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Am I Wrong to Prepare for a Nuclear Doomsday?

Saber-rattling between international leaders is a military tactic probably as old as saber swords themselves. But when those sabers are nuclear warheads, the threats come with a very sharp edge to them. Over the past several months, our president here in the States and the leader of North Korea have exchanged threats via state media, mass media, and social media. North Korea has been testing nuclear bombs and perfecting its long-range missile program. In response, our president has said the following about future threats: “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In a speech, he went so far as to say, “The United States has great strength and patience. But if it’s forced to defend itself or allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Those are strong words, and they are backed with movement. As we speak, the U.S. has three aircraft carrier strike groups in the western Pacific, a significant military buildup meant to get North Korea’s attention. With international tensions high, we get this question from Amber in Virginia. “Hello, Pastor John. I love your podcast and your overall ministry has deeply impacted me. North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. With threats of a nuclear attack, Christians around me are starting to fear. I know so many Christians who talk of stocking food, water, and supplies — even a few considering buying and installing an underground bomb shelter in the event of such attack. When it comes to this new cold-war era (new to a lot of us), how should Christians plan wisely?”

Well, I need to make a confession right off the bat here. Eighteen years ago, as Y2K approached — does anybody even remember that? — there was all this hysteria about how the computers would not know how to handle the switch from the 1900s to the 2000s.

People thought there would be major infrastructure breakdowns and the electricity and water would go off. They thought everybody would be forced off the grid and there would be rioting in the streets and no food available for weeks. As I watched this hysteria work its way into the church, I frankly was disgusted. I’m sorry. This is a confession. I watched Christians justify their own fear and self-protection by saying they would use their generator and their extra food for ministry purposes. Really? I wonder if the watching world saw it that way. Well, I didn’t see it that way.

To me, that very bent towards self-preservation and hoarding was a bad ministry in itself. It all made me angry, and I preached that this was not the mindset of the church in the New Testament. When I say, “Let me confess this,” I do mean that there probably was sin on my part in some of what I felt about the preppers during Y2K.

But I still feel most of what I felt, so I may have to confess again — may God help me. So, if you’re one of those folks, you’re just not going to get a lot of sympathy from me. I’ll try to explain why in the next few minutes, so here we go. I’ve got five reasons why.

Bomb Shelters

First, danger and risk are normal for the Christian life, not exceptional. The dominant New Testament approach to this fact is not self-protection, but self-sacrifice — the sacrifices of love. That’s the flavor. That’s the tone that we should see and experience.

For example, Paul describes his life like this:

Countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:23–27)

Jesus had promised that’s the way it would be:

“You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16–19).

Now how in the world did Paul press on? What was his bomb shelter? He said,

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:16–18)

So you can see what he means there: “Evil deeds will not destroy my faith. I may die, but I’ll make it to the heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever.”

Our True Shelter

Second, major efforts at self-preservation are inevitably going to obscure to the world the basic message of Jesus — namely, Matthew 16:24–25:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Third, if you are known as a person who devotes lots of money and effort and focus on creating a refuge, it is going to make the psalms sound hollow in your mouth.

You are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. (Psalms 31:3–4)

For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalms 61:3)

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalms 62:7–8)

Here is the text of the five missionaries who went to the Huaorani tribe in 1956 and were all killed by the spears:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:1–6)

Stay, Don’t Flee

Fourth, it is allowed in Scripture, when danger comes, to flee or to stand and suffer. John Bunyan, who spent twelve years in prison for standing firm, wrote to defend both possible paths of obedience as biblical — both to flee or to stand.

I just don’t think Americans need more encouragement to flee. So when it comes to what I want to emphasize (what I’m doing right now), I preach stay. Pastorally and prophetically, flee is just not the need of the hour. I don’t think we need to encourage Americans, saying, “Oh, you really should stop being so risky. You really should stop suffering so much. You really should stop so much self-sacrifice. Let’s all be more self-protective in our bunkers.” I think pastorally and prophetically the need is almost entirely in the other direction.

And finally, fifth, it misrepresents the value of Christ and heaven to give the impression that death is the worst thing that could happen. If we are really doing all our self-preservation out of love, what about the people who are going to die eternally for lack of the gospel? Are we taking the same steps as seriously to preserve them for eternity? Bottom line: How can we make Christ look like he really is — the supreme treasure of our lives? How can we say to the world Psalm 63:3, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life”?

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Is God a Megalomaniac?

We have an email here from a mom named Coleen who is writing in on behalf of her son. And for the sake of anonymity of him, as a minor, I am not going to use his name here. Coleen, his mother, writes in to ask this. “Dear Pastor John, I am hoping you can help us with regards to the topic of God being a megalomaniac, which is what our fifteen-year-old son currently believes. We’ve talked about this, and he has said that you may be the only person who can change his thinking. Because of the Westminster Catechism’s answer to the chief end of man, he now believes that God is somehow weak and has an enormous ego, that he created human beings so they will worship him. That God is too ‘needy.’ My son wants to enjoy other things more than God and thinks ‘programming’ people to find their greatest happiness in worshiping him is coercive, mean, manipulative, and wrong.”

Is God a Megalomaniac?I don’t know Coleen’s son’s name, but for convenience sake, I’m going to call him Joe, and speak directly to him. According to his mom, Joe believes six things. What she doesn’t say, and if I were having a conversation with Joe, the first thing I would ask is probably, what are you basing your view of God on? Are you making it up? Are you trusting some human teacher? Are you deducing it from nature, and the logical use of nature? Or are you basing it on God’s word in Scripture? And how he answers that question would probably affect how I answer.

But, since I don’t know, I’m just going to rest my case with God’s word, since I regard all those other sources as very unlikely sources of reliable information about infinite reality, especially the source of my own head. I think if we are going to know anything about God for sure, God has to tell us. There’s no other way to know. We need both the word and the Spirit’s opening our hearts to see what’s really there. So let me say a word about the six things that I see Joe apparently believes about God.

Strong God

First, he believes God is somehow weak. According to Scripture, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). Job says, “The Almighty — we cannot find him; he is great in power” (Job 37:23). In fact, Job comes to the end of his book with this overriding conviction: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

In Isaiah 46:9–10, God himself puts it like this, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”

So no, Joe, God is not weak. He is infinitely powerful. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. He holds you in being moment by moment. If he stopped thinking about you, you would vanish out of existence.

Good and Upright

Second, Joe says God has an enormous ego. The problem with that statement is that the connotation of the word ego is that his head is swollen beyond what it should be or he’s too big for his britches. He’s posturing and posing to get people to think he’s greater than he is, or that there’s a void inside his big, boasting head that desperately needs filling from others who can give him what he lacks. So, in this case, he’s always trying to make up for some deficiency from the contributions of others.

That’s the way we talk about big egos, but all of those connotations are sinful. They’re ugly. The Bible never portrays God in any of those sinful ways. None of those connotations about God’s self-exaltation are in the Bible. None of them.

