Everything created by God can be enjoyed if used in the right way. We sin when we use God’s creation in the wrong way, when we make an idol of something created, or if we forbid entirely the things God has made. Brian Watson preaches a message on 1 Timothy 4:1-5.
When you have young kids in your home, you find yourself saying certain things quite frequently. One of those sayings is, “Knock it off!” That’s a favorite saying of my wife. My most often frequent saying is probably quite simply, “Stop it!” There’s another saying I have: “That’s not a toy!” I might say that whenever my sons start to play with something that catches their eye, like a computer or a hammer or a staple gun. Okay, I’m joking with that last item. My sons are now at an age when they’re naturally curious, and there are times when playing with something that’s not a toy can be destructive and even dangerous.
My wife used to allow our kids to play with some items in a drawer in the kitchen. It’s kind of our culinary junk drawer, where we store anything from measuring cups and measuring spoons to spatulas and other assorted kitchen tools. About three and a half years ago, I found Caleb playing with a crinkle cutter. It’s a little tool that makes crinkle-cut slices of potatoes and cucumbers and other vegetables. It’s designed for a purpose: it makes these crinkle-shaped cuts. It doesn’t do anything else. Caleb was running the edge of it along my nice, black, lacquer-finished piano. Now there is a nice, thin, long scratch made by the end of the crinkle-cutter. I guess I should be thankful that his brother doesn’t have a crinkle-cut finger. But I wasn’t thankful at the time. My boy had used something in a way that didn’t line up with its purpose.
Now, that’s not very serious; there are worse things than a scratch in a piano. But there are times when a tool, when used as a toy, could become quite dangerous. And there are times when things that are not used according to their purposes become very dangerous, even deadly. Think about the drugs we call opioids. Many of us have heard that we’re living in the midst of an opioid crisis or epidemic. Opioids are the kind of drugs that trace their origins back to opium, which is made from the opium poppy, a flowering plant. Opium is what makes morphine, a powerful painkiller. It’s also what can be processed into synthetic opioids, prescription painkillers that help people with acute and/or chronic pain. It’s a good thing to have painkillers. Seven years ago, I had a herniated disc in my lower back. The L5/S1 disc impinged on the sciatic nerve on my right side, which created a great amount of pain in my butt, hip, and leg. I spent the better part of three months lying down on the floor. I also took painkillers for three months. They didn’t eliminate the pain, but they reduced it greatly. When I had surgery, I was given some morphine afterwards. I have seen people dying on morphine, which eased the pain of their last days, hours, and minutes. Anything that is safe and can reduce this kind of pain is a good thing.
But some people get addicted to prescription painkillers. Millions of people misuse prescription painkillers. Millions in the world are using them illegally. And thousands die from overdoses every year. In 2016, there were 42,249 people who died of opioid overdoses. Of those, 20,145 died from synthetic opioids (other than methadone) and 14,427 died of natural or semi-synthetic opioids. Opium can also be processed into heroine, an illegal drug, which killed 15,446 people in 2016.
So, something that occurs in nature, the opium poppy, can be produced into chemicals that relieve pain and suffering. Those chemicals, when taken in excess, can also kill. And the same natural thing can be processed into a chemical that is illegal, highly addictive, destructive, and deadly.
This reveals an important biblical truth. Everything that exists in nature can be used for good or for bad purposes. God made these things good. But when they are misused, the result is very bad. We can misuse things by using them in a way contrary to God’s design for them. We can misuse things my making an idol of them. And we can also misuse good things by avoiding them and telling others not to use them.
We see all of this in the passage that we’ll look at today, 1 Timothy 4:1–5. Three months ago, we started to look at the letter of 1 Timothy, a book of the New Testament. It’s a letter written by the apostle Paul to his younger associate, Timothy. Paul left Timothy in the city of Ephesus while he was gone. He wanted Timothy to make sure that the church in Ephesus was healthy. In particular, he wanted Timothy to protect the church from false teaching. In today’s passage, we see some of the content of their wrong teaching. So, with that in mind, here’s what we’re going to do today. I’m going to first read the passage, explain what it means, and then think a bit more deeply about how we can rightly appreciate and use the things that God has created.
