The Pleasures of God
A Study Guide by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte NC
What makes God happy? What gives God great delight?
This Bible study focuses on these questions. Each week, we will prepare by studying a passage of Scripture that highlights one aspect of God’s pleasure. We then will read a chapter from John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God, which will draw in additional Scripture and clarify the points made in the main passage. By the end of these twelve weeks, each of us should develop an even greater passion for the glory of God – a passion shared by God himself.
In this book, Piper suggests that God’s greatest delight is in Himself and, furthermore, that it must be in Himself, or He would not be perfect. We, the church, ignore God’s pleasure in being God to our own detriment, and to the detriment of our work in the world:
What the church and the world need today, more than anything else, is to know and love God: the great, glorious, sovereign, happy God of the Bible. Very few people think of God as supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity and in the work of creation and redemption. The volcanic exuberance of God over the worth of his Son and the work of his hands and welfare of his people is not well-known. God’s delight in being God is not sung the way it should be, with wonder and passion, in the worship places of the world. And we are the poorer and weaker for it. My hope and prayer in writing this book is that more and more people would meditate with me on the pleasures of God, and that in doing so we would focus our attention on his excellency and glory. In this way our souls would be increasingly satisfied with God and changed gradually into his likeness. Thus, more and more, would God’s glory be manifest in the world through the mission of the church.
This book has received tremendous praise:
Each week, try to spread the preparation out over several days. Plan to complete it in time to meditate and pray about these matters prior to the time together
Join us for this exciting study.
Click on the title of each week’s lesson to move to the study questions. Please take note of the copyright notice. Also note that page numbers refer to the 2nd edition of Piper’s book, published in 2000. The study guide questions and chapter 10 are the primary changes in this edition.
Week 1: Introduction to the Pleasures of God: Matt 25:23, John 15:11 & 17:13, 2 Cor 3:13-4:4
Week 2: The Pleasure of God in His Son. John 17, Col 1:15-20
Week 3: The Pleasure of God in All He Does. Psalm 135:1-14, Ezekiel 18:23 and 32
Week 4: The Pleasure of God in Creation. Psalm 104
Week 5: The Pleasure of God in His Fame. No primary passage.
Week 6: The Pleasure of God in Election. 1 Cor 1:26-31, John 10:1-5, 11-16, and 24-30
Week 7: The Pleasure of God in Bruising His Son: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Romans 3:21-28
Week 8: The Pleasure of God in the Praise of His People: Zeph 3:9-20, Psalm 147
Week 9: The Pleasure of God in the Prayers of His People: Prov 15:8, 2 Thess 3:1,2
Week 10: The Pleasure of God in the Obedience of His People: Ex 17:8-16, Deut 25:17-19 and 1 Sam 15
Week 11: The Pleasure of God Concealing from the Wise and Revealing to Infants: Luke 10:17-24, 1 Cor 1:17-2:16
Week 12: Lessons from the Pleasures of God: Luke 12:29-34, John 17:24-26
(1) Read Matthew 25:23; John 15:11; and John 17:13. What do these verses tell you about the pleasures of God? Why does God discuss His pleasures with us?
(2) Now read 2 Corinthians 3:13 to 4:4. If you’re reading in the NIV, look at the text note for 3:18, which suggests that the word translated “reflect” can also be translated “contemplate.”
(a) What is the result of contemplating or beholding the Lord’s glory?
(b) Can unbelievers contemplate His glory? How does the passage address that question?
(c) When someone becomes a believer, what changes enable him to behold God’s glory?
(3) Is there a general rule here? What happens to us when we focus our thoughts on what is beautiful?
(4) Now read pages 11-23 of The Pleasures of God. If you have time, consider the study questions found on page 344.
(1) Read John chapter 17, Jesus’ “high priestly” prayer immediately prior to his arrest and crucifixion. This is a well-known chapter packed with revelation about the church. And, frequently, we focus on those points when reading this chapter. But this time, go through the chapter verse by verse and note down what it tells us about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Leave out statements about what God does for us, or His desires for us. You should nevertheless have a long list!
