Perhaps the most pervasive theme in all of Scripture is God's passion for God. No, that's not a misprint. Many would have preferred that I say, "God's passion for you," but if God isn't first and foremost committed to himself and the pursuit and praise of his own glory, his love for you wouldn't amount to much at all.
But let me return to this notion of God's commitment to God. On what biblical grounds do I dare make what appears, at first glance, to be an outrageous and disheartening statement? Would it surprise you to discover that it is explicitly made known in over two hundred biblical texts? But my concern is with what we read in Psalm 23:3.
It may come as quite a shock to discover that in this psalm so beloved by Christians everywhere, a psalm typically understood as focusing on God's commitment to us, that I would find God's commitment to God! But there it is, in v. 23: "He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Does it surprise you to learn that the driving force in God's heart in restoring your soul and providing guidance for your life and enabling you to walk in righteousness is the fame of HIS name?
Before you too quickly dismiss me as heretical, consider these other explicit declarations, both in the Old and New Testaments, in which the fame of God's name is his aim in all he does.
In Psalm 79:9, Asaph echoes this remarkable truth with this prayer: "
"Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake."
One of the more vivid examples of this is found in 1 Samuel 12:22. There we read that,
"the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself."
Samuel says this on the heels of Israel's demand that God give them a king. He repeatedly reminds them that to demand a king is evil and wicked and warns them of the disastrous consequences of not being satisfied with God as their Sovereign. Nevertheless, Samuel counsels them not to be afraid that God might abandon them or cast them aside. It would have made perfectly good sense had he done so, at least to our way of thinking. But he won't, and here's why: for his great name's sake!
The underlying reason for God's commitment to his people is his prior and more fundamental commitment to himself! God's name is at stake in your destiny, says Samuel. What happens to you reflects on the glory of God's reputation. That is why he will not cast you away.
In Psalm 31:2, David prays yet again. But note especially the ground or basis of his appeal in v. 3:
"For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me."
There are, in fact, several places in the Psalter and elsewhere in the OT where the purpose or goal for God having forgiven his people and his dealing kindly with them is his glory and the praise of his own name. Note especially the italicized words:
"Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" (Ps. 25:7).
"For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great" (Ps. 25:11).
"Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!" (Ps. 79:9).
"But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!" (Ps. 109:21).
"Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name's sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you" (Jer. 14:7).
All these texts are similar to what we read in 1 John 2:12,
"I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake."
"These things seem to show," wrote Jonathan Edwards, "that the salvation of Christ is for God's name sake. Leading and guiding in the way of safety and happiness, restoring the soul, the forgiveness of sin, and that help, deliverance and salvation that is consequent thereon, is for God's name" (Yale, 8:493).
We know that the redemption and deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, and then again from Babylon, were types or figures of our redemption and deliverance from sin. That being the case, we should take note of numerous texts in which the former is said to have occurred for the sake of God's name or glory.
"And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things . . ." (2 Sam. 7:23).
"Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power" (Ps. 106:8).
"who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name" (Isa. 63:12).
"But I [God] acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt" (Ezek. 20:9).
"But I [God] acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations" (Ezek. 20:14).
"But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations" (Ezek. 20:22).
Note the unashamed, unabashed repetitive proclamation of this truth in these texts:
"For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake [I did not mistakenly double-type that phrase], I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another" (Isa. 48:9-11).
"But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes'" (Ezek. 36:21-23; see also Ezek. 9:16; 39:25; Daniel 9:19).
Several texts (which I lack space to cite in full) portray the motivation for human virtue and holiness as the glory and praise of God's name (Matt. 19:29; Rom. 1:5; 3 John 7; Rev. 2:3).
The question (objection?) I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and the fame of his own name? I believe it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here's how.
I assume you agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God's seeking his own glory and God's seeking your good converge.
Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God's greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory (the fame of his name) in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.
For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that's his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that's his love for himself) are not properly distinct.
Praising God for the God-centeredness of God,