None of those connotations is true of him. Psalm 25:8 says, “Good and upright is the Lord.” Or “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

Joe, you seem to have decided to use this derogatory language about God because of this next thing you believe.

Created for Worship

The third thing is God created humans so that they will worship him. That’s true. That’s absolutely true. Listen to Isaiah: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6–7).

Jesus in John 4:23 says God is seeking worshipers in spirit and in truth. In Ephesians 1:5–6 we read, “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” — why? — “to the praise of his glorious grace.”

So, Joe, it sounds like you’re asking, “If it is ugly and sinful for me to act like that, how can I admire a God who acts that way?” That’s a very good question. And here’s the reason that you dare not seek people’s worship while God should and must.

If I say to a crowd — puny, puny John Piper, sinful John Piper — if I say to a crowd, “I came tonight so that you would all see my beauty and find your greatest happiness in me” — if I believed that and said that, I would not be loving.

First, because I’d be wrong. I am not where your greatest happiness can be found. I am emphatically not where your greatest happiness can be found. Second, I would be unloving because I would be distracting you from the one whose beauty can make you supremely happy and satisfied, namely, God and all that he is for us in Christ.

But if God were to come into the room tonight and say to the crowd, “I came tonight so that you would see and know my divine beauty and find your greatest happiness in me,” he would not be unloving.

First, because it is true. He is the only source of deep and longest happiness. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Second, he would not be distracting us from what would make us deeply and permanently happy. He would be giving us the surest way to joy, namely, offering us himself.

Now, Joe, add this to that thought. This is crucial — hear this. God did not just come into the room, or the world, and say, “Here I am for your enjoyment.” He came to people who hated him. He came to people who rejected him, who belittled him, who called him an egomaniac, and he died for us. He died for us. That is not weak. It’s not needy. It’s not what egomaniacs do. They don’t die for their enemies out of love.

Strength to suffer for his enemies and bring them to eternal happiness in worshiping him — that’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful strength. The most beautiful strength in the universe was shown at Calvary for sinners like you, Joe, and me.

Overflowing Fountain

The fourth thing you say is that he’s too needy. No, he’s not needy. He’s not needy at all. That’s not coming out of the Bible. It’s not coming out of reason. It’s coming out of unreason. Acts 17:25 states, “[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” God does not need us. If he were hungry, he would not tell us (Psalm 50:12).

God seeks our worship, not because it meets his need, but because it meets our need. We were made. We’ve got this big, God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. We were made to enjoy God, know God, love God, serve God, and worship God — that is, to enjoy to the max and to overflow with admiration over what is most admirable.

Joe, I hope you take this right: God is stuck with being God. He didn’t choose to be beautiful. He is beautiful. He is absolutely who he is. “I am who I am,” he said (Exodus 3:14). The only question God has is not whether to be beautiful and all-satisfying. The question is whether he’s going to share it, and then die for it.

Giver of Happiness

Then Joe says, “God’s programming people to find their greatest happiness in worshiping him is coercive, mean, manipulative, and wrong.” There are two problems with this, Joe.

  1. God’s way of bringing people to worship him is not programming. It’s not programmed because that implies computerized robots with no moral will and no soul, which we have. It’s a mystery of great proportion. So God is not manipulative. He’s not coercive.
  2. The other problem is that it cannot be mean. It cannot be mean to bring a person to their greatest happiness. If it really is our greatest happiness, then you and I, Joe, would never want to leave it, not in a million years for anything. Which leaves us, Joe, with this question: Is your indictment of God not based mainly on good evidence from his word, but on the fact that you don’t like it, and you want very much to be free to enjoy other things more than God?

If that’s true, I pray and I hope and I ask you to reconsider. Every pleasure that isn’t rooted in God will fail you. Your heart was made to find greatest and longest happiness in God. If sin keeps you from supreme joy in God, sin needs to go, not God.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Why the Reformation Remains Relevant After 500 Years

Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We have an amazing episode this week related to the Reformation from a listener named David. “Hello, Pastor John! The ‘big’ anniversary of the Reformation is coming up at the end of this month, so this question is pressing to me. Which of the five solas is the heart of the Reformation? Which one is most important? Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), or soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone)?”

Why the Reformation Remains Relevant After 500 YearsI can’t answer this question any more than I can answer, Which wing of an airplane is most important? Or, What’s most important, the wings or the jet engines? If a wing goes, the plane crashes. If one of the solas goes, salvation crashes.

This is, I think, why the Reformation was and remains such a huge issue. It’s not as though a person can cherry-pick parts of God’s plan to save sinners while neglecting the others or distorting the others and still hope to see sinners saved. I think the most helpful thing to do would be to explain why these solas are needed, what they are, and why they are so connected that if one goes, the rest can’t save.

The Problem

The reason they’re so needed is the issue of salvation. All human beings are sinners (Romans 3:23). That means two things about each of us that we can’t fix by our own initiative.

First, we are spiritually dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1–3). We have to have spiritual life, and we can’t make that life happen. We’re dead. We have to be born again.

Second, we’re under God’s wrath (John 3:36). God is just and hates sin, and in his justice, he aims to deal justly with sinners and punish us. So one, we need life, which we can’t create, and two, we need God’s wrath to be turned away. We need him to be one hundred percent for us and not against us, and in our guilt, we can’t make that happen.

That’s the double problem that God himself has solved through the gospel. The Reformation was reclaiming how God solves those two problems. The five solas explain how we get saved. The answer of the Protestant Reformation is this: our being made alive in Christ, and God’s being one hundred percent for us forever, is by God’s grace alone; on the basis of Christ alone; received through faith alone; so that all things lead ultimately to the glory of God alone; with Scripture alone as the only final, decisive authority for discerning, teaching, and defending those truths. That’s the way the alones go together.

The Solution

The word grace implies free gift — not earned, not merited, not deserved — which means that our new birth, our being given life, was God’s doing freely, as a gift. We did not make it happen. We were dead. Our new life, our desire, our ability to believe and love, is all of grace, which is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2:5 — namely, that he made us alive by grace. You have been saved.

It’s the same with God’s removal of his own wrath. He says in Romans 3:24, “[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation” (Romans 3:24–25). That happens by a removal of wrath by his blood, so God himself, without any of our doing or acting, completely canceled our debt on the cross.

He bought that deliverance for us. He propitiated his own wrath by his grace as a gift. We added nothing to this transaction on the cross. It was grace alone. Not grace plus some of our merit, or some of the saints’ merits, or some of Mary’s merits. It was Christ and grace alone.

So there’s the key. What I could not do (I could not contribute anything at all) God did, paying for my sins, propitiating his wrath at the cross, and then raising me from the dead. All by grace alone, meaning the free gift cannot be added to by my merit or effort, or anybody else’s merit or effort.

Stand or Fall Together

Now here’s why they all stand and fall together. It’s amazing how the Bible gives us explicit answers to this, so let me go through it quickly.

