Piper to Southern Seminary students: ‘Don’t waste your theological education’
If seminarians will learn the habit of thinking about God’s truth as a means of enjoying him, then they will not waste their theological education, said John Piper during a special, pre-convocation chapel service, Jan. 23, at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“God gave you doctrine for delight,” he said in the beginning of his message. “God gave you a mind to be a faithful servant to your heart. Reasoning, thinking, knowing God is the necessary means, and delighting in, being satisfied in, enjoying and treasuring God is the ultimate end of the human soul.”
Piper, popular author, speaker and founder of Desiring God ministries, preached from John 8:28-32, a sermon he called “Don’t Waste Your Theological Education.” In his message to a standing-room-only Alumni Memorial Chapel, Piper applied the theme of his ministry, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” to the pursuit of theological education.
Before Piper spoke, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, introduced him, noting the significance of Piper’s presence at the special event.
“You know him through his writing, through his voice, through his influence and his many, many books, he has been a model to us of so many things throughout the years of faithfulness of biblical exposition, of theological precision, of courageous ministry, of pastoral concern,” Mohler said. “But many of you perhaps do not realize that he, too, is a theological educator,” noting his role in establishing Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Mohler also pointed out how Piper is providing a model for those around him on how to transition into a new stage of ministry after serving in a church for 30 years, adding that is it a “gift to us to let us watch how he’s doing this.”
Piper argued that because a Christian’s mind is in service of his or her heart, theological studies should result in enjoyment of God — students should “make reflection the servant of affection,” he said.
“The organ of knowing is given by God to serve the organ of preferring,” Piper said. “Thinking exists to serve feeling.”
According to Piper, the way those in seminary avoid wasting their experience is by using their academic pursuits both to further their knowledge of God and, ultimately, to enjoy him more.
“You will not waste your seminary — your years here, your efforts here, your experience — if you solidify the lifelong habit of thinking about the truth of God as a means of enjoying the God of truth,” Piper said.
And, he said, Christians must do this for the rest of their lives.
“Thinking about God is the necessary means and treasuring God is the ultimate end of the human soul,” he said.
Piper said that what keeps people — seminary students included — from enjoying God is competing affections. He stated that this displacement from affections for God to something else is sin. But the truth of God’s Word, according to Piper, will set Christians free from the bondage of sin.
“Sin is an internal displacement of the glory of God in our affections, in our valuing or treasuring of anything above God,” Piper said. “All sin, outwardly, is an expression of the inward preference of anything above God. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free from preferring anything other than God,” he said, encouraging students to know and prefer God above all other pursuits.
The season of seminary is for learning to think correctly about God, and God gave Christians doctrine for delight, he said, before he transitioned to instruct students about how not to waste their theological education.
Piper then answered four questions — each with several part answers — to help students think about how to glorify God in their thoughts about his truth.
The first question was about the definition of affections for the Christian. Piper answered his question, saying by “affections” he did not mean physical, outward reactions, but rather internal, spiritual and supernatural joy in God, which can sometimes overflow in outward ways.
A Christian grows in affection for God, Piper said, through correct thinking about God. So seminary is important, but only as a means to the end of growing in love for God.
With his second question, Piper asked why the habit of pursuing affection for God is the best way for a student not to waste their theological education. The answer, he said, is because “enjoying Christ above all things is essential to magnifying Christ above all things.”
He said when a Christian delights in someone, like a spouse, he or she honors that person.
Piper’s third question was why make joy in God, as in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the ultimate goal of the unwasted life rather than faith or obedience.
“Because joy in God is the essence of faith and obedience to God,” Piper said.
He discussed love of neighbor and how joy intertwines with service.
“Loving your neighbor is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others,” he said.
With his final question, Piper asked if right thinking about God actually produces affection, or if the opposite is true. He answered that right thinking results in proper affection for God and other people.
In conclusion, he offered five applications and warnings for seminary students.
First, he said the greatest threat to a student’s future ministry is the death of enjoying God.
Second, future pastors will harm their sheep if they lose their joy in God.
Third, Piper said the New Testament says the aim of Christian ministry is to work for truth.
Fourth, Piper challenged students to not rest until “the fruit of your mind becomes the flame of your heart” in every class, conversation, book or paper.
His final point, he said, was for students to pray. He gave an acronym he uses daily in his personal prayer time: IOUs. Each letter represents a prayer from a Psalm:
- I: “Incline my heart to your testimony, O, God,” (Psalm 119:36);
- O: “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things,” (Psalm 119: 18);
- U: “Unite my heart to fear your name,” (Psalm 86:11); and
- S: “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad in you,” (Psalm 90:14).
Audio and video from Piper’s sermon are available online at sbts.edu/resources.