God’s Glory and Cultural Idols: Estate

I ran across something very relevant to our context, while finishing The Lord’s Prayer, which is the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

In his sermon on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6: 11), Watson first draws our attention to the order of the prayer. God’s glory comes first, before our concerns.

God’s glory is more worth than heaven, more worth than the salvation of all men’s souls. It is better that kingdoms be demolished, better men and angels be annihilated—than God lose any part of his glory! We are to prefer God’s glory before our nearest concerns. But before we prefer God’s glory to our private concerns—we must be born again. The natural man seeks his own personal interest before God’s glory.

—loc. 4278

Now, here comes the gold. As application, or “use”, of this order of the prayer, Thomas Watson says we should test ourselves: “Do we prefer God’s glory before our private concerns?” He then nails three things that I recognize as cultural idols (The Lord’s Prayer, loc. 4290). The first is reputation, the second is relations, now the third:

Estate

(3) We must prefer God’s glory before ESTATE. Gold is but shining dust. God’s glory must weigh heavier. If it comes to this—I cannot keep my place of profit, but God’s glory will be eclipsed—I must rather suffer in my estate than God’s glory should suffer. Heb 10:34.

We don’t really use the word “estate” so much. Watson is referring to wealth, profit, and not merely property. He says that a competitor for our devotion is wealth, what we can amass in this life. Is profit bad? Is wealth sinful? No, not at all. So what’s the problem? If our estate ever begins to threaten the glory of God, then that’s a problem. If God’s glory should ever suffer due to our wealth, then we are not seeking the glory of God above all things. And if God’s glory will be eclipsed due to our place of profit, we should be willing to suffer our estate for the glory of God.

Estate is a huge cultural idol. People devote their whole lives to material prosperity. That’s the end-all of life. Life-goal: estate. Isn’t it the chief end of everything else? Think about the motivation for why we prioritize so many other things in life. Why are parents told to raise kids right? So that they can succeed in life. What do we all tell students, especially in the West, is the reason to do well in school? So you can go to college. Why college? So you can get a job. Why the job? So you can make money and have a successful, comfortable life. So that eventually you can retire, and rest in your estate. All the other priorities in life are mere stepping stones to the ultimate thing: estate. Estate is the goal of life, it seems.

This cultural idol of estate has even infiltrated the church. It’s even preached from the pulpit. I have lost count of how many “sermons” I have heard on performing well in school, working hard in life, and making money. There’s no discernible difference from what the culture is saying, except for the bouncing off of Bible verses (typically ripped out of context). Congregations, children, their parents, and the elderly, all are being directed to that shining dust more than to the glory of God. At least in what’s being talked about, estate is weighing much heavier in the church.

Watson’s warning is as relevant now as it ever was. Christians have a question to ask themselves: when it comes down to a choice between financial profit or the glory of God, which will you choose? Will we prefer our profit, even though God’s glory will be compromised? It’s easy to say, “God’s glory, of course.” Well, let’s look at a specific example, to see if we have already eclipsed God’s glory.

The most obvious scenario would be remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). This is the clear case example, where it comes down to estate or God’s glory. God himself has set aside a time, one whole day out of seven, for us to devote ourselves to worship. Part of that is, of course, gathering together as a church for corporate worship. The rest of the time is to be occupied with private and family worship.

And what did God say about this one whole day? “You shall do no work.” That’s why Sabbath-keeping is such a good example for what Watson is talking about. What does work produce? Estate. What does God command for Sunday? No work. So that means no attention is to be given to our estate, on that day. Estate takes a backseat. Here, God is telling us explicitly that this time is not for estate, but for something else. Not only in the Lord’s Prayer are our concerns put in their proper place, but even in God’s law our labor is limited. The pursuit of estate should not consume all the time we have. Note that the 4th Commandment actually contains the command to work for six days. Again, working and earning profit is not wrong! Not working would be wrong. But just as sinful as laziness is devotion to estate alone. The seventh day has been dedicated to the Lord God, and on it we shall do no work (the word “Sabbath” means to cease). Meaning, we cease pursuing estate and focus on worshiping God. That’s why it’s the day of holy rest. Not mere inactivity, just resting from work, but a different kind of activity: worship. Not activity for estate.

Here’s the big question: how many of us, who claim to be Christians, continue to chase estate on the Lord’s Day, when we don’t have to (meaning they are not works of necessity)? How many chase profit on that day of holy rest?

To desecrate the Sabbath, to proceed about our profit and estate on the day that he has set apart for worship and rest, is to rob God of the glory that is due him. That’s a concrete example of keeping my place of profit and eclipsing God’s glory.

