"You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).
Living knowing that your life is a vapor is different than just living. Things here are passing away. You’ve got to hold on to what will stand. Savor what matters. This collection of thirty-one articles is full of that heart-longing after Christ that distinguishes Piper’s preaching ministry. You will feel as though you have stumbled into a garden as you enter these pages. The Scripture cuts, Christ is exalted in God, and we worship Him.
Life Is Short. Eternity Is Long. Live Like It.
You will exist forever. You and God are both in the universe to stay—either as friends on His terms, or enemies on yours—which it will be is proven in this life. And this life is a vapor. Two seconds, and we will be gone.
In these thirty-one meditations, John Piper will connect you to a fresh understanding of God and a renewed relationship with Him. You’ll find your faith stirred to make every day count for Christ when you consider life as a vapor.
Story Behind the Book
Time is precious. We are fragile. Life is short. Eternity is long. Every minute counts. Oh, to be a faithful steward of the breath God has given me. Three texts resound in my ears: “Redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16 ); “It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2); “His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10 ).
Surely God means for our minutes on earth to count for something significant. Paul said, “In the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” (Philippians 2:16). In the same way, I have good hope from the Lord that my “labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ).
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LIFE as a VAPOR
By JOHN PIPER
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Desiring God Foundation
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDoes It Matter What Others Think?
Life is too short to spend time and energy worrying about what others think of us. Or should we care about what others think precisely because that really matters in this short life? Should we be radically free from what others think, so that we don't fall into the indictment of being a "second-hander" or "man-pleaser," a slave to expediency? Or should we keep an eye out for what others think of what we do, so that we don't fall into the indictment of being boorish and insensitive and offensive? The answer is not simple. Some biblical texts seem to say it matters what others think. Others seem to say it doesn't.
For example, Jesus warned us: "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). And His own enemies saw in Him an indifference to what others thought: "Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God" (Mark 12:14). Paul said that if he tried to please men he would no longer be serving Christ: "Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). "As we have been approvedby God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts" (1 Thessalonians 2:4). So it seems that Christians should not care much about what others think.
On the other hand, Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold." This sounds like reputation matters. And Paul was vigilant that he not be discredited in his handling the money he collected for the poor: "[We are] taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (2 Corinthians 8:20-21, NASB). It mattered what men thought.
Paul taught the Roman church, "Now we who are strong ought ... not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification" (Romans 15:1-2, NASB). And he taught that one of the qualifications for elders is that they must be "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:2), including among unbelievers: "He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:7).
Similarly Peter charged us to care about what outsiders thought: "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12, NASB).
Question: How is the tension between these two groups of passages to be resolved?
Answer: By realizing that our aim in life is that "Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20, NKJV). In other words, with Paul, we do care-really care-about what others think of Christ. Their salvation hangs on what they think of Christ. And our lives are to display His truth and beauty. So we must care what others think of us as representative of Christ. Love demands it.
But we ought not to care much what others think of us for our own sake. Our concern is ultimately for Christ's reputation, not ours. The accent falls not on our value or excellence or virtue or power or wisdom. It falls on whether Christ is honored by the way people think of us. Does Christ get a good reputation because of the way we live? Is the excellence of Christ displayed in our lives? That should matter to us, not whether we ourselves are praised.
Again notice a crucial distinction: The litmus test of our faithfully displaying the truth and beauty of Christ in our lives is not in the opinion of others. We want them to see Christ in us and love Him (and thus, very incidentally, to approve of us). When John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30), he spoke for every true Christian. We must insist on being less than Christ. I am vigilant, as far as it depends on me, to be less than Christ to others.
But we know others may be blind to spiritual reality and resistant to Christ. So they may think more of us than they thought of Him. Or they may think less of us than they think of Him, not because they think well of Him, but, as Jesus said, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household" (Matthew 10:25). They may think He is a devil and we are worse. Jesus wanted men to admire Him and trust Him. That would have been their salvation. But He did not change who He was in order to win their approval. Nor can we change who He was, or who we are in Him.
Yes, we want people to look on us with approval when we are displaying that Jesus is infinitely valuable to us. But we dare not make the opinion of others the measure of our faithfulness. They may be blind and resistant to truth. Then the reproach we bear is no sign of our unfaithfulness or lack of love.
* * *
Father, at times the way of Christ is complex to our sin-stained and finite minds. Forgive us for the times we have justified our vanity in the name of a good reputation. O, Lord, grant us, in this brief life, the wisdom and courage to please others, or not to please others, for the sake of Christ alone, and not our own praise. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Excerpted from LIFE as a VAPOR by JOHN PIPER Copyright © 2004 by Desiring God Foundation. Excerpted by permission.
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