Imagine a World Without Purpose
2 Corinthians 5:10 – 17
Imagine a World Without Purpose
Life is not a dress rehearsal
Some churches, you will have noticed, have signs out the front of their buildings, where they put up various messages.
Often they’re funny, sometimes they’re cringe-worthy. Andy Buchan, who used to work here, and I used to take photos and send them to each other, whenever we saw a church sign that we thought was particularly amusing.
‘Cause there’s been signs like this:
Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.
God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.
Don’t let worries kill you, let the church help.
Gardening for God brings peas of mind.
If evolution is true, how come mothers only have 2 hands?
Do you know what hell is? Come hear our preacher!
So obviously some people have too much time on their hands, or not enough time on their hands!
But one sign I see popping up from time to time, I’ve seen it around Adelaide, says, “Life is dress rehearsal.”
I think it’s partly a response to the proverb “life is not a dress rehearsal”, which, interestingly, the oldest known record of that phrase was in an advertisement for a church service in 1953.
But some Christian people have kind of reacted against that emphasis on life now, and said our focus should be on heaven, so they tell us, and their church signs tell us, life is a dress rehearsal.
This life is not important,
The life to come is what matters,
This life prepares us for what comes next, sure, but the importance of the real event , compared to the dress rehearsal, that’s the significance of the life to come, compared to this life now.
There is no real purpose, to life here and now, so the argument goes. The only actions with significance, are in the life to come.
This life matters
But, the Apostle Paul makes it clear here, that that’s not quite right, is it?
Paul’s writing to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth in about 54 or 55 AD, and he wants his readers to know that this life matters.
Life is not a dress rehearsal.
And what happens in the 70, 80, 90 odd years we’re alive on earth, is not just about getting ready for what comes after we die. In fact, what Christians call “the life to come”, is shaped by the decisions we make now.
See how Paul opens this section in verse 10, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us, for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Clearly Paul’s focus is on life now; things done while in the body.
History tells us that there were some in Corinth who thought that nothing you did with your body mattered. Your body was just a carrier for your soul, they thought.
But Paul disagrees. The things you do in your body matter. Your life lived within your body matters.
The way you relate to people,
The decisions you make,
The places you go,
The things you invest in,
These things can all have significance. And in fact, they have a bearing on what comes after this life.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body,
We tend to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with judgment. At one level, we sometimes react against it; Who has the right to judge me?
Who can call me to account for the way I’ve lived?
While at the same time, we demand that people whose sin and evil we find offensive, face some kind of judgment.
Those responsible for terrorist attacks in Belgium, in Paris, in Ankara, Turkey, and Lahore, Pakistan, we demand that they face judgment for their crimes, and if it happens that they escape facing justice in earthly courts, we hold out hope for some kind of ultimate judgment, don’t we?
Of course the dilemma with all of that is that we so often see other people’s evil and rebellion against God so much more clearly than our own. Sometimes we don’t realise that to demand justice for others, but not requiring it of ourselves is the most rank hypocrisy.
But the fact that Christ will judge people’s lives, shows us that lives matter.
People will have to give an account to God, for the way they’ve treated you,
For the decisions they’ve made that affect you,
For the words they’ve spoken that have harmed you.
It’s probably no accident that Paul uses this image of the judgement seat, since this was an every-day word that described the place where magistrates would hear charges and decide cases. In this very city of Corinth, Paul had appeared before the judgment seat of the Roman Proconsul Galio, and been acquitted of charges that he’d broken the law of Rome.
That image, magnified a thousand times, the giving of an account before the judgment seat of Christ, says lives matter.
What you do with your life matters.
Life is not a dress rehearsal.
See, if there’s no judgement, there’s no real meaning or purpose for your life is there?
If there’s no life beyond the grave, then what purpose could your life possibly have?
If Richard Dawkins is right when he says your whole existence, is just “a very lucky accident”,
If our beginning is devoid of any purpose, just a chance collision of atoms,
And if our end is without purpose, we’re extinguished and forgotten, as the new atheists like to remind us. If that’s all true, then to have any integrity, we have to say that the bit in the middle, life, is without purpose also.
