So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
This week we’ll be celebrating God’s goodness to us through his creation. We thank him for turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and hot rolls with butter and pumpkin pie – with leftovers heated up in the microwave on Friday! But Thanksgiving is more than a memory of our Pilgrim Fathers; a spirit of gratitude is the gospel reviving us today. An annual feast of thanksgiving to God is deeply good. In fact, the Bible takes it further: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
What an insight into the heart of God! Here are two things about God that we don’t expect to go together, but they do. On the one hand, God is glorious and lofty and transcendent and separate and distant. On the other hand, this One who is glorious and lofty and transcendent and separate and distant comes down and draws near and enters in and brings his glory into our experience, even our common everyday experience, like eating and drinking. If God were to get involved at all, we might think he’d be willing to show up in our great moments, our high moments, our once-in-a-lifetime amazing moments, like getting married or writing that number-one hit song or even dying. But the God of all glory squeezing himself down into the little tiny moments of our ordinary days – like drinking a morning cup of coffee and eating a muffin with it – Almighty God is there in his glory? The clear biblical answer is Yes, God is there with his glory in our ordinary. If God is down here at all, where else would he be? Most of our lives is ordinary.
So here are two things about God every one of us can rejoice in today: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15). God is way up there in the high and holy place, out there in eternity. And God is also way down here in our lowly place, in our ordinariness and everydayness, and even in our sadness and dullness and failures and regrets and fears and pressures and deadlines and worries and commutes and lunch breaks and end-of-the-day-low-blood-sugar-blues and bedtime and wake-up time and every moment of our every day. And for good measure, I’ll throw in our times of rejection and exile and exclusion and loneliness and wondering if we’re crazy and feeling that nobody else ever thinks that but soldiering on because people are counting on us. And then I’ll also include those moments of sin and shame and our betrayals of everything we thought we held dear. And let’s not forget the unexpected trip to the ER and the unwanted speeding ticket and the audit by the IRS. And you can add in whatever moments make up the reality of your life. And in it all, where is God? He’s way up where we can’t live yet, and God is way down where we do live now. In other words, your real life, your non-spectacular daily life, your it-should-have-gone-better-life, is perfectly designed for the glory of God. And there is nothing more wonderful than the glory of God coming down into our experience. Last Sunday morning, as we were worshiping, Jani leaned over to me and said, “Jesus is here.” She was right. And how unspeakably precious it is when the living Christ moves among us in the power of his Spirit. May he do so more and more, so that everyone in our city knows that Jesus has come town. But his glory is not only for worship services. His glory also comes down moment by moment. 1 Corinthians 10:31 draws us into a constant awareness of him and a purpose directed to him. God isn’t uppity. The Bible is showing us here his heart for the real us, even in our simple eating and drinking, as we will enthusiastically do on Thanksgiving Day. His glory belongs everywhere. Let’s recognize his presence! Let’s enjoy his presence! The Lord of glory is with us!
Wouldn’t we love to do all things all the time to the glory of God? But for years I confess I couldn’t wrap my brain around the glory of God as the foremost constant in my life. Anyone can see that the Bible offers a total worldview and a total way of life. The Bible is not about a private religious preference or a weekend pastime or a God-moment when we can fit him into our busy schedules. The whole tone of the Bible is an audacious claim – that the all-glorious One is with us, that we are walking on holy ground all the time, and he’s out to replace all our false glories with his own all-satisfying glory as our total reality. For example,
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will give to no other. Isaiah 48:11
God repeats himself: “For my own sake, for my own sake.” Implication? “I’m determined to put myself first in the fortunes of the human race, and in your personal life.” God is committed to his glory.
But the God-centeredness of God can be extremely threatening to us. It has been to me. Here’s how. If God is out to display his glory in and through and above and beyond all things that exist, then why do I exist? Doesn’t the glory of God make me superfluous? How much do I belong in a God-centered reality? Do I matter at all? What do I do with my longings and desires and all this tangle of humanness that makes me me? If God is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, then where I do fit in? If I should decrease so that he can increase, then maybe I should do God a favor by just shrinking to the vanishing point. That’s how I was struggling for a long time. But here’s how the gospel surprised me. The very fact that we are not the center of reality, but God is, is good news for us. I want to explain that this morning, so that this Thursday we can thank God not just for his gifts but, far more, for himself and especially for his own glorious God-centeredness. I’d like to explain that in three steps, so that on Thursday we can really glorify God. Wouldn’t it be great at Thanksgiving dinner to go around the table and each person share, “Here’s what I’m most thankful for about God himself”?
