Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.(Rom. 16:25-27)
In his last words of his great letter to the Romans, Paul bows his head, as it were, and lifts his hands, no longer teaching or defending or explaining or confirming; he is simply worshiping. "To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen."
In this brief article, I will first try to do the impossible and define the indefinable, the glory of God; second, we will look at the words "to him be glory" in Romans 16:27, and ask what it means to say "glory be" to something. And third, instead of a systematic treatment of Paul's understanding of the glory of God, we will start with chapter 1 of Romans and simply walk through the entire book and see the role that the glory of God plays in the letter as a whole. My prayer is that you see and love the glory of God for what it is.
First, an attempt at the impossible-a definition of the glory of God. The reason I say it is impossible is that glory is more like the word beauty than it is like the word basketball. You can define a basketball by saying it's round, inflated, about nine or ten inches in diameter; it's used in a game to bounce and put through a hoop. But you can't do the same with the word beauty. We all know it exists, but the reason we can talk about it is because we have seen it, not because we can say it.
What might help to get at a definition of the glory of God is to contrast it with the holiness of God. God is holy means that God is in a class of perfection and greatness and value by himself. He is incomparable. His holiness is his utterly unique and perfect divine essence. It determines all that he is and does, and is determined by nothing and no one outside of himself. His holiness is what he is as God, which no one else is or ever will be, and it signifies his intrinsic, infinite worth.
Then we hear the angels in Isaiah 6:3 say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory." The glory of God is the manifestation of his holiness. God's holiness is the incomparable perfection and greatness of his divine nature; his glory is the display of that holiness. His glory is the open revelation of the secret of his holiness. In Leviticus 10:3, God says, "I will be shown to be holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified." When God shows himself to be holy, what we see is his glory-the beauty of holiness. The holiness of God is his concealed glory. The glory of God is his revealed holiness.
So here's my effort at a definition: The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections.
Second, what do we mean, for example, in verse 27, when we say, "To God be glory"? In the way Paul wrote it there is no verb at all. It simply says literally, "To him, glory!" I think the absence of any verb opens the meaning to both a worshipful statement of fact and a worshipful expression of longing. The statement of fact would be: "To him belongs glory!" In other words, we are heralding the truth in worship: God is glorious! Whether you or I see it or not, God has it and displays it.
On the other hand, the expression of longing would be, "May glory be given to him!" That is, may people see him as glorious and praise him as glorious. "Give him glory," not in the sense of adding anything to his glory, but acknowledging it and treasuring it. So when Paul leaves the verb out and simply says, "To the only wise God, glory!" I think he has both of these in mind: God is glorious! And the longing, the prayer: May all the nations see it and acknowledge it and value it as their highest treasure!
So as we turn to chapter 1 and our walk through Romans, keep this in mind. Paul's final word in Romans (just before "through Jesus Christ! Amen.") is his acclamation of the greatest fact of all: God is glorious! And his aspiration for all the nations: May you see it and savor it above all things!
I think we need to start with Romans 1:5-even though the word glory is not there-because the substance is there so clearly as the goal of Paul's life and ministry-and ours! "We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations." For the sake of his name among all the nations means that Paul's goal is that the name of Christ be seen as infinitely glorious above all other names and all other persons and all other ideas and all other possessions and all other possible dreams. In other words, his aim is that the glory of Christ be known and valued in all the world above all other things.
But the presence of Jesus Christ assumes the need for a Savior. Paul backs up and explains why there is a universal need for a Savior. First, he addresses the condition of the nations outside Israel in Romans 1:21 and says, "For although they knew God, they did not honor [the word is "glorify," doxasan] him as God or give thanks to him." How did they not glorify him? What have human beings done? Verse 23 gives the answer: They "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images." And, of course, the image most common then and today is not one that we carve in wood or stone, but the one we see in the mirror. (This is why the gospel is designed by the wisdom of God to strip us of all grounds for boasting in ourselves and make the Lord the only object of our exultation-this is the universal need of the nations who have exchanged the glory of God.)
Then Paul turns to his own Jewish people and shows that they are in a similar condition and need a Savior. For example, after multiple indictments, he says in Romans 2:24, "For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" In other words, you do not glorify God's name; you bring it into reproach.
Paul sums up the condition of all humans in Romans 3:23 with this virtual definition of sin: "For all have sinned and fall short of [literally, lack] the glory of God." This links back to Romans 1:23. We have all exchanged the glory of God for other things. That is why we "lack" it, or "fall short" of it, and that is the very essence of sin. We are created to treasure the glory of God above all things, and none of us does that, which means we have committed an outrageous crime against God that is far more serious than murder or rape or theft or lying. Therefore, we stand under the wrath of God and need a Savior.
It's tempting here to move immediately to Romans 3:24 (and the following verses) and talk about how Jesus saves us through his death, but I will stay on the track of glory and keep going. The salvation from sin and death and judgment that Christ brings is received by faith. Paul illustrates this faith with the case of Abraham in Romans 4:20 and shows how it relates to the glory of God: "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God [literally, giving glory to God]." In other words, one reason that faith is the way God saves us is that faith gives glory to God. That is, faith calls attention to and magnifies the glory of God. Faith puts us in the position of weak and dependent, and puts God in the position of strong and independent and merciful. So faith is essential to displaying the glory of God.
