Would God Be Just as Glorified If We Were His Slaves?
Interview with John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Yes and amen. But wouldn’t God also be glorified in us if we were just minions, his slavish laborers? It’s a question from a listener named Gage. “Pastor John, hello! I just finished reading the first chapter of your book Desiring God. After the introduction, I was fired up to read more about Christian Hedonism and already felt as if I could call your book a paradigm-shifting one for me. My confusion hit when I began reading about the happiness of God. As you described the chief end of God, I didn’t find myself in disbelief. If God’s chief end is to glorify himself, that is absolutely believable. Where I am awestruck is the fact that his glorification is his chief end, and yet he still doesn’t require us to live by works to satisfy him! But my question is this: Why is it that God — his chief end being to glorify himself — doesn’t require us to slave away in works? Couldn’t he be just as glorified in us if we were tireless slaves for him?”
“Couldn’t he be just as glorified in us if we were tireless slaves for him?” And the answer to that question is easy and clear: No, he could not be just as glorified.
But the best way to come at a question like this is not first to dig into the nature of God to explain why this is so. That’s what I was frankly tempted to do, because it’s not hard to do and it’s glorious to do it. But I think the best way is first to dig into Scripture to show that this is so — not just why it is so — that he does not seek tireless slaves for him. Because that will yield, I think, a more biblically sound and solid answer than if we try to jump over concrete texts and just jump to the nature of an all-sufficient God to argue why he doesn’t need slave labor. So, let’s do that.
“You can’t ever put God in your debt. He already has everything. If you give him anything, you’re giving him what he already owns.”TweetShare on Facebook
There will be clear answers to the question of why God is more glorified when we receive power and blessing from him rather than receiving slave labor from him. Those answers are coming. But even if we couldn’t answer the question of why, it’s crucial that we submit to the teaching of Scripture that it is so. He doesn’t need and doesn’t use slave labor. He abhors the idea of being served as a slave who provides the poor, needy plantation owner with the labor that he’s lacking. God does get more glory from our serving freely, by faith in his enabling power, than by our providing needed slave labor.
So, let’s look at a few passages and then circle back to the question of why God would be more glorified this way than by tireless slave labor.
God Gives All Strength
Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. (1 Peter 4:11)
So, God gets the glory because God gave the strength. The giver gets the glory. If we were the giver of slave labor and God were that needy plantation owner, dependent on us, then we would get the glory — our power and our wisdom and our resourcefulness providing his need. That’s the gist of the argument in 1 Peter 4:11. Here’s 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.
So, God is glorified because he fulfills every good resolve and work of faith. We don’t provide his slave labor. He provides our strength to give any labor. That’s why he gets the glory, according to 2 Thessalonians 1:12.
God Owns All Things
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth . . . is [not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)
So, God’s glory is such that he is not and cannot be served as though he needed anything, especially slave labor. He’s the giver of all, not the receiver. And then Romans 11:34–36:
Who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Answer: Nobody. Nobody counsels God. Nobody gives God advice that he doesn’t already know.
Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?
Answer: Nobody. You can’t negotiate or barter with God. You can’t ever put him in your debt. He already has everything. If you give him anything, you’re giving him what he already owns.
From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.
“We are bound to God, not because we are held in jail, but because we are held by joy.”TweetShare on Facebook
So, he gets glory because nobody can give him anything that he doesn’t first give to us, for all is from him and through him and to him. The giver gets the glory. God’s way of saving us is by faith in his initiative and his gift and his empowerment. It is decisively from him, through him, to him from beginning to end.
God Does What He Promises
And so, Paul says of Abraham in Romans 4:20–21,
He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Faith in God’s promises of provision is how we glorify God, not by showing that we have resources for slave labor in ourselves to contribute to God’s faltering labor force. Jesus says to his disciples,
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
And he makes clear that his glory consists in his being the giver, not the taker. John 14:13:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
So, God is glorified by being rich, resourceful, all-providing as our Giver-Father.
Bound by Joy
Here’s the answer to the question, “Couldn’t God be just as glorified in us if we were tireless slaves for him?” No, because having slaves shows a few glories: some wealth to purchase the slaves, some power to coerce the service, some wisdom to secure the investment. So, there’s a kind of glory for the slave master.
But the fullness of God’s glory would never be shown this way. His grace, his mercy, his patience, his kindness, would not shine that way. God knows that he is seen to be more glorious when the beauty of all of his perfections bind us to him, not with chains, but with cherishing; not with coercion, but with contentment; not because he’s a tyrant, but because he’s a treasure that we won’t leave. He’s not a tyrant that we can’t leave; he’s a treasure that we won’t leave, and therefore, he gets way more glory that way than if he operated by coercion that we had to fulfill against our delights.
No, God would not get more glory from a tireless slave-labor force. He gets more glory by being so beautiful in his character and in his ways that we are bound to him, not because we are held in jail, but because we are held by joy.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.