What does the word “glory” mean?
This word appears literally hundreds of times in the Bible, but for many of us, the concept can feel abstract. Is it referring to honor? Renown? Praise? Beauty? Fame? And what about all the different ways that “glory” is used? Does it mean something different when we’re talking about “the glory of God” versus “giving glory to God,” or “glorifying God?”
The truth is, the word “glory” can have slightly different meanings depending on its context, but it generally refers to the manifest presence of God. The glory of God is the fullest expression of His character, attributes, and ways. When we give glory to God, we are not simply giving credit to God, but we are directing everyone’s attention to God’s perfect goodness. This is one reason why the integrity of our faith and worship is so important. If we praise God with our lips, but chase the world with our lives, then we are not actually glorifying God. His nature, and His love, are not made manifest by our mere words, but by our lifestyles.
All of this background helps us to understand what Jesus is praying in John 17. In this chapter, Jesus is preparing for His death with rather strange language: “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). These are not the words you would expect from someone about to be executed! But once we understand what glory means, then we can understand what Jesus is saying here:
“Make your presence manifest through me.”
This is the great irony at the heart of John’s gospel: the moment of glorification coincides with the moment of crucifixion. Although we tend to equate glory with honor and fame, Jesus is saying the exact opposite. The clearest revelation of God’s character is not in the Son’s exaltation, but in His humiliation. In other words, if we want to know what God is really like, then we need look no further than Jesus on the cross.
For the world, this notion of glory is utter nonsense. It doesn’t sound like glory at all. But for Christians, this is our call. If we desire for our lives to truly glorify the Father, just like the Son, then the weight of our worship does not come from our Sunday morning singing or the Christian bumper stickers on our cars. Instead, one of the clearest ways we glorify God is through our humble, sacrificial love. When we actively lay down our idols, our comforts, our priorities, and our preferences out of love for God and others, we embody the character and ways of Christ, who did the same out of love for us.