TO HIM BE GLORY IN THE CHURCH
April 15, 2007
We have been doing a good bit of study from Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, the last three letters he wrote before his death. You will remember that we have said that Timothy at the time had been left in the city of Ephesus to work with the church there. The church at Ephesus occupies an important place in the whole story of the New Testament. But it is interesting that when Paul writes to the church there he frequently uses the figure of the “house of God” to teach lessons about what it means to live as God’s people.
One reason for that may have been the prominent place that the temple of Diana (that’s her Roman name – the Greek name would be Artemis) played in the city of Ephesus. This great building ranked as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and it certainly was the glory of the city of Ephesus. This magnificent temple was supported by 127 columns, each of them 197 feet high. That the glory of Ephesus was occupied in that building was demonstrated by the fact that silversmiths of the city made and sold silver shrines of Artemis and guarded the reputation of her temple (Acts 19:24-27).
That type of thing, though, would not even begin to do for the glory of the God of heaven! The household of God at Ephesus needed to occupy itself in far greater activities than making little shrines of a building or of a goddess in order to glorify him. It takes a great spiritual house full of living sacrifices to glorify the living God.
Glory In The Church
“Glory to God in the church” is the call of the New Testament for the Lord’s people. One passage that demonstrates this is the great statement Paul makes at the end of Ephesians 3. Here we are at the end of a discussion of the exceeding riches of God’s grace and what God has done for people everywhere through his Son. Paul has demonstrated that people who have been dead in their sins can now be alive in Christ, and that those of us who have been hopeless can now rejoice in hope because of what God has done. In response to that, Paul says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” That wonderful statement is dominated by Paul’s petition that glory might be to God in the church and in Christ.
What he is calling for here is actually for the Lord’s church to do the very same thing that the Lord himself did in his life here. In John 17, written by the apostle John (who tradition attaches to the city of Ephesus in his later years), we hear the great prayer of Jesus. In verse 4 the Lord says, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” When Paul prays that God might be glorified in the church, he is actually praying that the church may engage in accomplishing its work in the same way God’s own son did.
In the very last letter that Paul writes, the last thing that he says about God is that he needs to be glorified by his people. He says so in 2 Timothy 4:18, as he writes from a Roman prison. Believing that the time of his offering has come, he says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” What he wants is for God to have the glory. And that is the consistent call of so many more passages than just the three that we have read here. But these are enough to illustrate that what is expected of the church above all else is that glory be given to the Father.
What Does It Mean?
Now, what does that mean? What does it mean for glory to be given to God? I think maybe we run into problems sometimes at this point in the study of this thought. Maybe we think that giving glory to God just means to worship him. There is so much more involved. It may be that we think sometimes that things are going to look glorious to us in terms of numbers or accomplishments or edifices or whatever else we might be able to think of. But that is not necessarily the case either. And sometimes it might be that we think that all this means is for us just to say after everything that we have done, “all glory be to the Father.” But that is not what is involved in this either.
The term for “glory” that is used here means to leave an opinion about someone, to create a certain estimate of someone’s standing, to add to or portray someone’s reputation. The word for glory means the shining forth of a person’s character and of his nature and of his being. The word for glory means the revealing of someone for who and what he really is.
Now think about that for a moment. This call then for glory to be to God in the church does not mean that God is some sort of a megalomaniac who insists on being the center of attention. It doesn’t mean that God just demands that we all give him what he wants or else he is going to do away with us. It does not mean that God somehow makes himself the one who has to have people saying good things about him or he won’t put up with us.
To give God the glory means instead that in everyday actions he is exposed for who he really is. For there to be glory to God in the church means that the church goes about its daily life in such a way as to illustrate what God is really like, and that we give him the importance and the weight and the standing in our everyday lives which he already is worthy of and which he occupies anyhow. The idea is that God is the highest of the high, the most wonderful of the wonderful, the mightiest of the mighty, the most faithful of the faithful, the one who is life and within whom we all live and move and have our very being. To glorify him is simply to go about life in a way that lets him have the place which he has anyhow.