(2) Now, with a particular emphasis on verse 24, try to write one sentence describing the relationship between God the Father and God the son. You may also want to look at John 1:18, 5:20, and Matthew 3:17. Don’t try to capture everything you noted in your answer to question 1; pick out what you think is most important. Meditate on this idea.
(3) Now turn to Colossians 1:15-20. Read the passage at least three times prior to answering the questions.
(a) What does verse 19 tell us about the pleasures of God? What pleased Him?
(b) How is verse 15 – Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” – consistent with John 17:24?
(c) Now write a sentence describing the relationship between God the Father and God the son based on this passage. How different is this sentence from the one you wrote above?
(4) Recall the quote by Scougal we considered last week: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” How does that idea apply to God, given your insights from the passages you’ve studied?
(1) Read Psalm 135 1-14 at least three times.
(a) List the characteristics of God detailed in verses 1-5.
(b) Look closely at verse 6. Think about what it means. See also Psalm 115:1-3. Does anything limit God’s ability to do what pleases Him? Specifically, does man limit God’s ability to do what pleases Him?
(c) Verses 7-14 give several examples of God’s actions – actions that, according to verse 6, gave Him pleasure. List the actions. Look especially at verses 10 and 14. Why does God take pleasure in all these actions?
(d) Is verse 3 of this chapter consistent with verse 8? Write a sentence explaining how they can both hold.
(2) Now consider Ezekiel 18:23 and 32. What do these verses tell us about God’s pleasure? Note that the same Hebrew word is used for “pleasure” in Ps 135:6, Ps 115:3, and in these verses from Ezekiel.
(a) Do you still believe your answer to question (d) above? If not, revise it.
(b) How can these four verses (Ezekiel 18:23 & 32; Ps 115:3 & 135:6) be consistent with each other? Write another sentence explaining how it is possible for these four verses all to be true.
(3) Now read chapter 2 of The Pleasures of God. This chapter has a few very long footnotes; feel free to skip over most of them, but don’t miss the paragraph in the middle of page 59, where Piper quotes the Puritan Stephen Charnock concerning Abraham and the punishment of the Amorites.
Of the study guide questions (p. 348-351), look first at questions 9, 10, 18, 21, 22, and 23. If you have time to consider the other questions, they will help you to understand the chapter.
(4) Does Piper agree with your answer to question 2b? Do you want to revise your answer in light of what you have read?
(1) Read Psalm 104 at least three times.
(a) Write one sentence summarizing the major points of the Psalm
(b) What part of creation is discussed in the first four verses? What relationship between God and this part of His creation does the Psalmist picture?
(c) Consider verses 5-9, along with Genesis 1:9-10. What part of creation is discussed here? What relationship is pictured here?
(d) Consider verses 10-23. Again, what does God do in creation in these verses? List at least three things. What common element can you find in these actions of God? How does this differ from the picture of God’s actions in earlier verses? Who is the beneficiary of these actions?
(e) What reaction does the Psalmist have to all this in verse 24? How might you restate this verse? Try to do so in a sentence. Think in particular about what these works show about God. Consider verses 25 and 26 when you write your sentence. Consider: Does man know the full extent of God’s works?
(f) Verses 27-30 pick up once again on the sequence of thoughts about God and creation. What is the relationship between God and creation pictured here?
(g) What do verses 31-34 tell us about the pleasures of God? Think about the two halves of verse 31. Hebrew poetry frequently repeats a thought in somewhat different words; could that be the case in this verse? Consider also the relationship between verses 31 and 24, and your answer to the last question in (e) above. You might also want to look at Psalm 148.
(h) Consider verses 34 and 35 together. The psalmist has said nothing about sin until the last verse. Why is verse 35 even in the Psalm?
(i) Reread your answer to part (a), and revise it if necessary.
(2) Now read chapter 3 of The Pleasures of God. After showing that God delights in His creation, Piper discusses five statements explaining why creation pleases God. List those statements as you read through the chapter. Of the study guide questions (p. 352-3), look first at questions 1, 7, and 10. If you have time to consider the other questions, they will help you to understand the chapter.
Our biblical studies are more scattered this week, but I trust you will see their coherence by the time we finish . . .
(1) What is the chief purpose of missions? Write one sentence in response.
