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.
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:
(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.