The Glory of God and the Joy of Man
Today we’re in the last week of our series on our theological distinctives, those points of doctrine which are secondary, but which we affirm because a) we believe they’re true; and b) because they have a significant impact on the life of our church.
We’ve covered a good number of controversial topics, so it might be a relief today to end on our last distinctive, which (in many minds) is a good deal less controversial: the relationship between the glory of God and the joy of man.
But while we wouldn’t imagine this would be the subject of much debate, practically speaking, it is.
It’s a difficult subject because of the way we use both words—“glory” and “joy”—and the way we see them relating to one another.
For example, we can affirm that God is glorified in our joy, thinking that if we pray with faith he will give us what we want, to make us happy—the husband or wife we desired, the kids we’ve always wanted to have, that great promotion we’ve been working for, etc.
That kind of thinking is unbiblical and dangerous in the extreme.
On the other hand, we can also reject the idea that God is glorified in our joy, because joy is self-seeking—and an action is only moral when we don’t act out of self-interest, but out of duty (which is what Immanuel Kant said). We can think that if we really want to please God, we have to serve him without any desire to get anything out of it.
That kind of thinking, perhaps more surprisingly, is also unbiblical and dangerous.
Where we land here depends on the way we understand the meaning of “glory”, and on the source of our joy. So we’re going to need to take time to see how the Bible uses the word “glory,” and where it commands us to seek our joy. So that’s what we’ll be doing today.
Let’s start with glory.
The Glory of God
In 1957 Marcel Pagnol published one of my favorite books, his autobiographical novel La gloire de mon père.
It tells the story of how young Marcel, on vacation with his family, grew to appreciate the simple wisdom of his father, a 25-year-old schoolteacher, who also happens to be a very poor hunter. At the end of the book, his father shoots at a pair of birds, and thinks he has missed. It’s disappointing, because this was the first time his son had come hunting, and saw the whole thing.
Marcel runs into the brush and returns to see his father and uncle discussing the missed shot. We read:
I approached them, and saw poor Joseph [the father]. Cap askew, he chewed nervously on a rosemary branch, and lifted his sad face. So I leapt onto the summet of a rock overlooking the valley and, my body tight as a bow, I cried with all my strength, “He killed them! He killed them both!”
And in my little bloody fists from which hung four golden wings, I lifted the glory of my father toward the sky, in the light of the setting sun.
It’s a beautiful book (the sequel, Le château de ma mère, is even better, by the way), and it illustrates well the way we understand the word “glory” today.
“Glory” is, in our minds, recognition of a job well done, or something beautiful that we have seen.
And that’s not entirely wrong: when the Bible talks about the glory of God, it isn’t less than that; but it is much, much more.
In the Old Testament, the word for “glory” means “heaviness” or “weight.” A thing’s “glory” is what gives it its mass, its bulk. It is what makes something what it is.
In the same way, the glory of God is what makes God who he is. It is all of his splendor, all of his attributes, all of his holy character, put together.
But just saying that isn’t enough, because implicit in the idea of glory is that it has to be seen.
It had already been seen by God himself, for all eternity, in the persons of the Trinity. Now, in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 1, we see God give a vision of his glory to his prophet.
Ezekiel describes a vision he received of the throne room of God. He writes (v. 26):
26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
So in Ezekiel’s vision, the glory of the Lord has two basic attributes. It looks like brightness, and it looks like a person.
You wouldn’t expect the heaviness of God to be described as “light,” but this is what we see all through the book of Ezekiel: the glory of God is a brilliant, shining light, which radiates out and illuminates everything it touches.
Light, by definition, is something you can’t miss. Not only can you see it, but by it you can see everything else.
So there we can get a little closer to what the Bible means when it talks about the glory of God. The glory of God is all of what makes him who he is, made visible. When we see God for who he is and what he is like, we see his glory.
But left alone, that would also be hard to grasp, because you can’t see an attribute. You can’t see holiness. You can’t see omniscience. You can’t see goodness. You can see the effects of these things, but not the things themselves.
That is why the glory of God that Ezekiel saw in the throne room didn’t just look like a light, but also like a person.
In Revelation 21, which is the New Testament counterpart of Ezekiel 1, John has a vision of the new heavens and the new earth—the final state of the world God will renew. He describes a city which fills the whole earth, in which there is no more corruption or sin or danger or death. And after describing the city itself, he says (v. 23),
23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
This “Lamb”, as we see over and over again in the book of Revelation, is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. Christ is the “lamp” from which the glory of God shines out and gives light to everything.
This could be confusing, because Jesus is a man.
Yes, he is. But he is not an ordinary man. He is God himself, MADE man. The Son took on a human nature, became a human being, to show us who God is and what he is like. The letter to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 1.1-3):
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature...
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the radiance of the glory of God. If we want to see everything that God is, made visible, we look at Christ. In the person of Jesus Christ we see everything God is, every attribute and all of his character, everything that makes him who he is, made visible for us to see. In the person of Christ, the radiance of the glory of God shines out.
The Joy of Man
So God is glorious—good for him. The question is, what does this have to do with our joy?
