31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Richard Lenski called this principle “the ultimate principle of all Christian action.” This principle is indeed very foundational. What makes it interesting is the fact that the Apostle Paul speaks of this principle to address an issue of eating in the church of Corinth. But why so serious? Isn’t eating just a small matter? Every day we eat. Commonly we eat more than once a day. We eat rice, bread, meat, veggies, candies, ice cream, and the list goes on. Eating as an issue is not as big as murder or adultery or blasphemy. But for this seemingly small matter, Paul has to reveal to the Corinthians “the ultimate principle of all Christian action.”
There was an issue among the Corinthians regarding eating. The problem was that in the meat market some meats sold there were first dedicated to idols. This issue was huge in the first century because the worship of idols was a hot topic among Christians. Eating meat that was first used to worship idols was an extension of the main issue of idol worship. While the Christians eating the meat did not actually take part in the idol worship, some Christians thought that the meat was considered defiled by the idols, and thus ought not to be eaten by Christians, otherwise those who eat it would be defiled as well. This matter might not be a big issue for the 21st century Christians, but it was then.
Now, the issue was first surfaced due to the Jewish’ influence. Richard Pratt studied the history and pointed out:
The rabbis placed many restrictions on Jews who lived in pagan cities like Corinth. Jews had to be sure they bought meat only from shops that were kosher.
Some of the believers adopted the Jewish’s code of conduct regarding kosher food. The tendency to maintain superficial purity was strong, that even a simple dinner invitation could be a case for spiritual judgment. Pratt observed:
But this was not Paul’s policy. Believers could eat anything sold … without raising questions about whether the meat had been sacrificed to an idol. Paul supported his counsel by quoting Psalm 24:1: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. Jews often used this phrase in mealtime prayers. Paul used it to assert that the Lord is the only true God of all things, and that idols are insignificant. Followers of Christ could eat without raising questions of conscience—without asking questions about the meat’s history that might trouble the conscience of others.
Thus this becomes a serious matter for Paul. Eventually this seemingly small issue is not small at all. The ultimate principle, or what Robertson Nicoll called as “The supreme maxim of duty” must be spoken so as to govern even the smallest action. John Calvin reflected on this and commented:
Lest they should think, that in so small a matter they should not be so careful to avoid blame, he teaches that there is no part of our life, and no action so minute, that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God, and that we must take care that, even in eating and drinking, we may aim at the advancement of it.
The main operating word here is “to the glory of God.” This is the heart of the ultimate principle. But what exactly is the meaning of “the glory of God”? We are often blinded by the big word that its meaning slips away from our consciousness. Paul Ellingworth and Howard Hutton explained the meaning of “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”:
“do everything in such a way that God will be honored.”
If even eating and drinking, those small matters that we often take for granted, we must do it so that God will be honored, how much more things that are greater than those?
This principle is in no way small or easy to do. If we are honest, we often stumble upon this principle. The Westminster Catechism lists this as the first and most important teaching we must internalize as a human being.
What is the chief and highest end of man?
Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, (Rom. 11:36, Cor. 10:31) and fully to enjoy him forever. (Ps. 73:24–28, John 17:21–23).
We find it difficult to fathom the depth of this principle. We are overwhelmed by the word “to the glory of God” so that we become confused. We often use this word without really grasping its meaning. And we quickly desire an easy solution or a quick fix, just like those in Corinth who preferred to give in to the superficial purity. Thus we ask: “How then should we honor God in our action?” We are ready to leave the discussion about God’s glory and honor. Focusing on our action is much easier than truly grasping the height of God’s glory. So we abandon our quest to fathom God’s glory and honor, and substitute it for the practical dos and don’ts. In our confusion we feel more secure to stick to the restrictions, even if we do not understand why we do or not do those things. But that is not what we are supposed to be.
As followers of Christ, we ought to understand the true meaning of God’s glory and honor. We must strive to grasp it to the best of our knowledge. And here I shall attempt to elaborate to you the meaning of it before we even attempt to put this passage into our daily Christian practice. Now, we have known the boundary of our conduct, in which Paul teaches that in everything we must seek God’s honor. That’s our boundary. Let me borrow from Abraham Kuyper’s most famous quote:
“and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human life of which Christ, Who is Sovereign of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
Therefore, every single thing that we do must intentionally be done so that God will be honored. In short, the boundary is everything. This includes our breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks in between. This also includes the usage of our time, what we do with our gadgets, how and what we think, as well as our entertainment and relaxation choice of activities, the words we speak or not speak, the work and job that we do, and the list is infinitely long.
Now that we know that nothing should be exempted from honoring God, we must turn to the true meaning of glorifying and honoring God. The skeptics would say: “I can’t fathom God’s glory, so why even bother to glorify God?” Let me tell you that what the skeptics say is not true. Because we know deep down the meaning of glorifying and honoring God. A very important way to understand a word is by understanding its opposite. This is a general rule in philosophy. So before we try to ponder the meaning of glory and honor in its positive force, we shall attempt to understand it in its negative force. So let me pose the negative force question here: “What does it mean to dishonor or not glorify God?”
