Luther Discovers the Book
When Martin Luther discovered the gospel in the Scriptures, everything changed for him and the future of the church. In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper begins a 3-part series exploring Luther’s relationship with the Bible.
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By John Piper — 2 years ago
How do I follow God’s lead in my daily decisions? I know he’s my shepherd. He’s leading me. I think so. But how do I know if I am following him?
That’s such an important question we all must answer for ourselves, and it was a question taken up by a very young Pastor John Piper, in his very first summer as a pastor. In fact, just a few weeks into his pastorate, Pastor John preached through some of his favorite Psalms. One of them being, of course, Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1–3).
I was 22 before I first saw one of the lines in this psalm. Now I’d seen it, but there is seeing and then there is seeing, right? Verse 3, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake.” I’d never seen “for his namesake” until I went to seminary. Well, yes, I’d seen it. I’d read the words, but you can read over phrases in the Bible a hundred times and they never hit you for what they mean.
Open My Eyes to See
I went to visit Mrs. Bromgren just before her surgery on Wednesday. She was getting her eye operated on, and it was all bandaged over, and I read to her this verse from Psalm 119:18,
Deal bountifully with thy servant that I may live and observe thy word, open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
And I said, “Isn’t it true that one of the best things about having two good eyes is the Bible, being able to read the Bible? But isn’t it true, too, that there is another pair of eyes that God has given us? The apostle Paul calls them the eyes of the heart, and he prays in Ephesians 1 that the eyes of the heart might be enlightened. I think that’s what Psalm 119 is talking about: ‘May the eyes be open that we may behold wondrous things out of thy law.’”
Well, I hadn’t seen that phrase there in Psalm 23 as wondrous. I’d been as deaf to that theme as you could imagine, but there it was, “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake.” The thought that God might have been causing me to do right ever since I was a little boy for his sake just never dawned on me. I just read right over that phrase. It never struck me, though I’d read it hundreds of times.
So I want to zero in on that phrase for a few minutes, but before we get there, we better look at the phrase before it, namely, “he leads me in paths of righteousness,” and ask how God does this.
How Does God Light Our Paths?
The picture, of course, here is a shepherd leading sheep along with his crook, or maybe with his call. “The sheep know my name, and they follow me.” But when we get out of the metaphor of sheep and shepherd into our own experience in our day and ask, “How does God lead in paths of righteousness,” we need to ponder a little bit and poke around in the Scriptures to see how he does it.
“In my experience, I have never seen a manifestation of God going before me at a fork in the road.”
Now, in my experience, I have never seen a manifestation of God going before me at a fork in the road. I’ve never seen a cloud of fire or pillar of cloud like they had in the wilderness. That’s not part of my experience, nor have I ever heard an audible word that I know was God speaking. A lot of people talk in that language, and maybe I’m just callous, but that’s never been part of my experience to see God in some clear manifestation showing me it’s this way and not that way, or to hear a voice like my teacher at Wheaton said he heard one day while he was shaving in front of the mirror, “Go to Wheaton from Boston.” He was in Boston. “Go to Wheaton.”
God can do that if he wants. He’s just never done it for me, and he doesn’t do it for most people most of the time. The way he leads us is apparently differently, and I think we can get a clue from what David would say in Psalm 119:105. There, he says, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And in that same psalm, verse 9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word.”
So one answer to the question, “How does God lead his people in paths of righteousness” is: he has revealed a lot about those paths of righteousness. He’s described what sort of paths are righteous paths and told us to walk in them so that we can read and obey. Surely, David did that often because he talked about meditating on the word day and night.
Why the Bible Is Not Enough
But now, that answer is only half the answer, isn’t it? By itself, the Bible will not keep us on track. No matter how wonderful the Bible is, and how we would be utterly lost without it, it is not enough by itself and for two reasons.
“By itself, the Bible will not keep us on track.”
One, we make lots of decisions in life which are not prescribed for us in the Bible — hundreds of little decisions every day and some big ones in which we look in the Bible and there are no sentences about that. How many children to have, where to send your child to school, where to go to work, this, that, just hundreds of little things that we have to decide every day, and we don’t want to bracket those and say, “Well, that’s not part of Christianity. I’ll just make those decisions anyway I please, and then Christianity is something else.” God has to do with all those decisions. But the Bible doesn’t give explicit guidance for every one of those little decisions and, therefore, something more has to be said if we’re to walk in right paths in those decisions, as well as the ones where the Bible is perfectly explicit.
The second reason that the Bible, by itself, is not enough to guide us in those paths of righteousness is this: a path of righteousness is doing the right thing with a right attitude or a right motivation. It’s not just a bodily action. It’s having a right attitude towards your wife as well. But, reading words on a page doesn’t always change attitudes.
You can read over what you ought to feel like in the Bible a hundred times and maybe your attitude is just the same. Something else has to come into play, and I think that’s why David said, “God leads us in paths of righteousness,” and why Paul said, “All who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God.” We need not only revelation coming to us from outside, namely the Bible, we need transformation coming to us inside from the Holy Spirit. The word and the Spirit together are the leadership that we need.
Renewed in the Mind of Christ
Paul says in Romans 12:2 this very familiar word, “Don’t be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” — why? — “so that you can prove — or better, approve of — “the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” In other words, you’ve got to have something happen up here on the inside, some changed attitudes, some changed feelings, or when little decisions present alternatives, you won’t know how to prove which one of those is the will of God.
So the Bible is the input into that new mind, and the Spirit takes the word and begins to shape our thinking, mold our emotions, so that even when there’s no explicit command in Scripture for this decision you’re facing, you weigh all the alternatives and you’re weighing those alternatives with the mind of Christ. Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.” And then when you make the decision, you look back and you don’t say, “My, what a smart fellow was I,” but rather, you say, “Thank you for your word that informed the principles of my life, and thank you for the Spirit that shaped my emotions and my priorities so that I made this decision your way,” and God then gets the credit for the leadership, which means personally, for me, that I have been driven basically for all of life to meditate day and night on the word and to pray continually that the Holy Spirit would work on me.
You can’t over-intellectualize the Bible. You can’t over-spiritualize your private experience with God. It’s both/and, not either/or. It has been in my experience, and I haven’t found the two in conflict but tremendous complements for guidance in life.
By John Piper — 7 months ago
Good Friday, everyone. On this podcast we regularly take questions about how the early church did things. And then we ask what practices that we read about in our Bibles are directly transferable to our local churches today. Within that category would fit today’s email from a listener named Robbie in Kentucky. “Pastor John, hello to you! In 1 Timothy 2:8, we read that Paul exhorted men to pray in church while ‘lifting holy hands.’ What’s the connection between lifted hands and holiness? And what about lifted hands and prayer? Is this practice culturally dated, or is it a relevant one we should adopt today in our corporate church gatherings?”
The text — namely, 1 Timothy 2:8 — says, “I desire then that in every place the men” — and the word is men, not just persons; it’s males — “should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Then Paul continues, interestingly, in 1 Timothy 2:9, without a break, and shifts from men to women and says, “likewise also, that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” I think it’s relevant for understanding the word to men to realize that it’s paired with a word to women. It’s relevant because it relates to the question of whether Paul is addressing a merely peculiar problem at Ephesus or whether he’s speaking more generally, in a way that all of us should sit up and take notice, even in the twenty-first century, because it relates to our situation as well, male and female.
Our Typical Temptations
Now, we might be tempted to think that Paul is focused here mainly on the situation at Ephesus, because when he says that “anger and quarreling” should be put away, that triggers in our minds another text, in 1 Timothy 6:4, where he says that there’s a group of people in the church who have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce . . . dissension.” So we might think, “Well, that’s why, here in 1 Timothy 2:8, men are told to pray without anger and quarreling. It’s a peculiar problem at Ephesus. And that may be why Paul put the emphasis here on anger and quarreling.
But I don’t think he means for us to hear his words as limited to the application for Ephesus. I say that mainly because he says, “I desire that in every place men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” The words “in every place” show that he’s giving general instructions to men. That carries over to the instructions to women as well. In every place, “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty.”
It seems to me that Paul is putting his finger here on a typical male temptation and a typical female temptation. In general, men are more given to the temptation of angry verbal jousting and outbursts of combative quarreling. And in general, women are more inclined than men to give attention to their appearance when they go out in public. Now, of course, those are generalizations, and there are exceptions for both of them. But Paul seems to be putting his finger on a problem that is more peculiar to men and a problem that is more peculiar to women. He’s addressing them both in general, not just because of a peculiar problem at Ephesus.
Our question here is about what he says to men as they gather to pray. What he says is that he wants men in every place to pray, “lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” The question is this: Is Paul saying that in all our praying, we should be lifting our hands? I think that’s the basic question that I’m being asked.
