Helping Christians put their faith into action and live for more than comfort, Piperteaches us to choose risk for the cause of Christ, the fulfillment of our joy, and the good of others.
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About the Author
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.
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THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF LIFE
Almost everything I have to say is summed up in Paul's passionate words to the church in Philippi:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:20 — 21)
If you had asked Paul to tell you what the ultimate aim of life is — his life or any unwasted life — I think this is what he would have said. Honoring Christ, magnifying Christ, making much of Christ. That was the meaning of Paul's life. It should be the meaning of ours. And Paul prays it will be the meaning of his death as well. We live and we die to make much of Christ.
The universe was created for this — making much of Christ. Paul says as much in Colossians 1:16: "All things were created through him and for him." For him. That is, for his glory. For his admiration, esteem, wonder, praise, trust, obedience, allegiance, worship. This meaning of life is global. It embraces all the peoples of the world. Why did God call Paul and make him — and thousands after him — an emissary of the gospel to the nations? He answers, "We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations" (Rom. 1:5). For the sake of Jesus's name.
After Jesus had died and made an atonement for sins, God raised him from the dead and "highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). The reason God did this was the universal acclaim of Jesus Christ. He raised him "so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil. 2:10). John Stott warns against the treasonous imperialisms of using world missions as a cloak for pursuing honor for our own nation or church or organization, or ourselves. Then he says stunningly: "Only one imperialism is Christian, however, and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire or kingdom."
This is what we live for, and die for: to make much of Jesus Christ and his glorious, universe-encompassing kingdom. The heart cry of our lives, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, is the glory of Jesus Christ so that with full courage now as always Christ might be honored in our bodies, whether by life or by death.
There are a thousand ways to magnify Christ in life and death. None should be scorned. All are important. But none makes the worth of Christ shine more brightly than sacrificial love for other people in the name of Jesus. If Christ is so valuable that the hope of his immediate and eternal fellowship after death frees us from the self-serving fear of dying and enables us to lay down our lives for the good of others, such love magnifies the glory of Christ like nothing else in the world.
The Bible tells us that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before him" (Heb. 12:2) — the joy of being raised from the dead, returning to the glory of the Father, saving innumerable people from destruction, making the whole universe new, and being surrounded by countless worshipers forever. There never has been a greater act of love than that Jesus laid down his life to save sinners (John 15:13; Rom. 5:6-8). Therefore, the greatest act of love was enabled by hope of joy beyond the grave.
If Jesus was carried through the hour of death for the sake of others by hope of joy in the presence of God, we would be arrogant to presume we could be carried through death for others without such hope. The early Christians gave their property and their lives for sake of others because they knew that on the other side of death Jesus would be their great reward. "You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one" (Heb. 10:34).
Now we are ready to talk about risk.CHAPTER 2
WHAT IS RISK?
If our single, all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right. To run from it is to waste your life.
WHAT IS RISK?
I define risk very simply as an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury. If you take a risk you can lose money, you can lose face, you can lose your health or even your life. And what's worse, if you take a risk, you may endanger other people and not just yourself. Their lives may be at stake also. Will a wise and loving person, then, ever take a risk? Is it wise to expose yourself to loss? Is it loving to endanger others? Is losing life the same as wasting it?
It depends. Of course you can throw your life away in a hundred sinful ways and die as a result. In that case, losing life and wasting it would be the same. But losing life is not always the same as wasting it. What if the circumstances are such that not taking a risk will result in loss and injury? It may not be wise to play it safe. And what if a successful risk would bring great benefit to many people, and its failure would bring harm only to yourself? It may not be loving to choose comfort or security when something great may be achieved for the cause of Christ and for the good of others.