Here is 1 Timothy 4:1–5:
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Paul says that the Holy Spirit has indicated that in “later times” people will depart from the truth faith and teach false things. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the one God; he is the one who empowers some people to speak the word of God. He is the one who led Paul to write this letter. And he spoke through apostles and prophets to indicate that in “later times,” there would be false teachers.
What does Paul mean by “later times”? Well, he means now. And I don’t mean the twenty-first century. I mean the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. If you look carefully at the New Testament, you’ll see this. For example, Paul writes something a bit similar in his second letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:1–5, he writes,
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
I think that people have always been lovers of self and money, they’ve always been proud, and so forth. But if Paul meant that people would only be this way in the period right before Jesus returned to earth, he wouldn’t say, “Avoid such people.” Timothy wouldn’t have to worry about those people, because they would come much later in time. So, the “last days” and the “later times” are the long period between Jesus’ first and last coming.
Now, what prophecy is Paul referring to? Peter and Jude make a reference to prophecies about false teachers (2 Pet. 3:1–3; Jude 17–18). Jesus said that in the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the year 70, “many will fall away” and “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10–11). Paul may also be referring to something he said earlier in time, recorded in the book of Acts. While speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus (the same city where Timothy was located), he said,
29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29–30).
Paul knew that false teachers would come, now they are in this church, and now they are leading people to depart from the faith. Literally, these people have apostatized. These false teachers are insincere liars, which means that they know they are teaching false things. They’re not just making honest mistakes. They have consciences that are seared, which likely means that they are branded. It’s possible that their branding means they are marked as belonging to Satan, the devil. That would make sense of the why they are associated with “deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons.” That may sound extreme, but it reminds us that all lies ultimately come from Satan, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The Bible teaches us that there is more to reality than what we can see. There are spirits, both angels and demons, who are at work to either support or fight against God’s plans.
False teachers are influenced by Satan, and they can appear to look godly, though their message is wrong. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote of other false teachers. About them, he wrote,
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds (2 Cor. 11:13–15).
So, what was this “teaching of demons” that these false teachers taught? Was it some secret occult practice? Was it teaching people to bow down before some shrine or statue of a god? Was it the first-century equivalent of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”? No, not at all. These teachers “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” That’s surprising. They were telling people not to get married—and probably to be celibate. They were also telling people not to eat certain foods. They were probably trying to tell people to maintain the dietary laws found in the Old Testament (Leviticus 11). I say that because these same false teachers had an incorrect understanding of the Old Testament law, something Paul mentioned in the first chapter of this letter (1 Tim. 1:3–11).
In short, it seems like they taught that certain practices could lead people astray, that marriage, perhaps because of the issue of sex, might somehow be inherently bad, that eating certain foods might corrupt people. We would think that false teachers would teach people to go have all the sex they want and eat all the foods they want. But this is quite the opposite.
Yet these false teachers were wrong. “God created [food] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” The problem isn’t marriage or certain foods. The problem, really, is inside of us, not the created things that we find in the world.
To understand this, we need to have a grasp of the story of the Bible, or what we might call a basic biblical worldview. To get a quick handle on that story, we need to remember four words: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
First, there is creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). When God made things, he saw that they were good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). There is no hint of created things, or physical things, being bad. God ordered and designed the material world to function in a good way. Other philosophies or religions teach that material things are somehow worse than so-called “spiritual” or immaterial things. But this isn’t what we see in the Bible. The goal of the biblical story is not to escape from the material world.
Second, there is the fall. Something bad happened, something that distorts us and our experience of this world. The first human beings turned away from God. They didn’t trust him and his word. They didn’t listen to his commandments. They believed the lie that God was keeping good things from them. They didn’t accept God’s design for them and his world. As a result, the power of rebellion that we call sin invaded the world. This created a separation between God and human beings, but it also creates a separation between human beings, and within human beings. There is something broken in us. There is something broken in the material world, too. But that doesn’t mean that the stuff that God created is inherently bad.
Jesus taught us what is wrong with us. He said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15). Then he said,
“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:18b–23).
What is wrong with us is our hearts, our disordered desires. Those disordered desires lead us to commit sins, wrong actions. The things that God made have right uses, but we end up using things the wrong way. And because we have fouled up God’s good creation, and because God wants to restore his good creation, God has every right to evict us from his good creation forever. In other words, he has every right to condemn us. That’s bad news.
