During today’s sermon, my pastor raised the question of what exactly “glory” means. He essentially defined it as majesty or honor, in which, of course, he is correct. Yet it would be good to look at it a bit closer (after all, if pastors were to give all the insights their study had revealed, the average sermon may well be several hours long!). What, then, is glory?
The NT word is doxa. Surprisingly, though, the NT’s usage has no relationship with secular Greek. Outside the NT, it is related to the word dokeo, which means “to think,” and thus, doxa originally referred to an opinion. The difference in the way the biblical writers use the word is nearly breath taking; they consistently use it to refer to honor or majesty. In other words, doxa in the NT is completely objective, being found in the object itself. Thus man has his glory and God has His (in fact, John sets these two meanings side by side in John 12:43. We will look at that verse shortly).
The only way to understand the shift in meaning is to look at the Greek translation of the OT, where doxa is consistently used to translate the Hebrew kabod. Its basic meaning is “heavy” or “weighty,” though it is rarely used in this sense. Usually, the basic meaning is extended and is used figuratively, sometimes negatively, as when the OT discusses the “heaviness” of work (Ex. 5:9), servitude(I Ki. 12:10), warfare (Judg. 20:34), misfortune (I Sam. 5:6), sin (Gen. 18:20), etc., and sometimes positively, in which case it is usually translated “glory” or “honor.” Persons have great wealth were described as kabod (Num. 22:15), and riches were considered the just reward of a righteous life (I Chr. 29:28). Men in positions of authority were to be honored (Ex. 20:12). In any case, the important thing to note in all positive usages is that the reputation of the individual is the main idea. Whether that reputation was automatically assumed because of one’s social status or whether it was earned through one’s deeds, kabod primarily speaks of a person’s honor. Thus, Proverbs argues that the righteous are honorable whereas the fool is not (Prov. 21:21; 22:4; 26:1, etc.); likewise, God’s rebukes Israel for honoring Him with their lips but not their deeds (Isa. 29:13).
When this idea is applied to God (kabod Yahweh), it carries the same meaning with an added nuance. Since God is fundamentally invisible, the “glory of God” is the way He manifests Himself on earth. Thus, the heavens declare it (Ps. 19:1), it visibly filled Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr. 7:1), etc. God’s actions reveal His glory. Thus, when men are called upon in the Bible to glorify God, they are not being asked to give Him something He does not have, but rather to recognize the honor that is intrinsically His. All this is finally and perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14), as Jesus is the ultimate and complete self-manifestation of God.
When the NT takes up doxa, it uses it in exactly this sense. Whether of man or God, it refers to the glory or honor of the thing itself. God’s glory, then, is the manifestation of His character, and thus man’s glory pales (to understate the case!) to His. Yet, in John 12:42, men loved the “glory” of men more than the “glory” of God. Perhaps this is because it is far easier to see man’s glory. How sad that so many Christians fail to see the doxa of God in their own lives! In missing it, they are actually failing to recognize who God is on some level.
All this, then, means that to glorify God is to see Him as He is each day. To deny Him that glory is nothing less than put our faith in something other than Him, usually ourselves. It appears as though the glory of God is hidden except to those who see it through faith. Can you see God’s glory? It is evident all around. We simply need to open our eyes.