Everything. Because if God’s glory is only something to be seen, it is a distant, cold reality. Think of Mount Everest—great to look at, but it’s likely to kill you if you try climbing it.
God’s glory is even worse. Moses couldn’t even look at God’s glory without dying (Exodus 33.20-23).
But in the person of Christ, that separation between human beings and the glory of God was taken away.
In the person of Christ, God became a human being, and he radiated his glory for everyone to see. Not only could people see him; they could speak to him. They could listen to his voice, and touch him. For the first time, people could come close to the glory of God.
In the person of Christ, human beings saw for the first time who God is, and what he is like.
Now if I had to take a natural guess as to what “God made man” would look like, I would probably imagine something like an all-powerful emperor who also looked like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—physically imposing, and with the authority to make everyone bow to his will.
But this is not what we saw when Jesus came.
What we saw was someone who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20.28).
What we saw was a God who emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2.7).
He displayed this humble service all throughout his life and ministry, and he displayed it ultimately in his death on the cross for us. 2 Corinthians 5.21 says,
For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So when we find out more about Jesus, we start to see how the unique glory of our unique God is not just a cold and distant reality to be observed (like Everest), but something which actually does bring joy to his people.
We as human beings had rejected the glory of God—when the apostle Paul defines sin, he says that sin is exchanging the glory of God for substitutes, exchanging the truth about God for a lie, worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1.22-25). That’s what sin is.
So it makes perfect sense that the thing which would do away with our sin is also the thing which would most perfectly display God’s glory.
Jesus Christ took our sin—our rebellion against God—on himself so completely that Paul can say he actually became sin for us. And in exchange for our sin, he gave us his perfect life—so that we might become the righteousness of God.
You see, through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ gave us access to the glory of God. He doesn’t just let us see his glory; he shares his glory with us. And the glory of God that we see, and that we experience, is the fullest joy a human being can experience, because it is his glory, and it is his joy.
Perhaps the easiest place to see this in the Bible is in Jesus’s prayer to his Father in John 17. It’s an incredible passage: Jesus prays to his Father, for his disciples, and for us. He prays in v. 4:
4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
So Jesus is saying that in his ministry, he glorified the Father by doing what he was supposed to do: by preaching the kingdom of God, and healing the sick, and living a perfect life. But his work is not finished—he’s about to go to the cross. So he asks God to glorify him in that work. That alone is amazing enough: the fact that at the cross, in this horrific ritual of torture and death, Jesus Christ is glorified—to the point where he can say that the glory he shows us at the cross is the glory he had before he even became a human being.
But that’s not all he says. Afterward, he turns to us. V. 20:
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word [that’s US], 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
When Jesus has one final request to send to his Father, it is that we might be with him. Why? Not so that he can be loved, as if he were lacking any love before. He wants us to be with him that we might see his glory. The best thing Jesus could possibly wish for us and pray for us is that we might see his glory.
So why does he say this? Why did the Spirit inspire John to record these exact words for us to have still today? He explains why in v. 13. Jesus prays to the Father,
13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
In other words, the end goal of the Christian life is that we might be with Christ and see his glory.
And knowing that we exist to see his glory, and will one day see that glory completely, with no sin to hide it from our eyes, results in us sharing in Christ’s joy. As he had previously said in John 15.11,
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
That’s why we talk about this so much. It’s not just that we’re fans of John Piper (though he has been immensely helpful to many of us). These truths didn’t come from him. Jonathan Edwards articulated these same things before him, and John Calvin before Edwards, and Augustine before Calvin, and Paul before Augustine, and Jesus before Paul. This has always been the heart of the Christian life: glorifying God and seeking as much true joy as possible, because the joy of the Christian IS the glory of God.
Now the big question is, what difference does all this make? Let’s assume that it’s true: that God’s glory and our joy are related in this way. What does it change for us?
Well, if you think about the way many—if not most—Christians instinctively live their Christian lives, it changes a great deal. It forces us to realize a certain number of things about our relationship with God that we hadn’t necessarily considered before.
Three things in particular.
Firstly, if you are seeking your ultimate joy anywhere else but in God’s glory, you are seeking a joy which does not exist.
Now of course this doesn’t there is no happiness outside of God. Anyone who says that the only way to be happy is to know Jesus is either lying, or doesn’t know any unbelievers. There are millions of very happy unbelievers out there.
The problem is that their happiness is of a different sort, and it is a happiness that will not last.
The joy we’re talking about here isn’t simply an emotion; it is not a kind of divine protection against sadness. Rather, it is a kind of anchor—no matter what is happening outside the boat, the ocean floor never moves, and we are tied to that. The joy of the Christian is rooted in the glory of God—which has always shone, and will always shine. No matter what is going on in our lives, our reason for joy never changes, never moves, never wavers.
So rather than being joy instead of sadness, ours is a joy that outshines sadness, a joy that outshines devastation, a joy that allows us to persevere when we seem to have every reason to throw in the towel.
This is why Jesus can call us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16.24). He can call us to do that because he promises—in the very next verse, no less—that whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16.25). Even his calls to suffer for him are rooted in the promise of joy in him.