But there’s good news. And that is redemption. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God sent his unique Son, the second Person of the Trinity, who became a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is therefore truly God and truly man. Jesus came to fulfill God’s purposes for humanity. He is the perfect image bearer of God, the perfect representative, the perfect human ruler, the perfect worshiper, the perfect lover of God and lover of other people, the perfect Son of God. The fact that Jesus became a real man shows that the material world is not inherently bad. It shows that created things can be perfect. Though Jesus was and is perfect, he was rejected, betrayed, arrested, tortured, and killed. He never did anything wrong to deserve such treatment. But people hated him and didn’t believe him. And yet this was all God’s plan to put the sins of his people on his Son’s shoulders, and it was the Son’s plan to bear the righteous judgment of sin on behalf of those who trust him. All who believe that Jesus is who the Bible says he is and did what the Bible says he did are forgiven of their sins, adopted as God’s children, and granted eternal life. People who trust Jesus receive the Bible as the word of God and try to live their lives according to what the Bible says we should do in these “last days.”
The end of the is the restoration of the universe. In the end, God’s people won’t live in “heaven.” They will live in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), a new creation. It will be a physical world, a place where there is real food and there will be a real marriage, though not between mere human beings. The real marriage is between God and his people, Jesus and his church. This is a metaphor, of course; not all that occurs within a human marriage occurs with the divine marriage. But it captures something of the beauty, exclusivity, faithfulness, and love of the relationship that God has with his people.
So, the story of the Bible teaches us that created things aren’t inherently bad. Instead, it teaches that sinful people have a way of failing to use the things of God’s creation rightly. We fail when we distort God’s good gifts, using them for wrong purposes. When God says, “That’s not a toy!” we should listen. He knows better than we do. We fail when we make those gifts into an idol, something that is ultimate in our lives, an object of worship. Today, when people take one aspect of creation and build their lives around it, instead of building their lives around God, they don’t think they’re worshiping. They don’t think that thing, whatever it is, is an idol. But that’s really what it is. It is the functional object of their worship. Yet we were made to worship God alone. We also fail when we act as though God’s good gifts are inherently bad.
We can misuse anything. We can turn anything into an idol. And we can overcorrect by avoiding good things.
It’s not likely that we’ll do this with food, but it’s still possible to make that mistake today. People misuse food by eating too much of it, or by eating too much of things that should be eaten in moderation, like desserts. People can turn food into an idol when their lives revolve around gourmet food, or turn to food for comfort and security and happiness, or when they become obsessed about what they eat (probably for health reasons). I’m not sure that people forbid eating certain foods for religious reasons, though there are orthodox Jews and Muslims who abide by certain dietary codes.
We can do this with alcohol. This is what Psalm 104 says about wine:
14 You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
15 and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Ps. 104:14–15).
Israelites were allowed to have “strong drink” when they celebrated feasts in Jerusalem (Deut. 14:26). And the new creation is described as being a “feast of well-aged wine” (Isa. 25:6). Jesus ever turned water into wine (John 2), so it can’t be inherently bad.
But what do we do with alcohol? Many people drink too much, and this causes great destruction and death. Some people can’t live without it. Others then turn around and overreact, saying that all drinking is inherently sinful. Now, it’s true that the Bible says that drunkenness is wrong (Eph. 5:18 is but one example). But Scripture doesn’t forbid all drinking.
We can do this with marriage. Marriage is a good gift created by God. But we misuse it in many ways. God designed marriage to be a lifelong union of one man and one woman. Yet we redefine marriage; many ancient societies had polygamy: one man had many wives. Marriage is meant to be exclusive, so that the husband and wife do not have sex with anyone else; many people have committed adultery. Of course, there is the problem of divorce. And now there is the problem of redefining marriage, so that it’s not necessarily a union of one man and one woman.
Some people create an idol of marriage. They believe that their spouse will complete them. They believe their spouse will fulfill all their desires and dreams. Spoiler alert: the best spouse will never, ever do that.
Very few people forbid marriage for religious reasons. One group, the Shakers, did. But it’s hard to keep a religious movement growing when you don’t have marriages that produce babies. The last remaining Shaker community in America is located in New Gloucester, Maine, and it has only two members.