First, grace alone and Christ alone. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Therefore, as Galatians 5:2 says, “If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” In other words, Christ alone is the ground of God’s being one hundred percent for us, not Christ plus circumcision, or any other human act or merit. If you add to Christ as the ground of God’s being one hundred percent for you, Paul says grace is nullified. So in Paul’s mind, Christ alone and grace alone stand and fall together.

Second, grace alone and faith alone. Romans 4:14 states, “If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null” — nullified, just like grace was — “and the promise is void.” Here’s the key: “It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace” (Romans 4:16). In other words, if God’s blessings of new life and no wrath are free gifts of grace, the only way a human may enjoy them is by receiving the gift, not doing. Faith, not law keeping, is key. If you add to faith as a means of receiving new birth and justification, you nullify grace. Paul says in Romans 4:16 that faith alone and grace alone stand and fall together.

Third, grace alone and the glory of God alone. Ephesians 1:5–6 says that the entire design of salvation by grace, from before the foundation of the world, was that the “glory of grace” would be praised: “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” In other words, if adding to Christ as the ground of God’s being one hundred percent for us nullifies grace, and if adding to faith as the means of enjoying the gift of God being one hundred percent for us nullifies grace, then the great aim of it all — the praise of the glory of that grace — will be nullified as well.

The reason God gives life and justifies this way — by grace alone on the ground of Christ alone, through faith alone — is because he aims for the final and ultimate glory for it all to go to himself alone. That’s what Paul says in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” And all of this can only be known and believed and enjoyed and taught, with final and decisive authority, from the Scripture alone.

So here’s my conclusion. Therefore, for the sake of the gospel of new life and justification — by God’s grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, received by faith alone, so that all things lead ultimately to the glory of God alone — we take our stand with confidence and joy on the final, decisive authority of Scripture alone. All the solas stand or fall together.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Confronting Emotional and Verbal Abuse in the Home

In a previous episode, we talked about the difference between unholy anger and holy anger, and you, Pastor John, talked about anger as a marriage killer. Today we look more closely at anger and its destructive force inside the home. An anonymous woman who listens to the podcast has written us a pretty sharp question. Here it is: “Pastor John, thank you for the years you have faithfully invested in this podcast. Over those years I don’t believe you have ever spoken on emotional and verbal abuse inside the home. At what point do emotional outbursts from an adult in a home call for church discipline or for the involvement of the local church leadership? I’m talking about verbal putdowns aimed at children and cuss words, and raised voices used in anger to force an opinion on the home in a consistent pattern. I want to keep this in the general level because I want you to offer general categories to use.”

It’s pretty obvious that this woman has carefully crafted the description of the behavior she’s asking about. In other words, she asked me to provide categories to think about, but she, I think, has done a remarkable job (and I’m sure it did not come quickly) of providing them already herself. So first, let me reread her key sentence and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Then I want to give some Scripture that throw what she says into such serious relief. Finally, I want to close with a few other aspects that she may or may not be thinking about, but I think are also important.

Good Questions

Here’s the sentence which describes the kind of behavior she’s asking about. She says, “I’m talking about verbal putdowns.” (I’m going to make a comment after each key phrase because she has chosen her words very carefully. I’m going to tell you what I think is meant — or what I would mean by them and I think she means by them.)

“I’m talking about verbal putdowns,” she says, which is the opposite, I’m saying, of language that builds up and offers grace. She continues, “aimed at children.” I would add that aimed at anyone this would be a problem. This introduces the added long-term damage as well as the cruel use of power.

She continues, “and cuss words.” I add, which introduces the dimension of ugly and dirty intensity. She continues, “and raised voices used in anger.” I add, which names the emotion and heightens the sense of fearfulness and attack. She adds, “to force.” I add, which identifies a sense of coercion rather than appeal or persuasion.

She continues, “to force an opinion on the home.” I interpret, which suggests it’s not just shared convictions that are at stake here, but opinions that don’t necessarily have any moral weight and are still being — with such high-level intensity of anger — forced. Then she finishes with, “in a consistent pattern,” which points out that this is not an occasional outburst but an ongoing and unrepentant pattern.

God’s Verdict

Now that’s a pretty carefully crafted definition of a pattern of behavior called verbal abuse or emotional abuse. I, for one, really appreciate that kind of care in crafting a question. She clearly does not want this to be treated or dismissed as an ordinary run-of-the-mill or minor conflict as might crop up more in a good marriage now and then. I don’t dismiss it that way or treat it that way.

The reason is the text that follows. So let me just read some passages of Scripture, and every one of them could be correlated with the particular points that she was making about the spouse’s behavior who is speaking that way and acting that way.

Now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32)

Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19)

All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8–9)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:28–30)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you — I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner. (Philemon 1:8–9)

A Serious Problem

We could, of course, go on. These passages mark every phrase of her sentence as a serious spiritual, moral issue whether from a husband or from a wife. So, my short answer is this: the behavior (as she defined it and as I tried to interpret it and illuminate it) is enough to warrant a spouse turning to the elders of the church for help. This could possibly be for discipline (depending on the spouse’s response) and possibly for excommunication. That’s a pretty serious statement about that sentence.

Here’s what I want to add. I think it may be helpful to point out (and I’m sure she knows this, but all of our listeners may not think in these categories, and it’s pretty radical what I’m going to say). There should be in every Christian marriage a web of relationships in the church, in the community, and among friends that can exert correcting, rebuking, and healing influences.

Among Christians this can happen. There should be a web of relationships. And I know there are not a lot of healthy communities and/or as many healthy churches as we would like — I get that. I’m talking about what ought to be and what a young couple should pursue. There should be a web of relationships which should exert correcting and rebuking and healing influences before there is the need for official involvement of the elders.

The New Testament is shot through with commands to ordinary laypeople to exhort each other, rebuke each other, correct each other, and pray for each other regularly. It’s amazing how many marriages painfully limp along with nobody able to do that. That’s tragic. I would say to every young couple — and I know it’s too late for many couples who are so far gone in the dysfunctional relationship that they won’t ever do this without a miracle. But I would say to every young couple from the beginning: immerse yourselves in a web of relationships, a small group, a set of friends, who are close enough to you that they can know when problems are happening in your marriage.

Find People to Trust

I would even say that a husband and wife should get permission from the other to have one or two people that they are willing to have the spouse share absolutely everything happening within the marriage. Not that they always would share everything, but that the trust level is high enough that they are allowed, at their own judgment, to make that call.

For example, years ago my wife and I were having enough trouble that we did this. I gave Noël the permission to say to one or two other women absolutely anything about our marriage without betraying me. I said, “It will not be a betrayal. I give you permission to say absolutely anything to her, and I trust you not to do so in a way that would be destructive.”

She did the same for me. Noël has given me permission to say to one or two other men absolutely anything about what’s going on in our home, and she trusts me not to say things that would be destructive or damaging.

