FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Defining Love

with John Piper | February 10, 2016
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What is love? Respected author and pastor John Piper delves into the Bible to help us rethink our definition of love.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What is love? Respected author and pastor John Piper delves into the Bible to help us rethink our definition of love.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What is love? Respected author and pastor John Piper delves into the Bible to help us rethink our definition of love.

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Defining Love

With John Piper
February 10, 2016
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Bob: Do you ever find yourself just really feeling sorry for yourself, frustrated at the way things are going in your life—maybe, even pouting?  Here are some thoughts on pouting from Pastor John Piper.

John: Pouting is a very immature way to respond to your expectations not being fulfilled. Now, the solution to pouting, I think, is God. If God has become my treasure, if God is my joy, if God is my satisfaction, if God has embraced me and made me His own and will cause me to inherit the universe with infinitely increasing joy forever and ever, what am I pouting about here?  This is ridiculous! 

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll spend some time hearing from John Piper today about how, when we get our perspective on God right, it impacts everything else in your life. Stay tuned.



And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. I think I’ve told you this story before—but when our kids were little, I decided to get ambitious. I was going to teach my son the Westminster Shorter Catechism—going to teach him the questions and the answers. We were going to memorize that together.

Dennis: There are several people listening to us right now that are wondering if you just mentioned a location in London, England.

Bob: They have no idea what a—

Dennis: They don’t.

Bob: —shorter catechism is.

Dennis: They don’t.

Bob: So, this is a series of questions and answers from hundreds of years ago that teach you about who God is. I thought, “We’re going to learn this together.”  And the first question and answer are kind of famous. The question is: “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer is: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”


So, one day, we’d been learning this—Jimmy and me—and we’re driving along. Jimmy turned to me and said, “Hey, Dad?”  I said, “Yes?”  He said, “I know who the chief Indian man is.”  [Laughter]  And it was that moment I realized he—

Dennis: It’s Tonto. It’s Tonto! 

Bob: —he was not catching on to what we were talking about. I was trying to get him to memorize that—he was thinking, “Chief Indian man.” He didn’t understand what the chief end of man was or what it meant to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Dennis: And this morning, Barbara and I were talking about this just a bit—just about how we just don’t get it as human beings. Jesus was instructing His disciples—they didn’t get it. We look at them and go: “How could they miss it?  They were seeing God in the flesh!” 

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: But we can live a lifetime, and we can miss God in the process. As a result, miss life.

Bob: So, a person who says, “Okay, I understand that my life is supposed to glorify God, but I’m not sure what that means or how I do it.”  What do you tell them? 

Dennis: I tell them:



“Think of a picture that you have taken of, maybe, the Rockies or, maybe, it’s the moon coming up, where there has been a lake at the bottom of the picture, where the reflection of the moon / the reflection of the Rockies was displayed almost perfectly.”

Bob: One of those mirror kind of pictures.

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: I think what we’re to do is—we’re to show God off. We are to be a mirror, a reflection, a representation. Paul, later on in the New Testament, referred to us as ambassadors. We’re representing someone who is unseen—the great Almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth with the very spoken word of His mouth. And somehow, in our puny, little, termite-sized lives, we are to reflect Him. We’re to show Him off. We are to demonstrate what His love looks like, what His grace looks like, what His forgiveness looks like.


Bob: So, how we think / how we act should reflect who God is.

Dennis: Yes. And I wouldn’t want people to start thinking in religious terms because I think a lot of religion misses who God is. It’s really His wisdom in everyday living. It’s how He designed life to be lived—[He] should be showed off in individual lives, whether young or old—[He] should be showed off in marriages, a husband and a wife making good on their promise because marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship and the church—or a family should also reflect who God is.

And I think, Bob, how we live life—how we make our decisions / what our lives are all about—they’re not about me. It’s not about some monument to a person. It’s about: “How do we show off the great Almighty God—the Alpha and the Omega / the Creator—the grandeur of God.

I mean, it’s a challenge. I mean, you can spend a lifetime, and you’ve only touched your little toe into the water of a deep ocean.