And any thought that I have, is merely a momentary electronic pulse in my brain, insignificant in space and time that stretches for aeons and aeons, infinitely, to nothing in any direction,
No guaranteed life beyond the grave, or no people being called to account for the way they’ve treated me, or others, or God’s creation,
But Paul has a different perspective, doesn’t he?
Jesus died to give us purpose
Think about how you might answer the question “Why did Jesus die?”
There are lots of different ways you could answer that.
Think of an unrelated question, “Why are there flowers in my garden?” There are lots of answers, aren’t there?
Because my wife, Kathy, planted them. That’s why.
Because they’ve been watered and fertilised.
Because my neighbours expect me to make at least some effort in beautifying the street!
Because of a process called photosynthesis, whereby plants convert the sun’s energy into chemicals, creating biomass and releasing oxygen!
Those are all answers to the question, “Why are there flowers in my garden?”
And so here, Paul answers the question, perhaps differently to how we would most likely begin our answer;,
Jesus died to give us purpose. Take a look at verses 14 and 15 with me, For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live, should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Here is the purpose of life, according to God;, to no longer live for self, but for Jesus.
Jesus died, so that we would not live for ourselves, but for him. That’s quite a claim, isn’t it?
Now, just bear in mind that “all” can’t mean every single person who’s ever lived. Paul speaks there in verse 14 there about all dying. Dying with Christ. That’s a symbol the Bible uses for people being united with Jesus in his death. This is to speak of people who trust in Jesus.
But notice Paul’s kind of round-a-bout way of speaking. He doesn’t say “we no longer live for ourselves.”
The whole sentence is in the third person, those who live. It’s Paul’s way of emphasising the broad application of this to all Christian people. This isn’t just something that applies to Apostles,
Or to the church leaders in Corinth,
Or some limited subset of Christian people today, church leaders, missionaries, really really fired up Christians.
Christ died so that all of us, who are Christians, should no longer live for ourselves, but for him.
And so if you’re a Christian, and you’ve wondered about your purpose in life?
What is your purpose?
What are you here for?
What is supposed to get your energies, and your efforts?
What should be your priorities?
Those are good questions to wrestle with.
Interestingly, in the latest update to the Australian Wellbeing Index that was released late last year, having a “Sense of Purpose” was identified one of the 3 key pillars that contributes to a person’s wellbeing.
Well here’s your purpose:
And he died for all, , that those who live literally, in order that those who live, should no longer live for themselves but for him
If you’re a Christian, Jesus died in order that you would live for him.
And of course if you’re not someone who’s put their trust in Jesus, then the offer of this purpose is extended to you. Will you count yourself as one of those for whom Christ died?
Or will you hold that at arm’s length? “I don’t want to be one of those
, who were died for.
True purpose: Living for Christ
To have someone die for you, that’s, well, that’s quite something, isn’t it?
Many of you will have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan, where a huge cost of human life is paid, to find and bring home Private First Class James Ryan, who is missing in action in Normandy. Ryan’s 3 brothers have been killed in the war, and so a Captain John Miller is given orders to find Ryan, and bring him back to the US.
As I say, the rescue incurs quite a significant human toll, and at risk of giving away the ending, as Captain Miller himself is shot and apparently dying, he reflects on the huge cost of saving Ryan’s life, and he says to him, "James, earn this. Earn it."
Well, the truth is, we can’t, can we?
We can’t, through living a good life, or doing particular things, earn the life that we’ve been given through Jesus’ death in our place.
But we can live out the purpose for which Jesus died,
We can live our lives according to this purpose.
Which means, if we live for Christ who died for us, our lives can have eternal significance.
It’s easy to narrow down our view of Jesus’ death, such that we see it just as our means of entry into relationship with God.
It is that, but it’s not only that.
You know when you look through a telescope, or binoculars, you can see something up close, very clearly. But you don’t see much. Your field of view is very narrow.
