eager readiness to be generous, or is there a selfish miserliness on our part?
Christian generosity begins with grateful receiving and then moves to ready giving. We receive in order to give.
Give to Receive More
This isn’t the end of the story. Christian generosity doesn’t terminate in the giving of our goods; it terminates in the good we receive from God in the giving of our goods. We must not lose sight of the fact that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Receiving is a blessing. Receiving and then giving is a greater blessing.
“Receiving is a blessing. Receiving and then giving is a greater blessing.”
But what is this blessing? Our giving is also a storing up. Paul puts it clearly in 1 Timothy 6:19: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
The key word is thus. In doing good and being generous with God’s provision, we are, in that very act of giving, storing up treasure for ourselves. Giving here and now stores up treasure for the future. This is the treasure in heaven that Jesus promises. This is the “better possession and abiding one” that gladly fortified the early Christians in the face of the plundering of their property (Hebrews 10:34–36).
Christian generosity isn’t simply receiving in order to give. It’s gratefully receiving in order to generously give in order to gladly receive more in the future. Our hope is ultimately in God, not in our wealth. What we take hold of is not the fleeting pleasures of this life, but the eternal pleasures of the life to come.
And we are taking hold of true life when we loosen our hold on the goods of this life. This is Christian generosity.
By Tilly Dillehay — 4 months ago
When I was about five, my dad invited me and my older sister into his home studio for fun. Like most of the musicians and producers in Nashville, he had a basement room outfitted with everything you need to make a decent demo: a dark soundproofed booth with a mic and stool, another room with a soundboard, and a thick glass window in between — for giving the “thumbs up” sign between takes.
He let me try first. I stood in the tiny room and sang along to the track playing through an enormous pair of headphones. In about three minutes, I was losing interest. I began to complain that the headphones were squeezing my ears, and my dad let me go back to playing.
Then it was my sister Sophie’s turn. And apparently, this was the day my dad discovered Sophie’s voice.
What did they work on? I didn’t hear it until a few weeks later when my parents had friends over for supper. My dad mentioned the session they’d done, and our guests wanted to hear it. Everybody sat down in the living room, but for some reason, I didn’t go in.
I stood in the hallway outside as the track began and Sophie’s voice burst into the air.
Even at seven years old, her voice was clear, powerful, and controlled. My little stomach flipped. I cringed outside the door as the guests reacted. My dad modestly turned the volume down after the first minute. Why had I left the studio? Why did I quit so quickly? Why didn’t I see that it would lead to Sophie being shown off while I was left standing out in the hallway?
Wishing Against Others
The smell of foam insulation in a recording booth would become very familiar to me in years to come. My dad did a great job of including all his kids in the music of his life. He invited his daughters onstage with him regularly during church concerts.
Later, he used connections to get us all jobs working as session singers for children’s projects — allowing us to save for future cars or colleges. He produced and paid for me to record a CD of jazz cover tunes when I was fifteen, and was always uniquely supportive of my voice — even if I knew it was more idiosyncratic and less powerful than Sophie’s. She was compared to Mariah Carey, I was compared to Billie Holiday, my younger sisters were later compared to The Wailin’ Jennys — and my dad managed to be a fan of all of it.
But when I look back, I’m shocked to recognize this moment as the earliest flowering of envy in my life. Peering back through the decades, I can see my five-year-old self standing in the hallway. The impulse of her heart is unmistakable.
I wished my dad would not play the CD. I wished the CD had been scratched or mislaid. I wished her voice didn’t sound like that. I wished the guests weren’t around to hear it.
In fact, I wished the glory of her voice was banished out of existence.
Inequality and the Eyes That Matter
The glory of a voice like Sophie’s is a deliberate gift from the God of glory. He stamps all of his creation with this glory — though mankind has a double portion.
Man, who is made in the image of God, has been “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). His glory is borrowed, reflective, derivative. But it’s real. And because it’s real, his fellow human beings — all of whom have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (Romans 1:23) — are moved to respond to it. Even in small amounts. Even in the temporary forms we find in our fellow creatures.
