What makes you the happiest? What are you after? What’s the one main thing that, if you got it, would make you the most joyful person for the longest amount time?
Every breathing human being on this planet is on a quest to find a fountain of joy. The whole Bible assumes this quest. And the Bible answers the quest too. To see how, Pastor John has historically turned to a handful of key Bible texts, particularly four of them — four go-to texts he mentions a lot, about fifty times now on this podcast to date. And each is worth a close study — worth writing out by hand into a journal, worth meditating on, even memorizing. They include Psalms 40:16; 70:4; Romans 5:11; and 1 Peter 3:18. Each of them, in their own way, says God is the prize of the gospel.
Two of these texts came up in a short video Pastor John recorded in 2017. I recently found it and pulled it to share it with you here. Here’s Pastor John.
What’s the deepest root of your joy — what God gives to you or what God is for you? One way to get at that question in your own soul is to ask, Why did Jesus die and rise for me? And of course, there are glorious answers like, “He died to forgive my sins, and to take away the wrath of God, and to give me deliverance from hell, and to give me imputed righteousness, and to give me entrance into heaven, and to cause my body to be raised from the dead, and to give me entrance into the new heavens and the new earth and take away all my tears.” And that would be right and gloriously true, and we should rejoice in it. But none of them is the ultimate reason for why he died.
“Christ died to bring us into fellowship with God because in God’s presence is fullness of joy.”
First Peter 3:18 says, “Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” He died to bring us into fellowship with God because in God’s presence is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:33), and all the other works of redemption are a means to that.
It says in Psalm 40:16, “May those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord.’” It doesn’t say, “May those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is your salvation,’” but, “Great is the Lord.” Of course, our salvation is great, and we should love it as great. But mainly our salvation is happening to us — and all the gifts of God are coming to us — in order that we might know God, love God, treasure God, be satisfied in God.
So the biblical answer to the question “What is my ultimate, deepest source of joy?” is not his gifts. It’s him, known and enjoyed in and through his gifts.
You Might also like
Will My Marriage Ever Be More? Counsel for Disappointed WivesBy Ed Welch — 1 month ago
We know marriage is hard. We all learn that by the second week. But there are different kinds of hard. There is hard and hopeful, and there is hard and hopeless. The most difficult marriage, of course, is the one that is hard, distant, and with little reason to think it will change. In some of those cases, there might not be overt betrayal or cruel behavior or blatant sins that children would see. Instead, the marriage is . . . disappointing, lifeless, lonely.
To make it more difficult, you witness marriages that seem happy, or at least better than your own. You see spouses who enjoy each other. At those times, jealousy might sneak in for a moment, but you rarely land on coveting. Instead, the reminders just leave you a bit more disconnected from other people.
And to make it more difficult still, your marriage doesn’t receive much attention. Broken ones do. Struggling but growing ones do. But disappointing ones don’t. Consider this as a reminder that you are remembered in some small way.
What Can I Do?
You might feel as though you have tried everything and nothing helps. Yet this remains true: one person can make a difference in a relationship.
Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38). In other words, you are a walking tabernacle, and the Spirit who lives within you will be living water in a desolate place. Very influential indeed. The apostle Paul wrote about wives of unbelievers who were willing to live with them. He said that the wives were holy, and that holiness spreads (1 Corinthians 7:14). God can use your holiness in Christ to promote the work of Christ in others.
“When we have confidence that the Spirit will use us, we become more resilient, creative, and engaged.”
Notice how this resists a drift toward hopelessness. One reason we are hopeless in marriage is because there is nothing else we can do, so we resign ourselves and try to build a more independent life. But when we have confidence that the Spirit will use us, we become more resilient, creative, and engaged.
Avoiding Silence and Frustration
Now reflect on the tendencies that have emerged within you. Do you lean toward silence, words spoken in frustration, or both? Silence is not a biblical strategy. Though there are certainly times when we decide not to speak, that is not a long-term solution in any relationship. Life with God is filled with words, and we imitate God’s ways in our everyday relationships.
