Luke 2:13-14 records that after an angel announced the birth of Jesus to a group of shepherds, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”
While human history records a great deal of what has been far short of peace and goodwill on earth, there has not ceased to be praise and worship and glory given to God in heaven. Furthermore, in heaven there is peace and goodwill toward men because God is on His throne, and all is in perfect order. Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), and God told Jeremiah (29:11): “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the LORD, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’” Sadly, the reality of God’s sovereignty is not recognized or acknowledged by most people alive today (All who have died know it!), so there is disorder and strife and ill will among men. Oh that humanity would give glory to God on the earth! Then there would also be peace and goodwill toward men here as well.
While we know that most of mankind will not submit to God and glorify Him until they are forced to do so when they encounter Him in judgment (Philippians 2:10-11), we who are born-again children of God have the privilege of doing so now. “Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples, give to the LORD glory and strength. Give to the LORD the glory due His name;…Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!” (Psalm 96:7-9) No doubt it is more difficult to glorify God on earth, in one sense, because we cannot see Him; yet because of the struggles and trials we endure while in our physical bodies, we can bring glory to our Lord in ways that the angels and saints already in heaven now cannot (1 Peter 1:6-8).
It is interesting that the word translated “highest” in Luke 2:14 comes from a Greek word which not only can mean “elevation” or “altitude” (implying heaven), but also “dignity: be exalted”, and is a derivative of a primary preposition “over”, meaning “above, beyond, instead, superior to, more than”. Therefore, when we seek God’s will over our own, when we desire to exalt His name instead of advancing our own reputation, when we expend time and energy in spiritual pursuits more than in pleasure-seeking, we bring glory to God “in the highest”. In other words, we not only have the ability to glorify God with our lips in praise and adoration, but we can also honor Him through our attitudes and actions. After all, the physical universe God created glorifies Him by its very existence (Psalm 19:1). How much more should we, both individually as His purchased dwelling place (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and collectively as His Church (Ephesians 3:21)!
But what does it really mean to give glory to God? The Greek word for “glory” can also be translated “dignity, honor, praise, worship”. The word glory is both a noun and a verb, and the Oxford American Dictionary defines it as: (noun) 1) fame and honor won by great deeds, 2) adoration and praise in worship, 3) beauty, magnificence; (verb) to rejoice or take pride in. All of these definitions describe and apply to God. 1) He is entirely worthy of fame and honor for His great deeds of creation and redemption. (Revelation 4:11, 5:13) 2) God alone deserves adoration and praise in worship (Psalm 86:8-10, 115:1). 3) There is none more beautiful or magnificent in any way than Almighty God (Psalm 96:1-6)! Lastly, God Himself tells us that we are to rejoice and take pride in Him. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty glory in his might, nor let the rich glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). In fact, it is apparently so important that the saints rejoice and boast in God, and only in God, that this admonition is twice quoted in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17.
In both the Old and New Testaments the term glory is also linked to the illumination, radiance, and brilliance associated with the presence of God (e.g., Exodus 40:34,35 ). This aspect of glory is visible (Exodus 24:17). Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus is “the brightness of (God’s) glory”, and in Revelation 21:23 we’re told that our future home, the New Jerusalem, “has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illuminates it.” If you’re wondering what this luminescent characteristic of glory has to do with you and how it relates to your ability to bring glory to God, consider these statements of Jesus in Matthew 5:14,16: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The first uses of the word glory in the Bible (Genesis 31:1, 45:13) carry the ideas of wealth, splendor, and honor. The Hebrew word is “kabod” which means “weight” in a figurative and good sense, and which comes from a root word meaning “to be heavy”. The glory of God, as with all His attributes and characteristics, is substantial and not superficial, all encompassing, and permeating His entire Being. For those of us born of God’s Spirit, this “weightiness” of God is not burdensome or oppressive, but something we desire. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) The more we become like Jesus, and the more we radiate His beautiful character, the more God is glorified through our lives.
God’s plan is also to share His glory with us in the sense of His wealth and splendor (but not worship and adoration). “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) This means that depending upon our faithful God for all that we need while on earth brings “Glory to God in the highest”! In addition, our glorification is part of our inheritance in Christ (Romans 8:16-18). But the purpose of this is so we can glorify God. Paul prayed that “the Father of glory” (i.e., the Origin and Source of all glory, and the One to whom all glory is due) would give wisdom and revelation knowledge to the Ephesians so that they would know “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints” (1:17-18). This says that believers are God’s inheritance, and He is glorified in and through us now, and will be for all eternity!
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior … be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)