"God gave you doctrine for delight," Piper said Jan. 23 at the Louisville, Ky., campus. "God gave you a mind to be a faithful servant to your heart. Reasoning, thinking, knowing God is the necessary means, and delighting in, being satisfied in, enjoying and treasuring God is the ultimate end of the human soul."
Piper, an author, speaker and founder of Desiring God ministries, preached from John 8:28-32, a message he called "Don't Waste Your Theological Education."
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in Alumni Memorial Chapel, Piper applied a central theme of his ministry, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him," to the pursuit of theological education.
Before Piper spoke, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, introduced him, noting the significance of Piper's presence at the special event.
"You know him through his writing, through his voice, through his influence and his many, many books. He has been a model to us of so many things throughout the years, of faithfulness, of biblical exposition, of theological precision, of courageous ministry, of pastoral concern," Mohler said. "But many of you perhaps do not realize that he, too, is a theological educator."
Piper, longtime pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, led the church in establishing Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Mohler noted that Piper is modeling how to transition to a new stage of ministry after serving in a church for 30 years, saying it is a "gift to us to let us watch how he's doing this."
During his message, Piper said that because a Christian's mind is in service of his or her heart, theological studies should result in the enjoyment of God. Students should "make reflection the servant of affection," he said.
"The organ of knowing is given by God to serve the organ of preferring," Piper, author of "Don't Waste Your Life," said. "Thinking exists to serve feeling."
The way those in seminary can avoid wasting their experience is by using their academic pursuits both to further their knowledge of God and, ultimately, to enjoy Him more, Piper said.
"You will not waste your seminary -- your years here, your efforts here, your experience -- if you solidify the lifelong habit of thinking about the truth of God as a means of enjoying the God of truth," Piper said.
Christians must do this for the rest of their lives, he added, saying, "Thinking about God is the necessary means, and treasuring God is the ultimate end of the human soul."
What keeps people -- seminary students included -- from enjoying God is competing affections, Piper said.
"Sin is an internal displacement of the glory of God in our affections, in our valuing or treasuring of anything above God," he said. "All sin, outwardly, is an expression of the inward preference of anything above God. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free from preferring anything other than God."
Piper led students in thinking about how to glorify God in their thoughts about His truth.
By affections, Piper said he does not mean physical, outward reactions, but rather internal, spiritual and supernatural joy in God, which can sometimes overflow in outward ways.
A Christian grows in affection for God, Piper said, through correct thinking about God. So seminary is important, but only as a means to the end of growing in love for God.
"Enjoying Christ above all things is essential to magnifying Christ above all things," Piper said, adding that when a Christian delights in someone, such as a spouse, he or she honors that person.
Joy in God, he said, is the essence of faith and obedience to God.
Discussing love of neighbor and how joy intertwines with service, Piper said, "Loving your neighbor is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others."
Piper offered five applications and warnings for seminary students.
First, he said the greatest threat to a student's future ministry is the death of enjoying God.
Second, future pastors will harm their sheep if they lose their joy in God.
Third, the New Testament says the aim of Christian ministry is to work for truth.
Fourth, Piper challenged students not to rest until "the fruit of your mind becomes the flame of your heart" in every class, conversation, book and paper.
His final point, he said, was for students to pray. He gave an acronym he uses daily in his personal prayer time: IOUs. Each letter represents a prayer from a Psalm:
-- I: "Incline my heart to your testimony, O God" (Psalm 119:36);
-- O: "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things" (Psalm 119:18);
-- U: "Unite my heart to fear your name" (Psalm 86:11); and
-- S: "Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad in you." (Psalm 90:14).
RuthAnne Irvin writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Audio and video from Piper's sermon are available at sbts.edu/resources. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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