For there to be glory to God in the church means that the church faces reality, and that in what we do in our lives we express the truth of who God really is and what he is really like. But how does this happen?
How It Happens
You and I may find ourselves at times dealing with familiarity with each other and with what may appear to us to be the routine of what takes place when we meet. Maybe we become aware of each other’s shortcomings or failures. Maybe we are at times confronted with what may be regarded as a lack of talent on some of our parts. Maybe we think “I don’t see any glory in church.” It is then that we may need to go back to the Biblical call for there to be glory to God in the church and read on to see what the Bible means by that.
For example, I read in the beginning of our study today from the last two verses of Ephesians 3, which Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus where Timothy is when he writes to him later. If you go on, you notice that chapter 4 says, “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” Notice that glorifying God in church involves walking and living in a manner worthy of what he has done for us and of who he is, and in a way that is going to leave the world a true impression of who the Father is and what the Father is all about.
Now if you survey chapters 4, 5 and 6 in Ephesians, you begin to get some picture of what it means for there to be glory to the Father in the church. When I have done this, I end up with six different specific means here of glorifying God. Let me mention them to you.
God is glorified in the church when we who are members of the body of Christ show a disposition which tends to maintain unity and peace. Look at chapter 4, verses 2 and 3: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We are all born, I suppose, with a natural temperament of which we may not have a choice. I have always been a shy person. I am more comfortable in the background than I am anywhere else. That is my natural temperament. But, you and I can make some choices about our disposition. We have a choice about whether we are going to be humble or proud, gentle or harsh, patient or demanding, whether we are going to put up with each other or walk off and leave each other. We have a choice about that. There is one of these dispositions that anybody can show just by being selfish. A person can be stubborn and think he is better than everybody else and walk off and leave folks that he is suppose to care about and it not make a bit of difference. But it takes a child of God to be humble and gentle and patient and to bear with others in love.
Sister Carol Richardson wrote of how the church glorifies the Father in a poem that she entitled “Sunday Assembly.” Some of you know Carol. She wrote, “Blue collar workers, businessmen are seated side by side. Young and old each other greet as down the pew they slide. Mothers with young children, retirees with grey hair, widowers and widows are all assembled there. Here a doctor, there a nurse, some teachers and a cook, a maintenance man and a supervisor smile and share a book. People from all walks of life, some well-to-do, some poor. What brings them all together? What brings them to this door? Common love has bound them, a faith that bids them come, a hope and trust in God who guides them toward a heavenly home.” That is the kind of way in which God is glorified. When people even look at their rights as individuals, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that whether we eat or drink, we are to do all things to his glory.
Secondly, God is glorified when we, within the organization the Lord has given for the church, do what we can to build up the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4, Paul begins to discuss the way a congregation of God’s people functions. God gave some one time offices in the church to the apostles and the prophets, for example, as he mentions in verse 11. These are people whose function was to be a part of the foundation of the church of which Jesus is the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20-21). But God also has given evangelists, pastors (elders, shepherds) and teachers. When in that situation people do what verses 15 and 16 say, God is honored. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” We may not realize it, but God is glorified in the church when somebody vacuums the floor someday during this week. God is glorified in the church when somebody cleans the bathrooms, someone dumps the trash, and someone sits over at the hospital with one of our members who has to be there, when a visit is made to somebody in a nursing home who is lonely, when some of these good people do what they can to care for children. God is glorified when somebody puts in the time to be able to teach a class of little children on Wednesday night or Sunday morning. God is glorified when people are interested enough in hearing from him to be in a Bible study class on Sunday morning, or to encourage young men and young women who do things like we are going to recognize ours doing tonight. God is glorified when we do what we can in his service.
