Philippians 4:20 “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen:”
Paul, in these words, is actually fulfilling his chief end in life. The famous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is this: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer it gives is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Incidentally, for a hymn to achieve greatness its opening line must be striking: for example, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”, and for a catechism to become a great catechism its first question and answer must be unforgettable; so it is with the Westminster Shorter Catechism. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Forty years ago I used a young people’s workbook on the Westminster Shorter Catechism written by Dorothy Partington Anderson and published by Great Commission Publications. What I remember is how she began her explanation of those words. She asked her readers whether we’ve stood on a busy street corner and watched the crowds of people hurrying back and for? Who are they? What are they thinking? Have you wondered what problems they have? Then she quoted a poem of a minor American writer called Edwin Arlington Robinson who was born in the middle of the 19th century. He mainly wrote poems about the kinds of people whom he observed. He wrote this little poem about a man called Richard Cory. It has been set to music by Paul Simon I believe. It was the existence of this 16 line poem which I have remembered (though not memorised) over all these years. I guess I’ve done so mainly for its last six words. They were the hook which attached the words to me:
“Wherever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown.
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
“And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said
‘Good morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.
“And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
“So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without meat, and cursed the bread:
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night
Went home and put a bullet through his head.”
You understand? This man had everything the world admires. He was “a gentleman from sole to crown” (he had class); he was “clean favored” and “slim” (he had the right physique); he was “quietly arrayed” (he had dress sense); he was “human when he talked” (he had unaffected eloquence); he “glittered” (he had glamour); he was “rich”; he was “schooled in every grace” (he had a bearing). The word “glittered” emphasises an aura of extravagance and affluence – his very name ‘Cory’ rhymes with ‘glory’. But all those details about him are describing his external appearance. The very things that gave Cory status in his own eyes and those of the watching world were covering an inner emptiness that could not prevent him taking his own life. Carrying on living became pointless because he lacked eternal and spiritual values; he lived only on a material level. He had nothing to live for. The most important fact in life is the knowledge of man’s chief end. That answer should reveal some absolutely magnificent purpose, worthy of this magnificent creation itself, let alone worthy of its Creator. Richard Cory didn’t know that, and he finally took his life in despair. Isn’t it vital to know what we’re here to live for? Isn’t it crucial?
That has been the failure of the whole political educational movement of the 20th century, and on to our present day. Consider Aldous Huxley, a brilliant man and the author of a famous novel whose title has given a phrase to the language, “Brave New World.” He was a scientific humanist who moved to the west coast of America where he turned to mysticism, and drugs, and even Buddhism, but in none of those things could he say, “I’ve found my chief end.” At the close of his life, disillusioned with everything that he saw in his narrow world, he said this: “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and that at the end one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.'” Think of it! After all that glitter and experimentation and wealth and travel those were the only counsels he had to tell the next generation – “Try to be a little kinder.” There is the great opening paragraph of Augustine’s Confessions in which that Christian, who lived in North Africa in the early centuries of the church, makes to God this unforgettable observation, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” We are affirming that it is in God and his glory that we discover what is our own chief end.
My concern today is not that the world does not glorify God but that the evangelical church has not grasped that vision or is losing sight of it. A friend was visiting a certain town and during lunch with an elder asked him how his church was doing. He said that life in their congregation was not much beyond the ordinary, adding, “We don’t have much feel for God’s glory moving us in outreach, and in worship and in love for one another.”
1. MANKIND IS CALLED TO GIVE GLORY TO GOD.
We are talking about the highest good that a man can strive after. We are saying that having set that goal for himself it is going to direct his entire life. It is going to determine his whole character, motives, use of his time and possessions, how he organises his home, spends his money, and how he raises his children. I am saying that your purpose in life is not to be found in your class or caste, your physique, or dress, or eloquence, or appearance, or wealth, or manner. Not those things – to which our civilisation is absolutely addicted – but that this alone may be your end, that you are here in this world to glorify God. Paul is drawing his letter to the Philippians a close, and spontaneously he erupts adoration, and worship, and praise: “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen!” (v.20). He cannot stop himself, because this was Paul’s prevailing disposition.
