Satisfied in the Lord -- A Re-examination of the Motto
|Copyright © 2003 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Renewed Questions Provoke a Re-examination
In recent days, like so many other Christians, I have returned to struggle once again with my own understandings of what it means to be "satisfied in the Lord". This was sparked by a new series of self-questioning, self-examinations, questions, and even comments from many other brothers and sisters in Christ over the internet regarding the validity of Dr. Piper’s motto, "God is MOST glorified in us when we are MOST satisfied in Him." Given the whelming popularity of this motto, rarely a day goes by that I do not seriously question whether I have biblically and fairly evaluated this expression.
If the Dr. Piper expression is a correct statement of biblical truth, there can be no argument with those who use it as a creed. If the expression is merely an opinion of philosophy, or if it is an unprovable theory, or in the worst case, if it is an incorrect representation of Scripture, then it is unworthy of being used as a creed and should remain nothing more than an object of debate.
At the core of this discussion is the definition of the word "satisfied" as it relates to being satisfied in the Lord. We will come back to this definition later. Secondarily is the question of whether this "satisfaction" is indeed what MOST glorifies God.
When we use the word "MOST" to qualify any statement, we are making that a statement of absolute truth. In other words, it is an absolute extreme. To be the "most qualified candidate" means there are absolutely no exceptions to the rule, there are no candidates more highly qualified. You have established the extreme endpoint. When the word "most" is attached to any phrase, it becomes an absolutely exceptionless standard. This thing that is "most" is the only thing that meets the criteria, it becomes the absolute standard.
Such descriptors as "most", "highest", "chief", make the statement unequivocal; they establish a standard of absoluteness. By way of contrast, the word "almost" is a statement of equivocation. It is "almost the best", but other things can also be as good or better. "Most", "highest", "chief" are absolutes and exclude all other options.
When a statement about God is made in absolute (extreme endpoint) terms, there must be an equally strong absolute statement made in Scripture to back it up. In other words, if you say "most", God must clearly agree by having revealed in the Word a statement that also says "most", otherwise, you have simply made an educated guess. An educated guess cannot guarantee the absolute nature of the statement, it cannot demonstrate that the statement has no exceptions. A guess, no matter how well educated its basis, is still just an opinion that may or may not be correct. Using "most" means you are not guessing and have found a way to establish this as an absolute standard.
For example, some absolute statements from Scripture are:
Opinions Masquerading as Truthful Absolutes
Problems begin when we humans state things as if they were absolute extremes when in fact the assertion is equivocal and should have been stated in terms of an opinion. Such assertions should not be stated in absolute terms because the alleged truth they proffer cannot be proven from Scripture. If one were to attempt to make an absolute statement from an equivocal "truth", he would be forced to resort to feats of questionable logic or to appeal to extra-biblical materials.
One of the more invalid means of coming up with false "absolutes" is to count up the number of times something is mentioned in the Bible. If it is a big number, then it becomes erroneously labeled as the "most". Should someone say, for example, that Hell is mentioned more often than Heaven in a certain segment of Scriptures, then they might assert that "Hell is the most important topic in the Bible". This absolute statement is improper because it is unsupported by a direct quotation of Scripture that says this same thing. Instead, you are obligated to turn this into an equivocal statement given the research, such as, "Hell is an important topic in the Bible." How important? Could other topics be more important? To use the word "most" requires the researcher to be very careful to find a Bible verse that mirrors the absoluteness of the statement, otherwise, it is just a guess. All guesses are equivocal by nature and by definition.
Some examples of equivocal statements worded in a way to make them appear absolute are:
Any one of those equivocal statements may or may not be true. How would you prove it? One could argue persuasively from either position, for or against, but no person could point to the one verse of Scripture or even hard scientific fact to conclusively answer the question. Adding the absolute qualifier ("most", "every", "any other") takes the assertion from being a valid comment of opinion and makes it either absolutely true or absolutely false.
Factually False Statements Pretending to be Truthful Absolutes
Some assertions are just plain false, of course. Consider these false statements.
With factually incorrect statements that attempt to make themselves into absolute assertions, one can find either "hard fact" or Bible verses that explicitly disprove the assertion, showing it to be an error.
