The Praise of God’s Glory – Ephesians 1:12
In Proverbs 17:6 we are told, “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.” There is a reciprocal glory when fathers bless their children and children bless their fathers. This is of course a proverb, which means that it does not depict a universal reality, but is meant to portray the way things ought to be and the way God designed them to be. God made fathers and children so that they would bless each other. It is not always the case. But when you have a godly father who brings up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and you have children who respect and honor their father, both the father and the child reap the benefits. A crown is placed on the head of the father and glory is given to the children.
And I want to emphasize that it must go both ways. Today on Father’s Day, there are many homes where the children’s hearts are sad because their father never really demonstrated to them that he loved them. Perhaps work was more important to him than his family. Perhaps he was enslaved to terrible habits. Whether through absence or negligence or whatever, they are not the glory of their children. On the other hand, today there are many homes where the hearts of the fathers are sad because one of their children decided that they knew what was best and like the prodigal son take their journey into a far country and waste their lives on riotous living. Such children are not the crown of their fathers, unless it be a crown of thorns. But when the love of a wise and godly father finds receptive and listening hearts in his sons and daughters, then the father is praised by his children and the children are praised by their father.
Now I begin this way today, not only because it is Father’s Day, but because it is pertinent to our text. Here, we read, “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (12). The apostle has been exulting in the fact that God has predestined those whom he has chosen in Christ to the adoption of children (5), and that, as children, they are predestined to an inheritance in Christ (11). For Paul, it was a most amazing thing to find himself belonging to God as a son belongs to his father. You see, he didn’t embrace some vague notion of the “universal fatherhood of God.” Though God may be spoken of as the father of all in the sense that he is the creator of all, that is not what has taken the apostle by surprise. Paul knew that because of sin, we are all alienated from God, separated from his fellowship, and from his saving blessing and life. Because of our rebellion, God does not look upon us as children but as enemies. And you know what? By nature, we consider God to be our enemy as well. There is therefore no reason for us to expect God to bless us at all. And then by grace we find ourselves seeing our sin, repenting of our sin, turning in faith to Christ and understanding that not only are all our sins forgiven but that we have been received into the very family of God as his sons and daughters. And then to hear that we have an inheritance undefiled, incorruptible, and that fades not away – that is truly amazing.
If you belong to Christ, if you are “in him” as the apostle speaks in this epistle, then you are a son or a daughter of God Almighty. You have been given the greatest privilege and honor that could ever be given in this world or the next. All the gold and silver and power and comforts and popularity of this world are nothing and less than nothing compared with your exalted status as a child of God. Your father is your glory. He is the best Father, and any good earthly father is going to look to your heavenly Father as his model.
But as the proverb puts it, it is not just that the father is the glory of his children. It is also that children are the crown of their fathers. A good son or daughter puts, as it were, a crown upon the head of their worthy parent. They do this in many ways. They do it by verbal praise. They do it by living lives that reflect upon their upbringing. In the same way, the text before us is telling us that as God’s sons and daughters, we are to put a crown upon the head of God our infinitely worthy Father. He has bestowed upon us such glory, and now it is incumbent upon us that we give glory to him: “that we should be to the praise of his glory.”
There are three questions I want to ask of our text this morning. First, what does this mean for us? What does it mean to be to the praise of God’s glory? Second, why should we exult in this, as the apostle does? Why is this good news? For a lot of people, the requirement to glorify God is a distraction from something much more important: seeking glory for themselves and advancing the goals of personal ambition. I want to argue that seeking personal fulfillment and not putting God’s kingdom first is actually counterproductive and ultimately suicidal. Finally, and I want to consider how we put this into practice. It’s one thing to know that this means; it is another to put it into daily practice.
First of all, what does it mean that we should be to the praise of his glory? There are at least two ways by which we praise God. We praise God by being trophies of his grace and by being proclaimers of his grace.
We praise God by being trophies of his grace. A trophy is a mute symbol to the victories of its owner. In the same way, just the fact that we are saved and the way in which God saved us glorifies God. Before we even open our lips to praise God, God is praised by his work for us and in us. A parent doesn’t have to wait until their children can talk or until they graduate and go off to conquer the world before their children praise them. An infant in his mother’s arms gives the most eloquent praise to his or her parents. Even so, God’s work for us in redeeming us and changing us and making us like his Son is a testimony to the glory of his grace. No matter what you think you have accomplished for God, it is what God has done for you that brings him the most praise.
To see that this is what Paul means, note the connection between this verse and the previous ones. “That we should be . . .” implies purpose. The reason why God did something was so that the elect would be to the praise of his glory. But what did God do for this purpose? The answer: everything that he has done in saving us is done to the praise of his glory.
