STUDY SIX: THE PROMISE OF RADICAL PURPOSE - MATTHEW 5:16

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2012

Christ promises his disciples to a life of purpose, a life with a goal and an end in view. No longer are we meaningless flotsam and jetsam tossed to and fro in a life we didn’t ask for that has no more significance in the long term than a tree or a dog, or even a bacterium, a life lived in the constant presence of the spectre of death. Our first study taught us that he calls us to a new identity; now we see that with that new identity a new purpose comes to the whole of our lives.  

God knows the emptiness and meaninglessness of life lived without him – he included Ecclesiastes in his Word. There, through the words of the ‘Teacher’, God lets us know that he knows our lostness and our desperation.

‘”Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” ‘ [1:2; 11:8] 

‘I have seen all things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.’ [1:14, see also 1:17; 2:1, 11, 15, 17, 21, 23, 26; 3:19; 4:4, 6-8, 16; 5:7, 10; 62, 9; 7:6; 8:14; 9:9; 11:8, 10]. 

‘… my heart began to despair …’ [2:20] 

‘I saw all the oppression that was taking place … and I declared that the dead … are happier than the living … ‘ [4:1,2] 

Jesus called us out of this meaninglessness of despair and death and into a life of purpose. 

A. A LIFE OF GLORY 

God’s purpose for his people is glory.

Let us look again at Matthew 5:13-16. Here we see both our new God-given identity, and our new God-given and God-focused purpose. 

We are the salt of the earth: our purpose is to be salt on the earth.

We are the light of the world: our purpose is to shine that light in the world.

The new identity of the Christian, which Christ has just described in Matthew 5:1-12, is here condensed to these two images of salt and light. These two words capture the essential contrast and distinction that exists between the Christian and the environment in which the Christian lives. Salt is distinct from the situations in which it is used: it disinfects that which is infected; it gives taste to what is tasteless; it purifies and preserves what would otherwise become corrupted. Light is distinct from the darkness in which it shines; it dispels the darkness. 

Jesus then added:

‘In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’ [KVJ: ‘… glorify your Father which is in heaven’]

Unless it is used salt has no effect. One wouldn’t know anything of its preserving, purifying, flavour-enhancing quality and effect. It is still salt, but its true nature, its true identity is not felt, unless it fulfils its purpose. Unless a light shines it makes no impact on the surrounding darkness. It is still a light, but its light is not seen if it is hidden and unused. So Jesus states the purpose of our new identity, wrapping the two images up in the one command: let your light so shine that people will glorify your Father in heaven.

In this statement he identifies his purpose for the Christian with: 

[1] The original purpose of God for every human being [Genesis 1:26,27; Isaiah 43:7]. We were created in his image. An image displays the nature of the original. We were created to image God – to reflect his essential character, to reveal his glory.  

This concept is re-affirmed in Isaiah: I created you for my glory. This purpose of God, this real identity of the human, was interrupted and aborted by the events of Genesis 3. There we rejected the face-to-face relationship with God in which this imaging of his glory was possible, and rebelled against this dependent role. There, in choosing independence from God, in seeking to exist apart from him, in turning our backs on him, in trying to establish our own glory, we lost the glory we had as his image. Instead of imaging and reflecting the surpassing glory of God as we looked towards him, all we were left with was the darkness of our own shadow. [Read Exodus 33:18-20; 34:5-7, 29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. Here we see in the physical symbol of Moses’ radiant face a pointer to the spiritual and moral glory that should ‘shine’ from those who have encountered God in Jesus Christ, and in whom the Spirit of God is doing his transforming work as we contemplate Christ.] 

Repentance, conversion, turning to the Lord – these all describe the reversal of this Genesis 3 rebellion. This is what happens when a person becomes a genuine believer. The rebellion of Genesis 3 is undone. We stand again face to face with our God: and now his glory can once again shine in and from us, the image, the reflector, the mirror. Through the Gospel God has restored us to a face-to-face relationship with himself in which we can live as his image.

[2] the purpose of his own human life [John 1:14; 17:4]. In these verses we are told that the life of Jesus Christ revealed the glory of God. Jesus described his completion of all that the Father gave him to do with the words ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ When Jesus commissioned his disciples to live such lives that people would glorify God the Father, he was commissioning them to follow him – to live as he lived, to walk in his steps in such a way that God would be glorified.

In the selfish orientation of our hearts we are tempted to think that God is extremely selfish in this command: that he is telling us to spend our lives glorifying him. We do the hard yards and he gets the praise! It doesn’t sound like a fair deal at all. And even when we get to heaven – well, doesn’t he get all the praise there too?  

We need to change our mental gears. We need to embrace a massive paradigm shift – to stop thinking of God in human terms, to stop assessing him against human criteria, and from our warped perspective. As with all spiritual puzzles, we can find the answer by looking at Jesus Christ. Leaving aside his divine eternal glory, which we in retrospect can identify in his life on this earth, let us look at him as he appeared to his contemporaries, let us look at him as a human being: 

Question: Was this human being glorious? Answer: Yes. Even now people use him as an example.

Question: What made him glorious? The things he did and said. 

He came to glorify the Father, and in glorifying the Father he was himself glorious. All that he did was what the Father had told him to do [John 5:19-20; 6:38]. All that he said was what the Father had told him to say [John 8:38]. In living his life totally for God he was actually doing what was the best for him.  

Salt can only purify if it is used appropriately. Light can only disperse darkness if it is allowed to shine. Human beings can only be truly human if they fulfil the role for which God created them. It is for this reason that Jesus said: if you seek to save your own life, you will lose it. Just like Adam. The true human life, the optimum human life, the human life of greatest glory, is the life lived in a dependent relationship with God which takes its glory from him and does not seek its own glory. That’s simply the way it is. This is not a dream or a human idea, it is a simple fact of creation. And it is this glory that Jesus promises us: that as we glorify God, we ourselves receive glory.  

This is the grand purpose of the disciples of Christ: to be so distinctive in the world that God is glorified.

This purpose of glory gives an incredible significance to every moment of our lives: every thought, every attitude, every word, every action - every choice we make - falls into one category or the other:

It either expresses the glory for which God made us and saved us, or it doesn’t.

It either gives God the glory that is due his holy name, or it doesn’t. 

He, in making us his sons, has incorporated us into his glory. The extent to which we glorify him is the measure of how truly human we are.

 

B. A LIFE OF SERVICE 

As we have seen before, Jesus did not save us just to get us saved. He saved us with a purpose. He called us to a ministry.  

Describe the service identified in these verses

Matthew 4:19

[Simon and Andrew]

 

 

Matthew 28:19-20

[eleven disciples]

 

What are the implications of these verses for our attitude to involvement in Christian work? -

 

[a] our personal involvement:

 

 [b] our perception of involvement in Christian work as the gracious gift and purpose of God:

  

We will see that the priorities of the disciple of Christ include: God’s honour, God’s kingdom and God’s will [the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6]. We will see that the disciple of Christ treasures the kingdom of Christ above all else [Parables of the Treasure in the Field and the Precious Pearl – Matthew 13]]. To involve the disciple in the work of the Kingdom, in the task of making known the glory of God’s name, is to give to the disciple the gift of a life spent doing what he/she loves and desires above all else: to love and to honour his Lord.

Here in this purpose and promise of ministry is the gift of God: 

  • If our delight is in the Lord – he will enrich us with more of what it is that gives us so much joy - himself [Psalm 37:4]
  • If our desire is to do the Lord’s will above all else – he will grant us that desire [Psalm 40:8]
  • If we rejoice in obeying his commands – he will give us great joy in keeping them [Psalm 119:14-16 – see also 119:24,35,47,77,174 ]

God’s purpose, God’s command, God’s promise, God’s gift: they are one and the same: a life spent making him known, a life spent in honouring him. This is the promise and the gift of a life of service.

 

C. A BATTLE AGAINST EVIL 

Perhaps this is one ‘promise of purpose’ that we would rather God had not given us. From the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables we learn that for those who follow Jesus Christ there will be opposition or persecution. That’s just the way it is, for in aligning ourselves with him, in placing ourselves on his side, we have identified that his enemy is our enemy. Christ has rescued us from the enemy’s kingdom [Colossians 1:13] and established us as citizens of his kingdom. 