Will you eclipse God’s glory and carry on your personal business on the Lord’s Day? We’ll you proceed to make a profit, to build your estate, and let God’s glory suffer? On the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, God has commanded that we glorify him through worship, the whole day. But we would rather God’s glory suffer, than suffering in our estate. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. That’s a true test of whether you prefer God’s glory above your nearest concerns, especially estate.

Preferring God’s Glory

So what would it look like to prefer God’s glory before estate? If God’s glory weighed heavier, what would we do? Examples could be multiplied. Let’s stick with keeping the Christian Sabbath holy.

Simply, it would mean not working. Not pursuing your profit on God’s holy day. Remember, he gives us six whole days for our estate. Six days. That’s for our estate. Six whole days for our normal business. But, how many days does God take for himself? One. It’s not even close to unfair. As if estate really suffers by working six days instead of seven.

Let’s get more specific. It means not making that sale, Sunday afternoon. It means not attending that work event, on Sunday. It means not scheduling your business trip, traveling for work, on Sunday. It means not taking that business call, right after church, when you haven’t even left the building yet. It certainly means not engaging in business with people at church! It also means, if you are an employer or have hired people to do a job, not having them work on Sunday. Finally, it means not even making business plans for the following week. It doesn’t just mean not actually making profit on the Christian Sabbath, it means not even talking or thinking about estate, either. That’s a tall order.

Perhaps our estate will be less than otherwise. Yet, we should rather suffer estate than God’s glory should suffer. Indeed, which is in reality more valuable? Our money, property, material prosperity? Or is it the glory of God? God’s glory is worth more than all of creation. But, our lives will indeed show which we consider to be more valuable. As Watson said, “Gold is but shining dust. God’s glory must weigh heavier.” Interestingly, the word “glory” is related to “heavy.”

If it ever comes down to taking a financial hit or compromising God’s glory, we should take the hit. There are many possible situations where that could happen. There’s that little saying, “honesty is the best policy.” No, not in this fallen world it’s not, especially if you want to get ahead in life. Estate will be less than it could be, if we did business the way the world does. But that wouldn’t give God glory, would it?

We should earnestly pray the Lord’s Prayer, being mindful of the order. May we all prefer God’s glory before estate.

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God’s Glory and Cultural Idols: Relations

I ran across something very relevant to our context, while finishing The Lord’s Prayer, which is the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

In his sermon on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6: 11), Watson first draws our attention to the order of the prayer. God’s glory comes first, before our concerns.

God’s glory is more worth than heaven, more worth than the salvation of all men’s souls. It is better that kingdoms be demolished, better men and angels be annihilated—than God lose any part of his glory! We are to prefer God’s glory before our nearest concerns. But before we prefer God’s glory to our private concerns—we must be born again. The natural man seeks his own personal interest before God’s glory.

—loc. 4278

Now, here comes the gold. As application, or “use”, of this order of the prayer, Thomas Watson says we should test ourselves: “Do we prefer God’s glory before our private concerns?” He then nails three things that I recognize as cultural idols (The Lord’s Prayer, loc. 4290). The first is reputation. Now for the second:

Relations

(2) We must prefer God’s glory before our RELATIONS. Relations are dear, they are of our own flesh and bones; but God’s glory must be dearer. “If any man comes to me, and hates not his father and mother—he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26. Here hatred towards one’s own kin is devotion towards God. “If my friends,” says Jerome, “should persuade me to deny Christ, if my wife should hang about my neck, I would trample upon all and flee to Christ.”

Family is a huge cultural idol, here. Let me be clear: family is a divine institution. We’re not saying that family is unimportant. Family isn’t even our idea, actually. God instituted the family. Yet, we abuse it. Idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. Idolatry has happened when God, and his glory, is compromised in favor of family. And because family is a huge part of the culture, idolatry of family is an exceedingly strong temptation.

It’s why many people are in the Church of Rome in the first place. So many people identify as Roman Catholic only because their parents do, and grandparents, etc. And there’s emotional reasons to not disrupt that family tradition. It’s based on family, not on conviction. It’s not about what’s true. Even if someone begins to figure out the errors of Rome, they don’t want to investigate further. That would create family tension. So, best to avoid the truth, burry your head, for the sake of family.

Sadly, idolatry of family often prevails among Christians.

It’s why many who actually do convert nevertheless remain in Rome. Though they be true believers, saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, they will not leave the Church of Rome (which denies all of the above). Why not? Why would they not leave to worship God in spirit and truth, in a true church? Why would they not forsake all of the rampant idolatry and superstition? Because of their family. To leave Rome would be to leave their family. Their family wouldn’t take kindly to that. Families often apply pressure, and compel conformity. It’s a hard reality, no doubt. But what has been exposed? Relations are preferred, before God’s glory.

