The Ultimate Aim of Theology
The ultimate goal of theology is not knowledge, but worship. If our learning and knowledge of God do not lead to the joyful praise of God, we have failed. We learn only that we might laud. Another way of putting it is to say that theology without doxology is idolatry. The only theology worth studying is a theology that can be sung. Jonathan Edwards put it this way:
"Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of creation be the declaring God's glory to others; for the declaring God's glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared" (Miscellanies 3; Yale 13:200).
This means that the aim of God in creating and redeeming us is the delight he himself enjoys in seeing his creatures delight in him. As Edwards said, the 'glorifying of God is nothing but rejoicing in the manifestations of Him.' In other words, the purpose of the knowledge of God is the enjoyment of God because "God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him" (John Piper).
Observe how frequently the psalmist referred to the revelatory promise or command or word of God as his delight ' Ps. 119:16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174, and his joy ' Ps. 119:111 (cf. vv. 14,162); Ps. 19:8, and the object or focus of his love ' Ps. 119:47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 140, 159, 163, 167. If what we do in this course does not bring you unparalleled delight, joy, and does not kindle in your heart passionate and affectionate love for the God who is discussed and debated, I have failed.
Consider the difference between a microscope and a telescope and how it relates to our knowledge of God, our enjoyment of God, and what it means to glorify Him. Both a microscope and a telescope are designed to magnify objects. So, too, are we! The Bible repeatedly calls on us, especially in the Psalms, to magnify the Lord: 'O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together' (Ps. 34:3). "And let them say continually, 'The Lord be magnified!'" (Ps. 35:27). 'I will praise the name of God with song, and shall magnify Him with thanksgiving' (Ps. 69:30). 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior' (Luke 1:46).
There are two entirely different ways of magnifying God:
(1) You can magnify God the way a microscope would. How does a microscope magnify something? Is it not by focusing on something quite small, often invisible to the naked eye, and causing it to look much, much bigger than it really is? This is magnification by distortion! This is not how we are to magnify God! Tragically, though, that is how many Christians think of God and how best to worship him. They think that in their lives and in their prayers and in their worship they are causing God to look bigger and greater and more glorious than he really is, in and of himself. This, I suggest, is sin! It is deeply grievous to the Lord.
(2) You can also magnify God the way a telescope would. How does a telescope magnify something? Is it not by focusing on something indescribably huge and massive and causing it to appear as it really and truly is? A telescope peers into the distant realms of our universe and attempts to display before our eyes the massive, unfathomable, indescribable dimensions of what is there.
It is in this latter sense that we are called upon to magnify the Lord. Of course, the analogy breaks down, as all analogies eventually do, because God is infinitely greater than anything you can see through a telescope. Indeed, he created and fashioned everything you can see through a telescope.
It is Paul's desire for himself and his appeal to the church that he and we magnify the Lord together. This is what he is saying in Eph. 3:21 " 'To Him,' i.e., 'to GOD be the glory . . .' In other words, 'May God be magnified!' 'May God be seen as He is, for who He is, and because of what He has done, in all of His majesty and splendor and glory!'
What is "glory"? What does Paul mean by that term?
Glory is the beauty of God unveiled! Glory is the resplendent radiance of His power and His personality. Glory is all of God that makes God, God, and shows Him to be worthy of our praise and our boasting and our trust and our hope and our confidence and our joy!
Glory is the external elegance of the internal excellencies of God. Glory is what you see and experience and feel when God goes public with His beauty!
Glory is also the one word answer to the most frequently asked question found on Christian lips. To every question that begins, "Why did God . . . ?" there is only one answer: "For His glory!" Cf. Eph. 1:6,12,14; 2:7; 3:8,10,16. God's own glory is what He aims for in all He does. That is why God's glory must be what we aim for in all we do.
The ultimate reason why God brought you out of sleep this morning (indeed, every morning), having sustained you through the night, and mercifully keeps you alive now is for exaltation. It's why your heart continues to beat and blood rushes through your veins.
All of us are committed to God's glory as the ultimate aim of all we do. In fact, let me change words for a moment and put in place of "magnify" and "glorify" the word exaltation. Paul could just as easily have written: 'Let Him be exalted in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations.' None of us will disagree with that. But where we differ is how best to do it! What is the most biblical and effective way to exalt God, to engage in the exaltation of God? The answer is in another word, the spelling of which differs in only one letter from our first word: exultation.
