Our Top 13 Posts of 2013
For years, the heart of desiringGod.org has been our resource library, with three decades of sermons, books, articles, and more from the ministry of John Piper. When we started a blog in 2007, we thought we were just appending a humorously small sidecar of homespun content onto the big engine of our more enduring resources.
But as the Web has grown and matured, so has blogging. We’re finding more and more Christians looking for fresh biblical and theological substance online, and alongside the sermons and books, we have continued to dial up the quality of our daily content. In just three short years, the regular traffic to our blog has increased some 475%.
The Blog Is Just a Piece
While the blog is of growing importance to what we do, it’s not the only thing. We don’t want a post like this to give the wrong impression. Some of our most important resources from 2013 are books and ebooks, sermons and conference messages, the daily devotional Solid Joys, posts to social media, and more — like the new podcast called Ask Pastor John. The blog is just a piece of what we’re doing each day through the site, but it’s a big piece.
Last year we served up “The Top 25 Posts of 2012,” but this time we’ll simply list the top 13 most-viewed posts of 2013, with a few honorable mentions. We’ll count them backwards, beginning with number 13.
Our Most-Viewed Posts in 2013
13. “Pornography: The New Narcotic” (John Piper)
When new research announced that Internet pornography may be more addictive than cocaine and heroine — and that it “literally changes the physical matter within the brain so that new neurological pathways require pornographic material in order to trigger the desired reward sensation” — Piper took to the blog, not only to sound a sobering warning, but to offer words of hope. (He wrote more the next week in a post titled “Hijacking Back Your Brain from Porn,” our 14th most-viewed post of the year.)
12. “From Radical Lesbian to Redeemed Christian” (Tony Reinke)
In February, Reinke interviewed Rosaria Champagne Butterfield for the Authors on the Line podcast about her journey from tenured lesbian professor to evangelical Christian and pastor’s wife. This 23-minute episode, along with a 17-minute episode about Christian hospitality, exposed many of us, for the first time, to Butterfield and her inspiring story. (She also wrote a post for us in July, titled “DOMA and the Rock,” following the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.)
11. “10 Things to Pray for Your Wife” (Jonathan Parnell)
It came only the third day of 2013, but this one stayed around all year and seems to have proved helpful for many. Parnell drew from his experience as a husband and from steeping in the Scriptures to bring together a list as straightforward and practical as its title. (For easy reference, it’s available in a print version (PDF) as well as lock-screens for iPhone4 and iPhone5.)
10. “Ten Big, Daily Reminders” (Matt Reagan)
“I don’t stay awake to what’s truly important for very long,” writes Reagan, an elder at Bethlehem Baptist and campus director for Campus Outreach at the University of Minnesota. “So I’ve learned over time to put structures in place that remind me of those unseen things, especially during my bleary-eyed, half-conscious mornings.” This list of ten big, daily reminders is time-tested and now Internet-tested. Many have found Reagan’s list to be a good place to return often, if not daily.
9. “When We Send a Person to His Death” (John Piper)
Earlier this month, 33-year-old Ronnie Smith, a Christian schoolteacher living in Benghazi, Libya, was shot and killed. He was a husband and father. He had written to us only a year ago to say that Piper’s message “Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain” was significant in his calling to Libya. Piper took to the blog to celebrate Smith’s life and sacrifice, and to remind us that in the gospel we are not playing games. He summoned “thousands . . . to take Ronnie’s place.”
8. “This Is Not Worth Quacking About” (David Mathis)
Just over a week ago, a cable station announced it was indefinitely suspending one of its stars for offering an essentially traditional Christian perspective on homosexuality as sin. As Christians of all stripes took to mass media and social media to express their opinions, our executive editor tried to offer an alternative view to the quickly emerging pro- and anti-camps. “This is not our time to cry fowl about Christian civil liberties. . . . Let’s lay down the weapons on this one. There will be other ducks to shoot. Pass on the decoy.”
7. “I Hate Porn” (Eric Simmons)
This veritable manifesto of abhorrence for pornography was our most-viewed post in the busy month of October. The author, Eric Simmons, is a pastor in Arlington, Virginia. He has experienced for himself, and with those close to him, the ruin porn can bring. “Honestly, it’s a problem that makes me tired,” he writes, “tired of the devastation Satan is causing to children, women, families, pastors, churches, and the world with this tragic evil.” It’s a powerful post that launched the Twitter hashtag #ihateporn.
6. “Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children” (John Piper)
“I am writing this to plead with Christian parents to require obedience of their children,” says Piper. “I am moved to write this by watching young children pay no attention to their parents’ requests, with no consequences.” Vintage Piper, with gravity and grace, he offers “nine observations [to] help rescue some parents from the folly of laissez-faire parenting.”
5. “Seven Things to Pray for Your Children” (Jon Bloom)
This post seems to have had one of the broadest reaches of any in 2013. We received request after request for reprinting this post or portions of it in publications beyond our little corner of the evangelical world. As with “10 Things to Pray for Your Wife,” we have a print version (PDF in case that’s of any help in making this serve your regular prayers).
4. “14 Free eBooks for You” (Jonathan Parnell)
It was just a lowly midday post on a lazy Monday in mid June. Parnell pulled together a list of the 14 free ebooks we’ve produced in recent months, and gave it some flair for a lead, and this baby bird soon spread its wings and took off. We were shocked how quickly this one started making its way around the Web. People seem to like a good selection of free ebooks and are willing to share the joy.
3. “Single, Satisfied, and Sent: Mission for the Not-Yet Married” (Marshall Segal)
At first he asked sheepishly if he might submit a post under our little sub-branded “Sent” series about life on mission. Now we plead him to keep writing. In between the constant travel and ceaseless tasks of serving as Piper’s executive assistant, Segal increasingly fills the cracks with writing. Let’s call this dandy from mid March his breakout post. Beforehand, he had blogged only six times for us; the seventh was a charm. Here Segal coins a new term for that potentially awkward “not-yet married” season between graduation day and wedding day, as he provides “eight suggestions for making the most of your not-yet married life.”
2. “When the Not-Yet Married Meet: Dating to Display Jesus” (Marshall Segal)
His brief point about dating in the singleness post begged for a sequel. Soon Segal began working on a second, and on June 6, less than three months after the first, it was ready. We posted it with great expectations, and it more-than delivered, just edging out the singleness post for second by a few thousand pageviews. Lightning can strike twice. “Here are (some) principles for your not-yet marriages,” he says. “It’s not nearly a comprehensive or exhaustive list. They’re simply lessons I’ve learned and hope can be a blessing for you, your boyfriend or girlfriend, and your future spouse.” (And to round out the “not-yet married” series, there was a third installment in September, “It’s Not You, It’s God: Nine Lessons for Breakups.”)
