A friend texted this question: “When we worship God the Father or Christ we pray all the honor, glory, power, majesty, etc. be unto You. But in His being He already has all of those attributes in their entirety. Why do we pray these things like we are worthy to give them?”
I like this question. I remember getting stuck at:
“And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." (Rev 5:11-12 NAS)
How can biblical writers say that we give God glory or honor or strength or power or wisdom? And what about riches, etc.? Does God receive power from us humans?
In one sense, how can mortals give anything to God other than sacrifice or praise?
Break it up into 3 categories of what we as His people give to God:
1) Giving God material, physical offerings:
This is straightforward to understand. These include tithes, sacrifices, contributions etc. These can only be - by definition - a fraction of what He first gave to us. Think of Abraham tithing a tenth of the spoils of war to the priest of God Most High (Gen 14:20). That’s a direct gift, and part of the Levitical system of sacrifices was to provide for all the people engaged in the dedicated work of ministry, Levites and priests and their families, who had no inheritance of land for their own:
“Then the LORD said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. "And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.” (Num 18:20-21 NAS)
Giving to support the people doing God’s work is an important part of honoring and worshiping God. This gets carried on in the New Testament church: “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” (1Co 9:14 NAS) This extends to others who have ministry responsibility in the church:
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." (1Ti 5:17-18 NAS)
Like giving to support the church workers, we are also called to give to others in need. This has always been true throughout Old and New Testament times, e.g.
"He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. "So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deu 10:18-19 NAS)
But there’s more to it than simple charity. As we are fond of saying, our horizontal relationships (how we love other people) reflect our vertical relationships (our love for God). “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” (Pro 19:17 NAS) Taking care of people is, in a very real way, part of our relationship with God.
Jesus tied this to our eternal destiny:
"And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' (Mat 25:40 NAS)
"Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Mat 25:45-46 NAS)
Giving needed resources is life-and-death critical – for us! - in the eyes of Him who sees and judges all and is a part of our relationship with and responsibility to God. When we give to others in acknowledgement of what God has provided for us, we are giving honor and glory to God.
Also, when we talk about giving to God, the physical things are the best example of how it is never a matter of need. God doesn’t ‘need’ anything.
"For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. "I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. "If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all it contains." (Psa 50:10-12 NAS)
God doesn’t ‘need’ anything from us; He is not missing anything; He is in no way incomplete. All of Creation is His – He made it. That leads us directly to the next point.
2) Giving God Immaterial, intangible, abstract concepts, values:
This is where I had a lot of questions, as in the verse from Revelation above. Do we give the risen Jesus power? Really? How does that work? Is that like Star Wars “the force” that can move objects or get sucked up and taken away by the evil emperor? Short answer is, NO.
Aside: In physics we recognize potential and kinetic energy in all their forms, mechanical, electrical, chemical, light, gravitational, and whatever else. There is also immaterial power and influence we use every day that falls in the psychological, emotional, rational and volitional realms, whether it’s daddy’s little girl that has her father “wrapped around her finger” or the charismatic influence of pastors, politicians and entertainers, or the despotic rule of a tyrant to make things happen, for good or ill. Also, it’s not that supernatural power does not exist, i.e. strength of angelic beings in the spiritual realm to influence the physical realm, or the divine power to miraculously heal or strike a person blind and mute for that matter. We can clearly recognize and experience the immaterial and the supernatural, and that in some way we also wield those.
The most helpful explanation I’ve found for this is wrapped up in the term ascribe. Merriam-Webster defines, Ascribe: “to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author : to say or think that (something) is caused by, comes from, or is associated with a particular person or thing”
Ascribe translates Hebrew יָהַב (yahab) (396c); Meaning: to give; Usage: ascribe(10), also translated as choose(m)(1), come(4), give(15), here(m)(1), place(m)(1), provide(1).
Examples: When David dedicates the ark of God which he had brought into Jerusalem (1Chron16), the choir and band sang:
“Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, 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 holy array.” (1Ch 16:28-29 NAS)
This means the people acknowledge and recognize that God is the cause and source of glory and strength, that these properties are associated with Him, and we are right to praise Him for it by publicly calling it out. In English we say that we attribute these things to God; we proclaim that these are His attributes. That makes sense, when we hear all the times the people said, “give glory to God.”
Aside: The word has broader meaning, which may or may not be as helpful to our question. For example, Jacob struck a deal with his future father-in-law, Laban, to work 7 years to marry Rachel. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her." (Gen 29:20-21 NAS) That word translated give is the same Hebrew word for ascribe. Jacob fulfilled the agreed 7 years’ work, therefore it was appropriate to recognize and ascribe Rachel as his wife. The range of meaning for the Hebrew word crosses over to the physical, as in ‘make it happen, as it is supposed to be,’ as in “"If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!" So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. (Zec 11:12 NAS) This meaning for the word certainly applies to what we give to God, because it is according to His covenant and He surely deserves it, fulfilling everything He says.
Another, not the last or only other, way to look at how we “give” these things to God is in blessing or praise. We give God blessings, as in “"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." (Rev 5:12 NAS) Blessing translates the Greek word eulogian. To speak highly of someone - including God - is to bless them, as the Greek word eulogian is the familiar root of our word eulogy, where we speak praises of someone who has died.
This is a weird one, too. We are accustomed to saying, “God bless you,” and either with words or material items giving a blessing to others. But it’s also biblical to say, “we bless You, Lord,” in essence giving God a blessing. Does that seem strange? Perhaps it shouldn’t.
Psalm 103 begins and ends in blessing the LORD:
“Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will. Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psa 103:20-22 NAS)
The congregation of those returned from exile gathered to hear God’s Word and give praise in days-long celebration and worship:
“"Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and ever! O may Thy glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! (Neh 9:5 NAS)
“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.” (Psa 96:1-3 NAS)
So, when we praise God we are ascribing glory, power, honor and blessing, etc. to Him as the source and cause, but also as deserving of all these things.
3) Giving God our souls, ourselves:
We can make the choice of first yielding then actively offering ourselves to God, to follow His leading and direction for His purposes, making our very lives a sacrifice. Think of Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” Everything we have, everything we are is from God, for God, and we give it back to God. The consummation at the End Times is the fulfillment of all of Creation coming at last under the kingship of Christ, material and immaterial, wealth and resources, bodies and souls, as has always been God’s plan.