Living in the Light of God’s Glory
1 Corinthians 10:31
May 4, 1997
With this sermon we are almost to the end of our series on God’s attributes. In fact, this is the 15th of 16 messages in the series. I confess that when I decided to preach these sermons, I wondered how you would respond. After all, the attributes of God can be a very heavy subject. I wondered if some of you would find it boring. This week I received an encouraging letter from a friend. Here is part of what he had to say:
With the diversity of religious backgrounds of our people, the study of what God is like is essential. I believe that many of the problems we face as Christians stem from an inadequate understanding of God.
There in just two sentences is the whole case for this series of sermons. We need to know who God is because knowing him is foundational to everything else in life. If the foundation is cracked, how can you build upon it? Every single week I talk to people whose problems stem from a wrong view of God. It’s amazing what getting a right view of God can do to help you face the disappointments of life.
Do You Believe in Predestination?
This week I also received a letter from a single person who has just started attending Calvary. Last Sunday she asked if she could talk with me after the third service. She told me that when her boyfriend broke up with her a few months ago, it devastated her and made her wonder why God allowed it to happen. We talked very briefly and at some point, I asked if she believed in predestination. She said, “You mean God’s predestination?” Right. No, she hadn’t really thought about it. I encouraged her to go back and read the New Testament to see what it says.
Here is part of her letter to me:
Thank you so much for praying with me this past Sunday. When I’m consumed thinking about what I can do to get back the past relationship I had, it is a nice diversion to remember where my beliefs are, especially your questioning me about believing in God’s predestination and God’s hand in all that doesn’t feel so great right now. I’m encouraged again that there is an answer—a foundation to my life in knowing about God first, instead of the unanswerable.
Those lines contain the answer to anyone who says that God’s attributes are boring. Boring! Nothing is more practical than knowing God. When you understand sovereignty, providence and predestination, you have a foundation that will help you survive the ups and downs of life—including the breakup of a very precious relationship.
John Calvin’s Paradox
John Calvin began his massive Institutes of the Christian Religion with a paradox. You can’t really know God until you know who you are in the presence of God. But you’ll never know yourself in the deepest sense until you come to a deep knowledge of who God is. Both sides of the paradox are true. In this series we’ve been working on the last half—knowing ourselves through the deeper knowledge of God.
All true Presbyterians know the answer to the following question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. I say that all Presbyterians know this because that is Question One and Answer One from the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism. I happened to think about that question and answer this weekend because I spent the last two days with a few friends at a Bible conference in Grand Rapids listening to R. C. Sproul speak on “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.” During one of the breaks I wandered out to the book tables and happened to see a copy of the Westminster Longer and Shorter Catechisms on one of the tables. Opening it, I found Question One and Answer One in the Shorter Catechism. Underneath were several footnoted scripture verses.
I was pleased to see that 1 Corinthians 10:31 is the very first verse referenced. That pleased me because that verse happens to be our theme verse for 1997, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
The Sparkling of Deity
In this message I want to talk about the glory of God. However, I confess at the outset that this is a vast topic, so much so that I can’t hope to cover it in just one sermon. Therefore, rather than be overly general in my comments, I would like to take our theme verse and simply ask what it means. That won’t tell us everything we’d like to know about the glory of God, but at least we’ll have a peg to hang our thoughts on.
Before we jump into the text, let’s talk for a moment about the word “glory.” The most common Old Testament word for “glory” is kabod, which can mean heavy. The word was used in Genesis 31 for animals heavy-laden with gold. The word also refers to the shining light of God’s presence. That glory was the cloud by day and the fiery pillar by night that led the people of God through the wilderness. Later it was the light that filled the tabernacle and the temple. Exodus 24:17 tells us that God’s glory was like a consuming fire on the top of Mount Sinai. Thomas Watson, the great Puritan preacher, called glory “the sparkling of Deity.”
When we pass into the New Testament we meet a Greek word—doxa, from which we get the English word doxology. The Greek word has the idea of honor, dignity, and reputation. That last word—reputation—brings us very close to the meaning of “glory” in 1 Corinthians 10:31. I remember during my seminary days hearing Dr. Charles Ryrie explain that God’s glory is his reputation in the world. To live for God’s glory means to live so that God’s reputation is enhanced, not diminished.
