There are a number of things that keep people from God. One of the stumbling blocks that exists is God’s existence for his glory. The problem is that Jesus calls for people to forsake everything to follow him. Listen to what Jesus said:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37–39 ESV)
Noting the Problem
Many of the following quotations on this page come from the Desiring God website in researching for this lesson. Erik Reece wrote a book called, An American Gospel, in which his response to this scripture is simply this: “Who is the egomaniac speaking these words?” (Page 28).
We need to feel the weight of Jesus’ words. Jesus says that anyone who loves even their parents more than him is not worthy of him. Jesus says that whoever loves their children more than him is not worthy of him. How can Jesus say these things and not be an egomaniac? How can the call to follow Jesus mean that he requires our worship and all else needs to be forsaken? This has been the point of contention for other people who have considered following Jesus.
Here is what Brad Pitt said about religion and Jesus in Parade magazine:
“Religion works. I know there’s comfort there, a crash pad. It’s something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be all right in the end. It works because it’s comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn’t last for me. I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”
Here is what Oprah said on her tv show about why she left traditional Christianity. In speaking about the preacher who was talking about how God is everything, how God is omnipresent and omniscient, she states what he said next:
“Then he said, ‘The Lord thy God is a jealous God.’ I was caught up in the rapture of that moment until he said, ‘jealous.’ And something struck me. I was 27 or 28, and I was thinking God is all, God is omnipresent, God is . . . also jealous? A jealous God is jealous of me? And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit because I believe that God is love, and that God is in all things.”
Michael Prowse wrote this in the Financial Times:
“Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he . . . expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?”
C.S. Lewis had the same problem when looking at God.
“When I first began to draw near to belief in God and even for some time after it had been given to me, I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way —‘Praise the Lord,’ ‘O praise the Lord with me,’ ‘Praise Him.’” (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
C.S. Lewis also said this in the same book:
“The miserable idea that God should in any sense need, or crave for, our worship like a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him, is implicitly answered by the words, ‘If I be hungry I will not tell thee.’ Even if such an absurd Deity could be conceived, He would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures, to gratify His appetite. I don’t want my dog to bark approval of my books.” (Reflections on the Psalms)
So I hope you feel the weight of the problem. The problem is being framed to us in this way. How can you worship a God who is so self-exalting and so self-centered? This is not a false argument. The scriptures are filled with proclaiming that everything is for God’s glory and praise.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 ESV)
How can you worship a God who points to his own greatness and tells people they should recognize his greatness? Is this not a character flaw of God? Is this not egomania? How can we worship a God who talks like this? How can we follow Jesus who calls for us to worship him and to leave everything else in life behind? Should we serve a God who does everything for his own glory? Is God an egomaniac if he tells us to worship him and praise him and if we do not then eternal punishment awaits us? These are the questions we are going to consider in this lesson.
We Praise What We Enjoy
There is a characteristic about human beings that is important to our consideration for answering these questions. As humans, we praise what we enjoy. In fact, we feel like our enjoyment has come up short if we do not praise what we are enjoying. We do this with restaurants and food. We glorify the restaurant with our money when the food is good. We glorify the server with our tip because the service was excellent. You may even tell the server what a great job that person did. Then we go tell others about the great restaurant we experienced so that they can enjoy what we enjoyed.
We do this with our cars. If our car crosses 200,000 miles, we want to tell others about how this car has given us joy because of its ability to last for so long. There even used to be a Toyota commercial where Toyota owners all recounted how their cars went past 200,000 and even 300,000 miles. Then they would jump in the air and the screen would freeze frame that moment, showing how they are praising the car they enjoyed. We have to tell others about it. Not only this, we want to buy another car like that. We want to return to the same restaurant and order the same meal because we have such pleasure from the experience.
We tell others about tv shows and movies. Why do we do this? We do this because we feel compelled to praise what we enjoy so that others will enjoy the same experience. We tell someone about a movie because you found such satisfaction in the movie that you had to praise it. We do this our vacations, as we tell people what we saw and what we experienced. We have to praise what we enjoy. I could keep going on and on but I hope you get the idea. We do this about everything in life.