And that joy will not end at our death, but will only increase, steadily and surely, for all eternity, because for all eternity, we’ll see and understand and behold more and more and more of the glory of God.
Secondly (kind of a reverse of what I just said), if you aren’t joyful in God, then you aren’t seeing his glory.
Before the coming of Christ, the glory of God was a fearful thing for human beings to contemplate, because it wasn’t just God’s love and mercy and compassion, but also his justice and wrath against sin. To see God’s glory was to be judged by God’s glory, and no one could withstand it.
But Jesus withstood that judgment for us. He took it on himself, so we wouldn’t have to. So now, we can simply marvel at that glory, in the face of our Savior.
And if we do that, then necessarily, if we see Christ’s glory, we will share in his joy. si nous voyons la gloire de Christ, nous partagerons la gloire de Christ.
what happened to Paul will happen to us. If we see God’s glory, then necessarily, we will rejoice in it, because that’s what he created us for: to see his glory.
So if you aren’t joyful in God, then you aren’t seeing his glory. You’re looking everywhere else but where you should be looking.
Thirdly, perhaps the most sobering implication of all: if you are not rejoicing in God, then you are disobeying him.
Joy in God is not a bonus in the Bible; it is not a nice side benefit of salvation. Joy in God is a commandment.
Delight yourself in the Lord.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
It’s not a suggestion, but a commandment. And as with every commandment, there are promises of reward if we obey, and threats of punishment if we do not.
47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything.
The Bible takes our joy in the Lord very, very seriously.
So what do we do? How do we respond to the Bible’s call that we glorify God by rejoicing in him?
Again, there are many ways—but today we can content ourselves with three.
Firstly, fight for your joy in God.
Talking about finding our joy in God’s glory is a risky endeavor, because it can give the impression that it should be easy. We’re talking about joy, after all; if you rejoice in something, no one has to pull your arm to make you do it. You do it because you want to.
But Jesus never said any of this would be easy. He was telling the truth when he said that if we wanted to find our lives, we had to lose them. He was telling the truth when he said we had to die to ourselves if we want to follow him. Putting our own selfish desires on the backburner is never easy, and Jesus never said it would be.
He just said that what we get when we die to ourselves is better than what we keep if we don’t.
Jesus went to the cross, and fought sin and death and hell itself to reconcile us to the Father, for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12.2).
And it is there—through that suffering, and TO that joy—that he invites us to follow him.
If you have a hard time finding your joy in Christ, you’re not alone. That is the struggle of every single day of my life. Don’t beat yourself up if this is hard for you.
But don’t put your hands down. FIGHT. Endure whatever you have to endure, give up whatever you have to give up.
And do it for the joy that is set before you—the joy of seeing God’s glory, and delighting in the fellowship of his Son, and being united to him by his Spirit, forever.
That can sound intimidating—but we have been told how to do it.
Secondly: learn to know your God well.
It is impossible to rejoice in something you don’t know.
God perfectly revealed himself in the person of his Son—and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, those who were with the Son faithfully transmitted to us everything we need to know about him. In the pages of Scripture, we see God revealed. In the pages of Scripture, we see his glory.
The primary means God has given us to know him today is his Word—the Bible. So if we want to rejoice in God’s glory, we have to use the means he has given us to know him.
It sounds overly simplistic, but if it were really that simple, more Christians would do it.
In the Bible, God has told us everything we need to know about him, and we could never exhaust its revelations, not in a thousand lifetimes. So read your Bible. Pray your Bible. Memorize your Bible. Learn what God has said about himself, and do it for the rest of your life.
Thirdly: let what you see in the Bible shape you into the image of the Son.
Reading the Bible and knowing the Bible is where we start, but it is not where we finish. It is not enough to know the Bible—even by heart—if we do nothing with that knowledge. It’s possible to read the Bible with no regard to the glory of God—people who study Christianity as a mere social science do it all the time.
But if we read the Word of God with a view to seeing the glory of God, then we are transformed by what we see. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3.18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
In other words, the more of the Lord’s glory we see, the more we look like him.
So when you read the Bible, don’t do it as a mere ritual, or an exercise of study. Pray that the Spirit would help you see the glory of Christ there. And as you trust the Spirit to help you see Christ clearly, do what he tells you to do. His commandments aren’t mere rules, but guides to help us know our God more fully.
So read the Bible to see God’s glory, and enjoy God’s glory by obeying his commandments.
Years ago we began taking Jack through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a summary of the Christian faith written in the 17th century. It has ever since been a reliable teaching tool for children and for new believers.
The first question (which Jack can still answer) goes like this:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
One wise soul suggested a slight alteration to the answer, one which reflects the Bible’s teaching a little more fully. It is this altered version that Jack learned.
What is the chief end of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.
This is the reason why we exist. This is how we glorify God, and this is how we find our full and eternal joy.
So let’s run hard after our joy in him. Let’s look at the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as his Spirit has revealed him in Scripture. Let’s pray to be changed by the glory we see, and rejoice in what we see, forever.