“Gloria in Excelsis Deo” is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest” which is a hymn known also as the Greater Doxology. It begins with the words that the angels sang when the birth of Christ was announced to shepherds in Luke 2:14. Other verses were added in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, forming a doxology. What is the significance of these words? Why did a multitude of the heavenly host joined the angel in praising God with these words (Luke 2:13)?
Glory to God, praise be to God, or honour be to God means that the praise of redeeming man is due to God. The plan of redemption will bring glory to God, and is designed to express his glory. This it does by evincing his love to people, his mercy, his condescension, and his regard to the honour of his law and the stability of his own government. It is the highest expression of his love and mercy. Nowhere, so far as we can see, could his glory be more strikingly exhibited than in giving his only-begotten Son to die for man. The idea implied in the words “in the highest” (the Greek is plural), is that the praise is heard in the very heaven of heavens, in the highest regions of the universe.
What did Jesus mean when he said: “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31) and “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1)?
Jesus prayed that God would so honour him in his death that striking proof might be furnished that he was the Messiah, and men thus be brought to honour God. By his death the law, the truth, and the mercy of God were honoured. By the spread of his gospel and the conversion of sinners; by all that Christ will do, now that he is glorified, to spread his gospel, God will be honoured. The conversion of a single sinner honours God; a revival of religion is an eminent means of promoting his honour; and the spread of the gospel among all nations shall yet do more than all other things to promote the honour of God among men. Whatever honours the Saviour honours God. Just as he is exalted in view of the mind, so will God be honoured and obeyed.
If the dying Christ be the Son of God dying for us, then the Cross glorifies God, because it teaches us that the glory of the divine character is the divine love. Of wisdom, or of power, or of any of the more ‘majestic’ attributes of the divine nature, that weak Man, hanging dying on the Cross, was a strange embodiment; but if the very heart of the divine brightness be the pure white fire of love; if there be nothing diviner in God than His giving of Himself to His creatures; if the highest glory of the divine nature be to pity and to bestow, then the Cross upon which Christ died towers above all other revelations as the most awesome, the most sacred, the most tender, the most complete, the most heart-touching, the most soul-subduing manifestation of the divine nature; and stars and worlds, and angels and mighty creatures, and things in the heights and things in the depths, to each of which have been entrusted some broken syllables of the divine character to make known to the world, dwindle and fade before the brightness, the lambent, gentle brightness that beams out from the Cross of Christ, which proclaims-God is love, is pity, is pardon.
Everything Jesus did on earth was done to glorify his Heavenly Father, so how do we glorify God with our lives (cf. Matthew 5:16; John 15:8; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Peter 2:12)?
To “glorify” God means to give glory to Him. The word glory as related to God in the Old Testament bears with it the idea of greatness of splendor. In the New Testament, the word translated “glory” means “dignity, honour, praise and worship.” Putting the two together, we find that glorifying God means to acknowledge His greatness and give Him honour by praising and worshiping Him, primarily because He, and He alone, deserves to be praised, honoured and worshipped. God’s glory is the essence of His nature, and we give glory to Him by recognizing that essence.
The question that comes to mind is if God has all the glory, which He does, how then do we “give Him” glory? How can we give God something which is His in the first place? The key is found in 1 Chronicles 16:28-29, “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” In this verse, we see two actions on our part that make up the action of glorifying God. First, we “ascribe” or give glory to Him because it is His due. No one else deserves the praise and worship that we give to glorify Him. Isaiah 42:8 confirms this: “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” Second, we are to “bring an offering” to God as part of the worship that glorifies Him. What is the offering we bring to God to glorify Him?
The offering we bring to God as we come before Him in the splendor or beauty of His holiness involves agreement, obedience, submission, and rehearsing His attributes or extolling Him. Glorifying God begins with agreeing with everything He says, especially about Himself. In Isaiah 42:5, God declares, “I am the Lord God. I created the heavens like an open tent above. I made the earth and everything that grows on it. I am the source of life for all who live on this earth, so listen to what I say.” Because of who He is, holy and perfect and true, His proclamations and statutes are holy and perfect and true (Psalm 19:7), and we glorify Him by listening to and agreeing with them. God’s Word, the Bible, is His Word to us, all that we need for life in Him. Listening to and agreeing with Him, though, will not glorify Him unless we also submit to Him and obey the commands contained in His Word. “But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17-18). Jesus reiterated the idea that glorifying and loving God are one and the same in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
We also glorify God by rehearsing His attributes and His deeds. Stephen, in his final sermon before he was killed for his faith, retold the story of God’s dealings with Israel from the time Abraham left his country in obedience to God’s command, all the way to the coming of Christ, the “Righteous One,” whom Israel betrayed and murdered. When we tell of God’s work in our lives, how He saved us from sin, and the marvelous works He does in our hearts and minds every day, we glorify Him before others. Even though others don’t always want to hear our glorifying God, He is more than pleased by it. The crowd who heard Stephen hated what he said, covering their ears and rushing at him to stone him. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).
To glorify God is to extol His attributes—His holiness, faithfulness, mercy, grace, love, majesty, sovereignty, power, and omniscience, to name a few—rehearsing them over and over in our minds and telling others about the singular nature of the salvation only He offers.
Let’s praise God with the Christmas carol “Angels We Have Heard On High”: