Which is the real delusion — love or selfishness?
This isn’t just a rhetorical question. It’s a question that gets at the heart of Western civilization’s moral and existential confusion. Are you most in sync with reality when you seek your self-interest first or when you “count others more significant than yourself” (Philippians 2:3)? Is love, and its resulting virtues, truly the highest moral good for humans, or is it really a grand illusion created by our genes to get us to behave in ways most likely to result in our genetic survival?
In other words, does love really exist?
I don’t mean mere social or sexual or familial expressions of “enlightened self-interest.” I mean real, self-sacrificial love, the kind of love that truly seeks others’ good to the detriment of the self, the kind of love humans everywhere and always have found morally beautiful and admirable. Does this love exist?
This is the question I pose to atheists. Because if such love really exists, it is a powerful and unnerving indicator of a profound reality beyond the bounds of what we call the material universe. But if this love doesn’t exist, reality is a nightmarish photonegative of what everyone really believes deep down, and in which no one really wants to live.More Than Selfish
Darwinian theorists tell us that our obsessive selfishness is programmed into our genes. Taken at face value, Christians would not disagree. The Bible describes the effects of humanity’s fall as pervasive, including our genes.
But Christians believe this selfishness is pathological, a disease infecting us for which we need a spiritual cure. Darwinists, on the other hand, hypothesize that this selfishness is primal; the fundamental survival and procreative impulse that has been present since the emergence of our first cellular ancestor and became hardwired into our genes as we evolved into the almost unimaginably complex human organisms. In the beginning was selfishness. Our selfishness is simply our genes seeking to save themselves.
This Darwinian explanation makes sense within its framework. But it hardly begins to explain the true nature of human selfishness. You know what I mean: those dark impulses, emotions, and thoughts that we all feel and think, which we fight our entire lives to suppress, many of which we never articulate out loud, and which we have no adequate term for other than evil.
And history, as well as today’s news, is replete with instances of gratuitous, selfish human cruelty on levels that defy explanation — and even prompt Darwinists to label “evil.” In other words, our selfishness is far more depraved than the “red in tooth and claw” fight to survive. Humans don’t merely seek to survive and procreate. We subjugate, dominate, torture, kill, steal, and destroy in ways that are simply horrifying.Loveless Nightmare
But another dimension to all of this makes a “selfish gene” theory an even worse horror. If Darwinian theorists are right, then all forms of love and virtue are essentially genetic illusions. They don’t exist outside the human psyche. Which means they don’t really exist. Love is fundamentally a utilitarian mirage created by our genes that natural selection determined as among the most effective means to ensure of our genetic survival.
But here is a terrible problem: when love becomes no more than an illusion, life becomes a nightmare once we realize it’s an illusion. For when people understand love as an illusion, they begin to see love as the photonegative of 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is selfish. Love is kind when it’s useful and cruel when it’s useful. Love uses envy as a motivator and flattery as a lubricator; it uses humility as a manipulator, and arrogance as a dominator. Love resents obstacles to self-advancement and rejoices with self-exaltation. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things that advance the self for the sake of genetic survival. For ultimately we love ourselves, and self-love never ends.
This is the stark, horrible reality if biblical love does not exist. Not only is the Bible not true, but virtually all of history’s greatest, most beloved stories, legends, songs, and poems are nothing but fantasies. Essentially, all the things that make life most worth living are delusions.
When people, regardless of their religious convictions, really think through the implications of such a worldview — when it moves from abstract theory to experiential reality — something deep inside almost everyone screams, “No!”
Why is that? That is the crucial question. Do we scream “No!” because our genes are such convincing illusionists? No. We find a loveless world revolting because we know it is not real. We may not be able to prove love’s existence in the laboratory sense, but we all know intuitively that it really exists. We know that selfish “love” is the love of hell; it is a domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Even in our selfish depravity, humans know this is horribly and morally wrong.Wake Them Up with Love
Now, I’m going to take a logical leap forward and just say it: love exists because God exists, and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We know this, even if we suppress this truth (Romans 1:18). Selfishness as fundamental reality and love as a survival illusion are satanic nightmares out of which Jesus came to wake the world.
This is why Jesus emphasized love above everything else. He came to demonstrate God’s reality, not through scientific proofs, but through unsurpassed love. And Jesus means for Christians, his church, his kingdom of love on earth, to say to the life of lovelessness, by our very existence in the world, “Not true!” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16), and “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). When love like this is demonstrated, God’s existence is demonstrated.