Is that how your mind works? Do you think in that way? “This is my chief end!” – not the glories of a beautiful sports car, or a designer dress; not the glories of successful plastic surgery; not the glories of your team winning the World Cup; not the glories of wealth and fame; none of those transient pleasures, but seeing the glory of God and living for that! I am not asking whether you have sung in a some church, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.” Some of you might have sung that hundreds of times, but what in the world were you singing about? I am asking have you spoken words such as these, all alone in the Lord’s presence, you – a tiny speck of living matter – and the immortal, invisible God only wise? Have you said “Glory to Thee, my God?”
I am sure there are some of you who know God who have experienced some great times. “We may look back and say, ‘Well, as a matter of fact, I remember times when I have felt the nearness of God, when I have worshipped him. There have been times when he has given me a particular answer to prayer, a token of his love and mercy, some special guidance or uplift in one way or another, some tangible gift of grace, so to speak. I have been very thankful to him then” (John Gwyn-Thomas, “Rejoice . . . Always,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1989, p.141). But think of Stephen in the book of Acts; he moves in a short time from a servant of tables to a powerful preacher, a defender of the faith and a martyr. He is fearless before the Sanhedrin that had condemned the Messiah to death on a cross months earlier. He is profoundly grieved and angered because the Old Testament church leadership has lost sight of the glory of God and are consumed with the maintenance of an earthly temple. I think that that concern for God’s glory needs to be recaptured in every evangelical congregation. The divine glory is the most effectual motivational power which the church has. You consider the climax of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” Is that magnificent language really descriptive of anything that happened in worship in evangelical churches on Sundays? Are we doxological fellowships?
If it were possible one Sunday for Stephen to come and make an inspection of a typical gospel church, “Do you think he would praise the congregation for being sold out with missionary zeal for the sake of the divine glory? Would he say to the Sunday School teachers, ‘It is wonderful the way you visit the children in their homes during the week and strive for their salvation in prayer?’ Would he commend the deacons, ‘Fellow deacons, I honour you for the way you glorify the Father by pouring out your lives and substance for the poor’? Would he say to the pastor, ‘Pastor, I can see your face is as radiant as that of an angel as you preach the glory of Christ’? Could he tell the elders, ‘Brothers, your zeal for spreading the gospel is known throughout the whole region’?” (C. John Miller, “Outgrowing the Ingrown Church”. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1986, p.73).
That could be said of the apostle Paul. Zeal for the Lord’s glory consumed him. Even in prison where Paul had been writing this letter with its teaching and counsels and exhortations the doxological vision is undimmed. He has thanked and praised the Philippians for their kindness to him, but then he pauses, and he cries, “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen!” Men and women in Christ, we have this brief lifetime, over as quickly as a weaver’s shuttle. Life’s only meaning under heaven, and our only satisfaction can come from living it to glorify God. That is the goal of our lives, as men and women made in the image of this eternal and ever-blessed God, to glorify him now and for ever.
You find this insistence throughout the Bible. For example, when Paul writing to the Corinthians he says to them, “So whether you eat or drink” (‘well, we’ve all got to eat and drink Paul. A man’s got to live.’ ‘Yes, but dogs eat food too, don’t they? Is that your model – “see how that sheep just concentrates all day, mouth to the ground, eating grass”? You don’t eat like that do you?’) So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, (so Paul is talking about every single human activity) do it all for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). Paul is suggesting that there is a way of doing the most menial and essential tasks in life in which Almighty God is honoured and glorified by them – do you believe this?
You notice that Paul does not make a statement. He gives a command. He teaches – as they said of Jesus – with authority. The words do not come saying that this is the best thing, on the whole, to do. It calmly declares to us that this is the thing men shall do – on penalties. It is well to notice this and have it absolutely clear in our minds. This is not a pleasant and challenging Christian option. There are no if’s and and’s about this. “Do it,” says the Word of God: “do it all for the glory of God!”
