To God Alone Be the Glory (II Corinthians 4:15)
Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Passage: 2 Corinthians 4:15
I. Lighting the Candle
Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were, like Thomas Cranmer, leaders of the Reformation in England in the middle of the 16th Century. In fact, both of them knew Thomas Cranmer and worked alongside him in different capacities. The former was the elder, and an effective preacher among the common people. The latter was his junior, and one of the brightest minds in England.
But their connections with Thomas Cranmer don't stop there. Like Cranmer, both of these men were imprisoned for their beliefs when Mary Tudor (AKA “Bloody Mary”) became the queen of England in 1553. And again, like Cranmer, both of these men died for their faith...in fact, together. Listen to how one writer describes their final moments in this world:
On October 16, 1555, after spending eighteen months in a tower cell, Latimer and Ridley met at an Oxford stake. With Latimer in a frock and cap, and Ridley in his bishop’s gown, the two men talked and prayed together before a smith lashed them to the wood.
Ridley was the first to strengthen his friend. “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it.” As the bundle of sticks caught fire beneath them, Latimer had his turn. Raising his voice so Ridley could hear, he cried, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” (Scott Hubbard)
Light. Light for all to see. It was Hugh Latimer's dying hope. But what light was he hoping would radiate from the candle of his sacrifice? Surely it was the light of truth. But I would argue that, even more specifically, what he had in mind was what Paul described in II Corinthians 4:6 as the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Keep that in mind as we turn this morning to that very chapter: II Corinthians 4.
II. The Passage: "To the Glory of God" (4:15)
I want us to build our campsite, I want us to pitch our tent this morning on just one verse from this chapter: verse 15. Now, before I read that verse, it's helpful to know that Paul has been talking to the Corinthians about his ministry; specifically about the idea of suffering in the service of Jesus. As Paul explains, suffering does not mean God is absent and something went wrong. No. Afflictions are an essential part of both growing in Christ and going for Christ.
So when we arrive at verse 15, Paul wants to emphasize how the Corinthians are the spiritual beneficiaries of God's strength through Paul's weakness. This is what he writes. Verse 15:
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
If we move past that introductory phrase, do you see the three stages Paul describes in this verse? Do you see that progression? That chain reaction? First, he talks about grace extending. Then, as a result, he talks about thanks increasing. And finally, he talks about the ultimate goal; where the falling dominoes lead: the glory of God.
As most of you know, we have spent the past several weeks working through the biblical foundations of those Reformation touchstones some know as the Five Solas, that is, the five 'alone' statements that describe the restored truths of the gospel. Remember the first four? We are guided by (?)...Scripture alone! We are saved by (?)...grace alone! We are righteous through (?)...faith alone! And we stand in (?)...Christ alone!
But what I want you to see this morning is how all of those, in light of God's word, and subsequently, in the mind of the Reformers,all of those very deliberately lead us to the final sola. What is that final sola? It is the one we find in the final phrase of verse 15. It is “the glory of God”. Soli deo gloria...”glory to God alone”. Let's look more closely at the three stages described in this verse and see how it confirms the order and connectedness of the solas.
1. Grace Extending (4:15a)
Look back at verse 15: For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more people.
I love what that tells us about Paul's ministry. If the fruit of His ministry was going to be described with one word, it would be “grace”. His work was not about extending his name or reputation. It wasn't about extending apostolic authority or social influence or mere geographical reach. Paul's work as an apostle, as an evangelist, as a church-planter, as a pastor was all about the extension and expansion of God's grace.
Remember what the Reformers reclaimed regarding God's grace. When we look to Scripture alone as our guiding light, we learn that we are saved, we are rescued, we are reconciled to God by grace alone. And because it is by grace, because there is nothing we can do to earn it, or be worthy of it, or add to it, it can only become ours through faith alone. We simply trust. Faith is the empty hand of the heart that humbly receives God's grace.
But remember, the Scriptures that reveal God's grace, and the faith that receives God's grace, all lead us to Christ alone. As I mentioned last time, “Scripture brought us to Him. Grace makes us alive with Him. Faith clings to Him.” Only by His blood are we are forgiven, and only by His righteousness are we righteous.
So when Paul talks about grace extending, literally, grace 'increasing' or 'abounding', to more and more people, we learn from the solas, and from a passage like II Corinthians 4, that Paul is using “grace” as a pregnant term referring to individuals the gospel, and by God's grace, responding to the gospel with faith, specifically, faith in Jesus Christ.
And if you are in Christ this morning, then that is your story. That is my story. According to God's plan, grace expanded out to me, and to you. Thank God it did, right?!
2. Thanks Increasing (4:15b)
But look where this leads by looking back at verse 15: For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving...
Again, I love what that final phrase tells us about Paul's understanding of the gospel and his heart for God. When the grace of God extends into the heart of a sinner, resulting in faith in Christ, one of the most beautiful fruits produced is gratefulness. Remember what Paul taught the believers in Rome about the very essence of sin itself. What is sin? Romans 1:21...For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...
The offenses listed at the end of Romans 1 (covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, boasting, disobedience to parents...all of it), all those sins flow from this central sin: failure to honor God as God, and thus failure to give thanks to Him. So Paul understands what giving genuine thanks indicates about the condition of a human heart: it has been transformed!
And if a failure to give thanks is central to our separation from God, then giving thanks must be central to our reconciliation to God. Why is it right to give thanks to God as Christians? Because everything we have in Christ, every hope, every promise, every comfort, every blessing, all of it is a result of God's grace alone.
Who is more thankful, the person who receives something valuable at a discounted price, or the person who receives it as a gift? Of all people on the face of the earth, shouldn't we be the most thankful, since God has revealed to us what we truly deserve for our sins, but has graciously given us the exact opposite, times a billion?
In light of this, I think we can say that gratitude is an excellent gauge in terms of our focus on God's grace in our lives. If we have been struggling with an attitude of gratitude, if thanksgiving has been a stranger to our heart and lips, then it probably means we aren't clinging to, being consoled by, we aren't celebrating the gospel of grace. As the verse shows us, grace extending leads to thanks increasing.
3. Glory Shining (4:15c)
But there's a destination on this road. If grace extending leads to thanks increasing, then all of it leads to glory shining, that is, the glory of God breaking out, more and more. What is the glory of God? Listen to how John Piper describes it...
“...We may define God's glory as the beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections...'The glory of God' is a way to say that there is an objective, absolute reality to which all human wonder, awe, veneration, praise, honor, acclaim, and worship is pointing. We were made to find out deepest pleasure in admiring the infinitely admirable—the glory of God. This glory is not the psychological projection of unsatisfied human longing onto reality. On the contrary, inconsolable human longing is evidence that were made for God's glory” (Piper)
So if grace alone is the reason for our deliverance, and eventually, the deliverance of the whole universe, then thankfulness to God alone in light of that astounding reality points to God himself as the most astounding of all realities, right? That is His glory!
It is the acknowledgment that Paul expressed in Romans 11:36...For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
When the Reformers talked about the glory of God, they were pointing us back to Scripture, back to the truth that God alone deserves all the glory for our redemption, for our blessings, for our destiny, even for our good works, since they are the fruit of His Spirit.
This emphasis was in contrast to what the Reformers saw in the Roman Catholic Church: things like the veneration of Mary and the saints, penance, the necessity of sacramental obedience, the exaltation of the church hierarchy and church authority, and the treasury of merit. All of these and more were seen as robbing God of the glory the belongs to Him alone, since we are saved, sanctified, and sustained by His grace alone.
III. From Grace to Glory, Everyday
Soli deo gloria. Think about the big picture of what God has revealed to us through II Corinthians 4:15. Listen to how Paul describes that same masterpiece in Ephesians 1:7-12...
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,  which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight  making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,  so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
Grace extending. Thanks increasing. Glory shining. How could soli deo gloria not be the fifth and final sola? But it's important we also understand that God wants us to bring us from grace to glory, every single day. What do I mean? I mean this is more than a glorious, awe-inspiring doctrinal vista that we admire from afar. We can and should step back and do that very thing, regularly.
But you should also do something else regularly. You should remember how you're in that amazing scene; how you are a part of the incredible masterpiece of God's redemption. Grace extended and reached you. Thanks increased, and you expressed it. Glory shone, and His work in your life was part of the chain reaction, right? Well, why can't that happen every day? Shouldn't it be? Is it?
Aren't the solas more than just a set of ideas connected to the 16th century? Aren't they more than just a systematic way of thinking about certain biblical teachings? If you have peace with God this morning, that means the Scriptures alone guided you by His grace alone, to come through faith alone to Christ alone. And truly, all of it is to the glory of God alone. But remember, in terms of God's design, it is gratefulness that connects #1-4 to #5. Gratefulness. Thankfulness. Gratitude.
You may remember that, just about a year ago, we studied I Corinthians 10:31. It's the verse we so often refer to when we think about this idea of glorifying God: So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
You see, we are not immune to legalistic temptations. Like the Jewish leaders in John 9:24, those who barked orders at the blind man whom Jesus healed, we too can tell ourselves, “Give glory to God.” But were they really interested in the glory of God? Are we? Or are we confusing giving Him glory with mere conformity to His standards?
Listen, you can live out your Christian life believing that you are doing all to the glory of God, simply because you are following the path (as far you understand it), but if your actions, affections, an attitude do not ultimately flow from a heart of gratefulness, something is wrong.
Imagine an elderly scientist who daily passes by a boy who lives on the streets. One day he decides to help the boy, but the boy wants nothing to do with him. But over time, the scientist shows himself to be trustworthy. The boy is drawn in by the man's graciousness and generosity. The man begins to help the boy with food and hygiene. Then with clearing his juvenile court record. Then with a place to stay, which is in the man's own home. Over the years, the man cares for the boy and begins to educate him. The boy is keenly interested in science, since it is the man's passion. Years pass and the man's tutoring and influence and connections help the boy land at a good university. After finishing a PhD, the boy, who is now a man, goes onto accomplish amazing things in science, eventually winning a Nobel prize. As he stands at the podium to accept this prize, he begins to speak. Knowing this story, what would you be expecting in terms of his first words?
Yes! Something would be very wrong if his first impulse was not gratefulness for the man. And that impulse, in the midst of his accomplishments and accolades, that impulse to point to someone else, to the one who become his father, that impulse is precisely what it means to give glory to God alone.
And it is that attitude of gratitude that should drive your life of faith. Brother, sister, cultivate that impulse, and let it affect everything you do. See everything as His grace. Everything. Count your blessings. Savor your destiny. Remember where you were, and where you were headed. When you do grace will extend again into your heart, leading to an increase of thanks, leading to a life animated by gratefulness, which all gives glory to God alone.
Listen to how one writer describes the habit of one of the greatest composers ever, Johann Sebastian Bach:
Whenever he began a new piece, he bowed his head and prayed. "Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people." Without Jesus' help, Johann knew he'd never be able to complete the task. Before writing even one note, Johann carefully formed the letters J J at the top of the page. With that, the music began to pour from his soul and onto the page. When he was finally satisfied, he wrote the letters SDG at the bottom of the page - Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone. He hoped that when the music was played, it would point toward God.
May God help us to, in a sense, write that on all we do this day and this week. And may our desire be the same as Latimer's. That that light would shine for many others to see, that grace would extend again.