Some of you may be familiar with the movie Chariots of Fire. The movie follows four individuals from Great Britain who train to compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The movie was really made as a tribute to Eric Liddell, one of the runners who was originally from Scotland. Liddell was always fast, and, in fact, from the time he began competing, only lost one race on Scottish soil despite his very irregular running style – head back and arms flailing in front of him (which is captured well in the movie). Liddell may be best known for taking a stand from competing on a Sunday even though it cost him a chance at a gold medal and the respect of many people in Great Britain who had placed their hopes on him. (It should be noted that Liddell was given another option to race, and although he was not favored by any means, he did win a gold medal in the 400m race.)
Eric was born in China to parents who served as missionaries. Eventually both he and his older brother returned to China to serve as missionaries – Eric as a teacher (primarily), and his brother as a doctor. After he married, Eric, his wife, and two daughters lived in China, although usually apart due to escalating fears of war with Japan. Eventually, Eric sent his wife and children (including a third daughter he never met) to Canada for their safety while he stayed behind. Eventually, he, along with all of the Brits, Americans, and many others were placed in an internment camp for two years. Liddell died from a brain tumor about six months before those who were interned were set free.
Of course, this story is abbreviated, but it is entirely true. But a problem exists for most who hear this, and many other stories which are similar. You hear that Eric Liddell was a missionary in China and you place him on a pedestal. But Eric Liddell, and others like him do not deserve to be placed on a pedestal for serving in a certain place. They deserve honor because they served God in all aspects of their lives.
See, Eric Liddell lived by the notion of 1 Samuel 2.30, in which God says, in part, “He who honors me, I will honor.” Liddell believed that to his core. In fact, once while he was in Scotland, his sister, Jenny, encouraged him to go to China, and Eric responded that while that was important, God made him fast. He is quoted as saying, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
The point here is that whatever we do can be for God’s glory, even running races. In fact, it was because God made Liddell fast that he had a chance to minister to so many. He was a shy boy who did not like to speak around others, but when he began to win races, he was given the opportunity to speak before thousands. But while people came to hear about his running, Eric Liddell told them about God. Eric Liddell did not run for himself, He ran for God. Eric Liddell did not live for himself, he lived for God. And that was true as a schoolboy, and it was true when he organized and served others in an internment camp until days before he died. His life was an expression of soli deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone.
For this last sola in our series, I want to do something a little different. I want to share why soli deo Gloria was an important concept to recover, read some Scriptures that pertain to God and to glory, and then briefly comment on Matthew 5.13-16. Before I begin that, let us remind ourselves of what the Reformation was.
As we begin to discuss the idea of The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. Again, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.
Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
- RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
- FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
- ATION – an act of process
The Importance of Soli Deo Gloria
It is important to remember that when Martin Luther nailed the theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, he was a Catholic priest and an Augustinian monk. The Catholic Church promoted the idea that to be truly holy one had to be separate from the world. Actually, this idea goes back to 400 AD or so when certain men would go into the desert, build a platform some 35 feet in the air and live on top of the platform for months, and even years at a time using ropes for people to give them food and water. But does that make someone holy? I would say it would make one sunburned, but not holy.
The Reformation brought about the idea that God should be sovereign over all areas of life. Of course, this includes when we are worshipping God and studying the Bible. But it also includes when we are doing the dishes, folding the laundry, plowing the fields, coaching a team, etc. In fact, the idea of soli deo Gloria is captured perfectly in the first question of the Western Shorter Confession of Faith (Catechism), which asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The response: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Essentially, the idea is that if Jesus is Lord, then He is Lord. Regarding a separation of parts of our lives, some have said, “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” But the reality is that Jesus is Lord. Period. Exclamation point. While some may not agree, the Bible is clear that this is true. Jesus is Lord whether we want Him to be or not. As such, all that we do should be for Him and for His glory.