This is what God is doing. Praising God says something about the experience. You are going to experience something so amazing when you truly give yourself to following him. The joy and the satisfaction you experience needs to be expressed as praise so that others can enjoy what you are enjoying. This is not the point of the lesson, but it is important to note this here. Have you ever noticed that the scriptures never go out of its way to command evangelism? We have the broad commands of the great commission. But we do not have a verse that says you must tell your neighbor, friends, or co-workers about Jesus. Why? God’s goal is not that evangelism be some kind of program. It is not that we all have to sign up to do some sort of duty driven work. Evangelism is simply you praising what you are enjoying in God to others. Evangelism is telling others about the pleasures of God like you do about your car, your restaurant, and your tv shows and movies. God’s command to praise him is not that he needs our feeble praise or he will be unable to get through his day for the rest of eternity. God’s command to praise him is the culmination of our joy we experience. Great joy requires opening our mouths. God is telling us to open our mouths about the great joy you are experiencing in him. God wants you to enjoy him so that you will be compelled to praise him to him and to others. You will be so satisfied in him that you will glorify him.
God’s Glory Is Our Good
This sets our understanding for why God calls for the world to glorify him. We have noted in our studies that God acts for his own glory. If you have been with us in our study of Ezekiel we have repeatedly read how God will act for the sake of his own name (cf. Ezekiel 20:9,14,22,39,44). Is this egomania that God says that he is going to act for his own name and for his own glory? There are two components we need to consider to answer this.
First, do we want God to act for his own name and glory or do we want him to act on the basis of our actions? We should quickly realize that we do not want God to act on the basis of what he have done. We do not want God to act based on our deeds. This is a key point in Romans 2-3. We are all under sin. There is no one who is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:9-10). No one wants to stand before the divine courtroom. All of us have hurt other people. All of us have sinned. It should not take long to run through our minds about all the things that we have said and all the things we have done that have inflicted pain on others. No one stands before God innocent. God is a just God and he must enter judgment for those who have been harmed, oppressed, and hurt. None of us can escape that reality. So we want to God act on the basis of his own glory and goodness, not ours. We should want God to proclaim to the world that he will act for his own name and for his own glory.
Second, God acting for his glory is always for our good. This is very hard for us to understand. The reason why this is hard to work with in our minds is because when other people act for their own glory that always results in the harm of others. Humans acting for their own glorification always leads to the subjugation and destruction of others. But there is something shocking about God. When God acts for his own glory, then that always results in our good. God acting for his glory always means he will do what is right, fair, good, and just toward us. This idea is proclaimed all throughout the scriptures. I think we can see it clearly in two scenes in John 12-13.
In John 12:23 we read Jesus say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus was referring to his own crucifixion. God’s glory comes from serving his creation. It is a shocking reversal of what he know in this world. Jesus’ ultimate glorification was giving his life for us so that we would not be judged for our sins. This is expressed even more clearly in John 13. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Peter resists this idea and we understand why. But Jesus tells Peter that if you do not let me wash you, then you have no share with me (John 13:8). After the washing of the disciples’ feet, listen to what Jesus says next. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31). Jesus was glorified in giving himself for his creation. This was shown in the example of washing their feet. This was magnified through the cross in which he was ultimately glorified for the world to see. In fact, when you read the miracles of Jesus, what is the proper response of the people? They glorify God. God’s glory comes by doing good to us. God acting for his glory is always for our good. There is nothing egomaniacal about God glorifying himself. The reason why is because God is glorified when he does good for us, we enjoy that good, and then praise him and praise him to others for that good. God lives for his own glory and that always results in our good.
Therefore, our purpose is to glorify God because our joy will be found in it alone, just as Ephesians 1 expresses. We should not struggle with the idea that our greatest joy and our greatest good comes through God’s glory. It would be like suggesting that the earth lacks because all it does is revolve around the sun. But the earth was made for that purpose. Everything works on earth because it revolves around the sun. If the earth did not revolve around the sun exactly as it does, everything on earth would be ruined. It is the same for us in our lives. God’s call to glorify him is because that is the only way life will work right for us. This is what we see the writer of Proverbs proclaiming. Your best life is in listening to God’s wisdom and direction for your life.
We do what Jesus says because we know that it is for our greatest good and greatest joy. God is glorified when we delight in him as we experience what he has done for us. His glory is for our good. When we experience his good, we glorify him all the more. God is jealous for you because he wants you to experience true joy and satisfaction that is only found in him. God demands your worship because worshiping God is where your greatest joy and satisfaction will be found. God wants your whole life because your devotion to him is the only way to keep you from experiencing the right judgment deserved for the wrongs, for all the sins, and all the pain you have inflicted on others.
To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will consider you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, in accordance with the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 NASB2020)