Passing a Milestone
You are probably reading this as one year ends and another begins. A new year is a milestone in our lives. And we do well to remember that not everyone who passed the last such milestone has reached this one; similarly not everyone who passes this milestone will reach the next. We are on our way through life, a way which has a very definite end – although the time when we will reach it is totally uncertain as far as we are concerned. God knows when we will die; we do not.
When someone passes into eternity, we may look back and remember their activities, their talents and their knowledge. However active they may have been, their busyness is all at an end; their talents will never be put to use again; their knowledge is no longer accessible. We might feel that so much has been wasted, especially when somebody has been called away from this life when still relatively young. We might well ask, What is the point of it all? And we should answer ourselves with the thought that this life is not ultimately what matters so much as our eternal existence in another world. And what a solemn question, which we ought to ask ourselves again and again: Where will we exist after death – in heaven or in hell?
But our lives here do have a purpose, and a purpose far beyond the humdrum activities of everyday life highlighted by Jesus’ questions: ‘What shall we eat? or, What shall be drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ We can only begin to see that purpose when we consider that God created mankind. Accordingly, as his creatures, we are under an obligation to glorify him. And so we must continually remember our duty to obey him and maintain the appropriate attitude towards him.
Let us note, however, what the requirement to glorify God does not imply. Thomas Vincent points out that ‘to glorify God is not to give any additional glory to God; it is not to make God more glorious than he is’. Vincent emphasises that ‘God is incapable of receiving the least addition to his essential glory, he being eternally and infinitely perfect and glorious’.
On the other hand, Vincent explains that, positively, to glorify God means ‘to manifest God’s glory’. He acknowledges that the various parts of creation ‘which have neither religion nor reason’ glorify God passively. They do so by functioning as he created them. But people glorify God actively, ‘when the design of their life and actions is the glory and honour of God’. They do so (1) ‘when inwardly they have the highest estimation of him, the greatest confidence in him and the strongest affections to him; this is glorifying of God in spirit.’ And (2) ‘when outwardly they acknowledge God according to the revelations he has made of himself, when with their lips they show forth God’s praise . . . when they sincerely endeavour, in their actions, the exalting of God’s name, the promotion of the interest of his kingdom in the world, and to yield that worship and obedience to him which he has prescribed in his Word’.1
It should be obvious that human beings do not, in their natural state, glorify God. As fallen creatures, they have no will to do so. Whatever else was wrong in the life of Simon the sorcerer after his professed conversion, Peter put his finger on the critical matter: ‘Thy heart is not right in the sight of God’ (Acts 8:21). What all unconverted people need is a new heart, through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, for Jesus’ sake. Clearly we need to have our sins forgiven, but there is nothing God-glorifying about such a desire unless there is also a desire to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and to be renewed in one’s whole being. And there is nothing God-glorifying about a desire to be ready for heaven unless one desires to be changed now, to have sin subdued now – not at some time in the indefinite future, so that one might creep into heaven just after being savingly changed. God calls, ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near’ (Isa. 55:6). He may be found now, but we cannot presume that we will be spared to seek him, to call upon him, at any time in the future.
To glorify God involves the attitude of respect and obedience to God and his commandments which is summed up in the expression, the fear of God. Clearly Joseph lived in the fear of God when he carried out his duties in Potiphar’s household to the best of his ability and in dependence on God. Looking beyond the sins of his brothers, Joseph would have recognised that this was the situation in which God had placed him, in his providence, and he would have realised that it was his duty before God to carry out all his responsibilities conscientiously. This was to glorify God as Potiphar’s slave.
But when Potiphar’s wife tempted him to commit adultery with her, he continued to act conscientiously. Because his conscience was in harmony with the mind of God, he refused her repeated requests with that question which reveals tremendous clarity of thought: ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Gen. 39:9). To submit to the woman’s continued pressure would be wrong on the human level, for, as Joseph carefully reminded her, she was Potiphar’s wife. But the most significant point in Joseph’s mind was the ‘great wickedness’ of adultery, and it is great wickedness because it is ‘sin against God’. Joseph provides us with a remarkably clear illustration of the fear of God in action. And in reacting as he did, he glorified God. God was at the forefront of his thinking.
Moses might have been tremendously successful in worldly terms had he continued in Pharaoh’s palace. But, quite deliberately, he did not continue there. By God’s grace, he weighed, in the balances of his mind, the two options for his future life: to continue as a member of the royal family, or to join the despised Israelites. He left the palace because he feared God, even although it would probably mean suffering affliction, but it was ‘affliction with the people of God’ (Heb. 11:25). This was God-glorifying. It was by faith he considered his prospects in this world. Had he merely used worldly insight, there could have been only one conclusion: to enjoy wealth, honour and pleasure in the ungodliness of high Egyptian society. But Moses lived by faith, which was itself glorifying to God; and he was honoured, in God’s good time, by being chosen leader of the people of God to bring them out of Egypt and on towards the promised land. There were many difficulties to be faced, but he glorified God in a life of holy dependence on divine help, till he was brought to his eternal reward in heaven.
Neither Joseph nor Moses was perfect; they did not glorify God perfectly. Perfection is impossible in this fallen world, but they sincerely sought to do the will of God in every part of their lives and, in Christ Jesus, they were accepted. Paul too, from the time he experienced the renewing of the Holy Ghost, lived a consistently God-glorifying life. Yet he was conscious that he was not, of himself, sufficient even to think anything rightly. But he added, ‘Our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3:5). And this was how both Joseph and Moses lived to God’s glory.
As we pass another milestone in life, we should ask ourselves if this is true of us also. Are we ready to die? Are we prepared for eternity? Have we believed in Jesus Christ? Do we know anything of the fear of God? Do we wish to live to his glory? And do we seek, above everything else, ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matt. 6:33)? Then all will be well, though we always need to ask the Lord to enable us to glorify him and, in particular, to protect us from the worldliness and the immorality so common today. But if our answer to these questions must be, No, another question confronts us: ‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation’ (Heb. 2:3)? Before it is too late, let us flee from the wrath to come, and trust in Christ.
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the January 2013 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
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