That leads me to an important thought. In one sense you cannot diminish God’s glory. It exists forever because God is eternal. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, you cannot diminish God’s glory any more than a madman can diminish the sun merely by scribbling “darkness” on the walls of his cell. However, you can cause others to see the glory of God or to dismiss it entirely by the personal choices you make every day.
With that as background, we turn now to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. As we come to these verses, we need to know that Corinth was a major seaport in ancient Greece. It was a meeting point for various cultures—Greek, Roman, and other Mediterranean peoples. It was also a very depraved city, given over wholly to idol worship and sexual immorality. The city was filled with idol shrines and was dominated by the famous Temple of Aphrodite, where 1000 male and female prostitutes plied their trade. Central to idol worship was the bringing of food offerings to the idol altars. There the food would be accepted by the priests and some of it would be offered to the idols by burning. The rest might be eaten by the priests or sold in the local markets.
That last fact posed a problem for the young Christians at Corinth, most of whom had been saved out of a very pagan lifestyle. They were faced with several questions: Is it all right for a Christian to eat a meal at the pagan temple? What about buying and eating meat that had been offered to idols? What if a pagan friend invited you over for a meal? Should you go or not? These questions—which may be arcane to us—were very real and very practical to those early Christians.
In answering them Paul lays down three vital principles that transcend the local questions of the day. These principles are just as valid today as they were 2000 years ago. As we look at them, we’ll understand better what it means to live in the light of God’s glory.
Regarding Our Freedom
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
These verses tell us two important facts:
A. Not everything is good for me.
B. Not everything that is good for me is good for someone else.
Everything is permissible. For the Christian that doesn’t give us a license to sin, but it does mean that God isn’t looking over our shoulders trying to catch us in a mistake. No, as Christians we are truly free in the deepest sense of that word. Except in those areas where God’s Word clearly lays down a prohibition we are completely free.
However, freedom may easily be abused. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. Furthermore, none of us lives on a island. Our choices impact other people. That means we have to stop and think, “How will other Christians feel about the choice I am making?” That doesn’t always mean we won’t do it anyway, but we do have to stop and ask.
Regarding Our Personal Decisions
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
Here we get down to specific cases. In this passage Paul answers three specific questions. In an earlier passage (vv. 14-21) he dealt with a fourth question. Let me summarize all four answers:
A. Is it OK for Christians to join in the feasts held in the idol temples? The answer is yes and no. In one sense it’s OK because the idols themselves are nothing. However, demons operate behind and through the idols and for Christians to participate in those feasts is to have fellowship with demon spirits and to involve themselves in spiritual compromise. Therefore, although you can go and perhaps not be harmed, you should stay away because of the evil associations.
B. What about buying meat that has been sacrificed to idols? That’s fine, no problem. Meat is meat, nothing more. The earth is the Lord’s, it all belongs to him. If you want to eat some meat that has been offered to idols, go ahead. You are not sinning.
C. What if a pagan friend invites you over for a meal and serves you meat that has been offered to idols? No problem. Eat it and give thanks to God. The pagan may think he is honoring his idol, but you know that everything belongs to the one true God. So eat it and enjoy it and don’t worry about anything.
D. What if a third person at the dinner party (probably a new believer) sees you about to eat meat that has been offered to an idol and he calls it to your attention? This is a problem because you know that it’s OK to eat the meat. But your brother is troubled and his conscience bothered. What do you do? Easy. You put down your fork, push the steak away, and say, “Pass the bean sprouts, please.” You know it’s OK but your friend doesn’t and for the sake of his conscience, you refuse to eat the meat. Why trouble your friend over such a trivial thing as eating meat? Why risk hurting him and harming your testimony?
There are several implications of this truth. Clearly Paul didn’t mind eating meat offered to idols. But he didn’t do it all the time, or indiscriminately. Sometimes he voluntarily refused to eat meat lest he hurt another Christian brother. The same principle holds for all of us. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t.
