The real spiritual question of our day is not whether God exists or not. The real question is whose glory are you living for- your own glory or something greater. There are Christians today who believe in God but are living for their own glory and so belief in God makes little difference in their lives. Christians believe in something more- but are called to act on that belief. We are called to know God and to be transformed into His likeness- into His glory. The more we live for God’s glory the more we become like Jesus. The more we live for our own glory- the more we become shriveled-up, selfish, and tight because it is all about us.
I. EARTHLY GLORY FADES- Paul describes the glory here like “jars of clay.” Clay jars break. No matter how hot they have been fired, when you throw them on the ground they break. Paul’s point is that our bodies do not last. We spend so much attention on our bodies- which do not last and so little attention on our souls which do last. The treasure we hold is the eternal gospel and our eternal souls- but they are wrapped in a jar of clay. How important is our health. But Paul is saying our eternal souls are even more important.
Political glory doesn’t last. I would ask how many could name the first five governors of South Carolina after independence from Britain. Not many can name one. There is so much emphasis on sports and record books for this world’s glory. But who knows how many major bowls Clemson or Carolina have won? People spend so much time focusing on cars and houses but everyone knows when we think about it- that 100 years from now our cars will be rust, and 200 years from now- most of our houses will not be lived in. Some talk about the glory of war and history. There are too many conflicts for us to remember- even in our recent history. Do you know how many times American soldiers have invaded Haiti or Nicaragua or Panama? Do we really want to live just for the glory of the second- so that we work really hard for what will be forgotten soon? Or do we want to live for more? God calls us to not live for faded glory- but for what will last. Evil’s glory fades. Just as evil or giving into temptation may be enjoyed for a moment- it always comes back to bite you. All the temptations to immorality and greed give the illusion that they will bring pleasure. But unbridled feeling brings emptiness and loneliness. The world’s glory is like a sandcastle on the beach. It may even be a tall and fancy sandcastle, but every sandcastle will be washed or blown away.
In our music we hear the voices of people who realize the truth that this world’s glory fades. Perhaps one of the most depressing songs I have heard is called “Dust in the Wind” It was written by the lead singer of Kansas- the refrain said, “All we are is dust in the wind.” The writer of this song actually converted to Christianity after seeing how little worth the world’s glory offers.
Today Nine Inch Nails has a song called “Terrible Lies” in which he struggles holding onto a faith that he admittedly doesn’t understand. He says, “Hey God can this world be as sad as it seems?” If we trust only here- and hope only here- we are lost souls.
II. HEAVENLY GLORY LASTS- There is a glory that will last. Believers know this- but the problem is that we often live for the moment- as if it is all about the here and now. John Piper calls us “Christian Hedonists.” That is Christians who are living for the pleasure of this world alone.
Our hope should not be in this life alone. But the good news is that there is hope beyond this life. There is a heavenly glory that doesn’t fade. We do not need to focus on the clay jars- but on the treasure inside of them.
A. WE BELONG- Paul uses the words- “we, us, and our” 18 times in first 12 verses of chapter 4. We have such a hope- We have this treasure in jars of clay; We are part of a greater cause- and part of it together. We are not single individuals sent into the wilderness of life by ourselves. We are a band of brothers and sisters- a troop- a pack- challenged to work, play, grow and serve together. Rick Warren says the Bible indicates that a believer without a church is like a sheep without a flock, an organ without a body, a child without a family. We are meant to be together as a part of an eternal family. When someone is baptized and joins a church- they immediately become part of a family that worships God with the angels and saints in heaven- those around the world now- and also those who come after us. We belong together for eternal glory.
B. WE ARE FREE TO LET GO OF THE PRESENT- If our glory is here, we are consumed with things going right here. But if we know the real glory lies with God, then we can hold onto this world less tightly. This is not our only moment- with no opportunity to be blessed anywhere else. We travel light. This world is not our home.
C. WE ARE FREE TO KNOW WHAT IS MEANINGFUL AND LAST- But the end of the story is that there are things that last- People last- souls last. The Word of God- LOVE lasts. Give yourselves then to God who calls us to love Him and to love our neighbor. In another section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of meaning in work. He says, (1 Cor. 15:58)- “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Your work, your efforts are meaningful as they are done to God’s glory- and they are meaningless as they are done to fading glory.
J.S. Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.” He headed his compositions: “J.J.” “Jesus Juva” which means “Jesus help me.” He ended them “S.D.G.” “Soli Dei gratia” which means “To God alone the praise.”
III. DECLARING GOD’S GLORY IS OUR MISSION- Paul says in 3;12- “Since we have this hope we are very bold.” We do not keep this hope to ourselves. We are not ashamed of the gospel- our treasure. The theme for Lent that starts Wednesday is “Declare God’s Glory Be a Missionary. The Missions Committee added- “with or without leaving home.” Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves- but Christ.” We have something to say. You have something to say. It is an eternal word- that the world desperately needs to hear. It is that there is hope. Paul says since we have this hope- hope of meaning- hope of love- hope of grace- hope of eternity- we are bold in declaring His glory.
When I was in scouts at Camp and also youth at lock ins we had these scavenger hunts- where we were divided up into different groups and told to follow the clues to the treasure. If one person in our group figured out the clue- they didn’t keep it to themselves- but told the whole group. Paul is saying- you have discovered the way- only the stakes and treasure are higher- it is the way to eternal life. There has been a movie that has been remade about four times called “The Poseidon Adventure” about people who are in a boat that turns upside down- and they are trapped with limited time trying to find a way out. What is so appealing about that is that it is an illusion to life- we have limited time- and we are trying to find the way to life. But when we find the way- when we see someone who has made it to the other side and comes back to tell us how we can make it- then we need to listen, and then pass it on. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Last year I took a group from our church to Scotland to re-trace some of our spiritual heritage. We found Presbyterian churches everywhere- on every corner- but most were empty. They were monuments to a time when people saw faith as important. Right in downtown Edinburgh there is a huge church that held thousands- now a museum. Wesley said what was once a movement turns into a monument and then turns into a museum. But there were three things that destroyed the Scottish church- skepticism (David Hume), immorality, but the third thing was just not telling people how important God is- those who believed somehow began to think that it should be kept private. So they hid the lamp under a bushel- not letting the light shine through them. We do not want to brag about ourselves- but I do want to brag about God. I am not ashamed to hold out to the world the way of hope- the way of life- the way of eternal glory.
Jim Singleton said that the average Presbyterian shares their faith once every fifteen years. That’s not enough. Only 20% of PCUSA churches had one adult baptism in 2011- same for Lutherans and Methodists. To have the hope- to know the way- and to act as if it is only a private concern or to muffle our voice in fear is not right. Springsteen- “Glory Days” baseball player; div turned heads; lost job still living in past. World fades-God lives.
Whose glory are you living for?
Bruce Springsteen had a record breaking hit called “Glory Days” about a fellow who was a baseball player when he was young and all he could talk about in his middle age were his faded glory days of hid old fastball; or a woman who is divorced with two kids talking about how she could turn heads when she was in high school; or about the man who lost his job but still lives thinking about those things. This world’s glory fades. The real question- is whose glory do you live for? Our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forever.