1. “We Know They Are Killing Children — All of Us Know” (John Piper)
Fittingly, our most-viewed post of the year came from our founder. On January 22 — on the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade — Piper writes, “The point of this blog post is that we know what we are doing — all America knows. We are killing children. Pro-choice and Pro-life people both know this.” He then gives eleven evidences that Christians or not, we all know that abortion is the killing of children.
Our New Site Launches Tomorrow
Thank you to those who visit our site regularly and help share the joy through social media, email, word of mouth, and more.
Tomorrow, God willing, we’ll be launching a redesigned version of our site that retains the functionality, but significantly improves the aesthetic in an effort to enhance the reader experience. In particular, there are major changes to the homepage, as we hope to bring together there, in one place, all our fresh daily content, and give you reasons to swing by the homepage daily.
As good as 2013 has been, we’re hoping the best is yet to come.
Most blog posts live a short life, but not all of them. There are several enduringly relevant posts that just keep going and going and going. Here are the top-five most-viewed posts from 2013 that originated in previous years.
And just in case you still have the palette at this point for sampling a few more of our finest from 2013, here are seven honorable mentions, which didn’t make the top 13, but we think are well worth your time.
From This Day Onward
If you look hard, you might find Haggai.
Tucked near the end of the Old Testament, third from last on that biblical road-less-traveled called the minor prophets, it’s one of Scripture’s shortest books — and one of its best for turning a corner and making a fresh start. Like at the outset of a new year.
If you can find your way to Haggai, his prophetic words might be just the inspiration you need for moving into 2014, not with willpower determination, but faith-filled resolve. Though it’s hardly two full pages in most printed Bibles, this short book packs some serious punch for leaning forward into a new calendar with the eyes of faith and a heart of hope.
Here are three ways of stating the one focused challenge from this little-known, minor prophet, relevant for 2014.
1. Change Your Tune
The first wave of exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in 538 B.C. Now, some twenty years later, the temple still lay in ruin. Instead of rebuilding God’s house, the people were pouring their energies and monies into renovating their own houses. They were saying that “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (Haggai 1:2).
But the Lord begged to differ. First comes the rhetorical question: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). Then follows the command: “Build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (Haggai 1:8).
The threshold of the new year can be a time to examine ourselves: Is there something God has been increasingly calling me to, but I’ve been saying, “The time has not yet come” (1:2)? Is there something on my heart to build, or to engage, so that God “may take pleasure in it and that [he] may be glorified”? In what ways am I building my own kingdom, while neglecting God’s? Might he be withholding some blessing because his house “lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (Haggai 1:9)?
Perhaps this prick from Haggai would inspire you not to put off any longer in this new year what God has been drawing you toward. Is it now time, at the outset of 2014, to change your tune from the excuse “the time has not come” to the resolve “the time has now come”?
2. Turn from the Past
Haggai 2 begins with a second oracle from God. Some of the people were old enough to have seen the former temple, and they could tell already that this makeshift reconstruction operation by the remnant could not compare “the former glory” (Haggai 2:3). It’s as if they were humming Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” — which has a great beat and catchy tune, but is a sad soundtrack for real life.
As a new year dawns, we should remind ourselves that for God’s people, the glory days lie ahead, not behind. Whether it’s the remnant of returned exiles looking back to Solomon’s temple, or the retro Reformed gazing endlessly at the Puritans, or conservative Boomers daydreaming nostalgically about the 1950s, Christians need not be caught singing “Glory Days” as if our best times lie in the past. Whatever glory we’ve seen, whatever tastes of grace we’ve had, whatever sentimental feelings we have about some bygone era, whether 2013 or decades ago, it is not worth our ceaseless attention, or grumbling about how things aren’t now what they used to be.
For the Christian, the best is always yet to come. We have reason to have more real hope than any other people on the planet for what is ahead in the next year, the next decade, the next century, and for all eternity.
The grace of God, manifest in Jesus, is our rock-solid liberation from crippling nostalgia and from bellyaching about the “former glory.” By faith, we expect a latter glory that far outstrips the little foretastes of the glory we’ve had so far.
3. Dream into the Future
And so in faith, we change our tune, turn from the former glory, and strain toward what’s ahead, resting in the promise of God’s empowering. Again Haggai speaks.
Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2:4–5)
Here the charge beautifully captures the Christian faith-work dynamic for good new year’s resolves, and the promise of the covenant points to a strength and hope all the more true for the new-covenant Christian.
“Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4) goes straight to the heart of what can make a resolution truly Christian. Work, because I’m at work in you. It’s Haggai who Paul remixes in Philippians 2:12–13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In both the apostle and the prophet, it’s the presence of God than energizes and inspires our exertion of effort to fulfill godly resolves.
And so we pray with Paul for the faith-powered completion of Christian resolutions: “that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12).
A New Day Dawns
In Jesus, we can turn from the past and dream into the future, and say with Haggai, as he does three times, in 2:15–19, “From this day onward . . .” For the Christian, any today can mark a new era. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 3:7, 15). With the crucified and risen Lord on his throne as the king of the universe, and his Spirit alive and on the move, any today can signal a new tomorrow when pursued in faith.
And for God’s pleasure and glory, the beginning of a new year is just as good a day as any to make the faith-filled resolve, From this day onward.
Recent posts from David Mathis:
Our Top Videos of 2013
Collectively viewed more than two million times in 2013, these videos garnered attention, some for controversy, others for comfort. Some display moving song-writing, hip hop, and poetry. A couple are the compelling stories of God’s grace and power at work in believers’ lives. Several are Pastor John’s counsel for difficult questions facing millions around the world, like homosexuality, spiritual gifts, and the prosperity gospel.
Because these videos have helped so many, we’ve collected them here for you at the end of another year. We pray something here will prepare you for what God is bringing your way in 2014.
Though You Slay Me (Shane & Shane, feat. Piper)
Drafted: Why Chris Norman Said No to the NFL
Pastor John, What Is Speaking in Tongues?
Lecrae Raps the Gospel in One Minute
Yearn (Shane & Shane)
Lecrae Explains True Manhood
Pastor John, Have You Exorcized a Demon?
Also, these enduring videos from previous years were three of our highest viewed during 2013:
The Story of Ian and Larissa
Why I Abominate the Prosperity Gospel
Pastor John, Why Is Homosexuality Wrong?
More video from Desiring God:
Dads, Write in Your Bible
This is high-strategy time. As one year gives way to the next, many of us are gearing up for a fresh start on our Bible reading plan — and especially if you’re a dad.