We certainly do misuse sex. It is a good gift, meant to be experienced only within marriage. Yet we have it outside of marriage. We reduce other human beings to “sex objects,” as things to be consumed. We turn sex into an idol, the ultimate pleasure or experience. And some people can give the impression that sex is somehow inherently bad, though it’s not.
We can do the same thing with work. We misuse work when we don’t work, or when we mistreat people who work for us. Work is distorted wherever slavery exists. Work becomes an idol for some people; they find their identity and satisfaction in life through work. Some people act as if work is a necessary evil, something that only exists because sin exists. But work existed before sin entered into the world. God gave Adam a job to do (Gen. 2:15). So, work is not inherently bad.
The same could be said of money or possessions. We misuse money by spending it on the wrong things, or by stealing. We’re supposed to use things and love people, but we turn this around and use people and love things. Wealth is a great idol. It makes the false promise to us that if only we were rich, we would be happy and secure. Some people then act as if having money, or owning anything, is evil. But possessions are gifts from God. They can be appreciated. They can be used for God’s glory. We use money to fund ministry. Any church, any missionary endeavor needs some level of funding. We can use our possessions to bless others. For example, we can use our homes to house guests, to have people over to get to know them, to provide a safe place for our family. A home can become an idol when we put too much money into it, when all our thoughts and energies and desires are wrapped up in having the perfect house. But a house is a good thing if used rightly.
As you can see, we can misuse anything. We take the good things that God has made and use them wrongly, or turn them into ultimate things, which then become the center of our lives. That place should be reserved for God alone. If we overreact and then refuse to use the gifts that God has given to us, or if we refuse to enjoy good things, we’re committing another error. We are denying the good things that God has given to us. When we reject the gift, we’re rejecting the Giver.
Our only hope is redemption. Our only hope is turning to Jesus for our salvation. Only Jesus can reconcile us to God. Only Jesus provides forgiveness of sins. And only Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, who starts to change our distorted desires. The Spirit can rearrange our loves so that we enjoy God’s gifts and use them rightly, the way that God designed them to be used. Without God’s help, we turn tools into toys, and toys into tools. Without the Spirit, we turn people into things, and things into idols. But when we come to Jesus, and when we rely on the Holy Spirit and seek to obey God’s instructions for life, we can begin to use the things that God has made in a right way. We can then enjoy a meal and not only think, “This steak is great!” Instead, we’ll also think, “How great is the God who made cows that we can turn into steak!” That may seem silly, but it’s not. The difference is big. If we see all of reality as designed by God, we can thank God for his good gifts and use them rightly.
If you’re here today and you don’t know Jesus, I urge you turn to him. Only he makes us right with God. And when we have a relationship with him, our vision of life starts to change. We start to see things rightly. We start to see everything with reference to God. He alone gives us eyes to see the truth and the power to live according to the truth.
Christians, remember that Paul says that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” Let’s thank God for those good things. They were made good, so let’s not call God a liar by believing they’re not. And they’re made holy through God’s word and prayer. That is, the gospel message—this message of Jesus that we talk about—shows us how all things can be holy, consecrated to God. And when we pray to God, thanking him, asking him to help us to use his gifts wisely, all things can be enjoyed in the right way. Everything, even enjoying a meal, can be an act of worship. Elsewhere, Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Our final hope is the restoration of the world, the transformation of the creation. It will be a feast, a world of good gifts, the greatest of which is God—his presence and his blessing. The prophet Isaiah said,
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa. 25:6–9).
- http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-opioid-overdose-deaths-20180329-htmlstory.html ↑
- https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates ↑
- Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV). ↑
- The phrase “will depart from” is a translation of ἀποστήσονταί (apostēsontai). ↑
Imagine this: You run into someone you haven’t seen in several years. It’s a younger man, perhaps a distant cousin, or someone you went to school with, or the kid who grew up down the street. At any rate, you haven’t seen him in years, and now you find out he’s been home for Thanksgiving and you catch up a bit. You ask him what he’s doing these days. He says that he’s become an actor. He now lives in Los Angeles. And he’s starring in a new movie that’s coming out in December. You might have heard of it. It’s called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He says he’ll be home again for Christmas and, if you see the movie, he’d love to hear what you think of it.