Well, it’s great to have an up-close view of the cross.
It’s great to see it very clearly.
But we do want to make sure we see the whole picture, not just , one part of it.
If Christ has indeed died for us, that necessarily shapes the way we live here and now,
It gives purpose to this life.
But I guess the big question is, what is it to live for Christ?
If the purpose for which Christ died, is that we should live for him, understanding exactly what it means to live for Christ is probably something that we want to be clear on!
Maybe growing up you learned the proverb “the right tool for the right job!” If you use something for a purpose other than the purpose for which it was intended! That’s when things go badly!
The toaster. Its purpose is to toast bread, isn’t it?
It is not intended for the purpose of heating up your bath water!
Similarly, if we try and use our lives for some other purpose, besides that which God intends, well, we should be fore-warned, that things are likely to end badly.
So Paul gives us a few snapshots, of what it is to live for Christ.
Living for Christ = Not for ourselves
First, it means we no longer live for ourselves.
See, that’s right there in verse 15, he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him
To live for Christ, means we no longer live for self.
Notice though, the contrast is not to put others first.
It’s easy to kind of jump to that step,
Don’t seek your own preferences, seek the preferences of others.
You know, the application might be, “Don’t come to church for what you can get out of it, but for how you can serve others.”
And that’s part of what it is to live as a Christian, but here in verse 15, Paul’s not so much thinking about living for others, is he?
Living for ourselves is the contrast to living for Christ.
Living for ourselves is the default position of every human being, which isn’t to say that people can’t do good towards others, or anything like that.
But the Bible’s picture of humanity apart from God’s gracious intervention, is that we live for ourselves.
We put ourselves as number 1.
We live as if we are the ultimate authority,
As if we decide what’s right and wrong,
As if the pattern that we decide for life, is all that matters.
Think of Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden. Their sin, their rebellion against God, was to live for themselves;, to ignore God, and to decide for themselves what was right and wrong,
To live for self, is to not acknowledge God’s right to rule over us. It’s what the Bible calls sin.
But to live for Christ, is to not live for ourselves, Paul says.
So to live for Christ, is to make a decisive break with sin.
The person who lives for Christ, no longer has any room for sin.
The person who lives for Christ, no longer tolerates sin in their own life.
That is God’s purpose for our lives, and the reason for which Christ died.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we never sin,
We will not be free from sin in this life, as much as we strive to put it behind us.
But Jesus himself is our example, isn’t he? He was entirely free from sin.
So this actually takes us back to where we started under this point. I said the exhortation is not in the first instance to live for others, to put the needs of others before our own, but in a round-about way, we do arrive at that point.
Because if we live for Christ,
If we make his priorities , our priorities,
If we model our lives on his life.
Well, what was his life like? His life, was a life lived out in the service of others, to the point of laying his life down, for the sake of others.
See this is what’s unique about what we might call Christian ethics. Christian ethics is not just about doing good to other people, Helping other people.
While in many cases Christian people have led the way in service to others, in pioneering service to the weakest and most vulnerable in society, Christians don’t have a monopoly on doing good to other people.
But Christian conduct, Christian ethics, are motivated by Christ. It’s interesting, if you look in the places in the New Testament where Paul gives specific commands for how Christian people should live, Colossians chapter 3 being a good example, the motivation for Christian behaviour is never just what is good for others, but to honour Christ,
To serve the Lord,
Christian ethics can be called Christian, because they are motivated by Christ, because they are a working out of what it is for Christian people to no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Life is not a dress rehearsal. Life;, your life, other people’s lives, matter.
Living for Christ = Looking like we’re out of our mind
And there will be parts of this living for Christ, not living for self, that others around us will welcome, even applaud.
I was reading some of the comments on the Sydney Morning Herald website this week, and people who seemed to have no Christian background at all, were saying Christians ought to be looking after the poor, and caring for people in need, and some other people pointed out ways that particular groups of Christians were doing exactly that.
Some of what we do as we live for Christ will be welcomed by those around us.