Remember that this is not actually the first time Paul says this. He said it first in verse 6, now in verse 12, and finally in verse 14. As we noted before, this phrase “to the praise of his glory” (or something similar) is Paul’s refrain that also points to the subdivision of this doxology into praise for the Father (4-6), praise for the Son (7-12), and praise for the Holy Spirit (13-14). This phrase therefore points back to the glory of the Triune God in accomplishing salvation for his people. God the Father chose a people before the foundation of the world purely on the basis of grace and predestined them to become his children. This points to the glory of God the Father in planning salvation for us. God the Son then came to accomplish the redemption planned in the covenant of redemption, and gives to us the forgiveness of sin according to the riches of his grace. In him we are enlightened and in him we have obtained an inheritance. All this points to the glory of God the Son in accomplishing salvation for us. And then God the Holy Spirit seals the work of the Father and Son in the hearts of believers by giving them an earnest of the inheritance. All this point to the glory of God the Spirit in applying salvation to us.
One of the things that ought to stand out to us, especially in our day when the image of the Self is so important, is that verses 3-14 are not about what we have done to save ourselves. There is not one word of that in all these verses. Rather, these verses are all about what God has done to save us. The Actor throughout this hymn of praise is God and God alone. We are the objects of his saving work. And therefore when it is all said and done, just the very fact of our salvation is a testament to the grace and power and love and mercy of God. Even if I were mute and paralyzed for eternity, if I am saved then I am praising God. We will stand forever as trophies of God’s amazing grace.
And I think it is important for us to realize this. It bothers me the way some people talk about their salvation. It’s almost as if God couldn’t quite pull it through and they helped him across the finish line. May such sentiments be far from us! As J. I. Packer so eloquently put it, “salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present, and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen.”
This ties into the second way in which we are to the praise of his glory. We not only praise God by being trophies of his grace but also by being proclaimers of his grace. The connection between this point and the previous one is that we will never properly proclaim the glories of God’s grace until we understand that God alone is at the bottom of our salvation. However, God is not only glorified in giving grace, he is also glorified when he is seen to be glorious. And anyone who truly tastes and sees that God is good will not want to remain quiet about it. They will want to give glory to the God who saved them. And they will do this with their words and they will do it with their works. They will not only want to sing of God’s amazing grace they will want to demonstrate it with their lives. They will want to live lives that point away from themselves and point toward the God of grace.
We now come to our second question: Why is this good news? Why should we be thrilled at the prospect of being to the glory of God’s grace? It is very important that we see why, because we can never truly consciously live for God’s glory when we don’t think it’s worth it, or if the pursuit of our own glory is closer to our hearts. I want to give two reasons why we should pursue God’s glory and not our own: one from human nature and one from Scripture.
First of all, experience proves that the human spirit is only properly fulfilled when it is a part of something bigger than itself. For example, people naturally want to be part of a cause that’s bigger than themselves, and the bigger the better. People who are patriots are so because they believe that their country is a cause worth living for and dying for. Love of country is a cause that is bigger than the individual citizen and it can often spark incredible devotion in the patriot. Or people are attracted to various social justice issues. Whether you are religious or not, it doesn’t matter; people want to be a part of something that matters, something that is bigger than themselves. You even see this phenomenon displayed in sports. It’s ironic that the irreligious will deride Christians for singing praise to God and then they will go to a football stadium and yell like crazy people for their team until their lungs gives out.
However, neither one’s country, nor one’s favorite social justice issue, nor one’s favorite sport’s team is big enough to fill our hearts. One of the reasons is that no matter what issue or cause we devote ourselves to, no cause is truly universal. Every country has boundaries. No social justice issue benefits everyone. No sports team is universally loved and admired. The kingdom of God is the only truly universal cause. Only the kingdom of God will one day cover the earth as the waters covers the seas. Only the kingdom of God will one day encompass heaven and earth. Therefore, only the cause of God and truth can truly bring fulfillment to our hearts.
In the same way, we want to experience greatness. We want to be in the presence of greatness. Why do we want to stand before mountains? What draws us to look through telescopes and behold the magnitude of the universe? Because again we are looking at something bigger than ourselves. It’s why we want to be in the presence of our human idols.
But again, God is the only one who is truly great. Everything else is finite; only God is infinite. And therefore, God is the only one who can truly satisfy our desire for greatness. Greatness is not found in ourselves; it is found in God. If you are looking for glory, you won’t be satisfied by seeking it in yourself or in your accomplishments.
I think this is what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes is getting at, when he wrote that God has put eternity into man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11). We want to get beyond the limits of the here-and-now. We want to experience greatness beyond what we are or have experienced. There are faint echoes of this in the greatness of our world and the universe and even in our own nature. But only God can give what our spirits long for. And therefore we should seek the glory of God, not our own.
But if nature testifies to this fact, Scripture does so even more clearly. The Bible teaches that God made man for his glory, not our own. When we pursue our private glory instead of God’s glory, we are committing spiritual suicide; we are killing lasting and satisfying joy for a cheap imitation. God has told us what to do: we are to seek him. We are idiots if we do otherwise.
