Glory! Part 1

According to the only dictionary that matters, The Oxford English Dictionary, the word “glory” means, among other things, the following:

High renown or honor won by notable achievements;
• Magnificence or great beauty;
• A thing that is beautiful, impressive, or worthy of praise;
• The splendor or bliss of heaven.

Who would argue with the great Oxford English Dictionary? The Bible has a lot to say about “glory.” In the Old Testament, “glory” looks like this: כָּבֹוד, and sounds roughly like this: “kabowd.” This Hebrew word suggests heaviness and weight. In the New Testament the Greek word is δόξα, or “doxa,” and suggests an opinion, judgment, estimate, splendor, and brightness.

So generally speaking, “glory” is used to speak of great honor, praise, value, wonder, and splendor. Glory is the “excellence” of anything in display. For example, the Heavens declare the glory of God’s creative skill. The miracles of Christ displayed the glory of what He could do. Here’s what John thought about Jesus’ very first miracle:

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11 | NIV84)

To study each use of “glory” in the Bible would take forever; it’s used over 500 times! So we’ll look at a handful of examples of how the Bible uses this fascinating word.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | NIV84)

There’s another word in that verse that is almost as fascinating as “glory” and that’s the word “hope.” A quick peak back in the Oxford English Dictionary tell us that “hope” means:

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen;
• A person or thing that may help or save someone;
• Grounds for believing that something good may happen;
• A feeling of trust.

What is this “hope of glory?” Where does it come from? What does it involve? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul was trying to tell his friends in the Colossians church and how it impacts us, as 21st century Christians.

Distinctions

To say that Paul was a combative preacher could be an understatement. He had moments where he let his softer side show, but here in Colossians Paul is at war:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1 | NIV84)

He was “struggling,” meaning that Paul was fighting for his friends and for people who never met him. He was “doing battle” for believers all over. Paul understood spiritual warfare, perhaps better than most:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 | NIV84)

In this letter, Paul is doing battle against false teaching. He spent a lot of time fighting false teaching and false teachers, and here in Colossians the false teaching that had gripped the Colossian church was particularly sinister. It was a melding together of Christian, Jewish, and oriental beliefs; a version of Gnosticism that taught faith in Jesus wasn’t enough to produce salvation; that Jesus was a superior, created being – better than man but less than God. You’d wonder why Christians taught by Paul would be so quick to swallow this heresy. The problem was that in cultures and societies that were so pagan, some elements of Gnosticism were very attractive and familiar to Christians. For example, there was a emphasis on religious externals on observing religious traditions and practices. There was an emphasis on the supernatural; on angels and supernatural beings.

When you understand the background of this letter and what Paul was up against, it puts this whole paragraph into perspective:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 | NIV84)

Paul was not simply saying nice things about Jesus for no good reason, this is Paul doing battle against all the false teachers and false teaching that had infiltrated the church in Colosse. He was fighting lies with the truth.

And the great apostle had to remind the congregation at Colosse what the truth was; the truth that was verified by their own experiences. It’s curious how so many Christians seem to forget the fundamentals of their salvation the longer they are saved. That’s why we need to read the Bible over and over again, and we need to teach it and study it all the time. The truth, as precious and life changing as it may be, is easily forgotten or challenged by fancy-sounding false truths. One truth forgotten at Colosse was this one:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23 | NIV84)

The work of Christ in context

That’s a brilliant defense of the Gospel, but the reason for it is sad. There was a good chance a sizable chunk of the congregation had forgotten these most basic facts of Christ’s work on the Cross for repentant sinners. It’s completely objective – you were the object of Christ’s work on the Cross; He did certain things for you that you could never have done for yourself. There was no way you or any sinner could become a friend of God’s. You were, as all sinners are, enemies of God. But because of Christ’s physical body, that is, because He bore your punishment physically, you are able, through faith in Christ, to stand before God holy and without blemish and free from accusation. That’s confidence! But your confidence is rooted in Christ’s objective work for you. In another place, Paul put it this way:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2a | NIV84)

Being able to stand in God’s grace, confident that He sees you free from your sins and the guilt of those sins, is possible only through the faith you have placed in Jesus Christ’s work for you on the Cross. You, and all sinners who by faith have trusted in Him, were why the Lord suffered and died on the Cross.

A great many people, like these Gnostics of Paul’s day and many religious people today, think that man has to do something in order to curry God’s favor. But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t help enough people to tip the scales in your favor. You can’t pray enough, you can’t give enough money, you can’t live good enough to get God to even notice you, let alone save you. God, on the other hand, has done everything to get you to notice Him.

With verse 24, there is a change:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24 | NIV84)

Does that sound right to you? It sounds like Paul is saying that he is rejoicing because of his suffering – he was in prison for preaching the Gospel when he wrote this letter – because he was doing something that was lacking in what Christ did. Is that possible? Christ didn’t do enough so Paul had to step in and do more? Of course that would contradict everything Paul believed and taught in Colossians. The sufferings of Paul were not redemptive – his suffering produced no salvation for anybody, not even himself. But there are different kinds of suffering. Specifically, there is ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering was mediatorial; He was our mediator and He suffered for us. In fact, Jesus suffered more than any human being ever did, for He suffered as the Son of Man and as the Son of God. As a man, He suffered all things every human has to suffer. Galatians 6:5 tells us something very interesting:

for each one should carry his own load. (Galatians 6:5 | NIV84)

And sometimes that load is heavy. Sometimes it’s painful. That’s life though, isn’t it? There are things we go through in life nobody can help us with. Terrible things that we endure alone. Some pain cant be taken away by your Mother or by alcohol and drugs. Jesus endured all those things as each of us does.

But then He also suffered as the Son of God; He experienced suffering to a degree you never can. He is God yet He became a man to experience all the suffering you do with the knowledge He didn’t have to. No mere mortal has ever endured anything even close to what Jesus did for you.

He also suffered as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death clears the books. That kind of suffering is unique to Jesus. His sacrificial death wipes the slate the clean.

None of that is what Paul was talking about. Paul was talking about something called ministerial suffering. This is the kind of suffering all believers may share in. If you’re going to live right and if you’re going to take your faith seriously, eventually you will have to take an unpopular stand that may result in your suffering on account of your faith. One scholar put it this way:

The world will damn the man of God with faint praise, and they will praise him with faint damns.

Paul, for his part, wrote it another way to the Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (Romans 8:35-36a | NIV84)

So, to this Colossian church that had forgotten the essentials of theology; who had begun to embrace this terrible false teaching, Paul was reminding them both of Christ’s unique greatness but also of the work he was doing and the suffering he was going through for Christians everywhere.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:25-26 | NIV84)

The “mystery” Paul was referring to was of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus. The one the Gnostics said was not God but merely a better man, was in fact God Himself – as Paul has been teaching and preaching everywhere:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10 | NIV84)

To this “mystery” Paul was absolutely committed. Jesus Christ: man and God at the same time. The final authority in the universe is Jesus Christ. And that gets us to the “hope of glory,” because that concerns us.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | NIV84)

Did you know that knowing Jesus Christ as the Son of God is “glorious” and “rich?” That’s what Paul is saying here. We spend a lifetime chasing riches and glory, yet when we possess the knowledge of who Jesus is, we possess the wealth of eternity! And though some of us may be a predicament like Paul was in – suffering on account of our faith – and though we don’t feel real rich, we possess something else: “the hope of glory.” There’s no glory in serving the Lord right now, but that will come later. The “hope of glory” is the promise of a future filled with life and light and vindication. But, you must ensure that you have got your faith built on the firm foundation of proper theology.

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