Life that Matters
Who are we? Does this life matter?
Let’s start by reading from James chapter 4.
James 4:1–14 LSB
1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
2 You lust and do not have, so you murder. You are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world sets himself as an enemy of God.
5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?
6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
7 Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Be miserable and mourn and cry. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
11 Do not slander one another, brothers. He who slanders a brother or judges his brother, slanders the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.
12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you who judge your neighbor?
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Bible v. Nihilism
James is speaking into some specific situations in the lives of the people to whom he’s writing. But he’s tapping into a concept common to humanity, and certainly no less so today, and in our society. Our lives are so full of drama, of joys and struggles, of laughter and this life marred by sin promises to yield pain, suffering, and sadness, while making no guarantees of comfort, wealth, or peace. In the heat of a moment, or even over the course of many years, quarrels and conflicts may seem like the whole world to those involved in the trenches of said conflicts.
And yet, all of this muchness of life, whether someone lives for 30 years or a hundred, is but a tiny grain of sand in the vastness of the universe and the billions of lives that have lived and continue to live.
Some people take solace in the realization that nothing really matters. It takes the pressure off. This is the optimistic side of nihilism. Life doesn’t matter, so relax and enjoy it! This is a natural, logical conclusion to have when pondering our existence without being convinced of a living, all-powerful God.
The bible tells us that there is a God, though, and overwhelmingly the message of the Bible tells us that life matters.
Not just eternal life, but the life of every human who has ever lived or ever will live matters. That’s what the bible says.
And yet, in a way, Jesus offers the same sense of relief that nihilism does, saying we can offload our burdens onto him.
Remember, in Matthew, Jesus said this:
Matthew 11:28–30 LSB
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
There is deep relief in the realization that we are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and that there is nothing we can do that God can’t handle. He can carry our burdens.
And yet, Jesus doesn’t say that he saves us just so we can relax and stop paying attention. Or to just go to sleep or die and enter eternity right away. Why not, right? If this life is but a vapor, might as well get it over with? But no, that’s not how this works either.
Yes, death will bring relief at the end of our lives, and it’s healthy to take solace in that, especially as a Christian. Simply that the death of our bodies is not the end. Not that death is a pleasant thought, or a pleasant experience, and by no means does Jesus want us rushing there before we’ve lived this life abundantly! He may take some of us there before we expect to go, but that’s simply not our call to make, even if it feels like it sometimes!
Even Paul gets that.
He writes in 2 Corinthians, essentially that he had all but given up on life, BUT for his faith in God, leaving him with nothing but gratitude when God restored him to life among his brothers:
2 Corinthians 1:8–11 LSB
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even to live.
9 Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not have confidence in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;
10 who rescued us from so great a peril of death, and will rescue us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet rescue us,
11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers on our behalf, so that thanks may be given on our behalf by many persons for the gracious gift bestowed on us through the prayers of many.
Even Paul was at the point where he wanted to give up because he knew God would be in control no matter what. And yet he stayed his hope in Christ, lived through it, and said to give thanks to God for everything that happened to him.
This life matters. It’s worth living, because our hope is not attached to anything in this life.
Importantly though, it’s a very specific hope…not just in a general “great beyond” of an afterlife, but that we will be raised from the dead in like fashion as Christ, who is himself the proof and the promise of our hope, by whom and through whom we may enter into life, rather than death.
John 10:9–10 LSB
9 “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
This life matters. It’s worth living, but only if you do it Jesus’s way.
Exploring what that “way” or “way of life” is or means is something every Christian must discover for themselves in community with each other, and we may get to explore some more of those practical elements of “the way” in the coming weeks. This morning I am more focused simply on the fact that there IS a way, a path, a door, a person worth following, and it’s the only path to true life, and fulfilment in life, whether in this life or the next.
In Ephesians, Paul reminds his listeners:
Ephesians 2:10 LSB
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Christians ARE, currently, his workmanship. In many ways we are still works in progress, but we are a workmanship, a masterpiece, built and fashioned not simply for decor (though we are beautiful), but for work. And identifying that work is basically our whole existential struggle as a species. It’s in the fabric of our design to want to do things, to find purpose, and to complete things. To stand back at a job well done and find satisfaction in it.
A few weeks ago, I sort of opened a can of worms when I asked the question “Who is Jesus?” We spent years studying Matthew’s testimony, I shared with you a bit of my own, and over the last 3 weeks Mike touched on some of John’s testimony.
For the next couple weeks, I’m going to shift the focus a little bit, and in light of what we know about Jesus, wrestle with the question “Who are we?” or “What’s the point of this life?” Post-Ascension.
Jesus is clearly the most important character in the New Testament. But the most important characters to Jesus in his life were the people around him at any given moment (other than perhaps God the Father). Jesus knew that all the people around him, all the people he healed and gave comfort and peace to would be dead in just a few years, and yet he loves them so much he is moved to compassion and serves their very real, imminent physical needs right there and then.