We have these vivid words of B.B. Warfield: “The question for us is, are we doing it? “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” There is a sense in this which we may not all be gathering. Why, for instance, will you be off to your business tomorrow morning? To make money? Good. For what end? Consciously in order to glorify God in the wise use of it? No? Well, then, are you a Christian? Friends, again, to serve what purpose are you planning to invite people for a meal this week? Is it in order to glorify God through it? Perhaps you’ve never thought of that. Well, are you a Christian? What God commands is – let us face this unflinchingly – that we shall do nothing without taking absolute care to see that we are trying to glorify God in the doing of it.
“Now do not say, as some of you may be just ready to say, that this was never meant to apply to such everyday things as these. Paul was of a different opinion; he says it applies to the very choice of the food we eat and drink we drink – in fact, to everything (let us not emasculate that word) that we do. And do not say, as more of you are perhaps ready to say, that it is impossible to keep the command . . . Christ himself declared that we could not serve God and Mammon. He himself asserted that we must desert the world to become his disciples . . . And the beloved disciple repeats it after his own fashion also: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. . . . For nothing that is in the world is of the Father.” How can we, then, hope to make a compromise between them?” (B.B.Warfield, “Selected Shorter Writings,” Volume 1, P&R Publishing Company, Nutley N.J., 1970, pp. 133&134). We are under obligation to glorify God in everything we do, not just in the world to come but beginning in this world.
Listen to an old preacher of 200 years ago illustrating this. He said that a discussion was once taking place with a number of preachers and a congregation listening in. The theme was how it was possible to do what Paul commands, “Pray without ceasing.” Various suggestions were being made, and then a godly woman told them how she understood this commandment. She said, “In the morning, when I open my eyes, I pray, ‘Lord, open the eyes of my understanding, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.’ Whilst I am dressing I pray, ‘Lord, may I be clothed in the robe of righteousness, and adorned with the garment of salvation.’ When I am washing I pray, ‘O Lord, may I be washed in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.’ When kindling the fire I pray, ‘O Lord, kindle a fire of sacred love in this cold heart of min.’ And whilst sweeping the room I pray, ‘Lord, may my heart be swept clean of all its abominations.’ So I carry on praying all the day.” Do you see how her prevailing disposition was to do everything to the glory of God?
The Lord Jesus was getting towards the very end of his life. He had spent his best years giving himself to his disciples, teaching them and revealing himself to them as the incarnate God. They had been the most favoured men in the whole history of the world. Did they realise that if you have been given much that much will be required of you? If you have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ what an obligation you have to advance that glory in the world? It could only begin when you yourself were living for that glory. To lay that truth on their consciences the Lord told them of a monarch entrusting his money and property to three men before he set out on a long journey. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two, and to another one. Each one was judged by his personal ability to multiply his talents. So the man given the five got cracking, and put this money to work; in time he had gained five more talents for his master. The man given two was also industrious and he had gained another two, but the man entrusted with one had gone off, dug a hole secretly and had hidden his master’s gold. A long time passed but the boss eventually returned and sent for the three men. The first told him that he had worked hard and doubled the five talents that he’d been given. His master was delighted and rewarded him richly, as he did with the second man who had also doubled his talents. But the third man stood before him and said, “I know you’re a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
His king was outraged! What a mean denigration of his character – a ‘hard man’ indeed when he had carefully given to each man according to the man’s ability. He had not crushed him, and he had set him the challenge of freely using his mind and energy and skills to work creatively for his master. Other men had taken the king’s money and succeeded and been richly rewarded. This man had done nothing whatsoever in all the years his master was away. He had lived during those years bearing the title, “The Servant of the King,” taking advantage of the protection and honours that that rank provided. Maybe he lived in a ‘grace and favour’ house that the King supplied. He had taken everything from him but done nothing for him. He had nothing to show to the King for the privilege and benefits of serving him. In fact he had less than the original gold received because inflation had taken away its original value. The money had stagnated and shrunk. His judgment was not that he had tried and failed. His judgment was that he had not tried at all. You know the awesome response of the King? “‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well, then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers. so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who had the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will betaken away from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'” (Matt. 25:25-30). Have you seen the glory of God in Christ his Son? You say that you have, then are you living to glorify him in everything?