It’s no secret that the word of God and prayer are a personal means of grace that spill over for the good of those around us. And how much more for a patriarch? We read the Bible not just for ourselves, but for our families, for our friends, for our community. We know that God doesn’t transform his people into dead-ends, but into rivers of living water, and therefore, deciding on a route and digging in on that resolve has more in view than our own souls.
And this year, as you settle your plans, here’s another aspect to consider.
Dads, write in your Bible.
Real, Slow Writing
Now I don’t mean to merely highlight and jot down some cross-references, or even scribble some observations without any readers in mind. The initiative here is to write — and to write to your children. This means to get a new Bible with margins and walk from Genesis to Revelation, sketching devotional insights and prayers for your kids, that you will then give to them one day.
It will probably take you at least ten years.
So I just lost some of you. Ten years is a long time in a world of quick content. It can be addicting, I know. The fast return of ego metrics on the simplest tweet doesn’t exactly push us to burrow down in a project that only a few will read years in the future. But if you’re still reading, this might be for you.
But what’s the point?
The Apostolic Inspiration
Peter writes as a dying man in his second letter. He knows his end is drawing near, and therefore his words seem to have an increased vigor. He starts the letter by commending God’s power and promises sufficient to provide everything we need for our relationship with him and the character it effects. And then, in verse 12, he tells us his intent.
Peter wants to remind us (2 Peter 1:12). He figures that as long as he is alive on earth, he should “stir [us] up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:13). And in fact, precisely because he knows he will soon die, he says, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15).
What is his “every effort” to be made? What is he doing in hopes of reminding the church long after he’s gone? He writes.
News Worth Reminding
We know Peter’s effort involves many things off the page as well, but certainly it includes his writing. He knows what he wants the church to know, and he puts it on paper.
And though the mass of his influence is incomparable to ours, we have children who care about what we think. Do we have anything we’d like them to recall? To know? Of course they won’t be reading it centuries from now, but there’s a good chance they will read it, and that we can work now to remind them of a few things even after we’re gone.
And undoubtedly, the main thing we want to leave them is the gospel — the glory of Jesus in the word of God.
Dream of the Impact
Speaking specifically now to the dads who are part of this “great awakening to the glory of God’s sovereign grace” — dads who might call themselves that kind of Calvinist — what better could we leave the next generation than the Bible infused with the scribbles of our affectionate prayers?
Can you imagine 30 or more years from now that hundreds of Christians will have Bibles given to them from their dads — Bibles saturated with the extra ink of love from the depths of their dad’s heart? That they can open these Bibles to read Philippians 1 and see a meditation in the margins addressed to them?
What kind of impact could something like this have overall if a bunch of dads did this? Or the real question is: what kind of impact might you have on your children if you did this? Most of us are not remarkable and won’t do anything awesome. But God has made us fathers, and our calling to this role is irreplaceable. As you pray for your children, write it down for them. As you are blown away by the message of Colossians, write it down for them. As you see more of Jesus in the Psalms, write it down for them. And then one day, give it to them.
To the Practicals
If this is something you’re considering, here are a few steps to get you started.
1. Choose the Bible.
I recommend getting a new Bible without any marks. There are a couple options out there that work great for this sort of project, such as the ESV Journaling Bible or the ESV wide-margin from Cambridge.
2. Make your plan.
This is one idea, moldable from simple to complex for whatever fits you best. You might want to do only highlighting and underlining, with occasional prayers in the margins or the back. Or you might want to write a whole devotional commentary, filling up all the space you can with meditations and application. Or you might even do something only faintly related to either of these. But whichever you do, decide up front and keep it as consistent as possible.
3. Settle your details.
Figure out things like highlighter colors, pen points, index, etc. For instance, you might decide to keep it to three simple colors: yellow for importance, pink for repeated content within a specific book, and sky blue for inter-textual allusions. Remember that these colors vary among brands. If possible, stick with one type like this. For pens, you might decide to use a black Micron 005 for margin notes and a blue one for underlining. This archival ink is waterproof and never fades. (And don’t forget a ruler for those underlines.)
4. Pick your time.
Think through when you are going to journal in this Bible. Maybe it will become part of your daily Bible reading. Maybe you’ll dip into it a couple times a week. Maybe you’ll fluctuate between an intensive season and taking a routine break. Don’t forget that this is a project for the long haul. There’s no need to rush it. What matters most is that through God’s word you are believing his gospel and enjoying him — that is, remembering what you want to remind your children.
FAQs: What if I have more than one child? Write to all of your children and have the Bible copied for each child (by the time you finish, it will be worth it). What if my handwriting is terrible? Go the highlighting and underline route and capture your meditations and prayers electronically. Even if you have great penmanship, you’ll most likely want to get it transcribed electronically at some point.
Recent posts from Jonathan Parnell:
Trading One Dramatic Resolution for 10,000 Little Ones
I’ve told the story many times of talking impatiently with my wife one Sunday morning and having my nine-year-old son interject, “Daddy, is this the way a Christian man should be talking to his wife?”
Rather sarcastically I said, “What do you think?” He replied, “It doesn't make any difference what I think — what does God think?”
I went to my bedroom, and two thoughts immediately hit me. First, my pride reared up. I want to be a hero to my son, and I was embarrassed that he had been troubled by my attitude and words. But that didn't last very long. I soon thought, “How could it be that God could love me so much that he would give a twit of care about this mundane little moment in the Tripp bathroom?”
That’s love at a level of magnificence that I am unable to capture with words. This was but one moment in one room in one house of one family, on one block on one street in one neighborhood, in one city in one state in one country on one continent, in one hemisphere on one globe in the universe. Yet God was in that moment, working to continue his moment-by-moment work of transforming the heart of this man.
Rethinking the Annual Ritual
Why am I telling you this story? Well, it’s that time once again. It’s the fodder for blogs, magazine articles, TV shows, and way too many tweets. It is the time for the annual ritual of dramatic New Year’s resolutions fueled by the hope of immediate and significant personal life change.
But the reality is that few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve, few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment, few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyle because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new, and few marriages have been changed by the means of one dramatic resolution.
Is change important? Yes, it is for all of us in some way. Is commitment essential? Of course! There is a way in which all of our lives are shaped by the commitments we make. But biblical Christianity — which has the gospel of Jesus Christ at its heart — simply doesn’t rest its hope in big, dramatic moments of change.
Living in the Utterly Mundane
The fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart-and-life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. And where do we live? Well, we all have the same address. Our lives don’t careen from big moment to big moment. No, we all live in the utterly mundane.
Most of us won’t be written up in history books. Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember our lives at all. You and I live in little moments, and if God doesn’t rule our little moments and doesn’t work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that is where you and I live.
