The Three Letters That Define Christian Mission

The Christian’s mission is to be undertaken “soli Deo gloria”—for God’s glory alone.

“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:20 ESV)

On the landscape of classical music, one figure towers above the rest. Ludwig van Beethoven named him “the immortal god of harmony.” Claude Debussy called him “a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity.” Yet for the famed Johann Sebastian Bach, whose works today still cause listeners to feel as though they are ascending the very heights of heaven, there was one higher than him to whom recognition was due.

Accordingly, the baroque composer identified the aim of all music as “none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” This Bach signified by appending three letters to his compositions: S.D.G., abbreviating the Latin soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone).

Protestants recognize soli Deo gloria as more than a convenient slogan but a phrase capturing the essence of the faith as it is revealed in Scripture. Because salvation is of God from beginning to end—from the Father’s loving purpose in election (Ephesians 1:5), to the Spirit’s work to convert the sinner’s heart (John 3:3), to the believer’s perseverance unto final glory (Philippians 1:6)—it is God and not man who receives the glory in redemption. Contrary to any religious system in which human merit factors into a person’s ultimate standing before God, the gospel leaves no room for fleshly boasting (Romans 3:27) and thus ensures that, in the final analysis, all God’s works in creation and redemption will redound to his praise (Romans 11:36).

Likewise, Paul’s doxology at the end of Philippians 4 reminds us that God is worthy of glory not only in our salvation but in the whole domain of our existence. After promising the generous believers in Philippi that God will supply all their needs according to “his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19), the apostle shifts to ascribe glory to God in return. There is a sort of “glory” which God shares with his children and a distinct, ineffable “glory” which is reserved for deity alone. When God supplies for his saints and their service to him, he is seen as sufficient and satisfying, and is thus magnified. From this we see that God does not only bestow glory on his people in Christ but also does so for his own eternal renown.

Here is an important heart check for the believer. Do we see God merely as a dispenser of blessings, or as One who, in turn, is deserving of blessing? Do we remember to glorify the Lord for his goodness, or do we neglect to return thanks, like the nine lepers whom Jesus healed (Luke 17:11-19)?

Further consideration of Paul’s doxology should stir our hearts towards this proper state of worship. First, consider that God is called “our God and Father.” He is not distant but near to his children. These words echo Jesus’ statement following his resurrection: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17b). By faith, the Christian stands in God the Son such that God the Father is as much a Father to him as he is to the Son himself. We partake of the fellowship of the Godhead as adopted coheirs hidden in our covenant head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Glory!

To what degree is our God and Father to be glorified? “Forever and ever”—or, more literally, “for the ages of the ages.” Endless epochs of time will be inadequate to ascribe sufficient worth to the Lord of glory. As to the question of why this is, John Gill provides this commentary: “for all the grace he gives now, and for all the glory and happiness expected hereafter; for the supply of every want both temporal and spiritual; seeing every good gift comes from him, and is to be ascribed to his free grace and favour, and not to any deserts of men.”

Paul punctuates his doxology with the formulaic “Amen,” signifying intense agreement with what he has stated. Though Paul’s purpose in writing has been to unite and encourage his readers in their striving for the faith, this goal is subservient to the ultimate goal: worship. If there is anything with which the believer’s affections should resonate, it should be the expressed adoration of the God he loves.

A final exhortation is needed. Those who serve in ministry or on mission in some significant capacity often face the insidious temptation to pursue their own glory. Modern society offers ubiquitous and incessant opportunities to make one’s own name great by building online followings, winning loyalty to one’s personal brand, and merchandising one’s own popularity for profit. Repudiating such vainglory, Paul elsewhere exhorts: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:18). Similarly, Jesus warns his disciples to regard themselves as but unprofitable servants doing what was commanded (Luke 17:10). The Christian servant must stand guard against self-glorification, seizing upon each doxology in Scripture to tune his heart to the proper frequency of worship.

As we strive on mission as Christians, let us utter our own hearty amen for God’s glory, and may those who hear the melody of our faith see “S.D.G.”printed boldly on our lives.


My God and Father,
In your kindness, you provide for me all that I need for life and godliness. You have saved me by your own grace, and you supply me with all things needful for the body. You are building up your church and striving zealously in and through her for the global renown of your name. Be pleased to receive glory from my life for all that you are and all you have done. Cause me to overflow in thanks and worship to you, for you are worthy.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray for a joyful spirit of worship to characterize your heart, home, and church.
  • Pray that new churches being planted on the mission field would be rooted in an understanding of God’s grace that preserves his glory, recognizing redemption as his work from beginning to end.
  • Pray for missionaries today to follow Paul’s example and glorify God for his glorious supply in their lives. Ask God to help them resist the temptation of vainglory and seek his fame alone.