Exultation = to rejoice, to celebrate, to find satisfaction in, to revel in, to be fascinated with, to enjoy, to be glad about. When you exult in something or someone you say: Wow! Whoopee! Unbelievable! Man! Oh, yeah! To exult in something or someone is to find in them happiness, gladness, joy, complete and utter satisfaction; it is to savor them, etc.
I believe that exulting in God is the most biblical and effective means for exalting God! Or to put it in other terms: to prize God is to praise God! Or again, we are His pleasure when He is our treasure Or again, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.
Pleasure is the measure of our treasure. How do you measure or assess the value of something you cherish? How do you determine the worth of a prize? Is it not by the depth of pleasure you derive from it? Is it not by the intensity and quality of your delight in what it is? Is it not by how excited and enthralled and thrilled you are in the manifold display of its attributes, characteristics, and properties? In other words, your satisfaction in what the treasure is and what the treasure does for you is the standard or gauge by which its glory (worth and value) is revealed. Hence, your pleasure is the measure of the treasure. Or again, the treasure, which is God, is most glorified in and by you when your pleasure in Him is maximal and optimal.
That is why if you want to exalt God, exult in God! Treasure Him. Prize Him. Delight in Him. Enjoy Him. In doing so you magnify Him, you show Him to be the most wonderful and sweet and all-sufficient being in the universe in comparison with whom all the pleasures of sin are seen as temporary and toxic.
There is, of course, one more stage in our experience, one that is antecedent to both exultation and exaltation, namely, education. If we do not know who God is and how he thinks and what he does, we have no grounds for joy, no reason to celebrate, no basis for finding satisfaction in God. Delight in God cannot occur in an intellectual vacuum. Our joy is the fruit of what we know and believe to be true of God. Emotional heat (i.e., joy, delight, gladness of heart) apart from intellectual light (knowledge of God) is useless. Worse still, it is dangerous, for it inevitably leads to fanaticism and idolatry.
Education (our knowledge of God) is cause or grounds for - Exultation (our delight in God) which issues in - Exaltation (the glory of God).
Finally, why does Paul believe that God is worthy of worship and praise? Why does Paul call on us to magnify the Lord? Why does Paul long to see the exaltation of God through the exultation of His people? Because of what he says of Him in v. 20. In other words, the truth of what Paul knows concerning God (there's education) produces joy (there's exultation), the fruit of which is the glory of God through the church (there's exaltation). Paul's effusive praise of God reflects the unbounded bounty of his ability to bless his people in response to their prayers.
(1) He is able to do or to work, for he is neither idle nor inactive, nor dead (contrast the dumb idols in Ps. 115:1-8). Our God is a doing God. He acts, he works, he performs. He is never passive, always active.
(2) He is able to do what we ask, for he hears and answers the very prayers that he commands we pray! Principle: when it is God's will to bestow a blessing, he graciously incites the human heart to ask for it!
(3) He is able to do what we ask or think, for he reads our thoughts, and sometimes we imagine things which we are afraid to articulate and therefore do not ask. In other words, his ability to provide for us must never be measured by the limits of our spoken requests. Some of you are spiritually crippled (or at least significantly hindered) because you think that your lack of ability to articulate your desires and needs limits what God can do for you. 'I'm not articulate. I can't even pronounce "articulate"! I would never speak at a conference.'
(4) He is able to do all (not some, not part, not just the easy things) that we ask or think, for he knows it all and can perform it all. There is nothing that is proper for us to have that transcends or outstrips his power to perform.
(5) He is able to do beyond (hyper) all that we ask or think, for his expectations are higher than ours.
(6) He is able to do much more, or abundantly beyond, than all that we ask or think, for he does not give his grace by calculated measure.
(7) He is able to do very much more, exceeding abundantly beyond, than all that we ask or think, for he is a God of superabundance (the single Greek word that stands behind this idea, huperekperissou (see 1 Thess. 3:10; 5:13), has the idea of an extraordinary degree, considerable excess beyond expectations, etc.).
(8) All that he does he does by virtue of his power that even now energetically works within us.
And what in particular is it that Paul has been asking this God, for whom nothing is impossible? That we, ordinary believers, might experience the depths of his affection and passion and love for us . . . Eph. 3:16-19. Not raw power. Not abstract omnipotence, but focused power in the service of love and tenderness!
This is why I believe that the ultimate aim of theology is not knowledge, but worship.