2. HOW WE MAY GLORIFY GOD.
Let’s overhear a man praying for a moment. This man is different; he brought glory to God in everything he did, in holding children in his arms, in working with his father making furniture, in his friendships and all his dealings with his own family. It is a sacred thing to listen in while someone talks to God. The man praying is Jesus Christ – the proper man – and it is the night before he is to be crucified on the cross. In other words he said these words just hours before he died, “I have brought you glory on earth” (‘How did you do it, blessed Lord? Tell us.’) “by completing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4). That is how we too are to give glory to God. He gives to each one of us a work to do: be this kind of family member, this sort of employee, this sort of church member. Love God and keep his commandments. Fear him, that’s the beginning of wisdom. Love your neighbour as yourself. The Lord Jesus did all that: “I have brought you glory on earth” – what a claim!
That ambition is what had motivated and driven Paul since the Damascus Road. His journey of hate had ground to a halt and he had seen the glories of the exalted Son of God and ever after he lived for him, to show God’s glory to others. He had the very highest estimation of the Lord, the greatest confidence in him, the strongest affection for him. He wanted to please him and serve him in any way. He wanted everything in his life to point to or even reflect something of that glory. That was the prevailing disposition of his mind; the controlling impulse, as he rose in the morning, he determined that day to live all his waking hours for the glory of God.
So Paul could always step back from trying circumstances that arose in his life – from news of the preachers in Rome striving against him, from gossip about Euodia and Syntyche opposing one another, from the cares of all the churches, from the constraints of the prison, from the collapse of the Galatian church, from all those in Asia turning against him, – he could step back from the strife of tongues. He could lift up his eyes to heaven itself, and think, “But God is going to be glorified by all that happens. That is the end for which he made the universe, and sent Christ his blessed Son, and poured out his Holy Spirit, and is building his church. Let me make sure I live for his glory.”
We are all aware, I am sure, that it is impossible to give additional glory to God. We saved sinners cannot make God more glorious than he is. When Paul wrote these words, “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”, he wasn’t adding a single atom of glory to the Everest of God’s infinite glory. “Your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) says the Lord Jesus. We may have a singer or sportsman whom we admire, and one day our dream comes true and we actually meet him. We say to him, “You have given me much pleasure for many years, and I think you are wonderful, and what you did at such and such a time was magnificent,” have we made his voice any better? Can he return a serve on a tennis court any easier when we’ve honoured him like that? No, not at all. He is the same talented star that he was before we spoke. So it is with God. We are told that there are an innumerable company of angels. Just one of them could destroy the whole Assyrian army. What might, and power, and glory all these angels have, and these millions of millions continually praise and honour God, but they don’t make him one bit more glorious than he is already, because he is, and always will be, immeasurably, eternally perfect and glorious.
How then do we glorify God?
i] Firstly we have to think of God. There is no greater contempt you can show a person than by saying, “I never think of him. I don’t recognise his existence.” Think of a child who has left home and refuses to make any contact with his parents, or a husband who walks out on his wife and family and will not contact them at all. What wickedness! But this is what sinners do to God; he is ignored by the world. God is not in their thoughts. They make him a nonentity. For them he has no existence. Think of Europe before Columbus discovered the New World. Did the French think of the Niagara Falls, or the mighty Mississippi, or the Rocky mountains and the Great Plains? Not one person in the entire continent thought of those wonders, because those things had no existence to the European; not until they were discovered. But God’s glory is not unknown. It is declared in the heavens. His handiwork is seen in the world around us. Men are without excuse for not glorying in God. Robert Murray M’Cheyne acknowledges his shame and speaks on behalf of all men when he confesses:
“I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
Not knowing my danger, not feeling my load;
Though friends spoke in wonder of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.”
