The happiest families can be surprisingly competitive. And not just in moments of play and recreation when we compete against each other, in love and good humor. But all the more in the everyday “contest” to honor and bless one another.
“Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10), Paul writes for the whole church, and such a vision begins at home. And yet the glory and joy of such a “competition” is far, far larger, and more fundamental, than even our homes and churches. We might view all of history as the divine Father and his Son seeking to “outdo one another in showing honor.”
“Service is greatness,” writes Donald Macleod, “and one may even ask . . . whether the persons of the godhead do not seem to vie with one another for the privilege of serving” (Person of Christ, 88). It is an astounding and holy contest to trace through the pages of Scripture, and the story of the world — a story of their glory that delights all those who have been welcomed into the greatest of families.
One Great Design — and Medium
To marvel at the pronounced other-orientation of the Father and the Son is not to minimize the God-centeredness of God but, rather, to go deeper into it. God made the world to glorify himself. This, in short, is God’s “one great design,” as Jonathan Edwards preached in December 1744, in a sermon called “Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design.” And yet how much more can we say than simply this? Edwards says more.
He also speaks of God’s “one grand medium,” saying, “The one grand medium by which he glorifies himself in all is Jesus Christ, God-man.” Another way, then, in fuller detail, to capture God’s one great design, says Edwards, is this:
[God made the world] to present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, God-man.
God’s God-centeredness is not at odds with the centrality of Christ. In fact, we cannot have one without the other. One is the great design; the other, the grand medium. God glorifies himself through his Son.
Prompted by Edwards, then, it is amazing to return to God’s own word, see if the dynamic is there, and watch with delight as our Father and our Lord Jesus “vie with one another,” as it were, seeking to “outdo one another in showing honor.”
Father to Glorify Son
Consider first that unexpected attribute of the Son’s glory in the magnificent opening lines of Hebrews. In these last days, God has spoken to us in his Son, “whom he appointed the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Only after noting this appointment does Hebrews add “through whom also he created the world.” Before creation, the Father appointed his Son to be heir of it all; then the Father made all through him and for him. Paul backs it up in Colossians 1:16: “All things were created through [the Son] and for him.”
“The Father made the universe, and ordained all of history to unfold as it has, to glorify his Son.”
In other words, the Father made the world to give it to his Son. The Father loves his Son (John 3:35; 5:20) — with a love so full, so thick, so deep, so abounding that he overflowed to make a world to make much of his Son. The Father made the universe, and ordained all of history to unfold as it has, to glorify his Son, and demonstrate his infinite delight in and love for his Son. And that does not subtract, so to speak, from the Father’s glory, but only increases it in the increase of his Son. As the Father rightly pursues his glory in creation, he does so in and through the honor and praise of his Son.
So, in the fullness of time, the Father sent his Son, in human soul and body, visibly and audibly — as fully man, without ceasing to be God — to come, in stages, into this great appointed inheritance.
Son Glorified Father
Jesus, the God-man, lived his human life in utter dedication to his Father. Rightly did the angels proclaim “Glory to God!” at Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:14), as the glory of the Father came to the fore in the life and ministry of the Son. In his “state of humiliation,” from manger to cross, the man Christ Jesus did not “glorify himself” (John 8:54; Hebrews 5:5), but his words and deeds, and the effect and intent of his human life, were in full and glad submission to the will, and glory, of his Father. As he says without slant in John 8:49, “I honor my Father.”
“Jesus, the God-man, lived his human life in utter dedication to his Father.”
The Son loves his Father (John 14:31). And he lived as man, and strode toward the cross, propelled by his great delight in and love for his Father. He instructed his disciples to so live, and bear fruit, that his Father would be glorified (Matthew 5:16; John 15:8), and he taught them to pray for the hallowing of his Father’s name (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). The night before he died, Jesus summarized, in prayer, his life’s work as “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). When he sees that at last his “hour” has come, Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your name” (John 12:28).
As the Son draws near to the cross, we marvel to see both glories — of Father and of Son — coming to the fore, not in competition, yet vying to accent the other. And strikingly, the Son’s lifting up, his coming into his glory as God-man, begins not only with his resurrection, but even in the shame and horror of being “lifted up” to the cross (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). Seeing that his hour has come, and that he will now move beyond his “state of humiliation,” and enter into glory (Luke 24:26) with his great final act of self-humbling (Philippians 2:8), Jesus says,
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (John 13:31)
Not only will the incarnate Son continue to glorify his Father, as he has since Bethlehem, but now he will do so in some new measure — and the Father too will glorify his Son. “So intertwined are the operations of the Father and the Son,” comments D.A. Carson, “that the entire mission can be looked at another way. . . . One may reverse the order” (John, 482). They glorify each other.