This is why no matter what we do today, our highest call, our most important work, is to love. This comes from Jesus himself: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
I thank God for good apologists. They do important kingdom work. But the most compelling work Christians will ever do is not going toe-to-toe with Darwinian theorists over scientific evidence for God’s existence or with materialist philosophers over sophisticated arguments. Love is the most compelling apologetic for God’s existence and Christ’s sacrifice on earth: for “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
So, “let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Let us “love one another with brotherly affection [and] outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).
And “may the Lord make [us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12), because God will use this to wake millions caught in the devil’s loveless nightmare of godlessness to the overwhelmingly joyful reality of the God of love. Through us, God will wage a worldwide culture war of godly love.
Egos do not shrink when we stop dreaming big. With big, small, and even stagnant dreams, we will need to kill our self-promoting instinct.
When God’s people sing to him, God is doing something in us. The Holy Spirit works grace though song.
Many respect Jesus as a good moral teacher like Gandhi or Socrates. But the Jesus of the Bible will not allow you to make that claim.
True conversion doesn’t hinge on a prayer, but the life-changing discovery that God is our greatest treasure.
Anyone who has been blindsided by a breakup has wondered whether singleness might be better than marriage after all.
The impact — so foreign, so violent, so unexpected — rips your stomach out of your body, leaving you disoriented and insecure. You step out of the car, and survey the damage. You’re no mechanic, but you fear your heart might be totaled. Repairs may take weeks, maybe longer. What will it all cost?
For a few minutes, or days, or longer, you’re not even sure you want the car back, not sure if you’ll ready to pull out onto the road again and put yourself at risk. Maybe I’ll just take the bus to work from now on. Surely a lifetime of loneliness would be better than a lifetime of brokenness — of more almost-marriages and devastating disappointments. Maybe I’ll cut my losses, and just settle for singleness.
I sat on that side of the road a half a dozen nights or more, paralyzed by my failures in dating and ready to give up on my dreams for marriage.The Other Side
Others of us, though, never got our license. We’ve wanted to find someone — someone to call and text and date, and maybe marry. But there’s never been an opportunity — never a “he” or “she” for me. A breakup begins to sound like paradise compared to always wanting, always waiting, always missing out. At least you had someone to lose. If I stopped trying to get married, maybe not being married wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe I should just settle for singleness.
Whether you are worn out by dating, or desperately wanting to date, you never have to “settle” for singleness. If your heart is God’s first — despite what you might feel and despite what society might say — you never need to settle for singleness, because singleness is never second-best. Marriage is very good, but singleness may be even better. Is your view of God big enough to believe that could possibly be true? Do you trust him enough to learn to love your singleness, even while you want to be married?What Does God Say?
First, what does God have to say about singleness? He inspired the apostle Paul to write this:
Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. (1 Corinthians 7:25–26)
The word for “betrothed” here is actually closer to “unmarried” than to “engaged” and can refer both to men and women. Paul is speaking to single Christians (not necessarily fianceés), just like he did earlier in 1 Corinthians 7: “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:6–8).
It seems the believers in Corinth were like many believers today. They wanted to be married, and may have dreaded the prospect of having to “settle” for singleness. Paul works hard to turn their hearts over. He wants them, and us, to prize and maximize singleness — and get married if we have to.Christian Life to the Full
Most of us today have been conditioned to think of marriage as the ideal, and wonder whether we could ever survive singleness. Paul thinks it should be the other way around. In his mind, there is a simplicity, and freedom, and unity to an unmarried heart in love with Jesus that every Christian should envy.
And as beautiful and indispensable as marriage might be in the church, Paul sees that it does not make following Jesus any easier or more complete. In fact, it puts some distance between us and Christ — a necessary distance, a God-ordained distance, a Christ-exalting, gospel-declaring distance — but a distance. Much of the time and attention and energy we would have spent alone with our Lord, or evangelizing the lost, or discipling younger believers, is now spent caring for a spouse, or for a family.
Paul loves that kind of ministry — husbands caring for wives, wives caring for husbands, parents caring for children — we see that all throughout his letters. But here in 1 Corinthians 7, he’s correcting a common misconception: that the fullest Christian life happens only in marriage. No, the fullest Christian life happens only in Christ.
And singleness allows us to focus and invest ourselves in Christ and his mission in some ways marriage will not.Do You Trust Me?
Because of the series of controversial things Paul says about singleness and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, we might pass over one of the most important verses. Paul writes, “Now concerning the betrothed” — the unmarried, the single — “I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).
Paul goes out of his way in 1 Corinthians 7 to make it clear that it is not sin to marry — meaning men and women in love with Jesus can make much of Jesus by marrying a husband or a wife in love with Jesus. His counsel is not about right or wrong, but about good and better. He says later in this chapter, “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).