Bob: We have dusted off, today, a classic message from Dr. John Piper, who about a dozen years ago, came to FamilyLife to share with us and share with our team. For years, he’s served as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has retired from that role, but he has not retired from kingdom work. He continues to write and to speak, and his website is well-known. It’s a treasury of great content.

And today, we’re going to hear Part One of a message that he shared with our staff on how we can, with our lives, honor and glorify God.

[Previously Recorded Message] 

John: My burden is to press upon people the God-centeredness of God because I don’t think—until we feel the controversial, shocking, forceful, biblical weight of God’s God-centeredness—



—do we feel the implication of our call to be God-centered. It just sounds kind of old, and trite, and worn to say, “Live for the glory of God”; but most people don’t hear it as old, and trite, and worn when you say, “God lives for the glory of God.”  They kind of furrow their brow and say, “Did you say that right?” 

I remember, one time, I spoke at my alma mater, Wheaton—first chance I ever got—25 years after I graduated or something. I thought, “What a great, wonderful, high privilege.” I began with the sentence: “What is the chief end of God?”  My friends in the balcony—all went: “Oh no!  You just blew it. His first chance to speak at his alma mater and he misquotes the first question of the Westminster Catechism.”



 “What is the chief end of God?  The chief end of God is to glorify God and to enjoy Himself forever.”  It wasn’t a mistake—it was an intention. So, that’s a burden of my life.

Now, here is the problem with that burden. It doesn’t sound like love to a lot of people. When you say that God is very God-centered and God does everything for the glory of God—they hear it, and they look at all the text that I amass and they still feel, in their gut, “I don’t know if I feel loved by that God.”  That’s my big issue that I want to try to talk about for a few minutes is: “Why is it loving of God to be so God-centered?” 

If you use the word, “self”—“God is self-centered,”—you’d be right. Then, if you thought of yourself as imitating God, “I should be self-centered because God is self-centered,”—



—something would be amiss in the logic; wouldn’t it?  But real imitation is: “God is God-centered; therefore, I should be God-centered.”  That’s the way you imitate God—you don’t take the place of God.

Now, let’s talk for a minute about: “How is it that God’s God-centeredness…”—and I’m just going to pass over a whole dimension that I could develop here from the Scriptures to prove to you that God is God-centered and kind of assume that you believe the Bible and all the texts where God is calling people to praise Him.

C.S. Lewis didn’t become a Christian for a long time because he stumbled over this vanity in God, as he saw it, in the Psalms. He said, “It sounded like an old woman wanting to get compliments all the time.” “Praise Me!  Praise Me!  Praise Me!   Praise Me!  Praise Me!” is all the Psalms said to C.S. Lewis. And that’s right—that is what the Psalms say.

Then, I read, just a couple years ago, an article in the Financial Times in London, a book review by a guy who said, “The biggest stumbling block he has with God is worship,”—



—meaning: “This God is always expecting us to bow down.”  He thought: “That’s just unloving. A loving person doesn’t go around expecting people to bow down to him.” So, today—even today—people are stumbling over this issue of God’s God-ness—God’s being so radically bent on exalting God because, among evangelicals, anyway, that kind of talk just doesn’t sound loving.

As I’ve probed into why it doesn’t, I’ve hit upon what feels, to me, very devastating—like an indictment of us. It has to do with our understanding of what love is. Here’s my question and, then, my solution to the problem.



I’ll try to give some evidences from the Bible.

“Do you feel loved most or more when God makes much of you or when God, at great cost to Himself, enables you to enjoy forever making much of Him?”  Most of my life, I have been taught that love means making much of somebody. That’s why we feel loved when that happens to us. Somebody makes compliments about us or praises us—we feel so good. How could it not be loving?  Anybody makes much of me—I’m inclined to think they are pretty good people, and I like them. But really, what I like is me. So, my alternative definition of love—which was in the second half of the question—is not going around, trying to make much of somebody—and where we’re going to go if we have the time.



In family, it’s how you raise your kids on this because we’ve been taught, a long time, that the essence of healthy child-rearing is building self-esteem. The question is: “What is love then?”  Divine love—I would define like this: “God doing whatever it takes—and it took His Son’s death—doing whatever it takes to enthrall you with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying—namely, God.”  Do you see how God-centered that definition is?  Yet, it has your joy right at the heart of it.

