Listening to John Piper talkings about Christian hedonism, and it strikes me that I wouldn’t want to be a Christian hedonist. I understand that he’s talking about giving up small pleasures to pursue True pleasures, but nevertheless, if anything I would rather be a Christian “stoic.”
What I mean is this: There are a lot of things I don’t like about what I’ve been taught about leadership, but one thing I have learned is that the collective good is more significant than the individual good. I think that if I used “true pleasure” as a rubric for working out my salvation, I would focus narrowly on my individual development. I am already a very introspective sot. But if I concerned myself with “true duty,” I would feel myself turned to developing the spiritual growth of a set of concentric circles that I see myself set into in society.
With a duty focus rather than a pleasure focus for my sanctification, I find that I have a set of rules for deciding which of my many great sins to attack first: Don’t focus on putting to death the little sins that cause frustration and discontent. Instead, start with those sins that are most likely have a degrading effect on those around you. Look first to cause the little ones not to stumble; look second to bind up the weak knees and feeble hands. First in your own family: children, wife, brother and sister, parents. Then neighbor, then ethnos and tribe. Then look to the benefit of future generations. “So that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”
This may get a little weird. Because a focus on sanctification for the benefit of my sister means I may have to split the difference on my sins. What I do with my mouth in public has more effect than my secret thoughts in the bathroom. I am not saying to disregard your impure thoughts, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” but I am saying that, once you’ve tamed your leering eye and your lecherous comments, you should roll onto your wrathful outbursts, rather than obsessing over your innermost thoughts in one area while ignoring a more obvious issue.
For some 20 years now, I have been impressed with Paul’s statement that he would willingly give up his own place in the book of Life, if it meant putting the names of his people there instead. Yes, we know salvation doesn’t work that way. But it seems to me that there is a dynamic where sanctification does work this way. If I make my spiritual growth a foundation for building up others, I will be sure to pay proper attention to it. If I need to delay a bit in my Bible reading, so I can discuss a passage with my son, I haven’t lost anything. He gains ground, so I have gained ground. What’s more, if I give up my easy job, that left plenty of time for hours of prayer, in order to provide for a more Christian education for my kids and a lifestyle for my wife that gives her time for her own devotions, I’ve lost nothing. There are plenty of ways to develop myself spiritually at the expense of others whose spiritual growth I am also responsible for. I want to do the other thing.
I don’t trust my feelings. I would loath be led around by them. Sometimes there is an emotion that can propel me onward to righteousness, such as hopeful joy, or happiness in good things. But just as often, I find that focusing on my feels leads me to tap out before I achieve the goal I’m aiming for. Duty pulls me up again: duty to the One who claimed my life for His good pleasure, responsibility to those around me that He cares for. And I trust that He who works in me to will and to do, can also look after my pleasure, too.