I think the first thing to say, because we’ve seen it already, is that the emphasis does not fall on the lifting of hands, but on holiness and the renunciation of anger and quarreling. It’s significant that when he says he wants men to lift holy hands, he goes on to underline the holiness, not the hands. Namely, get rid of anger. Get rid of quarreling as you come to pray. That’s where the emphasis falls. It’s as if the lifting of hands is a given. That’s just a given. That’s what you do in worship. And so, what he’s telling them is not so much to do what they always do, and lift your hands; he’s saying, “Lift holy hands. Lift pure hands. Do it with peace and without quarreling.”
“The command is not to always lift your hands. It’s to lift them with holiness.”
Now, all of us, from time to time, speak this way. A teacher in grammar school might say to her students, “Now, young people, I want you to always come to class asking questions respectfully.” Or a coach might say, “I want us to get out on the field and throw completed passes.” Now, those are not statements about how often the student should ask questions, or how often the quarterback should throw passes. Those are statements about doing it respectfully and completing passes. That’s the way I think Paul is speaking here. The command is not to always lift your hands. “Be sure to always lift your hands.” It’s to lift them with holiness. “Be free from anger and quarreling.”
Body and Soul in Worship
But let me add two other questions. First, why did Paul take for granted that it was so common in worship that men should lift their hands? He was just assuming it. Surely, part of the answer is that the Old Testament refers to this practice often. Nehemiah 8:6: “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, amen,’ lifting up their hands.” Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands.” Psalm 63:4: “I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” Psalm 141:2: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
“If the heart is exulting before God over some great reality of grace, it seems natural that the body would join.”
Probably, Paul simply assumed it because that’s the way the churches worshiped, following the tradition of the Psalms. It seems natural. I think that’s why it happens in the Psalms, and that’s why it happens today. It seems natural. If the heart is exulting before God over some great reality of grace, it seems natural that the body would join the spirit in the exultation. I mean, why wouldn’t it? We are body and we are soul, and we exult in this glorious reality.
Why Not Lift Hands?
Here’s my last question. Why wouldn’t we lift our hands today? Now, I’m arguing that it’s not a command here, but that we lift our hands in holiness when we lift our hands. But I’m asking this question: Why wouldn’t we lift our hands in worship? Of course, the answers are many: “It’s not the way I was raised.” “It’s not my personality.” “It’s not my culture or my ethnicity.” “It’s not the way our church worships.” “It would be misunderstood as identifying with a group whose theology is defective.”
I remember talking with a leader in another country. I said, “I spoke at one group in this city, and everybody was raising their hands. I spoke in your group, with five thousand people, and not a hand was raised. What’s that about?” He just said flat out, “Because if we did it, we’d be aligned with the people with the defective theology.” Or “It would be phony; I don’t want to just be carried along by my emotions.” There are a lot of reasons why people don’t do what the psalmist says is natural to do.
I would just end with the question, Given Paul’s assumption that it was so common in the early church, and given the Old Testament exhortation and examples, and given the natural union between body and spirit in true exultation, is the reason that you don’t lift your hands a good reason?
By Marshall Segal — 7 months ago
Recently, our family was staying with a family we love when they suffered a miscarriage. The wife had just finished her first trimester. The baby would have been number six for them, their second son, a boy they all loved deeply without meeting him. The family wept for hours.
Now, I could say more about the quiet and common pain of miscarriage (my wife and I suffered one early in our marriage), or about what I learned about grief as I watched this family lose this baby together, as a family. But one of the things that struck me most was how the church showed up and loved them in their loss. Because we happened to be staying with them that week, we saw more than most would ever get to see.
The ears were the first to come, leaning in and listening well. But the feet weren’t far behind, arriving early and ready to run errands. Then came the hands, carrying flowers and Starbucks drinks and donuts for the kids. And with them, the arms that wrapped themselves tight around the family and wouldn’t let go. The noses followed, with some of their favorite meals. The mouths were slower than normal to speak, but came with meaningful words of courage and hope. And sprinkled among the rest were the eyes, attentive and filled with tears.
A Hundred Roads to the Hurting
The tangible love we witnessed exposed a profound oneness in that unusual church, but the expressions of that love were anything but uniform. Some came right away; some the next day; some later in the week. Some could swing by for only a few minutes; others stayed longer. Some just dropped something off with a note, to give the family space to rest. Some brought food; others brought an iced macchiato or a taro milk tea. Most of them cried.
It’s hard to describe how unusual and heartbreaking and beautiful the whole scene was. This church had learned how to grieve together, to carry each other’s burdens, to show up in hard moments. So where does this strange, otherworldly love come from? From a strange and generous kind of people.