I realized this requires an enormous amount of trust both between the spouses and with the friends, and I would say ultimately in God. This takes a great deal of courage for friends to then turn around and confront the husband or the wife. But that’s the kind of web of relationships I’m talking about. Then, if all of that involvement of other friends does not bring about the repentance of the kind behavior we’re talking about here, then the involvement of the elders will not at all seem precipitous. All things will be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Welcome back to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast, with longtime author and pastor John Piper. Today’s question comes from a listener named Morgan. “Dear Pastor John, it seems to me that some churches are more solemn when they ‘celebrate’ the Lord’s Supper. Other churches seem to be more cheerful in the reminder of what Jesus has done for us. Is this a false dichotomy? What is the proper tone of the Lord’s Table — solemn or cheerful?”

The Lord’s Supper — Somber or Cheerful?I think the main thing I want to say is that it is not a decision for children to make. It’s not a decision for immature people with little experience of suffering and sorrow and sustaining grace to make.

How to do the Lord’s Supper is a decision for battle-proven, scarred, rugged warriors of the faith who have come through much suffering with eyes bright and lips smiling and hearts full of joyful hope and tears running down their faces. They’re the ones who would know how to design a service for every level of Christian.

Battle Scars

Children and immature people with little life experience don’t have the kind of complex emotional categories that are necessary to create the kind of atmosphere that reflects the realities of the Lord’s Supper.

Children are either bouncing off the walls happy, or they’re moody or angry or sullen or crying. Children have never experienced a kind of sorrow in which they wept for two hours while rejoicing from the bottom of their heart, like I did when my mother died 43 years ago.

Children don’t have the experience of being shamed for the name of Christ and feeling the white-hot hatred of others pouring over their faces because of Christ, yet all the while rejoicing like the apostles in Acts 5:41 because they had been counted worthy to be shamed for the name.

That’s just too complex of a set of emotions for children and immature Christians. Children don’t have the experience of tasting imminent danger with all the trembling that goes with it while knowing, in the same moment, a peace that passes all understanding down in the soul. That’s too complex for a child or an immature Christian.

Children and immature Christians don’t have sufficient experience to make any sense existentially out of Psalm 2:11: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” That just doesn’t make sense to the heart that hasn’t gotten to know the depth of what it means to fear the Lord — the very Lord who cares for us and loves us, and yet whom we would be terrified to have as our enemy.

Children and immature Christians don’t have sufficient experience to make sense out of Paul’s phrase “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Intermingled

In other words, the immature heart thinks that sorrow and joy are alternatives. The immature think that joy and sorrow are sequential in life: sometimes we’re sorrowful while at other times we’re joyful. But they don’t have categories for simultaneous sorrow and joy.

Only the battle-scarred, broken-hearted, contrite, seasoned followers of Jesus know deep down in the fiber of their being that in this life they will never only rejoice and never only sorrow. They will always be intermingled.

Children and immature Christians don’t have sufficient experience to understand why Paul would say in Philippians 2:12 that precisely because God is at work in us, willing and doing his good pleasure, we should fear and tremble — we should do our obedience with fear and trembling. Wouldn’t the presence of God working in us take away fear and trembling? No, not all of it, but it takes a good bit of serious living with Jesus to discover these things.

Glib Versus Joy

Now I say all of that because the question as posed cannot be answered. Should the Lord’s Supper be solemn or cheerful? I’m saying it should not be either-or and should not be sequentially. There is a solemnity with explosive joy, and there is sweet cheerfulness whose eyes are brimming with tears.

The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration and an emblematic demonstration of the most painful, the most sinful, the most sorrowful act in the history of the world. And it is aiming to produce in us a kind of joy in the gospel and in Christ that is greater than any joy in the world, but that joy is not chipper, it’s not glib, it’s not superficial, it’s not silly, it’s not bouncy.

The only people I expect to understand what I’m saying here are mature, seasoned, battle-scarred veterans of some or much trial and suffering in which they have found Jesus to be all sufficient and gloriously satisfying. But even though that’s the only person I expect to get what I’m saying, I might be able to give a hint that would help people.

Sorrow and Joy

Several years ago, one of the young men of our church died suddenly with no apparent explanation. He was in his twenties, and he was a strong believer. In fact, he had died in the midst of a beautiful ministry. His parents and family were grieving, but not as those who had no hope. We were all keenly aware that our brother was indescribably happy with Jesus while we were pouring out our sorrows.

When we gathered for the funeral, the church was packed. It had been arranged by the parents that we would be singing as a congregation as the family and the body entered — singing a mighty song, a big strong, a triumphant song of victory over death and celebration of life.

Even as I recall it now, really even as I recall it now, several years later, shivers are going down the backs of my arms because as I told his father later, that moment was one of the greatest moments of my life — great with joy, great with sorrow.

When I looked down from the platform and saw this father with his hands in the air, I could scarcely contain the power of what I felt. I don’t know what to call it except exquisitely joyful sorrow and exquisitely sorrowful joy.

That’s my answer. The Lord’s Supper is in a class by itself in combining emotions that only the veterans of sorrow and joy understand well enough to plan the service appropriately. That’s my prayer, and that’s my goal — that such people would plan the service.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast with longtime author and pastor John Piper. Here’s today’s question: “Hello, Pastor John, my name is Darmo, and I live in Indonesia. What encouragement would you give for us who have read and admired Eugene Peterson’s books over the years, in light of his recent admission that he would marry a gay couple. He seems to have recanted on this position, but it leaves in my mind a lingering question: When it comes to a national or international voice in the church, when do they lose their platform? If an evangelical wavers on so-called ‘same-sex marriage,’ to what extent are their life’s works valuable or not to the church, in private use and public commendation?” What would you say to Darmo?

Popular Author Stumbles – What Should We Do With His Books?

Let me try to say something about this question without focusing too much on Eugene Peterson. It’s a bigger issue than one man. But I will say that I was really sad to read his seemingly cavalier endorsement of so-called same-sex marriage, and then how (in my mind) unsatisfying his retraction was.

Perhaps I wasn’t as surprised as some that he would move in that direction, but when he did, at least for a moment, it was a tragic development.

The Tragedy

I say it was tragic because endorsing so-called same-sex marriage involves three tragic things:

  1. It involves a false and destructive view of marriage.
  2. It involves a false and destructive view of sexuality.
  3. It involves, probably most importantly, a false and destructive view of the gospel warning that those who live in unrepentant homosexual activity will not inherit the kingdom of God. The gospel of Jesus is given precisely to rescue us from that peril, so why would we send people into it if we are gospel people?

To me, these three faults — these three deeply destructive errors — are so serious that it’s almost inconceivable to me that a serious Christian would not be prevented from endorsing so-called same-sex marriage because of biblical faithfulness and love for people’s eternal good. The question for you becomes, in general, what should we do with the books and sermons of those who, somewhere along the way, depart from biblical faithfulness in these and other serious ways? I’ve just got four observations that I’ll make, and I hope they provide some guidance to us as we reflect on them.

Truth Remains Truth

First, in principle, a book that was once properly seen as true and helpful may remain true and helpful even if its author says things that are seriously untrue and unhelpful later on. The simplest way to show that this is true is to notice that King Solomon was the author of many of the proverbs. For example,Proverbs 1:1 says, “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.” He was also the author of the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon 1:1).

