New Purpose. When I was at school, I had the privilege of being taught Latin by a rather perverse and unhelpful teacher. The first year we spent learning lots of words, tenses and how sentences were constructed. The second year, we were introduced to the subjunctive. We weren‟t told what to do with it just instructed to learn it. I couldn‟t understand it, I couldn‟t get my head around it. I was completely lost. So I asked my teacher, “What is the purpose of the subjunctive?” And he replied, “Well, it‟s like a screwdriver, you can do lots of things with it!” And that was the closest I ever came to getting an answer. Needless to say, I never did very well at Latin! I couldn‟t see the point. There seemed to be no purpose. In 1978, author Douglas Adams wrote a very funny book called „The Hitchhiker‟s Guide to the Galaxy‟. In the book a computer is programmed to find the meaning of „Life, the Universe and Everything‟. The computer takes seven and a half million years to come up with the answer. The answer is… 42. Not very helpful! The answer the computer came up with brought no new meaning or understanding about the purpose of the universe to those who asked the question. Most human beings are born with a need to know. As soon as a child is old enough to think – it asks questions. This is how we learn – this is how we find meaning in life. And probably the most important question we will ever ask, is „Why am I here? What is my purpose?‟. Without an answer, our lives are meaningless. The Bible says, „Where there is no vision, the people perish‟. When people have no idea where they are going, or why they exist, the big question then becomes „What‟s the point?‟. Humorist and playwright, Alan Bennett said „Life is like opening a tin of sardines. We‟re all looking for the key. What is this key? What is the purpose of life here on earth? Many people believe they have already discovered their purpose, and order their lives accordingly. There are those who believe they were born on to this earth to be happy, and their life is spent in the pursuit of happiness.
Then there are those who find purpose in seeking wealth, spending all their waking hours trying to become rich…or richer. Some with a rather more commendable sense of purpose spend their lives trying to help others or make the world a better place. And so on. Success, power, or even just survival. The significant thing is that all these objectives have something in common. They all relate to life on earth, there is no eternal perspective… no understanding of why we were created. (Human purpose brings us no understanding of why we were created). When we become a Christian, something amazing happens. The Bible says that „Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!‟ (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we become a Christian, our lives, our ambitions and aspirations are handed back to our creator and we take a new direction. We begin to live in the purpose for which we were originally created. Take a look at these pictures – what do they have in common?
They all depict something being used for the wrong purpose. At best they do the job
badly, at worst they become damaged or even cause damage. It is far better to use something for the purpose it was created. When we become Christians our lives are turned around, we have new objectives – a new purpose. Finally, our lives have become engaged in the purpose for which they were created. When I said earlier that our old objectives had no eternal perspective, I didn‟t mean that a Christian‟s purpose has nothing to do with our life on earth. Far from it! A Christian‟s purpose is worked out here on earth, it is just that the source of our purpose is our creator, and the consequence of living out our purpose is eternal. So what is the life-purpose of a Christian? Put simply, our purpose is to serve God. Before we became a Christian, we served ourselves. Now we serve God. In doing so, it is God‟s purpose that we should become more like Jesus. Paul writes to the Galatian Christians, „I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.‟ Paul explains that he is no longer in the driving seat of his life, but is now ruled by Christ. So can we unpack this a bit? How does this work out in practice? We are going to concentrate on two aspects of Christian purpose this evening. Ministry and Mission. Ministry means service – in this context, service to God – and, more often than not, serving God means serving one another. Mission means telling others. Taking the message of the Good News of Jesus to those who don‟t know him.
You and I were created for a purpose. Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus: „For we are God‟s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.‟(NLB) There are some very profound truths in this one verse. Firstly, we are God’s masterpiece. A masterpiece is something excellent. When God creates, he creates well. You and I are good examples of his workmanship.
