The Works of the Church: Exaltation
The Marks and Works of the Church
Review and Preview
For the previous 3 months or so, we have been studying the Marks of the Church. These “Marks”referred to the attributes, characteristics, and features of the church. The marks of the church help us understand what the church is. As we explored in the previous weeks those marks were orthodoxy, order, and ordinances.
This morning we are pivoting to the Works of the Church. The “works of the church” refers to the actions, engagements, and activities of the church. The works of the church help us understand what the church does. As we will explore this week and, in the weeks, to come, the works of the church are exaltation, edification, and evangelism. This morning we will discuss exaltation.
In order to define exaltation, I want to propose a definition of exaltation that comes from comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This catechism is part of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The WCF comes from the 17th century and is the foundational document for many Reformed and Presbyterian churches. It is a wonderful document. The first question of the shorter catechism states this: “What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” There are two parts to this answer. The first part is purpose. The Catechism says the first part of man’s chief purpose is “to glorify God.” That’s purpose. The second part of this definition is pleasure. Along with glorifying God (think: purpose), man is also to “enjoy God forever.” That’s pleasure. Purpose and pleasure. Purpose and pleasure. That’s how I want us to understand “Exaltation” this morning. The chief work of the church is “Exaltation”—which means glorifying and enjoying God.
For our first point, we will tackle the notion of purpose—the idea of glorifying God. To begin this section, we will first start with God. In all things, we should start with God. Our view of life should be theocentric—focused on God. We are commanded in Scripture to be imitators of God. God has purpose. God acts with a purpose in mind. He is not purposeless. Our purpose flows from God’s purpose. Like our purpose, God’s purpose, too, is to glorify God.
To explore this idea, turn with me to Isa 48:9. We will read through verse 11. The passage states,
For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
The context of this passage is that God is confronting the rebellion of his people. And in this passage, God tells Israel the motives for his grace to them. If you know the history of Israel, you know that it is cycle after cycle of disobedience. Israel is not faithful to her God. God tells us here why he will not dispose his bride.
Verse 9 mentions that God defers his anger from his people “for my name’s sake.” This notion of name’s sake refers to God’s reputation. We all care about our reputation. It’s one of the most important things about us. How are we perceived by others? That is an important question. God cares about his reputation. In fact, the reason why he defers his anger is so that he name would be held in high esteem. Again in verse 9 he mentions that he does not cut off his people for his own exaltation. He repeats this in verse 11. “For my own sake, for make own sake I do it.” God states in this verse that it is not for the sake of the Israelites that he acts. Rather, God acts for his own name’s sake.
From this passage, we see that God has a passion for his own glory. We see that one of God’s central motives is to glory God. God seeks to establish his renown in this earth. God is primarily for God. He is
primarily for the exaltation of his name. This is an idea repeated throughout all of Scripture. He is a jealous God and is zealous for his renown.
This idea—that God is bent towards glorifying his own name—gives rise to the criticism that God is a narcissist, that he is selfish, or egocentric. This criticism is misguided. While egocentrism is a valid criticism if applied to people, it is not valid when applied to God. Here’s why. People are just people. There are far greater things in life than people. The reason why it is wrong for a person to promote themselves is because
people are not the greatest conceivable beings. It’s wrong for me to promote me because I’m not all that great. With reference to God, things are different.
God is the greatest conceivable being. There is nothing higher, grander, and more excellent then him. His is the highest, the greatest, the best. As the greatest conceivable being, he most promotes the greatest conceivable cause. It would be wrong for God to promote anything besides the greatest. It would be wrong for God to promote anything other than himself. That which is greatest must promote the greatest. God must promote God. If God were to exalt something else besides himself, he would then fail to promote that which is the greatest and would hence cease being God. God’s promotion of himself is necessarily required because he is the greatest conceivable being. God promotes his own cause because his own cause is the greatest conceivable purpose.
What’s true for God is also true for man. If God’s chief purpose in the world is to glorify his name, then man’s chief purpose in the world must be to glorify his name. We follow God in glorifying God.
Turn with me to 1 Cor 10:31. This is a wonderful passage, one I’m sure that many of you are acquainted with. It reads, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
The context here is that Paul is talking about whether Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols or not. In this context, Paul states that eating this meat is a non-issue. What matters is the building up of the body. It’s a non-issue for Paul. What matters, Paul contends in verse 31, is the glory of God. In verse 31, Paul states that with whatever situation you find yourself in the motive for the glory of God should permeate everything that you do. This is true to the most trivial thing—from what you eat to what you drink—to deciding who you marry and which career you take on. Every decision is to be guided by a concern, a passion, a drive, a purpose for the glory of God. It’s all about him.
Having come through seminary, I’ve been confronted with a number of different approaches to ministry. Some good, most bad. One particular bad approach to ministry, known as the seeker-sensitive approach, attempts to make church into a program in which people’s felt needs are addressed. Comfortable seats, short services, nonoffensive language, even in some cases there is the remove of religious symbols. So, you might attend a church where there is not cross. It’s true. It’s true. As my children say, “I promise.” The problem with this approach is that it forsakes this verse. Rather than the glory of God, these approaches seek to make men comfortable. Church should be a place that ultimately pleases God, not man. In all that we do here and strive for, we serve God’s purposes, not our own. What is our vision statement? What is our purpose? To glorify God. It’s that simple.