M’Cheyne is saying that at this time he virtually ignored God’s existence. To all intents and purposes God was a nonentity to him. He had erased the living God from his life. I say to you that if you could, you sinners wouldn’t only dethrone God but exterminate him. What judgment awaits them! “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces and there be none to deliver.” That is fearful language, and so it must be a great sin that is being addressed. It is! Here is the greatest and most glorious Being in the universe, its glorious Creator – God is light and in him is no darkness at all – and little dirty sinners actually disdain him. What apathy! What scorn! Imagine if the gates of Buckingham Palace opened and the Queen came out following her motorcycle outriders and she drove through the cheering waving crowds but looked stonily ahead, never acknowledging their greetings, not a wave, not a smile, not even a glance. What dishonour that would be! What silent contempt from the great upon the insignificant! But here we have the very reverse! The greatest of all Beings has made himself known. The Son of God has entered the world and he loved and preached and suffered and died for sinners, yet it is all as nothing to the wicked of this world! He came unto his own and his own received him not. He was despised and rejected of men.
“All ye that pass by, to Jesus draw nigh,
To you is it nothing that Jesus should die?” (Charles Wesley)
Hear me! What does the New Testament say? Does it say, “For all have sinned and come short of the law of God”? No it does not. That is not the indictment God brings against us, fearful and true though such an indictment is. The New Testament says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is where we are weighed in the balances and found wanting. This world has witnessed the glory of its Creator’s handiwork, and his Son preaching the Sermon on the Mount, stilling the storm, raising the dead, and it is nothing to them.
If God is not in your thoughts then what is? What teaches people what is the good life? How do they learn to live? How do they relate to others? Much of this knowledge comes through television and the soaps. A new book came out this month written by 53 year-old John Walsh called, “Are You Talking to Me?” It has been widely reviewed. It is a sort of autobiography that tells us that the author, ever since he was a child has lived his life through the movies. They have fuelled his fantasies. They are the influences, he says, that brought him from a school-boy’s to a grown-up’s view of the world. His role models were Marlon Brando and John Wayne. He learned the strategy of treating women from Michael Caine in “Alfie”. He describes the way he talks to women like this: “cheek, worldliness, confidence, availability and a curious vocal trick, in which you said things with a wounded, half-bullying emphasis and ordered women around.” The man is glorying in his shame. His bulwark against the vicissitudes of life and his inspirational leg-up at critical moments have been . . . the movies. How many tens of thousands of people have learned relationships, and about retaliation, and how to treat members of the opposite sex from movies? If God is not in your thoughts all you have is this world.
I am saying that to glorify God you must think about him. God must be in all your thoughts. He must be recognised constantly and spontaneously as Creator and Judge. God must be as real to you as the sun in the heaven. The idea of God must be the greatest idea you ever had. It must swallow up and dominate all other ideas. Wherever you go you must think, “You, my God, see me.” Spontaneously and naturally, when you have nothing else to think about, your mind must turn automatically to the living God. He must constantly impress himself upon our minds. He must impinge himself upon us, forcing his attention upon us. The first step towards glorifying God is to be thinking about him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all-powerful and always present. You haven’t begun in religion without that.
ii] Second, we have to know him as the first cause of everything. It was God who gave me my mind, my intellect, my academic success, and God made me diligent in studying. If I have wealth then God favoured my parents who initially helped me, and God blessed my plans and enterprises and energy. If I have some artistic ability, if I play an instrument, or write books, or paint or compose – all that comes from God. If I have a strong physique, co-ordination and sporting skill it was God who gave that to me. What is there that you have that you did not receive from God? Nothing at all. If you have received it from him why do you glory in it as though it were somehow your own? We all know the spoiled teenage brat whose father has bought him the sports car, and the designer clothes, the vacations in distant parts of the world, and also gives him a huge allowance. What an insufferable creep is that kid! Everything has been given to him, and he is behaving as if this has made him a better, or more important, or more talented person.
I am urging you to give glory to God every day of your life for what you are and have. I despise the casual reference to these things as – “Shucks . . . just my ‘God-given talents'” by TV stars. They are daring to suggest that on top of their fame and wealth it is God who is specially loving them. God will hold us to account! Think of Nebuchadnezzar; he was a powerful and rich man and one day he stood looking around him and saying, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30), and while the words were still on his lips God perforated his life and told him that everything was being taken from him. It was so; even his sanity was removed.
Of course we are all tempted as Christians to be proud of ourselves, and then we have to tread our vanity down – “my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride”. We offer our work to God sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and then it is accepted by him. Imagine one day that Michael the archangel, just for a time, lost sight of the transcendent glory of the Creator, and got to thinking that Michael himself was responsible for his own magnificence, and that he started to strut his stuff in the courts of heaven. If that were possible then how would the mighty have fallen! But it never happens, because Michael never takes his eyes off God! So I am saying that first of all we have to know that the first cause of everything is God. His discriminating grace fell upon us in all its loving particularity and made us the people we are.
iii] I have to know God also as the goal of all things. He is the Omega as well as the Alpha. What is the end of this world? A new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. What is the end of every one of us? Death and then the judgment of God. Vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath, both shall be to God’s glory. Go through all creation, start with the molecules and end with the galaxies and everything is for God. Go from the amoeba to the seraphim and their final end is the glory of God. That is the relationship of this vast universe with its vaster Creator. For him are all things. He is the absolute terminus where all the sweep of creation comes to a rest. The sceptic complains that that is sheer egotism, that God is exhibiting selfishness on an immense scale. Yes, that would be true if God were not infinitely greater and higher than any of his creatures. Is it egotism when a man trains his dog to serve him? If a man were of no higher grade of existence than a dog it might be. But there is a gulf between a man and a dog, but multiply that by infinity! In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This whole vast universe floats like a speck in God’s vision. Do you praise the might of a weight lifter by saying that he can lift above his head an acorn? So too you do not magnify God by comparing him to this finite cosmos. He, the eternal and immeasurable one, made all things by his word, and it is all for him. Then let us glorify God for everything that we are and have and can see. “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.”
Do you know God in these ways? If not, you cannot glorify him. Then in what are you glorying? Paul says that the natural man worships and serves the creature more than the Creator. In other words, the man without God worships himself. Think of all we have seen from Baghdad and Iraq in the past month. Do you remember the statues of Sadam Hussein in each city, and the pictures of him everywhere, and the text books for school children with his photograph in every one? Men paid him high regard and in a sense served him, but in every instance it was only a means to an end. It was never an end. They flattered him, and fawned upon him simply to derive power and influence and money from him. The worship of Saddam did not terminate upon Saddam but upon the men who bowed and scraped before him. Saddam had no mighty intellect or great artistic skills or cultural sensitivity, but he had the power and they wanted a slice. If he had no power then there would be no advantage at all in raising statues and posting posters of that man everywhere. Let him whistle! They are going where the power is. The ultimate idol is ego.
You give a thousand pounds to the church and men praise you as an excellent person, but let’s look into your heart and do we find real holiness there? As soon as you wrote the cheque you patted yourself on the back. Your left hand knew what your right hand was doing. Praise and self-worship began to fill your heart. You began to worship and serve the creature and not the Creator, and it was for the best action you ever did. The dead fly of your proud heart made the apothecaries’ ointment of your kindness stink! If the act were really a holy one it would have been done to the glory of God, there would not have been a particle of pride in it. You wouldn’t have had the least proud thought of self in the act. “Who am it?” you would have asked, “to give such a thing to Thee when all I am and have are thine?”
To glorify God we must fill our minds with God the living one, God the first cause of all things, and God the end of everything, and then we may begin to give glory to our God and Father in everything. In the 1950s I became a Christian and a number of us in our school commenced a Christian Union. A new Christian spoke with enthusiasm about his minister and told us we should get him to speak to us. So it was that the young Malcolm Evans came along and addressed us. Forty-five years has passed and we are still friends. I spoke to him about a matter this past week and reminded him of that first occasion we had met. He spoke about the plan of redemption: God created all things; Adam was permitted to be tempted and chose to rebel; God determined to send his Son to redeem sinners; Christ came and lived and suffered and died as a substitute on the cross. On the third day he rose and now he lives in heaven awaiting his return. It was the Christian message that we heard from Malcolm over 45 years ago. Then we dozen boys were permitted to ask questions. In a while I raised my hand: “Why?” I asked. “Why did God permit this? The fall of man; the suffering dying Christ to save us? Why?” That young preacher in his first pastorate stood there and then said to us, “I have thought about that for some time, and I believe it was for the greater glory of God.” I was totally satisfied with that answer then, and I am satisfied with it yet. All is for God and his glory I believe, though I do not know how. Everything must serve the end of God’s glory – Satan and his schemes, the fall of our father Adam, such wickedness as men crucifying the Son of God, heaven and hell – God has made his mind up that it will all glorify Jesus Christ his Son. In eternity the Lamb is all the glory.