Words spoken in frustration are also guaranteed to fail. They are natural but are rarely spiritual or helpful. They separate rather than invite. They look down upon rather than come alongside.
The goal, of course, is wise words, which will make you a learner for life. We never quite arrive at the place where we have finally mastered how to speak them. Instead, wisdom is a search for a treasure that always contains more. The more we search, the more we discover.
Wisdom is founded on the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), which means that we are astounded by his love for us and we mature to be humble listeners before him (for example, Psalm 5:7). As we listen, we notice his characteristic style with us. He is gentle, patient, and careful in his words. When we read through the book of Proverbs, we also notice that his words are typically adorned as a way to make them meaningful and attractive. His words, in short, are good.
Even his rebukes are good. All his words invite us to come closer as he comes closer to us, and he anticipates our response. He speaks to us, and he wants us to speak to him. The way of wisdom is to enjoy his words to you and delight in listening to him. Then you bring that culture to your relationships. We treat others as we have been treated.
Seeking Wisdom and Creativity
This mission of speaking wise words is decidedly spiritual. You may have many natural abilities that you bring to your relationships, but wisdom is something different. It is a gift of the Spirit. So the work in front of you has two parts. First, you want to hear God’s wise, good, loving words to you and enjoy them. Then you ask him for something you desperately need and only he can give. You ask for skillful, beautified words — “apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
Then you get creative.
“I have recently been struck by the goodness of God’s words to us and have been praying that I would grow in the way I speak to others . . .”
[Your spouse wants to talk about something “later.”] “Yes, I find these things hard to talk about too. But they seem important. Could we set aside some time on Saturday morning?”
“Both of us probably bring a lot of our parents into our conversations. How have you seen me do that?”
“Today I really struggled with [the kids, complaining, my health . . .]. Could you pray over me?”
“I was thinking about things I would like to know about you. I would love to know one thing that you enjoyed about your day, and one thing that was hard. Could we trade stories on our day?”
When you live in a disappointing relationship, you are not always sure how to talk about it to friends or ask for prayer. Here is a way to ask for prayer: you can ask others to pray that you would be skilled at hearing God’s good words to you so you can pass them on to others.
Learn from Your Differences
Disappointments tend to arise out of differences between you and your spouse. Perhaps you once saw your similarities — or how your differences were complementary. Now you just see differences. For example, you want to talk; he wants to avoid conflict. You want to partner in an activity; he prefers solitary tasks and interests. You hope to know and be known; he seems uninterested in either knowing you or being known by you. As a general rule, differences lead to frustration unless you understand those differences. The more you understand your husband, the more patient you will be.
A discussion about the kind of culture we experience in our early years at home is always a worthwhile way to understand differences. It might be easier than talking about the marital relationship. The primary risk is when we critique the other person’s family.
“Chronic disappointment has a hard time seeing small steps in the right direction.”
A second category to understand would be the ways your two minds are uniquely structured. The purpose here is not to talk about sins but personality styles or mental abilities. You probably already have a preliminary sketch you could offer him. For example, “I have been thinking about us and how, like any couple, we think in our own unique ways. You seem to think like a builder or engineer, who sees a problem and then figures out a way to solve it. That makes me imagine that, when I want to talk, you could easily think that it is always about a problem, and a problem with no apparent solution. Does that seem possible?” The basic idea of this approach is that your spouse has his reasons for his responses that are more than him simply being sinful.
Chronic disappointment has a hard time seeing small steps in the right direction. If those steps ever existed, you quickly backtracked, so you have stopped looking for them. But remember that Christ is at work in you, and his work will affect those around you. Remember, too, that the Spirit’s work is powerful yet oftentimes subtle. We will miss his work when we are not looking for it. With this in mind, keep your eyes open. Look for one way the Spirit is working in you and one way the Spirit is working in your relationship. When you see something, it is worth mentioning.
These thoughts are not new. But they might put a light on truths you know but have faded. In that sense, they are part of that small step of seeing the Spirit at work in the way he gently reminds us of things that are true and good.
Water from the Rock for Undeserving PeopleBy John Piper — 10 months ago
The people of Israel had been enslaved for hundreds of years in Egypt. The time for their deliverance had come, and God sent Moses to lead the people out of Egypt after ten devastating plagues and by a mighty defeat of Pharaoh at the crossing of the Red Sea. They camped first at Marah. From Marah they moved to Elim. From Elim to Dophkah. From Dophkah to Alush. And from Alush to Rephidim (Numbers 33:8–15), where we meet them in this text.
According to Exodus 16:1, they entered this region only six weeks after their deliverance. It is as though everyone in this room had seen God divide the Red Sea with your own eyes on May 1, 2022. This generation of Israel in just the last months had seen some of the greatest miracles in the history of the world.
There are four scenes in Exodus 17:1–7. Every one of them is brimming with implications for your life. As we read the text, I’ll pause after each scene to see if we can summarize its main point.
Scene 1: A Waterless Camp
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin [pronounced “seen,” a transliteration of the Hebrew proper name Siyn, with no reference to what we mean by “sin”] by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. (Exodus 17:1)
Main point: God led his people to a campsite with no water.
This was his plan. He led them there. You can see this in middle of verse 1: they moved “by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim” (Exodus 17:1). “By stages” means that there were two other stages between the wilderness of Sin and Rephidim (Dophkah and Alush). Moses makes no mention of them here because he has one point to make: God is commanding the movements of Israel (pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, Nehemiah 9:19), and his command brings them to Rephidim, which has significance for one reason in this story: there is no water to drink.
If you are a Christian, this is your life. God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Hundreds of you came to this conference encamped at Rephidim — where there is no water. As far you can see it’s wilderness in every direction and, from a merely human standpoint, your circumstances are going to end badly. There is no human way out. And this text says: You are not there by accident. Your ways are ordered by the Lord (Proverbs 20:24). And one of the purposes of these seven verses, and this sermon, is to help you see and feel why that is good news.
So, the main point of Scene 1 is: God has led his people to a campsite with no water.
Scene 2: An Angry Protest
Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2–3)
Main point: God’s people did not trust that God’s providence is good, but accused Moses and God of harmful purposes.
In verse 2, the people take issue with Moses. Whatever is happening here — whatever it is — is not happening fast enough, and so they demand water. “Give us water to drink!” In essence Moses responds, “Your quarrel is out of place. It’s not a quarrel with me. When you quarrel with me you are trying God’s patience.” “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2).
“Story after story after story in the Bible, including this one, is God’s roar from heaven: ‘Trust me.’”
Then in verse 3, we hear the heart of the indictment. They don’t ask, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” They ask, “Why did you bring us out to kill us and our children?” They aren’t questioning God’s timing. They are questioning his goodness. They aren’t saying that God is incompetent to give them water. They’re saying he doesn’t intend to. His purposes aren’t saving. They are murderous.
When Moses says, in verse 2, “Why do you test the Lord?” there’s a warning in those words. Don’t try God’s patience. It runs out for people who don’t trust him, who despise his ways. We know how the story of this generation ends.
None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test [tried my patience] these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14:22–23)
We may not understand all the reasons why God chooses a waterless encampment for us. But story after story after story in the Bible, including this one, is God’s roar from heaven: “Trust me. Trust me.” They didn’t. That’s Scene 2.
Scene 3: A Life-Giving Presence
So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17:4–6)
Main point: God’s life-giving presence toward absolutely undeserving people goes on. His patience has not run out. Not yet.
What is God’s answer to Moses’s question in verse 4, “What shall I do with this people they are almost ready to stone me”? His answer is, “I’m going to give them water to drink.” But to make it as amazing as possible, he describes four ways that this miracle of life-giving grace comes about.
First, the miracle will be public. “Pass on before the people” (Exodus 17:5). They indicted us in public. We will be vindicated in public, “before the people.”
Second, it will be well attested by the elders. “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel” (Exodus 17:5). This will become part of what they know and teach and how they judge the people.
Third, this miracle will be seen as a continuation of the miracles of the ten plagues in Egypt. “. . . and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go” (Exodus 17:5). Moses only struck the Nile once with his staff. “In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood” (Exodus 7:20). In other words, “With this staff I turned water into blood. Today I will turn a rock into water.” Same staff. Same power. Same God. Same grace. True then. True today in your waterless wilderness.
Lastly, this miracle of life-giving grace will come about by the Lord’s presence. This is best of all. This is most wonderful. “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:6). “I will stand before you on the rock.”
“God says ‘My presence is your life. I brought you out of Egypt to myself. You think you need water? You need me.’”
He might have said, “I’m done with this rebellious people” and withdrawn his presence. But he didn’t. And he might have said, “I will not defile my presence with this sinful people anymore. I will go to the top of mount Horeb and unleash my lightning bolt, and strike this rock and bring water from the depths of the earth.” But he didn’t do that either. He said, “When you strike the rock, I will be standing on the rock.”
Why would he do that? Because what the people need more than water is the presence of God. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Psalm 63:3). What, after all, has been the point of God choosing the people of Israel, making a covenant with her, leading her down to Egypt, bringing her out by a mighty hand, and taking her out into the wilderness? Here’s the way God says it in Exodus 19:4–5:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples. (Exodus 19:4–5)
He is saying, “I am taking my stand on the rock that will give you life, because my presence is your life. I brought you out of Egypt to myself. You think you need water? You need me.”
So the main point of Scene 3 is: God’s life-giving presence toward undeserving people goes on. His patience has not run out.
Scene 4: A Memorial of Failure
And he [Moses] called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7)
Main point: Moses memorializes their failure to believe in God’s saving presence.
The story does not have a happy ending. There is no repentance. There is no awakened faith. There’s not even any water, just a promise of water. “The people will drink” (Exodus 17:6). No doubt the water came. God keeps his word. But Moses means for the story to end on a note of failure: Israel’s failure, not God’s.
Moses doesn’t name the place “Grace abounding,” or “Water from the Rock,” or “God is faithful.” He names it Massah and Meribah. Massah means “testing.” Meribah means “quarreling.” Then he makes the meaning explicit: “. . . because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord” (Exodus 17:7).
Scene 4 harks back to Scene 2 where Moses said, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2) And that’s where the story ends — memorializing Israel’s quarreling and testing — almost. Moses has one final indictment at the end of verse 7. He means for us to see the greatest failure in the light of the greatest gift. So verse 7 ends, “They tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not” (Exodus 17:7). God had said, “I will stand before you on the rock” (Exodus 17:6). The people said, “We don’t even know if he’s here or if he intends to kill us.”
Don’t Harden Your Heart
So, we step back now and ask, “What is Moses’s aim — God’s aim — in telling us this story?” The way Moses tells the story, failure is foregrounded. The story begins and ends with Israel quarreling with Moses and testing God. It begins and ends with unbelief. They don’t trust God. They harden their hearts against him. “God brought us into this waterless encampment and he doesn’t intend to be here for us.” And the trumpet blast of this text, echoing throughout the Bible and today, is: Don’t be like that.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (Psalm 95:7–9).
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years’” (Hebrews 3:7–9).
“[They] all ate the same spiritual food [manna], and all drank the same spiritual drink. . . . Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. . . . We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did. . . . Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction. . . . Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:3–12).
In other words, this failure of Israel to trust God in the wilderness reverberates through the whole Bible. And the message is: “When God brings you into a waterless encampment, and you see wilderness stretching in every direction with no way out, don’t be like Israel! Trust him. Trust him. He brought you into the wilderness. He can bring you out. He led you to Rephidim where there is no water. There’s only a dry rock. And he will take his stand on the rock and be your life.”