Now, you can choose to believe that or not. Because Paul says it’s not “a command from the Lord,” we may be tempted to hear, “Take it or leave it.” But Paul is not saying, “Take it or leave it.” Rather, he is saying, in effect, You can trust me. You really can. It may not seem like it right now, but I know what is best for you.Best Book on Singleness
So, do you trust him? Do you trust him about singleness? Do you trust him about your singleness?
Do you trust him about marriage? Do you trust him about work, and sexuality, and truth-telling, and money, and the local church, and evangelism, and forgiveness, and heaven, and happiness? The question underneath all of our questions about singleness, dating, and marriage really is, What role does God’s word play in your life?
Is the Bible a library of really good ideas that may or may not apply to you? Or is it the foundation under and conscious guide for all your life, hope, and happiness? Do you really want God’s word to inform and shape and direct absolutely everything you think, say, and do?
When Paul says, “He who marries does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better,” he wasn’t writing an opinion piece. Those were words breathed out by God and profitable for you — for your singleness, for your marriage, for your ministry — that you may be complete, 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says, equipped for every good work.Single After God’s Heart
I want you to want to think about singleness the way God thinks about singleness — no matter what anyone else thinks about singleness.
And I want you to want to feel about singleness the way God feels about singleness — no matter what you or anyone else feels about singleness.
If we thought and felt about singleness the way God thinks and feels about singleness, none of us would ever “settle” for singleness. We might long to be married, and pray for God to bring us a husband or a wife, and pursue a godly person God puts in our path, but we also will prize every precious second of singleness God gives us, because it’s filled with its own unique joys and purpose and blessings.
If your life is mainly about Christ, and not marriage, refuse to settle for singleness, and choose instead to dive deeper in your love for him and wider in your love for others.
Our identity is first and foremost in Christ. If we find our identity anywhere else, we won’t become who we were truly meant to be.
In a fascinating 1942 essay, C.S. Lewis offered a “universal law” of human experience:
Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. . . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first. (“First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock)
In other words, overvaluing a lesser good results, paradoxically, in losing it. In a letter to his friend Dom Bede Griffiths, Lewis expanded on his observation, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
Lewis applied his law of firsts and seconds to everyday life. The woman who makes her dog the center of her life loses “not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.” The man who focuses solely on the woman he loves, doing nothing but contemplating her, eventually loses the pleasure of loving her, as well as all the other things that make life rich and enjoyable. On a much larger scale, Lewis believed that the civilization of his day was imperiled because it had been putting itself first, rather than second to a higher good.Woe to Second Thing Seekers
Jesus himself taught that seeking second things first results in losing both first and second things. And not only in this life (as Lewis emphasized), but forever. In Luke 6:24–26, Jesus pronounced four woes.
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
These four woes match the four Beatitudes that come immediately before them, each of which describes future blessing from God in his eternal kingdom (“you shall be satisfied, you shall laugh”). Correspondingly, the woes describe an eternal state of divine judgment upon God’s enemies.
It may appear, at first sight, as though Jesus warns his hearers not to be rich, full, happy, or well-regarded. But, as J.C. Ryle pointed out long ago, Abraham and Job were rich, with plenty to eat; King David laughed and rejoiced; and Timothy had a good reputation, as did the seven men appointed to serve the church in Acts 6. So, what is Jesus actually warning against?No Good Apart from God
The key is the last phrase of the fourth woe: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Jesus warns not against a good reputation per se, but specifically the sort of good reputation enjoyed by the false prophets. We’re in danger of divine judgment when we’re well-thought-of for ungodly reasons, when we say what’s not true to gain the good opinion of others, sacrificing truth for popularity.
This helps us understand Jesus’s woes. Jesus doesn’t pronounce woe upon all who are rich, but upon those who find their consolation in riches rather than in God — who treasure their wealth above God. Jesus doesn’t pronounce woe upon all who are satisfied, but upon those who place the satisfaction of their appetites above God.
Jesus doesn’t pronounce woe upon all joyful people, but upon those who seek happiness apart from God. The problem is not wealth, food, laughter, or reputation in and of themselves. It’s the idolatry of elevating such things above God. When that happens, the law of firsts and seconds applies, forever.Do You Love It Enough to Love It Less?
Consider the first woe: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” God is a first thing. Money is a second thing. Yet we know it’s easy to trust money more than God, pursue it harder than we pursue God, and use it for ourselves rather than for God. Wealth may become our protector and comforter.
