What is the purpose of life? How does work fit into the purpose? As a college student I spent many hours contemplating these important questions and many others, such as:
- Do we have free will or are we predestined?
- What is the best form of worship- hymns or praise songs?
- How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
Maybe you have asked some of these same burning questions?
I even remember bringing up some of these questions on my first and only date with the captain of the tennis team. But, that experience didn’t deter me from spending hours discussing these questions with my brother or anyone else who wanted to join our “ATS” (Amateur Theologians Society). My father fondly referred to these discussions as “navel inspection.”
While I have no longer have the leisure to fully dedicate myself the life of the mind (4 kids will do that to you), one question has continued to consume me. As the Westminster confession puts it in Question 1:
What is the chief and highest end of man?
What is the purpose of my life?
In different stages of my life this question has taken on slightly different nuances.
- During college: Should I study Psychology or Education?
- After college: Should I be a developmental psychologist or a theologian?
- Now that I have children: How can I be a godly parent? (This question usually goes through my mind when I’m awoken at 3 a.m.)
For many years, I’ve searched the Scriptures and read the writings of the saints that have come before me, seeking the answer to my purpose in life. I have come to two conclusions:
- The answer is as simple and as complicated as what many of us learned in church: “Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”
- That’s not the right question.
That’s not the right question
I have to agree with my loving Father’s comment that my brother and I spent a lot of time “inspecting our navels.” So often my theology has been self-focused. You remember Carly Simon’s song “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” I probably could rewrite it to say “You’re so vain; you probably think that this life is about you.” I have spent so much time contemplating “my purpose in life,” that I have often failed to realize that “It’s not about me.” What is God’s Word primarily about? God!
So the question we should really be asking is NOT:
“What is MY chief and highest end?”
Rather it should be:
“What is the GOD’S chief and highest end?”
Scripture and the great theologians who have gone before us agree: The chief and highest end of God is: HIS GLORY.
Yet, How many recent sermons, bible studies, or conversations have centered on God’s glory? If I were to honestly answer, I would have to say not many.
“Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”
From the first verse, Scripture focuses on God. Genesis 1 opens “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Our whole understanding of the purpose of life hinges on getting this correct. We were created and equipped to glorify God. Right after the creation of man, Genesis 2 reveals that man was placed by God in the garden “to work it and keep it” and given the task of naming the animals. God, the Creator and ultimate owner of all things (Deut. 8:10-18, Ps. 24:1), gave man the unique calling to be a steward over His creation. (Gen. 1:28-30, 1 Pet. 4:10). When we fulfill the calling to be stewards, we glorify God.
Col. 3:17 urges us to be good stewards in every arena of our life saying, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (ESV)
While there isn’t time or space here to get into the specifics of our individual callings, I want to point to some key theological themes on how we fulfill God’s purpose in life by being good stewards:
1. Stewardship and the Image of God (Gen. 1:26-27)
God created us to be stewards. Stewardship is only possible because we are created in God’s image. We glorify God by reflecting God’s divine image and character through our words and deeds. God is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, and has called us to participate alongside Him in caring for His creation
2. Vice-regents (1 Cor. 4:1-2, Ps. 24:1)
While God has absolute ownership over all, He has entrusted mankind with creation. We are to work alongside God, recognizing creation ultimately belongs to the King of Kings.
3. Caretaking (Phil. 2:3-8)
As stewards and vice-regents we are called to care for creation in the same way that God cares for it. We are not to use creation and others for our own selfish purposes, but to tenderly care for it, just as Christ did.
4. Character (Matt. 25:14-10)
Biblical stewardship is rooted in godly character. When we are good stewards we exemplify the godly characteristics of faithfulness, responsibility, trustworthiness, wisdom, and integrity.
5. Empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Phil. 1:6)
We cannot glorify God on our own. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can truly fulfill God’s calling in our lives and glorify Him. We can rest in God’s promise that He will complete the good work He begun in us.
Having God’s perspective on stewardship and the purpose of life helps us to avoid worshipping creation rather than the Creator. As Tim Keller put it, “Idolatry means turning a good thing into the ultimate thing.” We are easily enticed to make God’s creation, including our jobs and ourselves, the ultimate thing. Instead, today, let us seek to make God our ultimate end.