Father Glorified Son
In history’s greatest twist, the cross, in all its unspeakable odium and shame, begins the incarnate Son’s uplifting. Here, at Golgotha, the Father’s anticipated glorifying of the Son, as the Son spoke of, and prayed for, begins to be realized. The Father had glorified his Son, in measure, in his anointed life and ministry (John 8:54; 11:4), but now his glory comes decisively and fully at the cross, and in his rising again (John 7:39; 12:16, 23). Peter’s Pentecost sermon will recognize that God “glorified his servant Jesus . . . whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:13, 15). Or, as Peter later wrote, tying together the Son’s resurrection and glorification, “God . . . raised him from the dead and gave him glory” (1 Peter 1:21).
Christ’s resurrection, then — and with it, his ascension and enthronement in heaven — ushers in a new era, the age in which we live, of the church and the Spirit. If the Father seemed to outdo the Son in showing honor before creation, and the Son tried to outdo the Father in his earthly life, and the Father thrust the glory of his Son to the fore, in history, in the terrible cross and triumphant resurrection, we now — as happy sons of God and brothers of Christ — thrill as our Father and his Son strive all the more for the privilege of exalting each other.
Glories Together Now
The New Testament teems with the glory of God, and the glory of Christ, as the saints see what Edwards called “the great design” and “the great medium” play out before our eyes. The glory we see in Christ, the eternal Word made flesh, does not exclude the Father, but is “glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). All God’s centuries of promises, says 2 Corinthians 1:20, find their “Yes” in Jesus — “that is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” The fruit of righteousness we bear in life “comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). To the Father, through the Son.
We serve, says 1 Peter 4:11, “by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” In our sufferings in the present time, we look to the God of all grace, who called us to “his eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10). And in the great doxology of Hebrews, we look to the Father, “who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus” to work in us what is pleasing in his sight “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:10–21).
Perhaps best of all is Philippians 2:9–11. God the Father has “highly exalted” his Son and given him, without envy or reservation, “the name that is above every name.” This is a stunning grant — one of the great realities the Father must have dreamed up when appointing his Son “heir of all things,” and is now delighted to fulfill. And lest we worry that the holy contest has gone too far when we learn that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” Paul has one last phrase to enchant us all in this happy family: “to the glory of God the Father.”
Glories at the End
Even now, as Christ sits enthroned in heaven, the Father is putting all things under his feet, and when that great work of redemption is done (Revelation 21:6), then “the Son himself will also be subjected to him” (1 Corinthians 15:27–28). Does the Father then, in the end, become the last recipient of glory, while the Son finally outdoes him in showing honor? Macleod encourages us “not to overlook the complexities of the situation” (88).
It is here, precisely with the end in view, that he observes how Father and Son seem to “vie with one another for the privilege of serving.” As we strain to look into the future, we find depths and dimensions to the divine glory we should be careful not to reduce. On the one hand, Jude 24–25 tells us the Father will present us before himself, while in Ephesians 5:27, Christ presents the church to himself in splendor. So too, not only will the Son present the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15), but the Father will present the bride to his Son (Revelation 21:2, 9). Macleod observes, “The idea of the Father handing over the bride to Christ is as definitive as that of the Son handing over the kingdom to the Father” (88).
Such twin emphases have for two millennia led the church to confess with Christ, and with awe, the blessed mystery, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Glory Enough to Go Around
What a thrill it is to see that our Father, and our elder Brother, are not miserly with divine glory. There is no scarcity of glory in the Godhead to be hoarded and rationed. Divine persons do not compete for glory, even as they vie to show each other honor. As Dane Ortlund observes, “The New Testament oscillates so frequently between the Son and the Father as the more immediate object of glorification that it becomes unthinkable to envision one person of the Trinity being glorified and not the other persons.”
Our God does indeed, as God, righteously and lovingly seek his own glory, but we should not think of his glory as scarce, or his fingers as tight. He does not give his glory to another, even as “the Father of glory” (Ephesians 1:17) and Jesus “the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1) — and so too “the Spirit of glory” (1 Peter 4:14) — vie with each other, outdoing one another in showing honor.
Such “competition” makes for the happiest family of all.