Now we turn to our second point—pleasure. Purpose is not opposed to pleasure. Often we think about purpose as dry duty. Think of the committed but unromantic husband. His wife asks him, “Ah, honey, you got me flowers. You’re so sweet. What lead you to do this for me?” “It’s my duty, baby.” How unromantic, right? Just dry duty. I do not want you to understand exaltation this way. To exalt God is more than purpose. It’s not less than purpose, but it is more than purpose.
God’s Pleasure in His Purpose
To explore this point of purpose plus pleasure, we will first explore God’s pleasure in his purpose. God delights in himself being known. God takes pleasure in his own purposes. What an idea. Turn with me to Eph 1:5. We will read through verse 6. The passage reads,
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
I will not be diving into predestination this morning. I will touch upon it in the next From Pulpit and Paper. This morning I won’t discuss it, though. Instead, I will focus upon, from this passage, God’s pleasure in his purpose.
First, I want you to see that God’s predestining is “to the praise of his glorious grace.” God predestines persons so that, for the purpose, with the result that they praise God. The focus here is on the praise of God’s attributes but the idea that he is to be praised is clear here. God’s predestining of Christians is with the intended result that they praise God. God predestines so that people recognize God’s glory. Here you have God working in Christians God’s purpose—the praise of his name. God purposes predestination so that Christians recognize God’s glory. That covers purpose. God predestines so that Christians praise God. God fulfills his purpose—the exaltation of his glory—in Christians.
Second, I want you to see what attitude God has in predestining people to praise God. It’s mentioned with the phrase “according to the purpose of his will.” God’s will is a reflection of what God wants. God has desires. He is an emotive being. God is not completely unlike us. There is similarity, although infinitely small, between us and God. God has desires. He has a will. He is pleased and takes pleasure in things. What it is
that God delights in ultimately is his own self. God delights to see God delighted in. This word “purpose” can also be translated pleasure. Several translations translate this verse as, “according to the good pleasure of his will.” The idea here is that God delights in his own glorification. God gladly predestines Christians to glory him. God takes pleasure in God’s purpose being accomplished in Christians. Pleasure and purpose.
Man’s Pleasure in God’s Purpose
As is true with God, so is also true with mankind. Just as in God purpose and pleasure are intimately related, so also in us purpose and pleasure are intimately related. God’s glory is our highest good. To exalt God is not to neglect oneself. On the contrary, to exalt God is the most advantageous thing you can do for yourself. Nothing in this world will bring you more pleasure than delighting in God’s purpose in the world.
Turn with me to 1 Chron 16:28–34. In this passage, we will see man’s purpose—glorifying God—being the object of man’s pleasure. The passage reads,
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the forest sing for
joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
The context here is the transferal of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. In our passage, David praises God for the ark’s arrival in Jerusalem. In this passage, the whole point is that mankind, specifically the Israelites, should rejoice in the glory of God. Verses 28, “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” Verse 29, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” Verse 31, “Let the nations say ‘The LORD reigns.’” Verse 34, “Give
thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” We are to praise God, worship, God, ascribe him glory. Look at verse 31. How are we to do this? With both gladness and rejoicing. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice.” What do we rejoice in? The fact that “The LORD reigns.” We delight in the fact that God is God. We find satisfaction, gladness, and joy in God’s glory.
To illustrate what this looks like, this all-satisfying joy, let me provide to you a story from one of my favorite theologians—Jonathan Edwards. Edwards has been and continues to be one of the greatest influencers of our form of evangelicalism. He was a 18th- century pastor-theologian, who, during his life, exercised immense influence over the First Great Awakening. He records in a book an account of his pleasure in the glory of God. He writes,
The first instance, that I remember, of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, was on reading those words, 1 Tim. 1:17. “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” As I read the words, there came into my soul a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never [had] any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought to myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; From about that time . . . an inward, sweet sense of these things, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated these subjects. My sense of divine things gradually
increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered; there seemed to be, a calm, sweet cast or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity, and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature. I often used to sit and view the moon for a long time; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the meantime singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer.
What a powerful story. Notice here that Edwards is not a blind mystic. His has a very experiential Christianity but this experiential Christianity is founded upon 1 Tim 1:17—that God is the immortal King. Robust, biblical Christianity is found in our pleasure in God’s purpose.
I’ve argued this morning that exaltation entails both purpose and pleasure. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God [purpose] and enjoy him forever [pleasure].” We have seen in Scripture that God exalts God and delights in his glorification. God takes pleasure in his purpose begin exalted. We, too, as individuals and as a corporate body, must find our pleasure in God’s purpose. Exaltation includes both.
I close this morning with an invitation. This invitation is to come exalt God—to find your pleasure in his purpose. In order to do this, you must first forsake your pleasure in your own purpose. In this life, we too often find our satisfaction, our value, our purpose, and pleasure in things that are not God—money, sex, popularity, Facebook likes, human relationships, etc. These things don’t satisfy. They will only leave you feeling empty and meaningless. We must turn from these things. Turn from your sinful ways. Turn from
building your own kingdom, your own purpose here in this world. Exchange this pleasure for an ultimate, soul-satisfying purpose. God is the greatest conceivable being. His purpose is the greatest conceivable purpose. This purpose is not to your neglect. Rather, this purpose can fill you with joy that can never be quenched. Come to God. Come to him for healing, forgiveness, meaning, joy, and salvation.