Yet here’s what we read in 1 Kings: “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 11:4–6). I conclude that, in principle, a book can remain true and helpful even if its author goes off the rails.

Seeds of Defectiveness

Second observation: if a writer does move in a seriously defective direction doctrinally or morally, we have good reason to reread what he has written and be on the lookout for the seeds and trajectories that might give some explanation for why he went in such a wrong direction.

In retrospect, we might discover in his writings things which, in fact, we had overlooked. We had given him the benefit of the doubt perhaps, and now we say, “Maybe not.” Those things carried the seeds of the defection or the trajectory of the defection in the end, so we might judge that the writings are not as helpful as we once thought they were on a more careful reading.

“In Principle”

Here’s the third thing I would say. In what I said under number one, I used the phrase “in principle.” In principle, a book that was once properly seen as true and helpful may remain true and helpful. The reason I used the phrase “in principle” is to distinguish it from “in actuality.” In other words, a book never exists in principle alone — in abstract. It never exists isolated from connections with author, real and potential readers, churches, publisher, ministry, the fruit it bears, and the time in history when it served its purpose.

The point here is that the decision of what to do with the book isn’t based on the legitimacy of what it says alone, but also on its connections with people and churches and ministries and publishers and times. Any of these connections with the book might be very helpful or very harmful.

We need to weigh the issue of what our promotion or endorsement of a book may do in all of those connections. I’m thinking of the biblical principle of not causing your brother to stumble. Even in principle you may have freedom to do something, but other factors, when they’re drawn in, make that very act an unloving act (1 Corinthians 8; Romans 14).

Feet of Clay

Fourth, I would say that it seems to me one lesson we should learn from these repeated situations that happen in history is that we should avoid excessive, uncritical praise for an ordinary human author. Here I’m not thinking of inspired, biblical authors. I think God, in his mercy and inspiration, has protected those authors — even though they are fallen human beings — from writing what is false. That’s what we mean by inspiration. I’m not including them in this when I say uncritical praise of an ordinary human author is probably unwarranted and may do harm, even though we have been tremendously helped by the person we’re praising.

For example, I can hear excessive praise for Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, or my favorites, C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and John Owen. We would probably do well to regularly remind ourselves and our audiences that all authors have feet of clay and that every book should be read through the discerning lens of biblical faithfulness. Bottom line: test all things and hold fast to what is good.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Are We Called to Thank God for Our Severest Suffering?

A podcast listener named Kathy writes in, “Pastor John, I just finished listening to the recent APJ episode titled ‘Glorifying God in Unshakeable Grief.’ Before I ask my question, may I first say thank you to you, Pastor John, and to Pastor Tom Steller for the years I spent at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the 1980s and early 1990s, during which time I was well taught by you both, and grounded in the sovereignty of God. That foundation has been crucial for my coping in recent years.

“My youngest son, Josiah, was diagnosed with bone cancer in July 2013 at the age of twelve. The period of his treatment was really hard, full of intense pain and sickness for him and anxiety for us all. But by the end of his treatment in September 2014, we thought he had come through it. However, at his first post-treatment check, we were told his cancer had returned, riddled his lungs, and he died in April 2015 at the age of fourteen. I am thankful that the Lord had given Josiah a faith that enabled him to face death without fear, and I have confidence that Josiah is now with Jesus. I hold on to the truth that in some way this is part of a plan that makes sense. But the grief has frequently felt unbearable, and now, just over two years later, it still comes crashing in waves that at times feel impossible to withstand.

“My question comes from something I read recently in your book ‘Future Grace.’ At the end of chapter two you write, ‘When faith in God’s future grace is strong, the message is sent that this kind of God makes no mistakes, so that everything he has done in the past is part of a good plan and can be remembered with gratitude. . . . Only if we trust God to turn past calamities into future comfort can we look back with gratitude for all things.’ Gratitude for all things is my question. I can say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for being with us during Josiah’s suffering.’ But it’s difficult for me to say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for Josiah’s suffering.’ I cannot get there, certainly not on an emotional level. Can you help me see what it looks like, or feels like, to be able to say thank you for this deep suffering?”

I will try. First, let me overflow with praise. This praise really is part of the answer.

Beginning with Praise

First, my heart, Kathy, is rising up in praise to God for your words “I am thankful that the Lord had given Josiah a faith that enabled him to face death without fear.” That is a staggering miracle. There are millions of professing Christians who claim to have walked with God for years who don’t come close to that kind of faith.

Few things, if any, cause me to stand in awe of the grace of God more than a 14-year-old with genuine faith — real, authentic faith that gives him peace in the hour of death. That is glory upon glory upon glory, and I say it not oblivious of the horror upon horror upon horror of the process of dying and perhaps a worse experience for a mom watching a child die.

In fact, it’s the horror of it that makes the faith so unspeakably amazing. That’s my first overflow of praise.

According to Plan

My second one is for your words, Kathy, “I hold on to the truth that in some way this is part of a plan that makes sense.” Well, that holding on to God’s word is another amazing miracle of God’s grace, which I suppose in a mother’s heart is only a little less marvelous than her son’s own faith.

Kathy, let it sink in right now that what you have been through and what Josiah went through is in my heart here in Minneapolis in 2017, in my mouth of praise, and on this podcast reverberating out to thousands around the world. What is here is the reason the universe exists. They lead praise to the glory of the grace of God in and through your family. Realize that.

Ongoing Grief

Are We Called to Thank God for Our Severest Suffering?Then, Kathy, let me draw out an implication from something the apostle Paul said that you are very familiar with but maybe haven’t thought of in quite this way. You remember that he reminded the Thessalonians about deceased believers and the second coming.

He said that it was a glorious thing — namely, the second coming and their resurrection — and it is so that you “may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We sometimes cite this at funerals to give permission to believers to grieve. That is exactly right. We should.

What is not as often noticed, I think, is that the word grieve in the Greek is a present tense, which implies that grieving is not a moment; it is not an event. It is ongoing experience. That’s the implication. A continuing activity, which I think means that when you say that the grief has frequently felt unbearable, and now just over two years later, it still comes crashing in waves that at times feel impossible to withstand, Paul would know exactly what you mean. Just as I know what you mean. I think he would say, “I spoke these words for that grief as well.” You will be grieving Josiah’s death the rest of your life. Because his loss to you and all the potentialities of his life which were lost will be real and lost for the rest of your life.

Grief is not a moment. Grief is an emotional experience of painful loss. That loss never ceases to be loss in this world. So, Kathy, we are already deep into answering your all-important question — namely, Can you help me see what it looks like or feels like to be able to say, “Thank you” for this kind of suffering?

Thankful “For” or “In”?

God’s strange timing in taking your precious son does not mean that this was not a massive loss. That’s the first part of the answer that we’ve already seen. It is a loss worthy of being grieved until the day you die. It is possible — this is the mystery — emotionally possible by the work of the Holy Spirit — the kind, powerful, gentle Holy Spirit — to feel thankful for something painful while being almost emotionally overwhelmed by the pain.

