What do you understand by the word ‘glory’? praise, honour, or distinction? Great beauty and splendour? A state of great gratification or exaltation?
These are dictionary definitions and if we applied them to God then we would most likely define His glory in a way similar to John Piper’s ‘the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections’. But perhaps a more relevant question for us to ask is ‘how is God’s glory best displayed?’
From my interactions with Christians over many years it seems to me that many, if not most, people understand God’s glory as something that manifests in displays of His power, irresistible will, or supreme authority. Of course, God, being God, is the all-powerful, supreme authority over all creation and nothing can resist Him when He decides to act in a particular way. But is this how His glory is best revealed?
At the local church, I attend we are currently working our way through the Gospel of John and this last Sunday it was my privilege to preach on Chapter 17. On the surface, the subject matter appears to be Jesus’ prayer to The Father concerning their relationship, the 11 apostles, and all future believers. However, in His prayer, He uses the word ‘glory’ or ‘glorify’ 8 times and this gives us insight into the underlying substance of His prayer.
He speaks of His glory, The Father’s glory, and His disciples’ glory. So what exactly is this ‘glory’ that that Father and Son display and that we, as His disciples, are expected to display?
The first biblical reference to glory that I can find which concerns the personal attributes of God is in Exodus 33. Moses approaches God for help in leading the Israelites and the Lord responds with the words, “My presence will go with you” , or as the New Living Translation puts it “I will personally go with you”. To which Moses comes back with one of the most presumptuous requests in the Bible; “Now show me your glory”. The Hebrew word he uses here is transliterated as ‘kaw-bode’ which, in this context, is best translated as ‘substance’. Is Moses really saying, “Okay, so you say that you will go with me, but what is your essence? What defines you?” In other words, “can I trust your motive and character?’ It seems like this is what Moses is implying because God responds in an unexpected way; He says “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you. ”And then He amplifies the idea of goodness with the words mercy and compassion. Then God explains to Moses that no human being can look upon the radiance of His countenance and survive and so He demonstrates His goodness, mercy, and compassion by shielding Moses in order to protect him.
So, is God’s glory manifest in His total control of all things, or His immutable decrees and commands, or in the exercise of His irresistible power?
No, God’s glory is best displayed in His goodness, compassion, and mercy.
This should not surprise us because the Old Testament is replete with references to these divine qualities. And when we get to God’s self-revelation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, the nature of God’s glory becomes obvious to all. John describes the coming of God the Son into the world with the words, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ Hebrews 1:3 states that ‘the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’. When we consider the life of Jesus and ponder on His words then we can have no doubt that He is the personification of divine goodness, mercy, and compassion. Oh, and in Jesus, we can look upon the face of God and live!
The most powerful demonstration of the glory of God was the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. On the cross of Calvary God demonstrated the extreme extent of His goodness and through the death of His Son provided life with himself for all who will believe.
Now, in our day, God continues to manifest His glory through… us, Jesus-followers. With Christ in us and us in Christ, we live out the glorious fruit of His Spirit as we manifest His mercy and compassion through the Gifts of the Spirit which He provides as demonstrations of His glory.
‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’. 2 Corinthians 3:18