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Studying God’s Honor

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Though in English the words praise and praiseworthy come from the same root, Paul employs two different words here in the Greek to emphasize his point. We already spoke above about that which is worthy of praise, as he closes this verse, he is speaking of that which generates admiration or approval within us. When applied to humans, this word is sometimes translated as “fame,” but perhaps honor is a better term. Towards God, it reflects the notion of giving praise and honor to His name (see Philippians 1:11).

All of that which Paul speaks about culminates in this…honoring God. It is this notion that drives our sanctification and our life as believers. Yet how often we choose to set our minds and thoughts on other things during the day, during the weeks, and during the years. How often we set our affections on the things of this world rather than on the one who is most worthy of our honor.

It has long been my position that while most relationships begin in the shared experiences that people have with one another; lasting and mature relationships make a transition. Instead of falling in love with the person through the things that are done together we fall in love with the person because of who they are — their attributes and personalities and things like this. Genuine love and relationship with God is nurtured in the same way. We may begin our relationship with God through a deliverance from sin, through a grace that was given, or through a recognition of our own wicked and fallen state. Yet don’t stop the relationship there, because the relationship you have with God will mature as you grow deeper in your understanding of God’s character as revealed in his Word.

Thus, spend time focusing on a character trait of God. He is love, he is Truth, he is a God of justice and grace. God is creative and powerful and while loving toward his own, he pours out his wrath upon the wicked. Think on these things. Study how God reveals these character traits of his in the Scriptures. Pursue him through his character. And note too, Paul’s language…think on these things. God has given us minds to understand; he expects us to use our minds to understand his character as he reveals it. Such an understanding will draw us closer to him but such an understanding will also draw us away from the things of the world that distract and pull us away from godliness.

Yahweh is Lifted Up!

“But you are elevated eternally, Yahweh.”

(Psalm 92:9 [verse 8 in English])

 

God is lifted up! He reigns on high! There is no god like our God, he is the great Yahweh, who sets his throne in the heavens and makes the earth his footstool. Can we not praise him highly enough? Will we ever exhaust the praises that our God deserves even in the light of eternity? Never! Our God reigns and he does so from on high.

What is amazing, wonderful, and remarkable about our God is that he condescends to us in relationship. Yet, in light of this relationship, let us never lose sight of the total “other-ness” of our God. It is my concern that, in the emphasis on a personal and intimate relationship with God that we downplay his elevation…in other words, we treat him as casually as we might treat a friend or neighbor and thus forget who he is and the reverence that he rightfully deserves. Indeed, is it not the “Fear” of the Lord that brings knowledge and wisdom? Where there is no fear, will not foolishness multiply? Is that not the plight of the church in our age today?

In many circles, God is merely treated as one of many gods rather than the God above all others and in a class entirely of his own. To borrow from the Medieval theologian, Anselm, he is “The being greater than whom no other being can exist.” There is none like him and it ought to give us goosebumps to draw near to him while at the same time we do boldly draw near to the Holy One of Israel in our midst. What a glorious gift, but in our worship, let us be drawn up to him and not seek to draw him down to us.

So, friends, as you pray this day and in the day to come, may you be altogether aware that it is the God who is lifted up who has given you permission to come into his presence. Celebrate that, but do so with a holy fear as well, for in that fear you will find knowledge and wisdom.

Reverencing God’s Name

“Thus you shall pray in this way:  Our Father, who is in the heavens, let your name be reverenced.”  (Matthew 6:9)

 

“After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”  (Matthew 6:9, KJV)

 

I wonder whether we spend enough time in our own lives reflecting on the nature an attributes of our God.  God is to be reverenced; his name is hallowed; God is the very definition of holiness and righteousness and purity and power.  God is glorious above all things that we think of as glorious.  And he is wonderful and just.  He is light and truth.  He is the beginning of all things and the end of all things.  He is God and God alone. 

We should adore God for who he is.  All too often, when we speak of why we worship, we only speak of worship in relationship to what God has done for us.  Indeed, we should be eternally grateful for what he has done for us and worship him as a result.  But don’t let yourself fall into the trap of worshiping him wholly based on what he has done, because that will lead you to a self-centered relationship with him.  When things are good you will worship with gusto.  When things are bad, you will be lead to question.  Worship God first for who he is and then for what he has done.

Think about things in this manner.  When you go to a fine restaurant and dine on a fine meal, you naturally praise the chef.  You don’t praise him because he has done you any special favors.  You paid a fair price for the meal and it can be assumed that the chef prepares equally fine dishes for each and every patron of the establishment.  You praise the chef for two reasons.  First, because the chef has demonstrated his skills by creating a meal that was remarkable in every way.  It would be rude not to compliment him on his skills in the kitchen.  And secondly, you praise the chef because it brings a sense of satisfaction to you and it is pleasing to do so.  Given that we are assuming that none of us are world-renown food critics, writing for a prestigious culinary magazine and given that the chef has already secured for himself a good job at a respected restaurant, it would seem that the chef neither needs your compliments nor would be heartbroken without them, never-the-less, they are pleasing to him as well.

