(NB: as with all my thinking, it tends to be flowing from the seminars I attend, the books I read and the minds of others. Ultimately it’s “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (Kepler). So in this I acknowledge Mark Stirling of The Chalmers Institute and my homegroup, who put up with my studies on Ephesians, despite them having far better ones in years past)
What does glory look like if you were to draw it? Or for folk more like myself, what would the Biblical definition of it be? (please don’t look up the dictionary – I’m not sure we’re on a wavelength) Perhaps a movie soundtrack would be easier to put to it.
It’s the question that comes into my mind when I read three or four times in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (chapter 1) that everything that happens in the Godhead and flowing from the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) through all eternity is “to the praise of His glory” or some equivalent phrases in other English versions.
What on earth is “to the praise of His glory”. Can glory be praised?
Well, in brief, the reason I think such phrases could be better summed up in a movie soundtrack is because in the Bible they aren’t really defined that much. But instances throughout the Bible tell us all what it’s about.
God’s glory is manifested quite often in the Holy of Holies in the temple: the part of the temple where no-one could enter, apart from a High priest, once a year. Even then when he entered, he did so in fear and trembling, recognising his unworthiness, and need to make sacrifices for sin, for himself and for the people.
So often when God’s glory came down, nobody could go near. It was often manifested by fire, by cloud (and mystery) and great power. It rendered false gods powerless, priests speechless, and left people dead who tried to falsely come near. You could hear the dramatic and climatic, thundering music.
But what has this to do with anything?
Well, Paul goes on to describe the church community in Ephesus using various pictures (chapter 2). Pictures of what they once were (dead, aliens, strangers, uncircumcised, haters of God etc) and now what they are (alive, family, brought near, circumcised, lovers of God). And in those images Paul brings in the fact that we’re a temple. Not as individuals, but as a people together, with Christ as our cornerstone. And all very well. Until we remember what the temple was really like.
The temple was where this “glory” stuff happened. Or not stuff at all. Where God manifested himself in the fullest we way the people at the time could manage. BOOM!
And so the fact we’re called the temple is baffling. We are the place where God will manifest his “glory”. So presumably it’s not too far of a jump to say that when people meet His Church (with Christ at the centre), they will be hit by His full “oomph”. It renders people speechless. Everything else in the world will seem small compared to approaching this beautiful community.
I’m still trying to work out how much continuity there is between old temple and new temple, and what exactly we can say about this. But it’s got me excited. Excited because I’m freshly convicted that when people meet and mingle with God’s new temple/community, they’ll be struck by something powerful.
And so I want to meet with this community and draw others into this community. “Oh but we’re not a very [insert adjective] community here. We’d need to change first, before inviting people in”. Um, no, I think we need to invite people in and let them see us as we are, and continually strive for change through that, in that, with others, and for His glory. And primarily before being a loving/forgiving/gracious/hope-filled/[insert adjective] community, we must be a community.
And quite frankly, that’s where most of us fall down. We don’t see each other past a Sunday, or maybe a midweek smallgroup or meeting. And if we do, it’s just as Christians together. For the rest of the time, we’re expected to be lone wolf evangelists, doing personal evangelism to the max. And we wonder why it doesn’t work?
In prescribing ourselves to this model, we heap pressure on ourselves. We are our only contact with our friends. It’s us or nothing. And to be honest, there’s not much difference between my typing away at my desk all day and theirs. In fact, many of them show far more positivity all day than I manage. So much for being asked “to give a reason for the hope that’s within you”. Few ask questions, because few see any difference, and rightly so – what difference can there really be in how we type, offer someone a coffee, or treat each other in the workplace? Of course, some, but let’s stop our hyper individualism.
In prescribing ourselves this model, we also rob ourselves of true fellowship. When we don’t see our fellow brothers and sisters apart from sporadic occasions, we tend, if you’re anything like the churches I’ve been involved with, to resort back to polite chit chat. And that’s natural. Only when you’re in and out of others lives, will you be able to walk up on a Sunday morning and ask something more deep or personal. Because you’ve seen them in the messy-ness of life.
So what does this look like? Well, it puts major questions about geographical proximity to each other in everyday life, or at least to your smallgroup members. It also puts questions about our individual choice of how we spend our time. Is it ours to choose our passions, or do I fit them around serving others? Does “Peter the hockey player” take second place to “Peter the temple brick”, if hockey doesn’t manage to fulfil temple-like functions? (though in most cases, I don’t think there needs be dichotomies). Perhaps for your church, it’s even simply starting small-groups.
In Cork, it’s led to us all deliberately inviting our friends who aren’t part of church, into social gatherings where there’s a mix of people, so that they see God’s glory in Christ. And they are indeed noticing exactly that:
“You’re all so different, but love each other so much!”
“How do you ever hang out with him/her, they’re so weird/different?! I’d like to be able to do that.”
“I wish I had a community like this that looked out for me in the city: it’s fab”
“I didn’t understand and completely disagree with what was said at your church this morning, but I’m glad we can chat about it this afternoon in a more private place together”
Now don’t get me wrong. This is hard. It’s costly. Half of us haven’t braved sharing our friends yet with each other. And there are moments I grimace inside and wish I hadn’t invited my friends along, after something has been said in convo that hasn’t been helpful. But it’s worth every step of it.
The more I find myself committing to community, the more I feel free! Free to be myself, free to not have to produce evangelistic results myself, free to be weak in front of others (they see everything), free to fail, free to ask for forgiveness, free to keep short accounts with people I see lots. Free!
That’s what living for the praise of His glory does. And that’s why being away travelling lots robs you of everything about it. You’re unable to do this community. For someone with a job like mine – I’m robbing myself of joy!
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’