Will he? Even in 2022?
Confidence for Waterless Campsites
For many of us, the great obstacle to joyful confidence in the waterless wilderness is not that God can’t save us, but the question, “Will he?” And the great obstacle to believing that he will is our sin. How can God be a just and holy God, and do what he did in Scene 3?
Surrounded by a thankless people who say that God brought them out of Egypt to kill them, God says, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock . . . and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:6). How can God be righteous and act as though the despising of his name had so little consequence? Our very hearts cry out, “I have scorned the name of the Lord, in all my doubting and all my unbelief and all my despairing in my wilderness. Will God not simply join me in the belittling of his name by sweeping my sins under the rug of the universe? How can I ever be saved — how could they ever be saved — by a righteous and holy God?”
In the mind of the apostle Paul, there was no greater problem facing humankind. How can God uphold the righteousness of his name while showing mercy to God-belittling, God-despising sinners? How is Scene 3 in this passage even conceivable? God offering himself as our life while surrounded by the outrage of people indicting him as evil?
Paul has an answer to this greatest of all moral problems. I’ll read it you from Romans 3:25:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation (a satisfaction of God’s justice) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Thunderclap of Justice and Mercy
When God passed over the sins of Scene 2 and Scene 4 and poured out mercy on sinners in Scene 3, was he unrighteous? Was he belittling his own name? Was he taking his holiness lightly? No. Because he knew what he would do in 1,400 years to vindicate his righteousness.
“The death of Jesus is a thunderclap of this truth: No sin is ever merely passed over! Ever.”
The death of Jesus is a thunderclap of this truth: No sin is ever merely passed over! Ever. It will be paid for in hell. Or it was paid for on the cross. No quarreling with God’s word, no testing of God’s patience, ever goes unpunished. Ever. God’s righteousness is absolute. And the unspeakable mercy of Scene 3 (Exodus 17:6) is owing directly to the blood of Jesus. “[The blood of the Son of God] was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25).
Every undeserved blessing shown to God’s elect in the Old Testament was bought by the blood of Jesus. When Paul made that strange statement in 1 Corinthians 10:4 about Israel in the wilderness, “They drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4), this is what I think he meant:
The undeserved blessing of water from the rock, the undeserved blessing of manna from heaven, the undeserved blessing of deliverance at the Red Sea, the undeserved blessing of guidance day and night in the wilderness are all owing to cross of Christ. How right it is, then, to say, the rock was Christ, the manna was Christ, the deliverance was Christ, the pillars of guidance were Christ, because God’s guilty people could enjoy none of that without the blood of Christ.
And so it is for you who are in Christ. You who despair of your sinful selves and know that God owes you nothing. So it is for you. Every undeserved blessing you will ever receive is owing to the death of Christ. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Not just he can give us all things, but he will. He will. He will give us everything we need to do his will, and glorify his name, and make it home.
When he leads you into the waterless encampment of Rephidim, and there is no human hope, trust him. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Everything you need has been purchased, above all, himself, for your enjoyment now and forever (1 Peter 3:18).
Love Makes a Man a ManBy Ref Cast — 2 years ago
The most surprising men, whether alive today or throughout history, are men of persistent love. Men all over the world accomplish much for any number of reasons — for pride, for money, for fame and honor, for power. We expect men to work hard, take risks, and make sacrifices for self. A few strange men, however, do all that they do for love. They also work hard and take risks and make sacrifices, but they do it for the good of others, especially their eternal good.
When the apostle Paul wrote to a younger man, discipling him in manhood and ministry, he charged him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). While the qualities in this verse apply to young men and women alike, I find that they provide a simple yet challenging paradigm for becoming better men of God.
And could we have heard the apostle read this short list to his disciple, I think he may have slowed down over love, letting it land with special force.
