Thursday, 8 January 2009

Let the Nations Be Glad!

You know if you're reading a good book when it gets you praying. You know if you're reading an even better book if it gets you praying scripture:

'Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy!'
Psalm 67:3-4

'Let the Nations Be Glad!' by John Piper is a great read. Full of classic Piper meat constructed around a theology of missions. I'm a bit of a fan of Piper and totally agreeing with the concept of Christian Hedonism (when rightly interpreted) so this book was just my thing.

The premise behind the book? 'Missions exists because worship doesn't' (pg 17). The ultimate end of the church is not missions Piper argues but worship. We are made to glorify God by enjoying Him forever and this if considered seriously it will start a fire in our hearts for the evangilisation of the world. Our worship should fuel our missions. When you taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) you want others to taste the same soul-satisfying sweetness.

This book of theology is meant to move us. Knowledge produces feelings which in turn produce action. It can happen in no other way. If you start learning that 'the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one' (1 John 5:19) your heart should be moved to love. Passion for God and His glory coupled with compassion for humanity motivate people to be risk-takers for the gospel. And these two motives Piper argues are one in the same thing:

'Unbelief not only dishonours God but also destroys the soul. Everything that discredits God damages man. Every assault on God's holiness is an assault on human happiness. Every thought or feeling or action that makes God look wrong or irrelevant increases man's ruin. Everything that decreases God's reputation increases man's suffering. And so missions is driven by a passion not only to restore the glory of God to its rightful place in the worshipping soul but also to rescue sinners from everlasting pain.' (pg 208-209)

The book is divided into three sections. In the first 'Making God Supreme in Missions: The Purpose, the Power, and the Price.' Piper sways the reader to see the purpose of missions to exalt God's God-centeredness to all the nations; that is God's commitment to glorify Himself for all eternity. God is righteous He loves to celebrate and magnify the ultimately valuable (Himself) above everything else: 'God's righteous passion and delight is to display and uphold His infinitely valuable glory. This is not a vague theological conjecture. It flows inevitably from dozens of biblical texts [texts like Is 48:9-11, Rom 9:17, Is 43:25, John 12:27-28, Phil 1:9,11 etc etc] that show God is relentless in pursuit of praise and honor from creation to consummation.' (pg 22)

The power of missions could only be prayer. Not just any prayer but prayer in the Spirit. Not just saying words but feeling God. Prayer needs to be expectant and persevering prayer. Prayer like the prayer of George Mueller who wrote 'I am now, in 1864, waiting upon God for certain blessings, for which I have daily besought Him for 19 years and 6 months, without one day's intermission.' (pg 69). I was convicted by this. I'm too quick to give up! We have to battle on asking, seeking and knocking because our Father loves to give good gifts (Matt 7:7-11, James 1:17).

Suffering is the worthy price of missions. 'Loss and suffering, joyfully accepted for the Kingdom of God, show the supremacy of God's worth more clearly in the world than all worship and prayer.' (pg 71) Taking up our cross is our duty and therefore joy. Being ready to die with Christ so that we fill up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions (Col 1:24) or to put it another way represent the sufferings of Christ to men, women and children who haven't seen Christ face-to- face. Piper quotes Bonhoeffer: 'The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion wit Christ. When Christ calls a man, He bids Him come and die.' (pg 74) When we are happy to adopt such an attitude Christ will be made to look wonderful. Our calling is to go outside the camp and suffer with Him (Heb 13:12-14). Suffering looks different for everyone; for one it might be cancer, for another persecution. One thing is for sure that if we are to be glorified with Him we will suffer with Him (Rom 8:17).

Part two of the book suddenly becomes more theological and analytical. Drawing on Edwards Piper explains that the consequence of offending infinite beauty equates to an endless time in Hell. Punishment for a crime increases when you the person you offend is more valuable. 'Sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving infinite punishment.' (Edwards, pg 122). What is needed to escape this wrath? Conscious faith in Christ. Piper labours to prove it must be conscious. People need to know the name of Jesus to be saved, this comes from the word of God delivered by man (Rom 10:14-15). It is the name of Jesus that needs to be named for salvation, an anonymous saviour is not a glorified saviour.

The third section of Let the Nations goes back to worship. Piper loves to remind, this is wonderful (Phil 3:1). He reminds us again that worship is the chief end of the church and pure worship needs pure motives. So what are the proper motives for missions? The glory of God and the happiness of man. Are these two not mutually exclusive? No, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. In other words 'the pleasure you take in God is the measure of the treasure you find in Him.' (pg 212)

Piper gives an interpretation of John 4:23 - the worship that the Father wants should be in Spirit and in truth. He points out that this worship principle is for everyday life, not just one day a week. We need truth, the right facts about God. And we need the Spirit, the right attitude towards God. Jesus is the new temple of God. He is the new meeting place of God and man. It is there we can behold His glory, full of grace and truth. And if this is true and we have Jesus with us until the end of the age (Matt 28:20). In the words of Luther: 'The worship of God... should be free at table, in private rooms, downstairs, upstairs, at home, abroad, in all places, by all people, at all times. Whoever tells you anything else is lying as badly as the pope and the devil himself.' (pg 222) Inward New Testament worship will manifest itself in a transformed life. Holy living is the over-spill of real worship. If you love God with your heart and mind you'll want to love Him with your tongue, arms and feet as well.

Let the Nations Be Glad is a book that gets you worshiping on the spot by saying things like 'O Lord I want to serve you' or 'O God raise up workers for the harvest field'. It's a book that will increase your view of God as more glorious than everything else and likewise your love for the extension of the gospel so that the nations can be glad as they praise the infinitely beautiful God.

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