The little moments of life are profoundly important precisely because they are the little moments that we live in and that form us. This is where I think “Big Drama Christianity” gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the “small-change” grace that meets us there. And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don’t tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us.
The 10,000 Little Moments
You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.
What leads to significant personal change?
10,000 moments of personal insight and conviction
10,000 moments of humble submission
10,000 moments of foolishness exposed and wisdom gained
10,000 moments of sin confessed and sin forsaken
10,000 moments of courageous faith
10,000 choice points of obedience
10,000 times of forsaking the kingdom of self and running toward the kingdom of God
10,000 moments where we abandon worship of the creation and give ourselves to worship of the Creator.
And what makes all of this possible? Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Immanuel, not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.
His Work to Rescue and Transform
And what is he doing? In these small moments, he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace, he places you in daily, little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom, and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again — exactly what each one of us needs.
Yes, you and I need to be committed to change, but not in a way that hopes for a big event of transformation, but in a way that finds joy in and is faithful to a day-by-day, step-by-step process of insight, confession, repentance and faith. And in those little moments, we commit ourselves to remember the words of Paul in Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us, how will he not also with him freely give us all things.
So, we wake up each day, committed to live in the small moments of our daily lives with open eyes and humbly expectant hearts.
Today at Desiring God:
I Want to Turn Your Dreams Back On
Below is the video and manuscript from John Piper's plenary message last night at Cross, a new student missions conference. You can watch the conference live over the next two days at www.desiringGod.org/live.
This conference on missions is a dream come true for me. And my prayer is that many of you will look back some day and see that this was a decisive moment in a dream come true for you—that some day, ten or twenty or thirty years from now, you will recall the very first Cross Conference, 2013, as a turning point when God did something decisive in directing the rest of your life. If you came with low expectations, get big ones right now.
My Dream Come True
There are at least four reasons why this conference is a dream come true for me:
God created the world and has been active in it from the beginning so that the transcendent beauty of his holiness might be known and enjoyed and shared by a redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and this conference is God’s work to propel that purpose toward completion. To be a part of something so central to God’s ultimate purpose is what I dream about for my life.
This conference is a dream come true because every human being on this planet is lost and bound for eternal suffering unless they come to know and treasure Jesus Christ and the good news that God sent him into the world to die, and in dying to absorb and remove that judgment for everyone who believes. And this conference exists to make that global human lostness—that impending eternal suffering—shockingly clear, and then propel to all the unreached peoples of the world an army of lovers who care about all human suffering, especially eternal suffering.
Third, this conference is a dream come true for me because in my lifetime God has brought about a great awakening to the glory of his sovereign grace. Call it Reformed theology. Call it the doctrines of grace. Call it the new Calvinism. Call it big God theology. Call it a passion for God’s supremacy in all things. Call it the resurgence of God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated worship. Call it a vision of a great, holy, just, wise, good, gracious, sovereign God, whose throne is established in the heavens and who does whatever he pleases. Call it what you will. God is doing this—God is awakening millions of people all over the world, especially young people—to these stunning and glorious realities. And this conference is a fruit of this awakening. It is the sharpening and the pushing of the point of the spear of this gospel truth into the unreached peoples of the world, “for the Imperial Majesty of Jesus Christ and for the glory of his empire” (John Stott).
Fourth, this conference is a dream come true for me because I am old and you are young. Most of my heroes died before they were my age—Calvin, Luther, Tyndale, Owen, Spurgeon, Edwards, Brainerd, Judson—all dead before they were 67. They didn’t have this privilege at my age. Ever since God did an unusual awakening in me in 1983, when I was 37 years old, I have wanted my life to count for the sake of the unreached peoples of the world. The rising of the Cross conference for students feels like a crowning gift from God—like an answer to the prayer of Psalm 71:18, “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation.” God is mighty, young people. Unstoppably mighty. He will have the nations. He will have his world.
And now I get the privilege of talking to you about him under the title: “The Chief End of Missions: The Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.” So this is all a dream come true. And I pray again that many of you will look back some day and see that this was the beginning of a dream come true for you. Or perhaps not the beginning but a decisive milestone making plain what God has been doing in your life all along.
The Chief End of Missions
“The Chief End of Missions is the Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.”
You may hear in that title a paraphrase of the first question in the Westminster Catechism:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
So I have replaced “chief end of man” with “chief end of missions”—which seems legitimate because missions is shorthand for “man active in doing missions.” There is no missions in the abstract without human action. There is only people doing missions. What is their chief end or goal? Or, what is God’s chief end in their action?
Then I changed the glory of God to the supremacy of God. The chief end of missions is the exaltation of God as supremely glorious—supremely beautiful and valuable above all other reality. The chief end of missions is the radical transformation of human hearts through faith in Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit so that they treasure and magnify the glory of God supremely above all things. In that sense, the end of missions is the supremacy of God.
Then I changed “and enjoy him forever” (“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever”) to “the joy of all peoples.” Missions is not just about winning your neighbor to Christ. It is about the peoples of the world. “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:3).
So the chief end of missions is the glorification of God’s supremacy in the jubilation of human hearts among all the peoples of the world. Or we could say: the chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the satisfaction of the peoples in God. Or, the chief end of missions is the glory of God in the God-centered gladness of the peoples.
And The Two Became One
But the most important change I made in the catechism was changing the word “and” to the word “in.” The catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” What does “and” mean? If “and” means: There is one end of man called “glorify God,” and another end of man called “enjoy him forever,” then why did the authors of the catechism use the singular “end” when they answered, “The chief end of man is . . .? Why didn’t they say, “The chiefs ends of man are to glorify God and enjoy him forever”?
The answer is that the authors did not consider God’s getting glory in man and man’s getting joy in God as separate and distinct ends. They knew that God’s being glorified in us and our being satisfied in him were one thing.
One thing—the way God looking stunning through me is one thing with my being stunned by him. He looks stunning in my being stunned. God’s being glorified and my enjoying him is one thing the way God looking ravishing is one thing with my being ravished. God’s being glorified and my enjoying him are one thing the way God looking like the supreme treasure over all is one thing with my treasuring him as the supreme treasure over all. The world sees the supreme value of God in our valuing him supremely.
Those great Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century knew that God’s being glorified in us and our being satisfied in him were not two separate goals of creation. They were one goal, one end. And so they wrote, “The chief end (not ends) of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” And what I am doing is simply making it explicit and clear how they are one in my paraphrase: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples”—namely, the joy of all peoples in God.
