THE PREVALENCE OF PURPOSE IN SCRIPTURE
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Children's Object lesson: Make a basic toast grabber as pictured to the right. This can easily be done by gluing two tongue depressors to a common clothes pin with carpenters glue. A toast grabber is used to remove toast stuck in a toaster without the danger of electrocuting yourself.
Children's Lesson: Take the toast grabber, and without telling the children what it is, ask them to make suggestions as to what the purpose of this little thing is. (They may suggest: t tongue grabber, a tool to plug your nose, a ear ring?, something to tie back your hair, etc.) Make some humorous suggestions. If the children do not guess what it is really for, let them think about it throughout the sermon and add the suggestions "Maybe we should ask the person who made it!" Reveal that the purpose is as a TG, has the deeper purpose of personal safety. Tell the children the real purpose of the toast Grabber at the end of the sermon. They should get the point that the best way to discover purpose is to ask the designer.
Brothers and sisters in Christ
The Question of ultimate Purpose is the most unasked question in our society. This basic question of purpose is the question that comes to our materialistic minds when we slow down enough to think, let go of all the entertaining distractions of our hearts, or maybe become middle aged when actually the opportunity of really doing something significant about this question has for the bulk passed. That is our society. Avoiding this question is all around us. We live in a culture that tells us the question is hardly valid. Logical positivism, which has permeated much of what we call science today has the premise that if a conclusion is not empirically verifiable, then the question before it is not worth asking.
15 years ago, Hugh Moorhead (teaches Philosophy at Northeastern Illinois University) put together the book "The Meaning of Life according to our Century's Greatest Writers and Thinkers." In this book he asked 250 well known authors, philosophers and scientists included, "What is the meaning of Life?" Many of the responses that were returned confessed that when it came to this question they were ignorant, unable to come up with an answer, or they suggested best guesses, some even asked Moorhead if he had the answer. Though our hearts long for the answer, it seems we aren't willing to ask the question.
And so we replace the question with its nearest equivalent: "How can I succeed?" as if success is the purpose of our lives. And there are hundreds of gurus who will charge hundreds of dollars to answer that question with a very predictable answer: Dream, discover your gifts, develop your gifts, set goals, aim high, persevere, above all, think positive and you will be a success! But success is not the question. I may successfully use a tire wrench to club somebody over the head, that would be very successful but it has nothing to do with the purpose for which that tire wrench was designed! Today's standard is to make the best of purposelessness. Don't ask the question of purpose! Just do the best with what you are and what you have! We forget that success and purpose are far from the same thing.
How can we get to the answer of purpose? Ultimately, purpose is a religious question - religious because only the one who designed creation, designed us, designed the church can answer it. The Word of God gives us the answer. I invite you to turn to Ephesians 1, just one of many passages in the scriptures that point us to the answer of ultimate meaning.
1 Paul, an apostle of
Christ Jesus by the will of God,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
I encourage you to notice a few things about this passage. In verses 1-12, notice that in every sentence there is one subject, one person acting, one person developing the plans and making the choices, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Purpose starts with the designer, God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth. He choose us, he predestined us, in him we have redemption, he lavished on us, he made known to us, he purposed, its his plan. Scripture pushes purpose back to God, back to the source of all existence and tells us that existence is a result of divine intentionality.
Whatever God has done, everything God has done, scripture tells us that God does it with purpose, design. From before the creation of the World, the creation of the universe, the creation of humanity, the progress of human history, our very lives with all their struggles, joy and pain, success and failure, the future, with all of its unknowns - it all has God's purpose, God's plans and intentions are coming to fulfillment. It all starts with God. History is not going in circles. Disney with its movies might promote that life is a circle but it is not. Our lives have a divinely determined destiny. History is not chance happenings, nor is this the gradual development of truth by thesis, antithesis and synthesis. History from its very beginning to its conclusion is proceeding according to a plan, God's purpose.
Now the second thing we have to notice in this passage is that there is an object of every sentence. We are the object! We are the ones blessed, we are the ones chosen, we are the ones predestined, we are the ones adopted, we are the ones freely given too, we are the ones who have redemption lavished on us, we are the ones included in Christ, we are the ones who received the Spirit!
This is very profound. If we accept that God is the source of all existence, if we accept that existence was made and designed by God with purpose in mind, then this passage along with all the rest of scripture tells us that we are at the very heart of that purpose. Contrary again to themes in our culture which make us simply another byproduct of evolution in its relentless march, equal at best to any other evolved species, this teaches us that when God made it all, when God acted throughout history, when Christ died on the cross, when history comes to a conclusion, God has done and will do it all with us in mind. Wow!
Third, notice from this passage the Motive. Every time someone designs something, they create with intention! There is not only purpose, there is motive, something that flavors the very character of the purpose. For example, an engineer may build a bridge - and the purpose of the bridge might be to help people cross of river, but if his underlying motive is to make money, maybe an excess of money - maybe that bridge will be unsafe.
Notice from this passage God's motive. IN LOVE he predestined us, and the words that describe the action of that love, he blessed us, he lavished on us, he choose us. These are the choice acts of love. These are all God,acting in ways consistent with his intention, fulfilling what he has purposed in ways that are true to his character.
Again, let's step back and ask some ultimate kinds of questions. If God is, and he is the ground of all that exists, if he is perfect in all his attributes, then the fundamental conclusion to which we must arrive is that he has no need for anything outside of himself. He does not need to create something to achieve a purpose that will serve him. He doesn't need creation to see beauty for he is beauty itself. He doesn't need us to do things for him, for if he was able to create all that is, it is nothing for him to do anything we could do himself. God doesn't need creation. God doesn't need us.
Why then create us? What could be the motive behind his purpose? The answer is love! God's motive in all of creation is to share his love, his perfect love, with not only the Son and the Spirit but with many children. That is why Roman's 8 tells us that Christ is the first born among many brothers, that is why we are co heirs with Christ, because God has the motive of sharing his love with us. The very purpose of existence is motivated by the love of God.
This has profound consequences on the way we think about theology, about this world, about ourselves. Let me start with the world. Scenery, nature, squirrels, mountains, rivers, each is an expression of God's motive - his love for us.
When it comes to theology, the Jews made so much ado about law, they forgot the spirit of the law which was to point them to God's love, God's favor, God's blessing, that God was treating them like his favorite children. Theology cannot have the motive of control, to be consistent with God's motive, it must have the motive of love freely given. When we look at ourselves, how many of us here think that we were created to be loved, it is not only our deepest need, it is our destiny past present and future - from before the creation of the world, in love he predestined us... For us, God's motive ought to be our motive, God's way of dealing with us ought to be our way of dealing with one another. Love is the defining character of God's people! By our love, the world will know that we have learned from God, that we are Christ's disciples.
Let me finally talk about the fulfillment of God's purpose. Notice how Christ appears in almost every sentence. Whatever God does, it is in Christ, through Christ, he purposed in Christ, when all things come to fulfillment under one source that is Christ and then that repeated phrase "to the praise of his glory" who is over everything and fills everything in every way.
The fulfillment of God's purpose has to do with glorifying his son. Now in just a few minutes let me retrace the biblical story with you.
Scripture tells us that it was the Word, Christ, that created all things. If there is any beauty or majesty it comes from him. Scripture tells us that God's purpose of freely sharing his love was thwarted by the deception of the evil one in the Garden of Eden, but God, who is the ultimate Sovereign, whose purposes cannot be thwarted, worked through history, selected his people through whom his son would be born, who would minister the truth of God's love, would be rejected, be crucified on a cross, be buried, but on the third day arise again. And then scripture tells us something very profound! It tells us that in Christ, what became obscure by the fall into sin becomes very clear again. In Christ we once again see God's motive driving every part of his purpose, in this we see God's love, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Christ the Word reveals to us in the most intimate way the heart motive of the Father behind everything that exists - and that motive was love. And because he has revealed to us the result, the fulfillment of God's purposes will be for the Praise and Glory of God and of his Christ. Of his praise there will be no end. St. John in the book of Revelation says
"You are worthy to take
"Worthy is the Lamb,
who was slain,
"To him who sits on the
throne and to the Lamb
14 The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.