So, you go see the movie when it comes out. It’s a Star Wars movie, which means you wanted to see it anyway, but now you’re really interested in seeing it because the kid you knew from back in the day is starring in it. You watch the opening scenes and don’t see him yet, but you figure that perhaps he plays a character who enters the story a bit later. Halfway through the movie, you haven’t spotted his face yet, but perhaps he makes a dramatic appearance in the last act of the movie. But he doesn’t. And as the closing credits play, you begin to think that you made a mistake about which movie he was starring in, or perhaps he just lied to you.
About a month later, around Christmas, you see him again. He asks you, “What did you think about the movie? How was I?” And you say, “You were in Star Wars, right?” He says, “Of course.” And then, after an awkward pause, you say, “I saw the movie, but I didn’t see you in it.” And he says, “Of course you saw me. I was one of the stormtroopers.” In case you don’t know, stormtroopers are the soldiers who work for the bad guys. They wear helmets, so you can’t see their faces. You say, “Well, which stormtrooper were you?” And he says, “I was the one in the back row of that scene.” You say, “Oh. Yeah, that was great.”
You’re trying to be polite, so you tell him you enjoyed the movie, but you’re puzzled. Why did he say he starred in the movie? This question starts bugging you, so you ask him. He says, “Well, honestly, I thought the movie was going to be more about me. When I told you I starred in it, I hadn’t seen the movie yet. But I was on set for a few days, and there were cameras all around, and I figured the movie was really about me.” Again, you’re trying to be polite, so you just say, “Well, perhaps next time it will be.”
But you’re still puzzled. Why would anyone in their right mind think that just because he played one of many stormtroopers in a cast of hundreds of people, that he was playing the starring role? How could anyone be so misguided, so conceited, so foolish?
But that’s how we are. In this great big story we call life, our time on screen is relatively short. Each of us has a significant role to play, but we’re just one of many people who grace the screen. Most of us will never play anything like a starring role. We’re more like the extra who appears briefly in the background. Yet too often we think that we play the starring role, that life is really about us. We act like everyone else is an actor in a movie about us. Yet, truly, the story of life is primarily about God. He plays the starring role. We play important roles that he has written for us, but he remains the star of the show.
The last of the five principles that came out of the Protestant Reformation, the one that binds them all together, is Soli Deo Gloria, or, “To God Alone Be the Glory.” When we talk about glorying God, we mean that we recognize that he is the star of the show. God is the only one worthy of worship. Ultimately, everything exists and is done for the glory of God.
Before I continue, I want to define “glory,” because it’s a term that we don’t hear a lot outside of religion. We do hear about it sometimes, like when people talk about an athlete or a team achieving Super Bowl glory. That generally means that by winning a Super Bowl, they have made a name for themselves, or they have reserved for themselves a place in the Hall of Fame. That’s not far from the biblical definition of “glory.” In the Bible, the word “glory” appears frequently in both Testaments. In the Old Testament, that word translates a Hebrew word that can mean “abundance, honor, glory,” or “riches/wealth,” or “splendor.” That word is related to another word that means “heaviness” or “weight.” So, the idea is that God is the richest, the most splendid, the weightiest being that exists. And as we come to recognize his greatness, God takes on more worth and weight in our lives.
In the New Testament, the Greek word that is translated as “glory” means “brightness, shining, splendor,” or “greatness,” or “fame, renown.” The Greek verb that’s translated as “to glorify” means “to praise” or “to cause to have splendid greatness.” So, when we talk about God’s glory, we’re talking about how great he is, how famous he is, how brilliant and splendid he is. And when we glorify God in our lives, we’re praising him, recognizing his greatness. And when God glorifies us, he causes us to be great. But we can only be glorified if God is first glorified in our lives.
The subject of God’s glory is a large one that’s hard to summarize in one sermon. But in order to get to the heart of what it means for God to be glorified, I want to turn to one passage in John’s Gospel. In chapter 17, shortly before Jesus is arrested and crucified, he prays to God the Father. This is commonly known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” because he acts as a priest, praying for his disciples.
Let’s begin by reading the first five verses:
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
I want to begin with that last verse first. Jesus has always existed as the Son of God. As God, he is eternal. He has no beginning. Before the universe was created, he had always enjoyed unbroken fellowship with the other two Persons of the Trinity: God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Now, at this point in time, he asks for the Father to glorify him “with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
I point this out because we need to understand that God is glorious by himself. He doesn’t need us to glorify him, but he chose to create us for that purpose (cf. Acts 17:24–25). God is intrinsically glorious and glorified. He is splendid and great, and the three Persons of the Trinity magnify or reflect or acknowledge the greatness of the other Persons. The Father proclaims how his Son pleases him, and his Son loves and obeys the Father.
