On Wednesday we were in Holland. Today we are in Brazil. We are blessed with many friends in Brazil, and today’s email comes from one of them, a man named Cauã. Cauã lives in Rio de Janeiro. “Hello, Pastor John! I have been debating the following question in my head for a while. Does God command our praise because it glorifies him, or does he command our praise because he wants us to be happy? Does he command our worship for himself, or for our good? Or for both? Can you help me understand, please?”
Well, I will do my best, because this is what I’ve been trying to do for more or less fifty years. I think the answer to this question is just about the best news in all the world. At least in my own experience, to see the relationship between God’s command for praise and my experience of happiness was one of the most important discoveries that I ever made in my life. So I hope I can bring some clarity to it.
Glory at the Center
I don’t think there was any biblical text that my parents spoke to me or wrote to me after I left home more frequently than 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That command, that duty, was imprinted on my soul from as early as I can remember, and I am so thankful that it was. It was a wonderful thing. Whether you’re young, whether you’re old, to have a short, pithy summary of the purpose of human existence — what a gift! To know why you exist, to know why you are on this planet, indeed, to know why there is anything at all in existence — what a gift! What a privilege!
“God is committed to glorifying God.”
And it became obvious over time that this wasn’t simply my duty — to glorify God in everything I do — but this was God’s design for his own action. All of it. He does everything — he does everything he does — to the glory of God.
- He predestines to the glory of God (Ephesians 1:5–6).
- He creates to the glory of God (Isaiah 43:6–7; Psalm 19:1).
- He guides history to the glory of God (Romans 11:33–36).
- He sends Jesus to live and die for the glory of God (John 12:27–28; Philippians 2:9–11).
- He sanctifies his church to the glory of God (Philippians 1:9–11).
- Jesus is coming back to be marveled at and glorified among his people (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
Everywhere in the Bible, God is glorifying God. He does what he does to make God himself look as beautiful and glorious and great and wise and just and good and loving and gracious as he really is. So the duty that I grew up with expanded into a full-blown view of the universe. I think that’s really there in 1 Corinthians 10:31, because text after text pointed to the ultimate purpose of all things; namely, God is committed to glorifying God.
All to His Praise
And I remember seeing (this was in, I think, 1976 or so) for the first time those three verses in Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14 — all three of them saying, “unto the praise of his glory,” “unto the praise of his glory,” “unto the praise of his glory,” as if Paul were to say, “Hey, did you get it the third time, if not the second, if not the first time?” God does everything — and he saves especially — unto the praise of his glory.
So there’s absolutely no question how to answer the first part of Cauã’s question. Does God command our praise because it glorifies him? Yes. You are chosen, destined, adopted, redeemed unto the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:6). God plans for our praise, creates for our praise, rules the world for our praise, saves us through the death of Jesus for his praise. And that praise is, specifically, praise ultimately for the glory of God’s grace.
“You are chosen, destined, adopted, redeemed unto the praise of the glory of God’s grace.”
Now that vision of God’s God-centeredness in creation and redemption, salvation, all of history, — that God-centeredness of God himself — left me for a long time perplexed about the place of my happiness in this overarching divine purpose. My perplexity was compounded when I heard preachers — for example, during a call to missions — say things like, “Seek God’s will, not your own. Seek to please God, not yourself.” And I knew there were texts in the Bible that said things like that. But it left me wondering, “Well, will it always be the case that when I’m acting in obedience, I’m acting against my will and against my pleasure?” That seemed hopeless to me — as if you were to grow in your obedience and be condemned to unhappiness the rest of your days, or even for eternity.
Completion of Joy
Then came the great discovery. It came from several sides, but the most shocking and compelling statement of the discovery was in C.S. Lewis’s book Reflections on the Psalms. He not only nailed my confusion, my perplexity, but in doing so, he gave the answer to it. So I want you to hear what I heard. So I’m going to read the whole section, a couple of paragraphs. And remember that what he’s dealing with here is that parts of the Bible, especially the Psalms, sounded to him, when God commanded his own praise, like an old woman seeking compliments, and that really bothered him. So here’s what he wrote. And this was life-changing for me.
The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. . . .
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . .
I think he’s laughing.
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
Here’s the nub of the matter:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (109–11, emphasis added)
Glory and Gladness Bound
Do you see where that led me? Every time God commanded me to praise him for his glory, he was commanding me to bring my pleasure in him to its fullest delight. That’s what he was commanding. My pleasure in God is not complete unless it overflows in praise. And my praise of God is not glorifying to God unless it is the overflow of pleasure in God. God is not an egomaniac when he commands me to praise him. He’s acting in love, because my praising him is the apex of my pleasure in him. What a discovery!
So, the answer to the question is this: We should not, we dare not, choose between praising God as an expression of the glory of God and praising God as an overflow of our pleasure in God. We dare not choose between those or separate those. And after fifty years of pondering this, I don’t know any better way to say it than God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If we try to choose between glorifying God and being glad in God, we will fail at both. The great discovery is that God has bound them together in his children forever.