When the peoples of the earth come to rejoice supremely in the Lord, the Lord will be supremely glorified in the peoples of the earth. There is one end, one aim, one goal, of missions: the full and everlasting gladness of the peoples in the glory of God. Or, the glorification of God in the full and everlasting gladness of the peoples in God.
Our Driving Missions Motivation
What does this most important change from “and” to “in” imply for your motivation in missions? The change
from: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God and the joy of all peoples,”
to: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.”
Why does that matter for you? For your motivation for being here at this conference? For being open to God’s leading in your life in regard to the unreached peoples of the world?
The reason it matters is because this change (from “and” to “in”) clarifies the relationship between the two great biblical motivations for doing missions: the joy you have in seeing God glorified, and the joy you have in seeing people saved—passion for the supremacy of God and compassion for perishing people.
Which do you have? Which has brought you here? Which is driving you? God’s glory or man’s good? God’s worth or man’s rescue? God’s holiness or man’s happiness? The exaltation of God’s supremacy or the salvation of man’s soul? What is your driving missions motivation?
A Rescue Movement for Glory and Gladness
The main reason it matters that I have changed “the supremacy of God and the joy of all peoples” to “the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples,” is that this makes it clear you don’t have to choose between those two motives. In fact you dare not choose. If you choose between them, both are cancelled. They live and die together. Rightly understood these two motives are one and not two.
When we say, “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples” we make plain that zeal for the supremacy of God includes a zeal for the joy of all peoples. And the other way around, compassion on the joyless eternity of lost peoples includes a zeal for the glory of God. Rightly understood, it cannot be otherwise.
These are not separate motives, as if missions could be pursued with a zeal for the glory God, but no zeal for the joy of lost people! Or as if missions could be pursued with a zeal for the joy of the lost, but no zeal for the glory of God. No, that’s not possible. Indifference to the glorification of God is indifference to the eternal joy of the peoples. Indifference to the eternal joy of the peoples is indifference to the glory of God. Because missions aims at the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples—the joy of the peoples in God.
To be sure, not all people will be saved. Not all will enjoy God forever. Many will hate him to eternity. And God will glorify his holy wrath in their righteous judgment. But that is not the goal of missions. Missions is a rescue movement to glorify God in the gladness of the peoples.
These are not two separate motives. They are one. “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in—not and—the joy of all peoples.” You don’t have to answer the question I asked a moment ago: “Which has brought you here? Which is driving you? God’s glory or man’s good? God’s worth or man’s rescue? God’s holiness or man’s happiness? The exaltation of God’s supremacy or the salvation of man’s soul?”
Stated like that, there is no right answer to that question. This or that. No. Not: this or that; but: this in that. Not: God’s glory or man’s joy; but: God’s glory revealed in man’s joy—man’s joy in God. Not: God’s worth or man’s rescue; but God’s worth revealed in man’s rescue—his rescue from the deadly condition of not treasuring God’s worth. God’s worth is magnified when a person flees from a lifetime of belittling God’s worth.
So you dare not choose between being motivated by your compassion for lost people and your zeal for the glory of God. If you know what the glory of God is, and you know what it means to be rescued from sin, then you will know that you must have both motives because they are one. The glory of God in the gladness of the peoples, and the gladness of the peoples in the glory of God.
God’s Word About God’s Glory
Let’s go to the Bible now and see if these things are so. Perhaps here is where the Holy Spirit will put the match to the kindling I am trying to lay.
The uniform and pervasive message of the Bible is that all things have been done by God for the glory of God, and all things should, therefore, be done by us for the glory of God. This doesn’t mean we do them to increase his glory, but to display his glory. To communicate his glory—the supreme beauty of his manifold perfections.
The apostle Paul comes to the end of the great explanation of redemptive history in Romans 9–11 and writes in Romans 11:36, “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” “To him are all things.” All things exist to him, that is, to his honor, to his fame, for the sake of his name and his praise. All things—absolutely all things, from microwave ovens to global missions, from the tiniest microbe to human cultures, all things are “to him.” To him be glory forever. All the peoples, all the languages, all the tribes are to him. They exist for him. His name, his praise, his honor, his glory.
Paul says again in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created through him and for him,” referring to Christ. Everything in creation exists for him. For the honor of Christ, for the glory of Christ. For the name and the fame of Christ (cf. Heb. 2:10).
Or again in Romans 1:5 Paul says, “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s name among all the nations.” “For the sake of Christ’s name.” Paul’s apostleship, and by extension the cause of missions, and this conference, exist “for the sake of Christ’s name among all the nations.” For the name and honor and glory and fame of Jesus Christ.
This is where John Stott says in his commentary on Romans that the mission of the church exists “for His Imperial Majesty, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire.” For all we know America may be a footnote in the history of the world someday, and every President virtually forgotten, just like the Caesars of Rome—how many Caesars can you name (there were 80)? But we know beyond all doubt that the name and the majesty and the kingdom of Christ, in the words of Daniel the prophet, “shall never be destroyed. . . . It shall break in pieces all the kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
The point of all these texts—and dozens more like them—is that God’s aim in creation is to put himself on display and to magnify the greatness of his glory. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). He designed it that way. That is what the galaxies are for. And that is what everything that happens in creation is for. All of history, from creation to consummation, exists for the communication of the glory of God.
Isaiah 48:9–11 flies like a banner not just over God’s rescue of Israel from exile, but over all his acts of rescue, especially the cross of Christ:
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
All of creation, all of redemption, all of history is designed by God to display God—to magnify the greatness of the glory of God. That is the ultimate goal of all things including missions. “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God—the display and communication of the supreme worth and beauty of God.”
God’s Word About Our Gladness
But there is another stream of revelation flowing in the Bible concerning what God is up to in the world he has made and the world he is governing. He is not only seeking the glorification of his name, he is seeking the jubilation of the peoples in his name. Ponder this second stream of texts with me for a few moments.
Paul tells us in Romans 15:8 that the Son of God came to confirm God’s promises to the Jews. But immediately then he adds in verse 9, “and in order that the Gentiles—the non-Jewish peoples of the world—might glorify God for his mercy.” And then he tells us what it means to glorify God for his mercy—his mercy! He quotes four Old Testament passages about God’s purpose for the joy of the nations (Romans 15:10-12):
As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
What does it mean that God’s aim in missions is “that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy”? Gather up all his words! It means, Let the peoples praise! Let the peoples sing! Let the peoples rejoice! Let the peoples extol! Let the peoples hope! It is unmistakable what God is up to in history! The gladness of the peoples in God.
And if we go back to the Psalms, the purpose of God for all the peoples of the earth is clear: joy in God above all things.
Psalm 47:1, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”
Psalm 66:1-2, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.”
Psalm 67:3-4, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.”
