John Piper 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 Providence.
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By John Piper — 5 months ago
Welcome back to a new week on the podcast. Last summer, in episode 1500, some of you may remember that we talked about personal productivity. And there, Pastor John, you said it was essential that we learn the difference between sloth and rest. You pointed us to your poem titled “Pilgrim’s Conflict with Sloth.” I commend the poem, and your reading of it. But in APJ 1500, you said that everyone knows “that there is a place — an absolutely crucial place” for rest and for leisure because “the Sabbath principle [still] holds.” But then you warned us that “we must know the difference between sloth and rest.” You didn’t really explain that difference there; you pointed us to the poem. I hate to say it, but I think a lot of listeners will resonate more with plainly stated principles. So can you, in principle, distinguish for us the indulgence of sinful sloth from the virtue of true rest?
Yes, I think we can, and that’s because the Bible does pretty clearly. So, let me use biblical terms.
Restful or Lazy?
Let’s use the terms sluggard and diligent, because those terms are used in Proverbs. For example, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4). The question we’re asking, then, is, What’s the difference between the restfulness of the diligent and the laziness of the sluggard? Because at any given moment, restfulness and laziness might look the same if you’re just looking at somebody sitting in a chair or lying in a bed or sleeping — but they’re not the same. So, what’s the difference?
“The restfulness of the diligent is received as a gracious reward for the gift of God-glorifying work.”
One other clarification before I state the difference: I’m not interested here in unbelieving diligence. The kind of diligence I care about is the kind that sees the cross of Christ as the ground of all grace, and the Holy Spirit as the key to all holiness, and the glory of God as the goal of all reality, which would include the goal of all diligence. I’m not just talking about any diligence, but the diligence rooted in the glory of God, the cross of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, let me state now my summary of the difference between laziness and the sluggard, and restfulness and the diligent, and then we’ll dig down into the roots. The laziness of the sluggard is owing to his overpowering aversion to work. And the restfulness of the diligent is received as a gracious reward for the gift of God-glorifying work and a pleasant preparation for renewed productivity. Or let me say it another way: The laziness of the sluggard is a capitulation to his disinclination to exertion. And the restfulness of the diligent is a sweet compensation for God-honoring exertion, and thankful renewal for more usefulness. Those are my summary statements.
Slaves to Sluggishness
Let’s go down now to the roots and take just a moment to focus on the problem of the sluggard, and then spend most of our time on the biblical vision of work that makes the restfulness of the diligence so sweet.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” — that is, useful or beneficial to accomplish some good purpose. He continues, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated [mastered, controlled, ruled] by anything.” Now, there’s the test that the sluggard fails: You can devote your life to things that are helpful, useful, beneficial, accomplishing some good for the glory of God, or you can be mastered by bodily disinclination to work. That’s called laziness or sluggishness.
Paul says, “I will not be mastered, enslaved, dominated, ruled, by anything. I belong to Christ. He alone is my Master; therefore, I will put to death the bodily impulses that tend to enslave me, and I will walk as a free man, devoting myself to things that are helpful, useful, beneficial.” But the sluggard, not so. The sluggard is mastered by his bodily aversion to exertion. He’s a slave. Therefore, his rest is not the sweet reward for doing good; it is the selfish resistance to doing good.
Recover Work’s Reward
Let’s turn for a moment to the amazing roots of the diligent and the restfulness that they enjoy. At root, the basic difference between the sluggard and the diligent is that the sluggard feels work as a misery to be avoided, and the diligent sees work as a God-given, life-giving privilege.
Now, of course, it’s true that when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, one of the effects of sin was to infect work with futility and burdensomeness. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. . . . By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17, 19). That’s not a very positive view of work. There will always be some of that burden, some of that futility, in all of our work. As long as this sinful age lasts, there’ll be some of that — no matter what your work is — which is why the final rest that God offers in his kingdom is desired and longed for, even by those who find their work here rewarding.