Jesus says that if we put wealth above God, we’ve already received all the consolation we’ll ever get; namely, our present bank account, investment portfolio, and retirement plan. But this consolation will not last long, because God’s judgment will fall. If we pursue wealth more than God, we’ll lose God and also, eventually, our wealth.
In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who trusts in his wealth, plans to build bigger barns to store his crops, and looks forward to relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. God calls him a fool and tells him he’ll die that night. Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). He valued God’s gifts over God, and therefore, in the end, was left with neither God nor gift.What About Food?
The same is true in Jesus’s second woe: “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” It’s wonderful to prepare and eat a delicious meal. When God is firmly first in our lives, a world of guilt-free, God-glorifying culinary pleasure opens before us. We enjoy food more because we know who made it and gave it. Putting first things first, we get second things thrown in.
But when we let our stomachs rule, we begin to live for meal times. We think about food too much. We draw too much comfort from it. We overeat. Thus, we minimize our present enjoyment of food, feeling stuffed, overweight, and enslaved. And in the end, we lose the enjoyment altogether. We’re hungry, dissatisfied, and empty forever.Love Everything for God’s Sake
No matter what gift you can think of — reputation, money, sex, influence, music, even the love of family and friends — the principle remains the same: the best way to destroy your joy in them (and, more importantly, your soul) is to seek them above or in place of God.
Jesus is most emphatically not against our enjoyment of God-given pleasures. But if we place gifts before God, he warns we will lose both.
Augustine prayed, “He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.” Jesus wants us to enjoy both God and his gifts. We will have both forever if — and only if — we keep God first.
Sleep shatters our God complex because we have to put down our tools, take off our boots, and remember that God is the decisive worker, always.
Whether we feel confident or intimidated by Bible reading, every one of us depends on God’s Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and illumine our Bible reading.
Few relationships in this life compare with gospel friendships. Better to have one Christ-centered companion than one million followers on social media.
The suffering we experience in this life is no accident. The pains we experience in this life always serve God’s greater purposes.
This Fourth of July, many Christians are feeling ambivalent about patriotism and the American nation.
Abortion on demand, the Supreme Court’s gay marriage mandate, increasing pressures to affirm such marriages, and other moral and legal problems in America make some believers feel more like they’re living in a degenerating Roman Empire than a supposed “Christian nation.” And we are still dealing with the ramifications of Donald Trump’s election, the most divisive political event among American Christians in the past four decades.
“Ambivalence” is not such a bad posture for Christians to adopt toward America, however. We have always had reasons to celebrate and reasons to lament America’s history. Even in 1776, Christians shared in the founding of America, but they did not dominate in the new nation’s leadership. Many of our founding principles accorded with Christian ones, but horrid violence toward Native Americans and the sinful institution of chattel slavery contradicted the Founders’ talk of universal liberty and God-given rights.
We find much to commend in the American tradition, but it can’t be our ultimate allegiance. As with Christians everywhere, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Nevertheless, as we keep our eyes on the heavenly kingdom, Christians in America have many reasons to thank our King for the blessings he’s given to this imperfect nation.Religious Liberty
What should Christians celebrate about the American founding? Religious liberty should be at the top of the list. Americans in the 1770s had little experience with religious liberty, as both England and most of the colonies had official state-backed denominations (“establishments”). Pastors were often on the government payroll, breeding complacency and political compromise among many ministers. Even though groups like the Puritans had fled England to find religious freedom in America, colonists often did not afford religious freedom to dissenters.
Baptists received some of the roughest treatment, as they endured episodes of expulsion, public whippings, and imprisonment from the earliest colonial times to the eve of the Revolution. Dozens of Baptist ministers languished in Virginia jails in the 1760s and 1770s, convincing observers like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson of the urgent need for full religious liberty.
Jefferson was becoming an Enlightenment-inspired skeptic about Christianity, but he and Madison partnered with legions of Baptists and other evangelical Christians to secure the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia in 1786. This was a critical precedent to the First Amendment’s guarantee of “free exercise of religion,” and its prohibition on congressional laws respecting an “establishment of religion,” or a national denomination.
These commitments to religious liberty have resonated down to the present, such as in the recent Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, which ruled that Missouri could not deny state funds for playground resurfacing to a church simply because it was a religious institution.A Foundation Filled with the Bible
We can also be thankful that the Founders based many of the American nation’s principles on biblical concepts. Among the most salient biblically based principles of the Revolution were equality by creation (“all men are created equal”), and the idea that the best governments accounted for the flawed nature of humans. As James Madison put it in Federalist #51, “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Biblical principles and even biblical quotations come up so often in the Founders’ writings that we could easily get the impression that they were all converted believers. But among the major Founders, this was not the case. As I show in my religious biography of Benjamin Franklin, Founders like Franklin often combined deep knowledge of the Bible with skepticism about key Christian doctrines, such as the divinity of Christ.