Psalm 68:32, “O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord.”
Psalm 96:1, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!”
Psalm 97:1, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”
Psalm 98:4, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
Psalm 100:1, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!”
There is no doubt that God’s global aim in creation and redemption is not only the glory of his name but also the gladness of the peoples. Specifically, the gladness of the peoples in God.
The Greatest of These Is Joy
And if someone asks, Couldn’t you do the same thing with faith and obedience and life? Couldn’t you trace through all the Bible the places where God aims at these. Why not focus on those as the aim of God and the aim of missions?
If you ask that I would ask, why do you think the great theologians who wrote the Westminster Catechism said, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”? Why didn’t they say: “To glorify God and trust him forever”? Or: “to glorify God and obey him forever”? Or: “to glorify God and have life in him forever”?
Isn’t the answer that the essence of each of these experiences—of faith and obedience and life, indeed all genuine spiritual experience—isn’t the essence of them all the enjoyment of God in those acts, such that if you remove the enjoyment of God from them (faith, obedience, life), they cease to be God-exalting acts.
- Isn’t the essence of faith the embrace of God in Christ as the all-sufficient satisfier of our souls—not just the giver of good gifts, but the giver himself? Isn’t faith, at its essence, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus (John 6:35)?
- And isn’t obedience, with all its thousands of manifestations, at its essence, doing what God says with a view to enjoying more of God in the very doing of it, and the reward of it? For example, we obey the command to love our neighbor by expanding our joy in God in our neighbor’s enjoyment of God. I would argue, that’s the nature of all God-exalting obedience (cf. Hebrews 12:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
- And isn’t the essence of eternal life to know God, as Jesus says in John 17:3? And what is knowing God in the fullest biblical sense? To know him like the devil knows him, with all the facts just right, but hating them? No. To know God in a saving way is to know his all-satisfying beauty and greatness and worth for what they really are, precious and soul-satisfying. To know him rightly is to treasure what is known.
If the enjoyment of God is withdrawn as an essential aspect of faith or obedience or life, they cease to be the goal of God. They cease to be what they are. Faith is not saving faith without being satisfied in all that God is for us in Christ. Obedience is not obedience where there’s no obedience to the command, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And life is not life where God himself is not our delight.
God’s Intention in Creation and Redemption
So I say again, in creation and redemption and in the mission of the church God aims supremely at both: the glory of his name, and the gladness of the peoples.
And in the fullness of time, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world to secure both of these goals. He came for the vindication of his Father’s glory, and for the salvation of his Father’s children. And he did this by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.
The night before he died, in great distress he said, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27–28). Christ died for glory-belittling sinners to show that it would be true and clear that God does not sweep the dishonoring of his name under the rug of the universe. He died to vindicate the worth of his glory (Romans 3:23–26).
And he also came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He said, “The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). A ransom from everlasting misery to everlasting joy—“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11; cf. 17:13). And at the end of the age when all the peoples are gathered before Jesus, those who have received him as their treasure will hear the words, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). This is why he came: to purchase by his blood the joy of the peoples in the joy of their Master.
We Honor With Our Happiness
Jesus died for this: the glory of his Father, and the gladness of his people. Frontier missions is an extension to the nations of Jesus’s mission to the world. He came for the glory of the Father and the gladness of the peoples. So the chief end of missions is the supremacy of God and the joy of all peoples.
But not just and, rather in. The aim of history, the aim of Christ in dying for sinners is the glory of God in the gladness of the nations. The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.
This is so because when you enjoy someone you honor that person. You magnify their value. You glorify them. If I say to my wife, “It makes me happy to be with you,” she doesn’t accuse me of selfishness. Why? I just said that I am motivated to be with her by my own happiness. Because when my happiness is in her, it calls attention to her worth, not mine. She is honored when I say, “It makes me happy to be with you.” So is Christ. So is God the Father. They are seen to be a supreme treasure when they become for us our supreme pleasure. They are glorified in us when we are satisfied in them.
We Will Not Choose
Therefore I say again, “The Chief End of Missions is the Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.” When the peoples find their supreme gladness in God, God will be supremely glorified in them. Which is why he created the world, and why Jesus’s cross exists, and that’s why this Cross conference exists. That’s what we pray will be the everlasting upshot of these days.
We will not choose between glorifying God and making people glad. We will not choose between praising God’s supremacy and removing people’s suffering—especially eternal suffering. We will not choose between hallowing God and helping people. In the aims of this conference and the aims of global missions, we will not choose between the aim of seeing Christ magnified among the peoples and seeing the peoples satisfied in Christ.
Because these two are one. Christ is supremely magnified in the peoples when the peoples are supremely satisfied in Christ. We have the best news in all the world: Jesus Christ, the Son of God died and rose and reigns to make the nations fully and eternally glad in the glory of God.
When Christ becomes the satisfaction of the nations, and God becomes their delight, then he is honored and they are saved. And you—you who will take or send this best of all messages—you turn out to be a person of great compassion toward perishing sinners and great zeal for the glory of God. Don’t ever choose between these two: praising God and pitying sinners, divine glory and human gladness. Embrace this one great end, and give your life to it—the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.
When You Track Your Spiritual Progress
The last days of December are a great time for personal inventory.
It’s almost involuntary for many of us. The close of one year naturally leads to us to think back over the highs and lows of the last 365 days (especially if we’re on Facebook). For others of us, the inventory might be more methodical. Maybe we crack open a journal from a year ago or browse through notes we’ve made or organize a list of our biggest decisions in descending order. Either way, it’s safe to say that we all do some kind of inventory.
And for the Christian, this inventory is mainly concerned with our spiritual progress. Exercise goals and staying on budget are important, and there is certainly something spiritual about them, but the main question for us is whether we grew in grace (2 Peter 3:18). Did we make real steps toward increased Christlikeness?
Are we more sanctified now than a year ago?
Asking It Honestly
I think we should ask this question, even though we run the risk of making two mistakes. One mistake is to instantly theologize the answer before we really think about it. Because we know that God is at work in us, we’re temped to dismiss the question altogether. Of course, we think, we’re more sanctified (Philippians 1:6; 2:13). We consider ourselves to be on an irreversible road of progression, and therefore, we allow this to mute any serious examination. The other mistake is to answer the question in terms of our daily disciplines. We immediately mistranslate the question of our spiritual progress to mean whether we read the Bible and prayed enough.
To be sure, Christians are on an irreversible road of progression, and Bible reading and prayer are indispensable, but neither of these should silence our honest asking — and honest answer — to whether we are more like Jesus a year later. And a big reason I suggest we go there is because sometimes we will feel like the answer is no.
One Big Blah?
