Glorifying God Means What Exactly?

Once again author and friend Mike Duran has asked a thought-provoking question on his blog, this time How Do We “Glorify God” in Our Writing? If you take a look at the comments, you’ll see there are some remarks nearly as long as the original post. The subject of giving God glory is no small one.

Mike started out with a straightforward statement about a Christian’s need to glorify God:

Of course, I realize that Christians are to glorify God in everything they do.

    So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Cor. 10:31).

Odd as it may seem, that oft repeated idea caused me to pause, first because of the supporting verse, then because of the broad term “in everything.”

I recently had occasion to look at the issue central to the passage containing the “do all to the glory of God” verse. Paul has just finished giving an argument about eating or not eating meat offered to idols. Here’s the immediate context:

If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Clearly the verse in question is referring to a specific scenario. Paul’s conclusion, in essence, was this: Make your decision to eat or not eat, to drink or not drink, or whatever else, on what will glorify God.

The popular view of this verse, however, has become something like this: Christians are to glorify God in whatever we do. I’m a Christian, so whatever I do brings God glory.

As I see it, this latter interpretation doesn’t account for the context and actually makes the verse say something it doesn’t say.

But I’m also wondering about the idea of giving God glory in everything we do. I believe the in-context understanding makes it clear that “everything” means everything specific to Paul’s discussion. But even if that were not so, I’d have the same kind of struggle inherent in the command, “Pray without ceasing.”

I spent some time looking up what the Bible says about bringing God glory to see if other passages gave an “in everything” slant. The clearest passage defining what it means to glorify God seems to be in Matthew 5:16.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Throughout the New Testament, people responded to miracles and other “good works” by giving God glory. The way the passages read, it seems as if this was verbal and immediate.

For now, I’m left with these thoughts:

1) It seems good works can and should spark others to give God glory.

2) Giving God glory is something we communicate, one person to another.

Some people argue that Scripture teaches all creation glorifies God, so I’ll throw in a third point:

3) Psalm 19:1 (The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands) indicates, as does Romans 1, that creation declares something about God. I think this is different from “giving Him glory.” Rather it’s a statement of fact. God has glory; creation reveals His glory. The full moon, for example, is glorious, consequently the one Who made it is revealed as a glorious Creator.

What are your thoughts?

Published in: on August 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (18)  
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18 Comments

  1. I am of the belief that we are to glorify God in all we do, because we are either glorifying God by obeying him, or we are dishonoring our head (Christ) by failing to submit to him. I don’t see any other options.

    I don’t understand why you want to limit the command to glorify God in dealings with my brother to only the area of meat and drink sacrificed to idols. Paul says whether we eat or drink (speaking of things sacrificed to idols) and then adds, “or whatever you do,” which must include every interaction we have with our brothers. He goes on to say,

    “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

    This is all inclusive. We are to love our enemies and our brothers and we are to seek to please them in every way. We are to seek their good. This is how we do all to the glory of God.

    Every disagreement we have with a brother, ought to find us rushing to submit to the other guy for the glory of God. Every conversation we have with others should be motivated by a desire to serve them, every business deal (or book we sell) should be done with a desire to give the other guy good value for his money. When we obey, we glorify God, by saying to Him, or the angels, or the world, or whoever is watching–particularly to the fellow with whom we’re dealing–that God is worthy of honor and obedience. He is master. When I treat him as such, and obey the command to love my neighbor and to “submit one to another,” I’m doing all to his glory.

    And if we glorify God by foregoing meat and loving our neighbors, then it is clear that we can glorify God without speaking. Surely that passage doesn’t mean, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, give glory to God by saying he is glorious with your mouth so others hear you. Are you thinking the passage means that we are to do all to the glory of God, so that our love for our brothers will cause them to give glory to God verbally? What happens when I love my brother and he fails to give glory to God? What happens when he sins and he takes my love for granted and thinks he deserves even better than I’ve given? Does it mean that I didn’t do all for the glory of God if the other guy didn’t give glory verbally?