Admitting We Don’t Know—the Godly Choice
Sometimes, when we form an opinion, it makes us feel more confident if we couch it in absolute terms ("most", "every", "greatest") However, God does not appreciate it when we articulate our opinions as if they were truths carved out from the bedrock of clear Scripture. In fact, God appears to consider us foolish when we discuss Him in error (Job 38:1-2, 42:7). It is far more honest just to say, "I don’t know for certain, but it is my opinion…".
Some things about God and about the Word we will simply never know, these are called mysteries (Deuteronomy 29:29). It would be wrong to say that calling something a mystery is an "argument made from silence"; that mysteries exist is just a statement of biblical fact. We are not permitted to know the answers to all questions while we live on Earth, and probably not while we live in Heaven either (but that is an entirely different question).
As we do know , no verse reveals to us when God is "most" glorified. Nor is there a verse that says what it is that we must do to bring God the "most" glory. So how would one truly, absolutely know that one thing is the only thing that most glorifies God? Again, any assertion like that, without a specific verse that absolutely makes the same statement, is a guess. Assertions based on guesswork are unfit to be called creeds because they may or may not be absolutely true. Equivocal assertions are opinions, philosophies, and debatable matters which are only fit to be energetically discussed over the lunch table; but they should never be represented as "the" truth or as Scripture. Teaching debatable matters as absolute truth is actually condemned by the New Testament (1 Timothy 6:4, Titus 3:9).
Satisfaction Finally Defined
"God is MOST glorified in us when we are MOST satisfied in Him." To even start to understand what this motto is attempting to teach us, we must understand what the words mean.
Therefore, it is now extraordinarily important to define the word "satisfied". What is satisfaction in the Lord? The New Testament does not shed much light on this subject aside from Matthew 5:6, as this is not a word oft used by the apostles and the early church prophets. In the New Testament, it is used mostly to describe whether one has eaten enough food during a meal. In itself this proves little, except that the early church apparently did not use a motto similar to the one under discussion.
Ultimately, we will have to turn instead to the Old Testament. There are about seven or eight passages that use phrases related to being satisfied in the Lord.
Defining a word used in the Bible requires two primary devices: a dictionary and the ability to derive the word’s meaning based on its immediate context in the passage of Scripture in which it is found. I will first explore the primary verses on "satisfaction in the Lord" from the Bible. Each verse will be introduced by a short statement explaining the context in which the verse is found.
The Psalmist is pleading for deliverance from the evil doers around him. He then says that the evil ones are content to do evil and leave no spiritual legacy to their children when they die. In the final verse, verse 15, he declares that God is visible only when one’s eyes are intent on seeing good, and he will be content to look on God and holiness when he awakes for eternity in heaven—in other words, the satisfaction he looks forward to is his eternal reward.
As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. Psalm 17:15
And in Psalm 63:5, David contrasts the fate of the evil liars (death by the sword) with the rewards of the righteous--satisfaction of the soul.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. Psalm 63:5
Again, in Psalm 65:3 the Psalmist repents of his prevailing sins which the Lord forgives, rewarding the repentant sinner with the satisfaction that he now dwells in the presence of the Lord without iniquity.
How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. Psalm 65:4
Psalm 90:14 is a plea from the Psalmist to God to be forgiven for his many sins (v.8) and for God to reward his repentance with God’s satisfying lovingkindnesses.
O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14
God declares, "Because he has loved Me therefore I will deliver him." Then God details the rewards he will give to those who love Him.
"With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation." Psalm 91:16
Again, in Psalm 103 the pattern repeats, God accepts the repentance of the sinner and rewards him with "good things" in which man is satisfied.
Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:5
Psalm 107 is just a bit different. God first explains what the rewards will be for repentance, and then He describes how the sinner is to be brought low by the Lord in misery, with the Psalm culminating in the repentance of the sinner.
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good. Psalm 107:9
From the sermon given on the mountain, Jesus explains that those who are desperate to be righteous will be rewarded (satisfied) with righteousness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6
Summary of Bible Verses on Satisfaction in the Lord
Satisfaction may be defined by these few verses as
1) "the loss of one’s actual guilt and the loss of feelings of guilt, having been redeemed by the Lord following repentance"
2) "the reward of being content with good once evil has been renounced"
Satisfaction--the Reward, not the Cause of Righteousness
Please notice that the "satisfaction" does not cause the repentance, nor does the "satisfaction" cause the righteous behaviors. Satisfaction is the reward of repentance and is the holy reward for righteous behavior. This is especially evident with Psalm 91, where God explicitly states that He gives the reward of satisfaction only to those who first love Him.
