The pervasiveness of the notion of glory in the Bible is incongruously matched by the evasiveness of its meaning to many believers. Without a proper understanding of God’s glory, it is bound to degenerate into a cliché. Glory, glorification, and glorify are three related terms that need defining. Here are my working definitions:
Glory is the expression of who and what God is in splendor. God intrinsically is a Triune God of glory- the Father of glory (Eph. 1:17), the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), and the Spirit of glory (1 Pet. 4:14).
Glorification is the end result and goal of God’s organic salvation, which is proceeding from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).
To glorify God is either to render God glorious praise or to express God in word, deed, or person thus eliciting praise to God.
The last definition is what I want to concentrate on. ‘Giving God glory’ has sort of become a catch-all phrase for giving God credit for abilities or blessings. It’s pretty standard that successful Christian athletes will give God the glory for their performance. I’m glad they do. However, a vague or shallow notion of what glorifying God is all about, can lead to its devaluation. To glorify God is not to give Him a casual, perfunctory nod in an interview. It is the most significant and privileged event we can participate in. It is what we were created for.
…Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created, formed, and even made for My glory. –Isa. 43:6-7
A higher concept of glorifying God is related to worship. Again however, for God to be glorified doesn’t merely mean that He is objectively worshipped with equal parts reverence, fear, and gratitude. That may be the extent of meaning when angelic beings give glory to God, but there is a qualitative difference in the praise of saints and the praise of angels. All praise is not created equal. This is because praise is born out of our concrete experiences of God. In fact, if praise is to be meaningful, there must be a correspondence between the content of the praise and the experience or realization of the person praising. Different experiences can register different magnitudes of praise, but the necessary element that precludes empty praise is experience.
All the terms of doxology crystallize out of the experience of salvation.
This is at least partially indicated in Revelation 4:9-11. The worship of the four living creatures (who are representative of all creatures, but in Ezek. 1 are especially associated with man) and the twenty-four angelic elders (angels because they differentiate themselves from the saints in Rev. 5:9-10) differs by one word- thanks/power. The creatures give God “glory and honor and THANKS” but the angels give God “glory and honor and POWER.” The creatures (representing men) are beneficiaries of Christ’s redemption and thus return thanks to God. The angels are beneficiaries of God’s authority and thus ascribe power to God.
What’s important to note here, is that the creatures and the angels express their praise differently because they have different experiences. While all created beings experience fundamentally the same God, we experience Him in different ways. Thus when we express our praise, something fitting and telling emerges. We can know a man by his praise. Doxology, then, is not disinterested declaration; it involves us at our core. It’s not thinking up great sounding things to say about God. There should be something spontaneously flowing out of our God-constituted being to Him as praise (think John 4:14, 24). In this way, praise completes a profound cycle. Something of God flows to us and we with it flow back to God in praise (I’m anticipating the deeper significance of the last section here).
The praise that began with 4 and then grew to 24, quickly escalates to universal proportions- “myriads of myriads” of angels and even “every creature”. The two common elements in all the worship in Revelation chapter 4-5 are glory and honor. (Incidentally, ‘glory and honor’ are what Christ is crowned with in His post-paschal exaltation. Heb. 2:9). Thus, even in praise there is unity and diversity. Here is a breakdown of the content of their praise:
Participating in God
However, there is another qualitative distinction in the praise of the living creatures generally and the saints particularly. This distinction, which is also the characteristic distinction between the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints, goes beyond appreciation to participation.
–Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
Surely the angels along with every other created being will appreciate the glory of God because they will be part of the universal audience admiring God’s glory. But, the believers in Christ not only appreciate God’s glory, they are being led INTO that glory (Heb. 2:10). The astounding fact is that through the economy of God’s salvation, man has become the venue for God’s expression- in the church and in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21).