    Jesus glorified God on the cross even as the crowd hurled insults. He died in obedience to God out of love for God and neighbor and we are to glorify God in the same way. We are to die to self–to give up our freedom to eat meat or whatever other freedom we have, In order to love our brothers and to submit to them and to save them from stumbling and to please them in every way. And if the brothers don’t see our good works and glorify God verbally, we have still glorified God by our sacrifice.

    I would not say that since I’m a Christian “anything I do glorifies God” and I’ve never heard anyone else say such a thing. We are capable of bringing dishonor to God, obviously, or there would be no need for a command that we glorify him. We are not sinless and every time was sin we fail to glorify God in what we do. But I do think human beings declare the glory of God the same way the heavens do. Look at the human eye and you see a glorious Creator. And talented singers and writers and painters glorify God in the same way a beautiful sunset does, I think. I don’t think this is the same thing as the glory we are commanded to give to God in all we do. But I do think that, Christian or not, humans declare God’s glory in the same way the rest of the creation declares his glory.

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  2. We glorify God by giving honor to and thus praising Him. That is demonstrated in us by our words and actions. When we are obedient to God we are giving honor to Him. When we tell others about what He has done in our life we are giving honor to Him.
    The emphasis is on Him, not us. The us part always seems to get in the way and that is why we have a hard time with “in all things” and “in all ways”. We still want to reserve parts of our lives for ourselves, we want to hold back.
    I think it is obvious that even as Christian’s we do things that dishonor Him.
    Being a Christian is not like wearing certain articles of clothing that we put on and then take off later. Being a Christian means we are believer’s of and representatives of Jesus Christ and His teachings. We speak it, we live it, and we are prepared to tell others about Him.
    And in living that way we give glory to and honor and praise to God.

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  3. I’m with Sally on this: “we are to glorify God in all we do”. God asks for a life fully submitted to Him. In fact, when the Bible refers to someone who is “godly,” “righteous,” or “God-fearing,” I take it to mean that the tone of their ENTIRE life was such as to be pleasing to the Lord.

    Becky, I think limiting “glorifying God” to specific categories (i.e. “good works” or “good words”), as you have, can be problematic. But I also think that is a necessary tact proponents of Christian fiction must take (as my post you referenced had to do with glorifying God IN OUR WRITING). By limiting “glorifying God” to measurable elements (good works / good words) we are able to easily define the parameters of Christian fiction, which is why I believe so many supporters of Christian fiction rely on external standards to define the genre.

    Once again, thanks for inclusion in your thoughts.

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  4. I do think the “light shining” before all men supports the idea that “in everything” we do, we are to glorify God. “Good works” would be what we do, yes? That is, people see things we are doing, and it glorifies God if we are on target. But we know so often we either through rationalization or without realizing it do the opposite of our value and morals, and we look like hypocrites instead. We aren’t perfect, after all, and sometimes I fear my light might come across more as a strobe light. lol.

    But another thought that verse brings to mind is when people look at us, do they see God or us? If I do something good, creative, inspiring, is it evident that God was at work or me? Do we let the light of God in us shine, or do we attempt to show off our measly flicker of a flame?

    For the agnostic can do good works. So can the Jew, the Muslim, etc. Sometimes these people put Christians to shame. So it has to be the light of God shining with what we do that makes people stand up and take notice. And that comes from our own deep communion with Him, Him living in us, us walking by the Spirit and not by the flesh.

    And maybe that is what makes Christian writing that glorifies God. The author has that deep well of communion with God that permeates everything they do, including the words they write, so that what comes out is authentic rather than appearing tacked on so to be labeled “Christian.” Is natural and organic, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb and artificial.

    Maybe like Paul, until we’ve spent some time in the desert with God, it will be hard for us to write so that His light shines in our books and “everything we do.”

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  5. Great comments here — it’s going to take me some time to digest and respond, but I want to say thank you for these great responses.

    Annette, you said

    We glorify God by giving honor to and thus praising Him.

    . I think that’s helpful to a certain degree, but now I’m wondering what it looks like to “give honor.” If a highly respected dignitary knocked on my door, how should I treat him? Does that define giving honor?

