John Piper on the Ruinous Ethic of Mere Avoidance

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I find the following quote from John Piper's book Don't Waste Your Life deeply challenging...

One of the marks of this peacetime mind-set is what I call an avoidance ethic. In wartime we ask different questions about what to do with our lives than we do in peacetime. We ask: What can I do to advance the cause? What can I do to bring the victory? What sacrifice can I make or what risk can I take to insure the joy of triumph? In peacetime we tend to ask, What can I do to be more comfortable? To have more fun? To avoid trouble and, possibly, avoid sin?

If we are going to pay the price and take the risks it will cost to make people glad in God, we move beyond the avoidance ethic. This way of life is utterly inadequate to waken people to the beauty Christ. Avoiding fearful trouble and forbidden behaviors impresses almost no one. The avoidance ethic by itself is not Christ-commending or God-glorifying. There are many disciplined unbelievers who avoid the same behaviors Christians do. Jesus calls us to do something far more radical than that.

People who are content with the avoidance ethic generally ask the wrong question about behavior. They ask, What's wrong with it? What's wrong with this movie? Or this music? Or this game? Or these companions? Or this way of relaxing? Or this investment? Or this restaurant? Or shopping at this store? What's wrong with going to the cabin every weekend? Or having a cabin? This kind of question will rarely yield a lifestyle that commends Christ as all-satisfying and makes people glad in God. It simply results in a list of don'ts. It feeds the avoidance ethic.

The better questions to ask about possible behaviors is: How will this help me treasure Christ more? How will it help me show that I do treasure Christ? How will it help me know Christ or display Christ? The Bible says, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). So the question is mainly positive, not negative. How can I portray God as glorious in this action? How can I enjoy making much of him in this behavior?

Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud--just lots of hard work during the day and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend--woven around the church (mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for more, far more.

There is an old saying: "No man ever lamented on his dying bed, 'I wish I had spent more time at the office."' The point being made is usually that when you are about to die, money suddenly looks like what it really is, useless for lasting happiness, while relationships become precious. It's true. When my mother was killed in 1974, I wrote to the chairman of my department at Bethel College, where I was teaching, and reversed my request to teach an overload the next semester to make more money. Standing beside your mother's grave with a wife and child makes things look different. Money loses its pull.

But that saying about spending less time at the office can be misleading. We need to add this: No one will ever want to say to the Lord of the universe five minutes after death, I spent every night playing games and watching TV with my family because I loved them so much. I think the Lord will say, "That did make me look like a treasure in your town. You should have done something besides provide for yourself and your family. And TV, as you should have known, was not a good way to nurture your family or your own soul."
--John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life, page 118-120

Check out the website devoted to the message of Don't Waste Your Life.

1 Comment

Very, very good reminder. I love the grace in this quote. When my focus is on myself (is this wrong to do/watch/read/etc), I've lost my focus. I'm gazing at my performance and not at my Savior. I'd much rather be motivated by His glory and how this draws me nearer to Him; than simply focusing on morals (though not a bad thing) and what is sin and what isn't. Focusing on Jesus, His glory, and our relationship leaves no room for legalism and prompts me to sin less. Because my focus is on Him and I want to be like my awe-inspiring Savior.

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