February 12 2012 Sermon
1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth,” we sing in the Gloria in Excelsis as part of the Divine Service. “Hallowed be thy name,” we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. How is God’s name glorified, or hallowed? Luther writes in the Small Catechism, God’s name is hallowed “When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we as the children of God also lead holy lives in accordance with it.”
In our Old Testament reading today God’s name was glorified before the pagan nations when Elisha cured a Syrian army general of Leprosy. God was glorified even among non-believers. In the Gospel reading, Jesus also glorified his Father when he healed a leper. Then the Leper glorified God before all the people by spreading the news of what God had done for him. As Luther says, “God’s name is indeed holy in itself. But we pray in this petition that it might become holy among us also.”
So St. Paul here gives us the command of God: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That is a direct command. This is not just a suggestion or good idea. It is a command with the same force as any of the Ten Commandment. In other words, disobeying this command merits death and results in eternal punishment.
But therein lies the problem which all of us have. For St. Paul also says in Romans 3; “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “That is,” says Luther, “we lack the wisdom and righteousness of God which acknowledge and glorifies him.” “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” says the book of Romans. Our Lutheran Confessions state: “If the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, the flesh sins even when it performs outward civil works. If it cannot submit to God’s law, it is certainly sinning even when it produces deeds that are excellent and praiseworthy in human eyes.” (Ap, IV).
In other words, “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” No matter how good our works, how worthy they seem, without faith, they are mere works of the flesh and do not justify us before God. “By works of the law shall no man be justified,” (Galatians 2:16). It is the condition of our heart that determines whether or not our works are good or bad in God’s sight. A heart that does not have faith in Jesus, can produce only sin, even when we do good deeds. Without faith, even our good works are sins. No one can get off the hook here. No one can lay any claim to being good or pleasing to God.
The problem we all have is that “all of us have sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God.” We do not do all to the glory of God. We can’t do it no matter how hard we try. So Luther says, “When you have learnt this, you will know that Christ is necessary for you.” For all human beings have come under the curse of sin and death because of our wickedness. We would all go straight to hell if it were not for Jesus Christ. “For that reason Jesus has suffered and risen again for you, that, believing on him, you might by this faith become another man, all your sins being remitted, and you being justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone.” (Luther)
And precisely in Jesus Christ is God glorified. We have not glorified God in all that we do. But Jesus did! Jesus glorified his Father when he cleansed the leper. Jesus glorified the Father because he said, “The very works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36) and also, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10). Jesus’ words and his works are from the Father and by them the Father is glorified.
We do not do everything to the glory of God, but everything that Jesus did, he did to the glory of God. And he did it for us sinners! That is God’s greatest glory. Saving sinners! God’s glory is in rescuing us humans from the curse of sin. God’s greatest glory is the cross of Jesus. Jesus himself said, speaking of the hour of his death, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” It is God’s glory to save us sinners who do not deserve his salvation. It is God’s glory to seek and save the lost; to die and suffer the punishment of hell in our place. It is God’s glory to forgive our sins. Even as Jesus was hanging on the cross he forgave his enemies. God’s glory is that he loves sinners; he loves you and me even though we don’t deserve it. God’s glory is his love because God is love.
We do not do everything to the glory of God, and that is a mortal sin. But Jesus did do everything to the glory of God. It is done! This command has been fulfilled by Jesus. And his obedience is counted for you at your baptism as if you yourself did it. By faith you grasp hold of this promise. By faith your sins are forgiven. By faith you now walk.
Faith is a living, active thing. It cannot stop doing works of love. The heart without faith can do nothing pleasing to God. Not even what you think are good works please God. All your own good works are nothing but sin. You can go out and do everything right, according to all the commandments of God, but without faith they are only external works. Only love which comes from faith is righteousness before God. Only faith in the heart can produce love and works pleasing to God. Only faith can do everything to the glory of God.
But that is exactly what faith does: it produces the fruit of love. Love is faith in action. Faith is never without deeds and good works. Faith is never without love for one another. Faith without works is dead. It is no faith. But the truly converted heart cannot stop doing good works, deeds of love. Faith is always giving glory to God. Like Jesus, it glorifies God when you serve your neighbor. Like Jesus, it glorifies God when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and help the needy. These are the visible side of faith. Faith is visible in its deeds of love, mercy and compassion. Such truly good works are the fruit of your faith. It is not something you can do, but it is faith in action. Faith is the Holy Spirit living and working in you and through you. By faith you are freed from the burden of the law of God. It is done! Jesus did it for you. By faith you are freed to glorify God by loving your neighbor, forgiving those who sin against you, and showing mercy and compassion to all.
No, you have not done everything to the glory of God, but Jesus did. And that counts for you! Thanks be to God.