And during his time on earth, when Jesus became the God-man, he glorified the Father on earth by obeying him, by doing all that the Father planned for him to do. In that way Jesus is the perfect human being. As a man, Jesus fulfills God’s designs for creation.
The big story of the Bible can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Each part of this story glorifies God.
First, creation exists for God’s glory. God created the universe for his glory. Psalm 19:1 famously says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The seraphim, the fantastic creatures that accompany the Lord in heaven, say in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” God’s plan has always been for the earth to “be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
The opening chapters of Genesis show that God made the universe and specifically the Garden of Eden to be his temple, where he is glorified. And God made people in his image, to reflect his greatness and glory. God wants us to glorify him alone. He alone is worthy of our worship. He says, “My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 48:11).
God sent his Son into the world because of the second part of the story, the fall, when human beings rebelled against God and fell into sin. It is mysterious why a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God would create human beings who would sin, but even sin glorifies God. We get hints of this in different parts of the biblical story. For example, one of the most important stories of the Bible is the exodus, when God rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. It seems that God orchestrated the whole story—from Israel going into Egypt, to their being enslaved, to his dramatic redemption of the Israelites—in order to display his glory among the nations. Egypt was the most important nation in the world at that time, and there was no better place for God to show that he is the true God, as opposed to all the false gods the Egyptians worshiped. God showed that he, not Pharaoh, is the true King.
God did that first by hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the Israelites go (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). In one passage, God tells Moses,
2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exod. 7:2–5).
The Egyptians would know that God is indeed the one true God because of what he would do. God told Pharaoh, “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod. 9:16; Rom. 9:17). Pharaoh was responsible for his sin, yet God raised him for the purpose of displaying his power and glory. That gives us a hint of why there is sin in the world. The same is true when Jesus brings his friend Lazarus back to life. Lazarus was allowed to die so that God could display his power over death and therefore be glorified (John 11:4, 40).
So, God is glorified in creation and God is glorified by the fall because he is more powerful than evil. He judges evil people and miraculously triumphs over evil. God is therefore glorified in judgment.
And God is glorified in salvation. That is why Jesus came. He most perfectly displays God’s glory. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we’re told, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And when he died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, he was glorified. That’s why Jesus says, at the beginning of his prayer in John 17, “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Earlier in the Gospel of John, his death is referred to has his hour of glorification (John 12:16, 23, 28; 13:31–32). It’s quite ironic that Jesus is most glorified, and he most glorifies the Father, by dying in a humiliating way. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals. It was a way of torturing and shaming enemies of the state. Jesus was not a criminal, he never sinned, but he was treated like a criminal so that all who trust in him can go free.
Jesus is most glorified in his death because he demonstrates his obedience to the Father and his love for his people. Who else would obey God unto death in that way? Who else would die for sinful people? God the Father is glorified in Jesus’ death because he sent his Son to be the one who absorbs his righteous, just wrath against sin. And the Father is worth obeying, even unto death. Father, Son, and Spirit are glorified in Jesus’ resurrection, because all take part in bringing Jesus back to life, showing God’s power of sin and death. In short, God is glorified in Jesus’ death and resurrection because only that saves sinful people. We are told time and again that the reason God saves us is for his glory.
So, God is glorified in redemption. And he is glorified in those he has redeemed. Let’s see this by continuing with Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Let’s read verses 6–19:
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus taught the disciples who God is. He manifested the name of God to his disciples, which means he made clear God’s identity and character. God the Father gave certain people to Jesus, and Jesus taught them his word. Jesus prays for his people, not for the whole world, but for the ones the Father gave Jesus. And Jesus says that he is glorified in his disciples. Jesus keeps his disciples in the Father’s name, which means he keeps them in a right relationship with God. He guarded them. The only exception was Judas, who betrayed Jesus. And even Judas’ betrayal was a fulfillment of God’s plans.
Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his disciples. “Sanctify” means to make holy and pure. He asks the Father to “sanctify them in the truth.” And what is the truth? God’s word is truth. Jesus knows that they have been sent out into the world, just as he was sent into the world, to do the Father’s will. So, he asks the Father to protect them, to guard them, and to purify them.
