John Piper is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Minnesota, and a leading Reformed scholar and preacher. His hooks include Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, and The Dangerous Duty of Delight. He co-edited the important hook on gender relationships, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Piper recently spoke at RTS-Jackson's Pastors' Day.

What do you think is the primary theological issue of the day?

A. The majesty and glory of God. Nothing is more important in shaping your ministry and mission than the centrality of God in the universe. It will determine the way you think about human events, the way you think about church, human culture, nations, institutions, government, business, family, health, sex, money; food. The question, Why does the universe exist?" is the most important question to get settled in the ministry. Why does the world exist? Why does human history exist? Why does America exist? Why do I exist? Why does my church exist? Why does my marriage exist? Why is all of this here? And until that question is answered with crystal clear clarity, your ministry will wobble all over the place.

What is your answer to that question?

A. I would put it like this: God created everything for the display and the admiration of his glory. He created you and your church, and this nation, and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists, and Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and all the nations of the world, and all redemptive history from beginning to end. He created all that to objectively display himself in glory.

      On a beautiful sunny day or a splendid snowy evening, the heavens are telling God's glory. The sun is all about the glory of God. The snow is all about the glory of God. If you don't hear it, you can't minister; if you don't see it, you can't minister. God does everything he does to go on display objectively. And, yet, the world is virtually deaf to him.

      And so the life of each person who is a Christian should be nothing more or less than an ongoing, ever-improving display of who God is in all of his wonder; awe, and power.

      He made you and everybody in your community and in your church, and in the nations, to be satisfied in him. To be satisfied in him, and not a rising stock market. To be satisfied in him, not a happy marriage. To be satisfied in him and not a successful ministry. To be satisfied in him, so that he gets the glory and your heart's affection. That's what my life is devoted to trying to make plain.

Please offer some thoughts on how this works out in a local church congregation.

A. What I'm learning is that Americans (and I think this is true of others, too) are so hardened and numbed to statements about the glory of God and the 1 Corinthians 10:31 type of verse: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,... do all to the glory of God." People are so numbed to that verse that you've got to find some ways to shock them awake. The way that I have found that seems to shock people in this utterly self-exalting nation of ours, where man is absolutely god, is to say that the biblical ground and the ground in reality of our living for the glory of God, is that God lives for the glory of God.

That statement does grab attention. Please explain it.

A. The best way I can explain it is to give a quiz, one I often offer. There are six questions and answers in this quiz. Question number one: Who's the most God-centered person in the universe? Answer: God is the most God-centered person in the universe. Question two: who is uppermost in God's affections? Answer: God is uppermost. If God did not value his glory above anyone else's, there would be no heaven to go to. There would be no treasure in God to treasure. He would become unrighteous, by putting his favor or his valuing upon that which is less valuable than the most valuable. If God is not God-centered and treasuring himself above all things, he's a sinner and an idolater!

     Question three: Is God an idolater? He is not an idolater! He does not worship anything above God. He's righteous and holy. He puts his value on that which is infinitely valuable. And there is one thing that is infinitely valuable: God.

      Question number four: What is the ultimate energy from which all creation springs and to which all creation aims? The ultimate energy in the universe is the energy, the infinite energy, of worship in the Triune Godhead. The Father; with infinite energy, delighting in the Son; and the Son, the perfect reflection of the glory of the Father; delighting in the Father; and the Spirit, personal, standing forth, carrying as it were, that very divine love and delight from the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father. That energy exploded in creation such that, according to Romans 5:5, the love of God was shed abroad in human hearts through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit himself becomes the very love for God from you, energized by God himself. An infinite, glorious, God-exalting energy moves into lowly, sinful human beings, and over the course of an eternity enables me to love God with the very love of God. That's virtually what Jesus prayed in John 17:24.

      Fifth question: What is God's chief jealousy? God's chief jealousy is to be known, trusted, loved, cherished, honored, treasured, and obeyed above every other value in the universe. Nobody; however; gives this to him. Period. And so we are all under the wrath of God, and deserving of the same fate as New York City's World Trade Center Towers.

      Finally, question six: What is the chief end of God? The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever. You may ask: Why don't you just take the Westminster Catechism the way it is, for goodness' sake? Why do you always have to play with these words? The Westminster divines were smart, godly men, and you don't have to tinker with this. It says, What is the chief end of man?" and it answers, -The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." So why are you turning it around to say what is the chief end of God?

Why did you turn it around?

A. One reason is because I think that probably in 1647 they could assume a few things that, in America today, we don't. Man back then was not, as he is in America today the measure of all things. And today many are willing to make much of God as long as he makes much of them. Many are zealous to be God-centered as long as God is man-centered.

      Today a person's aim to glorify God may be nothing more than exuberance over God's endorsement of that person's own self-esteem. We have a whole enterprise that makes God primarily the endorsement of my esteem for myself.

      Well, who wouldn't want a God like that? I mean, who needs to be saved? If salvation is just about God making himself the means to what I've always idolized anyway namely myself, what human wouldn't want to embrace that?

      The problem is the same in every culture around the world. Our main problem is that God Almighty - the Creator of the ends of the earth, and his Son, glorious King Jesus, who came into the world as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world - is not loved, honored, cherished, treasured, esteemed, obeyed, in your culture.

     And I just want to plead: heed the gospel. It is gloriously good news! It starts with bad news - the wrath of God is horrible. If you think the New York attack is horrible, it is nothing compared to when the wrath of God Almighty falls on a sinful, unrepentant soul. You cannot conceive of greater opposition in the universe. Now, that's the bad news.

      And until we feel the magnitude and the weight of that bad news, the good news will be unintelligible.

What, again, is bad news?

A. The problem is one that no American feels that they have, yet it's their biggest problem. The problem is that, today in your hometown, the sun is shining on wicked people. That's the problem.
That's what's intolerable! We deserve damnation, and God makes the sun come up, and he gives us the breath of life. This is intolerable! This is unjust!

      But what American feels that problem? "Oh, my, I'm breathing this morning. This is a major problem. The sun is shining on me, and my skin feels warm and healthy. My heart's beating, my kidneys are working, my brain is alive."

      This is an incredible theological problem! But we don't see it. We in our minds are so big, and God is so small.

What, then, is the good news?

A. It is the cross. But the cross makes no sense until there is a righteousness of God offended, to be vindicated. And the foundation is the centrality of God in God's own affections as the ground of the gospel. Romans 15:8 and 9 says that Christ became a servant to the circumcision to show God's truthfulness in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy. Notice the relationship between mercy and glory. See how they come together?

      The means for us to glorify God is mercy I'll tell you, if you've got anything like hate rising up in your heart, I'm against you. I'm against you. We won't win unbelievers with hate. And we won't win them with vengeance. We'll win them by suffering for them. Tell them the truth, and let your throat get slit. And if that happens to enough people, we'll win them.

Reformed Quarterly, Volume 20, Number 4
© 2001 Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.

Last updated 1-10-02.