Now, let us turn our eyes toward God’s work.  Certainly, God is infinitely more remarkable than a fine chef.  He demonstrates his glory in his works of creation.  And just as God is infinitely more praiseworthy than a fine chef, it is infinitely more appropriate that he be praised.  He neither needs our praise nor is his existence based upon it—he is God—yet he gracefully accepts our praises and is pleased by them.  Just as it would have been rude to deny the chef praise for his fine meal, it is infinitely more rude—in fact, downright damnable—to deny God praise for his being who he is and for his revelation of his glory in the universe.  And, just as it is satisfying and pleasurable to praise the chef for his fine creation—it is infinitely more satisfying and pleasurable to praise God for his being.  In fact, since God is the most infinitely fine and good thing that we might praise, I would suggest that the praising of God brings the highest and most infinite pleasure and satisfaction.

Friends, it is a joyous thing to worship the great King of the Universe not just for what he has done, but simply for who he is, and that is why unbelievers who refuse to praise God stand guilty—because their offence, is infinitely condemnable.  We don’t often think in these terms, but we must.  One of the things that the Baptist preacher, John Piper regularly points out is that God desires us to worship him not because he is needy, but because we are needy and God understands that the worship of him is the highest pleasure that we can experience and he wants us to experience that pleasure.

Reverence, the Image of God, and Politics

“revere all, love the brotherhood, fear God, revere the king.”

(1 Peter 2:17)

 

            Reverence is a term that we hardly ever apply to life anymore, especially not toward others and even more especially not toward the king (or president and governors…).  Reverence denotes placing a high value on someone’s head.  For example, if someone shows you a priceless book, perhaps an original manuscript of Milton’s Paradise Lost that contains Milton’s own handwriting and notes, you would treat it with far more deference than you would a paperback science fiction novel.  The reason that you treat it with reverence is because of the inherent value of the item.

            Yet what Peter is telling us first in this verse is that other humans ought to be treated with reverence.  Why?  Because they are created by God and your attitude toward them is part of the way you witness Jesus Christ to them.  It may be that it is your reverence toward your neighbor that guides him to salvation.

            This has a great deal of ramifications in our lives today.  First, it means that we must take other’s needs very seriously, even when they may seem silly or insignificant to us.  For example, we might think it silly to wear gloves while handling a book.  Yet, if that book is ancient, the oils on our hands can damage the manuscript.  We might not understand the ways and reasons that our neighbor does what he or she does, but we need to treat those ways with dignity and respect. 

            This is very much the idea the Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians where he is talking about food ways and stumbling blocks.  If what you are doing would cause your brother to stumble, cease doing it.  You cease not for your own sake, but for the sake of the other person’s faith.  This is what it means to revere a person.

            And if you take seriously the idea of revering a person simply on the basis of their being a human being, which God has made in His image, that puts abortion in a different perspective.  No longer can you justify abortion on the basis of a mother’s “rights to her body,” but you must deny abortion out of reverence toward that little child.  It puts euthanasia in a different light as well.  It puts the care of the homeless, the disabled, the homebound, the elderly in nursing homes, and the nameless people you pass on the bus, at the grocery store, etc…, all of these people, in a different light.  Each of these not only should be treated with dignity because they bear the image of God, but you who understand these things, now have an obligation to respect and to preserve their dignity.  Indeed, you may even be given the opportunity to show someone that they do have dignity for the first time in their life.  You may have the opportunity to restore that person’s sense of dignity after they have had it stripped violently from them.  The Imago Dei brings a dignity to humans that has nothing to do with what they have produced or accomplished—it has nothing to do with their wealth or their bloodline—it has everything to do with whose image they bear.

            Peter frames this verse with a second call to reverence.  Not only must we show reverence toward all people, but we must show reverence toward our political leaders.  It is easy to revere those politicians that we support, but what about those with whom we disagree?  We tend to be quick to criticize and make personal attacks against those running for or within public office, but is that right?  Was Peter only referring to those benevolent political leaders?  The Caesar of Peter’s day was Nero.  Nero went out of his way to execute Christians through horrible means.  Nero would later take Peter’s life as well.  This is hardly what I would call a beneficial leader.  In fact, thinking of some of the worst leaders we have had, most pale in comparison to Nero.

            Encapsulated within the bookends of reverence is a love for the brethren and a fear of God.  This is the heart of the Christian life.  But Peter reminds us that the flesh of the Christian life, that which the world can see and by which the world evaluates us and the God which we serve, is the reverence by which we deal with the world.  This is the means by which we publicly live out our faith in the face of a watching world.  Does not James say the same thing about pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)?