Now, lest we think that Jesus was only praying for the apostles, he makes it clear that he prays for all his people. We see that in the last paragraph of his prayer. Let’s read verses 20–26:
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus prays “also for those will believe in” him through the apostles’ word. He prays that his people will be one, as he and the Father are one. This unity among believers will be a sign to the world that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and God’s anointed one, the Christ. And, quite stunningly, Jesus says that the glory that the Father gave to him he gives to his people. We are glorified by being united to Jesus.
Jesus’ words show that God is glorified when people to come to faith in Jesus and join God’s family. At the beginning of the prayer, Jesus said that the Father gave him authority to grant eternal life to the ones the Father gives to Jesus to save. Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing who God is and trusting in him glorifies God. Growing in our knowledge of God and growing in our obedience to God by being sanctified by his word glorifies him. Loving one another and being united in our faith glorifies God.
Faith, knowledge of God, obedience to God, and love for one another glorify God. Our praise and evangelism does, too. First Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” When we proclaim God’s excellencies, we are glorifying him. When we tell others about the One who brought us out of darkness and into light, they may also become part of God’s family. The apostle Paul said that “as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15). When people are thankful that God saved them, they glorify God. When we see that God saved us not because of anything we’ve done, we should be thankful. We should praise God all the more.
I think that’s why this concept of Soli Deo Gloria, or “To God Alone Be the Glory,” ties together all the Reformation Principles. The first one we looked at was “Scripture Alone,” which says that only God’s written word, the Bible, is inerrant and infallible. It alone gives us knowledge of God that is true and doesn’t fail. Think of how this gives God glory. If we could figure out on our own what God is like and what he expects of us, we would be glorified for our cleverness. But God makes the wise of this world foolish by humbling them. God must reveal himself in order to be known truly and fully. The fact that he alone gives us this revelation brings glory to him, not us.
The second principle we looked at is “Grace Alone.” Salvation is a gift. It is not something we have earned. Even the act of faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). The fact that “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jon. 2:9) and not ourselves shatters our pride. But it brings glory to God, because God is merciful towards sinners and he graciously gives us salvation, which is something that we could never attain ourselves.
The principle we looked at is “Faith Alone.” We can only receive the gift of salvation. We cannot earn it. No amount of good works puts us in the right with God. Again, this humbles us. It shows that our sin is so pervasive that even our good works are tainted by selfish motives. But it glorifies God because it shows that he provided a way for us to be made right with him. He does the work for us.
And God did that work through the world’s only Savior, Jesus. “Christ Alone” is the fourth principle we have looked at. The fact that only a divine man can save sinful human beings humbles us. It shows us that no intellectual, no politician, no warrior, no scientist can save us. Only the perfect man, the God-man, can save us. Only he can give us God’s blessings. And this glorifies Jesus.
So, what the Protestant Reformation did was lower our view of ourselves and raise our view of God. Only God can reveal himself to us. Only God can save. Only God can do the work to save us, and he did that in the only Savior, Jesus.
Of course, we are not yet at the end of the story of the Bible. We live in a fallen world that doesn’t always seem so glorious. And many people today refuse to glorify God. They act as if they, or some other person, is the star of the show. But the last act of this great drama we’re in is called restoration, or consummation. That is when Jesus returns, when all the dead are raised back to life, when Jesus judges everyone who has ever lived, and the world is turned into a paradise. When Jesus returns, everyone will know that Jesus is Lord, the true King. Some will bow their knees in worship. Others will bow in terror. But “every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11).
When Jesus returns, according to the apostle Paul, he will pay “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). Paul continues by saying that those who are judged will suffer “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). Those who reject God will not see his glory and they will not be glorified. But Paul also says that Jesus comes “to be glorified in his saints” (v. 10) and that he prays for Christians to live lives worthy of their calling, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 12). Jesus will be glorified in his people, and they will be glorified in him. The only way to have true glory is not by winning a Super Bowl or an Academy Award or a Nobel Prize or an election. The only path to true glory is Jesus.
And when Jesus returns, we will be resurrected. We will have glorified bodies, bodies that can never die again. And the earth will be filled with the glory of God. The new creation is described as the New Jerusalem, a beautiful city that has “the glory of God” because it shines like a jewel (Rev. 21:11). And in that beautiful city, we’re told there will be no sun and moon, “for the glory of God gives it light” (Rev. 21:23).
