In 1998, during my first semester at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was in a car accident and was taken from the scene of the accident to the hospital in an ambulance. While I was in the ambulance, I began to witness to the EMT that was taking care of me. After I had begun to share with him about the Lord, he said he believed in helping others, but that a God who wanted and required others to worship Him would be a selfish God. I was very surprised by this objection to Christianity. I had never heard something like this before. I cannot remember how I answered his objection at the time. I think I included in my answer that I enjoyed worshiping God and living for Him.
In 2010, Carrie and I attended Passion, a Christian conference for college students with several college students from our church, where we heard John Piper preach the sermon, Is Jesus an Egomaniac? In this sermon, Piper tackled similar objections to Christianity raised by Erik Reece, C.S. Lewis before his conversion, Michael Prowse, and Oprah Winfrey.
The objection by Erik Reece was that Jesus’ words were egomaniacal when he said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” in Matthew 10:37. In other words, Reece claimed that such a statement would reveal that Jesus was selfish, obsessively caring too much about Himself and not enough for others.
Piper rightly argues from Scripture that God is indeed God-centered, and that everything that God does including our salvation is for His own glory, but this does not make him egomaniacal or selfish because God is most glorified in showing His grace toward us, and because we find the completion of our joy in praising Him.
Although I agree with Piper’s sermon and his conclusion that it is good and right for God to be God-centered and that we benefit from His God-centeredness, my intention today is not to repeat what he has already said but to answer the objection differently. Yes, it is right for God to be God-centered and to seek His own glory because, as Piper says, the apex or highest point of His glory is His grace and the apex or highest point of our joy is praise. But there is another reason that God’s God-centeredness and desire that others love Him first and worship Him is not egomaniacal or selfish. God is unique in the sense that He is triune, and, therefore, when He acts for His own glory, He is also acting for the glory of another.
The Father acts for the glory of the Son, and the Son acts for the glory of the Father. Consider Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore God [the Father] also has highly exalted Him [Jesus, who is God the Son] and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” God the Father seeks His own glory through the glory of God the Son–Jesus. He exalts Jesus and gives him the name above every name so that Jesus will be worshiped. Jesus, who said in Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” is bringing glory to God the father when men worship Him and love Him more than their father or mother or son or daughter because Jesus is the image of the Father (Hebrews 1:3), and the Father is glorified through the exaltation and glorification of the Son. Remember, Jesus said in John 14:9, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Now I want you to consider that when God gave Jesus for our salvation, He sent Him because He loved the world, but His ultimate goal was not our salvation, but the glory of His Son Jesus Christ through our salvation. And when Jesus died for our sins, He died for us, but ultimately He was dying for us because He loved the Father and wanted to obey, please, and glorify Him by laying down His life for the sheep.
John 10:15-18 says, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
John 10:27-30 says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
From these verses, we can observe that the Father gave the sheep to Jesus as a gift of love and Jesus responded by dying for the sheep that His Father gave Him. The Father loves Jesus and is pleased with Him because He laid down His life for the sheep, which the Father gave Him. Jesus laid down His life willingly in obedience to the Father’s command. Jesus’ love for the sheep and willingness to die for the sheep is an expression of His love and obedience to the Father. Indeed the whole of our redemption is an outworking of the loving relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Now let’s examine John 17:1-5. “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
Jesus is asking the Father to glorify Him [the Son] through his death, which would give eternal life to all of those whom the Father had given Him to redeem. He is asking the Father to glorify Him so that He might glorify the Father by redeeming those whom the Father had given Him. Once again, we see that Jesus is acting for our salvation for His own glory so that, through His own glory, the Father might be glorified. We also see in Jesus’ prayer that the Father’s purpose for sacrificing the Son for our eternal life is to glorify His Son. But when the Father answered Jesus’ prayer, did the Father glorify the Son so that He would also be glorified? Yes, He glorified the Son so that He the Father would be glorified through the glory of the Son and also so that they might share in the glory, which they had together before the world was. So the Father and the Son were working together for mutual glory, each seeking not only their own glory but the glory of the other.
In this we see that the Father’s greatest love is not for us, but for His Son, and the Son’s greatest love is not for us, but for the Father. Our salvation is the means by which the Father loves and glorifies the Son and the means by which the Son loves and glorifies the Father. Does this truth diminish the reality of God’s love for us? Certainly not! God the Father’s love for us is bound up in His eternal love for His Son and in His eternal passion for His Son’s glory, and God the Son’s love for us is bound up in His eternal love for the Father and in His eternal passion for the Father’s glory.
Let me conclude with an analogy. A human father should love his wife more than his children, and his love for his children and even their very existence is a result of the expression of his love for his wife, yet his love for his children is also very great and real. In the same way, God the Father and God the Son are our co-parents. We belong to them because of the priority of their love for each other. Their love for us is great because it is bound up in their love for each other. Indeed, the immeasurable passion and fire of their love for each other fuels the fire of their love for us so that everything good in our lives is an outworking of their eternal relationship.
Remember that Jesus laid down His life for you because you were the Father’s gift to Him, and that His love for you is the expression and result of His eternal love for God the Father and God the Father’s eternal love for Him.