The glory of charisma, of competence, of intelligence, of beauty, of artistic talent, of wealth, of relational security — these all give us a sensation of brushing our fingers against the locked door of heaven itself. And we must respond, whether in admiration, in enjoyment, in worship, or (like the five-year-old Tilly) in horror and hatred.
There’s a name for that horror and hatred: envy.
Humblest of Pleasures
The strength of our horror over the glory of others corresponds to the strength of our appetite. We not only want to enjoy glory — we want to be enveloped in glory, to assume some part of it into ourselves.
This desire can be good and creaturely. In a discussion of heaven’s glories, C.S. Lewis shared that he’d always been uncomfortable with the idea of “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17) waiting for us in heaven. What kind of glory could this be? he wondered. Fame, like the vain kind you seek among your peers? He felt it was impossible to desire glory and also be properly humble, until something clicked for him:
Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures — nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. (The Weight of Glory, 37)
Mankind was made “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (in the words of the Westminster Catechism). But this process could never leave man unchanged. He was also made to be glorified himself — crowned with the glory of his Father’s eternal pleasure in him.
Small Heart of Envy
One of our most basic needs is to be looked upon by the Eyes That Matter, and told, in the Voice That Matters, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). It’s not enough to look on his glory; we want to be let inside. We want to be transformed, to be resplendent, to be strong enough to revel in his glory without shame. We were designed to see pleasure in the eyes of our heavenly Father.
Here’s the connection to my five-year-old self. Like a second Cain, I reacted in sinful displeasure when my sister got a “Well done” from my earthly father. I couldn’t handle hearing another praised by our father, because envy operates in a zero-sum world. Envy believes the lie that God’s universe is one of essential scarcity.
“Envy believes the lie that God’s universe is one of essential scarcity.”
The envious heart is too small. It can’t fathom a God who is limitless in his expressions of pleasure and overflowing love. Our fallen minds truly believe there’s not enough of his plenty to go around. This means that if someone else was given a portion of borrowed glory (a glorious talent, beauty, skill, job, or intimate relationship), then there must be less left for me.
What Can Quench Envy?
It’s not just little girls in headphones who hunger for glory. All of us seek beauty and light and fame in our free moments — watching our shows, listening to our songs, shopping for wedding photographers, hiking the lake trail, entwining our souls-in-bodies with other souls-in-bodies, posting our updates, kissing our children, and tucking ourselves into a booth at the local craft beer place for deep conversation. We are glory-seekers, sniffing the wind and watching the horizon. Let a thing whisper, however falsely, however faintly, of our God and Father, and we will run after it.
After all this seeking, how can we believe the good news when it comes? It’s too good to be true; it’s too much to bear:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9–13)
“The envious heart can’t fathom a God who is limitless in his expressions of pleasure and overflowing love.”
We’re in the hallway outside, fuming that another child of God was given glories we weren’t. We’re wondering if the love of the Father will run out before we walk into the room, if he’ll look at us like Isaac looked at Esau and say, “He has taken away your blessing” (Genesis 27:35). We can’t imagine what kind of glory would make it okay.
What glory could take away the sting of being poor while another is rich, of being single while another is married with children, of giving our best to make mediocre paintings while someone else’s effortless eye creates a masterpiece?
Envy Will Drown in Glory
There is, however, a glory that will swallow up the sting of inequality (though it has not promised to take away inequality itself): this light has given us the right to become children of God. And this is the glory that can work such wonders:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The pleasure of the Father will overtake us and swallow up all else — pleasure because of what Christ did on our behalf, pleasure because we’ve been reworked into his glorious image from the inside out. We now look like Christ — his glory will one day envelop us and transform us. It has begun even now:
We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Envy doesn’t stand a chance. In the final day, it will be swallowed up in glory. Even so, come Lord Jesus.