    As I think about this, I’m wondering if “giving first place” might not be a suitable description of giving honor. In that regard, I think all Christians can and should give God first place in everything. I see that as something distinct from giving Him praise, however. I see giving Him praise as something distinct from giving Him thanks.

    Maybe these are simply semantic gymnastics — I hope not. I can’t help but think our fuzzy thinking about some of these issues results in some of the weak “faith elements” in a portion of the novels floated as Christian fiction.

    More later.

    Becky

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  6. Annette, I’m going to add a little more to the previous comment because I just re-read yours and see that you mentioned obedience as giving honor to God.

    While I agree to an extent, I don’t think that goes far enough. Take the command to submit to the government authorities, for example, or not to murder or even not to commit adultery. Non-Christians can do those things too. What’s more, I can do them and hate doing them. I don’t think the non-Christians who obey some commands but break others are honoring God, and I don’t think I, who obey with a resentful heart, am honoring God.

    I think honoring God has more to do with what’s going on inside me and how I position myself in relationship to God. Am I yielding to His authority?

    But then, quite frankly, I don’t believe my honoring Him in that way will automatically generate glory to His name, at least not here on earth.

    I do think this inner attitude that defines my relationship with God can please Him. But again, I don’t think pleasing Him is the same as giving Him glory either.

    OK, more later, and this time, I’m thinking later, later. 😀

    Becky

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  7. The idea of giving myself glory rather than God has forced me to reconsider my position at the table. I’m going to find a seat far away from the King, or in the kitchen with the servants, maybe. While I hesitate to believe too wholeheartedly in the Calvinist “total depravity” doctrine, I wonder how somebody like me could ever bring much glory to God.

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  8. I honestly enjoyed reading this post, Becky. NaNoWriMo is doing a special August event, and I’m writing a book based on the educational crisis, so it helps to keep my mind focused on the Lord.

    Dostoevsky is a good example of Christian fiction, yet not overtly Christian. In his book Brat’ya Karamozovy(The Brothers Karamozov), there is a short story by the name of “The Grand Inquisitor”, which shows the problem of free will. This short story is used by people outside of the Christian community to outline what it shows. The novel itself, however, is not overtly Christian; in fact, many would be surprised to discover that it involves murder and a dysfunctional family.

    In your post on “Hope, or Truth?”, I remember choosing dystopian tales over fairy tales because they reveal truth about Mankind. My stance on the issue is that glorifying the Lord in our writing will show objective truth about the issues we are writing about.

    God Bless,
    Karl

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  9. In “Mounce’s Expository Dictionary the word glorify is doxazo meaning to glorify, give honor to, praise. To give glory to God is to glorify Him. Our behavior may cause others to glorify God, Matthew 5:16, see also 1 Peter 2:12.”
    John MacArthur wrote in the NASB under 1 Peter 2:12–
    “Having been disciplined in the inward and private side, the Christian must outwardly live among non-Christians in a way which reflects that inward discipline.”
    and also from Mounce’s “Christians are to glorify God by lives of obedience.” see Romans 1:5 and 6:17 and 16:26.
    Sorry Becky I guess I should have stated that I did a little mini-study on this and where I got my information. But there is only so much room for a comment.
    I believe we honor God in our thoughts, words and actions.
    We do it to the best of our ability always giving Him the glory, not ourself.
    I was not even thinking in the definition of glorify–about others such as a dignitary, only of glorifying God.
    Yet, when we are kind to others and patient and loving and in having self-control, especially to those that are not “nice” we are honoring God.
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think about something else beside packing boxes and stressing out about our big move next week. I enjoyed this time of reading/studying. I’m going to continue, right now I’m reading about obedience and going to read Ephesians.
    Goodnight.

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  10. Mike, you said

    God asks for a life fully submitted to Him. In fact, when the Bible refers to someone who is “godly,” “righteous,” or “God-fearing,” I take it to mean that the tone of their ENTIRE life was such as to be pleasing to the Lord.

    I couldn’t agree more. I think that should be our focus as believers and as writers.

    My question is, do all the “entire life” things glorify God as opposed to pleasing Him, for example, or is the act of glorifying Him something specific?

    I don’t believe I’m limiting “glorifying God” to certain categories. I’m simply searching Scripture to see what it says. I plan to elaborate a little more about what I’ve found in my post today.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mike.

    Becky

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  11. Jill, interesting thoughts! I think it’s one of God’s miracles that sinful man plays a part in God’s work at all. You’ve deepened my appreciation for God’s redemption because I think you’re right — how can our unclean lips mention His name? Except that He’s purified our lips and given us hearts of flesh to desire His praise.

    Becky

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  12. […] posts in this series include “Glorifying God Means What Exactly?” and “More Thoughts About […]

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  13. […] Glorifying God Means What Exactly “The popular view of this verse, however, has become something like this: Christians are to glorify God in whatever we do. I’m a Christian, so whatever I do brings God glory. […]

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  14. […] Miller – another good Christian blogger – writes about First Corinthians Ten in her response to Mike Duran’s post: “Clearly the verse in question(I Cor. 10: 27 – 31)  is referring to a specific […]

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  15. […] posts in this series include “Glorifying God Means What Exactly?”, “More Thoughts About Glorifying God,” and “Glorifying God Isn’t What We […]

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  16. In the verses cited, I believe Paul is saying, once we make the choice, whether to eat or not to eat, we stick with that choice no matter the consequences. We do so because we *believe* our choice is in accordance with God’s will. And we hold fast that belief, even through adversity. And *that* brings glory to God–our faithfulness, our unwavering choice to honor God. In this case, it was not a sin to choose to eat the meat. Most of the time we *know* if something is sinful or not. To murder or not murder. To steal or not steal. To covet or not covet. If we know not to do something and we do it, we are sinning and are certainly not glorifying God.

    However, there is not always a clear line. Modesty for example always varies. What’s modest at the beach would not be modest to wear to a store. *Individual* Christians are to decide, to draw a line in the sand–this is where I stand, and I will not be swayed. And *that* glorifies God, this holding on to our principles.

    Christian writing, like modesty, has no clear line. The line that separates secular writing from Christian writing doesn’t exist. We as individual Christians must make our stand–“to eat or not to eat.” That is, to write only a sanitized version of life, or the more realistic nitty gritty, or something in between. And, once we do, we are not to be swayed, whether by nonChristians or by Christians. *This is what I choose to write*, what I believe glorifies God, and, because I will not be swayed, it *does* glorify God.

    As Christians, we are not to condemn those who abstain from “eating the meat,” i.e. not writing the way we write. *We* may write that way, yet, at the same time, not cause our brother to stumble. Not belittle him/her because their beliefs do not coincide with ours.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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  17. May I add, if we are writing something sinful, such as declaring abortion pleases God, other Christians have a right–no, more an obligation– to defend the faith against such attacks. We must be sure the writer has crossed the line and is advocating something contrary to God’s will.

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  18. Sheila, I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. The thing that we overlook is that in Acts the apostles told the Gentile churches they didn’t have to follow Jewish law, but there were four things they and the Holy Spirit wanted them to abide by. One of those was to abstain from eating meat offered to idols.

    I believe we need to read Paul’s remarks in that light. The first church understood the command — don’t eat meat offered to idols. This was not a gray area at all. Instead, like the modesty example you mentioned, they were trying to figure out how to implement this. Could they eat meat at all? Paul addressed this in Romans. Did they need to check when they bought meat or when they went to someone else’s house? That’s what Paul was addressing here.

    His conclusion was, essentially, you don’t need to become meat police, tracking down its history before eating.

    However, if someone tells you it’s been before an idol, for the sake of the guy informing you, don’t eat.

    In light of this discussion, and I believe Paul may have had in mind what he said to the Romans, he says, as you concluded, that they were to eat or drink or whatever (connected to the topic, I believe) with God in mind, not their own desires. God is definitely not glorified if one Christian lords over another his freedom or his legalistic practices. God is not glorified if Christians fight over what they can and can’t eat. God isn’t glorified if a mature Christian causes a weak Christian to stumble.

    These are the things that are plain in the passage, I think.

    I have three other posts on the subject, if you’re interested, Sheila – https://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/
    https://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/
    https://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/

    Thanks so much for interacting on this topic.

    Becky

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