Truth and Glory II

How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? John 5:44

Strange as it may sound, you were created for glory.

Glory is a somewhat abstract term, and so many translations use the word “honour” in the quote from John 5 above. The New International Version uses “praise”.

The point is that humans have a deep need to be praised, honoured and acknowledged. We were created this way, and so we spend our lives doing things that attract praise and honour.

Our role models are those who have succeeded in their quest. We want to be like them, and we teach our children to do the same. It is for this reason that most of us want to associate with the rich and famous. We hope that some of the glitter will rub off on us. We obsess about their television reality shows, feeling that they have allowed us in their homes, that we are part of their glamorous lives.

When we are tortured by our own insignificance, we try and bask in others’ glory. That’s the point.

Some of us prefer more subtle and sophisticated methods to gain glory. We despise the tabloids and reality shows, calling them gutter journalism. Instead we chase after Nobel prizes, or Honorary Doctorates, or the top spot on the career ladder, or standing ovations for piano recitals. But in the end it all boils down to the same thing.

I do not accept praise…

It is extremely significant that Jesus said “I do not accept praise from people” (verse 41 in the NIV, preceding the passage above). This raises an obvious question: Was Jesus Christ different to us in this aspect? Did he not have the same human need to be acknowledged and honoured?

Not at all. The difference between Christ and us had nothing to do with the need for commendation, and everything with the source of commendation. Jesus understood that the true source of honour was his Father in heaven, and not the praises of people.

For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. 1 Peter 1:17

As Henri Nouwen pointed out: Christ’s immunity to the devil’s temptations in Matthew 4 is found in his Father’s commendation of him in Matthew 3, the words quoted by Peter above. He was defined by these words, and that was more than enough. He had no need to be defined by Satan, the world or the flesh. His identity as a son was secure. His Father’s praise was his glory.

I suspect that this is a much more important truth than what we have been led to believe by most standard presentations of the gospel. To repent is to turn from the praises of people to the praise that comes from God alone. If this is not a fundamental aspect of our repentance, then we have not repented.

Note the following verses:

Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteriesa wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ Matthew 23:5-7

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:28-29

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:22-24

On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4

The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. John 7:16 – 18

The Day of the Lord’s Glory

He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5

It is Gods’ will that all his sons and daughters should have the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus (Phil.2:5). They are not to seek the honour and praise of people, but of their Father in heaven. If they do, the day in which Christ Jesus will be revealed will be the day when they, too, will be revealed as God’s children. Romans 8:18-19 combines “the glory that will be revealed in us” with the “revelation of the sons of God”.

What is this glory? Note the words of Peter, referring to our suffering in this present age:

These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

That is the day that we live for, when we will hear those very words: “You are my beloved child. In you I am well pleased.” This is what the so-called doctrine of future glorification is all about: The honour and praise of our Father, resulting in him handing over the inheritance to us as his heirs.

But there is a price to pay. We are to resist any glory in this world. We are to treat the praises of people as something venomous. More than anything else, they contain the potential to rob us of the greatest treasure: The glory that comes from God alone, the treasure in heaven that is kept for us.

“I do not accept praises from men”, he said. Was it because he was the Son of God? Of course, and so are you. Do not dare to think for a moment that this was a unique responsibility of Christ that does not apply to us. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”, he said after his glorification. The same glorification awaits us, and the same conditions to get there apply. We are to shun the approval and honour of people. If not, we have receive our reward in the here and now.

Go and reread Jesus’ instruction about storing up treasures in heaven instead of on earth (Matt.6:19-20). The context has to do with the honour and praise of people. Those who have been “honoured by men” (verse 2), have “received their reward in full” (verse 3). You cannot have both. They are mutually exclusive.

A Startling Implication

These truths come with huge implications. They suggest a type of Christianity that cannot exist without the exact humility that characterised the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. They redefine what it means to take up one’s cross and follow Him. In fact, they challenge much of what is understood as Christian ministry.

