Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Those of you who know me may know I have an agenda against the glory of God, at least as I’m hearing it talked about in a lot of churches. There’s a tendency to overstate the case. God is himself intrinsically glorious, and we are to glorify God, in the sense that we should always be acknowledging His glory in our talk and actions. But a lot of times we use the idea of glory as a way of explaining God’s motivation, and as a key for identifying what our motives should be. And often, this gets in the way of simpler, more accessible objectives.
So looking above at Romans 15:2. Each of us should always seek to be pleasant to our neighbors. Why? For their benefit, to build them up. Should our goal be to glorify God? Yeah, sure. But if you aim at God’s glory without looking to our neighbor’s good, I doubt you’ll have much success at hitting either.
I often think that love is a bit like happiness: it’s a byproduct, and can’t be got by aiming directly at it. So, looking at the cross, I’ve heard it said that as Jesus died, he was thinking first of the glory of God. Now we can’t know what Jesus didn’t say, but what does scripture say? “The son of man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
There are lots of ways that Jesus could have given glory to God, in a maximally efficient manner. Most of the ideas that come to mind involve lightning bolts. But he came as a servant, and was humbled unto death, for the benefit of people who had made Him their enemies. This is the apex of glory, but what makes it glorious is His humility and his care, not for himself or for the Father in any direct way, but first for us. If you say that Jesus came looking for glory, and after a little research settled on saving the world by dying as the best among many options, it cheapens it a bit, doesn’t it?
Similarly, if I come looking for glory (glory for me or for God), and I settle on helping my neighbor as a good way to get it, I suppose it’s as Jesus said, “surely you have received your reward.” There’s a better, more direct way. Jesus has been good to me, so let me be good to my neighbor. Why? For his good, to build him up. My neighbor is in God’s image. It is good to be good to him. No other motivation is necessary.