What do the Scriptures mean when they refer to glorifying God? This teaching is, of course, a common one in Reformed circles. From childhood I have heard the exhortation, “Glorify God in all of life.” What this meant was that in everything that we do, we should reflect the glory of God—that we are children of God. People should be able to see from the way we live that God lives in us. Isn’t this the essence of glorifying God as reflected in the Bible?
To answer this question fully, we must begin by analyzing the ways in which Greek verb “to glorify” (δοξάζω) is used in the New Testament. We cannot do this, of course, by examining the word “glorify” in an English concordance or by doing an English Bible word search in a software program. While it is true that every place where the NIV refers to “glorifying God,” it is translating the verb δοξάζω (or, in two cases, the related verb ἐνδοξάζομαι), there are other uses of that verb that the NIV does not translate as “glorify.” We must look at the full range of texts using δοξάζω in order to find out what this verb means in the New Testament.
In my examination of δοξάζω in the New Testament, a significant number of the occurrences translated “glorify” are located in the gospel of John. And all of them except for John 21:19 refer to the Son glorifying the Father, the Father glorifying the Son, the Father glorifying his name, and (in the passive voice) the Son being glorified by the Father. Most of these occur in the second half of that gospel.
Now in the New Testament letters, some occurrences of δοξάζω clearly do speak about our role in glorifying God by the way we live. For example, Paul writes about those who serve idols that they do not glorify God (Rom 1:21), but live dark and sinful lives. By contrast, God calls believers to glorify (NIV “honor”) God in the way we use our bodies (1 Cor 6:20).
But it is especially the uses of the verb δοξάζω in Luke and Acts that opened my eyes to another emphasis in this Greek word. Surprisingly, in Luke’s writings δοξάζω is rarely translated in the NIV as “glorify” (see Luke 2:20 and Acts 3:13); rather, in Luke and Acts δοξάζω is translated “praise” (in Luke 2:20 it probably would have been translated “praise,” but it is joined with the verb αἰνέω, which is already translated “praise”).
Let me give a few examples in Luke and Acts to show you how it is used. When Jesus cured the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof, everyone glorified (NIV “praised”) God by saying, “We have seen remarkable things today” (Luke 5:25–26). When Jesus raised the widow’s son in a funeral procession at Nain, the people were filled with awe and glorified God by saying, “A great prophet has appeared among us,” and “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:16). As a result, news about Jesus spread throughout the region. The centurion at the cross, after seeing what had taken place, glorified God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). Finally, in Acts 11:18, the believers in Jerusalem glorified God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Do you see a pattern here? As far as Luke is concerned, when people “glorify” (δοξάζω) God, they begin to speak, and the sorts of things they speak are not what people would keep to themselves; rather, they are things you tell other people about the wonderful works God has done through Jesus Christ. In fact, in a number of other places where Luke uses δοξάζω, it seems clear that while the words spoken are not specifically cited, the message about who Jesus is and what he has done are certainly being spread around to others (see Luke 2:20; 4:15; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43; Acts 4:21; 21:20; cf. Rom 15:9; 2 Cor 9:13; Gal 1:24).
What we need to realize, I suggest, is that there is an evangelistic theme to the Greek verb δοξάζω. To glorify God is not just to live a quiet life that reflects how God is working in our lives (though, to be sure, it is that); it is also to be unashamed to tell others with our mouths about the great things God has done for us or the great things we have seen God do around us. Glorifying God involves both speech and action. So, yes, glorify God in all of life—by what you say as well as by what you do.
What significant OT or NT words studies have you undertaken that have opened the Scriptures for you in a whole new way?