How do you reform a church? Like Luther you let the Word of God do its work.
However, Reformed churches have understood the Word of God to be saying certain things. From the time of the Reformation confessions and catechisms have been written to summarise the faith for believers. In the continental Reformed churches the three forms of unity have been central – Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort.
In the British churches the Westminster Standards are central. The Westminster Confession and the Shorter and Longer Catechisms sum up the Christian faith in a Biblically faithful way that has yet to be surpassed. As such, I had the idea of using the evening service at Hall Gate to preach on the Shorter Catechism. Here’s the first sermon. I’m not sure how successful it is as I’m an expository preacher usually but I hope you find it edifying:
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever
I’m an intense walker. Whenever I’m out and about I’m totally focussed upon where I need to go. My eyes are fixed on the pavement in front of me and I’m often deep in thought. I’m in my own little world. This was made clear to me on the occasion when one of my best friends, who I’d lived with through university and afterwards, had to walk right up to me before I recognised him.
When we walk around like this we miss so much. Have you ever walked around your own town and taken the time to look up? I did this in Sheffield when waiting for my wife and it was a revelation. I discovered some wonderful architecture. I saw some friezes that were carved on the exterior of the town hall. I even found a blue plaque commemorating the foundation of Sheffield United in 1889. I’d lived in Sheffield for nearly a decade and watched many games at Bramall Lane in that time but I never knew that their foundation was finalised in the town centre. All this came about simply by lifting my eyes from the pavement.
Our lives are often lived in a similar way to how I walk about town. We’re so focussed upon ourselves, our own needs and our own desires that we fail to lift up our eyes. We are often more concerned about the trivial things of life than those things which are most important. And as Christians I think we fall into this trap far too easily. We’re too easily distracted from the life that we have been called to live that we find ourselves with our eyes facing the pavement rather than lifted up to see the glory of our God and living in the light of that glory.
We need a radical redefining of the way we see ourselves and our lives. And the first and best step to this change is to see God for who he truly is.
What do we know of God? The most fundamental thing that we must acknowledge is that God is our creator: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen 1:1. This verse teaches us that before anything else there was God and it was he who created all things. We owe our existence to the creative power of God. The Christian acknowledges that we are not an accident of biology but God has created everything we see around us. This knowledge should instill in us a great humility. We are not at the centre of the universe because something greater than us exists. We should then seek to please our creator and live according to his purposes, not our own selfish desires.
Paul sums up this thinking brilliantly in Romans 11:36 when he says: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.” In this passage see that the whole of life is focussed upon God. All things are from him. All things are through him. All things are for him or to him. Because of this Paul ascribes glory to God.
The term glory is an unfamiliar term in these bland days when monarchs have lost their power and the nation state is breaking down. We are no longer amazed at the glory of our Kings and the glory of our nation. The only time that glory is used with any regularity nowadays is on the terraces of a football match when fans sing “Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur” as their team carries on its quest for victory and silverware.
But in the context of God the word glory is one of the most important words we can know. Throughout the Bible God talks of his glory. Whenever we are given a glimpse of God we are blinded by the light of his glory. Ezekiel and Isaiah’s visions of the throne room of God talk of a scene that is too great for our eyes to take in. Much more full of light and pomp than anything we humans can come up with.
Ezekiel says that “Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all round. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” Ezekiel 1:28. His language can only touch on what God’s glory looks like. Isaiah was given a vision of heavenly creatures who call out ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ Isaiah 6:3
These glimpses of heaven are there to inform us of God’s nature and character. They show us how glorious our God is.
In Isaiah 48 we also see that God takes his glory very seriously. He says that he will not give his glory to another (Isaiah 48:11). He jeolously guards his glory because it is an expression of his holy character.
If God is so concerned to show his glory, and if we are his creatures then it follows that we, too, must put God’s glory at the forefront of our concerns. We must lift our eyes from the pavements of our own selfishness and towards the skies of God’s glory.
Our forefathers in the faith summed this up wonderfully well in the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God. But they didn’t leave it there because they knew that if we live our lives in a God-centred way then we are living according to how we were created and therefore as close as possible in this life to that which brings us most good. And so they added the second part “and enjoy him forever.”
Our lives are like Airfix models. We can either follow the instructions and come out with a model of the Victory that will bring pleasure to us for years to come, or we can chuck the instructions in the bin, try and do things according to our own plan and gain no lasting pleasure from the sad state of affairs that comes out at the other end.
How then, can we glorify God so that we may enjoy him forever?
1. The first thing we can do is to see God’s glory for ourselves. Do you acknowledge that God is glorious? Do you truly believe him to be an awesome God? Are you bowled over daily by his amazing goodness and mercy? The first step to glorifying God in your lives is to recognise that he is worthy of it. Too often we cast God in our own image. Lift your eyes and see God for who he truly is.
2. The second thing we can do is to worship him. Is the first thing you think about each day the worship of God? Do you praise him in your prayers or do you reel off a shopping list?How do you approach the worship of God? Is joining together with other believers a chore or do you come expectantly to meet with your God? When we see worship as a way of glorifying God and not as a way to make us feel good then we’re liberated to truly experience the greatness of God. Lift up your eyes in worship.
3. Thirdly, we can love him. We are commanded to love God with all our being. We must place that love before all things in our lives. Do we nurture that love? Do we treasure God above all things? We will glorify God when he receives the best of our affections. Lift up your eyes and love God more than anything else in your life.
4. Fourth, we can live our lives in the way he would have us live. Do you live your lives according to God’s word or to the world? Do you approach everything asking how corresponds with his law? In your work are you thinking how you can bring glory to God or are you thinking of how you can increase your pay packet? When you see others in need do you love them or seek to avoid the risk? Are you wanting your own way in the church or God’s way? Lift up your eyes and live a God-centred life.
Just as lifting my eyes in Sheffield made me experience great surprises so lifting our eyes to see God can lead to a new sense of joy and wonderment in life. Let us glorify God and enjoy him forever.