But sometimes, at least if Paul’s example is anything to go by, it will look to those around us, like we’re out of our minds.
Look back up at verse 12 with me, We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen, rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you
It is never much fun, to be misunderstood, is it?
If you’ve ever had that experience, you’ll know that, and I imagine most of us have.
When we’re misunderstood,
When someone perhaps assigns a motive to us, that is completely wrong, that can really hurt.
Paul’s experience of Christian ministry, what he describes later on in the chapter as being Christ’s ambassador, is to be misunderstood.
For Paul to live for Christ, and not for himself, has led people to think he’s gone crazy!
And before we think, “that was just Paul, he did have a very particular and unique ministry, so perhaps we shouldn’t expect this will happen to us”,
This very same language was used of Jesus!
People thought Jesus was out of his mind!
In Mark chapter 3, Jesus’ 100% commitment to his ministry makes people think he’s gone out of his mind.
We talk about people’s , single-minded commitment to cause, sometimes by saying, “they’re a one-eyed , Port supporter”, or whatever.
And it’s OK to be 100% single-minded in your commitment to a sporting team, it seems.
But when it comes to faith in Jesus,
Well, you know the sorts of things that people say;
“A little bit of religion is a good thing.”
Very few people will hold it against you if you go to church at Easter and Christmas,
Oh, but, rearrange your week so that meeting with God’s people becomes a priority,
Say “no” to something else, because you’re going to go to Bible Study,
Stop your kids doing things, so you can be at church as a family on Sundays, well, people will think that you’re just a little bit crazy.
If you live for Christ, who died for you and was raised again, to the point that you would go without something you like, something your peers have and enjoy, if you were to go without that, because you want give money deliberately, generously and sacrificially to gospel ministry, people will think that you’re out of your mind.
If you live for Christ, and not for yourself, to the point that you are constantly putting the needs of others before your own, people will look at you and shake their heads, not able to understand what it is that you’re doing, and misunderstanding your motivation.
It is so natural in our world, to put ourselves first, and to make sure our own needs and preferences are met, that if your life lived for Christ looks like Jesus’ life, 100% commitment to his purpose, people will think you are out of your mind.
Just as an aside, in Mark chapter 3 those who thought that Jesus was out of his mind because of his single-minded commitment to his purpose, it was Jesus’ own family.
They saw the way he threw himself into the work of God’s kingdom, and they said, Mark 3:21 He is out of his mind.
Much later on in Jesus’ ministry, the same thing is said about him. This time, not because of his undivided commitment to his purpose this time, but because some people found his teaching offensive. Some people objected to the unique place that Jesus claimed in God’s plans for his creation.
Many said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad.”
Ever had someone think you’re crazy for putting your trust in Jesus?
Ever had someone tell you that you’re out of your mind, for believing that Jesus is the only way to God?
Don’t be surprised.
If you live not for yourself, but for Christ who died for you, you should expect that people will think you’re out of your mind.
Of course, Paul’s point here is that, that shouldn’t stop us! He knows what people are saying about him. The accusation that he’s out of his mind pops up right through the letter.
But what does he say? If it’s true, then it’s for God. But if we are in our right mind, it’s for you Corinthians.
That is, Paul’s Christian life doesn’t look the way it does because he’s crazy, but because of his commitment to God, and therefore to other people.
I wonder, how given over, to the cause of Christ you need to be, in order for people to think you’re out of your mind.
See, if you’re one of those “just a little bit of religion” people, no one’s going to think you’re crazy.
If church is , one weekend in 3,
Whenever you get round to it,
When there’s nothing else on, no-one’s going to think you’re out of your mind.
And so I wonder if this is not something that’s said of us, is it because our lives don’t look like we have a new and distinct purpose.
Maybe if there’s nothing in our lives that those around us would question, or leave them shaking their heads, puzzled, maybe we need to ask why.
Living for Christ = A change of perspective
The third thing I want us to notice, that I think Paul wants us to understand about having a new purpose in life, is that to live for Christ offers us a change in perspective.