Can a man (or woman) embrace these truths and still allow his business card to carry a title? Can he allow himself to be draped by a multicoloured robe in front of multitudes and receive such a title? Can he allow a ministry to bear his name? Can he allow his picture on a cover of a book or magazine? Can he allow a life-size cutout of himself in a Christian bookstore window? Can he charge people a fee to come hear his voice, even if he should decide to sing to them instead of preach?

I think not.

Am I propagating a false humility? Am I saying that one is instantly humble when he/she refrains from the above? Not at all. I am merely suggesting that we have not done nearly enough to consider the logical conclusions of “not accepting praise from people”.

I realise that I may upset some people with this post. But then, the beauty of the above is that it does not matter what people think. You see, these truths do not only take away from our lives. They add to them. We may sacrifice the honour of people, but we gain immensely more. We gain freedom from trying to keep up with the Joneses, from trying to outrun the other rats, from the pain of not having been noticed, or promoted, or acknowledged, or thanked, or respected. We also gain freedom from the idiocy of thinking that promotion in God’s kingdom means a calling to the bigger church with more nickels and noses, and so we are liberated to go where the harvest is ripe and unattended to: The poor, the widows, the orphans… And we do so blissfully, BECAUSE IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER OUR EFFORTS ARE NOTICED OR NOT. We gain freedom from anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness and a host of other demonic states, because these are all related to judging our worth according to the standards of a fallen world where people survive on one another’s praises.

And, of course, we develop an uncanny ability to distinguish between truth and error, as pointed out in the previous post.

Let me share a secret with you. When you accept these truths, heaven is opened and the rest of God begins. The glory of God is a future event, yes, but it is so in the sense of it being “revealed”, that is, of it becoming public. But this does not mean that the glory only begins with the resurrection. No, it begins in the here and now, in the heart of the one who has turned his/her back on the glory that comes from people. The moment that the praise of people is resisted, the praise of God begins in the heart, and the glory thereof is incomparable with the pale counterfeit offered by the praises of men. The very Spirit that cries out “Abba, Father!”, is the Spirit that responds with the echo “You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.” Glorification is for the here and now, but it is private, not public, and it is in the heart, not yet in the body. This is the inexpressible joy spoken of by Peter.

Note, once again, 1 Peter 1:7, and then note the sentence following it:

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

A glorious joy… The joy of glory. Anticipated, yet present.

It took me over 30 years of Christianity to get this. Looking back, I weep. For the first time I understand why so many pastors burn out. For the first time I understand why the burden of the Pharisees was a heavy one, and why Christ’s is a light one. The one contains deeds “for men to see”, the other deeds for God to see. People are much harder to please, believe me. God is not hard to please.

As I write this, my three year old is running around without his pants on, acting like a clown and screaming for my attention. I am so very pleased with him, and it has taken no great effort from him to cause this approval. He is my flesh and blood, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to inform him about my love.

It’s had an interesting effect on him. The following conversation has now become extremely regular in our house:

Oliver: “Dad…”
Me: Yes, my boy?”
Oliver: “I love you, dad.”
Me: “Oh, wow. I love you, too. Very much.”

We love, because he first loved us. And that is enough. It does not matter what others think. My Father’s estimation of me is out of this world.

(This article has appeared in abbreviated form in Bloemnews, 6 June 2012.)

2 thoughts on “Truth and Glory II

  1. revienwest July 6, 2012 / 11:22 am

    A wonderful post T, this is indeed one of the truest fundamental truths about the Christian life. If we love the Lord with all that is in us, we should absolutely desire to please Him alone, and receive commendation from Him alone. Every thought and action of ours should be to the praise of His glory and majesty – how short we fall of this at times!

    I also love your quote from Henri Nouwen: I do believe that the secret of our contentment and security in God lies in the fact that Christ loved us and died for us while we were yet sinners.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s