“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). Chances are that you have not used this word outside of a religious setting. Usually when we use the word we mean “honor” or “respect.” But it may be surprising to learn that when the Bible talks about God’s glory it has a much profounder nuance. This is the first in a series that wishes to re-examine biblical words and help connect them with a modern audience.
The Heaviness of Glory
The primary word for glory in Hebrew is kavod כָּבוֹד. It appears in Hebrew in miscellaneous forms close to 350 times. This word in its most literal meaning is heaviness or weightiness. It can refer to a person’s literal weight like when Eli fell back and broke his neck for he was old and heavy (kaved, 1 Samuel 4:18 ESV); that is, Eli was overweight. Or another instance of this literalness is when Moses raised his hands and they grew weary (literally “heavy,” Exodus 17:12 ESV).
Metaphorically the weight of an item or a figure describes a person’s wealth or reputation. Abram is described as being “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2 ESV) as is Jacob (Genesis 31:1 ESV). In both instances “rich” and “wealth” are from the same word in Hebrew for glory. Connected with this metaphor is the idea of one’s reputation. Joseph requests that his father be told of all his honor in Egypt (Genesis 45:13 ESV).
We still use this language when we congratulate someone: we highlight their honor, their achievements, and their new status. We relish in pride as parents when our children are blessed. When a veteran is honored, he is awarded badges: these badges are symbols that glorify, or honor, the veteran. If you walk into my study, I have an owl collection from different states and countries. In this instance my owl collection is my glory: it speaks about me and it gives significance to me. We would never dream of bringing shame on our family name. Instead we would rather bring honor and significance. What a glorious name we have in Jesus to bring glory to the Father!
The Shekinah Glory of the Lord
Several times in the Hebrew scriptures the Bible writers talk about God’s glory as something tangible and visible often in the form of light and fire. A word that becomes synonymous with God’s glory is the Hebrew word shekinah which means essentially “to dwell” or “to take up residence.” When Moses was instructed to build a tabernacle for Israel this is not a random tent, but the Lord gives a specific reason: “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell [shekinah] in their midst” (Exodus 25:8 ESV). At the end of Exodus upon the completion of the tent, Moses is not able to enter it because the cloud comes and “settles” on it (Exodus 40:35 ESV).
The images used to build this sanctuary are pictures of the Garden of Eden. In fact, this is the human ideal: that the Lord would come among his people and dwell personally with them in a tangible way. And this is the claim that John makes about Jesus: that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us: the claim John is making is that Jesus is the visible glory of the Lord become flesh (John 1:14 ESV), who is the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3 ESV). And the Bible ends with this future promise of the Bride coming down from heaven and that “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). It also goes on further to say that there was “no temple in the city” and that the “glory of God gives its light” (Revelation 21:22-23 ESV). What a beautiful picture!
To the Glory of the Lord
So what does this mean for me? As was quoted at the onset of this article, Paul stresses in the churches of Christ that “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). In this section, the apostle Paul is trying to remedy the divisions among the Corinthians: it does not matter if you eat or drink, what matters is the glory of the Lord. If their physical bodies were consecrated to the Lord, then actions done in the body are consequential: “glorify God in your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
It was Jesus after all that taught us this principle in his Sermon: “You are the light of the world … let your light [another way to talk about glory] shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). By seeing your glory and your actions done in the body, this ought to prompt non-believers to give glory to God. The apostle Peter makes a similar point when he reminds them of their new identity in Jesus. Because of our new identity, we must abstain from the passions of what is corruptible, keeping our conduct honorable so that “they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of [his] visitation” (1 Peter. 2:9-12).
So what would it look like to glorify God in your body in whatever you do? It would look like living a redeemed life. “Whatever you do” includes the sacred and the mundane, the important and the unimportant, the spiritual and the physical. Because the vast world lives blind to the light of his glory, we are to live our life to exemplify the light of his beauty. Lest that be oversimplified, Paul clarifies by adding “whether you eat or drink.” So the next time we do something, let us ask, “Is this something that will give glory to God?” or “Will God be glorified by doing this?”
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7 ESV)