Let me bring this to the human level so that we could understand easier. We all have parents or at least someone who took care of us as we grew up, I assume. Because I do believe that we do not just grow up on our own. Someone must have taken care of us. This is just basic nature for humans. Now, what does it mean to dishonor our parents? Dishonor is closely tied to the context of shame, embarrassment, or humiliation. Let us try the word “humiliate” here. Do we honor our parents if we humiliate them? I believe we all can answer that question with a resounding “No.” And you are right, when we humiliate them, we do not honor them. Thus, it is safe then to understand the meaning of honoring as not humiliating. This is the first and very important meaning. And this meaning is also very practical.
How can we humiliate our parents? One example is by speaking harshly to them in public. Another example is by speaking badly about them. Yet another example is by mocking them in front of our friends of their quirkiness and whatever things they did that we consider to be outdated. How do we then honor our parents? Simply by not doing things that would humiliate our parents. In the same way we honor God by not doing things that would humiliate God. This is the first practical thing to do and the very first level we may attain in the matter of honoring. Let me give you an example.
There is a Christian by the name of Boris. He diligently goes to church every Sunday and actively serving the Lord in his church. This year Boris is elected as an elder in his church. Now, Boris is a trader. He had a stock of corn in his storehouse. He advertised his corn that his corn is the best corn there is. Thus Boris sold it with quite a high price. His friends came to Boris buying his corn. Finally Boris sold all his corn. But then all his friends quickly came back to Boris complaining about the sale. Andrew, Nina, David, Betty, and many more sent Boris messages in his whatsapp telling him that the weight is not accurate. Andrew said that his 100 kg corn weighed only 90 kg when he measured it in his store. Nina’s 1000 kg of corn weighed a mere 900 kg when she measured it. David lost 50 kg as he measured his 500 kg corn he bought from Boris. And Betty’s corn weighed 80 kg less than what she purchased. Finally it was found out that Boris had cheated 10% from the weight measurement. His friends sent to Boris a message saying: “I thought you are a Christian Boris, why did you cheat me? Aren’t Christians not supposed to cheat?” Brothers and sisters, did Boris honor God or humiliate God in his shrewd dealing?
How about the positive force of glorifying and honoring God? Let me caution you that we can’t exhaust it here. But let me focus on one thing at this point, obedience. Actively obeying God means positively glorifying and honoring God. Why so? Obedience is our voluntary act to follow and do what God has commanded. When we obey God, we are in tune with Him. Just like our body, when our hand is in tune with our head, then as our head commands our hand to pick up the book, the hand would obey and do as told without grumbling or complaining. Why Moses was considered dishonoring God when he strikes the rock twice?
10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy. (Numbers 20:10-13)
6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. (Numbers 20:6-9)
The Lord did not instruct Moses to strike the rock, but merely tell the rock to yield water. The miracle was meant to be performed through mere words, no striking necessary. Yet Moses disobeyed the Lord. When Moses disobeyed the Lord, he dishonored the Lord. To demonstrate God’s holiness, Moses was supposed to mimic the Lord. As the Lord gave instructions to the people, Moses too was supposed to instruct the rock. The Lord’s instruction was to be obeyed, and so when Moses, as he was supposed to do but didn’t, instructed the rock, the rock would obey. The Lord did not need to strike Israel so as to command their obedience. In the same way, Moses did not need to strike the rock so as to command its obedience.
Therefore, to positively glorify God we are to actively obey Him. The Lord instructs His people to do to others what they would want others do to them (Matthew 7:12). Boris was supposed to deal with his customers honestly. He should not cheat. Boris too would not like it if someone cheated on him. So he ought to positively obey the Lord’s instruction, and in that way he would honor the Lord.
To glorify God in everything we do is “the ultimate principle of all Christian action.” Whatever we do, we must intentionally aim them to honor God. Negatively, if it does not honor God, do not do it. Positively, if what we are about to do is in tune with His command, then we must do it regardless of the consequences that entail. God’s ultimate grace to us is when He gave His Son to redeem us from sin and eternal death. Jesus actively obeyed the Father and in that way He honored the Father. Jesus obeyed the Father even when life came to Him unjustly and brutally. Thus in Him we are now saved. This is the ultimate grace. And moreover, Jesus’ act of obedience, His act of honoring God, serves as our ultimate model of life that is glorifying God. There are many more things we can elaborate regarding the matter of glorifying God, but space and time does not allow us to do so right now. I want to close with this: if we truly put this simple teaching into practice, we can truly sing the glory of God – the doxology: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). Amen.
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 424–425.
 John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 347.
 Paul Ellingworth, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth, A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1995), 237.
 The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 Kuyper, Abraham. Sphere Sovereignty: A public address delivered at the Inauguration of the Free University, Oct. 20, 1880, tr. George Kemps, p. 26.