RISK IS WOVEN INTO THE FABRIC OF OUR FINITE LIVES
Why is there such a thing as risk? Because there is such a thing as ignorance. If there were no ignorance about the future, there would be no risk. Risk is possible because we don't know how things will turn out. This means that God can take no risks. He knows the outcome of all his choices before they happen. This is what it means to be God over against all the gods of the nations (Isa. 41:23; 42:8 — 9; 44:6 — 8; 45:21; 46:8 — 11; 48:3). And since he knows the outcome of all his actions before they happen, he plans accordingly. His omniscience rules out the very possibility of taking risks.
But not so with us. We are not God; we are ignorant. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. God does not tell us in detail what he intends to do tomorrow or five years from now. Evidently God intends for us to live and act in ignorance and in uncertainty about many of the outcomes of our actions.
He says to us, for example, in James 4:13 — 15:
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
You don't know if your heart will stop before you finish reading this page. You don't know if some oncoming driver will swerve out of his lane and hit you head-on in the next week. You don't know if the food in the restaurant may have some deadly bacteria in it. You don't know if a stroke may paralyze you before the week is out, or if some man with a rifle will shoot you at the shopping center. We are not God. We do not know about tomorrow.
EXPLODING THE MYTH OF SAFETY
Therefore, risk is woven into the fabric of our finite lives. We cannot avoid risk even if we want to. Ignorance and uncertainty about tomorrow is our native air. All of our plans for tomorrow's activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways. One of my aims is to explode the myth of safety and to somehow deliver you from the enchantment of security. Because it's a mirage. It doesn't exist. Every direction you turn, there are unknowns and things beyond your control.
The futility of finding a risk-free place to stand has paralyzed many of us. I have tasted this in my own pastoral leadership. There are decisions to be made, but I can't see which decision is best. There are so many unknowns. The temptation is to run away — if not physically, emotionally. Just think about something else. Put it off. Procrastinate. Hope the problem goes away. But it doesn't. And our paralysis is serving no one. The paralyzing fear of making a decision serves no one. It is cowardly. Risk is the only way forward.
BONHOEFFER ON THE LOVELESSNESS OF INDECISION
Dietrich Bonhoeffer breathed the air of crisis most of his adult life. This would eventually make the issue of decisiveness a matter of life and death. And even before that moment it was an issue of love.
Everywhere Bonhoeffer looked in the Europe of 1934 he saw Christian indecisiveness. The "deutsche Christen," the global ecumenical movement — everyone but Hitler. Nazism's stranglehold on the church in Germany was almost complete, and no one seemed willing to act.
Bonhoeffer and his friends soon would. A "confessing church" would emerge, struggling to be free from coercions of the Third Reich. A "Barmen Declaration" would be published. But for now Bonhoeffer pleaded for action.
On April 7, 1934, he wrote a letter to Henry Louis Henriod, the Swiss theologian who headed the ecumenical World Alliance. He pled for support for the pastors and Christians in Germany who knew (to their peril) their church was no longer a church. Here we learn a lesson about the perils of indecision. Bonhoeffer wrote:
A decision must be made at some point, and it's no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficulty without further trouble. Even the ecumenical movement has to make up its mind and is therefore subject to error, like everything human. But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you're afraid of erring, when others — I mean our brethren in Germany — must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love. To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.
That last sentence is worth a long consideration. Risk avoidance may be more sinful — more unloving — than taking the risk in faith and love and making a wrong decision. In my ministry, I have often said after making a hard decision where both directions are painful, "This is why I love the gospel." Doing nothing needs forgiveness as much as doing the best you can and erring.
There is sometimes a subtle selfishness behind our avoidance of risk taking. There is a hypocrisy that lets us take risks every day for ourselves but paralyzes us from taking risks for others on the Calvary road of love. We are deluded and think that such risk may jeopardize a security that in fact does not even exist. The way I hope to explode the myth of safety and to disenchant you with the mirage of security is simply to go to the Bible and show that it is right to risk for the cause of Christ. It is right to seek to make much of Christ by taking the risks of love.CHAPTER 3
STORIES OF RISK IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
It is amazing that the apostle Paul would say something so sweeping about the whole Old Testament — and I assume that it is all the more true of the New Testament. He said, "Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). All the historical stories, all the laws, all the proverbs and psalms, all the prophecies — "whatever was written" — was meant to give us hope.