I thought to myself, “Can I find any common ground with the world to make this point?”  And I think we can.


The little sentences I’ve come up with are like this: “Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase his self-esteem.”  Think about this with me. “Nobody goes to the Alps or the Rockies to increase his self-esteem,” “Nobody gets around bigness—big deep holes or big high mountains that make you feel very, very fragile and very, very teeny and very, very vulnerable—in order to come away feeling that your self-esteem has grown.”  Yet, people go there! 

Now, if self-esteem is the key to true joy, why don’t people stay away from the Alps, and from Grand Canyon, and from big seascapes?  Why don’t we just go places where we feel really big, really in charge, really something?  I’ll tell you why—



—because we are created to find joy in God. If we don’t know Him, we’ll take the next best thing we are acquainted with—which might be a mountain, it might be a sunrise, or it might be a valley. It might be a field of corn that stretches forever—like I remember in the summer of ’68 when I was working as a surveyor. I had my breath taken away, standing on a railroad track—that I thought they didn’t make fields this long in Illinois. That was one of those moments where the bigness of the stretch of the land caused my heart to, as it were, explode—it just came out of me. Now, that’s a kind of joy, pleasure, satisfaction that is light years disconnected from self-esteem.

You know what I long for in heaven as a way of beholding and enjoying God?



I long for self-forgetfulness. You know what makes me most miserable?—I can’t forget myself. I can’t forget that I’ve been offended by what So-and-so said. I can’t forget that I didn’t get what I was due. I just wish I could forget this person and be utterly caught up in greatness outside of me—and someday, God, Himself. That’s what would be healthy.

Now, if you have a Bible, let’s go to the Gospel of John. What I’ve done is tried to define love—whether it’s between people or from God to people—as doing whatever you have to do to help people be enthralled with, satisfied by, delighted in what will bring them most joy forever. I assume you agree with me that that is God because of Psalm 16:11:



“You show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of—

Audience: —“joy.” 

John: —“joy. At Your right hand are—

Audience: —“pleasures.” 

John: —“pleasures forevermore.”  That’s the Bible; and therefore, if that’s true, then, love will try to get people there—get them to His right-hand / get them to His presence. The more that I try to attract people to myself, the more I distract them from what will really satisfy them—so it’s the opposite of love. Whereas, anything I can do to get out of their way and to point them to God—where there will be pleasures forevermore—that would be love.

Okay, Chapter 11, verses 1-6—a surprising place to see this: “Now, a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.”


Now, pause there and just—that event of Mary’s wiping His feet hasn’t happened yet in the Gospel of John. That’s very interesting—that’s coming in the next chapter. The fact that it’s here, awkwardly in the flow, says to me, “He [John] wanted to point out that the person who is dying is a person who’s got a family that really loves You, and You love them, and there is some connectedness here.”  This is a big deal; alright? 

Verse 3: “So the sisters sent to Him, saying, “’Lord, he whom You love’”—now, there it is made explicit. This is about love—“’he whom You love is ill.’  But when Jesus heard it, He said: ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God….’”  So, now, we’ve got the word, “love,” in verse 3; and we’ve got the word, “glory of God” in verse 4.



Those are the two issues I’m trying to pull together. Will I get help here? 

“’…so that the Son of God may be glorified’”—there it is again—“’glorified through it.’”  Verse 5: “Now Jesus loved”—so, there’s love again. We’ve seen two explicit references to love, two explicit references to glory, and one implicit reference to love in verse 2. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary….So, therefore, when He heard Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was,” and let him die. That’s love—because He loved Him, therefore, He stayed two days longer where He was. Then, when His disciples said to Him: “What’s going on?  What’s going on?” He said, “’Lazarus is dead, and now, we’re going.’” 


Now, why is that love?  Because that’s the point of the text—He loved him; therefore, He let him die. He loved him; therefore, He let him die. He loved Martha; therefore, He let her brother die. He loved Mary; therefore, He let him die. And the answer is in verse 4: “’This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God…’”—from which I can conclude: “It is more loving to take people through pain for Christ’s sake / for the glory of God than it is to spare them pain and not get glory for God.” 

