Purpose For Existence

by Michael S. Cole, M.D.

As people search for meaning in life there are three questions that they ask.

Everyone who has heard more than a few Bible sermons knows the answer to the first and third questions. Nearly every Christian should say, "We came from God," and "We are going to Heaven." When we ask various people what the answer is to the question, "Why are you here?", we get many different answers.

We should occasionally take time to consider what our purpose is for being here. Let me share with you some things that help me get meaning out of life. Whether I am at home in the United States or living in Italy or working in South America, I have discovered there is a simple answer for the frequently asked question, "Why am I here?" Why am I getting up and going to work every day? Why am I searching for ways to be a better person? There is a very simple answer, but it is understood only after we discover our purpose for existence.

If we can find the best possible answer to this question "Why am I here?", then we can live the best possible life.

Everything around us has a purpose. Most of us can quickly tell what the purpose is for most everything with which we come into contact. But when it comes to explaining our own purpose, for many it is a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Atheistic humanism claims that everything about us exists merely because of countless accidental evolutionary changes. If everything merely exists because of purposeless evolution, then the final product can have no meaningful purpose. If I am the product of an accident or series of accidents, then there would be no purpose except what I could make of my own life by my own power.

We live in a culture that has been greatly influenced by the consequences of evolutionary thought. Evolution denies a purpose greater than self. Where there is no purpose greater than self, we are forced to live only for ourselves. Therefore our culture says, "You deserve a break today." "Look out for number 1." "If it feels good, do it." "It may cost a little more, but I'm worth it." Advertisers have become rich by giving attention to this human tendency to put ourselves first.

There are many people in this world who have been tricked into believing their purpose in life is to be a "success." Money is their goal. Accumulating the most things is important. Collecting the "most toys." For some the goal is becoming the highest achiever. Becoming the most intelligent. Becoming the most beautiful. Finding the greatest pleasure.

None of these goals will provide an adequate answer to the question, "Why am I here?" We know people who make such things as success, beauty, money, or pleasure their primary motivating forces in life. If these worldly ambitions were desirable as primary goals, then those people who make them their purpose for existence would be the happiest people in the world.

But as you and I know, those people who never find some purpose for their life that is greater than self, are the world's most miserable people. Failure to discover the intended purpose for existence will cause us to suffer from the destructive consequences brought on by self-centeredness.

The public schools fail to teach us a legitimate purpose for our existence. If we do not discover what our purpose for existence is, we will not be able to fulfill the purpose for which God intended when He created us. Those who are Christians are quick to reason that we exist for a purpose greater than self. Yet, can our acquaintances see that we live as if something besides ourselves is of the greatest importance to us? Do we appear to live by the world's standards? Have you chosen a purpose that is worthy of your best efforts? Have you chosen a purpose that will bring you the greatest happiness?

Many people are searching for a life based upon something besides their own selfish desires. They try to choose to do what they should do rather than what they want to do. I believe that without guidance from the Scriptures people can never be sure what it is that they should do. So, let's examine a few ideas from the Bible that will help us discover our purpose for existence.

Romans 8:28 tells us that God knows what our purpose is. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." I believe that He has made our purpose clear in the Bible. He has revealed to us the answer to the question, "Why am I here?"

In Isaiah 43:7, we can learn that God created us for His glory. We learn in John, chapter 17, that Jesus lived to glorify God. We want to be like Jesus Christ, so we also should live such that our lives glorify God. We can correctly conclude that the purpose for our existence is to glorify God. But this is not the simple answer I said we can discover for the question "Why am I here?" For one might now ask, "How do I glorify God?"

Jesus makes it clear in John 4:34 that His purpose for being on the earth was to do the will of God. If we want to find the happiness that Jesus our Savior had, then we, too, must be committed to doing the will of God. When we do His will, God is glorified. So, "How do I glorify God?" -- By doing His will.

By the way, no matter who you are, even if you are trying your best, it can be predicted that there will be times when you will fail to do God's will. Nevertheless, God is glorified when we keep trying to do His will even after our failures.

As you know, most Americans believe it is improper to surrender their own wills and allow themselves to be placed under the control of someone else. Our culture teaches us to be independent. We think we can't be independent as our forefathers meant for us to be if we give up ourselves and submit to another's will. But, God knows what is best for us. As His creation, He knows what we need. We fulfill our purpose not by living first the way we want, but rather by living the way we should. God teaches us through the Bible the way we should live. He wants us to do His will, knowing that we will only find true happiness by serving Him.

Consider the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, `Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' He also who had received two talents came and said, `Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' Then he who had received the one talent came and said, `Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' But his lord answered and said to him, `You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. There-fore you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

This story is about 3 servants. Two of them had discovered how to please their master through their service to him. One was unprofitable, not having learned how to serve or how to submit to the will of the master. Most of the problem seems to be related to the unprofitable servant's failure to know his master, as shown in verses 24 & 25. We can acceptably serve God only by getting to know Him. We can please God only by discovering through His Word what He wants us to do and what He wants us to be.

So we can conclude that to please God and have a meaningful and happy life, we must live to serve God through doing His will to fulfill the purpose for our existence. Let me say that this is much too complicated an answer for the question, "Why am I here?"

Many honest people would now ask, "Why should I be interested in glorifying, pleasing, or serving God?" Most in our society would say, "What's in it for me?" As we mature as Christians, we find the answer to the question, "What's in it for me?", to be of little importance. But God surely provides a simple answer to explain to the Christian and non-Christian alike why we would even consider serving Him.

When many of us became Christians we were acting out of fear. Frankly, we were afraid of going to Hell. This is not bad that our initial motivation was fear. People can be shaped by force through fear. Fear is probably necessary for the beginning of wisdom. But, fear of the wrath of God is not an adequate motivating force that can be sustained throughout a lifetime. Fear of failure will not properly motivate us to strive for Heaven. Eventually fear produces rebellion and alienation and frustration. Human nature resists and resents fear and force. People do not have to be controlled by fear and force. Christians, who do not mature beyond the stage of serving God out of fear, will not find the happiness which God has promised to those who serve Him.

The force which moves us away from fear and also provides us with a satisfactory answer to the question "why serve God?" is LOVE. Love is the only alternative to fear and force. I John 4:18 says, "Love casts out fear."

Love doesn't come naturally. We must learn how to love. After we learn how to love, then we will want to do what we ought to do in spite of our failures.

Hollywood has successfully sold the idea to many that the consequences of love are first pleasure and comfort. Society thinks that if it isn't pleasurable and painless to self, then it can't be love. Reason teaches us that love for another cannot be justified only by personal want, or be based on selfish desires.

So, what really is love?

Jesus answered this question beautifully in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25ff.)

"And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Jesus said to him, `What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?'"

"So the lawyer answered and said, `You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and `your neighbor as yourself.'"

"And Jesus said to him, `You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.'" (Many people, like this lawyer, have chosen to try to love God without getting involved with anyone else.)

Luke 10:29, "But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, `And who is my neighbor?'" (People were always trying to get our Savior distracted from teaching about the two main themes of each of His lessons: Love God and love others, which Jesus called the greatest and second greatest commandments in Matt. 22:37-40.)

Luke 10:30-37: Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And the lawyer said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Note in verse 37 that the Samaritan fulfilled the command of "Love thy neighbor as thyself" when he "showed mercy." He demonstrated his love. Which do you think God considers more important: what we think and say or what we do? We can prove our love only by our actions.

Would my wife be pleased if every day I said, "I love you," but every day I also hit her? Our actions show whether we really love someone or not. Attending every worship service is important, but your presence here does not prove to me or to God or to anyone else that you love God, though we sometimes try to fool ourselves into thinking so. God cannot be pleased by formal worship alone, today, any more than He was with the Jews when He said, "I have had enough of your worship," as in Isaiah 1:11. It is all meaningless unless we love God enough to serve Him.

In Matthew 21:28-30, Jesus said, "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, `Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, `I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then the father came to the second and said likewise. And the son answered and said, `I go, sir,' but he did not go."

The first son demonstrated his love by his actions. The second son gave lip service without doing anything to please his father. We must be careful or we will think that through our worship services we are serving God, when it may be nothing but lip service from God's point of view.

We must learn to want to serve God because of our love for Him. Now, a question that deserves an answer is, "Why love God?" Why do you love God? Why should others love God?

Here is the best answer that I can think of. "For God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son, that if you believe in Him you should not perish but have everlasting life." In Romans 5:8 we read, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

I love God because He first loved me. He has not merely claimed to love us, but He has proved His love for us. When I recognize the love God has for me, I cannot but respond with love in return.

The most remarkable thing about God's love is that it is totally unconditional. The Bible teaches me that no matter what I am or what I do in this life, I know that God will love me. I cannot help but respond to this. This sort of love makes me want to serve God. It makes me want to please God. It makes me want to glorify God. I don't have to be forced to do the things that I should.

The simplest answer to the question I asked at the beginning of the lesson, "Why am I here?" -- is that I was created to love. I can find no simpler answer to the search for my purpose for existence. Without love, "I am nothing," Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13:2.

Now that we have established that love is our purpose for existence, we must learn to love the way we should. Make love your goal. I Corinthians 14:1 says, "Make love your aim." We must make all other goals of lesser significance in our lives.

"If you love me, keep my commandments," Jesus tells us in John 14:15. We have likely all been guilty at some point in our lives of trying to keep the commandments as if they were the principle concept in this verse. Jesus is telling us that obedience will be the result of our love. Love will not be the result of our obedience. We prove our love by our actions. But we cannot offer our actions as proof of our love.

When we get the order of things reversed in John 14:15, we get our goals and our rewards confused. If love is our primary goal, then we can't make going to Heaven our purpose. We must get our perspective straight -- Heaven is our reward. Learn to serve God because you love God. Because He loves you.

In Colossians 3:23 & 24 we read, "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ."

Let us mature beyond the idea that we are serving God so that we can go to Heaven. Understand that your goal is different from your reward. Out of love, learn to want to serve God even as if it doesn't matter whether Heaven exists or not.

To help you understand this better, let me tell you about two choices I have as a physician. I could choose to be like some doctors I know and get my goal and my reward confused. Have you ever been to a doctor like that? When he works primarily because of the reward, he is leaving out the service. This doctor fails to serve his patient because his goal only is to make a buck. Rather than serving patients, he is serving himself. The patient actually becomes a burden, when God meant for this to be a blessing. He has to see patients because his primary goal is to make money. He becomes a slave to his work because he sees it as the only way to get rich. The stress becomes unreal because he can never make enough money to serve that kind of goal.

The alternative is to choose to become the kind of doctor that the Bible indicates God wants me to be. Based on Christian principles, I can make it my goal to serve patients and as a reward I receive payment. I don't go to work just to make money. You shouldn't either. Greater happiness is found by going to work in order to serve God by serving others. Trust God to provide the reward.

Now consider the Christian who is serving God with the primary goal of going to Heaven. This might be okay in the early stages of Christian development. But as we mature, we need to recognize that Heaven is merely our reward -- a reward which God provides. We will never be good enough to deserve it. We cannot work hard enough to earn it. Because of God's love, He will reward those who love Him.

We get a taste of this reward even here on earth. In John 10:10, Jesus told us that as His disciples we can have life and have it abundantly. Sometimes it is hard to remember that the abundant life is not sometime in the future or somewhere else; the Biblical attitude is to understand that the abundant life is right here, right now. God promises to bless us today.

If we focus on the purpose for our existence, we will understand that our goal must be to love God and to love others. The Bible makes it very clear that we demonstrate our love for God when we are serving God. I believe the Bible also shows that we serve God only when we are serving others. If you love God, you will be serving others.

In Matthew 4:10, Jesus Christ said, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve." If we are to serve only God, then how can we be serving our fellow man? Because, when we, out of love, serve those in need, we are serving God.

Note a commonly quoted passage from I John 1:7, "If we walk in the light . . ." How do we know if we are in the light? The answer is in I John 2:10, "He who loves his brother abides in the light . . ."

Numerous passages in I John teach us that loving God affects how we love others. Keep in mind that the only God many others will see is the God others see through you. God's love will be felt by many only through the love they feel from you.

We must love unconditionally if we are going to show others how God loves them. We must have agape love -- sacrificial love, self-denying love, submissive love, yielding love. This will truly allow people to see Christ living in us. Do they know we are Christians by our love? If not, we are not loving enough.

Don't think in any way that I am suggesting that doctrine is not important. Why do we tend to think that to have the kind of love we hope for that we must compromise our doctrine? Why do we tend to think that to have the kind of doctrine we know is necessary that we must suppress our love? Jesus came and showed us how to have perfect love and perfect doctrine, both at the same time.

I challenge us to be a people who strive to love others unconditionally and to uncompromisingly uphold the truths found in the doctrine of the New Testament. Matthew 22:40 indicates that all the doctrine hangs on love. Love cannot be separated from doctrine without destroying them both. Galatians 5:14 teaches us that all God's commands are fulfilled by love.

Men and women who pursue happiness, without discovering that they exist only to love God and others, find nothing but emptiness. If you have been seeking the wrong goals, there is time to change. Though change can be painful at first, when we seek to glorify, serve, please, and love God, He can provide a peace that surpasses all understanding. Let God fill the void that is in your life.

If you have never surrendered to God's will, He requires that after you believe that Jesus is who He said He is, you must turn from your sinful ways that lead to destruction. Then you must be buried in water as Jesus was buried in the grave. Then as Christ was raised up without the sin for which He died, so, too, will you become a new creature having God's forgiveness.

If you have obeyed the Gospel, but now find yourself back in the realm of the lost, remember that God loves you no matter what your sin. He will forgive you if you repent and ask for His forgiveness. He promises we can have an abundant life even before we get to Heaven. The rewards start now. Don't let another day go by without pleasing your Creator.

Michael S. Cole, M.D.

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 10 May 1992
Copyright © 1992, 1998
Permission is granted to freely copy and distribute with text unchanged, including author's name.

The above statements are my own understanding of the Scriptures.
Please send questions and comments to:  MColeMD@theColeFamily.com