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Is God for Us or for Himself?

God's chief end is to please himself, which enables him to be for us.

I would like to try to persuade you this morning that the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Or to put it another way, the chief end of God is to enjoy glorifying Himself. The reason that might sound strange to put it like that is because we are more familiar with our duties than we are with God's designs.

We know why we exist. We exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever but why does God exist? What should God love with all His heart and all His soul and all His mind and all His strength? What should God worship? Or will we deny to Him the highest of pleasures?

It matters a lot what God's highest allegiances are. I left four sons at home in Minneapolis. If you were to go there in my absence and ask them "What's your Dad's highest allegiance?" And they said, "I don't know." I'd be real disappointed. And if you asked them, "What lies heaviest on your Dad's heart? What's he pursue in everything he does? What's his goal? What's he passionately committed to?" And they said, "I don't care." I would be really crushed. I'd be angry. It matters a lot for a child of God to know what lies heaviest on his father's heart.

Now God didn't leave us without an answer to the question, "What is the impulse that drives the Almighty? What is He pursuing in everything that He does?" It lies on the face of the Scriptures at every point. From creation to consummation. It's right there for those who have eyes to see and do not resent it.

So I want to take a little survey with you of redemptive history and point out God's answer to the question, "What drives Him? Why does He do what He does? What moves Him in all of His actions?" And then I want to try to raise two objections that will no doubt come to your mind and answer them so that you might be persuaded that the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Why does God do what he does?

Why did He create us? Isaiah 43: "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth says the Lord. Every one whom I created for my glory."

Why did He choose the people Israel and bind them to Himself and cause them to cling to Him as His own possession? Jeremiah 13: "I made the whole house of Israel cling to me, says the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise and a glory."

Why did he rescue them in Egypt? Especially when they rebelled against Him at the Red Sea and didn't believe His promises. Psalm 106: "Our fathers when they were in Egypt did not consider the wonderful works of God but rebelled against the most high at the Red Sea. Yet he said I will save them for my namesake that I might make known my mighty power among the nations."

Why did He spare them again and again and again in the wilderness when they murmured and rebelled against Him there. Ezekiel chapter 20: "I acted for the sake of my name that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I brought them out." Well, eventually He did almost cast them away. They asked for a king to be like other nations.

Why then didn't He level the people? 1 Samuel 12 the prophet puts it like this: "Fear not, you have done all this evil yet do not turn aside from following the Lord for the Lord will not cast away His people for His great namesake." But eventually He did cast away His people, almost. At least it seemed like He did. He smashed Jerusalem into smithereens. He sent them into Babylon.

Why did He then relent and have mercy and not pursue them with destruction to the uttermost? Isaiah puts it like this: "For my namesake I defer my anger. For the sake of my praise I restrain it for you. For my own sake. For my own sake I do it for how should my name be profane my glory I will not give to another."

And Jeremiah puts it like this, emphasizing the negative even more: "Thus saith the Lord God, it is not for your sake 0 house of Israel that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, and I will vindicate the holiness of my great name and the nations will know that I am the Lord. It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord. Let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded Oh house of Israel."

Why did Jesus come? Why did He come to that final decisive hour then hold true? "Father the hour has come. Glorify the Son that the Son may glorify Thee." A conspiracy that the Godhead might be glorified in the work of redemption.

Finally, why is He coming again? Why is the Lord going to bring it all to a grand consummation and stand upon the earth as king? 2 Thess. 1:9: "Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might. When He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who believe."

That's why He's coming. From beginning to end the impulse of God's heart is to be praised for His glory. From creation to consummation His ultimate allegiance is to Himself. He is coming to be marveled at in all who believe and to have the honor of His name vindicated and exalted. He is infinitely jealous for His reputation. "From my own sake, from my own sake I act, says the Lord. My glory I will not give to another." And my experience has been over the past ten years that evangelicals receive this message with skepticism if they receive it at all.

We object to God's chief end because we don't typically like people

My sons have never brought home a Sunday School paper with the lesson entitled "God loves Himself more than He loves you." It is profoundly true and therefore generation after generation of evangelicals grow up in this land picturing themselves as the center of God's universe. I'm going to make an assumption this morning that most of you at Wheaton do not want to usurp the place of God at the center of His affections.

But that there are other objections rising in your mind, those of you who are thoughtful about these things. One is we don't like people who act like that, and the other is the Bible says not to act like that, to pursue your own glory and try to win praise from others. And I'd like to try to answer those two objections so that you just don't have to bow before all those texts mindlessly and with emotional resentment but can affirm them gladly.

Let's take that first objection. We do not like people who are enamored by their own skill or power or looks. We don't like scholars who parade their books before us and list for us indirectly their lectureships and where they've been on the weekend. We don't like businessmen who go on and on about how shrewdly they've invested their pile and how they've stayed so on top of the market. They got in when it was low, they got out when it was high. They're cool. They're in charge of their money.