And hope is the great power to love people in the face of serious danger. God-given hope creates the power to risk for the sake of others. Paul spoke to the Colossians of "the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven" (Col. 1:5). Love because of hope. So for the sake of love, let's look at some of "what was written for our hope" — some of the great stories of risk in the Old Testament.
"MAY THE LORD DO WHAT SEEMS GOOD TO HIM"
Let's start with 2 Samuel 10. The Amalekites had shamed the messengers of Israel and made themselves odious in the sight of David. To protect themselves they had hired the Syrians to fight with them against the Israelites. Joab, the commander of Israel's forces, found himself surrounded with Amalekites on one side and Syrians on the other. So he divided his troops, put his brother Abishai in charge of one troop of fighters, and led the other himself.
In verse 11 they pledged to help each other. Then comes this great word in verse 12: "Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him." What do these last words mean, "May the LORD do what seems good to him"? They mean that Joab had made a strategic decision for the cities of God, and he did not know how it would turn out. He had no special revelation from God on this issue. He had to make a decision on the basis of sanctified wisdom. He had to risk or run. He did not know how it would turn out. So he made his decision, and he handed the results over to God. And this was right.
"IF I PERISH, I PERISH"
Queen Esther is another example of courageous risk in the service of love and for the glory of God. There was a Jewish man named Mordecai who lived in the fifth century before Christ during the Jews' exile. He had a younger orphaned cousin named Esther whom he had adopted as a daughter. She grew up to be beautiful and eventually was taken by Persia's King Ahasuerus to be his queen. Haman, one of Ahasuerus's chief princes, hated Mordecai and all the Jewish refugees and persuaded the king to decree that they be exterminated. The king did not realize that his own queen was a Jew.
Mordecai sent word to Esther to go before the king and plead the case of her people. But Esther knew there was a royal law that anyone who approached the king without being called would be put to death, unless he lifted his golden scepter. She also knew that her people's lives were at stake. Esther sent her response to Mordecai with these words:
Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish. (Est. 4:15 — 16)
"If I perish, I perish." What does that mean? It means that Esther did not know what the outcome of her act would be. She had no special revelation from God. She made her decision on the basis of wisdom and love for her people and trust in God. She had to risk or run. She did not know how it would turn out. So she made her decision and handed the results over to God. "If I perish, I perish." And this was right.
"WE WILL NOT SERVE YOUR GODS"
Consider one more example from the Old Testament. The setting is Babylon. The Jewish people are in exile. The king is Nebuchadnezzar. He sets up an image of gold, then commands that when the trumpet sounds, all the people will bow down to the image. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down. They worshiped the one true God of Israel.
So Nebuchadnezzar threatened them and said that if they did not worship the image, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. They answered:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Dan. 3:16–18)
This was sheer risk. "We believe our God will deliver us. But even if he doesn't, we will not serve your gods." They did not know how it would turn out. They said virtually the same thing Esther said: "If we perish, we perish." And they handed the outcome to God the same way Joab and Abishai did: "And may the LORD do what seems good to him." And this was right. It is right to risk for the cause of God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Risk Is Right"
Copyright © 2012 Desiring God Foundation.
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Table of Contents
Foreword David Platt 7
1 The Ultimate Meaning of Life 13
2 What Is Risk? 17
3 Stories of Risk in the Old Testament 23
4 The Great Risk Taker in the New Testament 27
5 When the People of God Risk and When They Don't 33
6 Right and Wrong Reasons to Risk 37
7 The Great Eight and the Foundation of Risk 41
8 On the Far Side of Every Faith-Filled Risk: Triumphant Love 47
Desiring God: Note on Resources 53
What People are Saying About This
“This book is absolute dynamite. While probably Piper’s smallest work, I would argue it's content is the most critical. I plead with all my heart that you buy it, read it and with God's help, live it out.”
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