Why would I think that? Because Paul begins the letter, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). My whole reason for writing, Timothy, is that you might be a man of love — and that you might lead others further into that love. Love, as John Piper defines it, “is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others” (The Dangerous Duty of Delight, 44). So, Timothy, set the believers an example in your growing, overflowing, need-meeting joy in God. Teach them, with your life, how to love.
“Love is an indispensable ambition for any man pursuing maturity in Christ.”
The apostle Peter charges followers of Jesus, “Above all” — above all — “keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8). And then Jesus himself says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” — not by what we can do, or how much we know, or how hard we work, but by our love (John 13:35). Love proves that a man truly belongs to God — that God has chosen him, redeemed him, equipped him, transformed him, and lives in him. We should expect selfishness, sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, and drunkenness from men (Galatians 5:19–21) — but genuine love confronts our (well-informed) assumptions about men.
If love, then, sets us apart as men of God, then love is an indispensable ambition for any man pursuing maturity in Christ.
What Real Love Does
Anyone who has genuinely loved knows just how hard love can be. Paul certainly saw and felt the hurdles himself, as well as how easily love can wither in relationships. His first letter to the church at Corinth addresses a host of serious issues, but perhaps none is weightier than their lack of love for one another. First Corinthians 13 — “the love chapter” — wasn’t written to newlyweds basking in the anticipation of marital intimacy; it was written to a church deeply infected with selfishness and divisiveness — to Christians who thought themselves mature while their love had grown cold.
So, what does real love look like? As men of God, how do we discern if our love is rooted in and empowered by God, or if it is just a self-flattering figment of our imagination? Paul gives us a series of reliable tests, culminating (and to some degree summarized) in 1 Corinthians 13:7:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Men Who Bear
Men of love do not abdicate responsibility in relationships, or shift blame when things go wrong, or turn a blind eye to the needs of others; they bear, and do so with joy. Men of love are men who gladly bear the burdens of others, and who bear with others when they become a burden — when they disappoint, hurt, or offend us.
The man of God not only bears what might earn him praise or recognition, but he bears what other men will not — what might seem, from an earthly perspective, foolish. What is he getting out of that? And maybe even more surprisingly, he consistently bears the needs and offenses of others with patience, not irritability; with kindness, not harshness or rudeness (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). When a man loves in the strength of God, the burdens he bears are real and yet they are also strangely light (Matthew 11:30). He carries more than most, with more grace than most.
“When a man loves in the strength of God, the burdens he bears are real and yet they are also strangely light.”
So, what burdens might you bear? If you’re married, this begins at home. How sensitive are you to the everyday and ever-changing needs of your wife and children? How ready are you to go above and beyond in shouldering those needs? How well do you bear with the particular weaknesses and sins in your family? And then, having provided well at home, have you thought much about how the joy in you and your home might overflow to meet needs in your church family, your neighborhood, and wherever else God has placed you?
If you are not married, you may assume there are fewer burdens to bear, but remember: the apostle Paul was an unmarried man, and he did not lack burdens to carry. All of us are surrounded by need. Singleness often allows us to shoulder more with greater focus than those who are married (1 Corinthians 7:32–35).
Men Who Believe
Love also believes all things of other people. That sounds awfully naive, maybe even reckless and irresponsible, doesn’t it? Surely men of God know better than that. When the apostle says that love believes all things, he does not mean love believes everything it hears — Jesus certainly did not — but that love believes the best of others. To say it another way, when thoughts, desires, or motives are unclear, love does not assume the worst.
Cynicism, that sin we despise in others and yet often coddle in ourselves, is not the wisdom it pretends to be. It is a profound lack of love masquerading as “discernment.” Love, of course, is discerning. “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,” Paul says, “with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). But love is not only discerning. As godly discernment grows and is refined, its love does not shrink and shrivel, but abounds more and more. And while this kind of discernment thinks carefully and deeply, while it feels the seriousness of sin and stands ready to confront it when necessary, it also refuses to assume evil of anyone. Love believes all things.
