If you are a Christian, you would have heard this rather famous verse. It is so all-encompassing that it is very fitting to be placed at the footnote of our notebook pages, on the pages of our wall calendar, framed beautifully on our wall, and on bumper stickers. On one hand, it gives us a simple and easy-to-remember guideline on how we live our day-to-day life as Christians: Do all to the glory of God. On the other hand, it sounds so … nice and so… Christianly correct (is there such term?). Even in our prayers, we utter frequently, “May it be done unto your glory!” or something along that line.
As Christians, of course, we want God glorified, and we want to bring glory to God. However (you may have sensed the ‘however’ coming, have you?), do we really know what it means? Do we really understand what we are talking about? Because, to be honest, sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes, I say that in my prayer because it is the right thing to say. Sometimes, I say that to make things more ‘complete.’ If it is not for God’s glory, it lacks something. Sometimes, and I think this is the worst, I use that phrase in order to make the thing that I do feel like glorifying God. I use that phrase as a blanket statement to ‘cover’ things that I do, to make me feel that I am glorifying God in what I do. For example, when we are about to study or prepare for exam, we would pray that God will bless the preparation and that our exam preparation will glorify God. But do we really know what it means? Sometimes, if we are honest, we pray that prayer simply to give ourselves a ‘God-glorifying’ stamp onto our study to convince ourselves that we glorify God regardless whether or not it in fact glorifies God.
Now, I am not saying we should not pray that prayer. I do encourage us to pray that prayer because we must do all things to the glory of God and we must pray for that to happen. However, when we know what it really means, then our prayer will be more meaningful and our actions will be more intentional, and therefore, we may in fact bring God glory in things that we do.
Apostle Paul penned that verse in his first letter to the Corinthians not in vacuum. Rather, he wrote that as a conclusion to his long answer to one of their questions. The question was whether or not, as Christians, they are allowed to eat food sacrificed to idols. Their rationale was that they are already free in Christ, idols are nothing, and Jesus declared all food to be clean, therefore they can freely eat any food, even those that has been sacrificed to the Greek idols.
Paul’s response was, “Not so fast, my friends!”
In chapter 8, he said that if by eating those food they stumble their weaker Christian brothers, they should not eat that food. If the gobbling does not build up the whole body of Christ, or if it in fact tears down the local body of believers, then they should refrain from eating. Then in chapter 9, he also said that if any action we do would ‘put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ,’ then we should refrain from doing them. If it creates doubt in the minds of unbelievers or causes the gospel to be implausible in the eyes of the unbelievers, then they should be free to choose not to do it, for the sake of the gospel. In chapter 10, Paul continued by saying that if any activity that we do is leading towards temptation or causing us to be complacent, then we should not engage in that activity. If by doing it we are standing far too close to the edge of the cliff that we are tempting ourselves or testing God, then we should run away from it.
So, that verse is indeed all-encompassing. However, we must understand it in the context of the Corinthians’ question. So, in Paul’s mind, at least in this context, doing all to the glory of God would mean that we must go through these filters:
- Does it build up and strengthen believers? Is it something that the local body of Christ will heartily endorse? or does it stumble or weaken the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Does it promote the gospel? Does it help the unbelievers to understand how the gospel is to be lived out? Does it help people to know who Jesus is and what the gospel means to our lives? or does it cause them to doubt the plausibility or the credibility of the gospel?
- Does it help us stand firm in our faith in Christ? Does it help Christ be formed fully in us? or does it make us less careful and more complacent? Are we playing with fire or treading on the boundaries of our Christian ethics?
The word ‘glory’ literally means ‘weightiness’ or ‘heaviness’ or ‘worthiness.’ So doing all to the glory of God means that our action must display the ‘heaviness’ or the ‘weightiness’ or the ‘worthiness’ of God. We must understand the implication of our action to other people around us, especially how God or Jesus or Christianity would be perceived or seen by others as a result of our actions. Our action must help unbelievers to see that God is worthy of our total devotion, and that Jesus is worthy of our worship. It must help believers to see that God is worthy of our total trust and obedience. It also must show God that we love him much much more than other pleasures of this world. So, the next time we use or pray that verse, I hope we really think through whether or not what we do actually brings God glory.