And we don't like children, not even our own children, when they're always playing the "I'm better than you are" game and trying to get compliments from the kid's friends. We don't like men and women on campus who dress not functionally and simply and inoffensively but are always seeming to be in the latest style so that they can be thought cool or preppy or northwoods or laidback or whatever you're supposed to look like this semester.

We don't like it do we? Unless you're one of those and then you blind yourself to the fact that you don't like other people that way. Why don't you like those kinds of people? You don't like them I think most fundamentally because they are inauthentic. They are what Ayn Rand calls handers. They don't live from the joy that comes from achieving what you value. Instead, they live secondhand. Always calculating. Always manueuvering. Always posturing to get compliments and praise and approval because that's the source of their life and we don't like them because they're inauthentic and they don't generally like themselves either.

We admire people who are composed, secure, at peace with themselves and their surroundings so much so that they don't need to shore up their weaknesses by trying to win compliments. They don't need to compensate for their deficiencies by trying to get praise from other people. That's the kind of people we admire. Therefore, any teaching that seems to put God in the category of a second hander is in trouble. And the teaching that God is always out for His praise, wants to be marveled at, is doing everything for the sake of His own glory seems to put Him in the category of a secondhander.

But I want to affirm with all my might that God has no deficiencies for which He needs to compensate. God has no weaknesses that He needs to make up or hide. God is utterly . From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever and ever. There is nothing that you can supply to God. Everything that God is. He is from all eternity. Anything that you offer back to Him He has already given to you. There is no way for Him to compensate weaknesses. He has none. There must be some other explanation for why He pursues our praise.

There's a second reason why we don't like people who act like this. Not only are they inauthentic but they are unloving by and large. They are so concerned with how they're coming across and how they're being perceived and whether they're being praised and liked and complimented they don't have any thought for whether anybody else has any needs around them. They can't be loving, people, and this brings us to the second objection that those of you who are Biblically oriented would have in response I think to God's .

The other objection we have is, "Is God loving? Is he for us, or for himself?

1 Cor. 13:5 says: "Love seeks not its own." Well, God is seeking His own with all His might and has been and always will be. So is He a loving God? Is He for us or is He for Himself?

The answer to that question I think that I want to give this morning is that if God isn't for Himself He can't be for us. If He doesn't preserve His own glory, He'll have nothing loving to do for us. And I think we'll be able to see this if we pose this question: In order for God to be loving to you what must He do? What must He give you for your eternal and maximum fulfillment and joy? There is only one possible answer: Himself.

If God were to make you happy with your pride and your prestige and your money and your grades and your future job and not give you Himself for fellowship and for contemplation and for enjoyment, He would not be a loving God no matter what you feel your needs are right now. If God is a loving God He must offer us nothing less than Himself fully, completely, for our enjoyment. But now we're on the brink of what I think is a solution to the problem we're up against.

I learned a lesson from C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards that has made a whale of a difference in my life relating to God's pursuit of His own praise. When you receive a gift or when you are shown something excellent, beautiful, admirable, awesome, what do you do with it? You praise it.

All of you do that. Some of you may have skewed criteria of what is praiseworthy, but all you praise. We praise little babies who manage to be born without being bent all out of shape and we say, "Oh look at that nice round head, and all that hair, and aren't his hands just right? Just look at those fingers. They stand at the window and praise and praise. Lovers also praise each other after long absences like I did back in 1966, when I fell in love with Noel. After 16 years of marriage and I just still keep on praising Noel, because I can't believe how good God has been to me to give her to me. I just praise because she's so delightful to me.

We praise the trees on front campus, we praise grand slams in the bottom of the ninth when we're down by three, we praise.

But here's something I didn't know until C.S. Lewis taught it to me in his book on the Psalms. We don't just stick praise on the end of joy, do we? Praise is joy's consummation. If you don't praise what you delight in, you're frustrated. The joy is truncated. It isn't full. Let me read you this great changing quote from, what's his name, Lewis. "The most obvious thing about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise. Lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars."

My general difficulty about the praise of God, involved my absurdly denying to us as regards the supremely valuable what we delight to do, indeed what we can't help doing with everything we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses, here's the key, but completes the enjoyment. It is it's appointed consummation.

It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed and so here's the key. We praise what we enjoy because the delight is not complete until we praise it. When God gives us Himself as the maximum object of enjoyment, He would be unloving if He did not pursue the consummation of our joy in the praise of His glory.

God is the one being in the whole universe for whom is the highest virtue. God is the one being in the universe for whom to pursue praise for Himself is the most loving thing that He could possibly do and therefore I urge you this morning as we close not to resent the centrality of God in His own affections but I urge you to experience that centrality as the fountain of your everlasting joy.

John Piper is senior minister at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He has authored two books, including The Justification of God and Love Your Enemies.

John Piper

Preaching Today Tape # 20


A resource of Christianity Today International

John Piper is a theologian, pastor, and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Why does God do what he does?

II. At first, we object to God's self-centeredness since we don't like people with this trait

III. The other objection we have is, "Is God loving? Is he for us, or for himself?"