Now there are two more things I want to say about that. But before I say them, let me say this. My guess is there are some listeners who heard your question, and they are saying, “Whoa, she misquoted the Bible when she asked about being thankful for this horrible thing instead of being thankful in it.” Of course, you know and I know that you are right. It is both.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus.” You know what you are talking about.

It’s a real question, and you have the right to ask it.

The Loss of a Son

Here are my two last things that are on my heart to say.

First, God knows what it is like to give his Son in horrible suffering and death. Romans 8:32 says, “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” In those words, in “he did not spare,” we are supposed to hear something of God’s heart in the giving and the loss of his Son in suffering and death.

Then we read in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Now, when we put those two passages together, the love of God for us is magnified both by the immeasurable cost in God losing his Son in death and by the fact that he embraced this loss for people who didn’t deserve it. Few things make my blood boil more than hearing leaders of God’s people describe this greatest act of love for us as cosmic child abuse.

We live in a horrible, horrible, horrible world. Paul calls it “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). I say that even though at this very present moment I am looking out my window on a gorgeous, bright, beautiful summer day. There is a magnificent green shining maple tree in my front yard, and through it a beautiful cityscape of Minneapolis just beyond. There is air conditioning in my own home, and as I sit here, believe it or not at age 71, not one pain in my body as I record this.

But when I look at the cross, I conclude either this world is horrible, horrible, horrible — in the bondage of eternally damning sin — or the death of the Son of God was a wild overreaction or a myth.

Well, God be praised, it was not an overreaction, and it is not a myth. God does really have an infinitely precious Son. He really does love him beyond all imagining, and he really did give him up. He did not spare him in death for undeserving sinners, and he, in the loss of his Son, he knows what you feel. That’s the first thing.

New Emotional Possibilities

One more thing: What does it feel like to be thankful for a painful loss? The last thing I want to say is over time it changes, Kathy. It changes what it feels like. I’m talking about the feeling of thankfulness now — not the unchangeable objective reality of God’s good and wise purposes which you are holding fast to.

Consider the analogy of chemotherapy for a fatal and malignant tumor that you have. Suppose the doctor can assure you — I know this is imaginary, but let’s do it — suppose the doctor can assure you that if you endure these treatments, you will be cancer free.

As you begin, the tumor is the size of a baseball. You lose your hair, you break out in horrible rashes, you experience nausea most of the day week after week, your mind is confused, you are so weak you can scarcely drag yourself through the day, your face changes color, you look like you are almost dead already, and you are supposed to be thankful for this treatment.

At first, that feeling of thankfulness is simply the emotional confidence you have in the doctor’s promise — not much more. Three months later, after a CAT scan, he says the tumor has shrunk to the size of a walnut, and something happens to your feeling of gratitude in the midst of all that pain. It takes on a new emotional possibility, and when you go in three months later, and he says, “No trace of cancer,” your feelings about those horrible treatments are very different.

All I’m saying by that analogy — don’t press every point of it — all I’m saying is that the feeling of gratitude for something horrible changes over time with greater and greater closeness of God and the revelation of what he’s doing. Two years after the loss of your son is a very short time. Hold fast to the doctor’s promise. He will show you little by little, though not entirely in this life, what he’s doing.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Has Marriage Become My Idol?

When does marriage move from a precious gift from God to a false god of personal security? It’s a question today, sent in to us from Valerie, a sharp podcast listener who lives in France. “Hello, desiringGod.org team! Thank you for your ministry and for letting so many people benefit from all the free resources at the site. Pastor John, my APJ question for you is this: I deeply love my husband, and I am deeply grateful to God for lending him to me as my husband during this earthly life. But I don’t want to make him an idol in my life. What are some certain signs that I have made him an idol in my life and in my security? And how can I love my husband more and more without finding my satisfaction in this relationship rather than in my relationship with God?”

Has Marriage Become My Idol?Valerie’s own words are pretty amazing and already heading in the right direction. I haven’t heard a lot of women use this language: “I’m deeply grateful to God for lending him to me as my husband during this earthly life.” That’s a huge step in answering her own question.

She is right to say, “My husband is not mine. He belongs to the Lord. He is on loan to me for this life, and then it’s over. Because in the age to come, Jesus says there is no marriage or giving in marriage in the resurrection.” Valerie has her ducks in a row theologically (it seems to me).

But she is very wise, I think, to ask the question and to think in terms of idolatry. We all should ask what the symptoms of it might look like. Let me say a word about idolatry and then just give three simple ways that we all can be vigilant against idolatry in relation to our spouse or for that matter anybody we care about.

Flee Idolatry

The very last words of 1 John are these: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The reason I mention this is because it is so striking. The reason it’s so striking is that John hasn’t said one word about idolatry in this letter. He’s never mentioned the word idol. He’s never mentioned the word idolatry.

Out of the blue, he just kind of slaps you in the face with idol language. “Why are you talking about idolatry suddenly in your very last sentence?” we ask. Well, my conclusion is that he has been talking about idolatry without using the words. We should go back and reread and find out what idolatry looks like in 1 John.

When I do that, the passage that sounds most like that warning is 1 John 2:15–17. It goes like this:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

So, little children, keep yourselves from idols. He says not to love the world but then in the very next verse, he explains that he means not loving the world the way the world loves the world. “The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of life is not from the Father but from the world, and the world with its desires is passing away.” Don’t have those. Don’t have a love for the world that is like the world’s love for the world or that is like the world’s desire for the world.

The issue is not simply loving the world, delighting in the world, enjoying the world, or being thankful for the world. Rather, the issue is loving the world the way the world loves the world. That is idolatry.

Three Questions

When it comes to a husband or a wife, the issue is not merely “May I love my husband? May I enjoy my husband? May I cherish my husband?” The issue is, Do we love them, enjoy them, or cherish them the way the world does or the way a Spirit-filled Christian does? So here are my three suggestions for how Valerie can stay vigilant against idolatry in relation to her husband — how she can know she’s not loving the way the world loves.

1. Does the thought, the real prospect of losing him, produce debilitating anxiety?

Now, no wife wants to lose her husband; therefore, the thought of losing him should be a negative thought — a painful thought. What I mean by debilitating anxiety is the kind of worry, fretfulness, or fear that undermines a wife’s faith or keeps her from joyfully doing the ministry God has called her to do in the home, in the church, or in the world.

If the prospect of losing a husband produces that kind of debilitating, immobilizing anxiety, then alarm bells should go off that he may be becoming an idol in the place of God, who is our peace and our security, our hope and our joy.

2. Does your affection for and delight in your husband detract from or diminish your delight in the word of God, the people of God, and the service of God?

Or does your affection for him, your enjoyment of him deepen and intensify your love for Christ, your enjoyment of his word, and your engagement with his people?