Think how that conviction affected Henry Martyn, the nineteenth-century missionary to what today is Iran. At one point a Muslim scholar said to him, “Prince Abbas had killed so many Christians that Christ from the fourth heaven took hold of Mohammed’s skirt to entreat him to desist.” On hearing that fable Henry Martyn’s face was filled with grief. He said, “I could not endure existence if Jesus were not glorified; it would be hell for me if he were to be thus dishonoured.” The very idea of Jesus Christ kneeling before Mohammed, a mere man, made life a hell for him. The sole reason for Henry Martyn’s existence was the glory of Christ. Can ours be any less? It cannot be any greater. My burden has to be to declare fully the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ ceaselessly until every person is living for his glory. How I long that all the congregation as we come to church each Sunday has the intention of meeting with Christ and being transformed in motives, desires and values by the glory of God.
3. WE GLORIFY GOD ONLY WHEN HE BECOMES OUR BLESSED FATHER.
“To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” One loves to hear a man speaking with love and respect of his father. I have been reading this week the biography of a man I knew, in whose church in Lochcarron in the far north of Scotland I once spoke on Charles Haddon Spurgeon in that great man’s centenary year, 1992. The man I am talking about was the founder of the Blythswood work, Jackie Ross. Jackie’s father was Edward Ross, a grocer who worked a grocery van for a shop in Dingwall, and he also ran a smallholding. Jackie loved to hear his father discussing subjects with the other men, especially about the Christian faith. He had a quiet certainty. Edward was a member of the Home Guard during the war. Jackie says, “I can still remember my feeling of pride as I watched Dad go out on duty on his bicycle, to keep the Germans back. On his back he carried a .303 rifle with no ammunition of any kind in it. I felt safe when my father was guarding the land.”
In 1950 Jackie as a young teenager went off for a couple of years as a boarder in Balmacara Agricultural School, sixty miles from home. His father wrote him this letter which Jackie always treasured: “My dear Jackie, Just a short line in reply to your letter. We are glad you are well and enjoy being there. We are all well but Edward was out of school with a nail hole in his foot. He is better tonight. We are just after reading. All now in bed except Neil who is also writing you. We have finished twelve nest boxes, but there is a lot to do. Well, dear Jackie, I am missing you very much and so also are the others. I did not realise how much you filled a part of my life. We had a very enjoyable Sunday with questions and answers. I wished you were with us but I am glad you are happy there. Have confidence in Christ and what he did for us on Calvary.
“Remember your prayers and like things you were taught here at home. Remember Christ who is all things to you that are good for you, and who gave his all for you. Keep always remembering him. Talk often to him. Tell him all your sins and your troubles. Remember he died for you. He is your best and most powerful friend, Jackie. Draw near to him, Jackie, and he will draw near to you, my boy. Till the eternal day dawn and the shadows flee away Jackie. Try harder and harder to draw near to him who desires your salvation so much that he died for you. I hope you get on well, With love, from Dad” (Irene Howat, “An Irregular Candidate: Jackie Ross of Blythswood”, Christian Focus, Fearn, 2002, p. 26& 27).
What a moving letter. Little wonder that the children adored such parents. God is our loving Father in heaven. Glory in our mighty Creator and Sustainer and Judge, of course, but glory also in him who through Jesus Christ has become our Father in heaven. Edward Ross writes to his son Jackie and urges him to always remember Christ, and draw near to Christ, and not forget that he loved us so much hat he died for us. He tells Jackie much about Christ because it is only through Christ he can know God as his Father.
