Money, sex, and power: three great gifts of God that can be used to such noble ends or abused to such ignoble ends. They can be harnessed to the greatest of good purposes or exploited to the most terrible of harmful purposes. All three are considered ghastly to some while they are worshiped as gods by others. This holy/unholy trio is the subject of John Piper’s latest book Living in the Light. While the book began as a series of conference messages, this is no lazy port from one format to another, but a careful, skillful rewrite and expansion.
Piper opens the book exactly as we might expect him to:
God did not conceive and create money, sex, and power simply to be a temptation. He had good purposes in mind. Money, sex, and power exist for the great aims of God in human history. They are not detours on the path to God-exalting joy. Along with all the rest of God’s good world, they are the path. With them, we can show the supreme worth of God. To show how that happens is one of the aims of this book. Therefore, the approach I take is to pursue the potentials of money, sex, and power as well as the pitfalls.
As he does so he demonstrates that “Money, sex, and power exist ultimately to show that God is more to be desired than money, sex, and power. That is, paradoxically, how they become most satisfying in themselves.” It is only when God is our greatest treasure and our purest pleasure that these three can take their rightful place.
First, the matter of definitions, for we cannot assume that we mean the same things even by such common terms. Money is a form of currency, of course, and a means of assigning value to objects or services, but it goes far deeper than that. “Money is one cultural symbol that we use to show what we value. It is a means by which we show where our treasure is; who our treasure is. The use of money is an act of worship—either of Christ, or of something else.”
Likewise, sex is far more than erotic stimulation or the desire for erotic stimulation. It “may be a good use of God’s good gift, or a merely selfish exploitation. What makes sex virtuous or a vice is not the pleasure, or the pursuit (to give it or get it), but something deeper. There are foundational issues of submission to the word of God and the condition of the heart.”
Power is the capacity to get what you want and “can be used to do evil or to do good. How you use your power shows where your heart is, what you love, what you treasure most—what you worship.”
What binds these three together is that they are all “ways of displaying God’s supreme worth in your life, or they are ways of displaying what you think is the supreme worth of something else. The way you think and feel and act about money, sex, and power puts your heart’s treasure on display—either God, or something he made.” Every one of us has witnessed the use and abuse of these three. Every one of us has been involved in their use and abuse. Every one of us has benefitted from their use and suffered from their abuse. “These are the two great heart-conditions in human life: the heart that values God over all, or values something else more.”
With foundational matters in place, Piper follows a predictable and effective format. He dedicates a chapter to sex, The Pleasure-Destroying Dangers of Sex, a chapter to money, The Wealth-Destroying Dangers of Money, and a chapter to power, The Self-Destroying Dangers of Power. In every case he celebrates the good gift of God, he describes its purpose within the economy of God, and he warns of the ways the twisted human heart perverts such goodness. So in the first of these three chapters he says, “God ought to be treasured above sexual pleasure, and tasted in sexual pleasure. The very delights and passions and ecstasies of God-designed sexual intercourse in marriage are the kinds of pleasure God himself conceived and created. They come from him. They are something of him. He is that kind of pleasure-knowing, pleasure-imagining, pleasure-creating God. And therefore when we taste those pleasures, we are tasting something of God.” But then sexual sin is rooted in this: “We don’t treasure the glory of God as supremely desirable over all things. We let the darkness of the lie persuade us that one illicit pleasure or another is more to be desired than God. … Sexual sin grows in the soil of blindness, darkness, and ignorance about the all-satisfying greatness and beauty of God.”
Living in the Light is a short book, weighing in at 144 small pages, so at this point only two chapters remain. The first tells of God’s plan to deliver people from the dangers of sex, money, and power. “That remedy is to wake up to the all-satisfying glory of God. If that could happen—if the blazing beauty of the sun could be restored to the center of the solar system of our lives—then money, sex, and power would gradually, or suddenly, come back into their God-glorifying orbits, and we would discover what we were made for. We would escape the broken solar system we made when we exchanged God for something else.” The final chapter concerns deploying these gifts for the good of others and the glory of God. “Treasuring God above all things turns money into the currency of worship and love. … Sex is always an occasion to show that the Giver of sex is better than sex. … When we turn from self-exaltation in pride to God-exaltation in humility, we gain God’s power to serve others, not to lord anything over anybody.”
Living in the Light represents a deep challenge. It illustrates how sinful humanity will take good things, and especially the best things, and use them for the lowest, meanest, most selfish purposes. It describes the importance, the beauty, and the benefit of seeing each as a path to glorifying God by finding satisfaction in God. Read it and you will be better equipped to humbly, confidently enjoy God’s good gifts of money, sex, and power.