See what he says form verse 16, 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Because of our new purpose in life, because we no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus who died for us, so from now on, our perspective of other people is different.
The prime example of this change of perspective, is Paul’s view of Jesus himself. Once upon a time, he says, we regarded Christ from a purely worldly point of view.
I take it that this means Paul judged Jesus by purely human measures, by the criteria that people generally use to evaluate others.
And we know what this is like, don’t we?
It tends to be exclusively outward criteria.
People are judged by their apparent worth,
Their financial success,
Their perceived contribution to a group, or society,
We evaluate people and assign worth according to people’s similarity to us.
If you’re not convinced that this is true, then go onto Facebook this afternoon, and count the number of French flags, that people posted as a sign of solidarity in the wake of the Paris terror attacks,
The number of Belgian flags, after the Brussels attacks,
And compare those to the number of Turkish flags, Nigerian flags, Pakistani flags, that have been posted in the wake of terror attacks in those countries.
We value people, based on things like how much they’re like us.
That is, to regard people from a worldly point of view.
But Paul says with our new purpose in living for Christ instead of ourselves, the things we once thought were really important, now we see as not very important at all.
It’s totally inappropriate for someone who’s a follower of Jesus to regard people from a worldly point of view. Christ’s death in our place has changed the way we look at people.
Once upon a time Paul esteemed those who seemed wise, powerful, of great value, and he looked down on people who weren’t those things. But now, because of God’s creative work in him, he sees people completely differently.
Now Paul sees people as Jesus sees them;, he sees people according to their standing before Christ.
He doesn’t see someone as say “a rich, successful business man.” He sees “A rebel in need of Christ.”
He doesn’t see “Poor, insignificant, lowly.”
Because of God at work in him, he sees “Rebel forgiven. In Christ.”
If that’s the change of perspective that Christ died in order for us to have, then that’s going to affect how we speak to people,
How we treat people,
How we spend our time, who we want to spend our time with.
If that’s our perspective, we’ll become more and more like Jesus.
See, this life matters.
But you will have noticed, that it’s not just that Paul says, “Well, I’ve now decided I’m going to look at people differently”,
This change in perspective is rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection, it’s not something that we summon up from within us, but something that God works in us, because, verse 17, we are part of his new creation.
To have died with Christ, to live for Christ, to have that as the purpose for your life, is not just to have turned over a new leaf, or to touch up this or that area of our life.
Such is the work of God in those for whom Christ died, that Paul describes it as a new creation.
If you are joined to Christ, in Christ, as Paul says here, you are a new creation.
Do you remember the magic eye pictures that were all the rage a few years ago? The picture looked just like a mess of random dots. Except if you looked at it in a particular way, all of a sudden you saw a real image, a flower, or a shark or something, leaping out of the page. And then, and this is the thing, once you’d seen it, you couldn’t not see it.
Once you had that new perspective, you couldn’t look at the page without that new perspective,
You didn’t have to summon that perspective up, or work hard at it, That was just how you’d look at the page from that moment on.
Never again would you just see the random dots,
You’d always see the flower.
Do you see that it would be getting things the wrong way round, it would be putting the cart before the horse, to say “here’s your purpose in life:,
Don’t live for yourself,
Look like you’re out of your mind,
Change your perspective, how you look at people.
No, those things are not really any kind of purpose for life in themselves.
But Paul longs that we’ll have such a clear view of Jesus’ death in our place and his resurrection to life, that that picture will overflow into a new purpose, that we would live for Christ,
And that these things might be the outworking and the evidence, of our new purpose in life, that we might live for him who died for us and was raised again.
I read in an old newspaper this week, about a play called “The Rehearsal.” That has the potential to be quite confusing, doesn’t it?!
If somebody said “let’s go to the rehearsal”, you could very easily turn up to the real performance, thinking that you were at the practice.
You could think, that this here doesn’t really matter, when in fact it’s of huge significance.
Life is not a dress rehearsal.