So, we are part of the great story of God’s glory, but the story never will be primarily about us. To think so is to imagine that the sun revolves around you, instead of realizing that we actually revolve around the sun. The proper way to be part of this story is to trust Jesus, to realize that he is the King, and we are not, that God is God and we’re not, and to seek forgiveness for our sins through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. God is glorified when his grace is received and when people are transformed into his thankful worshipers.
If you’re here today and you aren’t trusting Jesus, following him and glorifying him, I would urge you to start now. Acknowledge that he is Lord and you’re not. Confess your sins, that you haven’t lived to glorify God. Ask for his forgiveness. Tell him you want to follow him and that you need his help. I would love to tell you more about what it means to be a Christian
Christians, Jesus is glorified in our evangelism. When we tell others about Jesus, regardless of how they respond, he is glorified. When we testify that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth in the humble form of a man, lived the perfect life, died in place of sinners, and rose from the grave, his greatness is put on display.
God is also glorified by our growing in knowledge and love and obedience. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Philippi, he said this:
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
We should grow in our love for God and for one another. We should grow in our knowledge of God and our ability to discern what lines up with God’s design and what doesn’t. We should grow in our purity and holiness, becoming more and more like Jesus. We should produce good fruit, because all of this is “to the glory and praise of God.”
Jesus told his disciples that God is glorified by our obedience. He said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). God is glorified when we put Jesus’ words into practice, bearing good fruit in our lives.
Jesus is glorified in worship. But he is most glorified when our focus is on him, not on our traditions or personal preferences. Worship is about acknowledging God’s worth, his greatness. It exists primarily for God, not for us. Yes, when we worship God, we benefit. But worship is not entertainment or something that exists to make us feel comfortable.
Often, when we talk about our experiences in worship, people start to talk about what they like. “I like that hymn.” “I like that song.” “I like the way he preaches.” Or, “I didn’t like that music.” “I didn’t like that sermon.” And so on. When we get hung up on our likes, we’re glorifying ourselves, not God.
This matters for our church because we need to reach out to younger generations. We want younger people to join us in worship. That means that older, more mature Christians are going to have to let go of their personal preferences in order to make younger generations feel more welcome here. That means we’ll sing songs that perhaps are not our favorites. That means changing how we worship. It never means changing what we believe or whom we worship. It never means changing God’s word. But we will continue to change the style of worship. I ask you this: what would glorify God more, having us hang on to our little traditions and our preferred worship style, or making a new generation of disciples? The church does not exist for our comfort. It is not a museum or some nostalgic show that reminds us of the “good ol’ days.” It exists for God’s glory.
We were made to glorify someone or something. And we will do that. We will glorify ourselves, or someone in our lives, or our favorite sports team, or someone or something else. Or we will glorify God. But here’s the thing: We will only be glorified when we glorify God. Someone who writes and stars in a one-person play that no one sees won’t get glorified. But if we gladly play our small role in God’s big story, we get to take part in the biggest, most glorious story of all time. And the glory of God will shine on us, so that we also will be glorious.
- “כָּבוֹד,” Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 458. ↑
- “כְּבֵדֻת,” See ibid., 459. ↑
- “δόξα, ης, ἡ,” William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 256–257. ↑
- “Δοξάζω” in ibid., 258. ↑
- All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV). ↑
- See the sermon, “A Theater for His Glory,” preached on September 27, 2015, at https://wbcommunity.org/story-of-the-bible. ↑
- See the sermon, “Image Bearers,” preached on October 4, 2015, at https://wbcommunity.org/story-of-the-bible. ↑
- See the sermon, “Why Do Bad Things Happen?” It was preached on October 8, 2017 and is available at https://wbcommunity.org/why-do-bad-things-happen. ↑
- See Ezekiel 36:22–32; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; Philippians 2:5–11. ↑
Brian Watson preaches a sermon on the Protestant Reformation principle Soli Deo Gloria, “To God Alone Be the Glory.” The reason the universe and human beings exist is for God’s glory. The primary reason Jesus came to save us is for God’s glory. Our motivation should be to glorify God in all that we do. The primary text for this sermon is John 17.