(2) What is the basis, or primary motivation, for God’s saving His people from calamity? Consider these texts:
(a) Joshua 7:8-9. This occurs after the Israelites are defeated at Ai; on what basis does Joshua appeal to God?
(b) Exodus 9:15-16. God has sent six plagues upon the Egyptians at this point, and Pharaoh still refuses to let the Israelites go. What option for saving the Israelites is referred to in verse 15? What reason is given in verse 16 for God sending all these plagues on the Egyptians instead of using the option discussed in verse 15?
(c) Isaiah 63:12-14. This passage looks back at God saving His people at the Red Sea. What is the basis for God’s saving actions in all these cases?
(3) What is the basis for God’s pardon for sin?
(a) First, consider Psalm 25:11, 79:9, and 1 John 2:12. Does the answer surprise you?
(b) Prior to looking at the texts, most of us would answer this question by saying, “Jesus’ shed blood is the basis of our pardon.” Look at John 12:27-28. How do these verses bring together Jesus’ shed blood and your answer to (a)?
(4) What is the basis for seeking God’s assistance in our leading righteous lives? See Psalm 23:3.
(5) Reconsider your answer to question 1 in light of this study. Consider also Romans 1:5 and 15:8-11.
(6) Now read chapter 4 of The Pleasures of God. Of the study guide questions (p. 354-6), look first at questions 2, 13, 14, and 18. If you have time to consider the other questions, they will help you to understand the chapter.
This is a good time to review where we’ve been. (It would be helpful to look over the past weeks’ questions and your answers.) We have seen that God is a happy God, delighting in His Son; He does what pleases Him, and nothing can stand in the way of His accomplishing His purposes. He delights particularly in His creation, and has created for Himself wonders that no man has ever seen. But God does delight to show to His sentient creatures – men and angels – what He is like. He has determined that His fame will be manifest to every thinking creature. Furthermore, He has determined that He will call together a people for His own special possession from every tribe and nation and language, a people who will be loved and cherished by Him for all eternity – and who in turn will glorify and praise and magnify Him forever. This is the promise and hope of missions.
Thus, God is at the center of it all: God created the universe for His glory; God created the church for His glory; God gave the Great Commission for His glory.
Spend some time thinking about this big picture before beginning this week’s study.
(1) Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
(a) Suppose you are a revolutionary leader who wants to turn the world upside down. What type of people do you try to recruit to your cause? What types of people did God choose (predominantly) when He designed to turn the world upside down?
(b) What does God prevent by choosing these types of people? What is God’s goal in choosing these types of people?
(c) Who does the choosing?
(2) Read John 10:1-5, 11-16, and 24-30.
(a) According to these verses, how do the sheep come to belong to the Good Shepherd? Who gives them to whom? Who calls them?
(b) What is the response of the sheep?
(c) What does the Shepherd do for the sheep?
(d) Are the sheep in danger of being separated from the Shepherd?
(e) What promise concerning the fulfillment of the Great Commission do we read in verse 16?
(f) In light of Ephesians 1:3-6, what is the purpose of the calling of the sheep?
(3) Now read chapter 5 of The Pleasures of God. As Piper states in the opening paragraph, election is a controversial topic – but then so are all significant biblical teachings. He argues that seeing God’s pleasure in election shows us “another facet of the glory of God,” thereby giving us “the power to make us holy and happy people.” So I urge you to read carefully and search the Scriptures to see if these things are true, regardless of your previous understanding of this issue.
There are 38(!) study guide questions on this chapter, and many of them are excellent. The questions I’ve picked out complement the questions above, so be sure to answer at least these (several are parts of the same question, so it’s not quite as involved as it looks): Questions 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 24, 27, 33, and 34. If you have time to consider the other questions, they will help you to understand the chapter.
(1) Read Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 at least three times.
(a) What are the indications in this passage that Isaiah is prophesying about Jesus? List at least 5.
(b) What reactions do men have to the servant?
(c) Verse 10 speaks of the “crushing” (in both NASB and NIV) of the servant. What is the extent of the crushing? Come to your conclusion based on this passage alone.