In other words, the first suggestion asks, what are the effects of losing your husband? And the second suggestion asks, what are the effects of the ongoing presence and enjoyment of your husband? Jesus says,

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

I think he would say, whoever loves husband or wife more than me is not worthy of me. We can measure the superiority of our affection for Jesus both by what would happen if we lost our best earthly beloved and what happens while we enjoy our best earthly beloved.

3. Is your relationship with your husband regulated by the word of God?

I’m not so much talking here primarily how well you succeed in regulating your relationship on the basis of Scripture, but is it your heart’s desire that you bring the entire relationship under the word of God and measure the beauty of it and the success of it by God’s standard in the Bible — not the world’s standards, not your own independent standards? A good sign that we are moving toward idolatry is when we neglect the word of God and decide that we’re going to define the meaning of love, the meaning of faithfulness, and the meaning of a good relationship on our own terms or from books or movies we watch, but we’re not going to pore over the Scriptures pleading with God to shape our relationship by all of his revealed truth.

So, my three suggestions — in answer to the question, what are some signs that I am making him an idol? — are (1) Does the thought of losing him produce debilitating anxiety? (2) Does your affection for him diminish or intensify your affections for Jesus and your engagement with his people? (3) Is your relationship regulated by the word of God or by your own independent ideas or the ideas of the world? Happy is the husband, and happy is the wife, whose love for each other is secondary to their love for Christ. When we love him more, we love each other better.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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We have talked about Game of Thrones, and nudity in TV and film in this podcast. Today we talk about drama and comedy and PG shows that seem more harmless and less obviously corrupting. It’s a question that comes to us from a listener named Blake. “Hello, Pastor John! My question is, when does humor in media become sinful? I’m a little confused about it, even from some things I have read by you. Is watching secular comedies like Friends and Seinfeld, etc., sinful? I’m rather confused over what is acceptable humor for Christians. If it is wrong to watch these shows, please let me know why.”

Six Questions to Ask Before You Binge on Netflix

The first thing to say here is that I’ve never seen either of those programs —Friends or Seinfeld. I’ve heard of them but never seen one. Which means that my comments, I hope, have the advantage of not being a response to any particular TV show. Rather, they can be seen as an effort to bring biblical reality into view when deciding what we will be entertained by.

What’s Wrong with It?

Six Questions to Ask Before You Binge on NetflixAnother thing I should probably say here is that my whole approach toward what Christians view or listen to or are entertained by is not governed mainly by the question “What’s wrong with it?” That seems, to me, to be a very different approach than the way the New Testament (the way Paul, especially) approaches questions of right and wrong.

I always get the impression that the question “What’s wrong with it?” is rising from a heart that is basically governed by a desire to minimize wrong rather than maximize holiness or faith or spiritual power or worship or zeal for the lost or missions or justice. Basically, what I’m going to do, in answer to this question, is try to simply reorient our minds about what we should think and feel when it comes to entertainment.

I could, I suppose, go to particular verses (they’re there for a reason) and point out things that are wrong that you might find in TV programs and therefore avoid — like obscene talk inColossians 3:8 or filthiness, foolishness, and crude joking from Ephesians 5:4. The problem with that approach, right now on this podcast, is that it’s going to leave thousands of Christians right where they are in the immaturity and worldliness of their passions, which is the main issue.

I think most Christians are so in the grip of the spirit of the age and in the grip of popular culture and popular entertainments that the kind of radical reorientation I’m talking about is almost unthinkable for them. For me to pitch into that mindset, a few little warnings from Bible verses that disapprove of certain things seems to me almost useless.

Radical Reorientation

Here’s my effort at reorienting our thinking. For this to happen, it would be a great work of God, not me. It would be a miracle if it happened to a few listeners. I certainly need it to happen more deeply in my own life as I try to navigate these cultural waters.

What I want to ask is, What are you longing for most earnestly and with the greatest passion in your life? What are you longing for? Let’s just say in your relation to Christ — in your personal walk and relation to Christ — what are you longing for?

Are you longing for greater intimacy? Are you longing for greater depth? Are you longing for greater power? Are you longing for greater clarity as you see his glory in the Scriptures? Are you longing to hear his voice with greater confidence as you read his word? Are you longing to discern his will more confidently? Are you longing to walk more closely with him in a real living relationship, as a real person? Are you longing for his smile of favor rather than his frowns of discipline?

Do you even think in these terms? Do you go to bed with these longings? Do you wake up with these longings governing your life? Do you devote time, perhaps on the Lord’s Day, to seek his face in intensifying these longings? If not, that’s the issue.

This is ten thousand times more important than what particular shows you click on. This will govern that. But if this is missing — if the growing intensification of these longings in your relationship with Jesus is missing — no answers will make any difference about your entertainment habits.

Questions for the Heart

Let’s just pose the question a little differently.

What are you longing for in your relationship with other people? Do you long to represent Jesus with greater compelling forcefulness? Do you long for a greater love for people and a greater zeal for their salvation? Do you long to have greater boldness and encouragement from God in your own representation of Christ? Do you long to be a means of other people’s holiness and purity and power?

Do you long to bring the word of God from your encounter with the risen Christ into the lives of other people with effectiveness? Do you long for readiness to speak hope-filled words into the face of those who are dying or suffering or coming out of divorces?

Do you have the aroma of Christ about you and do you long for it in your conversation with others so that they say, “There’s an aroma about you that’s different”? Do you long to be able to inspire others by your own example in a life of more consistent and deep and satisfying prayer?

If not, what’s the point of talking about shows being right or wrong? If we don’t have that, we don’t even have in place the mindset that can make those kinds of judgments possible. Now, once those kinds of longings are pursued and you have a new passion and you’ve been moved from being a nominal, minimalist, “get by,” cultural Christian to an authentic, passionate, earnest, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated lover of Jesus, then you will begin to ask questions like, Does this show build up my faith? Does it weaken my faith?

Treasuring God

Or you might ask questions like this: Does this show make Christ more clear and precious to me, or does it make things more cloudy and make biblical realities more unreal? Does the show make the Bible and immersion in Scripture and meditation more desirable to my heart or awkward to find time for? Does this show leave me with a disinclination to pray and seek God’s face and long for his power? Does this show dampen my zeal for missions and my desire to see salvation come to the lives of the people around me — not to mention the people in Hollywood?

Does it leave me with any desire for a great revival in my city — to see people brokenhearted for the sin represented in a lot of these shows? Does this show sweeten my experience of corporate worship with God’s people and make it more authentic?

Does this show heighten my sense of desire to be a risk taker for the cause of justice and the advancement of God’s righteous rule? Does it help me want to get in a boat or a plane and go to some hard place and die for Jesus? Does this show make a better, more natural conversationalist about spiritual realities like heaven and hell and the Holy Spirit and the gospel and faith?