Maybe our assessment yields a humble recognition of true growth — that we have learned more and loved more, experienced remarkable victory over a besetting sin, and made decisions that exhibited counter-comfortable faith. But maybe it’s just no.
Maybe we don’t feel more like Jesus now than we did at the close of 2012. We don’t feel like we’ve learned as much, or loved as much, or mortified our anger, or stepped out of the boat. Maybe we feel like, compared to last year, 2013 was one big blah of spiritual progress. I know a man in Christ, as Paul might say, who has felt this way. We scratch our heads and wonder how the spiritual scenery looks the same even though we’ve been trying to move forward all year long.
Well, Christian, if that is like you, there is something you need to know. And feel.
You are more sanctified — and will be more sanctified. You will be more transformed into the image of Jesus — even if, by your assessment, it doesn’t feel that way.
Your destiny is set. Those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). And we understand this encouragement not by skipping to it without sincere reflection, but by trekking to it through sincere reflection. We especially sense this wonder in profound ways when God’s word speaks over what our assessments might say. He reminds us that though years are good markers for us, he doesn’t work in calendar quotas. And for him, what is 365 days? If a thousand years is as one day (2 Peter 3:8) . . . you do the math.
Is It Real Encouragement?
But how? we may think.
The assurance of a Christian’s progressing sanctification goes deeper than a few proof texts, so deep, in fact, that it’s actually bound up in what salvation is. We need to look no further than the rich truth of our union with Christ.
In his book, One with Christ, Marcus Peter Johnson argues that “union with the living Christ is … what it means to be saved” (Location 198). He argues that realities such as justification and sanctification are both blessings Jesus bestows on us through our union with him. They are not mile-markers we must cross in route to a relationship with Jesus, but rather, they are wondrous gifts Jesus gives to us because he has saved us to a relationship with him. Johnson writes,
Jesus Christ does not bestow his benefits in the abstract; he bestows himself to us, that we might enjoy who he is for us in all his saving graces. In our union with him, he is the cause of our justification, sanctification and adoption. And because it is Jesus Christ in the fullness of his person and work whom we receive in salvation, we receive all that he is to us simultaneously, never one benefit without the other.
We Get It All
The implications here are amazing. This means that because salvation is Christ himself — our getting him and being united to him — then we are assured to receive all his benefits. Nothing gets left out. There is no lesser package that offers full-fledged justification but then leaves out a subscription to sanctifying grace. That is not how it goes.
If we are justified, we will be sanctified, because in Christ we can only have them both.
So it’s yours. Even if you feel that you made less progress in 2013 than you hoped, or that you just stalled more this year than the last. If you are in Christ, you will be sanctified. You get it all. You will be transformed into the image of Jesus. Whether you sense it acutely now or not, one day you will. Keep running. You will look back and see the progress. For one day we know that we shall be like him (1 John 3:2).
Union with Christ is also the theme of the upcoming Conference for Pastors. Learn more information and register by January 1 for the current discount.
Recent posts from Jonathan Parnell:
Are You Pastoring Your Pastor?
Some of the least pastored people in the world are pastors.
These men work long, unpredictable hours, addressing every physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual issue under the sun, sacrificing their schedule, comfort, and a thousand other things, all without being relieved of their own personal, individual needs.
Our most prominent, visible members of the body can easily get left out of the regular rhythm of one-anothering (Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). They’re racing from one crisis to another, filling the gaps with counseling and training, striving to maintain a healthy and happy home. Too often there simply are not time and resources to set aside ministry even for a brief time to be encouraged, fed, and equipped themselves.
The Spiritual Needs of Pastors — And Everyone Else
But all of us are needy — desperately needy. None of us has reason to rest on our spiritual track record or position in the church (1 Corinthians 10:12). Any one of us, especially apart from our local community of faith, is susceptible to the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). There are not exceptions made for ministers, as if they’ve graduated beyond the need for spiritual encouragement and counsel.
The spiritual health of a pastor really ought to be a priority for his people. Paul writes, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). It’s a command for leaders, but it’s a warning to all of us who hear it. If the pastor is led away from the truth or from living a life in line with the gospel, everyone’s in danger.
Getting Practical for Your Pastor
The command for the rest of us is equally clear, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
How can we multiply the joy of the men making us happy in Jesus? We could give them a night out with a gift card and without the kids. We could cover the bases for a weekend to free them to travel or worship elsewhere without the pressure to pastor. We could write an encouraging note about God’s work through them or reminders of God’s promises. You might have creative ideas more specific to your pastor.
Equippers Need Equipping
Paul tells us that pastors have been appointed by God to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Sadly, and unfortunately, this means shepherds spend so much time feeding and training the flock that they often sacrifice their own growth and learning. But for equippers to equip well, they must be equipped well themselves.
This can happen through personal reading when the pastor is disciplined and able to carve out time regularly. Fellowship with other local pastors often fosters this kind of ongoing growth. Various conferences and events are devoted to needs and development in the ministry. There are also an increasing number of websites and online courses being offered for continuing education in spiritual leadership.
So here’s an encouragement, as 2013 comes to a close, to consider how you and others might partner together to care well for your pastor. Dream big. Pray for fresh ideas that would strengthen your particular shepherd. Perhaps 2014 could be the year your pastor felt cared for like never before.
The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches
At Desiring God, we want to help and encourage these leaders in their ministry wherever God has placed them, with whatever responsibilities they carry each week. For more than 25 years, we’ve been hosting a conference for pastors, hoping each year to stir their affections afresh for Jesus and send them out better able to do the same for you.
This February, our conference focuses again on our Savior and will remind us of the remarkable union we have with him through faith. It’s the hope of every sinner and the strength of every minister. We believe and pray that it might be what your pastor needs at the beginning of another year of ministering God’s word. Among the hundreds of ways you could care well for your pastor, would you consider encouraging, facilitating, or even sending your pastor to be with us in Minneapolis this February 3–5?
For more information, see the event page.
Your Most Courageous Resolution for 2014
Pursue love. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
Resolutions are good things. They’re biblical: “may [God] fulfill every resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). And I think developing New Year’s resolutions is a very good idea. A year is a defined timeframe long enough to make progress on difficult things and short enough to provide some incentive to keep moving.
A resolve is not a vague intention, like “one of these days I’m going to get that garage cleaned” or “I’m going to read the Bible through this year,” but without any clear plan to do it. Resolves are intentions with strategies attached to them. You don’t just hope something is going to happen; you are planning to make it happen. To be resolved is to be determined.
Make Love Your Aim
But resolves can either be rooted in our selfish ambitions or in the love of God. We must think them through carefully. So as we make our resolutions for 2014, God wants them to all serve this one great end: “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1).