The apostle Paul saw a scene not unlike the love my family witnessed. He writes to the church at Corinth,
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Corinthians 8:1–2)
The apostle is calling the believers in Corinth to give to the desperate needs of the embattled church in Jerusalem. He’s asking them to find their way to move toward the hurting, even if, in this case, the hurting are eight hundred miles away. To help inspire their generosity, he shows them just how much God can do when a church leans into suffering.
Unlikely Help and Generosity
The churches in Macedonia were not doing well by worldly standards. They were afflicted themselves, bearing the pain and weight of their own hardships. And not just normal affliction, Paul says, but severe affliction — the kind that cuts deeper, spreads further, and lasts longer.
And in the midst this awful affliction, making their valley even scarier and more upsetting, they were running out of money. Again, this wasn’t typical poverty; it was extreme poverty, some of them perhaps putting hungry kids to bed, their hollow eyes searching for hope that tomorrow might be different. Can you hear their parents pleading, through tears and stomachaches, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread”?
Yet, in the storms of affliction and the shadows of scarcity, we find an outstretched hand, a bright and warm light beating back the darkness, a wealth of generosity. And behind that outstretched hand, an even more surprising smile — an impossible smile, really. An abundant joy. With God, a people without any earthly wealth had found a way to be wealthy toward others. A people burdened with their own needs found more than enough to meet someone else’s.
If even the severely afflicted and seriously needy could move toward the suffering, how about the lightly afflicted and the rarely hungry? How might we find and experience what stirred up such unlikely help and generosity? Before holding out our hand, we first lift up our eyes to God.
The kind of people who are ready to move toward suffering when it comes — even in affliction, even in poverty, even when everyone would understand if they focused on themselves — are the kind of people who are always moving toward God. Paul continues,
They gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:3–5)
The saints in Macedonia were not only willing to give, but begged to give. They had tasted the deeper pleasures of sacrifice (see Acts 20:35), and they wouldn’t surrender that joy without a fight. How did they arrive there? What path took them to such happy selflessness? “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” They gave beyond their means, they gave far more than anyone expected, because they had given themselves to God.
“An unusually generous life will always be an unusually Godward one.”
They had not set their hope on the possibility of better, more comfortable circumstances. They weren’t tempted by the uncertainty of riches. No, they had set their hearts on God. And a heart set on God learns to define words like wealth, poverty, risk, sacrifice, and security differently. As they surrendered their claim on their earthly possessions, they stumbled into a treasure that could not be counted (1 Timothy 6:18–19). An unusually generous life will always be an unusually Godward one.
Marriage of Abundance and Need
Faithful Christianity, however, is never merely God or people, but God then people. “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” The sweetness of enjoying God drove the Macedonians to bravely step into the sorrows and loss around them (in this case, in the church at Jerusalem).
Some of us need to be reminded to begin with God. Others need to be exhorted to regularly, tangibly emerge from communion with God and meet some real need. Notice how God allows abundance and need to dance in the church:
I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:13–15)
In any given church — in your church — God has married real abundance and real need. Just like the needs, the abundance comes in various kinds, at various times, to various people. In some seasons, you’ll be especially needy, and in others, especially supplied. You’ll be needy in ways others aren’t, and rich in ways others lack. And this marriage is a shadow of an even greater love, when the God of infinite abundance took on need to make us truly wealthy: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Love in the local church, Paul says, should look a lot like the manna that sustained God’s people in the wilderness. Except instead of sending it from the clouds, God now delivers and provides through the body of Christ, the local church — more specifically, through you and me.
In Every Good Work
The kind of generosity Paul has in mind isn’t only financial. In fact, most generosity in the church isn’t financial. It’s costly, for sure, but often not in dollars and cents. Listen to the apostle summarize his burden for the church:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6–8)
“Whoever you are, and whatever you have, God will give you enough to overflow to others, especially those in need.”
In every good work. Not only in coins delivered to Jerusalem, but in home-cooked meals and familiar living rooms, in notes of encouragement and unexpected phone calls, in pots of coffee and thoughtful questions, in visits to the valleys of grief. Whoever you are, and whatever you have, God will give you enough to overflow to others, especially those in need.
So find your way to move toward the hurting. Don’t assume someone else is checking in. Don’t assume someone else will send a meal. Don’t assume they’re overwhelmed with messages and visits. When the trial comes — when sickness falls, when the job disappears, when the marriage collapses, when a loved one dies — assume God plans to meet one of their many needs through you.