(d) Who initiates the crushing in verse 10? What is accomplished through the crushing? See particularly verses 4-6 and 10-12.
(e) Does the servant resist the crushing of the Lord? How can you tell from this passage?
(f) Explain why it would please the Lord to crush the servant.
(2) Read Romans 3:21-28 at least three times. Try to outline what Paul is saying here. Remember that the same Greek root stands behind the words translated “righteous,” “righteousness”, “just,” “justice”, and “justifier” in this passage. You might understand the passage better by reading it through, replacing all instances of “just” and its cognates with “righteous” – and then do the reverse.
(a) If Jesus had not died on the cross, in what sense would God have been unjust or unrighteous?
(b) In verse 25, the NASB uses the word “propitiation,” while the NIV reads “sacrifice of atonement.” Look at the NIV text note, which gives an alternate translation: “the one who would turn away his wrath, taking away sin.” Why does God need this propitiation?
(c) What does this passage have to do with the pleasure of God? How does this passage shed light on your answer to question (e) above? Try to write a summary sentence explaining why and in what sense God takes pleasure in crushing His Son.
Week 8: The Pleasure of God in the Praise of His People
This week begins a transition in our study, from God’s delight in what He does to God’s delight in the responses of His people. This is a key week for understanding what comes ahead – and a delightful topic for study. Get into it early so you can meditate on these thoughts at length.
(1) Read Zephaniah 3:9-20 at least three times.
(a) What does verse 17 tell us about the pleasures of God? What is the object that brings Him delight? How great is that delight? Don’t pass over this quickly! Think about what this verse means for you personally.
(b) Look again at verses 9 to 13. Verse 13 describes these people in glowing terms. What is the verb tense used in this verse? Does God delight in these people because they have never done wrong to Him? In verse 11, who will be removed from among the people? What people will be left? So what is the only qualification for being among those in whom God delights? Who enables the people to attain this qualification?
(c) Can enemies or oppressors harm God’s people, or keep God’s people from becoming what God intends them to be? Answer from the passage.
(d) What should be the response of God’s people to His delight in them?
(2) Read Psalm 147 at least 3 times.
(a) What do verses 10 and 11 tell us about the pleasures of God, both negatively and positively?
(b) Verse 11 gives two characteristics of those in whom the Lord delights. What are these characteristics?
(c) Using other verses from the Psalm, explain how fearing God and hoping in God are consistent with each other. Write a sentence or two containing your explanation.
(3) Now read chapter 7 of The Pleasures of God. Answer questions 12, 13, 15, 18, 20, and 21 from the study guide questions on pages 363 to 365. The first three of these are especially important – don’t miss them! If you have time to consider the other questions, they will help you to understand the chapter.
(1) Read Proverbs 15:8 several times.
(a) Analyze the two parts of the verse. Each part refers to (1) a type of person, (2) an action of the person, and (3) God’s response to the action. Make a chart listing each of these.
(b) Suppose we switch the types of person, but leave the rest of the verse the same. Is the verse still true?
(c) Starting again with the original verse, suppose we switch the actions. Is the verse still true?
(d) Given your answers to (b) and (c), explain the verse. Why does the Lord detest the sacrifice of the wicked? Why is He pleased in the prayer of the upright? What have you learned, then, about the pleasures of God? Try to summarize your thoughts in a sentence.
(2) Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 several times. Here is Piper’s translation, which captures more of the sense of the Greek than any of the common English translations:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, as [it was] with you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith.
(a) Paul asks for prayer. There are many things he might ask; what does he choose?
(b) When is a runner glorified? When is the word of the Lord glorified?
(c) Why does Paul ask to be delivered from evil men?
(d) Think hard about this one: we could translate the central phrase, “pray for us in order that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified.” What is the relationship, then, between prayer and preaching the Word? What is the relationship between prayer and the conversion of unbelievers? What are the implications of these thoughts for you?
(e) What does this question have to do with the pleasures of God?
(1) Read Exodus 17:8-16, which takes place as the Israelites are approaching the promised land under Moses. Then read Deuteronomy 25:17-19 and all of 1 Samuel 15. Please read all these Scriptures at least twice. Realize that hundreds of years pass between the events of Exodus and 1 Samuel.