That’s my response to the question of whether a person should watch any particular show or movie or video. My calling in the world is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all people through Jesus Christ. “Spread a passion for the supremacy of God” — that’s what I’m after. I’m after the kind of passion for his supremacy in everything that functions as a radical litmus test on what we find amusing and entertaining in media.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

 

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How to Stay Christian in College

Local college students return to class in a few days, and as the fall semester begins, we have an email from an incoming freshman named Sharon. “Dear Pastor John, I graduated from high school this summer, and I will be moving across the country to attend college this fall. It troubles me because I have seen many kids who stopped going to church and gave up their relationship with God after they moved out and moved to campus. Do you have any advice for me as to how to stay close to God despite all the distractions and temptations that come with campus life? How do I continue to grow spiritually? How do I balance time for school and time for God? Thank you, Pastor John!”

How to Stay Christian in CollegeThis is such a good question. I wish every high school graduate who’s heading off to college or university would be thinking this way and asking this question.

Let me say a word to Sharon and to all of them in the hope of being of some service to this generation of younger Christians who are heading off to school. I’ll limit myself to five words of counsel which, of course, will leave many specifics unanswered. I think these five have the effect of enabling students, if they accept them, to answer the other specifics as they arise.

Prepare for War

First, students, recognize that maintaining a Christian faith is war.First Timothy 6:12 reads, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life” Ephesians 6:11 reminds us, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

First Peter 5:8 declares, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” He will seek to devour on campus and everywhere else. Finally, James 4:7–8 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Let me put a particular twist now on this exhortation — the exhortation that you recognize maintaining a Christian faith is war. Here’s the twist. Sooner or later somebody who’s a little too smart for their gospel breeches is going to belittle your habit of meeting with God every day in the word and prayer. They’re going to say something like, “Do you still think that you have to be that legalistic? You think you must have a ‘quiet time’ and a ‘personal devotion’? Haven’t you grown up? Don’t you know that your relationship with Jesus should be more free, more natural, more spontaneous?”

Here’s the twist. I want you to have your answer to that immature objection. You say something like this: “Well, I don’t know about you, but I know that I am in a war with the highest possible stakes because of what the supreme commander says to me in his manual — the Bible. I don’t think mainly in terms of legal requirements or pious platitudes like quiet time and devotions. I think about keeping my guns clean and making sure my ammunition is ready and reviewing the battle plans. I think about making sure I know the enemy and his deceptions and restoring my zeal for the glorious cause, like George Washington, who caused the revolution. If that’s a glorious cause, what is this? This is what the Lord has enlisted me for. Whatever you’re talking about, I know what I’m doing. Join me if you want every morning, but I’m going to be there.”

That is exhortation number one. As you head off to college, the Christian life is war — no matter where it’s lived. And Christians who try to pretend like it’s not are almost certainly going to be captured by the enemy.

Love the Word

Second, make the word of God a priority in your life. When you look at the armor that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:11–17 — an armor that every Christian is supposed to put on at campus or anywhere else — it’s amazing that, among the six pieces of armor, four of them are related to the word of God.

Most obviously, the sword is called the word of God. Second most obvious is the belt. It’s the belt of truth. Third most obvious is the shoes. They’re shoes of the gospel — readiness to run to the gospel.

Fourth — not as obvious, but plain when you think about it — is the shield of faith. Faith in what? Faith in God when he talks to you — when he speaks in his word. We’re going to trust. Faith doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God — faith in the word of God (Romans 10:17). And, of course, the other two are salvation, the helmet of salvation, and the breastplate of righteousness. Those two, salvation and righteousness, are all rooted in the gospel, which is the word.

My second exhortation is make the word of God a priority in your life. Read it every day, meditate on it every day and night, memorize key portions of it that are relevant to your situation and carry them with you all day long.

Here’s another twist I want to put on this — a special aspect of this exhortation. Just as college life will lead you into increased depths and complexities of cultural and personal and intellectual life, similarly, college can increase your grasp of the depths and the complexities of the glories of Scripture. Don’t stay at a high school level, don’t stay at a Sunday School level or homeschool level. Some of you may have gone very, very deep in homeschool, but don’t stay anywhere.

The Bible says grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). Now, what that means particularly is, as you spend time in the word, also find new challenging authors. You’re going to be introduced to all kinds of secular, global, relevant authors to all kinds of issues in your classes. Do the same for your faith.

Find out who J.I. Packer is, and read Knowing God. Find out who Wayne Grudem is, and read Systematic Theology. Yes, even if you’re not a theologian. This book is designed for every Christian. Find out who R.C. Sproul is, and readThe Holiness of God. Find out the classics like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

The point is, make the word of God the substance of all the armor in this warfare — both the offensive and the defensive. Make it a priority in time, a priority in focus, a priority in maturation deeper and deeper into the depths and the complexities of the Scriptures.

Invest in a Church

Third, never, never, never leave the local church. The university is an institution created by man. The local church is an institution created by God. If you prioritize allegiance to university over allegiance to church, you are prioritizing man over God.

This, by no means, implies that Christians will work less hard at learning in the university — less hard than non-Christians do. No way. You’re going to give yourself with all your might to learn as much as you can in every class. It simply means that the church will remain central to the rhythm of your life.

God has designed corporate worship and the preaching of his word and fellowship of his people to be an essential part of maintaining a military discipline in your life with joy and triumph for the next sixty years. Think of it that way.

You are forming military habits of mind for the next battles you will fight thirty years from now. Gathering with your comrades every week in corporate worship under the word of God is essential for being ready to follow the commander into victory when you are at your peak at fifty years of age. That’s what’s at stake right now. You think you’re going to take a break from church and be powerful at fifty? You’re dreaming. Soldiers don’t function that way.

Find Good Friends

Forth, as an overflow from your experience with God’s people in church, be sure you have a handful of Christian comrades in arms who are speaking into your life and listening to your heart day in and day out.

Hebrews 3:12–13 is so important. It says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another.” How is that going to happen now? You’ve got to obey this. “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

God has designed human beings so that no battle is to be fought alone, none. Jesus never sent anyone out on a solo reconnaissance mission — never. They were always two by two, and Paul’s missionary adventures were always in teams. We’re not designed to meet the enemy alone. The challenges of college are meant to be encountered arm in arm with fellow combatants.

Ask for Help

Fifth, live a life of prayer. That is, turn everything you read in Scripture, everything you hear in corporate worship, everything that is spoken into your life by your comrades — turn it all into prayer. That is, plead with God. Plead with God to work in you what you have seen in his word or heard from others founded on his word. Never presume that you can do anything on your own. Ask for God’s help ten times a day. Be weak in the presence of God so that you can be strong in the presence of men.

Make the Lord’s Prayer the outline of your daily cry. Cry out that God would make his name holy and revered and cherished and treasured above all things in your life and through your life and the lives of others. Plead with him to enable you to do his will the way the angels do it in heaven. Plead with him to lead you out of temptation and into righteousness as you extend his kingdom. Plead for the protection against the evil one, the enemy and all his schemes.

Yes, ask for your daily bread. Why? Just so that you can get on with the battle. It’s a glorious life in front of you. You have a great commander. Those are my five exhortations as you head off to school. So much more can be said, but I really believe if you make these five things a priority, God will guide you to all the help you need in all the things that I haven’t addressed.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) 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 A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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