It should be noted that the way this word is used (based on context) in the Old Testament is consistent with the secular Merriam-Webster dictionary definition: "redemption following repentance" and "contentment".
Secular and Ecclesiastical Dictionaries Define "Satisfaction"
From the Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary (April 17, 2003) comes the following definition of "satisfaction".
Main Entry: sat·is·fac·tion
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Late Latin satisfaction-, satisfactio, from Latin, reparation, amends, from satisfacere to satisfy
Date: 14th century
1 a : the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin b : reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice
2 a : fulfillment of a need or want b : the quality or state of being
Vine’s Bible Dictionary declines to give a full definition of "satisfaction" and refers the reader to the definition for "indulgence". Here we find that satisfaction is narrowly defined as that good feeling you get when your stomach is filled with food.
Satisfaction--Internally-focused Reward, Love for God--Outwardly-focused Adoration
To summarize, "satisfaction" as defined in the secular dictionary and in the Bible is:
Compare this biblical understanding of "satisfaction" with the motto we have been evaluating, "God is MOST glorified in us when we are MOST satisfied in Him." Hopefully the reader can see the gap that is before us. Satisfaction is a reward God imparts to us for our repentance--our sin debts are satisfied, and we are now content with being in the presence of God, goodness, holiness, and righteousness. But being satisfied with our reward is not quite the same as returning love to God.
Consider that being satisfied, or receiving satisfaction, is inwardly directed; focused on myself. Satisfaction means "my contentment", "my sin debt is paid", "my needs have been satiated", "my pleasures have been met", "to be assured of my salvation." What is missing from the definition of "satisfaction" is the concept of service to another, adoration of another, affection of another. The very concept of satisfaction is "me-centered". Satisfaction by its very core meaning and extended definitions is inwardly directed, self-interested.
Perhaps this is why Jesus did not answer the scribe by saying that the greatest commandment was to "be satisfied in God." And perhaps this is why Paul tells us several different times that love is the greatest Christian quality, greater even than hope and faith. Just perhaps it is because love is focused outwardly and satisfaction is focused inwardly.
The Outworking of Love
Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary also defines the word "love" this way.
Main Entry: 1love
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English lufu; akin to Old High German luba love, Old English lEof dear, Latin lubEre, libEre to please
Date: before 12th century
1 a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates> b : an assurance of love <give her my love>
2 : warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>
3 a : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love> b (1) : a beloved person :
To summarize: Love is a strong affection for another, tenderness towards another, assurance you provide to another that you have affection for them, devotion to another, admiration of another, unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another, adoration of God, and finally, God is Love.
Satisfaction is not love. Satisfaction is what one person receives as a result of being loved by another person. Satisfaction is the gift accepted by someone who is the recipient of love. I am satisfied by someone else’s love for me.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words is far more eloquent and precise than I am. Vine’s defines love as:
"Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. … Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments… Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God. Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all..."
Redefining the Word Satisfaction
Many have argued that the way Dr. Piper defines the word "satisfied" it comes to mean the same as "to show love". In other words, when Dr. Piper says, "when we are most satisfied in Him" it really means, "when we most love Him." Of course, such a definition of "satisfaction" is counter to the secular dictionary (common and ordinary usage of the word), is counter to Vine’s ecclesiastical definitions, is counter to how we see the word used in the Old Testament, and is counter to how we see the word "love" used in the New Testament.
To love means to trust someone else implicitly. Love involves the will, the mind, knowledge, emotions, and the strength of one’s own body, pressed into service (worship) for the one loved. The word worship in Romans 12:1 is the Greek word "to serve"; service devoted to the One we worship and love. Love seeks the good of others above its own good (1 Corinthians 13:5).
We said earlier that "satisfaction" means "my contentment", "my sin debt is paid", "my needs have been satiated", "my pleasures have been met", "to be assured of my salvation." What is missing from the definition of "satisfaction" is the concept of service to another, adoration of another, affection toward another. The very concept of satisfaction is "me-centered". Satisfaction by its very core meaning and extended definitions is inwardly directed, self-interested.