A few years ago I had a Sunday off. I don’t remember the occasion, but I went back home. It so happened that that Lord’s Day morning a young man was there to speak for them that day who was preparing to go off to be a student in a school of preaching. He was a young man, I took it, who had not been blessed with the best family to bring him up. He had been taken under the wing of one of the members of the church at Mountain Home. Now, that young man has just left to work in the nation of Ghana in Africa. He is going by himself. When I received his newsletter that was sent out right before he left, his last paragraph in the letter is this one: “I believe this glorifies the Father. As I prepare to journey to Ghana, I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. I pray that God will give me the vision to see clearly. I pray that when I run into difficult periods that I will see them as opportunities for spiritual growth. I pray that when I miss the things I have become accustomed to in the United States, that I will use that time to grow closer to God. I pray that I can manifest a small portion of the love that God has shown toward me to draw others to Christ. I pray that God will give me the strength and courage and wisdom to overcome the challenges that are ahead. I pray that the Ghanaian work will be an encouragement to all those that are involved and that God will bless each of you. Amen.” That is the kind of spirit in which the Father is glorified.
Thirdly, our Father is glorified when we overcome temptation and develop character which is good and right and true. Nobody will see the young person this week who has strong peer pressure put on him or her to do something that wouldn’t be right, but when a victory over that is won, the Father is glorified. This week when you have the pressure put on you to invest your time in unworthy things, or to watch out for your own interests no matter what other people go through, it may be that nobody will see the struggle that goes on in your heart, but when God comes out first, he is honored and glorified.
In Ephesians 5:8-9, Paul says, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (That contrast between one time and now is what I am talking about.) Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” God is glorified, according to Ephesians 4:25 and following when we have the kind of character which tells the truth, which controls anger, which works honorably instead of trying to take from other people, which says things that build people up instead of tearing people down. When we control the passions of our physical bodies and do remember that we have been bought with a price and that we ought to conduct ourselves morally honorably according to chapter 5:3 and following, God is honored when we live like citizens of his kingdom in this world.
Fourth, God is glorified when we offer grateful worship from our hearts and in keeping with the truth. In Ephesians 5:18 and 20, it calls for us to offer with gratitude the music of our hearts by means of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. What I am concerned about here is not which songs and who leads them. I am so grateful for the song leaders we are blessed with here. I am grateful that there are people here who are good singers; some of us aren’t. But I hope that we will be a church that sings from its heart and sings gratefully, and that the motivation doesn’t have to be whether someone got up and pitched it right, but whether we have anything in our hearts that needs to be expressed to our Father.
Fifth, God is glorified when we build relationships that are healthy in our families and in our communities. God is glorified when a husband will sacrificially love his wife and seek to make her feel that she is cherished above all else to him. God is glorified when a wife communicates to her husband that she respects him and honors him. God is glorified when children obey their parents while they are growing up at home, and honor their mom and dad throughout their whole lives with the gentle care that a mom and dad are worthy of. God is glorified when parents who could be visibly going in a thousand different directions undertake to bring their children up in the training and the instruction of the Lord. God is glorified when we go out to work and don’t work with eye service as men pleasers, but when we do everything we do for the honor and the glory of our Lord.
And then, God is glorified when we stand strong against the schemes of the devil. In Ephesians 6:10-13, Paul writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Someone wrote, “Courage isn’t a brilliant dash, a daring deed in a moment’s flash. It isn’t an instantaneous thing born of despair with a sudden spring, but it is something deep in the soul of man that is working always to serve some plan.” That is the idea of the kind of inner conviction that glorifies the Father in the church.
When Paul went to Ephesus where the temple of Diana was, he built the house of the God of heaven. He did it by teaching them the gospel. Acts 19:5 says that he taught them to be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. And then in Acts 20:28, when he met with the elders from the church at Ephesus, he told them to care for the church of God which he purchased with the blood of his own son. Those people who made that beginning were the church of God, the house of God at Ephesus. Above all else in our lives, let’s see to it there is glory to God in the church now and forever and ever.
If you need to come to the Lord this morning, won’t you do it now while we stand and sing together?