Although in God’s eternal perspective the decisive battle against evil has already been won through the death and resurrection of Christ, the conflict is still being played out in our lives as Satan tries to destroy our faith and prevent us from honouring our Lord. Just as he tried to lure Christ away from faithfulness to his Father and to the eternal purpose of his Father, even so he tries to lure us away, to entrap us in doubt, despair and sin so that we neither rejoice in nor give joy to our Father.

So, we have a battle against evil on our hands. Jesus told us it would be like this. 

Read these verses. What does they tell you about the battle?

Matthew 5:10-11:

 

 

Matthew 10:16-24

 

  

Matthew 10:34-36:

 

 

We might wonder why involvement in the battle is included as a ‘promise of purpose’. This battle, this struggle, is the context in which we glorify God and the context in which we serve him. The very fact that there is a battle, that there is a conflict, is what makes our lives lived to his glory and in his service significant. This is evident in the story of Job: while everything in his life was a-okay Satan believed Job’s faith was fake, that Job did not honour God for God’s sake but for purely selfish material and physical interests. The presence of the struggle, the fierceness of the battle, was what demonstrated to Satan the integrity of Job’s faith, and what brought to both Job and God the greatest glory. 

The battle is the opportunity to demonstrate that we are indeed now members of Christ’s kingdom. The battle reveals where our allegiance is.  

Belief is honouring to God only because there is the option of unbelief.

Obedience is honouring to God only because there is the option of disobedience.

Faithfulness is honouring to God only because there is the option of unfaithfulness.

Choosing his truth is honouring to God only because the enemy’s lies exist.

If all were automatic, if there were no alternative options, our alignment with his kingdom would be robbed of significance. By leaving us in the context of the battle, God gives us the gift and the dignity of proving the reality of our faith and of our new identity in Christ; he also gives to us the gift of honouring him in a way far greater than we could if there were no battle.

It is in the context of the battle that we confess him as our God.

D. AN IDENTITY 

We have already learned much about our identity as the people of God. This identity is part of God’s promise of purpose: 

Reflection and response: What is the identity promised and given to those who follow Jesus Christ? How does this identity include the promise of purpose? What purpose is linked with this identity? What characteristics are linked with this identity?

Matthew 5:9

 

 

 

Matthew 5:45,48

 

 

 

John 1:12

 

 

 

1 John 3:1-3

 

 

 

John 15:14-15

 

 

 

This identity that Christ promises and gives us is indissolubly linked to God: we are children of God; we are friends of Christ. Each takes its significance from him to whom we are related, not from ourselves or our abilities or achievements. It is an identity that does not change or vary because its meaning, focus and content are derived not from ourselves, but from God himself.  

E. CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY AND CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY 

We find that we who seek to be disciples of Christ are ‘out on a limb’, or we ‘stick out like a sore toe’ – or we should! These promises of purpose that Christ gives to us are not what humans want or what humans value. This glory of God, this life of serving God, this fight against evil, this identity that depends on him, are not what the world wants.  

We humans want our own glory.

We humans, generally speaking, are self-serving.

We humans embrace and accept evil.

We humans want our own independent significance.

For most of us a God-focused life-purpose is not our goal. 

Reflection and response: The aim of this exercise is to compare and contrast what we have learned in this lesson with the mindset and life choices of contemporary society and contemporary Christianity. Ask:

 

[1] where do people look for their ‘glory’ – what do they boast about, what do they think makes them look good in other peoples’ eyes, what do they strive for that they think would make them great?

 

[2] what do people commit their whole life to – what or who are they serving

 

[3] what is the attitude to ‘evil’ in all its forms [in thought, word, attitude, action, ideology] – is it something to embrace, something to compromise with, or something to fight against.

[4] where do people get their identity – from God, or from another person, or from personal achievements, relationships, qualities …. Etc.

In relation to

Contemporary society

Contemporary Christianity

Glory and greatness

 

 

 

Serving … who or what????

 

 

Fight against evil

 

 

 

Identity

 

 

 

 

F. PERSONAL CHALLENGE 

Reflection/response: How have you been challenged in relation to Christ’s purpose for you in terms of …

Glory

 

 

A life of service

 

 

Fighting evil

 

 

Your identity