“Pursue” is a very purposeful word. The Greek verb has an intensity to it. It means to “seek after eagerly,” like a runner in a race seeks eagerly to win a prize.
The RSV’s translation of this phrase is clearer: “Make love your aim.” It has a sense of single-minded focus to it. The NIV falls short: “Follow the way of love.” It has no edge to it. It sounds like a platitude that the most polite company could smile and nod to without feeling unnerved. It does not capture Paul’s intensity.
No, this is an aggressive verb. In fact, it can mean to “pursue with hostile intent.” That’s why in the New Testament, it is frequently used to mean persecuting or harassing someone.
That sounds like Paul, the former persecutor who became the persecuted. What he is saying to us is that we should pursue love with no less fervency and determination that he once pursued Christians to Damascus — only our aim is not to stop love, but to unleash it and be captured by it, or, I should say, by Him (1 John 4:8).
Plan to Make Love Your Aim
Let this be the year that we pursue love. Let this be the year that we stop talking about love, that we do less regretful moaning about how little we love and how much we need to grow in love and actually be determined to love more the way Jesus loved (John 15:12). Let this be the year we actually put into place some strategies to help us love.
Each person’s situation is so unique that we can’t craft strategies for each other to grow in love. It’s something that we must each do with God, though some feedback and counsel from those who know us best are helpful.
But here are some of the Bible’s great love texts to soak in during 2014 that can help loving strategies emerge:
1 Corinthians 13: soak in or memorize it and let each “love is . . .” statement in verses 4–7 search your heart. With whom can you show greater patience, kindness, and more?
John chapters 13–15: soak in or memorize them. Ninety-five verses are very doable. You can memorize them in 3–6 months and be transformed.
The First Epistle of John: Soak in or memorize it. You can do it! Forcing yourself to say the verses over and over will yield insights you’ve never seen before.
Take 2–4 weeks and simply meditate on the two greatest commandments according to Jesus (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10). Look and look at them and pray and pray over them. You will be surprised at what the Lord shows you.
Read Hebrews 13:1–7, take one verse per day and prayerfully meditate on what you might put into place to grow in each area of loving obedience. It may be one thing or ten things.
You get the idea. We don’t need all our strategies in place by January 1st. But we can make 2014 a year where we pursue love with more intentionality than we ever have before. And as we meditate, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), the Holy Spirit will guide us in creating the strategies we should use.
The Most Courageous Resolution
But let’s also be clear: making love our aim in 2014 will demand more courage and faith than any other resolution we can make. Nothing exposes the depth of our sin like really seeking to love God with our entire being and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
So we must let our pursuit of love drive us to the gospel. None of us has ever perfectly kept either of the two great commandments. Ever. Our very best efforts have been polluted by our prideful sin. And we have rarely been at our very best.
We can only love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and sent his Son to become sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ has kept the greatest commandments (and the rest) perfectly for us! So we are forgiven of our constant failure to love as we ought and are given grace to grow in the grace of love. And because of Jesus, someday we will love perfectly just as we have been loved.
So let’s make our resolution to pursue love this year more than we ever have, knowing that we have been loved with an everlasting love (Psalm 103:17).
Recent posts from Jon Bloom:
Christ Cannot Be Stopped
Cross is a new student conference on missions. It begins this evening.
This conference is a dream come true for me. I give four reasons for why in my message tonight. So I won’t give them here. You can live-stream all the main sessions at desiringGod.org/live, beginning at 8:15 PM (EST) tonight (full live-stream schedule below).
The premise of the conference is that biblical Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. We believe that God sent his eternal Son into the world to bear sin’s penalty for his people and to rescue them from eternal suffering, and to give them ever-increasing and everlasting joy in the glory of redeemed bodies, on a redeemed earth, free from all misery and all sin. Everyone who receives this gift through faith in Christ will have it. It is offered to all, and free for all.
Focusing on the Unreached
God’s purpose is to gather this redeemed people from all the peoples and tribes and languages of the world. Frontier missions is the heralding of this news to the remaining unreached peoples of the world. That’s our focus at Cross.
It is not a conference about evangelizing people in general. It’s a conference about the peculiar task of missions: the task of crossing cultures, and learning languages, and, by the miracle-working grace of God, establishing biblically faithful churches among the unreached peoples.
Radiant with Hope
Cross is radiant with hope, because it is built on the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of the hardest sinners. If sinners were decisive in saving themselves, the outcome of missions would be up for grabs. It’s not.
The “musts” and “wills” and “shalls” of God are inviolable.
“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
“This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27).
Christ has ransomed a people among all the peoples of the world. “By your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Missions Cannot Fail
They are his, and he will have them. He has chosen and destined them for adoption from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4–5).“Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). None will be lost.
The way he calls his sheep is missions. And it cannot fail. When a people group seems distant, hidden, resistant, hostile, Jesus has a word to say about that. When the skeptic, and the doubter say, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus responds, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:25–27).
God’s Unstoppable Gospel
Cross aims to kindle a confidence in God’s unstoppable gospel built on the absolute sovereignty of God in calling workers, raising funds, ruling nations, turning the hearts of kings, opening doors, arranging marriages, sustaining singles, healing diseases, giving courage, throwing Satan down like lightening, taking out hearts of stone, removing spiritual blindness, conquering unbelief, creating death-defying faith, gathering worshiping saints, turning all sacrifices into seeds of triumph, and making every martyr a catalyst for thousands more, until the task of missions gives way to the coming King who says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10).
You can tell I love what this is about. If you are not coming, please pray. If you are coming, please pray. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6).
Live-stream schedule for Cross (live-stream available at desiringGod.org/live):
Friday December 27
Saturday December 28
9:35 am | Thabiti Anyabwile: “Beauty from Ashes: The Plight of Man and the Purposes of God”
11:15 am | Kevin DeYoung: “Five Surprising Motivations for Missions”
8:05 pm | Conrad Mbewe: “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: The Good News of a Bloody Cross”
Sunday December 29
9:35 am | Richard Chin: “Seeing Jesus Properly: The Lord to Gladly Obey Forever”
11:15 am | Mack Stiles: “The Call of Christ: Inspired, Informed, Confirmed”
8:05 pm | Matt Chandler: “The Life Worth Living for Christ Is a Life Worth Losing”
Monday December 30
9:35 am | Michael Oh: “What Do Cross-Cultural Missionaries Cross Cultures For?”
11:15 am | D.A. Carson: “The Church as the Means and the Goal of Missions”
8:00 pm | David Platt: “Mobilizing God’s Army for the Great Commission”
More from John Piper in preparation for Cross: