Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Glory of God: A Fresh Perspective

"To God be the glory", says the pastor in a deep, rich voice. The glory of God carries with it certain emotions, ideas, and connotations. Tall cathedrals, reverent voices, harmonious choirs, and solemn attitudes are just a few that come to mind. The glory of God sits in our minds as an amorphous concept, an idea that carries with it weighty words such as 'reverence, honor, and holy'. Glory brings to mind bright colored lights, gold, jewels, and football players pointing to the sky after they score a touchdown.

In all, our understanding of glory seems to be rather insubstantial and undefined. We see it as something above and beyond ourselves, something unsearchable, undefinable, and above our earthly existence. In some charismatic circles I have found that the glory of God is preached as something to be experienced, but maybe not understood. It is amorphous, vague, and set apart from our ordinary lives. I have had an understanding, that if we want to experience the glory of God, we need to transcend our normal earthly existence. Maybe you can relate.

What if this isn't the case? What if the glory of God is not only something we can understand, but share in? What if God's glory isn't something to only be experienced in spiritually 'high' moments, but is a reality we recognize and experience everyday without even knowing it!?

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3)."

This the angels proclaim as they stand before the Lord on his throne. It's hard to think of a more transcendent picture of glory than what we find here in the vision God gave to Isaiah, but it still fails to define or bring understanding to what God's glory actually is.

In this verse, and in most of the Old Testament, the word 'glory' is the Hebrew word kabowd, which means splendor, honor, richness, or abundance. The angels declare that the splendor, the richness, and abundance of God, fills the earth. Another definition of Glory is majestic. The glory of God, in this light does seem to be so transcendent that we don't even have language to describe it. We use adjectives to describe an adjective! This surely inspires a grandiose mentality to the glory of God, an attitude of awe and wonder, but it still fails to define what is so glorious about him!

In the Greek language the word we define as glory is 'Doxa'. Take for instance this verse from the Christmas story.

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9)."

The definition of Doxa, is renown, honor, or the unspoken manifestation of God. It literally means 'what evokes good opinion'. It speaks to God's intrinsic worth, His value. Glory is an adjective used to describe who God is! The glory of God is what set's Him apart, it is the substance or essence of his nature. The shephards saw the glory of God, they saw and experienced who He was, and they became afraid! They aren't the only ones in the bible to catch a glimpse of the glorious nature of God!

"Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen (Exodus 33:18-23).”

Moses saw the glory of God, or His goodness, as God himself described it. Again we see that 'glory' is describing who God is. Moses wanted to see God's 'glory' so He showed His goodness. Moses caught a glimpse, of God, he saw the backside of God. It was there, in this encounter, that God gives Moses the 10 commandments. The 10 commandments embody the glory of God that Moses was allowed to see. 

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, we read that his face was literally shining from His encounter with God. Every time he spent time in God's presence on the mountain his face shone, and he wore a veil in front of the Israelite's to hide the shining light.

Moses encounter with the glory of God is supernaturally amazing, I mean have you ever glowed after spending time with God? Yet even so, we read in the New Testament that the glory Moses saw is nothing in compared to what we get to see!  The revelation of God's glory to Moses was the law, the 10 commandments. And the law carries with it a certain knowledge of God, a glimpse of His essence or nature, but it does so in a way that actually brings death to people instead of life. Read what the apostle Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians 3.

"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)."

In the new covenant, in the person of Christ, we see the glory of God clearly, more clearly than Moses did! The glory we see brings life instead of death, it is a glory greater than that which Moses saw! At the beginning of this chapter Paul talks about the law being written on tablets of stone, but that now the law is written on our hearts! Paul says that we are called to share in the glory of God, to be transformed into His image, to share in the essence and nature of who God is. The law couldn't accomplish this, it gave a picture of who God is and what it would be like to live like Him, but it couldn't empower us to actually get there.

The law could not bring us to live within the glory of who God is, because it was only a partial picture. The law, was a glimpse of who God was, and it called us to live up to that glimpse, but it only served to show our failure, our sin, and our inadequacy. Paul says that the law had some glory, it showed some of God, but Jesus shows all of God! Jesus takes away the veil so that we can clearly see the glory of God.

We are now on the verge of being able to define what the 'glory of God' is. We know it is an adjective used to describe who God is, it's His character, His goodness, His nature. So what is nature and character of God? Who is He? Paul says that the fullness of the glory of God can be seen in Jesus, Jesus takes away the veil. 'Jesus is the image of the invisible God' as it says in Colossians. When we see Him we see the Father. So what does Jesus have to say about glory?

"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (John 17:1-5)."

Jesus had a glory with the Father before the world was ever created, before anyone could 'give Him glory'. The glory of God, as shown in Jesus, is the relationship of love that is shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit. 

We've established that the glory of God is the loving nature and character of the trinity, but the verse above shows Jesus' asking God to glorify him. What does it mean to 'glorify'? Strong's Concordance defines it as bestowing honor, to give weight to, or to ascribe intrinsic value. Jesus is asking the Father to love Him, to cherish Him, and to affirm Him! The glory of God isn't some abstract, vague, ambiguous experience, but the very love of God! In glorifying Jesus, the Father is valuing Him for who He actually is! He is loving Jesus, celebrating Him, rejoicing over Him, serving Him, and honoring Him. Jesus asks this so that He can in turn glorify the Father, to truly recognize, celebrate, and value who He actually is!

Is this not the cry of the broken human heart? We desire to be valued, to be shown worth, to be loved! The glory of God, is the love of God! It is the relationship that the Father, Son, and Spirit share with one another! This is what's set's them apart! The love, joy, delight, and union within the trinity is 'the glory of God'! Let's continue reading in John 17.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (John 17:20-26).”

Jesus has been glorified by the Father, He has been loved by Him. Jesus knows He is loved. And Jesus has given us the same glory that the Father gave Him. What does that mean? It means that He has given us intrinsic worth, it means that He loves us for who we are! The Gospel is the declaration of God's love for us! Christ is God's glory, His loving kindness, including us in His relationship! Jesus wants us to know that love, to be transformed by that love. Or in other words, to share in God's glory! 

Jesus included us in His relationship with the Father, to know the love He knows, to experience the relationship He experiences! "In order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them..." This is profound and stunningly beautiful. 

The 'glory' of God is not something so transcendent that we can't reach it. In Jesus we see that God is a beautiful, loving, relationship between 3 persons. So united in love that it is only proper to say they are one. God is love precisely because He is 3 persons in a wondrous relationship of unity, celebration, encouragement, delight, and joy! Eternal life is in knowing God and His son! It is all about knowing and sharing in the love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have with one another! The purpose of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, was to adopt us into this glorious relationship! But how that happens is another conversation altogether.

If God's glory is the loving connection between the Father, Son, and Spirit, than what does it mean to glorify Him? It doesn't mean that we should give Him credit, or to to say 'I give all glory to you'. Glorifying God isn't about pointing to him after scoring a touchdown. No, glorifying God is about how we live, how we treat one another, even how we view ourselves! 

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)."

Doing all things 'for the glory of God' isn't about trying to make him famous. It isn't a religious ritual, it doesn't mean we wear a christian t-shirt, or share those Facebook posts that say if we 'deny Jesus He will deny us'. No, giving glory to God is far deeper, far more real, than all of that. It is about doing things 'into', or 'to' the glory of God. That means we should live in accordance to His glory, according to who He is! No matter what we do, we should do it within the glorious love of God. 

What we see in Jesus' prayer before He is crucified, is that His desire is that we would be one as He is one, that we would love as He loves, and to know we are loved in the same we He knows He is loved. We glorify Him by living in accordance with who He is and who He reveals us to be! We glorify Him by living as He lives, by living in His love!

"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

We participate in the glory of God as we live within His love! When we value others, when we encourage others, when we live in harmony with those around us! We also glorify God by learning to value ourselves!! Jesus, instead of commanding us to obey external principles, entered into us through His death and Resurrection and now shares His relationship with the Father from within our hearts! 

"On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:20)."

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)."

Jesus united Himself inside our hearts, deep down in the darkness where we feel alone, scared, and broken. It is there that He shares His intimate knowledge of the Father with us! The love the Father has for Jesus is now being revealed not just to us, but in us! That is how the new covenant works differently than the old, it's why this covenant is far more glorious! Jesus transforms us from the inside out through love!

"For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:14)."

It is in knowing our own worth, in knowing the value God has for us, in being 'glorified' by the Father, that we are transformed from the inside out! We are glorified by the love of God, but we also participate in the glory of God when the relationships we have mirror that of the Father, Son, and Spirit!

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20)."

Here's another verse that we create silly religious rituals out of. In Jesus name does not mean we say the word 'Jesus' when we gather with one another. In Hebrew culture, a name embodied the very essence of a person. To gather in Jesus' name doesn't mean we gather 'as Christians' or that we happen to say Jesus name while together. It means that we gather and relate with one another in accordance to who He is! That means we love as He lovs, that we live life valuing one another, celebrating one another, and delighting in one another! When we live and love as the Father, Son, and Spirit do, we are actually relating and sharing within their relationship!!

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35)."

The love we have for our friends and family, the joy we experience in community cannot be separated from the person of Jesus. He is right there in the midst of it! You see, God's glory isn't unreachable, or completely transcendent. We meet it and share in it through the outworking of our earthly relationships! When we experience loving community we are experiencing His glory!! How wonderful, how mysterious, how real and tangible the glory of God is!

Every time we honor each other, encourage each other, love each other, and delight in community we are not only glorifying God but sharing in His glory! When we live in forgiveness, hope, and love we are experiencing the glory of God! Being glorified doesn't mean we attain to a certain measure of fame, but that as God loves us and ascribes intrinsic worth to us, we are transformed to live according to that love! We end up living and relating with others as the Father, Son, and Spirit do! We are continually transformed from glory to glory!! Heaven is where the full manifestation of this community will be realized and experienced! How wonderful!

All that to say that we won't experience God's 'glory' in a transcendent individual way, but when we do, it is His love that He is sharing with us. It is His joy, hope, and delight! When we see/experience the 'glory of God', we are experiencing the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit!

I have written too long, and I feel like so much more could be said, but hopefully this brings a fresh perspective to what 'the Glory of God' actually is. Let's finish by reading this profound passage from 1 John chapter 4.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (1 John 4:7-21)."

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