Soli Deo Gloria

Ephesians 3:20-21

Audio Version

Johann Sebastian Bach was a famous composer of music. He lived from 1685-1750. He was a devout Christian, and whenever he wrote something, he would always put these initials at the bottom end of the manuscript: S.D.G. Those initials stand for “Soli Deo Gloria.” That is a Latin phrase that means “glory to God alone.” That is the title of this sermon, and it is the point of our passage here. The main point is summed up in the first part of verse 20, “to Him be glory.”

By way of leading up to this final climax, we need to see the ramp, as it were, by which Paul gets there. First of all, we need to remember that Paul is praying. Verse 14 tells us that; “I bow my knees,” Paul says. Secondly, Paul tells us that Christ is dwelling in our hearts through faith. That involves the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, the love of God grounds and roots our faith. Fourthly, the love of Christ surpasses knowledge. Fifthly, Paul prays that we would be filled with all the fullness of God. Now, as Paul is praying these things, he is leading us up a ladder, rung by rung. He comes to the top of the ladder, and sees infinity beyond the ladder. There is so much more out there that he cannot fathom. He comes to the end of his knowledge, and must simply throw himself on the mercy of God. But he has one more thing to say, and he seems to want to express something of God’s infinity in so doing.

First of all, Paul expresses God’s ability. This is significant, since most people in the world do not believe in an able God. Instead, they believe in many, many idols that have no ability to do anything. That is why we heard from Isaiah 41 in the call to worship: Isaiah mocks the idols, commanding them to do anything, whether good or bad. Of course they cannot. Money cannot save you from sin and death. Relationships cannot save you from sin and death. You cannot save yourself from sin and death. So, why trust in things that cannot do anything? We all take great care to preserve our idols, polishing them up when they get tarnished, feeding them when they are hungry, preserving them from destruction when they are endangered, and putting words in their mouths, since they are silent. Have you noticed the irony yet? You are the one giving life to the idol! You have to do everything for it! Some idol! But God in Christ can save you not only from sin and death, but also save you for the new heavens and the new earth, and give you a place in that new world order.

How good is the new world order, you might ask? Paul has thought of that. He says that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Paul actually invents a new word here. Paul is the only one in the history of the Greek language to use this term. It really means “infinitely more.” God is able to do not just a little more, not just a lot more, not just a whole lot more, but infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. You ask, how much more? Infinitely more! Paul has already told us quite a bit of what God has done for us. Paul tells us that we have redemption through Christ; we have regeneration by God making us alive together with Christ; we have been saved by grace through faith; and even that faith is a gift from God; we have been informed about the great mystery of the Gospel that involves Jews and Gentiles coming together in one body, the church; we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ; we have been reconciled to one another by God’s grace. All too often, we have a hard time even understanding all of that, let alone the “infinitely more” that Paul has in mind.

Practically speaking, we often have trouble in our prayer lives. James Boice makes this point very well: are we not afraid to ask for things? We know that we can pray for spiritual maturity, and for people in our family to come to Christ, and for God to provide for our needs. We know that we can ask God for those things, since we already know that they are God’s will. However, what about those things that you are afraid to ask God? Are you afraid to ask God for opportunities to share the Gospel, since that might involve such scary things as witnessing, and summarizing the Gospel? Are you afraid to pray for patience, since you know that the only way to develop patience is to be put into situations where patience is required? What else are you afraid to pray about? Now, there are things which we should not be praying about. We should not be praying that those things which tempt us to idolatry should get a greater hold on our lives. For instance, we should not be praying for more money if money is something which we are worshiping. But let’s suppose you want to pray for a good thing. You have checked your own motives, and you think that the thing you want to pray for would be to the glory of God alone. Don’t hold back in prayer! God is not stingy, and He encourages you to pray for those things. He will always surpass your prayers and expectations. Suppose, however, that God doesn’t answer your prayer in the way you wanted. Suppose His answer was “no.” Now what? Well, God is still going to give you more than you asked or imagined. The reason He said “no” might be because He wants you to have something better. Wait patiently for His answer. Be encouraged, not discouraged. If you asked for something that you know is pleasing to God, and God said no, then just wait. He will do exceedingly abundantly more than you ask or imagine.

There is just one problem here. How do I know that the glory of God will benefit me? The short answer is that God’s glory includes your salvation, the resurrection body, and the new heavens and the new earth. But a further answer to that question involves this question: are you living for the glory of God, or for the glory of you? The first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism is this: what is the chief end of man? That is (to paraphrase), what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? The answer is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Now, the glorifying of God happens first in this life, although it certainly continues into eternity. However, the enjoying of God starts in this life, but only really comes into its own in the next life. But don’t miss the point of that answer: to glorify God is our highest goal and meaning in life. Glory be to God alone. If you are living for yourself, and for what you can get out of life, and living selfishly, making every decision in reference to how it will benefit you, then you are in trouble. You are living in such a way that you will never find fulfillment. God does not honor people who do not live for God’s glory, but live instead for themselves. You will never be happy if you live for your own glory. God sets it up so that that path is inherently miserable. The richest people in the world cannot be happy if they trust to their wealth. Suicide is very common among the wealthiest people.

However, our very nature is that of glory-thieves. We do want glory for ourselves. It was the sin of Adam and Eve that they wanted to steal glory away from God and keep it for themselves. In other words, in and of ourselves, we cannot live for God’s glory. What we need is the saving grace of Jesus Christ to enter our hearts. That is why Paul says here “according to his power that is at work within us.” We cannot live for God’s glory unless God gives us new life, the Holy Spirit, Christ’s righteousness, the power of God to change. Has God done this for you? He invites you to come and receive His grace. When that happens, you will be forever changed from a glory-thief into a work of God’s art.

Another point of application comes from noticing this phrase “in the church.” God’s glory is manifested in the church. This has been the theme of the first three chapters of Ephesians. Glory be to God alone in the church. Notice that Paul immediately goes on to mention the Husband of the church, Jesus Christ. We can never consider the church or Jesus Christ without considering the other, since they constitute the heavenly marriage. God’s glory is ultimately manifested in the union of Christ and His church. So, the application is this: are you seeking the glory of God in the church? Do you seek to edify your fellow believers and build them up and encourage them in the faith? Do you pray for one another? This is so crucial to our spiritual development. Not only does our faith mature when we pray for one another. But also God uses our prayers to help the person for whom we are praying. God uses us as His instruments to bring spiritual maturity and spiritual growth to the church. Our church may not have unlimited potential for expanding in numbers. We do have some potential, which we should explore to the very best of our abilities and gifts. But there is another growth that is equally important, and that is our spiritual growth. God is glorified, since it is by the means of God’s grace that we grow. So, in making use of the means of grace, you bring glory to God. Just make sure that you don’t use the means of grace for selfish, self-glorifying reasons. Use the means of grace, knowing and intending that your spiritual growth brings glory to God.

So, whatever you do, no matter how big or small, do it for the glory of God. Obviously, you cannot sin for the glory of God. But any good act should be done for the glory of God. That is our purpose in life. Trust in Christ Jesus, for that brings the most glory to God, the salvation of His people. And God will do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine. In fact, it is the new heavens and the new earth that He will do for you.