“The sluggard feels work as a misery to be avoided, and the diligent sees work as a God-given, life-giving privilege.”
But the grace of God has penetrated this fallen world order and enables the children of God to recover, in part, the rewarding significance of work, which God intended from the beginning in creation. And that’s what I think the diligent perceive, even if they don’t articulate it. They sense it. Before the fall, God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . . over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). That subduing and having dominion over creation will not happen while you’re sitting in your lawn chair with your feet up.
In fact, in Genesis 2:15, before the fall, it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” In other words, the original plan was not laziness or sloth or inactivity or lack of productivity. Human beings are in the image of God. We are makers, like God. Whether we make a meal or make a bed or make a computer program or make a straight piece of wood or make a ditch or a wall of bricks or a school lesson or a sermon, we are makers by nature. The diligent have discovered this, and by grace, the fall does not prevent the recovery — by grace, in Christ — in some significant measure, of the God-glorified meaningfulness of work, so that rest can be experienced as a sweet reward for a day’s work and a pleasant renewal for a new day of purposefulness.
Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” What makes the restfulness of the diligent sweet is the peaceful realization that the success of all their work depends finally on God, and not themselves.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. . . .It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1–2)
It is the grace of God, pushing back the effects of the fall, that takes away anxiety and makes labor meaningful and sweet, and gives true restfulness. The New Testament adds to the motivations of the diligent that, when we work,
we will have something not only for ourselves but to give others (Ephesians 4:28),
we will not be a burden to others (2 Thessalonians 3:8),
we will be a good example to unbelievers (1 Thessalonians 4:12), and
we will let our light shine, so that people see our good deeds, our exertions, for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16).
The sluggard finds none of these motivations compelling.
So, let me give my summary once more: The laziness of the sluggard is owing to his overpowering aversion to work. And the restfulness of the diligent is received as a gracious reward for the gift of God-glorifying work and a pleasant preparation for renewed productivity.
By Marshall Segal — 4 months ago
She knew that typically the man would make the first move. She knew that what she was doing would appear at least suspicious, perhaps scandalous. She knew what other people might say. She knew just how much she might lose (after all she had already lost). And yet there Ruth lay, in the dark — vulnerable, hopeful, trusting, courageous — waiting quietly at the feet of a man who might wake up at any moment.
Even in a more egalitarian age, the strange and brave step Ruth took that night can make many of us uncomfortable:
When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. (Ruth 3:7)
Such was Ruth’s way of asking Boaz to take her as his wife. But why did she ask like that? Wasn’t there another way? Couldn’t her mother-in-law have put out some feelers with Boaz’s servants?
Maybe. But God, in his wisdom, decided to join this man and this woman in this unusual way. And when we stop to look closer, the strangeness of the scene actually enhances the beauty of their love. This potentially embarrassing moment highlights what makes Boaz a worthy husband — and what makes Ruth a worthy wife.
As scandalous as it may seem for Ruth to lie down next to Boaz while he was sleeping, it seems that, in God’s eyes, she acted honorably and in purity. For all the beautiful glimpses we get of Ruth in these four chapters, she is called a “worthy woman” just once, and it’s right here, at this most vulnerable moment. Boaz, recognizing her in the dark and receiving her humble and submissive initiative, says to her,
Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. (Ruth 3:11)
“A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching.”
Worthy when her husband died, worthy when her mother-in-law was left alone, worthy in a foreign land, worthy while working long days in the fields, worthy even here, in the darkness, on the threshing-room floor, waiting at the feet of the man she desired. A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching — and Ruth was just such a woman.
So, what sets Ruth apart as a worthy wife-to-be — yes, in the eyes of Boaz, but all the more in the eyes of God?
The story of Ruth’s worthiness begins with her surprising loyalty.
Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lost her husband as well as her two sons, including Ruth’s husband. Naomi saw how bleak their future had become and tried to convince her two daughters-in-law to go back to their families. In response, “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). When Ruth had great reasons to leave and save herself, she stayed and cared for her mother-in-law instead. Listen to the intensity of her loyalty:
Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:16–17)
Ruth could have walked away, but faith and love had bound her to Naomi. Staying meant suffering. Staying meant sacrifice and risk. Staying could have even meant death — especially in a period when the judges in Israel, though charged to care for the widow, “did what was right in [their] own eyes” (Judges 17:6). But nothing would make Ruth leave now.
As news spread, her future husband was especially drawn to this loyalty in her: “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).
Ruth could not have been loyal in these circumstances without also being courageous. You hear and feel her fearlessness in the vows she makes to Naomi:
Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:17)
She was not naive about what they might suffer. Remember, she had already buried her husband and her brother-in-law (and likely had never even met her father-in-law). Death had become an intimate part of their family. She left with no guarantee that a widowed life in Israel would be any better than the trials they had known. And yet, when love met fear — real, serious, life-threatening fear — her love prevailed.
In this way, Ruth was a daughter of Sarah, that worthy wife before her, who hoped in God and clothed herself with the beauty of obedience. For, despite how fragile and daunting her life had become, Ruth “[did] good and [did] not fear anything that [was] frightening” (1 Peter 3:5–6) — because Sarah’s great God had become her God (Ruth 1:16). Women like Ruth are not easily deterred, because they have experienced a wise and sovereign love bigger than all they might fear.
Ruth was not just fearless but determined, and her mother-in-law knew so. “When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more” (Ruth 1:18). Her love was a fierce, durable, stubborn love.
It’s not that Ruth wouldn’t hear and consider counsel (Ruth 2:22–23; 3:3–5), but she also wouldn’t retreat or give up easily. She kept loving when lesser women would have walked away. She kept working when lesser women would have quit. For instance, when she came to Boaz’s field, his servant reported, “She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest” (Ruth 2:7). Even the servants were surprised by this woman’s effort and endurance in the field.
Ruth did what she could (even straining her capacity at times) to care for those God had given to her, even when the risks were great, even when her strength ran low, even when others would have understood if she stopped, because Ruth was a worthy woman.
Lastly, Ruth was a worthy woman because she was a Godward woman.
Though Ruth had been a foreigner, a Moabite by blood, she was now also a God-fearer by heart. “Your people shall be my people,” she said to Naomi, “and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). She sounds like the apostle Peter when Jesus asked if the disciples wanted to leave with the others: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, and her fearlessness in leaving home, and her tireless determination, surely all blossomed from the garden of her newfound faith in God.
Faith tied Ruth to Naomi, and it also drew Boaz to Ruth. On the day he met her, he said,
All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me. . . . The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! (Ruth 2:11–12)
“Do not be mistaken: worthy women are not proudly independent women.”
Yes, he admired how she cared for her mother-in-law, but he also saw how she had hidden herself in God, taking refuge under his wide and strong wings. She was not only a faithful woman, but a faith-filled woman. Do not be mistaken: worthy women are not proudly independent women. They know themselves to be needy, dependent, and vulnerable, and entrust themselves to the grace of God. They serve and sacrifice and risk with their eyes lifted above this earth to where their true hope lives.
When Boaz awoke and saw his future wife lying at his feet, he did not see the simple, fleeting beauty of a younger woman (though she was much younger); he saw the deeper, more complex, more durable beauty of a truly worthy wife.
Should She Move First?
What about single women today wondering if they should take a step toward their own Boaz? Should the man always act first, as the counsel so often goes? Was Ruth wrong to make the move and let her interest be known? Could she still be a model for women today who want to honor the man’s calling to take initiative? For my part, I believe Ruth is one wonderful example for single women today, and not just despite the unusual step she took, but even in it. I suspect some potential godly relationships may be prevented by an excessive fear that any initiative by women would undermine a man’s call to lead.