To turn that line from Jerome, will they trample upon all to flee to Christ, or will they trample upon Christ and keep their family? Despite knowing the superstitious, pagan practices of Rome that do not bring glory to God, and are in fact abominably injurious to the Gospel, they would rather stay. Rather than offer up worship that God accepts, and therefore glorify him, they prefer their relations.

There’s another group that this applies to: true believers that are not within Rome themselves, but have family that still is. Many Christians never speak negatively about Roman Catholicism, because their relations are Roman Catholic. So, that believer will never make clear the differences between them. He’ll never speak truth over against error. This obviously means he will not evangelize his Roman Catholic family. That would mean there’s something seriously wrong with their religion, after all (i.e., no peace with God!). But you can’t say that, because you don’t want tension in the family, you know. You don’t want to hurt your relations. Again, God’s glory, by honoring his truth, is sacrificed for the sake of your relations.

Will they talk about the truth of God’s Word at any level of clarity when their Roman Catholic family members are listening? Offense is just around the corner! And we typically have enough family issues, already. But when it comes to God’s truth, and the Gospel, isn’t offense what we should expect?

Let’s get back to the words of the Lord Jesus. And let’s not tame them, but allow them to have their full impact.

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.

—Luke 14:26

I’ll throw another quote in, just for good measure. “Show me a verse!” Okay, here’s another:

Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

—Matthew 10:34

Ironically, despite the unbiblical preference of “red letters” (the words of Jesus in red) over against the rest of the Bible, I rarely hear these words of Jesus referenced. If anyone doesn’t hate their relations, they cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ! Jesus chose his words. He could have used different, softer words, but he didn’t. Don’t sugar-coat it. There is an antithesis being made, here. Devotion to the Lord Jesus or devotion to family. It’s an either/or. As Watson said, here devotion to God means hating your relations. There can only be one Master, not two. There can only be one ultimate loyalty, not two. Christ and his glory, or your family. Ask yourself, which is dearer to you?

Preferring God’s Glory

So, what would it actually look like to prefer God’s glory before our relations? How do we show that God’s glory is dearer?

It means pursuing Jesus Christ, regardless of what your family thinks. And sometimes that means suffering consequences. It means doing what Christ commands, even if your family doesn’t want you to. If you are within the Church of Rome, that  means leaving that false church, leaving that false worship, to glorify God in worship that he accepts. Even when your family forbids you. That’ll hurt. It’ll hurt your family, it will likely make them angry. It may hurt you. Just because it won’t be easy, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. Trample upon all, and flee to Christ.

It means not participating with your family in superstitious and sinful practices. This happens every year, during those manmade “holy days”, when they engage in their will-worship. Children (some are technically adults) who don’t believe those things, and don’t want to participate, are pressured and forced by their parents to join. Even with threats of all kinds. But if God’s glory is dearer, you will not yield. And your family may very well interpret it as hate. Jesus said, hatred of your family is devotion towards God.

It means being a reliable witness for Christ to your family. Hiding the truth doesn’t glorify God. Sugar-coating the truth doesn’t glorify God. Smiling and pretending that theology and worship are no big deal doesn’t glorify God. Having the opinion “that’s just their practice” does not glorify God. It means speaking the truth over against error. Speaking the Gospel and confronting falsehood. It means having those hard conversation, even with tears (true story). It means being bold enough to call what is wrong wrong, and to proclaim what Christ says, and to plead for repentance and faith in Christ alone.

We should earnestly pray the Lord’s Prayer, being mindful of the order. May we all value the glory of God rather than our own kin. May we hold God’s glory most dear.

Part 3: Estate

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God’s Glory and Cultural Idols: Reputation

I ran across something very relevant to our context, while finishing The Lord’s Prayer, which is the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

In his sermon on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6: 11), Watson first draws our attention to the order of the prayer. God’s glory comes first, before our concerns.

God’s glory is more worth than heaven, more worth than the salvation of all men’s souls. It is better that kingdoms be demolished, better men and angels be annihilated—than God lose any part of his glory! We are to prefer God’s glory before our nearest concerns. But before we prefer God’s glory to our private concerns—we must be born again. The natural man seeks his own personal interest before God’s glory.

—loc. 4278

Now, here comes the gold. As application, or “use”, of this order of the prayer, Thomas Watson says we should test ourselves: “Do we prefer God’s glory before our private concerns?” He then nails three things that I recognize as cultural idols (The Lord’s Prayer, loc. 4290). Here’s the first:

Reputation

(1) We must prefer God’s glory before our own REPUTATION. Reputation is a highly valued jewel; like precious ointment, it casts a fragrant smell. But God’s glory must be dearer than credit or applause. We must be willing to have our reputation trampled upon, that God’s glory may be raised higher. The apostles rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name;” that they were graced, so far as to be disgraced for Christ. Acts 5:41.