Hear these words from the first chapter of John: “To all who received [Christ] to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). Do you see what God is saying to us? “If you receive into your life my Son whom I have sent into the world to be a prophet, a priest and a king of his people, then I will give you the right to know me as your Father for that is what I shall be. You will be my own beloved children, and I will be your Father. I will put my Spirit, as the Spirit of adoption, into your heart, sealing your adoption.” To all who receive the Son of God into their lives to live and reign there for ever, they become the children of God. They can run into the presence of the glorious God at any time and can say, “Abba, Father!” They say to the world, “What a wonderful Father I have – he works all things together for my good. He makes me contented with whatever he does for me. I can do everything through his strength. He meets all my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ. I glory in him! Can you say that? Have you received the Christ who is here now freely offering himself to us to become our Father. Don’t go on being an orphan when you can become a child of this loving and wise Father.
All of us are another week nearer the grave. In other words we are nearer an open-ended encounter with the glory of God. It lasts “for ever and ever,” says Paul. Awesome words. Are you preparing yourself for this? Do you remember Macaulay’s story of the king and his jester? How often he had made the King laugh. “You are the greatest fool a man could meet,” said the king. “Here is this carved stick. Keep it until you meet a man who is a greater fool than you and then you can pass it on to him.” Years went by and the two men grew old. One day the king sent for his jester. The fool entered the king’s bedroom. “I am going on a long journey soon,” the king told him. “Can’t you stay here?” “No,” said the king. “Are you coming back?” asked the fool. “No,” said the king. “Are you making any preparation for the journey?” “No,” said the king. “Have you found out who you’ll meet when you get there?” “No,” replied the king. The jester took the stick out of his pocket and presented it to the dying king: “I have met a greater fool than myself,” he said. How is your preparation going for the glory of God?
4. DO WE RESPOND AS PAUL DOES WITH A LOUD ‘AMEN!’?
Finally in our text, Paul adds the first of his two Amens that conclude this letter. John Glyn-Thomas has this fine conclusion: It was a godly old Puritan called Thomas Adams who reminded us that this word ‘Amen’ has four meanings, and I mention them to you briefly here. When we say ‘Amen’ we say, ‘So let it be’.
i] It is a confirmation of our hearts’ desires. When we hear the prayers of others we say ‘Amen’; we confirm that it is our hearts’ desire that God should answer these prayers. We say, ‘Amen’ because we approve of what is being prayed; it is a verbal sign that in spirit we are behind the prayers which are offered. We are going to give glory to God and our Father for ever. Amen!
ii] Secondly, ‘Amen’ is also an affirmation of our faith because we never say ‘Amen’ to what we do not believe – at least I hope we do not! When I say, ‘Glory to God our Father for ever and ever’, can you really say, ‘Amen, so let it be: I want to give glory to God; it is my heart’s desire’? But if indeed you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you cannot say, ‘Amen’; you cannot confirm that this is your heart’s desire, that you love the Lord Jesus Christ, that you want to exalt God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You cannot say ‘Amen’ to these truths.
iii] There is a third meaning and it is an acclamation. In the Old Testament the word ‘Amen ‘is used on the occasion of the anointing of a king, when he was brought out by the prophets of God. The prophet said, ‘God save the King’, and all the people said, ‘Amen’. It was an acclamation that they received him as their king. Can you claim Him as your king? Oh, that in your hearts you can get down before Him and say to Him, ‘Amen, You are my King. Glory be to You, my Father, to You, the Lord Jesus my Saviour, to You, Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell within me. I want to exalt You as God and Father, the sovereign Ruler of my life. I want to say, “Amen” to You.’
iv] And finally, ‘Amen ‘is seen as a resolution, as though we are pledging ourselves to say, ‘I will resolve to glorify God in my life’, which is a very solemn thing to say. It means resolving to glorify God all day and every day for the rest of our lives. Here is the apostle in this prison, looking to God, calling upon the Philippians to join him. He says ‘To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ He is calling upon us to join with him too. My prayer is that you and I can say, ‘Amen’ to this verse. (John Glyn-Thomas, op cit, pp.147&148)
25th May 2003 GEOFF THOMAS