But most people, at some level, continue to separate the idea of the sacred and the secular. Certain jobs are sacred, but not all. Certain places are sacred, but not all. But those ideas are not found in the Bible. Moses thought he was just standing on the side of the mountain, but God commanded Moses to remove his sandals because the ground was holy. According to Matthew 5.13, a Christian is the salt of the earth. And Matthew 5.14 says a follower of Christ is the light of the world. We are salt. We are light. Not just at certain times and at certain places, but wherever we are. Every activity we do can, and should, be sanctified to God and for His glory.
Scripture Demands We Give God Glory
Let me read a few references from the New Testament that mention about the glory of God. I begin with the verse that was central to recovering the idea of soli deo Gloria. (All verses are from the English Standard Version).
Each individual should give God glory. 1 Corinthians 10.31
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
The church should give God glory. Ephesians 3.21
“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Our service should give God glory. 1 Peter 4.10
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s grace.”
Our knowledge should give God glory. 2 Peter 3.18
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
Our eternity will be about giving God glory. Revelation 7.12
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”
Ultimately, we give God glory because of who He is. Romans 11.36
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”
Being a Source for God’s Glory
Returning to Matthew 5, take a moment to read the verses which stand at the heart of our church’s vision statement. Read Matthew 5.13-16.
I mentioned a few moments ago that Jesus calls His followers both the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As He makes these statements, He does not qualify either with where we are or by what we are doing. The implications are that wherever we are and whatever we do should reflect our being salt and light. If we are on the job we are to be salt and light. If we are at home we are to be salt and light. If we are at a game, we are to be salt and light. If we are hanging out with friends we are to be salt and light. And, of course, if we are at church, or doing mission work, or something similar, we are to be salt and light. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we are to be salt and light.
Why? Well, Jesus leaves no ambiguity. Notice Matthew 5.16 includes the words, “so that.” We are to be salty and let our light shine SO THAT other people may see what we are doing as we go about our business and give glory to God. In other words, as we give glory to God simply by living our lives the way He wants us to live, the Father in heaven will receive glory. But if we separate our lives and maintain an attitude that it is ok to be one person in one place or with a certain kind of people, and be someone else in a different setting then God receives no glory. Why? Because both sides are too busy calling us a hypocrite to be able to focus any attention on God.
Of course, we will not be perfect in our desire to give God glory. And we are all hypocrites to some degree. I know I am. All pastors are at some level. It is impossible for me to live a life that perfectly does all that I stand here and teach. But my goal is not to try harder; rather, it is to become more like Jesus. And Jesus was perfect in doing all that He did for the God’s glory, and hopefully, as I continue to learn and grow in my faith, I pray I am doing a better job of glorifying God now than I did in the past. Because the promise of Jesus, according to Matthew 5.16, is that if I concern myself with glorifying God, then others will give Him glory as well!
As I begin to conclude this message, let me return to Eric Liddell. I mentioned earlier that we tend to consider certain individuals like Liddell and other missionaries, or even pastors to be greater Christians because of their vocation. But, again, that mindset is to separate the secular and the sacred. The truth is that a nurse, a teacher, a firefighter, a farmer, or any other type of job can be just as instrumental in helping others to glorify God as can a pastor or missionary or the like. Why? Because Jesus said so. Again, Liddell commented that He sensed God’s pleasure while running, and because Liddell could run fast, he was given opportunities to speak to people he would not have had the chance to otherwise. But it was more than Liddell’s running, it was his character and desire to glorify God that made the ultimate difference. As Liddell once said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”
And that is why soli deo Gloria is important. Because we do not want to repel others from Christ. If we live our lives for Him, and for His glory, then we are truly fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, regardless of what we may do or where we may go.
JOURNEY: J – Jesus
Once again, our JOURNEY letter this week is J for Jesus. Jesus set the perfect example of what soli deo Gloria truly means. On our JOURNEY, let us follow His example and do the same.
NEXT STEP(S): Live: How has God crafted you? Eric Liddell glorified God by serving as a missionary, but also through his running (racing and rugby, in particular). He once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.” You may not be as fast as Eric Liddell, but God gave you certain abilities – talents and gifts – that can be used to serve God and bring Him glory. Don’t just take time to give God glory by what you do, begin to give Him glory in all things so that He is glorified by who you are!