I’m well aware of the dangers of celebrity in the pastoral ministry. I’ve lamented it here and here. We don’t want to elevate an individual at the expense of God’s glory, crediting and admiring a pastor for what God has done. “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (I Cor 1.7). However, we are urged to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12.10). In response to Epaphroditus’ faithful and sacrificial service, Paul tells the Philippians to “receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men” (Ph 2.29). Similar instructions are given elsewhere (I Cor 16.18; I Thess 5.12-13; I Tim 5.17). So as Pastor John Piper completes his 33-year ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church I want to honour him and thank God for him by reflecting on lessons I’ve learned from John Piper over the last decade.
One Saturday in January 2004 I went with my dad down to the Regent bookstore to pick up a commentary on Romans and while browsing the store I picked up a little yellow book by John Piper called The Supremacy of God in Preaching. I had heard of Piper, but had never read any of his books or heard him preach. I was an aspiring preacher though, and the title and description intrigued me. I went home and sat in the black leather chair by window and had my life and theology rocked. This was unlike anything I had been reading. I was introduced to the bigness of God and the world of reformed theology. There was no going back. In 2007 I had the joy of meeting John Piper and interviewing him for the 2007 reFocus Canada conference. I thanked him for writing that little yellow book. He deflected my praise, crediting Jonathan Edwards for the vision of the book. Now at the close of his ministry at Bethlehem, I reflect on the many things that God has taught me through the faithful ministry of John Piper. He’s certainly not my only influence. He stands with a company of others that I am indebted to. But these are the big lessons that John Piper has taught me:
1. The Glory of God is the purpose of all things. The ultimate plan and purpose of the universe is the glory of God.
2. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If you want to live a life that glorifies God, as we are commanded to do, live a life that pursues a radical contagious joy in God. This is worship: enjoying God for his glory.
3. Preaching as expository exultation. The preacher is a worship leader. Expositing the text to display the glory of God for the enjoyment and worship of his listeners. The end result of every sermon from every text should be deeper worship of God. So preach with joy and conviction and passion and everything you’ve got, while grounding everything in the truth of the text.
4. The beauty of adoption as a picture of the gospel.
5. Flexibility and innovation for Gospel advancement. I remember in 2006 when Desiring God went off the radio airways, not because the ministry was struggling, but as an intentional strategic choice to focus everything on internet distribution. They saw the future and embraced it. One of the reasons that Desiring God has had the impact it has, is that a now 67-year old man has been willing to innovate and take risks for the advance of the gospel and the glory of God.
6. The worthy pursuit of racial harmony.
7. A biblical understanding of marriage as a picture of the gospel.
8. The priority of global missions and particularly efforts to bring the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.
9. The beauty and truth of reformed theology. I had heard of Calvinism before John Piper, but John Piper showed me the beauty and truth of reformed theology. Because of Piper and Calvinism, I now have a far bigger view of God, far more dynamic worship of God, far deeper trust of God’s sovereignty, and much more wonder and admiration of him.
10. A glorious, God-centered, worship-motivated joyful productivity. He’s written over 60 books, preached thousands of sermons, written countless articles. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t own a tv. John Piper has shown what it looks like to live an unwasted life.
Thank-you God for working in the life and ministry of John Piper
Thank-you John Piper for your obedience and faithfulness.