This is, in fact, all over the Bible. For example, in Isaiah 43:6-7, we read: “I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even everyone that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” Here, God denotes the Israelites as his children. He makes it clear that he will never forsake them. Even if they are scattered to the ends of the earth, he will gather them home. But what was true of God’s old covenant people is even more true of the new covenant people of God. Every believer in Christ is called by God’s name, and as such are created for his glory. As God’s new creation, we have been formed for his glory, not our own.
A few chapters later, God speaking through the prophet says, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted: and I will note give my glory unto another” (48:11). Therefore, if we are seeking our glory in this world instead of the glory of God, if we are trying to make ourselves instead of God the object of praise, then we are pitting ourselves against God. He has made us for his glory. If we are trying to capture that glory for ourselves, we are at cross-purposes with God: he will not give his glory to another. You cannot steal the glory of God and get away with it. It is a futile exercise.
In fact, God’s glory is not only the purpose behind the salvation of his elect, it is the purpose behind all that he has done. The apostle Paul writes in Rom. 11:36, “For of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” To God are all things. God is the origin and creator of everything in the universe and he is the one who holds it together. And he does it all that he might receive the glory. Proverbs 16:4 concurs: “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” God has made all things for himself in the sense that they are meant to give him glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
This is the purpose behind all true religion. The Scripture teaches that what differentiates between true and false religion is this principle: those who seek the honor of God in sincerity have true religion; those who seek their own glory deceive themselves (cf. Jn. 5:44; Mt 5:16: Rom. 4:20; 1 Cor. 6:20). It is why the Lord’s Prayer begins the way it does: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Now it may seem strange to us that God is out to magnify himself. We may think, as C. S. Lewis once did, that the commands in Scripture calling us to praise God sound like a vain woman seeking compliments. And it would not only be strange but wrong if we were the ones calling others to worship us. But what is wrong and selfish and evil in us is right and loving and holy in God. In fact, if God did not do this he would be wicked. As John Piper puts it, God is not an idolater: he has no other gods before him. It is wrong in us because no human being can be the foundation of your joy. Only God can be that. And therefore, only he can be the proper and ultimate object of your praise.
And it is not selfish for God to do this. When God points us to himself as the supreme object worthy of our love and affection and praise and delight, he is acting not only for his glory but for our joy. When we learn to live unto the praise of his glory, we are investing in the God who is an infinite treasure of grace and love and joy. Those who honor him he will honor; not by making them into little gods but by granting them access to the fellowship of the Triune God.
The ultimate reason why this is good news lies in the infinite greatness of God and the discontinuity between God and men. God is awesomely transcendent. The reason why so many people don’t see the need to seek the glory of God is that the god they believe in is not really that great. He is not much different from themselves. If you get bored with God, you are not going to be to the praise of his glory. But if you have seen the glory of God, you are not going to be able to do anything else. You praise what you love and admire. God is infinitely worthy of our love and admiration and therefore infinitely worthy of our worship and our praise.
Now that brings us to our final question. How do we in fact live to the praise of his glory? Suppose we know in some sense what this means and why we should do it. How do we make this practical? To see the answer to this question, let’s look at the text again. The key is in the last part of the verse.
Note that Paul says that those who live to the praise of God’s glory are those “who first trusted in Christ.” The word “first trusted” means “to hope before.” It’s the word for “hope” with a prefix that is translated here as “first” and in other translations as “before,” or something similar. However, you cannot really separate hope and faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). Those who trust in Christ as precisely those who hope in him. And thus, those who live for the praise of God’s glory are those who hope in Christ.
Some commentators think that Paul is referring to believing Jews in verse 12 (we who first hoped in Christ) and to the believing Gentiles at Ephesus in verse 13 (in whom ye also trusted). This seems to best explain the meaning of hoping or trusting “before” others. The Jewish believers preceded their Gentile brethren in matter of time in terms of believing on Jesus. However, since Paul applies to his Gentile readers in verse 13 what he has just said in verse 12, it is clear that this is a universal truth that applies to all believers everywhere. All who trust in Christ will live for his praise.
Two things are worth pointing out here. First, we are taught in these words that no one can truly live to the praise of God’s glory on their own. We need Christ, we need to be connected to him and his grace and power and the way we do this is by trusting in him, by placing our faith in him.
Second, it is only when we hope in Christ and not in ourselves that we will be able to live in a way that points others to him and to the glory of his grace. We are living contradictions when we point others to Christ and yet are living for ourselves. This is what is behind Peter’s famous instruction: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). We will never be pointing away from ourselves to God until we have placed our hopes in him.
And as those who hope in him, we live aware of the riches that we have in Christ so that we don’t become distracted by the cheap pleasures of a world in rebellion against God. This is, in the end, the evidence that you are living a life that echoes the glory of God and not your own. What are you hoping in? Whatever we see as glorious, in that we will hope. Paul writes to the Colossians that it is Christ in us that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). In Christ, we have one in whom we can hope and not be ashamed (cf. Rom. 5). May all our eyes be opened to see his glory so that our hope will be in him, and him alone.