At last weekend’s Desiring God national conference, Sam Storms and Justin Taylor introduced a book that was written in secret, in honor of a man, as a means to proclaim the fame of God’s name. This book, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, was well conceived and well received, as would be fitting for a man and a community of people who are enraptured by the supremacy of God in all things and the fame of his glorious name among the nations.
This book will age like a fine painting, one that rivets the eyes as it honors the beauty of the subject, but one with such a glory that the spirit is lifted up towards reflection upon Higher Things. And I suspect Piper would have it no other way. It is undoubtedly the providence of God that delivered a book of honor during a time of well-publicized sabbatical in the public ministry of a man who is battling pride, the kind of pride that festers at the feet of a world-renowned minister intent on proclaiming the glory and fame of God’s name. What tension must Piper feel in the affirmation of his identity as a man, pastor, and writer, in balance with his desire to see the name of God magnified in all of his life, and at war with the self-glorifying pride that plagues his own heart.
I don’t know what John Piper thought and felt as he looked at the book’s cover, felt its weight, glanced through the contents, and smelled the pages. I suspect he felt a deep sense of humility, and gratitude, and love, and most importantly, a soul-deep longing to glorify and honor his beloved God and Savior. Whatever he might have felt is not our concern so much as what each of us may feel as we imagine ourselves in his place.
Whether pastors, authors, bloggers, businessmen, or a thousand other kinds of ministers of the gospel in all areas of life, we likely share something in common to some degree: the desire to make ourselves look glorious. I don’t say this lightly, or flippantly, and I don’t mean to assume too much about you. But I know my own heart, and this desire is present down deep. If the chief end of man is to glorify God, then the chief sin of man is to glorify self. So I suspect we all might war against this common enemy.
To preach or to write or to sing or to paint in order to magnify the name of Jesus is to do dangerous work. Standing on a stage, seeing your name on the cover of a book, hearing the poetry of your heart sung on the radio, or gathering with friends at a gallery of your work, is an invitation to dine with all manner of pride. We may feast on the respect we feel we have achieved or get drunk on the adoration of others. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a justifying grace that frees us from our compulsion to sin and glorify self. “Sin will have no dominion over [us], since [we] are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). And there is a sanctifying grace that is given to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), a grace that restores us, and confirms us, and strengthens us, and establishes us in the eternal glory of Christ (1 Peter 5:10). This kind of grace enables us to make much of God instead of making much of ourselves.
This brings us back to the conference stage this past weekend. What would we feel if the name on the book was ours? Would we feel our life’s work finally had merit? Would we rest in the promise of a distinguished legacy? Would we revel in the idea that we had achieved status with the greats of Christian history?
Perhaps we would feel these kinds of things, and we would also feel a longing to reflect this praise back to God. Perhaps we would also feel a sense of exposure, that our false humility we didn’t even know was false had been laid bare at the feet of a deeper, truer humility. Undoubtedly, we would sense a mixture of emotions, a warring between the desires of our flesh and the longings of our spirit, and God willing, a deepening conviction to see the name of Christ magnified at any cost.
I have taken the scenic route to get to this question: Do I care more about the fame of my name or the fame of God’s name? I confess that far too much of my own ministry is aimed towards increasing the fame of my name. I find it clings to me like mud, and I try to shake it off as I run towards God. But I am tainted with its smell and its presence. My sin runs deep, but God is deeper still, and I sense a profound desire to orient more and more of my being and my work around the gospel of Jesus. In this desire, I pray God’s Spirit will continue his cleansing work in my life and ministry.
As we reflect on this question, whether we care most about the fame of our name or God’s, we should acknowledge that a man like John Piper should be honored. And a pastor like you, or a writer like you, or a colleague like you, should be honored as well, insofar as you have labored in the work of Christ. The ministry of the gospel to church members and readers and co-workers is noble, and our souls are deeply satisfied in the expression of our God-given gifts, so the feelings of joy and affirmation we might have are not our foes. We corrupt the gift not when we receive the praise, but when we rest in it without seeing it ultimately as the praise of God.
So let us join with Paul, who “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Let us join with John Piper as he seeks to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And let us follow with the wholeness of our heart, mind, and spirit the crucified Son of God, who humbled himself, and is now exalted with a name that is above every other name, so that the fame of his name would bring every knee to earth, and that God would be glorified.