Because of his Puritan family background in colonial Boston, Franklin knew the text of Scripture intimately. Although he and Thomas Jefferson both harbored serious doubts about Trinitarian Christianity, those doubts did not stop them from proposing an image (one not ultimately adopted) from Exodus for the new nation’s seal. It would show “Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh.” Over this image, Franklin suggested, a banner would read, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
Many rank-and-file Patriots, and some leading Founders such as Patrick Henry, were serious Christians. But ironically, the American founding transpired in a heavily biblicist culture, while being led by key figures who did not completely accept the Bible.Peace and Quiet
Perhaps the best reason to give thanks this Fourth of July is that America overall remains a place where Christians “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:2. That kind of peace and quiet is what the Founders hoped for when they adopted the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.
And the extent to which the Declaration of Independence and Constitution reflect biblical principles about equality and human nature helps account for the enduring strength of the American republic, in spite of its many imperfections.
If you feel like it’s hard for your life to be worship at work or at school or at home, the problem probably isn’t work, home, or school.
I’m old enough to remember when door-to-door salesmen were not uncommon. While it was never a job that appealed to me, I did admire the perseverance of someone who made it his profession to knock on doors, make a pitch about his product, and endure rejection after rejection.
I was thinking about these guys as I was reading John Piper’s most recent book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture. John has written many great books, but this has become my personal favorite. I like it so much that I am ready to join the ranks of foot-weary peddlers and sell this book door-to-door. It’s that good. In fact, this book is so good, I’ve read it five times already.Five Questions About Bible Reading
My sales pitch would begin with a few questions:
Do you look forward to reading your Bible each day, or does it feel like a duty?
Do you find that your Bible reading leads to a greater knowledge of God and intimacy with God, or do you come away indifferent and unaffected by what you have read?
Do you feel embarrassed and perplexed because other Christians seem to have a rich experience with Scripture — and you, well, not so much?
Do you feel a constant, low-grade guilt over your lack of consistent Bible reading?
Do you find books other than the Bible more interesting and exciting?
If so, I have a book for you!Helplessness and Hope
This book will teach you how to read your Bible “in reliance on God, and the Spirit, and Christ to do for you what you cannot do for yourself as you seek to see what is really there in Scripture, and as you seek to savor it and be transformed by it. . . . At every turn of the page, rely on God. That is a supernatural transaction. If more people approached the Bible with a deep sense of helplessness, and hope-filled reliance on God’s merciful assistance, there would be far more seeing and savoring and transformation than there is.”
Is this how you approach your Bible each morning — with a deep sense of helplessness and hope? John helps us to recognize both our helplessness and hope so that by God’s merciful assistance, we might see.
This book will create an excitement in your soul for reading the Bible. What will you see and savor in your reading? Well, “the infinite worth and beauty of God himself . . . the greatest love that had ever been shown in all of history — the greatest person made the greatest sacrifice for the greatest gift to the least deserving . . . [so that we might] feel the worth of the love of Christ — a love whose height and depth and length and breadth are immeasurable.”
It simply doesn’t get any better than this; and this experience awaits those who read in reliance upon our gracious God who is eager to reveal himself. Or, as John writes, “We read. God reveals.” And when he reveals, we are transformed, by the grace of God.If You Only Read One Book
I could go on. Well, John goes on, actually, for 393 inspiring pages. Listen, if you read just one book this year, along with your Bible, make it this book, because this book will make all the difference in creating an appetite for reading the only book that matters.
Summer is an ideal time to create a plan for reading. Rather than being overwhelmed by all your reading options, start by reading this book. And if you only read this book this summer, you won’t regret it. By the grace of God, you will see and savor the infinite worth and beauty of Christ in the pages of Scripture.
Sold yet? If my sales pitch doesn’t move you, let me bring John in to speak to you directly. Here’s why he wrote the book:
When you’re 71, in your eighth decade (that always sounds older) — it’s amazing when I think about it — you don’t think about your future productivity the same way you did when you were 35. You’re more keenly aware that you probably won’t get to do all you would like to do. The time that remains is unknown. As I’ve pondered my life now, and what I have done so far, and what I would like to do, nothing has seemed more important to me than to focus on the authority and the meaning and the heralding of the word of God, the Bible.
