FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Those who see worship as an act which draws attention to God’s creation and humanity do not worship biblically, noted author and speaker John Piper said at the Global Consultation on Music and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 15.
Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., wove the theme through a series of messages presented during the conference at the seminary’s Ralph M. Smith Leadership Development Center. The author of more than 20 books and numerous articles, Piper was the conference keynote speaker.
Piper said he has spent 25 to 30 years trying to understand more fully how “God’s God-centeredness is to be experienced as [His being] loving toward us.” Many people misunderstand the concept, he said.
One of the reasons for this difficulty is “man-centeredness” that has caused the biblical concepts to be nearly unintelligible to the human mind and heart. The Bible, he pointed out, is full of verses that are contradictory to the man-centered attitude.
“[I]n dozens and dozens of places, God is telling people to praise God, which sounds very vain,” Piper said.
Piper pointed out that when the Bible says in Psalm 96:3, “Declare his glory among the nations,” it is God who inspired the words of the writer and thus God who is speaking.
“If you believe that God created the nature, the beautiful universe, the trees and grass of this campus and the blue Texas sky overhead, then you have to believe that God is all about getting attention for God, because it says in Psalm 19, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God.’ He set it up that way.”
Yet another of the numerous examples of God giving glory to Himself in Scripture is found in Philippians 2:9-11, which says that God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave “Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … to the glory of God the Father.”
“God gave Him the name so that everybody would so speak of Him that God gets the glory,” Piper said. “We have a radically God-exalting God.”
The problem, Piper said, is that while the Bible is full of the God-centeredness of God, for nearly 200 years, love has been defined as being man-centered. Thus, the conclusion has been drawn that the only way God can love His children is to make much of them. As a consequence, whole systems of “alternative gospels,” such as self-esteem, have been developed, Piper said.
“The problem is that when you try to apply that to God, He isn’t that way and it distorts reality very, very badly.”
Piper said that God’s love is not that He makes much of His children, but that He enables them “at great cost to Himself, to enjoy making much of Him forever.”
Piper further asserted that this concept is not impossible to communicate to fallen man, even though fallen man has nearly no categories in which to grasp being loved in this way. He used the Grand Canyon as an example, noting that people do not go to the Grand Canyon to increase their self-esteem.
“They go because they were made for God and that’s as close as they can get in their fallen, unregenerate condition.
“Joy is not a hall of mirrors, no matter how good you look. Joy is about the universe displaying the glory of God, the cross displaying the glory of God.”
The universe is simply an echo of the excellence of God, Piper said, and the point is to admire and enjoy God, the Maker.
“That’s the whole point, and oh, how wicked to create an alternative gospel that puts you at the center,” he said.
Piper pointed to biblical evidence in the life, ministry and death of Jesus that the love of God is not His making much of His children, but rather of enabling them to enjoy making much of God forever. Piper asserted that within John 11:1-6, love prompted Jesus to let Lazarus die because it is more loving to display the glory of God than it is to rescue people from death on earth.
“Love is about the display of the glory of God,” he said.
Piper, a devoted student of Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, began his second chapel lecture with three readings from Edwards’ works that emphasize the God-centeredness of the genuine Christian life.
“For decades, what we have called true religion Edwards calls hypocrisy,” Piper said. “What a false foundation is laid in many churches, that if we can finally be persuaded that we are somebody, then we can finally love the one who makes us somebody, which means that we are the foundation of our joy, not God.”
Piper then presented several reasons why Christians must make it their vocation to seek the joy of the Lord.
“The pursuit of joy is commanded in the Bible,” Piper said, citing Psalm 100:2. “Serve the Lord with gladness — the alternative is non-service. He is shown to be an unworthy God when He is served begrudgingly.”
Piper went on to explain that that command from God is no less binding than is any other command in Scripture, and he supported his point by citing biblical promises of condemnation for those who refuse to serve the Lord gladly. One such passage is Deuteronomy 28:47.
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy, you will serve your enemies,” Piper said. “That’s a threat I do not want to experience. Therefore, joy must be pursued with all my might in God.”
The nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God, citing John 6:35, Piper asserted.
“Saving faith is a coming to Christ so as to have my soul hunger and thirst, satisfied with all that God is for in Jesus,” Piper said. “That’s my definition of how to get saved. We are saved when Christ, by a miracle of awakening, becomes for us the bread of life and the fountain of life and we find our souls satisfied in Him — that’s the meaning of saving faith.”
Piper said that the nature of evil teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God as our vocation, citing Jeremiah 2:12.
“Jeremiah’s definition of evil is walking away from an all-satisfying fountain and trying your best to substitute the waters of that fountain with anything else,” Piper said. “The essence of evil is not to pursue your joy in God. We have been told for 250 years, since Immanuel Kant, that the essence of evil is to seek reward in the doing of right. ‘Do right for right’s sake’ is the atheistic hallmark of the Enlightenment.
“God isn’t even in the picture. When you bring Him into the picture the correction is not, ‘Do right because He has authority and he will swat you if you don’t.’ That is not the alternative. The alternative is, ‘He is a fountain of living water that offers Himself to be made much of through enjoying Him, and to turn away from enjoying Him is the essence of evil.'”
Piper discussed familiar themes for those who have read his most famous work, “Desiring God,” by stating that the nature of conversion changes the pursuit of satisfaction in God, citing Jesus’ brief parable in Matthew 13:44.
“If you say, ‘Well, I should be indifferent to whether I find joy in Jesus and just do what He says because He said it,’ you will communicate to the world that He is worthless,” Piper said. “Any unbelieving person can do any religious act through willpower, but nobody can delight in Jesus like that.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TEACHING TRUE WORSHIP and IN TUNE WITH GOD.