“We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.” – John Piper
At the center of the Christian ministry is a naked man hanging on a piece of wood covered in his own blood and other peoples spit. Proclaiming the excellencies of this man and receiving applause from the world do not mix. Granted there will be certain fruits of the Christian life that the world will see and admire. But when they look at the center, when they look at what is driving all of those respectful good deeds they will turn in disgust either from their sin or from our Savior. Knowing this grenade of grace lies at the core of the pastoral ministry each man must resolve to pull the pin or please man.
In his book Brothers We Are Not Professionals John Piper pulls the pin and exhorts other pastors to do the same. There are thirty short chapters in this book each dealing with a different aspect of the pastoral ministry. I have time here only to address two of them.
“God loves sinners” is a glorious truth that must be upheld and defended. It is not only glorious but also palatable to most of the people you run into on the street. “God loves his glory” on the other hand is quite bitter to the common taste buds yet nonetheless glorious and thus even more so in need of upholding and defending. If you add to this truth “God loves his glory more than he loves us” (7) you have a recipe that most at the community picnic will be avoiding. Even though it is distasteful to some I am compelled to proclaim this truth for two reasons.
First, it is true and right. This truth of God loving his glory is littered throughout the scripture, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 48:11). Not only is it true but also it is right and good of God to love what is most lovable. We will begin to feast on this truth when we see the goodness of it. An honorable man loves what is good and not what is evil. God in all of his perfections is as the old hymn says, worthy of worship. So if it is true and right we must believe it, rejoice in it, and proclaim it.
Secondly, Piper points out that this truth of God loving his own glory is the foundation of his loving us. If God is going to love us, be concerned with our well being, and be generous to us then what he must give us is himself. What we need to be satisfied is to behold the glory of the Lord. So his loving his own glory first and foremost is not a bad thing for us in anyway, rather it is what is best for us. The key here is to know and believe that what we need more than anything else is to behold the glory of God. If we believe that then this truth though shocking when it first lands will result in solid joy and personal zeal for the name of the Lord.
A second truth unleashed in this book that goes against the grain of professionalism is that, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. There are not many things less professional than a hedonistic lifestyle, and Piper calls pastors in one of the chapters to consider Christian Hedonism. This is the truth that it is right to seek our own happiness and to do so vigorously. One of the dangers of professionalism is to work hard at earning, growing, and building but in Christian Hedonism we are called to work hard at being happy. The anchor truth for such a worldview is that God himself is the ultimate source of all joy and thus if one seeks his own happiness he will find himself looking continually to the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 16 puts forward this truth, “in your presence is fullness of joy at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
This truth cuts at the heart of both the grumpy church member and the sensually intoxicated worldly pleasure seeker. One claims to be pursuing God but considers joy in this life to be for the sensually intoxicated, the other claims to have all the joy life can bring but considers the pursuit of God to be for grumpy old church members. The truth of Christian Hedonism holds they are both wrong about joy and about God. Happiness is not found in the world it is found in God, and walking the straight and narrow with a scowl on your face is not glorifying to God.
One power this truth possesses is its ability to protect against legalism. It reminds us again and again that if we are to glorify God we not only need to do for God but we need God to do for us. We need him to satisfy us in the morning with his steadfast love, we need him to give us eyes to behold his glory with unveiled face and thus by beholding his glory we will be transformed from one degree of glory to another. Yet as we proclaim the necessity of joy in glorifying God we must also be prepared to call the bluff of those deceived into thinking sin will bring them happiness. Some will try use seeking their own joy as a license to “eat, and drink for tomorrow we die” yet this manipulation of Christian Hedonism cannot be accepted neither should it differ us from proclaiming that God will be most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
So “God loves you” and “work hard for God” are great truths, I do not aim to minimize or disregard them. But the truths “God loves his glory” and “work hard at being happy in him” are great truths as well and there is pressure upon pastors to keep them tucked away in the closet. We must not proclaim only the socially acceptable truths; we must declare all of God’s truth. God loves his own glory and we must love his glory too, we must delight in him if we are to praise him as we ought. May God give courage so that we aim to please God and not man.