Friday, September 29, 2023

The Meaning and Purpose of Life

When I was in graduate school studying Old Testament wisdom literature, I had some intriguing conversations with a young man in the congregation who was attending the local community college.  He was taking a class in Philosophy, which included readings from the Bible, particularly Job and Ecclesiastes.  Both book deal with, among other things, the issue of meaning.  The meaning of life is a questions mankind has wrestled with from the beginning.

It is interesting that the book of Ecclesiastes opens with the statement that everything under the sun is meaninglessness piled on top of meaninglessness.  The sage’s pursuit of meaning in every type of endeavor always ended up with empty meaninglessness.  In the end, the conclusion was simple yet profound: The whole of man is to fear God and keep his commandments.  The pursuit for meaning in life will always come up empty in the end.  Instead, one should pursue God, and meaning will come.  

Where does one start in keeping God’s commandments?  Are there certain commands that are greater?  This was a discussion among the teachers of Jesus’ day.  They came and asked him for his assessment as to which commandment was the greatest.  Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:37-40).  

Every commandment given in the Bible is connected to the greatest command, which is love for God.  This is why Paul wrote that, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10).  This is why John elevates love when he speaks of keeping the commandments of God: “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23).

Love is the one command that will either make our service acceptable or render it meaningless.  If my religious speech is without love, I become a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).  If I serve sacrificially without love, I am “nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).  In other words, it is meaningless.  Without love, everything is meaningless.  The pursuit of meaning in life is a chasing after the wind if it does not begin with love for God.  

If anyone asks the question of Christians, “What is your purpose?”  Without hesitation, our biblical answer should always be this: “Our purpose is to love God.”  Unpacking this statement biblically will help to order our lives in a way that is in harmony with the heart of God.  Love is what is to motivate worshipping, serving, teaching, maturing, and sharing the Gospel.

Unpacking this statement as part of an explanation to the unconverted can also lead to a conversation about the Gospel.  Love is what moved God to make his covenant of faithfulness that culminated in Jesus coming personally in the flesh to work his ministry of reconciliation through redemption in his blood, which he shed on the cross.