So, if “nothing has seemed more important” for John to write about, then I want to devote myself to this topic, with John as my trusted teacher. And I’d like to encourage you to do the same. If I could afford it, I would give you this book — that’s how eager I am for you to read it. It’s that good. I hope you’ll buy it, read it, and be transformed by it. Thanks for opening the door and listening to my pitch.
Pretend you’re a screenwriter: your hero was just executed. And it wasn’t a backdoor hush job either — this thing was a spectacle, the result of treason, envy, vicious plotting, and sheer bloodthirst. They make sure your guy is dead, even buried. The camera zooms back slowly on the fresh mound of dirt while the screen fades as slowly to black.
But then your hero comes back from the dead. Okay, what’s the next scene?
If you think like me, it’s not even really a question. My hero’s busting boots-first through the swinging double doors of the executioners’ hangout. The background music immediately cuts out. Playing cards freeze mid-deal. And everybody turns, slack-jawed, to look at the hero — back from the dead.
Yeah, it’s cheesy. But it’s what you expect, right? The guy is alive after being dead for days — he’s going to show up big, isn’t he? But it’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus had a Bible study.The Best Bible Study?
The same day Jesus was raised from the dead, just hours after showing himself to Mary (John 20:14–16), he joined two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Without recognizing their own teacher, Jesus’s followers share the agonizing events of the last few days. The mighty prophet of God was killed by their religious and political leaders (Luke 24:19–20). And not just a spokesman for God, another Isaiah or Elijah — they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). But apparently not — because he’s been dead for three days. And now on top of it all, his body’s missing.
In response, Jesus says,
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” . . . And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25, 27)
Can you imagine this? Jesus himself taught these disciples the Bible from front to back. How could anything ever come close to matching this? I’ve been a part of some good Bible studies. I love my pastors and the way they unfold the Bible week after week. But seriously, these two got to hear Jesus Christ preach about himself from the whole Bible. Isn’t all our Bible reading downhill from there?Would You Trade Places with Them?
If you had the chance, would you rewind the tape to join those two on the Emmaus road — to hear Jesus explain your own Bible to you? Maybe (if we’re being honest) there’s something like envy of these disciples? Why can’t Jesus interpret the Scriptures to me? Bible reading seems a little tragic now, doesn’t it? We have to scratch away at it when Jesus offered it on a silver platter.
If we envy the disciples, it’s not because we just haven’t learned to be content with our time in Christian history. If we’d rather be sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to him teach us the Bible, our problem isn’t timing — our problem is that we’re ignoring what Jesus himself said. Between learning from Jesus on a mountainside, and hunching over your Bible with fellow Christians in a cramped apartment, Jesus tells us quite clearly which situation is better.Better Than a Bible Study with Jesus
Jesus knew that his disciples would face many things after he left earth: dismay (John 13:37), disbelief (John 13:19), disillusionment (Luke 24:21), fear (John 14:1, 27). How could they hope to find their way when the light of the world was leaving it (John 8:12)? How could they enter salvation if the door to salvation went missing (John 10:7–9)? Thomas’s simple complaint carries a world of fear and doubt: Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way? (John 14:5).
Jesus’s response to the disciples’ fears, to our fears maybe, is not simply, “Toughen up. I’ll be back.” Many parents know this routine from having left their children with a babysitter. “It’ll be okay. I’ll only be gone a few hours.” Maybe some sort of incentive to behave or stop crying. But that’s it. We don’t really have a category for what Jesus tells his disciples: “I’m leaving. And things are going to get even better when I’m gone.”
“It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
“The Helper” that Jesus promises is the Holy Spirit. It is the mind of God himself poured out on the church, teaching us inwardly “the things freely given us by God” (Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 2:10–13). Jesus himself says that “the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).A Helper Fit for Finite Christians
While Jesus was on earth, he could interpret the Bible with 100% accuracy, but because of his humanity, he could not be in Emmaus and Jerusalem at the same time. He could only preach to so many people at one time (Luke 5:3) and only had so much time in the day to do it. There were even times when Jesus made himself unavailable to people (Luke 5:16).
But the Holy Spirit is always with us (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit is specifically given to shine the light of Jesus’s glory in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6), to help us understand and remember not only Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:27), but the significance of all of Jesus’s life and work (John 14:26). Jesus’s gift of the Holy Spirit is a greater gift than his physical presence.
As surprising as it may seem, reading your Bible with the Holy Spirit’s help is better than sitting at Jesus’s feet.Humble, Hopeful Bible Reading
What should be the effect of this truth on our Bible reading? We should approach our Bibles with humility and hope.