(a) Why does God swear in Exodus that He will “utterly blot out the memory of Amalek”?
(b) Whom does God choose to carry out this purpose?
(c) What reasons can you discern from the passage for his failing to carry out the purpose? See particularly verses 12, 19, 22, 23, and 24. Can you think of other Scripture passages that explain why each of these rationales for disobedience is wrong?
(d) Verse 22 is key to understanding the passage. Why is obedience better than sacrifice? Is Samuel making a general statement, or one applicable only to this particular case? If sacrifices are commanded, isn’t offering them obedience to God’s command?
(e) Verse 23 tells us that Saul’s disobedience was akin to divination and idolatry. In what sense is this true? How is disobedience to God’s explicit command similar to trying to discern the future through occult means? How is it similar to obeying an idol?
(f) What does this tell us about the pleasures of God?
(2) Recall the image of the Greenland glacier, with you hanging on by your fingernails. God says He will save you, on one condition – but the condition is good news, not bad news, because all He requires is that you hope in Him. Now we see that God delights in our obedience. Is this good news or bad news? Has God saved us through our hoping in Him, but now that we are saved is He requiring of us something that is beyond our abilities? Write a sentence responding to this question after looking at these Scriptures: Luke 11:46, Isaiah 64:4, Romans 14:23, 1 Corinthians 15:10, 1 Peter 4:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.
(1) Read Luke 10:17-24 at least three times. You may also want to refer to Mark 10:15 and Ephesians 4:14.
(a) Upon first reading, what does this passage tell us about the pleasures of God? What causes Jesus to rejoice?
(b) What is being revealed? (Note: There are at least two answers here.)
(c) Who does the revealing? Look carefully at verses 21 and 22.
(d) To whom are these things revealed? Be sure to look at verse 23 here. The disciples belong to what class of people referred to in verse 21?
(e) What does Jesus mean by “babes” or “infants” in verse 21?
(f) What things are hidden? From whom?
(2) Now read 1 Corinthians 1:17 to 2:16.
(a) Paul speaks positively of what type of wisdom? He speaks negatively of what type?
(b) What is the goal of the positive type of wisdom? Of the negative type?
(c) Try explaining the difference between the two types of wisdom in a sentence. Why does God approve of one and disapprove of the other? How is this related to the Luke passage?
(3) Considering both of these passages, think about God’s view of our minds. Write a sentence or two or three about how God wants us to use our minds, and what errors we must be sure to avoid.
(1) Read Luke 12:29-34 at least three times.
(a) Summarize the major point of these six verses in a sentence or two. How does this section relate to the pleasures of God?
(b) Focus on verse 32. In Piper’s translation this reads, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.” List the different images used for our relationship to God in this brief verse. (Hint: there are at least three!)
(c) Why does Jesus say, “Fear not”? Given the rest of the verse and the context of this passage, what are we tempted to fear?
(d) Why does he call us “little”? What is the opposite of little in this case?
(e) Why doesn’t Jesus simply say, “Fear not, little flock, your Father will give you the kingdom.” What is the difference between that statement and what Jesus said? Why is the difference important?
(f) What does God promise to give us (in this verse and the surrounding verses)? What does he not promise to give us (that most of us would like to have)? Why is it better to receive what he promises than anything else?
(2) Now read John 17:24-26 at least three times.
(a) What does Jesus request for us in these verses?
(b) What does He say will be the outcome of the granting of His request?
(c) Meditate on the phrase “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.” Whose love for whom will be in you? How great is that love? Do you have that love right now? What will be the impact on your thoughts, on your desires, on your actions, of having this love within you?
(d) How is this question related to the pleasures of God?
(3) Now read the epilogue of The Pleasures of God. Also, glance back at the table of contents, recalling the order of the book, and the reason for the order. Skim through the chapters, looking at passages you have underlined or marked. Look back at these study guides. What have you learned during these three months? How has your conception of God changed? In the epilogue, Piper suggests some ways that he thinks your conception of God should have changed – has this been true for you? Write a paragraph summarizing the impact of this study on you. And then delight in God, to His glory forever and ever!
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