God is the most God-centered Being that exists.

God values his glory above all other things.

God is love.

Sentence #1 and #2 are obviously synonymous. Both are dealing with the same idea, namely, God’s desire for God’s glory above all else. The reason why many people do not like statements like those is because of their apparent contradiction with sentence #3. How can God possibly seek his own glory and at the same time pour out love on his creatures?

Dr. Ben Witherington is the latest to express his discomfort with such ideas. Though he speaks pejoratively– using terms such as “narcissistic”, “recreating God”, that God is “deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not”– he is addressing an important question: Does the God-centeredness of God eliminate his love? And if so, is it therefore unbiblical?

Witherington puts the God-centeredness of God against the other-directed love of God. Jesus “emptied himself” and “became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:5-8). He was not seeking his own glory, but was totally other-directed in his pursuit of man’s salvation. Likewise, in Hebrews 12, Jesus did not endure the cross for the glory set before him, but for the “joy”, apparently a reference to man’s salvation. And John 3:16 clearly states that God’s motivation for giving his Son was for his love of the world.

No one would deny God’s love for the world, nor would anyone deny that Jesus “gave himself up” in the work of redemption (cf. Eph. 5:25). But does God, in the other-directed, self-sacrificing love in redemption, have a view toward his own glory? In other words, are the two aims necessarily contradictory?

To have a contradiction, something must be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same way. What I am arguing is that “God’s pursuit of his glory above all things” and “Jesus’ self-sacrificing love in redemption” are not contradictory. Both are consistent with each other and with God’s essential character.

Philippians 2 does not stop with Jesus’ “obedience unto death, even death on a cross” (v.8). Paul continues his thought with a tremendous view towards Jesus’ exaltation (9-11). “Therefore”– as a result of Jesus’ total obedience of the Father in accomplishing salvation– “God has highly exalted him…to the glory of God the Father” (9, 11). God has given Jesus the highest name, earning him worship from all of creation, all of which glorifies the Father. Now the question is this: Did Jesus know that would happen? And if he did know he would be highly exalted, and yet did not scrap the project because it wasn’t altogether self-effacing, but was in the end totally self-exalting, could we call his entire work unloving?

Hebrews 12:1-3 also sees exaltation at the end of Christ’s work. Not only is Christ seated at the right hand of the Father as Great High Priest (v.2), but he is also exalted as the great example for the endurance of the saints (v.1, 3). It is unwarranted to say that Jesus’ joy is in others but not in his own exaltation.

John 3:16 does proclaim God’s love for the world. Interestingly, though, is Jesus’ answer to why he is the one who gives life. It is caused by God’s love for the world, but its end is “that you may marvel” (5:20-21). The “greater works” that the Son does, his ability to resurrect the dead and his authority to judge, was given to him “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (v.23). Again, the goal is the glory of God.

God is the agent in salvation (Eph. 1:3-14). He works all things, from election to glorification, “to the praise of His glory”. It does not follow from this text that God’s grace in salvation and his glory in salvation are separable.

God’s love redeems his own from his wrath and their slavery to sin. God’s love forgives sin, sanctifies the sinner, and adopts him to be an heir of his eternal inheritance. He is no longer dead, but is forever alive in him. All of these things is for the enjoyment of God’s exaltation and glory for all eternity. To say that God did not have this as an aim is simply inconsistent with the Scriptures.

In the end we must be faithful to the Scriptures. If the Scriptures do not gel with our understanding of the text, we must humbly submit to the witness of the texts and wrestle with the text until by God’s grace we are blessed with illumination. For if God did not love God, he would not have moved with love toward redeeming the lost. And because he did demonstrate his love toward us through Christ, we will praise his glorious name forever.

[Note: Denny Burk commented on Dr. Witherington here, and John Piper comments here.]