Glory Divine and Glory Departed

What motivates me as a Christian? Am I seeking the glory of God, or personal honor? But before we can answer that question, a clarification is in order. Whereas many Christians believe that seeking glory is always wrong (e.g., see Jer 45:5), this is incorrect.

As the apostle Paul explains, "God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil... glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good" (Rom 2:6-10). The Bible tells us we should seek glory, honor, and immortality. All faithful followers of Christ will enjoy these blessings.

Of course Paul isn't encouraging selfish ambition (Gal 5:20). We are to give control of our lives over to Christ (Gal 2:20). Jesus comes before self, family, and personal comfort (Luke 14:25-27). God calls us to deny self and follow the one who always sought to please his Father and to do his will (John 5:30; 8:29).

A personal reflection
To answer the question of whether we're seeking God's glory, we should ask, What means the most to us? What motivates us—those things that make us look good (a nice job, our children's accomplishments, or financial prosperity), or the heart of Christ? (We may often say we're doing it for Him, but is this really true?)

Thinking about this lofty theme, and reflecting back on this challenging year, I felt the need to take spiritual inventory. I realized that I usually receive a lot of acclaim (honor). I travel extensively, speak in 10 or 20 countries, publish a book or two, and generally engage in highly visible activities. Many offer me words of affirmation—with hugs, handshakes, and other ways of giving honor.

Yet in 2020 I've visited only one country. This year's book has been delayed, because of COVID-19, to 2021. Income is sharply down. Apart from Zoom, during most of the year I've seen few people, and received hardly any hugs. (That's okay—there's a pandemic.) What have these realities revealed about my heart? Have I still worked hard? Have I been kind to others? Have I continued to reach out, even if I'm confined to the house, and others aren't allowed to visit (Scottish health regulations)? Am I staying God-focused, or is motivation slipping? These are questions I ask myself. Jesus reminds us not to do good things (giving to the needy, praying, fasting—Matt 6:1-18) only when others are watching. Who I am when I'm alone is who I really am.

Falling short of His glory
The truth is, instead of seeking God's glory, we fall woefully short. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Our failure is no minor imperfection, like a moment of impatience once or twice a year. Nor is it as though we received an A- instead of an A. (How we flatter ourselves!) Our "grade" is more like an F.

A helpful (negative) example may shed light on how crucial it is to seek God's glory. Eli, the worldly priest of time of the Judges (11th century BC, shortly before Israel demanded a king), failed to bring glory to God. God himself was "the Glory of Israel" (1 Sam 15:29), yet Eli put his own comfort first, ignoring God's holy standards in order to cozily preserve priestly power within his family (1 Sam 2:27-36). (Please take a moment to read the shocking account if you're unfamiliar with it.)

God challenges the priest: "Why do you honor your sons more than me?" (1 Sam 2:29). Eli is the picture of the fleshly, self-absorbed person. He values personal glory and honor.

Once Eli was informed of the fulfilment of God's judgment against him—the death of his corrupt sons and the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines—Eli fell backward off his chair... His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy (1 Sam 4:18).

Glory = weight
There's a sort of word-play in the Hebrew text. The word for glory / honor, khavod (throughout 1 Samuel and elsewhere in the OT), also means weight. Numerous times in the Eli story we encounter this and related words—fairly obvious in the original language, not so obvious in English.

Eli was destroyed by his own "weight"—having sought personal glory instead of God's glory. He was "heavy" with his own importance, full of self. His "fall" was both literal and spiritual. He did it to himself.

The theme is accentuated even more in the following verses. Eli's daughter-in-law goes into labor. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she... gave birth... She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel.” She prophetically laments, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (1 Sam 4:19-22).

The glory has departed
Ichabod means "there is no glory," or "the Glory [God] has departed." God's presence, centralised in the Tabernacle / Temple, and symbolised by the ark of the covenant (Exod 40:35; 1 Kings 8:11), has been withdrawn from his people. The Philistines have the ark—until they realize that the God of Israel is heavily against them, and they decide to give him "glory" (1 Sam 6:5). The pagans seem more intent on honoring the God of Israel than his own careless people!

The people of Israel, meanwhile, are left with only memories of past glory. The present reality is dark. For when we fail to honor God—to bring glory to him—we are inevitably crushed under the weight of our own sinfulness.

For further consideration:

  • Paul's words, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition..." (Phil 2:3-4).
  • C. S. Lewis's excellent sermon, "The Weight of Glory."
  • The Lord's word to Eli: "Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained" (1 Sam 2:30).