All quotations are from the Revised Version
The great aim of all Christian life and service is summed up by the apostle Peter in the following words, ‘that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”, 1 Pet. 4. 11. This was indeed fulfilled perfectly by the Lord Himself in the days of His flesh. At the close of His earthly life He said, ‘I glorified thee on the earth’. Never for a moment, in thought, word or deed, did He abandon that perfect submission to His Father’s will by which He glorified Him. The fulfilment of His will was His constant delight. He described it to His disciples as His very sustenance, John 4. 34. His testimony to the Jews was, ‘I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’, John 6. 38. ,
The Will of the Lord known in our Service
The passage in Peter’s Epistle shows us that Christ is still glorifying the Father on the earth, but now through the lives of His saints. If they are to glorify God it must be ‘through Jesus Christ’. It is possible to attempt to render service to God, seeking by mere self-impulse and self-effort to do right things in our own way and not according to His plan and direction. We must learn what God’s will is before we attempt to serve Him. Otherwise we shall act in the energy of the flesh. It is possible to do this without going so far as to act in rebellion to, and disregard of, His known will. The teaching of the Lord on the latter subject is intensely solemn. ‘Not every one’, He says, ‘that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out devils, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity’, Matt. 7. 21-23. The word rendered ‘iniquity’ would be better translated ‘lawlessness’ – that is the literal meaning of the original. Lawlessness is disregard of the will of God.
While referring to this passage it seems necessary to remark that the language of verse 23 can never apply to one who is a child of God. To none of His redeemed will the Lord ever say, T never knew you: depart from me’. God’s children can never be disinherited. The life that is given to them is eternal, and will never be extinguished. But it is possible for a mere professor, one who is not really born again, one whom the Lord here describes as ‘a corrupt tree’, to attempt to do His work, and it is to these that the Lord addresses such solemn words. The teaching of the passage is, however, of the greatest importance for all who are genuinely the Lord’s servants. It shows that only what is done according to the will of God will obtain- His recognition and approval.
Now the will of God centres in Christ. None can fulfil it, apart from Him. ‘Apart from me’, He says, ‘ye can do nothing’. We must first say, ‘Teach me to do thy will’; then we may be able to say, as He did, ‘I delight to do thy will’. Christ must be the motive power for all valid service to God. To the question ‘What is the duty of man?’ the Shorter Catechism rightly answers, ‘To glorify God and enjoy Him for ever’. We learn from Peter the secret of the power to do so. It is ‘through Jesus Christ’.
The Lord Accomplishing His Will in our Service
Similarly the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, at the close of his exhortations, expresses the desire that God would make the saints ‘perfect in every good thing to do his will’, working in them ‘that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ’, Heb. 13. 21. God works all things by Christ. How necessary that our hearts should be in unison with His before we undertake any service for Him! The cultivation of heart communion with the Lord ensures that what we do is what He works in us. When we take His yoke upon us and learn of Him, our service will not be the outcome of leaning to our own understanding and of self-effort. When we cease from our own works we obtain the rest which He gives, and find that this rest accompanies the activity of our service for Him. We learn, too, that ‘it is God which worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure’, Phil. 2. 13. The fruits of righteousness are through Jesus Christ, and in order to be filled with these it is necessary that our love should abound in knowledge and in all discernment, Phil. 1. 9-11. When our love abounds towards Him, His power abounds through us. Love to Christ is the secret of fruitful service. It is a love, however, which works, not by mere emotion and enthusiasm, but by a knowledge of His mind and a discernment of His will. Thus is God glorified in our lives through Jesus Christ. If, like George Muller of Bristol, we make it our aim first and foremost each day to be in the happy enjoyment of the Lord’s presence and love, then our lives will constantly bring glory to God. However humble our service may be, however much routine there may be in it, we shall ‘serve the Lord with gladness’. Then, too, our Lord will not have to say to us, as He did to the church in Sardis, ‘I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God’, for He will Himself be working in and through us.
The passage at the close of the Epistle to the Hebrews is strikingly parallel to that in 1 Peter 4. In each case the words ‘through Jesus Christ’ are followed by a doxology, ascribing the glory to Him by whose power alone what has been enjoined can be carried out. Inasmuch as the fulfilment of God’s will through us, and His being glorified by us, are due to Christ, all self-gratulation is precluded, all self-satisfaction is ruled out. His alone will be the glory. And the one who is delighting to do His will ever will be led to attribute all to Him.
Not to ourselves we owe That aught by us is done
To glorify Thine Holy Name; Christ’s is the power alone. The Practical Outworking of His Will in our Service
The words in 1 Peter 4, ‘that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ’, express the great purpose of all the exhortations that precede from verse 7 onwards. This is clearly brought out in the revised translation, which rightly links all the injunctions together. It is observable that the first concerns prayer, indicating that the soul must be right with God if the rest arc to be fulfilled. Then follow exhortations to love, to hospitality and to the unselfish use of whatever God has given us, ‘as good stewards of the manifold grace of God’. Those who speak are to speak as the oracles of God. Those who do service (‘ministry’ is not here confined to ministry of God’s Word; it comprehends any form of service for God) are to render it as of the ability, or strength which God gives. We may do less than He would have us do. In that case we are missing the blessing in this life and the reward in the next, that come from power received from God, and from service rendered to Him by means of it. We may do more than God wills for us to do. In that case we must be adding our own strength to what God supplies. This makes for weakness, and may hinder others from the service God has for them. It must not be forgotten, on the other hand, that more than his share may devolve upon one servant of God through the failure of others to undertake their responsibility. Paul’s ‘I can do all things’ is qualified by ‘through Christ which strengtheneth me’. If we are to be strengthened with might, it must be ‘by the Spirit of God in the inner man’, and by the indwelling of Christ in the heart by faith. Thus through Him we ‘shall glorify God in all things’. Thus and only thus shall we be able to say, ‘I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me’.