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The Surgery of Separating God’s Good from Our Circumstances

November 3, 2009

As I was meditating on John Piper’s message from this past Sunday, I was struck by how an aspect of his development of Jesus’ sign in John 6 reinforced and further developed the main point of our message on Sunday; namely, the ground of our joy and trust in God must be the good that He has promised to work for us. To put it negatively, when we hope in a promise, like Romans 8:28, that God will work all things in our lives together for good, but then import our own vision of what that good must be, we set ourselves up to be “ashamed” of God and disillusioned” with God (cf. Phil. 1:20). In Philippians 1:20 the same Paul who wrote Romans 8:28 can be confident that he “will not at all be ashamed” when he trusts in God, despite his miserable circumstances, because he has learned to let God define the good. And he has learned to define that good as his joy!

How I long for us to learn these two lessons! God must define the good we hope in Him for, and we must authentically and enthusiastically rejoice in that as good! This passage in Philippians is helping us get there by doing the surgery of separating our confidence and hope in God from our circumstances. If we desire an expanding ministry or a spouse or a child or any number of other very good things, it is so easy to interpret the promises of God as Him working through our present lack, frustration or “captivity” to eventually get us those very things. But that is not His promise to us. He may indeed bring those things about! But His promise to us is that in all things our faith will progress (Phil. 1:25) so that we are increasingly conformed to the image of His beautiful Son (Rm. 8:29), and in all things His gospel will be advanced (Phil. 1:12). This, the progress of our faith and the progress of His glory in the gospel, is how God defines good; which means God can be true to a promise like Rm 8:28 and we may never get the “dream” we were desiring. What we need then, is to see God as He really is. To look to Him for what He has truly promised. To be given new dreams, new appetites, new desires, new hopes, so that we can say with Paul – his mission to Spain interrupted by imprisonment and his apostolic authority undermined by some in the church – “what then? Only that in every way…Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes and I will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18)!

The part of Piper’s message that I have copied in below speaks to this need of our not coming to Jesus with our old appetites and asking Him to use His power to satisfy them. Rather, we come to Jesus and are given new appetites – no longer looking to Him for our bread, but coming to His as our bread. I would encourage you to listen to the whole sermon (he draws some points out in the audio that are only hinted at in the transcript) but at least take the time to reflect through the following points:

Jesus as King

But what about “king”? Is he not a king? Verse 15: “Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Is he not a king? He is. At the end of his life, Pilate asked him in John 18:35 “Are you the King of the Jews?” and Jesus answered in verse 36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” In other words, yes, I am a king, but not the way you think I am.

When Jesus says that, he doesn’t mean that this world doesn’t belong to him. It does. He made it. He will come again to claim it. What he means is: I have come into the world the first time to rule men’s lives not by being their military captain, but by being their bread. I am going to triumph not by subduing armies, but by satisfying souls. I am going to conquer not with the power of armed forces but with the power of radically new appetites.

Not the King They Thought

And what we see back in chapter 6 is that the crowds did not understand this at all. Verse 26 is the key to why Jesus withdrew and would have nothing to do with their excitement about his kingship. “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’” This is why you want to make me king (6:15). To have me as king mean full stomachs.

They hadn’t been changed. Jesus didn’t come into the world to lend his power to already existing appetites. That’s the fundamental mistake of the prosperity gospel. Leave people untransformed in what they crave, and simply add the power of Jesus as the way to get it. That is not the gospel. It is a kind of acclamation that Jesus walks away from. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself”. He walks away.


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