Three Challenges, Three Opportunities
This is a book with an eye-catching title and heart-exposing content.
If someone sees you reading it, they might raise an eyebrow: Money, Sex, and Power? Sounds like it has all the makings of a sleazy novel about some political scandal. But the title has an important preface: Living in the Light. In this book John Piper sets out to show from Scripture how Christians can steward the gifts of money, sex, and power in a God-honouring way. How do we let God’s light shine onto these three areas of life?
Now, it’s probably true that we’re suspicious about all three of these things. We hear money and we think “greed” and “materialism.” We hear sex and we think “porn” and “extra-marital affairs.” We hear power and we think “pride” or “hierarchy.” In conversations and preaching and articles we’re accustomed to hearing about all the temptations and harms and abuses. After a while we might despair that they can be used for anything good. But God did not create money, sex, and power to be snares for us—He had holy purposes in mind. With them we can glorify God and serve our neighbour.
Using Romans 1 as his central text, Piper shows how these three gifts—and in fact all created things—began as God’s good blessings to humanity. They have become loaded with danger, however, because all humans have chosen to exchange the glory of God for images. In the ultimate foolishness, we would rather worship a creature than the Creator. In that sense, the gifts of money, sex and power are fundamentally the same: they are means for worship.
Through the way that we choose to use these three things, we display what is supreme in our life. Is God supreme? Or is it our fine house and our foreign holidays? To me, is the most important thing the reputation and influence that I have with others? Do I worship at the digital altar of sexual pleasure? Then I have exchanged the glory of God for images.
Getting back to the book’s title, some definitions are probably helpful. When Piper talks about money, he means money as a cultural symbol by which we show what is valued. By sex he means the experience of erotic stimulation, where we seek to get the experience or to give it. And power is the capacity to get what you want, through physical strength or attractiveness, the use of resources, or a position of authority.
Each of these gifts, Piper rightly insists, is neutral. For instance, power can be turned to a good purpose (when we use our position to teach and influence someone) or to an evil purpose (when we do things in order to win praise and recognition). Power becomes a moral issue because of the rightness or wrongness for which you use it—it’s like handling a live wire, for that electricity can be used for your benefit, or it can electrocute you.
The devil also employs each of these gifts to tell us poisonous lies. God gave us a uniquely beautiful gift in sexual pleasure, and in this pleasure a husband and wife can taste something of the Lord’s goodness. But the lie we hear constantly is that erotic stimulation is actually to be preferred to God; this relationship, or this rush of pleasure, is able to satisfy us and give true fulfillment. Piper argues that the view of sexuality is so disordered in the world today because our relationship with God is so disordered. When God is no longer our greatest joy and we’re not living in his light, it’s little wonder that our search for satisfaction leads to such dark places.
The devil and the world have stolen what belongs to God. But if money, sex, and power began as God’s good gifts, they can also be restored to their proper place. To be sure, the Bible isn’t a self-help book about maximizing our potential in these three areas. The Bible is about our fall into blindness and folly and how God has intervened to rescue us through Christ his Son. Only when we have received God’s grace do we begin to understand that He is to be desired far more than money, sex, or power. We also start to see how these same gifts can be deployed positively, that these three challenges can be opportunities to glorify God.
If you have read any of John Piper’s many other books, then in this one you will hear a clear echo of what has been the central theme in his preaching and writing for decades: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. In this book too, Piper shows that when God is exalted as the supreme value in the human heart, money, sex, and power start to find their proper place in orbit around the LORD.
A book (or a sermon) about these three topics can quickly become moralistic, where the message basically consists of warnings against things that we should not do, or encouragements about all the things that we need to do: “Don’t visit this kind of website. Don’t be greedy. Give more money to the church. Be humble.” While someone might wish that Piper had offered a few more examples of how to deploy these gifts positively, he has avoided moralism—and its first cousin legalism—by pointing us to the glory of the Triune God. He has saved us from the misery of sin, and He has allowed us to have communion with him. This is the greatest pleasure, the greatest treasure, and our truest identity.
In a sense, Piper seems to offer what is a simple solution to the complicated problems surrounding money, sex, and power. It certainly doesn’t set out to answer the tough questions that Christians and churches deal with, whether about sex addictions, debt management, marriage reconciliation, or whatever else. But it does put these challenges in the right context: Money, sex, and power are not nothing, but they’re not everything either. “When we learn to enjoy God in and above them all, these gifts will find their fullest goodness, and they will shine for his greatest glory.”
Review of Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power
by John Piper