What is “the glory of God”?
The Old Testament word translated “glory” includes a range of meanings: “weight, abundance, wealth, reputation.” For example, in Genesis 31:1 we read, “Jacob has gained all this wealth,” and the word translated “wealth” is glory. So that helps us see that the glory of God is his own overflowing abundance, his joyous gravitas, his generous wealth, gaining him a reputation for being the most wonderful Person in the universe. That’s the glory of God.
We are not here for a trivial reason but for a weighty reason. The God who is weighty, abundant, wealthy and worthy doesn’t need anything. God created us not to offset a lack in himself but for us to see and revel in how weighty and abundant and wealthy and worthy he is. In other words, God created us for the sheer joy he feels in being God. He created us, to share with us his overflowing goodness, so that he would be more greatly glorified even as we are caught up in and thrilled by all that he is. That is the whole point of our lives, moment by moment, and almost nobody believes that. Which is why this world we live in treats us as inconsequential. You and I are a market niche or a voting block for others to exploit for their own self-glory. But God doesn’t treat us like that. In his heart, we matter, because he is giving himself in all his glory to us, through the grace of Jesus, so that we become more and more significant as we enjoy making God more and more central moment by moment in our everyday lives. In other words, God created us to be glory-enjoyers, savoring him forever, starting right now, right here, because God is putting his glory in Nashville, Tennessee. That is what 1 Corinthians 10:31 is inviting us into. Down with our self-pity! Down with treating God as a fall-back position when our own glories aren’t working out. The true glory is coming down into our common lives! And nothing we suffer can make his glory go away. God said to his people who’d been exiled far from home, “Bring back my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth, all those who bear my name, whom I have created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6-7). Why did God say that? Because God’s commitment to his own glory translates into God’s commitment to our happiness.
That’s amazing. But that is the purpose of all of reality, and every one of us is either ignoring it or enjoying it. The Bible says, “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). But here is our problem. We are born blind. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.
How many people in our city are waking up this morning to the thought, “Today I will be immersed in the glorious grace of God”? I don’t care which cable news channel you prefer, I’ll bet you five American dollars the glory of God is not the top story today. Politics, sports, business, even gossip – that’s news. But God is not seen as even relevant.
Why? How did we get this broken? If the glory of God is coming down, why is it so easy to go to hell from Nashville, Tennessee? Our problem is so deep it goes all the way down to our roots, all the way back to Adam. Before he broke from God, Adam was a man fully alive – alive to God primarily, alive to the creation secondarily. But when he began to perceive God as a threat, his sense of God, his God-connection, died. All he had left was his aliveness to the creation, and to earthly things he gave himself with a passion, as we still do. We’re born that way now. Our heart-deadness to the Glory is why we relegate God to the category “religion,” which is by definition marginal and sentimental. Every civilization is a massive attempt to establish our own alternative glories out of the creation that we can control and manipulate. And that’s why the world is an angry place. We’re fighting for bragging rights. We’re jealous of other people’s success. We’re born to think, “If your happiness grows, then my happiness shrinks.” That’s crazy. Why do we think that way? Why are we so selfish and afraid? Because we’re born blind to the fullness of God, the generosity of God, the more-than-enough-for-everyone glory of God in Jesus. If God is in the picture at all, he is useful as a tool for maintaining our own false glories.
Our dead hearts are why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Do you hear the mercy in those words? He was saying, “I can do more than patch you up a bit here and there. I can re-create you. Let’s begin again – this time, alive to the Glory.” Being born again is when the smelling salts of the gospel wakes us up to God’s weight and abundance and wealth and worth, beyond all this world. The Holy Spirit performs a miracle, we come alive to God, we begin seeing everything in a new way. We realize that treating God like a tool for our own purposes is the mega-sin down underneath all our other sins. We rediscover him as the glorious center of the whole of life, and we like it that way. That’s being born again.
