Tuesday, January 16, 2018
   
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The Purpose Driven Life

 
The Old Mystic Baptist Church
Philippians 3:12 ~ 4:1

Summary

Life is God’s precious gift granted to us, human beings; life in this world, here and now, life to be cherished and protected, life eternal in love and peace;   life with God in Jesus Christ. Paul purpose was to attain that life for him and for others and he acknowledged that it implied embracing the paradox of the cross.

Sermon

The title of this message in no way attempts to plagiarize the very popular book—which has inspired millions—by well known pastor Rick Warren. If I can interpret correctly the message advanced by this pastor, based on a wealth of scriptural quotations, his Purpose Driven Life, portrays Christian life as existence in this world and beyond in God’s service and in faithful commitment to Jesus Christ, the Way to that life. There is no question; life must be lived with a purpose.

It is hard to imagine, however, how anyone could live a life without purpose. Even those who are hardly pressed, or in danger, and can only respond instinctively reacting to life situations, at the very least they have survival as a purpose. When faith awakens, on the other hand, the purpose has a clear end or a goal: eternal life in Jesus Christ. I would like to propose that the purpose of life, whether it is survival in the midst of adverse conditions or the assurance of life for ever, is life itself.

Paul lived his life fully aware of his purpose. He acknowledged his mission declaring it in a powerful and decisive statement: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…” and he also made clear his commitment to advance the “Gospel of Salvation,” “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard... How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Paul wanted to grasp life and the way he had to articulate it is implicit in the Lectionary text where he asserts his intention to continue to strive to attain his purpose or goal which has a prize: “the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” The apostle’s metaphor of running a race—an image so familiar to us living in a world where sports are so prominent—is descriptive of Paul’s journey: he was called to enter the race, he prepared to run, and he ran the race aiming at reaching the goal and winning the prize. I argue that the call, the running, reaching the goal, and obtaining the prize, all of them are part of that desired life; life is not just the end, in the future. The beginning, the process, and the end are life itself.

We are called to life! That is our purpose! It is perhaps reasonable to expect a time of “perfection” in the future whatever and whenever that is; yet we are on a life journey with God in Jesus Christ. It is life for us to keep, to enhance, to build, and to share. We have life to give, to promote, to defend, and to protect. It is our life and the life of others. It is not our purpose to flee this life; in a very existential way, it is a life to live in space and time because life is the stage of our encounter with the Living God for ever, whatever shape life takes in the future. Life with the Living God here and now is our purpose.

I want to focus on two appeals by Apostle Paul in his sermon to the Philippians. I believe they are appeals to seek life with God which go—implicitly in the passage—through the cross. The first one is an appeal to maturity. Paul’s words are very critical of those who he calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” because “their god is the belly” and “their minds are set on earthly things.” My interpretation for our times is that we have to mature as people who walk with God. Self centeredness and unwarranted preoccupation with things that do not promote life are a hindrance to our maturity—and to life.

Our bellies—this is just a metaphor—may indicate an overgrown concern for our own selves forsaking life in community. It is the mistaken understanding that when our lives are well fed, protected, and fulfilled then we can think about others when life, real life, is life with others and even for others. Being the body of Christ means that we live for others (the body) and others (the body) live for us.

For that reason Paul calls for maturity! “Be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.” If we are attaining that life, life with God, we have a life in common and maturity has to do with sharing that life. It is not about uniformity of agreement or subscribing to a particular doctrine; having the same mind is perhaps just to covenant to share life—life with God—agreeing to disagree. After all, Paul believes, sooner or later God will reveal to us what is right. What would that be? When would that be? How would that be? We don’t know. We are just called to love, share, protect, and promote life on our process of maturing—and that is life.

Paul’s second appeal is a call to transformation. Isn’t that obvious? Aren’t we constantly being transformed? We often argue about change saying that it happens. And it does! So life is a transformative process. For that reason Paul throughout his writings speaks about “new life” or “newness of life.” In his words, we should expect the “Savior from heaven,” that is Jesus Christ, to transform “our body of humiliation.” Again, the Apostle is speaking in negative terms of the lowest points in human life when the outcome of living apart from God is painfully reflected in the body. It is not about the body being evil; it is about God through Jesus offering renewal of life and life abundant.

Paul is critical of those who fail to see and embrace this life with God. He calls them “enemies of the cross.” This could be interpreted that those who embrace life with God are “friends of the cross.” But the cross is an instrument of death and torture! Yet, the cross keeps on bringing us to confront the paradox of life and death that it portrays. The cross symbolizes the death of Jesus that gives birth to life.

Jesus came to show us the way of transformation; the way of life. And God’s saving purpose in Jesus Christ took him to the point of not withholding his son but surrendering him to death on a cross. Paradoxically, in the cross, while dying, Jesus was affirming life. Embracing the cross is embracing life; it is embracing God and allowing God to embrace us. And it is a surprising life! It is life with a purpose; the purpose of walking with God from here to eternity.

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