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Geoffrey Bingham

 

God's Greatest Gift: Glory

Geoffrey Bingham

 

In a day when we see so much which is ugly, distorted, or that which is beautiful but has been vandalised we wonder at the cult of the unlovely. When beautiful women and handsome men want to look scungy and dreary, when they want to distort their natural good form by weird hair treatments, body attachments, and when they want art to depict gross and hideous forms, or to distort what is attractive into what is empty, meaningless and despairing, we ask ourselves why this should be so. We can get answers, 'Well, that is how we see things. That is our kind of beauty. We are realists, seeing things as they are-really ugly, perverted, empty and pointless.'

That is certainly one view and calls for understanding, though we do not have to applaud it. In an age of narcissism-self-worship-we find the narcissists are those who have 'low self-esteem', poor self-image' and so on, and they are among the foremost in committing suicide, especially when they use drugs and alcohol. If we had a good view of humanity, no matter how much and many its faults, then we might drop our endeavour to demean ourselves and recognise great elements that have been given to us in our birth. The other day a study I once did of human glory came up on my computer.

I thought it might be a bit helpful to read, even in its present, rather formal presentation.

1. THE GIFT INCONCEIVABLE

Twice Paul talks of a gift that is inconceivable. The first is in I Corinthians 2:7-9, 'But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him," God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.' This is the gift of glorification.

The second gift is spoken of in II Corinthians 9:15, 'Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!' The second gift is Christ himself, but then with him all that God gives in grace to fallen Man. In the end the two gifts are much the same, since in Colossians 1:27 Paul writes, 'To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.' God's gift prepared for man from before the foundation of the earth is glory. Man ought always to keep that in mind. Unless he is redeemed he will not have it in mind to keep. Christ, God's inexpressible gift to him is the redeemed man's hope of glory, that is, glory is assured to him.

2. MAN CREATED AS THE IMAGE AND GLORY OF GOD

When God said 'Let us make man in our own image and likeness' he intended just that. Paul says 'Man is the image and glory of God'. Now what that glory constituted is not easy to cover, but Psalm 8 helps us. So in verses 3 and 4 the Psalmist is amazed at God's care and consideration of Man. He asks, 'When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?' Then he answers his own question in verses 5 to 8, 'Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea.' Man, then, has great glory. This was God's great gift to him. It was what made Man, Man. It is really the gift of himself.

3. MAN CAN SAY OF HIMSELF, 'O MY GLORY!'

There is a fascinating statement in Genesis 49:5&endash;7. Jacob, in prophesying over his sons says regarding Simeon and Levi that they are cruel men. He addresses himself and says, 'O my soul, come not into their council, O my glory (kabod) be not joined to their company.' This address may sound strange, but it is used in other places, for example Psalm 16:9, 'Therefore my heart is glad and my glory (kabod) rejoices.' In the context we can see how thrilling it was for the Psalmist to be in God's presence and to know that God would not let him see death, a mighty truth to be fully revealed by Christ at a later time in history.

What, then, do we make of a person speaking of his glory? The word kabod can mean glory, reputation and honour. We are supposed to honour all men and women and children throughout creation. We are to say nothing which will give them a bad reputation. The truth is that as persons created by God they are creatures of glory. Even if Man, since Eden, has fallen short of the glory of God he has never completely lost the glory. Jacob could be said to be a man without pure glory, and he was told 'You were a rebel from your mother's womb', but something happened to him later in life when he was a man of wealth and great worldly kabod. He met God in the angel at Peniel and fought with him, demanding the blessing. God told him he was no longer Jacob (cheat) in character but Israel-the one prevailing with God. Since that night of transformation Jacob wanted nothing of the cruelty or vandalism such as were the 'unglory' of his two sons. He knew glory within, and walked according to that glory. Of course he had looked into the eyes of the angel and seen the glory of God and could never be the same man again.

4. THE LOSS OF GLORY

It happened in Eden. Finally Paul has said, 'For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. He is speaking about the whole of mankind. He has lost what he had. In Romans 3:9&endash;18 Paul describes what Man has become. Jesus described this in Mark 7:21ff. What comes out of a man's heart defiles him. Jeremiah in 17:9 of his prophecy shows how the heart of Man is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt. Romans 1:18-32 shows the depravity of Man. Another way of speaking of the loss of the glory of man is to say that the image of God in Man went into reverse-horribly so. Man lived by love. Now, cutting himself off from God as his 'supply' he became a creature of self goodness, self righteousness, self holiness, self veracity, self love. Self love we call self-centred love, and theologians speak about eros although that is a word not used in the New Testament. It is self love, and it is centred on glorifying itself. Eros causes most of the misery that there is in the world. Man sees his answers to life's problems in himself. There are many forms of humanism which are the '-isms' of humanity.

5. TRANSFORMED INTO GLORY

God had always intended our glory. 'Should not perish but have everlasting life' is another way of saying Man was created for glory. I Corinthians 2:7 says that God had a wisdom before the foundation of the world which was designed for Man's ultimate glory. Can you imagine that glory! It is to be like the glory of the Son. On the Mount of Transfiguration Christ was seen in glory. So were Moses and Elijah.

This glorious radiance is to be our lot. Our bodies will be changed so that they will be like his glorious body. Yet the Transfiguration can be summed up by the saying that 'He was transfigured that he might be disfigured, so that we who are disfigured might become transfigured'. It is a thing of glory to be disfigured for others when that will transform them. To come into this world he made himself of no reputation, that is, he emptied himself, he became a man in all truth. Yet he loved doing this. He wanted to do it for others, for these he placed before himself. This is the meaning of 'he emptied himself'. He also loved going to the Cross where he would become as a debased figure with all the depravity of Man being borne in his body on the tree. John's Gospel tells us it was here that he showed the glory of God. It was a glory which rescues us unto glory. It sets the ultimate goal for us as glory.

6. THE ACTION OF GLORY IS GOING ON IN US NOW

In II Corinthians chapter 3 Paul compares the glory that Moses showed when he looked at God in those days on the Mount. He saw the Glory and was thereby glorified. Yet that glory would soon fade and so he used a veil that the fading might not be seen. In another sense he used the veil so that glory might not be seen, so powerful and even frightening it was. Paul then contrasts our position with that of Moses. He says we look at Christ's glory, with unveiled faces and so we are being glorified from one stage of glory to another. This is happening, NOW! We are seeing 'the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'. Indeed Paul tells us that we are in Christ, and that Christ is among us and that he is our hope of glory. It does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when we see him, we shall be like him.

7. 'HAVE YOU GOT ANY GLORY IN YOUR SOUL?'

That is a question we used to ask each other when we were teenagers together. We really put the responsibility on each person to have glory in his/her soul. We were going back thousands of years when Jacob-and doubtless others-saw their soul or spirit or 'inner man' as their glory. Sure the Psalmist could sing, 'My glory and the lifter of my head!' knowing that only God could give us glory, but then He would do that. In this sermon I have not tried to speak of the actual nature of glory and its practical working out in life, but I can tell you-on the basis of Exodus 34:6&endash;7 which was God's stated glory-that it is a moral glory to do with love and mercy and forgiveness and kindness and holiness which forgives only where there is repentance. It is to do with holiness and righteousness and goodness and truth and love which flow from God into us, and then through us to others.

In that day we will see His glory, face to face, and we shall have the glory like unto that of His Son, and we will thrill with the assurance of 'O His glory! O my glory! O their glory!' Thus we will know the threefold glory-of the triune God, of Man and of creation, for then the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Now I ask you this morning in repentance and faith to receive the gift of your glory and your participation in His glory and to live in the glory of the renewed creation. How futile our pathetic attempts at glory; how fragile our possessions and our reputations! How sad our competition to achieve glory! Lay down your arms, lay down your ambitions. Submit and come to know the glory.

G. Bingham, Kingswood, Adelaide, 25th June 1999.