Here is what it can look like. William Cowper felt he had nothing to live for, and he imploded within. In 1763 he was committed to an insane asylum, where he found a Bible:
Having found a Bible on the bench in the garden, I opened upon the 11th chapter of St. John, where Lazarus is raised from the dead; and saw so much benevolence, mercy, goodness and sympathy with miserable men in our Savior’s conduct that I almost shed tears upon the revelation; little thinking that it was an exact type of the mercy which Jesus was on the point of extending towards myself. I sighed, and said, “Oh, that I had not rejected so good a Redeemer, that I had not forfeited all his favors.” Thus was my heart softened, though not yet enlightened.
Later, he turned again to the Bible, to Romans 3:25: “. . . Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, to be received by faith.” Cowper wrote,
Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. . . . Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy.
God awakened Cowper to God. Has he done that for you? He can. You can’t do this for yourself. You are powerless. You are broken. But God is able to come to you in total grace and awaken you to himself. And Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). That’s the glory of God too.
Why live “for the glory of God”?
First, doing all things for the glory of God does not mean this. It does not mean that we enjoy the things of this life – Thanksgiving dinner, for example – and we just give God the credit for it all. Doing all things for the glory of God is more than giving him credit or even thanks. Why? Because I can love the gifts of God more than I love God himself, even while I’m thanking him for his gifts. If I want more of the gifts, but I want minimal exposure to the Giver, it doesn’t matter how much I thank him. I’m really insulting him. We’d feel the same way. John Piper puts it clearly:
You would not be honored if I thanked you often for your gifts to me but had no deep regard for you as a person. You would feel insulted, no matter how much I thanked you for your gifts. If your character or personality do not attract me or give me joy in being around you, then you will just feel used, like a tool or a machine to produce the things I really love.
I can turn the blessings of God into the idols of my heart and thank him for every single one as I throw a tip on the table for his good service. Doing all things for the glory of God is more than giving God credit for his gifts.
Why then should we live for the glory of God, especially when putting him first costs us? Why dedicate our children to his cause? Why deploy our money for God? Why live all-out for God? Is it for him, or is it for us? The true answer is, “All of the above.” The purpose of God that he be glorious and the purpose of God that we be happy are one purpose.
Look at this. The Bible is clear that all things exist for God. The Bible says, “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). The Bible says, “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). The Bible says, “For him and by him all things exist” (Hebrews 2:10). The Bible is also clear that our happiness matters dearly to God. The Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). At the end of the Bible God himself says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
Don’t you see? God’s glory and your joy are one. That’s a good reason to live for his glory. The all-glorious God is happiness, and no other happiness exists. Let’s listen to the gospel again. Jesus died for uncomprehending people who insult God as a bad risk. So our bias against God has been forgiven. God himself has put it away by the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. He is now sending down his Holy Spirit to awaken us to his goodness. We don’t have to choose between God’s glory and our joy, because God doesn’t choose. We do have to repent of our suspicions about God and turn and choose to believe that his glory has enough weight and abundance and wealth and reputation to thrill us forever. We must accept that every happiness that leaves God out, or adds God in as a polite afterthought, is unfair to him and harmful to us. But every happiness that displays the glory of God is worship in our lives every day. So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all things to the glory of God.
How to live “for the glory of God”
A friend of mine in Britain, Julian Hardyman, wrote a book entitled Glory Days: Living the Whole of Your Life for Jesus. That’s what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 10:31. Every day can be a glory day, because God is with you. Julian quotes John Calvin:
If we ponder why God created food, we shall find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. Thus the purpose of clothing, apart from necessity, was beauty and decency. In grasses, trees and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is loveliness of appearance and pleasantness of odor. Has the Lord clothed the flowers with the great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor?
We do not glorify God if we turn up our noses at his gifts. The Bible says, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Every day we’re walking on holy ground.
Here’s how. It’s a matter of open hands. We receive his gifts with open hands, because without him we would have nothing. And we hold his gifts with open hands, not clinging but generous toward others, because, having God the Giver, we have everything. His gifts come and go, but God himself is ours forever through Christ. Our happiness is no longer in jeopardy. So let’s live with open hands to receive and enjoy and give thanks, and open hands to share the bounty of God with others – that’s how we glorify him. And we cannot ever lack a way to glorify him. A. W. Tozer said it this way:
The person who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied such a person, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Whatever that person may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in God, and he has it purely, legitimately, forever.
Let’s all take one new step this morning. Let’s shed maybe years of self-pity, and let’s turn to God and take him as our own through Jesus, and let’s be happy. Your real life today, your wardrobe filled with musty old coats, is your God-given entry point into the Narnia of God’s glorious presence, moment by moment.