God doesn‟t make seconds, or as someone has put it – God doesn‟t make junk! We have been created fit for purpose. Secondly, he has created us anew in Christ Jesus. We are a new creation, with a new set of values, a new purpose. Thirdly, planned for us a long time ago. God knows us intimately. He planned a long time ago how he would use us, building into us the gifts and abilities, the personality and life experiences that would equip us to serve him. So, our purpose is to serve God. But how do we know where we fit in? Each of us is different, each of us has different gifts and abilities. What is the area of church life that God wants you to serve in? Rick Warren who wrote the book „40 days of purpose‟ suggests a way of remembering the main factors that help us find our ministry. The word S H A P E The word is made up from the initial letters of the following five words: Spiritual Gifts Heart Abilities Personality Experience Lets look at them one at a time. Spiritual Gifts When you and I became Christians, God placed his Holy Spirit in us and we became spiritually alive, spiritually responsive to him. Now, we have the capacity to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit when he speaks to us. Sometimes he may ask us to say something, sometimes he may ask us to do something. We may describe the experience as hearing „the still, small voice of God‟. As we grow in our Christian life we become better at hearing this voice of God. The good news is that whenever the Holy Spirit prompts us to do something, he also gives us the power to do it. The New Testament, in several places, lists a number of gifts that are prompted by the Spirit, but these lists are not exhaustive. Sometimes the Holy Spirit prompts us to speak in tongues, sometimes to prophesy or gives us a picture to share – those are pretty easy to spot – but sometimes it is just a feeling that we should pray for someone or ring them up for a chat. Occasionally it may be to leave the country and become a missionary in China. I guess that‟s unusual! Whatever it is, the important thing is that we cultivate our ability to hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks and are prepared to obey when he asks us to do something.
How do you know you have a spiritual gift? It is when the Holy Spirit begins to use you in a particular way on a more than occasional basis. Do you hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you? If you are not aware of it yet, why not pray that God develops this ability in you. Heart The second letter in our acrostic is „H‟ and this stands for Heart. We are not talking about the physical organ here. We are using the word in the biblical sense of the heart representing our innermost being. When we talk about our heart‟s desire, we mean the things that matter most to us. When we say that someone has put their heart and soul into something, we mean they have put every ounce of effort into it. We describe this kind of enthusiasm for things as a „passion‟. What do you have a heart for? What are you passionate about? Do you have a passion for hospitality? Do you have a heart for people? Do you enjoy fixing things? Does administration turn you on? Do you just love washing up? Whatever it is that you have a passion for, maybe this is an indication that God could use you in this area. If we seek to serve God, enthusiasm for the task, passion for the job in hand is vital. If it is already there in something you do, maybe this can guide you into your area of service. Abilities The third letter, A, stands for abilities. This is connected to the previous category – heart – in that if you have a heart for something you are likely to be good at it. Equally if you are good at something you will probably be enthusiastic about it. Abilities are the natural talents we are born with. These are the gifts that were evident from before we became a Christian. Of course these gifts come from God too, we just didn‟t know it then. There are no end to the talents and natural abilities that people have. Some people shrug their shoulders and say, I don‟t seem to have any abilities. We often reserve the expression „gifts and abilities‟ for the loftier or more showy talents. But we should not allow them to eclipse the more ordinary abilities. They are valuable too.
Can you read? Perhaps you can read to someone whose sight is failing. Can you walk? Maybe you can visit someone who is housebound and has only a few visitors. Are you practical? Perhaps you can help by mending things? God has given each one of us abilities we can use in his service. If we fail to use our gifts, whatever they are, we are not only denying others – and God himself – the benefit, but we also deny ourselves the opportunity to live in the purpose God has for us. Personality Our fourth letter is „P‟ for personality. There is an old nursery rhyme that goes like this: Jack Sprat could eat no fat His wife could eat no lean And so betwixt the two of them They licked the platter clean God made each of us different. God loves variety. No two snowflakes are identical, no two flowers the same. And no two people have exactly the same fingerprints – or personalities. This variety is good. It means sometimes when there is something I can‟t do – then perhaps somebody else can. God made some of us introverts, and some of us extroverts. He made some of us lovers of routine, and some of us lovers of variety. He made some people thinkers and some people feelers. This means that when faced with the same task, two people of different temperaments will tackle it in different ways. For example, evangelism. The outgoing person may be forever confronting others about Jesus. Another person may quietly go about their business letting others observe their Christian behaviour and allowing conversations to develop naturally from that. These are simply different approaches. Paul says to the Corinthians: God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. Experience