Humility, because apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Often, our Bible reading and study may seem cold and distant not because our reading is deficient, but because it’s actually prideful. As one theologian says, we sometimes make the mistake of coming to the living word of God as if to perform an autopsy on a dead body. Instead of looking with natural eyes and minds (1 Corinthians 2:13–14), we need to depend instead on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes (Ephesians 1:17–18).
But our reason for humility is also our greatest reason for hope! Understanding the Bible doesn’t depend ultimately on your IQ, your efforts, or how long you’ve been a Christian. Understanding the Bible depends on the Spirit of God in you. Even the lowliest Christian can see more than the greatest Old Testament prophets, because by the Spirit we have seen the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The prayer God loves to answer most is also the thing we need most: to see the glory of God in Christ. And this is precisely why the Spirit was given (John 16:14). If your Bible reading seems unremarkable, remember that God’s work always runs deeper than we can see — your Bible reading is never wasted, because the Spirit will not let it return void (Isaiah 55:11).
And it is better for us to have this Spirit now than to sit in a Bible study with Jesus.
Widows and widowers should feel no pressure to rush into a remarriage, but they shouldn’t exclude the possibility either.
Do you know how to lament?
Pain, suffering, sorrow, illness, and grief are unavoidable in this world — but God has given us a way to find hope in the rubble of life. Lament is an underground tunnel to hope.
An entire book of the Bible is an exercise in lamenting before the Lord. We have numerous psalms of lament. So, why don’t we lament more in the church today? Why do we put the noise-cancelling headphones over our hearts, keeping ourselves busy to avoid the pain? Let’s not busy ourselves to avoid lamenting; let’s learn to lament well.Relearning Our Humanity
Of course, we want to avoid suffering, grief, and trauma, but the reality is we can’t. The rippling effects of Adam and Eve gnashing into that fruit still affects us and the world today.
Everyone we know and love will return to the dust. Family members will hear heavy words from their doctor. Great loss will strike dear friends. We will weep. And pretending like we can manage our sufferings on our own won’t help. We weren’t built to handle them. We need the body of Christ — and we need Christ himself, our sympathetic High Priest, the man of sorrows, the one who shouldered our grief.
When we act like we can handle our suffering on our own, we commit idolatry — acting like we are God, capable in ourselves. Lamenting is relearning our humanity. Lamenting is admitting that we can’t handle it, knowing we need God’s power, mercy, and grace. If we could handle our sufferings, we wouldn’t need Jesus, his cross, his power, and his resurrection. Lamenting is how we grieve as those who have hope.More Than You Can Handle
You’ve heard people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Wrong. Tucked into this dollar-store saying is a sense of self-reliance: I can make it. I should be able to do this on my own. But Christianity is the abandonment of our self-reliance: “God, I need you!” His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). For all of our I-can’t-evens, there is our God who can and our Savior who did.
Christianity is picking up our cross, dying with Christ, rising with Christ, living with Christ. Every day is more than we can handle. Without Jesus, we can’t do anything (John 15:5), certainly not bear the unbearable in front of us. We will regularly experience more than we can deal with, which is why we need God to be our refuge, our shelter, our dwelling place. Lament teaches us to uncork our hearts and pour them out to God in faith.
We all are either suffering now or know someone who is. Lamenting is incredibly relevant at this moment. Cancer, death, illness, heartache in our families, betrayal, loss, injustice in the world, personal fears — in all of these dark valleys, God gives us a proven pathway to himself in lament.What Is Lament?
Lamenting is the honest vocalizations of grief to God. And often within earshot of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Open Lamentations and hear Jeremiah’s vocalizations of suffering, pain, and grief. “Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). Jeremiah feels like God isn’t listening to him. Today, we’d say, “When I pray, it feels like my requests don’t make it past the ceiling. I pray and I don’t feel anything.” Honest. Uncomfortable. Real.
Moses laments in Psalm 90:13, “O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” He’s not sure how much longer he can hold up. He’s weary. How long do we have to face this? Today, we’d pray, “Lord, how much longer will my friend have to endure this? Please, Lord, in your kindness, bring their wayward child home.” Lament is personal pleading — vocalized emotions and thoughts.
Jeremiah and Moses show us that we lament not just for the sake of getting things off our chest — but for the sake of getting our eyes back on God.Lament Leads to the Lord
In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah recalls the yet of God’s mercy. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21–24).
Moses remembers the faithful love of the Lord, knowing he can find supernatural joy — a satisfaction that surpasses all understanding — in the midst of his suffering. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil” (Psalm 90:14–15). We plead with God to satisfy us with himself, the one who gave his only Son for our sins so that by faith in him we might have eternal life.