Whom do you struggle to believe the best of? Whom are you least gracious with — your spouse or roommate, your children or parents, your coworkers, classmates, or neighbors? Men of God rejoice at the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), and when the truth is unclear, they believe all things. So, when suspicion begins to swell in your heart again, fight to assume the best (it will often be a fight!), and entrust your soul “to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Men Who Hope
Men of God believe the best of others, and they hope the best for others, because love hopes all things. This hope is not “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), but a relentless horizontal hopefulness rooted in that great and happy hope. Good men don’t rejoice at the failures or misfortunes of others. They’re not consumed with selfish and competitive ambition. They’re not plagued by envy. They rejoice to see others succeed, bear fruit, and thrive — especially their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul doesn’t talk about this horizontal hope often, but he does in 2 Corinthians 1:7: “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” Even while he was horribly afflicted, “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8), Paul still hoped the best for the brothers in Corinth. He took courage and strength in knowing that their future would be better because his present had gotten worse. Men filled with the Spirit of God think and hope that way.
“When thoughts, desires, or motives are unclear, love does not assume the worst.”
So, in each of your relationships, hope for the best. Pray for the best. Ask God to use you to improve someone else’s life and future, even if it costs you along the way. Lay aside the selfishness and competitiveness that groans when others prosper while we struggle, and thank God when you see him using and elevating the gifts of someone else. Men who hope the best for others are unusually joyful men because they have so many more reasons to rejoice. Their joy isn’t limited to their own successes, achievements, and opportunities, but is catalyzed and strengthened by the joy of others.
Men Who Endure
The love of these men not only bears burdens, but keeps bearing burdens. Long after others would have walked away, feeling they had done all they could do, men of love stay and endure.
Fraudulent love always fades and fails, often quickly, like the seed that fell along the rocky ground (Mark 4:17). When real love meets resistance, the resistance doesn’t just reveal endurance, but actually produces endurance (Romans 5:3). These men will set boundaries when necessary in certain relationships, but will also endure more than most would. They love differently, they love durably, because they have been “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11).
Of this quality of love, Leon Morris writes,
It is the endurance of the soldier who, in the thick of the battle, is undismayed, but continues to lay about him vigorously. Love is not overwhelmed, but manfully plays its part whatever the difficulties. (1 Corinthians, 182)
Almost any man would like to think himself the soldier who would endure “whatever difficulties,” but like Peter as Jesus was betrayed, we often imagine ourselves dying for love (Matthew 26:35) only to cave before the servant girl in front of us (Matthew 26:69–70). We grumble and give way before the particular difficulties in our path, and make convenient excuses to get out of doing what love requires — we’re tired, we’re busy, we have our own needs, we’ve done so much already.
So, what tempts you to walk away? Anyone who is called to love sinners has plenty of reasons to give up. Love overcomes those reasons, and takes the next brave, costly step, as Jesus did when he bore the cross for us. When I lack the heart to endure, with patience and joy, in marriage, in friendship, in church life, in evangelism, I need to remember just how many reasons Jesus had to abandon me — and yet he has never left me or forsaken me (Hebrews 13:5, 8). So, forbid that, as I follow him, I be found to be a leaving or forsaking man.
Men Who Die
While death to self did not explicitly make the list in 1 Corinthians 13, we catch at least a whiff of this kind of sacrifice in verse 5: “[Love] does not insist on its own way.” Love often dies to its own way — to its own needs, its own desires, sometimes even to its own sense of what would be best or wisest.
“Loving men are always dying men — and happy men.”
And as we look up and widen our gaze beyond the love chapter, we see this thread of loving manhood again and again, most powerfully in the God-man of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And so, he loved — and in doing so, he left us an example of surprising, masculine, sacrificial love.
For love to bear, it must die to comfort and convenience. For love to believe, it must die to cynicism. For love to hope, it must die to selfish ambition. For love to endure, it must die, again and again, to self. Loving men are always dying men — and happy men. As they die, they follow Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Like him, men of God love and die for joy.