The final letter in our acrostic is „E‟ for experience. When you go for a job interview, you will probably be asked to list all the experiences that qualify you for the job. Your educational experience, your previous work experience, and perhaps other areas of experience that will be useful. When discovering our ministry, the same thing applies, except that this time all our life‟s experiences automatically qualify us for the job. God uses every circumstance of our life to shape us. Even the bad times. There was a young man, the youngest in a large family who was his father‟s favourite child. His brothers became so jealous that they decide to kill the boy. They took him away from their home but instead of killing him one of them suggested they could make some money by selling him to slave traders. The young man was taken abroad where over the years he worked hard and eventually became the right hand man of an important government minister. Unfortunately, his boss‟s wife tried to seduce him, and when he turned her down, she cried „rape‟ and the man was put in prison where he stayed for two years. You have probably recognized the story of Joseph by now. The book of Genesis tells us that he was reinstated and eventually reunited with his brothers. When he met them again after all those years, he said to them: „You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good‟ (Gen 50:20) Joseph could have become bitter, but he recognized God‟s hand. In the New Testament, Paul had to face persecution, severe punishments and on occasion feared for his life. And yet he is able to write to the Christians in Rome: „And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose‟. (Rom 8:28). If we were asked the question „What would you change if you could live your life again?‟ most of us would make a list of all the painful things that had happened to us. But we should not be too hasty in writing these things off as negative experiences. These are the very things that make us who we are. They are the very experiences that qualify us to be effective servants of God. Paul writes to the Corinthians: „[He] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God‟. So the very things that have caused us much pain can be the things that enable us to minister comfort and support to others in similar situations. The second aspect of our purpose, is Mission.
If our Ministry is service to our Christian brothers and sisters, then Mission is our service to those who do not know Jesus yet. Just as Jesus came to this earth to serve, and to bring salvation, the purpose of his followers is to serve and bring others to Jesus. What is your view on evangelism? Perhaps you feel that it is not your strength? That others are better equipped, that you are no good at it. We must not become confused between gifts and purpose. A few have a particular gifting to evangelise, and they will be at the sharp end, but mission is the purpose of all Christians. It is why we are here. Paul points out that there are different parts to the process of evangelism, different links in the chain that brings people to the Lord – all are necessary. In the end it is God who makes the miracle of new birth happen He says „I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God‟s fellow workers…‟ (1 Cor 3:6-9) If a Christian should ask themselves the question, „why am I here?‟ then the answer, at least in part, should be „so that others may hear the good news about Jesus‟. I don‟t know whether there is anyone here who works for the Post Office… but if you were to ask a post office employee what business they are engaged in, they may well say “the purpose of the post office is to deliver letters and parcels”. It doesn‟t matter whether the employee works at the post office counter, the sorting office or actually delivers the mail house to house, he is in the business of seeing that mail gets delivered. He may not be the one pushing envelopes through letterboxes, he may be sorting letters or selling stamps, but he is part of the bigger purpose. If what he does is not contributing to the overall goal of his employer, the post office, he will soon find himself without a job. It is the same for each of us. The church has been given a job. „Go into all the world and make disciples‟, said Jesus. We may not be at the sharp end of it, but if we are not involved somewhere, if what we do does not contribute to the overall goal of bringing people to Jesus, then we are living outside the purpose of God‟s people. This commission is a great responsibility for us. God expects us to play our part in his rescue mission for the world.
God says to Ezekiel: „When I say to a wicked man, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.‟ We are jointly and individually responsible to see that the message gets out. What a responsibility – but also, what a privilege! Paul writes: „All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry [the Living Bible uses the word privilege] of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men‟s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We are co-workers with God in this. We are his representatives. The responsibility for making the good news known has been delegated to us. If we don‟t tell the people around us about Jesus, then who will? A responsibility and a privilege. It was my privilege to lead one of the groups during the Alpha Course last Autumn. I didn‟t say much – leaders were under strict instructions to encourage others to do the talking. But to walk alongside someone who is finding faith in Jesus, to watch them as they discover God‟s goodness and put their trust in him – there can be no greater satisfaction than that. So there we have it, when we become a Christian we are given a new purpose. A purpose that includes ministry – that is serving one another – and mission, telling others about Jesus. Is it costly? Yes. It costs everything. We no longer serve ourselves but all our plans, ambitions, gifts, abilities and time are handed back to our Heavenly Father, for him to use as he chooses. As we serve, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are part of the greatest purpose in the universe. God is building his kingdom and we are his co-workers.