The Self-Centredness Of God

Isaiah 48:9-11

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Last Sunday, Isaiah established for us the indisputable fact that God is supreme over all things(Isa. 40:25, 26) . The supremacy of God is a magnificent thing, and so it would be a great tragedy if we did not find a way to apply God's supremacy to our everyday lives.

What should logically follow is that, if God is supreme over all things, He should be supreme to us . And if God is supreme to us, He should have His place at the centre of our life.

Consider the solar system. The sun is the centre of the solar system and is qualitatively different than the planets. The sun is in a class by itself, and all the planets depend on it.

Our life is a bit like the solar system. We all have our material possessions--let's call these the planet Mercury . We'll let Venus represent family relationships. Mars can represent food(like the candy bar). Neptune can refer to our hobbies--this can be anything from gardening to belonging to a lodge or social club. Jupiter , because it is so big, can refer to big things such as traveling. Saturn can represent our career. Uranus can represent books, music, and other kinds of art. Pluto can represent sports and entertainment. Now, we still need one more thing--we need something massive at the centre of our life to hold everything in place--we need something to represent the sun .

The trouble for most of us, if not all of us, is that we tend to make one of our planets act as the centre of our universe. We think family relationships should be at the centre, or we think career should be at the centre, or we think accumulating enough possessions will keep our life in proper orbit. The reality, however, is that none of these things are big enough to act as our centre. All of these things are good things, but they were never intended to occupy the centre of our life. We need something qualitatively different, we need something much larger, to hold all of life's elements in proper orbit. We need the Son, that's S-o-n, at the centre of our life .

If the Son is not at the centre the results will be disastrous. So what's stopping us? We call God omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, but our actions betray us. The way we live our life testifies to the fact that we are giving one or more of our planets supremacy over the Son.

Perhaps this is why so much of the Bible is committed to articulating and emphasizing the supremacy of God. What is amazing is that the Bible not only insists that God should be supreme to us, it also confesses that God is also supreme to God.

The plain truth of Scripture is that God is relentlessly self-exalting. The God of the Bible commands that we praise and adore Him. The God of the Bible cares immensely about His reputation and His glory, and He opposes those who belittle it. You can scarcely find a page of the Bible without seeing God excited about God.

The biblical text that is most saturated with God's passion for His own glory is Isaiah 48, verses 9 to 11. The context for this passage is the chronic disobedience of the people of Israel. This is what God says: "For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, and for My praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake , I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another . "

There is no way around it. God loves His glory infinitely--it motivates His every action. Does this truth shock you? I know, for many people, this truth is an obstacle to following Christ--to putting Him at the centre. It was an obstacle for C.S. Lewis who, before he became a Christian, referred to God as "vain", and described God as being like "an older woman who always desires compliments".

Lewis was partly right. There is a sense where God is indeed vain and self-centred. This concept bothers many of us, I suspect, for at least 2 reasons. The first reason is that we just don't like people who are vain and self-centred. The second reason is that the Bible teaches us not to be like that. So how is it that God can legitimately be so enamoured with Himself?

Let's think about this. None of us have any trouble believing that God is righteous and holy, do we? If God is righteous then, do we not expect God to value most that which is supremely righteous? If God is supremely righteous, He must value Himself above all things. If God did not take infinite delight in the worth of His glory He would be unrighteous. God is the one Being in the universe that should be self-centred.

We must not, however, make the mistake of assuming that God's self-centredness opposes His love for humanity. The reality is that, God's passion for His glory, rather than opposing love, is the foundation of it . How is God's self-exaltation and glory connected to His love for creation? If God is loving, as we confess, what is the one thing that He could give us that would prove Him to be most loving? God proves that He is most loving by giving us the most valuable thing in the universe: Himself!

God may withhold many things from us. We may not have the material resources we wish we had. The state of our health might not be what we desired. We may not advance in our career the way we had hoped. Our plans for our family might not work out as we anticipated. Is God unloving? Can we accuse God of not providing for our needs? No we can't. God has provided us with the most valuable, and essential, thing in the universe: Himself.

Recent polls show that very few people actually deny the existence of God. I seldom feel the need to defend the existence of God from the pulpit. What most people question is, not the existence of God, but the sufficiency of God . We wrongly think we need more than God.

This is why I have set out to teach on the supremacy of God for 6 weeks. The supremacy of God is not something established by Bryn MacPhail, it is something established by Scripture. The first 3 of the ten commandments are ultimately concerned about the supremacy of God: "You shall have no other gods before Me; You shall not make for yourself an idol; . . . You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain "(Ex. 20:3-7).

God is supreme. God must come first. Only the Son can properly hold our planets in proper orbit--nothing else will do. Is Jesus Christ at the centre of your life? It is what we were made for. God says in Isaiah 43, verse 7, that we were "created for (His) glory ".

Our chief aim, as expressed in the Westminster Confession, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This is a singular aim--we are to glorify God by enjoying Him. These are not separate pursuits. The way we glorify God is by enjoying Him. God doesn't need us or our devotion--His presence in our life is for our own enjoyment. In Acts 17:25, Paul reminds us that, "God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything ". God offers Himself for our enjoyment.

If God, in His love, has given us Himself to enjoy, how should we respond? Or, let me ask another question--what do we all do when we are given or shown something beautiful? We praise it! We praise little babies and well-behaved children, we praise a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, we praise choice wine and a hearty meal, we praise the weather, an excellent poem, a talented musician--we are prone to spontaneously praising that which we value. If God then, is of supreme value, endless praise should spill forth from every Christian.

The mistake many Christians make is that we praise God out of a sense of duty. God doesn't need your praise. Since the command to praise God is for our own benefit, it makes no sense to praise God out of a sense of duty. If I take my wife out for dinner on our anniversary, and after dinner, Allie asks me, 'Why did you do this?'. Tell me which answer honours her most: 'Allie, I took you out because it was my duty', or, 'Allie, it was my pleasure to take you out'. The way we honour God is by taking pleasure in Him.

God wants you to praise Him--not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and wants our joy to be complete. We are to glorify God by enjoying Him, and praise completes our joy .

Let me give you an example. Imagine that you arrive at the Air Canada Centre to watch a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game. When you arrive, the usher gives you a card that states a new rule. The card reads: 'We the Toronto Maple Leafs are glad that you have chosen to support us. However, since we are a humble hockey team, we would like you to refrain from any cheering, clapping, whistling, or any action that demonstrates that you value us more than the visiting team. It is our wish that you would enjoy the game, and that you would seek your highest pleasure, but please, no cheering.'

God exalts Himself to incline us to praise Him . Praise completes our joy . God is not needy or insecure--He seeks our praise for our enjoyment. God exalts His glory for our benefit. Do you want to glorify God? Then you must learn what it means to enjoy God. For 'God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him'(John Piper). Amen.