Honoring God, Pleasing God
I honor my Father….I do not seek my own glory. ((John 8:49-50)
In His lowly manhood, Jesus humbled Himself and gladly gave all glory to His Father in heaven. He sought not His own honor, but the honor of God who sent Him. “If I honor myself,” He said on one occasion, “my honor is nothing, it is my Father that honoreth me” (John 8:54)
Another saying of Jesus, and a most disturbing one, was put in the form of a question: “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?”(John 5:44). If I understand this correctly, Christ taught here the alarming doctrine that the desire for honor among men made belief impossible.
Is this the sin at the root of religious unbelief? Could it be that those “intellectual difficulties” which men blame for their inability to believe are but smoke screens to conceal the real cause that lies behind them? Is this the secret back of religious self-righteousness and empty worship? I believe it may be. The whole course of life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.
In our desire after God let us keep always in mind that God also has desire, and His desire is toward the sons of men, and more particularly toward those sons of men who make the once-for-all decision to exalt Him over all. Such are these precious to God above all treasures of earth or sea.
In them God finds a theater where He can display His exceeding kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. With them God can walk unhindered, toward them He can act like the God He is.
Some years ago I read a story that transformed my life, especially as it referred to my walk with and service for God.
The story is told of a concert pianist giving an incredible performance to a packed audience. As he finished his final piece, the audience gave him round after round of applause and a standing ovation. As he exited the stage and was backstage, his manager came back and asked him to return to the stage for another encore. The pianist refused to do so. “Why,” asked his manager, “ don’t you see the audience standing and applauding and asking you for an encore?” The pianist replied, “There’s one who isn’t standing and since he isn’t, I won’t return.” “But,” the manager protested, “what’s one man compared to the whole auditorium of people who are standing?” “Well, you see, that man is my mentor and if I did not play well enough for him, it doesn’t matter if I played well enough for all the rest,” replied the pianist.
As I read that story, I knew that no matter how I might please or impress others, if my work was not pleasing and acceptable to God, it in truth had no value. I realized that unless my life and my work brought glory and honor to God it was in vain and in eternity a waste. Only that which brings honor to God is worth doing.
I think most of those who know me know I love to preach and I give it my best. From time to time someone will comment on a sermon and how it spoke to them, but I know that any good came from God and He alone gets the credit. Although I do appreciate the compliments from other humans, when I’ve finished preaching, I want to know most of all if I was pleasing to God. I have found that sometimes it is easy to preach in such a way that the human audience responds in appreciation and I suppose one could feel good in that, but even if they are, it matters not if God isn’t. Any of us can do great things that may be pleasing to others, but what the Christian is chasing is to bring honor and glory to God. I think sometimes a lot of our conflict is that we are competing with others for honor and glory rather than all seeking to honor God alone. I think that unity in the church is conditional to the level that each member seeks to either honor God or honor self. Jealousy is the outcome of a heart seeking honor for itself.
In Acts we read the story of Stephen, a man who honored God above even his own life. In Hebrews we are told that once Jesus finished His work, He sat down at the right hand of the Father.
“The Son is the radiance and only expression of the glory of [our awesome] God [reflecting God’s Shekinah glory, the Light-being, the brilliant light of the divine], and the exact representation and perfect imprint of His [Father’s] essence, and upholding and maintaining and propelling all things [the entire physical and spiritual universe] by His powerful word [carrying the universe along to its predetermined goal]. When He [Himself and no other] had [by offering Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sin] accomplished purification from sins and established our freedom from guilt, He sat down [revealing His completed work] at the right hand of the Majesty on high [revealing His Divine authority], having become as much superior to angels, since He has inherited a more excellent and glorious name than they [that is, Son—the name above all names].”
Stephen, who had been proclaiming Christ as Savior and God has been arrested for doing so. In his honoring Christ and God he has offended the religious leaders and they have brought him to trial commanding him to cease preaching Christ. In his last sermon, he gives a powerful presentation of the historical working of God and presentation of the gospel. As he does so, they become so angry that the Bible says they were “grinding their teeth in rage” and they drug him out of the city and began to stone him. The last record of his life is incredibly powerful.
“Now when they heard this [accusation and understood its implication], they were cut to the heart, and they began grinding their teeth [in rage] at him. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit and led by Him, gazed into heaven and saw the glory [the great splendor and majesty] of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened up [in welcome] and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and together rushed at him [considering him guilty of blasphemy]. Then they drove him out of the city and began stoning him; and the witnesses placed their outer robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They continued stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive and accept and welcome my spirit!” Then falling on his knees [in worship], he cried out loudly, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them [do not charge them]!” When he had said this, he fell asleep [in death].”
Though the mob surrounding Stephen certainly wasn’t pleased with him and he was receiving no honor from them, it is apparent that he had honored God in such a manner that Christ got up from His throne in heaven. I’d like to think that Christ led a standing ovation for Stephen in those last moments of his life as this preacher gave honor and glory to God even at the expense of his own life. What an example of this idea of our priority of giving God all the honor and glory. May that day come when you and I honor God in such a way that Christ is moved to honor us as He honored Stephen.
There is another story in Acts that is important for us to read as well. Paul and Silas on their missionary journey have arrived at Thyatira and for days there was a young girl who followed them proclaiming, “These men are the servants of the Most High God.” Now most of us would have been pleased to receive such proclamation but Paul recognized the spirit that was behind it was not from God but from Satan so he rebuked the spirit that was in the girl and she was delivered from the demonic powers.
Paul understood that the spirit of Satan is to bring honor and glory to anyone other than God for Satan’s desire is to see God dishonored in any way he can.
“It happened that as we were on our way to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination [that is, a demonic spirit claiming to foretell the future and discover hidden knowledge], and she brought her owners a good profit by fortune-telling. She followed after Paul and us and kept screaming and shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!” She continued doing this for several days. Then Paul, being greatly annoyed and worn out, turned and said to the spirit [inside her], “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ [as His representative] to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment. But when her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities in the market place [where trials were held], and when they had brought them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men, who are Jews, are throwing our city into confusion and causing trouble. They are publicly teaching customs which are unlawful for us, as Romans, to accept or observe.”
Let us choose to live our lives in such a way that in everything God and Christ are honored and given all the glory. Let us remember that like the concert pianist, all we have and can do has been given to us by our great Mentor and no matter if what we’re doing is pleasing to others, if it’s not pleasing to Him it has no value. As we work together in the kingdom of God, let us cease seeking honor for ourselves and seek instead that in all things Christ is exalted above all. The power of honoring God and exalting Christ is that it attracts seekers and the church benefits with growth. Perhaps the decline in the church and its attractiveness to the world is that we have not focused on honoring and glorifying God. Perhaps we have drawn too much attention to us and what we offer rather than to Christ and what He offers. Maybe, just maybe, if we were to choose to deliberately draw attention to Christ and away from ourselves and our abilities, we could attract those who have yet to find Christ. I know for me that I have no song to sing nor sermon to preach that can change a heart, but when I can exalt Christ and honor God, then He touches a heart and changes a life and every time He does so, He is more glorified.
“And I, if and when I am lifted up from the earth [on the cross], will draw all people to Myself [Gentiles, as well as Jews].”
Christ makes it clear that He is the one who draws people to Himself. In the context of the Scripture, He is speaking of His being lifted up on the cross as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. But I think it is in keeping that if we exalt Christ, “lift Him up” in honor and worship, that He will indeed “draw all people to Him.”
To Him be all glory, honor, and praise forever and forever!
Dr. John Thompson