The word glory is common in Christian circles. When worship leaders invite the congregation to “give God the glory,” they substitute glory for praise. Glory can be a synonym for boast: “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Theologians use a form of this word in outlining the three aspects of salvation: justification (deliverance from sin’s penalty); sanctification (deliverance from sin’s practice); and glorification (deliverance from sin’s very presence). Here, glory has a futuristic meaning. Heaven, for many, is a place called glory.
Innocent as they may be, these usages of glory can obscure the word’s true meaning. More than a worship leader’s cliché, more than a future hope, the glory of God is a present and wonderful reality!
In Scripture, God is the God of glory (Psalm 29:2), the king of glory (24:10), and the Father of glory (Ephesians 1:17). He has set His glory above the heavens (Psalm 8:1); His glory fills the whole earth (Isaiah 6:3); and to Him belongs “the glory forever” (Matthew 6:13).
Despite these texts, we’re still left without a concise definition. So let’s look at the words translated “glory” in Scripture.
The first is ka-bode, a Hebrew word meaning “heavy, to make weighty.” As gold’s value is determined by weight, so glory speaks of richness and abundance — God’s inestimable value. Paul speaks of “an exceeding . . . weight of glory” that far outweighs our present trials
(2 Corinthians 4:17). When news of Israel’s defeat and the ark’s capture by the Philistines sent Phineas’ wife into labor, she named her son Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” (1 Samuel 4:21). The prefix ik here signifies the opposite of ka-bode. The loss of the ark — the very presence of God —meant the absence of any weight of glory.
The second word is doxa (Greek). It denotes an estimate about the value of something or someone. How much is God worth? Doxa points to His inestimable value, the absolute perfection and majesty of His character. In Christian liturgy the word doxology refers to the act of ascribing worth and value to God, usually expressed in hymns composed for this purpose.
No more than we can define God, none of us can fully define His glory. But parsing “glory words” gives helpful hints. Combining ka-bode and doxa, we get radiance, splendor, beauty, unsurpassed worth. The glory of God is the perfection and excellence of His divine nature. His glory is His very essence.
Glory is also defined in relation to light that emanates from God’s being: “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:15, 16, NIV). We cannot see Him because of the brightness and radiance of this light, a reflection of His divine attribute called “glory.” When Moses stepped out of God’s presence, his face shone with such radiance that the people were afraid to look upon him (Exodus 34:29, 30). This explains the existence of light prior to the creation of sun, moon, and stars on day four of creation. And it explains the light in the coming New Jerusalem: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23, NIV).
The psalmist gets this: “He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2, NIV), and so does James: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV). The hymn writer helps us sing it:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
The fourth stanza is classic:
Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.1
How awesome is our God!
My thoughts on glory are shaped by what I’ve learned over the years from others who’ve delved deeply into this topic. Here are a few principles that have radically reshaped my view of God and what it means to love and serve Him.
First, God’s glory is His greatest passion, and everything He’s ever done is for His own glory. Consider God’s two most important mighty acts: creation and redemption. Revelation 4:11 says we were created for His glory, and Jesus understood that His death was for the same purpose (John 17:1).
Second, the whole earth is filled with God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3). The hymn writer wisely notes that many are blind to this truth: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Tho’ the darkness hide Thee,/Tho’ the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see. . . .”2 But it’s true nonetheless. A day is coming when the whole earth will be filled with “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Habakkuk 2:14), but even now, His glory fills heaven and earth!
Third, God chooses to share His glory with us. Some find this doubtful, saying that this divine essence isn’t man’s to share. But 1 Corinthians 15:40, 41 teaches that there are different levels of glory. And we read in Psalm 8 that God crowned man with glory at creation. This glory is the seal of the “Imago Dei,” the reason sin is defined as falling short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). A day is coming when the glory lost through sin will be fully restored. Meanwhile, God wants to restore it gradually — the point of the first line of John Sammis’ well-known song: “When we walk with the Lord/In the light of His Word,/What a glory He sheds on our way!”3
But God doesn’t waste glory. He sheds it on our way for a reason: that we might put it (Him) on display. That is the purpose of the Christian life. Each of us is a work of art (poema in Greek, Ephesians 2:10), a masterpiece, created for the sole purpose of reflecting His glory to a watching world. Like the moon that has no light of its own but reflects the light of the sun, we become reflectors of God’s light, which shines from the face of His Son Jesus. Paul pens it beautifully: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Makes sense, for Jesus is the “brightness of [God’s] glory” (Hebrews 1:3).
The human dilemma can be narrowed down to a tension between God’s need to be glorified and man’s need to be satisfied. To fellow strugglers, John Piper offers good news: “In Christ, God’s need to be glorified, and man’s need to be satisfied, are no longer at odds. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, and we are most satisfied in Him when He is most glorified in us.”
What matters most
Glory is about transformation — from one level of glory to the next. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul asserts that the glory of the old covenant pales in comparison to that of the new because of the source of its light: Jesus. Paul concludes with this beautiful statement: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So when all is said and done, only one thing matters: the glory of God. It is God’s greatest passion, man’s “chief end,” and the power at work in us. “To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).BA
- Worship in Song