It is pointing people to God as their satisfaction—not life, not relatives, not family. Ultimately, it’s about God here. So, I conclude from these six verses that Jesus has said, “When you love someone, you don’t necessarily spare them pain; but you do whatever it takes to enthrall them with the glory of God.” 



Bob: Well, we have been listening to the first part of message from Dr. John Piper all about the glory of God. And that’s kind of a radical thought—that, if you love somebody, you’ll let them go through pain sometimes.

Dennis: And you attempt to enthrall them with the glory of God. If you are listening to that, and you don’t know how to do it, don’t feel alone. It takes a lifetime to figure out, “How do you connect human beings, as they go through difficult times, with God, His purposes, and His glory?” 

And I remember, Bob—when we were raising our children, and one of them was going through a difficult time, we went to a small group. One of the couples in the group was my friend, Robert Lewis. He made the statement to Barbara and me—he said, “Sometimes, the very pain we would rescue our kids from is the very pain God would use—

Bob: Yes.


Dennis: —“to build character today to withstand a storm in the future.” 

And I think, sometimes, as parents, we take the short view rather than the long view—that we are equipping our children for life. As a part of that, they need to know how to handle loss, how to handle pain, how to handle disappointment, and how to become enthralled with God / how to be in love with God and yielded to His purposes and not take over for ourselves and try to just grit it out and do it our way.

Bob: Well, the same is true when we go through hard times in marriage, and we all will go through hard times in marriage. Sometimes, escaping the pain is not the best solution when you are in the midst of the hardships. Sometimes, pressing into the pain and finding God there is how you get to the relief that your soul is longing for.

Dennis: Yes, but what we’re not saying here is—



—staying up all night, arguing—

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —to press into the pain. I mean, there is a time to push it aside and to come back and deal with it when you are fresh and when you’re a little more objective. Sometimes, the better part of wisdom in an argument, or in a disagreement, or in a period of hurt is a time of silence to allow God to speak to us about what our responsibility is in the midst of that pain.

Bob: You’ve called a time-out before? 

Dennis: Oh! 

Bob: A little sleep time.

Dennis: Oh, yes!  And so has Barbara. It’s like: “This is not going in a good direction.” 

Bob: “We’re not getting anywhere.” 

Dennis: No.

Bob: “We’re paddling.” 

Dennis: If you’re going to find the glory of God, you’ve got to be able to recognize it when you find it.

Bob: When it shows up. [Laughter] 

You know, this theme of God’s glory being the centerpiece of marriage is really at the heart of the book that Dr. Piper has written on marriage called This Momentary Marriage,where he looks at the subject of marriage as grand, and exalted, and one of God’s great gifts; but it has to be seen in light of God’s eternal purposes.



It’s a great book. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order your copy, online, at; or you can call if you’d like to order a copy. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. So, again, order online——or call to order at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” 

Speaking of marriage, we’ve got a shout-out today to our friends, Kevin and Edie Kowalski, who live in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. They are celebrating their tenth anniversary today—ten years as a married couple. “Congratulations!” to the Kowalskis.

We are celebrating anniversaries all this year because this is our 40th anniversary as a ministry.



As the “Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries,” the reason we exist is so that more couples will celebrate more anniversaries and will understand how to glorify God in the midst of your years together. We’ve got some suggestions for all of our listeners about how this year your anniversary could be extra special. We’ve got some suggestions we’ll send you in advance of your anniversary, but we just need to know what your anniversary date is. So, go to our website,, and leave us your anniversary. We’ll get in touch with you right before your anniversary rolls around with some suggestions on how you can have extra special celebration this year.

And by the way, “Thank you,” to the Kowalskis, who are among our group of Legacy Partners supporting this ministry. We appreciate your ongoing support of FamilyLife Today. And we’re hoping, during the month of February, that God might raise up, in every state where FamilyLife Today is heard, 20 new Legacy Partner couples—monthly supporters of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.


If you could be one of those 20 couples in your state, it’s easy to sign up. Go to—click the link that says, “DONATE.” The information is available there about becoming a Legacy Partner. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we’ll help you get signed up over the phone.

And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to hear Part Two of John Piper’s message on the importance of keeping an eternal perspective as we glorify God in our marriage. Hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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