I do believe that God calls the man to bear a special burden of responsibility and take the greater initiative toward the woman. I believe the man should generally be the one risking rejection, protecting the woman by consistently putting himself forward in ways that require courage, great and small. I also believe that, should the couple marry, the man will uniquely bear the responsibility to lead, protect, provide, and shepherd her and their family — and I believe the tracks for that kind of healthy leadership are laid from (and even before) the first date. A godly woman should want a boyfriend, and eventually a husband, who consistently initiates and leads in their relationship.
Ruth, however, was in an unusual situation. Perhaps you are too. Boaz, being a worthy man (and a considerably older man, Ruth 3:10), might never have considered approaching Ruth. He also knew that he was not the next “redeemer” in line (Ruth 3:12), and so he may have not wanted to dishonor the other man by making the first move toward Ruth. Perhaps Ruth and Boaz never would have married if Ruth had not been willing to communicate her interest.
And as strange, even suggestive, as the scene may seem to us today, it very well may have been the most honorable way for Ruth to communicate that interest in her day. Even her bold step was discrete, and left the ultimate initiative in his hands, not hers. She found a way to communicate interest that upheld and encouraged his honor and leadership as a man.
So, yes, God calls men to take the initiative in Christian dating, but that doesn’t mean a godly woman never takes any steps of faith to communicate interest, especially in the context of a Christian community that can help her express that interest while shielding her from some of the pain of rejection. If there is a particular godly man you would like to pursue you, ask God if there are creative, humble, open-handed ways you might invite his initiative.
And as you do, it may not hurt, following that worthy example of Ruth, to ask an older woman in your life for counsel and help.
By John Piper — 3 months ago
On the morning after the crazy November 2020 election here in the States, several cultural commentators observed that amid all the confusion over who won the presidency, there was no mistaking who won the night: marijuana. Four additional states passed ballot measures to legalize recreational use of pot for adults, and none of the votes were close. Those states included Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, bringing the total to fifteen. And many remaining states have decriminalized it, showing where the cultural trajectory is headed. Thirty-seven states have legalized medical-use marijuana — something you support, Pastor John, if governed by appropriate physician oversight and prescriptions (as you explained way back in episode 77). But just a decade ago, I believe recreational cannabis was illegal in all fifty states. That is being overturned quickly. And each year this is growing as a bigger and bigger issue for Christians and pastors and parents and churches. Do you have anything new to say as recreational use gains widespread support in red and blue states across our country?
It’s not exactly new, but I do have something I want to say in regard to the fact that ten years ago, recreational cannabis was illegal in all fifty states, whereas this is increasingly not the case today.
And what I want to draw attention to, by way of exhortation and encouragement, even though it may sound pessimistic to some, is that this fact, the legalization of pot, draws attention to something that we need to be aware of and we need to adjust our thinking about — namely, that the church for a long time has leaned too heavily on the overlap between the state and the church for the strength of our conviction concerning what is right and wrong.
“The church leaned, you could say, on the culture for its catechism, its teaching, its inspiration, its conviction.”
In other words, if the state has regarded something as wrong or illegal, then the church hasn’t had to work very hard to teach any deep roots for the conviction or any thorough biblical argumentation or any conviction-strengthening inspiration, because everybody just assumes that the behavior is out of bounds. The state expectations and the cultural mores overlap with Christian ways, and so we can just coast.
Now stop and think of the number of behaviors that were once illegal and are no more.
Divorce was once illegal.
Adultery and fornication were illegal.
Homosexual practices were illegal.
Indecency was illegal, in such a way that what’s considered acceptable in movies and on beaches today would have been forbidden.
Sabbath-breaking was illegal.
Abortion was illegal in every state.
And the list could go on and on.
Catechized by Culture
Now, the point is not that these things should or shouldn’t be illegal. The point is that because they were illegal, the church didn’t have to think very hard or work very hard or teach very deeply or inspire very effectively to inculcate convictions and attitudes and behaviors in our young people or in new converts. We simply could assume that our people wouldn’t do these things because they were taboo and illegal in the culture.
