Loving to Love, The Labor of Christian Hedonism
You will love, loving. At least I think that is what Pastor Piper is trying to say with chapter 4 of his book Desiring God. My wife is full of weird country sayings. They are metaphors of the front porch and sometimes, for me, they need interpretation. One such saying is, “You went around your elbow to get to your thumb.” I interpret this to mean that someone took the long route instead of the shorter, more direct one. When it comes to talking about love I think Pastor Piper here, has taken the elbow route.
In Desiring God, Piper has taught us that God takes pleasure in Himself and that He takes pleasure in inviting others to share in that pleasure. This being the case the logical next step is that others who have accepted this invitation from God to delight in Him will really enjoy what they find. They will then do as God has done. They will seek to invite others to enter the same joy. Piper refers to this as horizontal Christian Hedonism. It is the way our delight in God begins to affect our relationship with others.
The first route on this horizontal plane is love. How does my delight in God impact my love for others? Instead of simply answering that question, Piper begins to tackle the problem of people thinking love is not love if it “seeks its own.” If you like loving others, if you enjoy it, if you do it because you find pleasure in it, then it is selfishness, not love. Most people come to believe this is true from a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 13. Some are given to believe that 1 Corinthians 13 teaches that in order for something to be done out of love, that the act must be totally empty of any personal gain or enjoyment. This is not the case. Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 13:3, there is something to be personally gained in love. Piper takes several pages to debate this. It is an elbow route.
From my own personal study I prefer the ESV translation of 1 Corinthians 13:5 phrase often rendered, “seeks not its own.” The ESV says, “It does not seek its own way.” I think this is more fitting in the context. The context of the verse is that love is not rude, arrogant, or boastful. Love does not lead someone to control, lord themselves over, or compare themselves to another. That indeed would be selfishness and not love.
My personal opinion is that the first paragraph on 112 will turn out to be a stumbling block instead of a stepping stone for most readers.
“This chapter’s answer is that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Or to put it another way: If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God (112).”
When I read that statement, initially it did not sit well with me. I think Piper anticipates this, which is why he then drives the elbow route. I think he goes a long way to defend his thesis here and in doing so loses the reader in the process (at least he lost me). My personal opinion is that these are the debates that make for good philosophy, but result in losing laity. So I took a step back and sought out what I found Piper to say clearly. What I found was a simple statement. You are going to love, loving.
You are going to love, loving. Yet, there will be tears (124), there will be suffering (129ff), there will be a price to be paid. In love the reward and the joy to be found is worth the pain and the cost. Even when love calls for us to strongly chide someone we love (124) we gladly do so because of the joy found in love. We pay the price, suffer the turmoil, and shed the tears because in the end we have found so much joy in loving God that we want others to enter into that joy as well (141). “When a person delights in the display of the glorious grace of God, that person will want to see as many displays of it as possible in other people (120, 141).” “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others (119).”
I go back to what I learned from Pastor Piper about worship. If you do it only out of duty, you will not survive. Piper’s argument is that if it is done only out of duty, it does not glorify God. Because the end of the pleasures found in love are in God. God loves that we love, loving Him, AND find joy in worshipping Him. “If we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to what pleases God. For God loves a cheerful giver (121).”
Sometimes it is good to take the elbow route. There is more scenery to love.