Biblical laments don’t leave us dangling; they lead us back to the Lord. Satisfaction in the hope of the gospel sustains us in our suffering. We process our pain and recall the steadfast love of the Lord. Remember your crucified and risen Savior. An empty grave serves as a sure tombstone for all your sufferings. One day, in the twinkling of an eye, he will make all things new. The trumpet is being tuned now.
Until then, vocalize your grief to God and rest your hope on him.
Jesus calls us to keep our marriage covenant in a way that tells the truth about him.
If you have a family member or friend trapped in the throes of addiction, you know enduring pain. One of the most devastating realities of addiction is that it inflicts collateral damage on loved ones — the people trying to help the most end up being hurt the most.
Care for people struggling in addiction demands a resiliency of character and commitment that is extraordinarily difficult to sustain over time. Rescues fail, ultimatums are ignored, mercy is trampled, patience is exhausted, and trust is crushed. You are profoundly hurt, but you can’t simply turn away. You can’t write a loved one out of your life simply because addiction has overthrown theirs.
How do you stay in the fight? How do you keep your footing in the chaos?Stabilizing Grace in a Chaotic Place
I believe there is a wonderful anchoring truth in the familiar but profound words of the apostle Paul:
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
When we read the letters of Paul we see this “grace trilogy” embedded several times in his exhortations to people seeking to live as faithful disciples in a spirit-breaking world. Faith, hope, and love mark the lives of true believers (Colossians 1:3–5), compel sustained ministry effort during trial (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3), and provide stable constancy in times of darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8).
If you are trying to help a loved one escape the clutches and cravings of addiction, remember faith, hope, and love.Remember Faith
Faith keeps you focused on the right thing in the hard times.
You are tempted to trust one more promise, one more contrite confession, one more attempt at rehab or self-reform. Maybe tempted to take on the role of fixer and healer. Addicts want to make their helpers big, and put on them burdens of accountability and constancy that they can’t carry.
But God reaches farther, and speaks clearer, and acts stronger than you ever will. You tire; he never sleeps. Faith deflects those burdens onto the Savior, and extends instead humble, weak hands to help an addicted loved one embrace the real work of repentance and change over time. When you are tempted to trust your own efforts to keep an addict out of his addictive pattern, or your own words to argue her out of her foolish choices, remember to trust instead the God of intervening grace.Remember Hope
To live in the environment of addiction is to embrace brokenness. It’s easy to see brokenness in addiction. What begins to creep in over time, though, is brokenness as a way of life.
A beloved child pours so much potential into wasted pursuits. A spouse or parent who’s out-of-control life slowly writes the family story as a tragedy. At some point this addiction problem becomes life itself. It is the family history; it seems like the family future.
Jesus has given a gift to the broken future that you face. It is the gift of hope. It is the promise that he will never forsake you, will never let you fall from his hand. He has prepared a place for you where brokenness is not allowed. You may not be there now, but you can already breathe that air and see the light of hope.
Jesus is the one who set glory at the end of your path, and he is the one who brings it close even now. He himself is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). If you have Christ, you have glory in your future. This is the hope that is your helmet of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8), the hope that can keep you whole in the brokenness without becoming broken yourself. And you need hope, because the addict you love may have none.Remember Love
It is hard to love an addict. It’s hard to love someone who lives a code of rampant self-absorption and self-destruction. It’s hard to love when lies and deceit are a given. It’s hard to love an abuser of mercy and kindness.
The Bible says love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). But it feels like love just as easily enables sin in an addict. To love an addict is to invite pain. Love gets trampled by sin; mocked by sin.
Yes, it does. But that’s the point of love. Love was crucified by sin. Love crucified is ultimately the antidote to sin. Love starts with the presumption that sin abounds. No addict will ever find true freedom without love. You can get sober without love, but sobriety isn’t freedom. The love of Christ offered in his atoning sacrifice for their sin, his redeeming grace for their bondage, his life for their death — that is what your addicted loved one needs most from you.
The best thing you can ever give an addict is your confidence in the love of Christ displayed in the cross. It is the need for this love that binds addict and helper together. The shared need for the love of Christ will be your bridge of ministry over the long haul.
Love will help you risk trust one more time, or stand on a boundary you’ve had to draw. Love sees the sickness in addiction with compassion, and the idolatry in it, as well. Love is the only power of liberation, the only agent for change, that will turn an addict into a true worshiper. You know that because that is what happened to you.
Remember faith, hope, and love. Your friend, your loved one, needs these three things more than anything else you can do for them.