The last couple of weeks we have been speaking about newness in Christ.  We spoke about having a new life in Christ and a new attitude in Christ.  Today, I would like us to talk about the new purpose Christ gives to our life.

          Every life has a purpose. By purpose we mean to say that there is a reason, an aim, and a goal for each life.  The purpose of life that are common to all people were first described in the Book of Genesis.  The Bible says, “The Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden… The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:8a, 9).  After having created the garden, God created humanity.  After creating the man, “15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 1:15).  The first purpose of humanity was revealed.  The man was charged by God with being a steward, a caretaker, of what God had created.

          After the man, God created the woman.  The Book of Genesis again says, “27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:27-28).  God gave humanity additional purposes.  Namely, the man and woman were to form a partnership and together fulfil the purpose of caring for what God provided.  The natural outcome of that man and woman partnership was expected to be children who would grow in number and care for the entirety of the earth.  The Book of Genesis says, “24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This then is another purpose for humanity.  That the partnership of man and woman would become a marriage, and that marriage was to be the nucleus of the growing family. 

The man and woman were not to be independent nomads coming together just for the purpose of creating children and then going their separate ways.  The purpose of humanity was to come together for the purpose of forming families with the marriage of the man and woman at the center.

God was laying out for humanity that there was a purpose to be served.  Those purposes included stewardship of what God created, stewardship of marriage, and stewardship of the offspring of that man/woman relationship.  These God-given purposes are universal purposes; meaning these purposes are given to every man and every woman.  And, we don’t want to miss this point, these God-given purposes were given to humanity with one and only one rule, obey God.  Following God’s word, obedience to God, was the glue that would hold together the other purposes of life.  What did obedience mean then?  Obey God’s word: “Do not eat the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

So in the beginning, all of humanity was given four purposes.  Be stewards of God’s creation.  Be stewards of marriage.  Be stewards of the children.  And be obedient to God.

None of those purposes have ever changed or been revoked by God and each purpose remains applicable to every man and woman.  Let me explain that latter point just a bit. Everyone is to be a steward of what God has created.  I think we all get that point.  We are here on earth and must do our part to care for what has been entrusted to us. Everyone is to be a steward of marriage. To fulfill that purpose, those who are married are expected to care for each other in the marriage and those who are married or unmarried must encourage the marriage of others and respect the boundaries of those marriages.  When we attend a wedding, whether we are married or single ourselves, we are fulfilling one of our God-given purposes by encouraging and supporting the couple getting married.  When we attend the funeral of someone’s spouse, whether we ourselves are married or single, we are fulfilling one of our God-given purposes by giving honor and acknowledgement to the grief of the surviving spouse.  All of us are responsible for being stewards of marriage.

All of us are responsible for the stewardship of the children among us.  Certainly, the parents bear a primary role but every one of us plays a supporting role. We are entrusted to support the development of children.  Think of it this way.  Suppose for a moment, you come out of church building, and you see a child, a toddler of two years old, standing in the street.  There are no other adults around or near the child.  You see cars coming up the street in the direction of this toddler. I have absolutely no doubt that every person here, regardless of parental status, physical limitations, or marital status would respond as quickly as they could to guide that child to safety.  None of us would think, “I hope someone else like their parent comes along to guide that kid out of the road.”  Why would we respond quickly to that child?  Because every person here knows in their bones that they have a God-giving purpose of stewardship for children.

I have taken a lot of our time thus far to talk about these universal purposes because I want us all to see that from the beginning, God has shown himself to be a God of purpose.  And every one of the God-given purposes, caring for his creation, nurturing marriage, caring for children, and following his word is intended to bring about abundant life.  God-given purposes always bring about abundant life.

Unfortunately, the first man and woman, did not adhere to all the God-given purposes.  The man and woman did not follow God’s word and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Sin came into their lives and sin spread into the lives of their children leading to the corruption of every one of the other God-given purposes.  How badly corrupted did our purposes in life become?  Think of it this way.  The Bible contains 1,540 words about life lived in which people followed God’s word and his purposes.  And the Bible contains an additional 781,597 words about life lived after sin entered and corrupted God’s purposes.  We come to see that absent following God’s word, humanity is unable and unwilling to follow its God-given purposes of caring for creation, marriages, and children.  Oh, there are many who work hard at caring for creation, relationships, and children but ultimately all these efforts are destined to fall short unless people first submit to following God’s word.

That latter point is a sobering thought.  Unless there is an expression of obedience to God, then all our efforts to have a society that genuinely cares about creation, marriage, family, and children will necessarily fall short.  Why?  Because if we make care for creation, marriage, family, and children our idea, done our way, as our self-given purpose, well then, we can also choose not to have those purposes.  There is nothing binding me to my own purposes except me and my resolve, my emotions, and my feelings can change in an instant and so can yours.  But if we accept caring for creation, marriage, family, and children in accordance with God’s word as God-given purposes, then we cannot change those purposes.  We can only follow them or not.

How then do we see this picture of God-given purposes and obedience to God play out in our life today?  What is it that God is telling us today?  Let’s look at those questions through the passage we read earlier from the Book of Acts.

We enter the scene as the Apostle Paul, was giving testimony to King Agrippa about Paul’s behavior towards the followers of Christ before Paul encountered Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. Paul was speaking, “I [Paul] too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name [everything about the person] of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests, I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they [the Christians] were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them [the Christians] punished, and I tried to force them [Christians} to blaspheme [publicly renounce Christ]. I was so obsessed with persecuting them [Christians] that I even hunted them down in foreign cities” (Acts 26:9-12).  Let’s just catch our breath for a moment.  Paul held nothing back.  Paul laid bare that he, Paul, had made it his purpose in life to destroy the life of Jesus Christ and to destroy or take the life of any man, woman, or child who dared to believe in Jesus Christ.  We hear Paul’s summary of his behavior, and we should be able to tell right away that Paul is on the wrong side of God.  Remember, we know from Genesis that God-given purposes always bring about abundant life.  Paul’s self-given purpose was to bring about misery and death.  We, therefore, know from Genesis that Paul was acting outside the will of God, outside obedience to God.  Let’s see how Paul’s disobedience was addressed.

Paul continued his testimony to King Agrippa, “12 On one of these journeys [to a foreign city] I [Paul] was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests [to continue hunting Christians]. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road [Jerusalem to Damascus], I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  15 Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’  ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied’” (Acts 26:13-15).  Jesus made himself known to Paul in a unique way; like a blazing white light that knocked everyone to the ground.  In that encounter, Jesus charged Paul with being disobedient to God’s will by Paul making it his own purpose to persecute Christians and thus persecute Jesus himself. I could well imagine that Paul must have thought this was his end.  Remember, though, we know from Genesis that God-given purposes always bring about abundant life.

With that in mind, we return to the final segment of the passage today of Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa.  Paul testified that Jesus said to Paul, “16 ‘Now [Paul] get up and stand on your feet. I [Jesus] have appeared to you to appoint you [Paul] as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people [the Jews] and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them [the Jews and the Gentiles] 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they [those hearing your testimony] may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified [made right with God] by faith in me’” (Acts 26:16-18).

Let’s see what Jesus did here.  First, rather than end Paul’s life for being disobedient, Jesus gave Paul a new life.  Two weeks ago, we spoke about the fact that those who accept Jesus have two lives. One life lived following Jesus in the here and now and a second life lived in the spirit with Christ in heaven. 

Paul would later share the with the Christians in the church of Philippi the two-life condition of Christians.  Paul said, “21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die [bodily] is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 2:21-24).  Paul learned on that road from Jerusalem to Damascus under searing white light the truth we know as well.  In Christ, we live twice because in Christ we have new life now and life even after death of the body.

Jesus then told Paul, “I am sending you to them [the Jews and the Gentiles] 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17b-18). Paul said his identity had been established for him as he carried his commission from the high priest in Jerusalem. Now, Jesus said, “Paul, with your new life you will get a new identity and that identity is from me.”

Paul had a new life and a new identity.  We then should expect Paul to have a new purpose.  And that is what we see coming from Jesus next.  Jesus said to Paul, “I am sending you to them [the Jews and the Gentiles] 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17b-18a). Jesus told Paul to call the Jews and the Gentiles to repent, that is turn from their own ways (darkness) and come to Christ (the light), to turn from the power of Satan to the power of God. Why did God want people to turn from darkness to light and Satan to God?  Jesus said it was so those hearing Paul’s testimony about Jesus, “may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified [made right with God] by faith in me [Jesus]’ (Acts 26:18).  God sent Jesus for the purpose of bringing about the redemption of humanity from sin to obedience so that they could be right with God.  Jesus was now sending Paul with the purpose of sharing the redemption message with others.  And we know that God-given purposes always bring about abundant life.

Paul obeyed Jesus and shared the good news of life, identity, and purpose in Jesus.  The other apostles obeyed Jesus and shared the good news of life, identity, and purpose in Jesus.  Those who heard the apostles likewise shared the good news with others and that pattern has been repeated to include those who shared the good news with you and me. We are heirs of the same purpose Jesus gave to Paul.  We too are to share the good news with others and encourage a turning from darkness to light, from death to life.  There are many “spiritual” toddlers in your life and my life standing alone in the street in the path of oncoming traffic who need you and me, not someone else, to guide them out of the street and into the safety of Christ.  Jesus has given you and me that purpose.  Let’s go, obedient to God, and accept as our purpose to bring life to others.  Let’s share the good news of Jesus.  Let’s be obedient to God’s word.  And let’s care for what God has created, care for the institution of marriage, and care for the children.  These are the God-given purposes given to us in our new life and new identity.  These purposes always bring about abundant life.    Amen and Amen.