Reputation is a big deal. It has a strong pull on believer and unbeliever, alike. People will do anything to make a name for themselves and then will continue to do anything to maintain that reputation. This is commonly referred to as “saving face.” They want to be liked. They want to be popular. For the Christian, this can mean compromising God’s glory. How is this done? I think the obvious place to look would be in the world, where Christians risk their reputation among unbelievers. So at work, you look the other way when shady business is going down. In education, you compromise the truth because you don’t want to hurt the institution. But, there are powerful examples of Christians who do in fact treasure God’s glory more, and suffer shame for his name. For instance, those faithful saints who held God’s glory most dear, and refused to compromise it, and allowed themselves to be trampled on in the secular media and in the courts. Certainly that’s an application.

But I see particular relevance within the church itself. One of the biggest ways reputation is preferred more than God’s glory is by throwing church discipline out the window. Don’t even think about correcting, rebuking, or disciplining anybody. You’ve got a reputation to maintain. You don’t want to lose the applause, do you? So from now on, downplay sin. Cover it up. Save those faces. Pretend like the serious errors and problems in the church aren’t really what they look like.

Another area where credit and applause can be most dear is in preaching. If the preacher desires applause, what will he preach? Certainly not the whole counsel of God. There’s some offensive stuff in that Bible. No, better to preach what everyone generally agrees with. Those things that align with cultural values. Those things that agree with the audience. Focus on the popular, nice-sounding things, like God’s love, love for mankind, the value of the individual, etc. Of course, divorced from the rest of the system of doctrine, they won’t actually be biblical anymore, but never mind that.

What would happen if you preached the Word of God plainly, not hiding the edge of that sharp sword that cuts to the heart? Well, people would be offended. But, preaching the truth plainly and faithfully glorifies God, first and foremost. But, to keep the people’s favor, many will soften the edge and sugar-coat the truth. Of course, certain methods of preaching the Bible readily lend themselves to only preaching what is popular, while all church-emptying texts are avoided completely. There is a ministry to maintain, after all.

Or missions? What’s the way to build and maintain a reputation? Never focus on differences, ever. Put your distinctive theology in the backseat. But your church government in the trunk. Partner with everyone! Get ecumenical. Forget Calvinism and Arminianism. Forget differences over church government (and forget disciplining anyone, too). Forget covenant and dispensational theology (forget baptism and fencing the Lord’s Table, too). Shoot, why not partner with Roman Catholics, as well? Forget the denials of the Gospel. Forget that the major differing views over the church, biblical interpretation, God’s role in salvation, all those things that should determine practice. But is God glorified? Look at all we’ve accomplished! But the truth has been set aside. Biblical conviction has been neglected. You have declared biblical teaching unimportant.

Prefer God’s Glory

So, what would it look like to prefer God’s glory before our nearest concerns? What would be the evidence that God’s glory is dearer to us than credit or applause? What will we do to raise God’s glory higher, in spite of our name being trampled, suffering shame and being disgraced for Christ?

The church will administer discipline. False teaching and sinful practices will be addressed, no matter who it is. It doesn’t matter if the person is a superb musician. If he’s living in sin, he will be approached, corrected, warned. Regardless if he’s a family friend. And if they are stubborn and refuse to repent, they will not be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, for the time being.

Sound doctrine will be preached diligently. Pastors who prefer God’s glory before applause will preach faithfully, the whole counsel of God. All of it. Not their favorite parts. Not the parts that harmonize with cultural prejudices. Not just the ethics. But every part of Scripture, without trimming or apology. Even those parts that confront cultural bias. Even those parts they find personally difficult. Even the parts that you know will offend some of the people in the church. Preach it all. God’s glory is first when there is the sincere intention and plan to teach the whole Bible. Certainly, that leads to a specific form of preaching, one that takes the choice of text out of your hands, and so combats the temptation to aim for applause at the expense of God’s glory.

In missions, if we prefer God’s glory above all, we won’t compromise in order to get more “results.” We will stand firm in our biblical convictions. We will be driven by biblical teaching, not setting it aside. We won’t blur the lines so that we’ll have more to report. Because our name doesn’t matter, in the end. What credit or applause we gain is not the point. God is glorified when we do his work according to his rule, the Word.

Indeed, the temptation to compromise in order to maintain reputation is strong. I feel it. Often, I don’t say what I could, and probably should, because I don’t want to offend certain people. I may think it’s because I don’t want to unduly hurt someone. But deep down, I know it’s because I don’t want to lose the favor I currently enjoy. We should earnestly pray the Lord’s Prayer, being mindful of the order. May we all value the glory of God rather than the credit and applause of men.

Part 2: Relations

Part 3: Estate

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