The very concept of love is "other-centered". Love, by its very definition from both the Bible and the dictionary is outwardly directed, other-centered. Could this be why the greatest command of God is to "love Him" instead of "be satisfied"?
Bringing Glory to the King -- an Analogy
It is arguable that full satisfaction is only granted by God after we have come to love Him. If this is true (and it is only my theory so it can be wrong) then could it be that loving God causes Him to be glorified which He later rewards with feelings of satisfaction? If this is true, then it is not our satisfaction that gives God glory, it is our love. To put it another way, the receiving of the reward is not necessarily what glorified God, it was the loving actions that glorified God. In human terms, if as a solder I win the battle for the king, it is the self-sacrificing fight itself which brought glory to the king, not the fact that he handed me a gold-plated musket as a reward afterward.
One may well ask, "but what if I did not fight the battle for the king’s glory, but for the satisfaction of receiving the reward I knew I would get after the victory?" The lack of love for the king is distressing. Nonetheless, the outcome may be the same for the soldier; he wins, he gets the reward, and others give glory to the king for winning the war. In this case, the motivation of the soldier is irrelevant. The only tiny difference in this tale is: the king is not privately glorified by that one soldier because of his lack of love, all he loved was his reward. Perhaps motives do matter after all.
God’s Sovereignty Negated by the Hedonist Motto
One final point to think on after you walk away from this article. Since God is absolutely sovereign, is His ability to gain the MOST glory from us really dependent on anything we do? Can God obtain the maximum glory from any object or from any person just by willing it to be so? Did not God obtain the most glory from Pharaoh, even though Pharaoh was not fully satisfied in God (Romans 9:17)?
One might argue, "If I was the most loving, obedient, and satisfied in God as I could bring myself to be, would I not therefore be the most glorifying to God that I could be?" Perhaps, but this assumes that God is in some way dependent on our cooperation, dependent on our free will, for obtaining maximum glory from us. God can get the MOST glory from us, from a tree, or from a rock without their cooperation or from our willing participation (Luke 19:40).
Is the spiritual equation true, "Only when I am MOST satisfied in God does God get the MOST glory from me"? Is God really so dependent on my efforts to demonstrate or obtain His glory?
So, if God is the sovereign of the universe, can the expression, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him", ever be absolutely true? Could this be the reason that there is no Bible passage that echoes this motto? And if it is not a biblical truth, should we be quoting it as if it were? Is this not what Job’s friends did wrong, and was this not the primary sin of the Pharisees (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7)?
Many people have been helped to see that joy is a necessary part of the Christian life by reading the works of Dr. Piper. Many people have been motivated to overcome sin habits by referring to the rewards that God will give us some day for abandoning our evil ways. For these outcomes we praise God.
Still, when people replace God’s Word with men’s words and think they have the precepts of God, they end up teaching falsely, even if it is done in ignorance. This leads to such problems as legalism, being judgmental, elitism, and improper interpretations of genuine Scripture because their frame of reference has been compromised.
If an absolute statement is not completely true, then it is absolutely false. The motto "God is MOST glorified in us when we are MOST satisfied in Him" has two absolute extremes ("most" and "most") embedded in it. And yet, the expression has not even one Bible verse that underpins what is absolutely asserted.
Equally disturbing is the lack of focus in this motto on the concept of "love for God". The emphasis is on self-focused satisfaction--a seeking of the reward while ignoring the love one must necessarily exhibit outwardly to receive the reward inwardly.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1John 5:3
And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. 2 John 1:6a
What then is the remedy to this situation? Keep joy as our right and obligation in the Lord. Remove from our vocabulary the precepts of men that would appeal to us as if they were in some way Scripture.
Post Script - Alternative
I cannot nor dare not invent a new doctrine. Perhaps, though, I can offer a more biblically accurate, positively worded, personal motto. Based on what we have studied above, here is just one possible alternative motto one may develop for their own personal use. No, it is not Scripture, nor does it speak with the authority of Scripture, but if it is recognized that it is not Scripture, perhaps it will have some value as a means of stirring up a reminder to pursue holiness.
"I will strive to love God all the more so that perhaps He might be glorified through my life and through my service of worship."