God’s Passion For His Glory
Wm. P. Farley (This essay originally appeared in Discipleship Journal in 2002 and won an EPA prize)
I TRIED TO CONSTRUCT A JIGSAW PUZZLE of a stone bridge arched over a lazy summer stream, but I had little success. Hundreds of pieces littered the table in confusion. The pieces would not fit together. To fit each piece into the bigger picture I needed the master scene on the lid. When the top was finally found I breathed a sigh of relief. The puzzle came together in a few hours.
Our Bible study is similar. We need the big-picture perspective, a “master scene,” before we can assemble the “pieces” of verses, chapters, and doctrines into a cohesive whole. These “pieces” can only be understood in light of God’s “master scene” which is God’s ultimate purpose for creation and redemption. Like me, many of you have read your Bible with no reference to God’s master plan. Consequently, your Bible study has probably suffered from a small view of God, fragmentation, and man-centeredness.
For many years I gave God’s grand purpose little thought. I assumed that God created man because He needed us for fellowship. I assumed His ultimate purpose must be the happiness of humanity. But this idea collapsed under the increasing conviction that if God needed anyone, or anything, that need would render Him incomplete, and an incomplete Being would not be the all-sufficient God of the Bible. I continued to search for a solution.
God eventually led me to A Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). This material was spiritual dynamite. It redirected my man-centered, disjointed, worldview into a God-centered harmony. Edwards’ thesis, that God’s purpose is His glory, was the “picture on the lid” that unified the pieces of the Bible like evangelism, church government, spiritual gifts, and eschatology.
Many scriptures clearly state God’s ultimate purpose. For example, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Is. 43:6,7).[i]
Other verses, too numerous to mention, also tell us that God acts for His Name’s sake, which is another way of saying he acts for the sake of His glory. When David wrote, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3), we understand that God guides us into holiness for His glory[ii]. When Isaiah writes, “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you” (Is. 48:9),[iii] we conclude that God gives mercy for the sake of His glory. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) wrote, “The chief end of salvation, is that God may be glorified and that his glory may be displayed and acknowledged.”[iv]
What about human happiness? [v] God’s glory, not human happiness, is his ultimate end. The great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge (1797-1878), wrote, “the scriptures teach that the glory of God is the end to which the promotion of holiness and the production of happiness and all other ends are subordinate.” This means that the church’s happiness is a means to God’s Glory, but it is not God’s ultimate end. This understanding changes everything for the astute Bible student.
Many readers are probably thinking, “your idea of God is selfish. He puts Himself before his creation. How does this idea mesh with “God is love” (1Jn. 4:8)? God’s ultimate purpose does not diminish God’s love. Paul tells us that God’s love “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 4:19). We cannot begin to appreciate its depths.
God is never selfish, but he is self-centered in a righteous sense. In fact, his self-centeredness is an expression of his moral perfection. Since God is perfect, He must distribute His love with righteous priorities. For example, no one would honor a husband who loved and esteemed his canary more than his wife. Why? Because no man with these priorities could be good. In the same way, God most loves and honors that which has the greatest moral perfection and loves less which has less moral excellence. Since nothing deserves God’s love more than God Himself, God must esteem Himself more than His creation. It would be sin for God to do otherwise. That is why Paul unabashedly exults “that in everything (creation and redemption) he (Christ) might have the supremacy” (Col. 1:18)[vi].
The example of the canary-loving husband above is not fair. There is only a finite difference in value between a canary and a woman, but the distance between God and man is infinite. Therefore, God must love himself infinitely more than his creation.
God’s Glory Defined And Loved
God’s glory is His moral perfection put on display. It is, amongst other things, his incomprehensible love, his infinite hatred of evil expressed in his wrath, his tender mercy, his amazing grace, his strict love of justice, his multi-faceted wisdom, and his iridescent holiness. God glorifies himself by loving and exercising each of these. This is why he created the universe and redeemed us—to display his glory.
Remember, before God created the universe he had infinitely existed in a perfect Trinity of love. The love of His glory as it appeared in the other members of the Godhead was his consuming occupation. The Father rejoiced in the glory of his Son, who is the “exact representation of his Being” (Heb. 1:3). The Son exulted in the glory of his Father. This love overflowed in an infinite ocean of eternal, unbroken joy, God in three persons, loving the glory of the other members of the Godhead. This is what Jesus had in mind when he prayed, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5).
When they determined to create the universe, it was for the further display of this glory which they had loved and rejoiced in for eternity. That is why the Bible continually tells us that God does everything for his glory, or for his namesake, and it never apologizes for these statements. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rm. 11:36).
How God Glorifies Himself
God glorified himself through creation. Creation displays his wisdom (Proverbs 8:22ff). From the myriad galaxies above to the billions of molecules in the tip of your finger, the glory of God’s wisdom is on display. Creation also glorifies God’s invisible nature, eternal power, and divine nature (Romans 1:20).
Most importantly, God has glorified himself through the death of his Son. Just before his death he said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn. 12:23). Jesus’ death glorified God’s justice. He loves justice (Ps. 11:7), and he strictly applies it. But God is also love (1Jn. 4:8). He passionately longs for the happiness of his creatures. God yearns to glorify that love by exercising it.
