John Piper’s problems started when he decided to use the word “Hedonism” in the title of his book. If there is a word that is irreversibly attached to pursuit of self, it is the “H” word. Merriam Webster defines it as “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life.” In order to “Christianize” this concept which has for ages been associated with a godless way of life, Piper has to put on the moves of a fit gymnast just about every few paragraphs throughout the book, and he has to write a couple of post-scripts to try to explain what for some could be unexplainable.

Just to clarify, I like this book a lot. This is the second time I am reading it. I am in fundamental agreement with its main thesis, namely, that God gets most glory when we are most satisfied in Him. I also believe that God desires for us to experience joy and joy to the fullest. But make no mistake about it: the chief end of woman (and man) is to glorify God with every fiber of their being, every breath, every creative gene, every enterprise. And, not surprisingly, Piper agrees with that. And throughout his whole book he tries to convince the reader that “Christian” hedonism is really the same as seeking to glorify God — the chief end of men.

Again, just to clarify, though I like the book a lot, I don’t consider myself a Christian hedonist. I am not comfortable with using that word to define this lofty goal of seeking to glorify God with all my being. So what I do with this book, since I am fundamentally in agreement with its main thesis and love the deep insights that it offers about my daily pursuit of God (in fact, sometimes you find truth there that is breathtaking… it takes me days to truly digest it and think of its implications), so what did I do with this book? (I lost my train of thought). I put the word hedonist, (or hedonism) in quotation marks every time I come across it. That’s it.

Piper’s chapter on marriage (chapter 8) is an illustration of the brevity with which he could have approached the whole book — it is crisp and to the point. He argues that when you pursue the happiness of your spouse, you are basically pursuing your own happiness. Now, this concept will bother some folks. He anticipates that and gives some well-reasoned arguments as to why this can still be called “love” and not simply a pursuit of self-directed gratification.

The example he gives is Christ, of course. It is Paul’s main point in Ephesians 5. I totally get that, but I hasten to add — it is not as simple as Piper would have us believe. For example, the text in Hebrews 12 says, “… for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (see discussion on p. 206 of Piper’s book). It is significant that the text does NOT say, “for His joy.” It says “for the joy set before Him.” Set before Him by whom? By His Father, of course. In other words, the expression speaks of a design, of something that was planned beforehand. Yes, it is true that Jesus was pursuing His own joy, but that is not all of it. He was also part of a plan, fulfilling a destiny, if you will. He was obeying the will of the Father. And the will of the Father was for Him to go to the cross. That’s much richer than saying He was pursuing His own joy.

And in fact, there may have been a moment when obedience trumped the pursuit of His own joy. Hours before the crucifixion, Christ agonized over His own fate when He said, “Father, if it were possible, let this cup pass from me.” So one could say that Jesus looked quickly ahead and saw that the crucifixion was going to be anything but a “joyful” experience, so He asked for a reprieve. But even in the asking, He was quick to say, “not my will, but yours, be done.” So, in going to the cross, Jesus was first performing an act of obedience and only secondarily pursuing personal joy.

Not that the joy was not part of his thinking. The author of Hebrews says He was keeping His eye on the big prize, namely joy, but it was not only His joy. (Remember, “the joy set before Him”). It was the joy of obeying the Father. It was the joy of seeing men, women and children the world over come into the light of His redemptive gospel. And sure, in the end, it was His own joy, but it is a lot more nuanced than “Jesus was pursuing His own joy.”

But before I go, I can’t stress this enough. You do need to read this chapter. It is one of the best presentations I have read anywhere about the biblical roles of husbands and wives in a Christian marriage. Talk about handling “submission” with tact and persuasive biblical reasoning. Like I said, there are countless insights in this book, if you can shed the layers of terminology and meandering explanations that sometimes seem to cause you to wander away from the place where the nuggets of wisdom can be found.

And a note to Piper: when you get to heaven (I am assuming you will get there), and you greet Jesus with “that was a nice thing you did for us, but I spent my whole life trying to tell people that you also did it for yourself, so what say you?” Don’t be surprised, Piper, if Jesus laughs and says, “This was not about me, Piper, it was about my Father. Check the facts with him; He is around the throne.”

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade