"I did it on purpose!" Accusing words! "You did that on purpose!" A perceived mistreatment, but worse, an intentional mistreatment. What do you do ‘on purpose?' What do you not do ‘on purpose?' "I didn't do it on purpose."
Purpose is less a biblical word than a biblical concept. In fact, we have several different words translated by the English word "purpose." New Testament words for purpose include to plan, to counsel, to determine in advance, to do. One word is of special interest: prothesis, Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:11. The Bible says God is a purposeful God. Eph. 1:9-10 describes his redemptive purpose in bringing all creation under the umbrella of his eternal purpose. Paul comes back to God's purpose several times in the book of Ephesians, claiming that God's eternal purpose is made visible through the church.
God has plans which are sure to triumph ultimately. God's purpose is seen in creation, in blessing, in redemption. A great theological question arises which we will touch but not treat. Since these are the purposes or intentions of God, are they decrees. If they cannot help but come to pass, are they foreordained and predestined? Others wish for God to be working out his purpose in the ebb and flow of human experience while maintaining free moral agency. This is oversimplification, but it suggests the two opposing points of view.
All would agree that God has purpose, as in our Ephesian text. The point of this lesson is this: If we are like God, we have a purpose in this life. If we belong to God, our purpose coincides with God's purpose. Without purpose of some kind, life is interminable and boring. One of the blessings of this life (which is also a mystery) is that we have some freedom to choose our purpose. The secret of a successful life in this world lies in one's purpose. Curly said it well, "Find that one thing."
The most miserable persons in life are those who have no purpose. Such is mere survival. I was driving home for lunch a few years ago when I saw him. A hitchhiker was thumbing a ride. Fortunately, he was not going my way and I drove on by. Less than an hour later, I was on my way back to the office. The same hitchhiker was still thumbing a ride, and fortunately he was not going my way. He had changed sides of the road and was apparently wanting to go in the opposite direction. Rather reminds me of the question, "Is anybody going anywhere?"
Not only do we as Christians have a purpose, we live according to that purpose. Purpose drives us, eats us up, motivates us. Everything we do is ‘on purpose,' that is, moving us toward our purpose. We have no time for tasks that are ‘off purpose.' We are happiest when we are pursuing our purpose, and when our purpose is God's purpose.
The importance of purpose, and the difficulty of seeing another's purpose clearly, is well illustrated in a poignant story by Don Marquis of Archy. A cockroach watched a moth try desperately to break into an electric light bulb and fry himself on the glowing filament. The moth explained moth philosophy: Better to be happy for a moment and be burned up with beauty than to live a long time and be bored all the while. The cockroach, as many humans, thought: Myself, I would rather have half the happiness and twice the longevity. At the same time, however, I wish there was something I wanted as badly as the moth wanted to fry himself.
If we do not know what we are about, how will we ever become that. God gives the church its purpose--we do not have the luxury nor the responsibility of determining our own purpose.
A part of that purpose is reflected in the last verses of the gospels--the Great Commission, the challenge to faith, the absence of fear. Briefly think with me today about purpose. Then we will ask again about what the purpose of this church should be.
I. The Power of having a Purpose.
II. What is the purpose of this church?
In a nutshell, we are to share what we have with others. Here is a brief study of the last words of Jesus. Here are the concepts he left his followers. Here are his words to the eleven apostles. Here is the challenge of the early chapters of Acts.
It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth with such challenges--to grow spiritually, to teach the world the gospel, to bind God's people together in worship and service. They were sent out with the greatest task in history, but with them went the greatest presence.
As I look at the contemporary 21st century church, I often wonder: "Has Satan distracted us from our purpose?" I read about, visit, and hear about churches that are dividing again-- HSDUFOP? I hear about missions projects abandoned--HSDUFOP? I read about spectacular facilities and money spent on self--HSDUFOP?
I reissue to challenge to us in this church at this place in this community and this time: Let us resolve anew to be the church with Good NEWS! Sharing the saving message of Jesus.
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