Circumstances matter. People matter. Details matter. But I can hear someone say, “It’s such a small thing.” To which I answer, “In the Christian life there are no small decisions.” Every choice you make matters to God and others. You never made a small decision and you never will.
Think about this for a moment. This touches every area of life. It touches the clothes you wear and the cars you drive. It touches the books you read and the movies you watch. It touches the radio stations you listen to and the shows you watch on TV. It touches your personal habits, your language, your friendships, the places you go to eat, and the things you drink. It touches the people you date, how you dress on a date, where you go on a date, and what you do on your dates. All of it matters to God.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “the devil is in the details.” So is God! He cares about what you do because his reputation is at stake in the choices you make.
Thirty years ago evangelicals had an easy way of handling this problem. We simply said “Don’t.” Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance, don’t play cards, don’t go to the movies. Everything was don’t, don’t, don’t.
Nowadays we don’t say don’t very often. Our rule is “If it feels good, do it.” In our wisdom we’ve gone to the opposite extreme. We’re so afraid of being called legalists that we hardly say no to anything.
But I’m not sure we’ve made any great spiritual advance over the previous generation. I’m against legalism, and I’m all in favor of Christian liberty, but only when we use liberty as God intended.
Regarding the Good of Others
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 everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
These verses contain Paul’s summary statement. What does it mean to “do all for the glory of God?” Here are three answers:
A. Seek to offend no one.
B. Please everyone if possible.
C. Seek the salvation of as many as possible.
Here we see the genius of Paul’s life. He had but one ambition: To win men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing else mattered to him. Paul was no legalist. Far from it. In fact, he was the last person to live by an artificial set of rules and regulations. He cared nothing about pleasing men just to please them.
On the other hand, he would do whatever it took to win people to Christ. Eat meat—Fine, let’s have a T-bone. Vegetarian—Pass the bean sprouts, please. Jewish—Let’s go to the temple and pray together. Greek—Let’s talk about philosophy. Roman—How about those Italian Gladiators! Pretty amazing fellows. Keep the Sabbath—Fine, I’ll keep it with you. Work on Saturday—No problem, I’ll see you at Bible study tonight. Seamen—Great! Let’s pull up the anchor and set sail. Tent-makers—Hey, great, that’s what I do in my spare time!
And on it went. Paul lived and breathed the gospel. His message never changed. Never. He preached the same gospel everywhere he went. But he changed his methods to fit his audience. Why? To pander them? No, to remove any barriers and gain a hearing for the gospel. Whatever it took to reach people, Paul was willing to do it.
How does this apply to us today? People watch the way we live. And they draw conclusions about our values from what we do and what we don’t do, where we go and where we don’t go, the things we say, the jokes we tell, the songs we sing, the books we read, the shows we watch on TV. All of those things send a message about our ultimate values.
People are watching you all the time. So live in such a way that God is glorified. In so doing, you will create many opportunities to share the gospel.
Here is a simple question that will replace many of the Do’s and Don’ts: Can I do this to God’s glory? That is, if I do this, will it enhance God’s reputation in the world? Will those who watch me know that I know God from my behavior? Or will I simply have to explain this away or apologize for it later?
That brings us back to Question One of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. We were made to glorify God. Nothing works right when we don’t.
The Puritans used to talk about the Latin phrase coram deo, which means “under the face of God.” It’s a reminder that God is always watching everything we do. His eye is always on us, nothing escapes his notice, and that all of life must be lived for his approval.
J. S. Bach carved the words Soli Deo Gloria on his organ at Leipzig to remind him that all his music be composed and performed for the glory of God. That’s why the initials SDG appear at the end of his compositions—To God Alone Be the Glory! That’s what I mean by intentional God-centered living.
All I am saying may be summed up this way. People watch what we do and what we say and draw huge conclusions from the tiniest personal decisions. Living in the light of God’s glory means to live so that others will draw the right conclusions as they watch us.
Ruth Bell Graham defines a saint this way: A saint is someone who makes it easy to believe in Jesus. God help us to live that way this week