“GOD IS NEVER SELFISH, BUT HE IS SELF-CENTERED IN A RIGHTEOUS SENSE”
His dilemma (humanly speaking) was how to be perfectly just and, at the same time, forgive sinners? Or, in other words, how could God glorify his justice, by punishing sin perfectly, and simultaneously glorify His love by forgiving sinners? Neither could be compromised, so God’s wisdom provided a solution, the cross.
The cross simultaneously glorified God’s justice, God’s love, and God’s wisdom. God sent His Son as our substitute. He put our sin upon Him and punished each sin with the perfect justice it deserves (Romans 3:25-26). In this way Jesus’ death perfectly satisfied and glorified God’s justice. Jesus death also demonstrated and glorified the astounding reality of God’s love. It also glorified his unmerited grace poured out on the undeserving. Last, ,the solution to God’s dilemma glorified God’s wisdom.
God’s passion for His glory affects us in at least five ways.
First, it affects our Bible study. God’s pursuit of his glory is the picture on the puzzle lid. When we see it we learn that the Bible is not primarily about the church, evangelism, or redemption. The big picture that rightly relates the pieces is God’s passion for his glory. God seeks his glory in creation.
Second, this truth affects our view of our importance. Imagine someone trying to convince you that the sun and the planets revolve around the earth. You would laugh. But we do the same with the gospel when we make the happiness of humanity the ultimate end of God’s work. Rejecting this man-centeredness radically changes our message. Now we preach to please God, not men. It also changes evangelism. We don’t dilute the message to win listeners.
If the needs of people are your primary focus you will always be concerned with keeping people happy. But now I preach a holy God to sinful, needy people. I emphasize man’s wickedness, his dependence, his helplessness and Christ’s Lordship over every facet of life. I delight to focus my message on the glory of God rather than the needs of men. This message is often misunderstood, and sometimes unpopular, but I enjoy the confident assurance that it glorifies God and ultimately pleases Him.
Third, this truth explains why God pursues our happiness. It teaches us that human happiness is extremely important, but not because it is God’s ultimate end, as so many think, but because it is a means to his end. In other words, our joy in God magnifies his glory.
God redeemed us to share his happiness in himself—to delight in the same things he does. When God’s people love God, for his moral beauty, (not His gifts) they glorify God. They share in the same love for God that God has for Himself, and that has existed for eternity. When we find our joy in God, we agree with God that his glory is the treasure hidden in the field (Mt. 13:44), the one object of supreme value for which everything is worth selling.
Personally, this insight changed my relationship with God. I saw that loving God for his glory, rather than his gifts, was the sum of my Christian duty. It helped me reject the excesses of those believers who emphasize loving God for his material blessings and healing power. In fact, God has often removed his felt presence to see if I loved him for himself or for the gifts he gives. He will do the same with you.
This truth also convinced me that the joy and peace we all desire is a byproduct of loving God. I have learned that loving and being loved by spouses, children, and friends can never completely fill the void in my life or yours. Only the joy of loving God for the beauty of his glory can ultimately satisfy. After all, this will be our eternal occupation in heaven. In the end, loving God, and expressing that love with obedience, is all that matters. Those who grasp this truth become radically God-centered for selfish reasons.
Fourth, this thesis affects our discernment. How do we discern the authentic work of the Holy Spirit? Since the Holy Spirit is always in perfect sync with the Father’s ultimate purpose everything that he does is to advance the Father’s glory. Since our fruitfulness is the main avenue to God’s glory, the Holy Spirit always acts to replicate God’s character (his glory) in his people. Therefore, if we think a teaching or phenomenon is from the Holy Spirit but it does not advance our holiness, it is probably from the flesh or evil spirits.
This means we should “test the spirits” (1Jn. 4:1) to determine if the questioned activity increases the conviction of sin, or furthers the incarnation of holiness in the church. If it does, the Holy Spirit is probably behind it. If it doesn’t, we should be skeptical.
Fifth, participating in God’s glory is our ultimate hope. “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col 1:27)[vii] is how Paul described it. Here is the most stupendous, mind-numbing promise in the Bible. In eternity, God plans to share His moral glory with us, his church. We will then be holy as God is holy. God will rejoice in us as He does His Son because, like His Son, we will share His moral glory. Remember, you will share the same glory that is so intense that you could not survive a view of it in your present mortal, sin-wracked frame[viii].
I recently suffered through some depression and discouragement. I overcame it by meditating on this wonderful truth. I put my eyes on the hope of beholding God’s glory, face to face. I reminded myself that God will then love me and rejoice in me as He loves His Son because He has clothed me in His glory. This is an incalculable privilege. Even the angels do not share this hope. It always helps me transcend the mundane. It liberates my mind and spirit from the confines of earthly things. It will do the same for you. Ask God to make the hope of sharing His glory real to you.
“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1Cor 10:31). God’s passion is His glory. Is it yours also?
[i] Also see Isaiah 42:21, 43:21,25, 44:23, 61:3
[ii] Also see Ps 31:3, 109:21
[iii] Also see Ps 25:11, Jer 14:7,9, 1Jn 2:12
[iv] Saved In Eternity, Crossways Books, 1988, pg 47
[v] Systematic Theology, Edward Gross, editor, Baker 1988, pg 161 (Italics mine)
[vi] Also see He 2:10, & Rm 11:36,
[vii] Also see Rm 5:2, 8:18, 8:30, 2Cor 4:18, 1Pe 4:13, 1Pe 5:1
[viii] Ex 33:19-20 Jn 1:18, 1Ti 1:17