Then in chapters 5 and 8, Paul shows that our salvation through Christ secures for us the hope of the glory of God. This is the ultimate gift of the gospel. But this hope happens to us in two senses: We see and experience the glory of God in full display, instead of in a mirror dimly, and we are transformed by it into glorious, God-reflecting beings ourselves.
First, consider Romans 5:1-2, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." We are justified now by faith. We are declared righteous now. That gives us incomparable peace with God-in fact and in feeling. But in this life, there are many hard things emotionally, physically, and relationally. Without the hope of something more, we would be of all men most to be pitied. And there is more. And the greatest thing that Christians hope for is to see and enjoy the greatest beauty in the universe-the greatest good and the greatest power and the greatest justice and grace, namely, the glory of God-the beautiful totality of God's infinite and manifold perfections. Verse 2: "We have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
In Romans 8:18, Paul says this hope makes all the sufferings we have to experience in this life worth it: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." The glory of God will be so overwhelmingly satisfying that the horrors of a long illness and a painful death will be as nothing in comparison. "For this slight momentary affliction [this whole painful life seen as momentary!] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all compar-ison" (2 Cor. 4:17).
Then in Romans 8:21 and 8:30, Paul speaks of our sharing in that glory so that we become glorious, God-reflecting persons. Verse 21: "The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." First, we are made glorious at the resurrection; then the whole creation is made a suitable habitation for the glorious children of God. Then verse 30 says that it is so certain that Paul can speak of it as virtually completed: "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." So the glory of God is our supreme hope, both in the sense of seeing and being-we see it and all our longings for beauty are satisfied, and we are changed by it and all our longings for being beautiful, uncontaminated reflectors of God's glory are satisfied. Beholding and becoming.
Then in chapter 9, Paul begins to tackle the question of God's faithfulness to his covenant with Israel, and the related question arises in verse 14 about God's righteousness in view of his sovereignty over so much lostness and so much evil. In verses 22-23, Paul gives his ultimate and final answer to the question, and he does it with a view to the glory of God. He says, "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?" In other words, the final argument for the righteousness of God in a world with so much evil and destruction is that this evil serves the revelation of God's glory. That is, God's just judgment of it and God's gracious rescue from it display more fully the glory of God than if there had been no evil.
It is hard to overstate the centrality and ultimacy of the glory of God in view of Romans 9:23. The highest and deepest and most ultimate answer to why the world is the way it is when God is sovereign is that in his infinite wisdom this world reveals the fullness of his glory-including the glory of wrath and power (v. 22) as well as mercy. If you grasp the biblical vision of God and his glory as the highest value of the universe, you will become a strong and gracious and useful person in the world-for the glory of God.
As Paul finishes his description of the inscrutable ways of God in dealing with Israel and the nations in Romans 9 to 11, he concludes with the doxology: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). God is the ultimate origin, the ultimate sustaining power, and the ultimate goal of all things. Therefore, to him, glory! To him belongs the glory. And may all praises rise to him!
In Romans 15, as Paul is finishing his handling of how weak and strong Christians should relate to each other in the church, he tells them the purpose of the church and how Christ set the pattern for how to build the church. The purpose of the church is in verses 5-6: "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." That's why Christ bought and builds the church. Not just isolated, individual worship, but united voices, whether speaking or singing, that glorify God. Displaying the glory of God is the aim of the church.
Then in verse 7, Paul gives Christ as the pattern for building this church. He says, "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." Christ does everything he does-including welcoming you into his family, building his church-"for the glory of God." You are saved by Christ for the glory of God. You are welcomed into his friendship for the glory of God. This is humbling because we are never the final reason for anything; God is. And it is gloriously good news, because we wouldn't want it any other way. God gets the glory; we get the joy.
Paul then underscores Christ's pattern of building the church in verses 8-9 by showing that this is the very reason he came for the nations: "For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." Christ came to prove that God is faithful to his promises and to be glorified among the nations. That is why evangelism and missions and church planting and our churches and this magazine exist.
Which brings us finally back to where we started in the closing doxology of Romans 16:27, "To the only wise God, glory! Forevermore, through Jesus Christ! Amen."
Is that the cry of your heart? Do you love the glory of God? God is calling for your attention and admiration every day because Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God." And Isaiah 6:3 says, "The whole earth is full of his glory!" God is calling out to you: Behold my glory! And as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6, the climactic display of the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God" is "the face of Jesus Christ." The gospel itself-the gospel of Christ crucified and risen-is radiant with the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Do you see it and do you love it? You were made for this. Something deep in your soul is saying to you: I was made for this-to behold the glory of God in the gospel and to become a glorious, God-reflecting person. Believer and nonbeliever alike, receive the Lord Jesus Christ and his supremely God-glorifying life and cross-work for you. Behold him and love him and grow up-all the way up-to be like him. Unspeakably glorious.
John Piper is pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and founder of Desiring God Ministries (Minneapolis, Minnesota).
Issue: "Using God" Nov./Dec. 2007 Vol. 16 No. 6 Page number(s): 34-37
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