The church leaned, you could say, on the culture for its catechism, its teaching, its inspiration, its conviction. So the church assumed so much overlap between cultural convictions and Christian convictions that you didn’t often hear teaching or preaching that taught the church how to be alien or strange or weird or maligned. And I used the word maligned because that’s the word Peter uses in 1 Peter 4:3–4, when he says,
The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised you do not join them . . . and they malign you.
In other words, for most of American history, there has been so much overlap between cultural mores and outward Christian behaviors that this text in 1 Peter 4 seemed designed for another world — like, “What does that text have to do with anything in America?” For centuries, many Americans would go to church, not in spite of being maligned, but because not to go would be maligned.
Deep Moral Roots
So the so-called Judeo-Christian ethic shaped laws and churches to such an extent that the culture, as much as the church, discipled our young people. I grew up in that world, anyway, when I was a kid. And little effort went into cultivating a mindset that Christians are not of this world but are sojourners and exiles and will be maligned if they walk in step with Jesus. Little effort went into helping Christians sink their moral roots deep into Christ and the gospel and his word and his way, such that we would be able to take a stand for some truth or some attitude or some behavior when no one else is standing with us.
That’s a biblical, spiritual, parental church responsibility that has been significantly neglected. And that neglect is now being exposed by the speed and flagrancy of the cultural normalization of sin. So, the destigmatization and legalization of attitudes and behaviors that are out of step with Christ can be, I think, a roundabout way of something good for the church. We should not have been leaning so heavily on the culture for support of what we held to be right and wrong.
America tried — Christians included — to use the legislature to banish the misuse of alcohol by making alcohol illegal. Prohibition lasted from 1920–1933. It failed. My guess is that a better case could be made today to outlaw alcohol than to outlaw cannabis. Forty percent of all violent crimes involve alcohol, and forty percent of all fatal motor-vehicle accidents involve alcohol. We may find that the legalization of pot puts it in that category, but maybe not. In fact, from what I read, it’s probably not going to work that way. It doesn’t have those same kinds of effects.
My point is this: the focus and the moral energy of the church, the great majority of our effort, should not be on pursuing political and legal and cultural support for behaviors and attitudes we want to see in our children and in our churches. That is a misplaced focus. I’m not saying there’s no role for Christians in politics or legislatures where they can make their case for what they consider to be healthy for society. But I am saying that effort should never, never even come close to being the primary focus of pastors and parents.
“Our primary focus should be to do what only the Bible and only the gospel and only the Holy Spirit can do.”
The primary focus should be to do what only the Bible and only the gospel and only the Holy Spirit and the truth and Jesus can do in transforming human beings into the kind of Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent, God-glorifying people who freely choose not to use drugs — whether caffeine or alcohol or cannabis or cocaine or meth or heroin — to escape into a world where Christ is less clearly perceived, and the Scriptures are less understood and precious, and the Spirit is less personal, and the glory of God is less satisfying, and the way of righteousness is less defined, and the path of obedience is less compelling. We want Christians who freely reject anything that would put them in that kind of mindset.
To be a Christian, a true Christian, is a very radical thing. It’s a miraculous thing. It’s a supernatural thing. It requires not a little bit of effort while we try to get the world on our side — which, by definition, is never going to happen. It requires the whole focus of the pastoral ministry — evangelizing and preaching and worshiping and counseling and teaching and setting radical examples for the people. It requires focus — Spirit-dependent, Bible-saturated efforts of parents to call down the miracle, through their parenting and through the church, of the creation of young people who are joyfully willing to be out of step with the world.
That’s the message, I think, God is sending us in the destigmatization and normalization and legalization of behaviors and attitudes and drugs that we think are out of step with the gospel. It’s a call to be the church and to be the home.