Yes, the miraculous nature of Jesus’s earthly ministry draws attention to him and shines light on his divinity. But his targeted approach brought spiritual healing through physical provision, and his emotional investment in people’s wellbeing, his desire for them to be cared for, even in this life, reminds us that there is value to this life. That this life matters. What happens in this life echoes for eternity. We ought to treat ourselves and others compassionately as we all struggle to get through it.
But that’s messy.
Let's spend a few minutes in 1 Peter.
Of course, there is a lot in the opening passages of this letter, but I just want us to pay attention to how often Peter is calling attention to the value and purpose of the lives of the people to whom he’s writing.
This life matters.
1 Peter 1 LSB
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who reside as exiles, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen
2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of His blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to obtain an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, having been kept in heaven for you,
5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
8 And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 receiving as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, made careful searches and inquiries,
11 inquiring to know what time or what kind of time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He was predicting the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been declared to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.
13 Therefore, having girded your minds for action, being sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
14 As obedient children, not being conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,
15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your conduct;
16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your sojourn,
18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold from your futile conduct inherited from your forefathers,
19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but appeared in these last times for the sake of you
21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a love of the brothers without hypocrisy, fervently love one another from the heart,
23 for you have been born again not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was proclaimed to you as good news.
Do you all see where he’s going here? He’s writing to displaced Christians, living as exiles. These are people whose life situations may make them feel a little insignificant, or purposeless.
He’s telling them they have been an unfathomably glorious inheritance in Christ, and that they have every reason to be absolutely stoked about life even if their lives are exceedingly difficult right now. Because they’ve gotten a glimpse of what really matters, and that it’s time to pay attention, not fall asleep.
To recognize ourselves as holy, set apart, and to act like it, and to recognize our NEW life in Christ as eternal, incorruptible, and immutable.
It’s with all this and more from chapter 1 that Peter launches into the “therefore” of chapter 2:
1 Peter 2:1–9 LSB
1 Therefore, laying aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,
2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
3 if you have TASTED THE KINDNESS OF THE LORD.
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For this is contained in Scripture:
“BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone,
AND HE WHO BELIEVES UPON HIM WILL NOT BE PUT TO SHAME.”
7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,”
“A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE.”
They stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this stumbling they were also appointed.
9 But you are A CHOSEN FAMILY, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
This life matters, especially when we live it together.
The purpose to which we are called is to be living stones. Living, moving, active participants, not in building the kingdom, but in being the kingdom. Sometimes I think we can get so caught up in building that we forget that we are what we’re building, and our tools and programs exist to serve and facilitate human lives and relationships, not the other way around.
Together, we become more than singular points of light, lonely temples wandering purgatory. Together, we are a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, equipped to worship Jesus and grow the family, however God leads us to, for us long as he allows us to.
This life matters; leave your past life behind.
Colossians 3:1–17 LSB
1 Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
3 For you died and your life has been hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, is manifested, then you also will be manifested with Him in glory.
5 Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.
6 On account of these things, the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,
7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
8 But now you also, lay them all aside: wrath, anger, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.
9 Do not lie to one another, since you put off the old man with its evil practices,
10 and have put on the new man who is being renewed to a full knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—
11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.
12 So, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;
13 bearing with one another, and graciously forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord graciously forgave you, so also should you.
14 Above all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body, and be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with gratefulness in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
When in doubt, love. Love is perhaps the first fruit of the spirit, a key to unlocking a multitude of others: joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, all flow naturally from true love. Love, when we see and experience it, fills us with the urge to worship the source and sustainer of all love and life and light, with our voices, our bodies, and our whole lives, everything we do. Let us sing with gratefulness in our hearts, and all the more so when we walk in the shadow of the valley of death, for we know he is near. In fact, God is not just near, he is with us, and in us.
It’s easy to forget, that those of us who are in Christ, that we are living, walking, breathing, and speaking idols. We are temples. Centers of worship and communion with the most high God Yahweh, creator of the universe.
1 Corinthians 3:16–17 LSB
16 Do you not know that you are a sanctuary of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
17 If any man destroys the sanctuary of God, God will destroy him, for the sanctuary of God is holy, and that is what you are.
In this context, Paul is bringing up this concept as an encouragement, essentially saying that our bodies are very important, so there’s an implication here that we should treat our bodies with love and respect. But the point that he’s making here is more that we don’t have to worry about being killed, or our life’s work getting snuffed out, because it’s not really our lives, or our work, it’s God’s, and though we may suffer greatly in this life, It’s not because we don’t matter to God, it’s the opposite. Paul is reminding us that God has promised to established his kingdom and his temple forever, that his temple is taken care of for eternity, and when that kingdom and temple is a reference to US, well I think that’s a hope worth holding onto!
This life matters, especially when we live it together. But only if we do it Jesus’s way.
At the end of my life, if I still have any memory left, I’m sure I will remember much of it with disdain for how often I have not lived Jesus’s way. But I’m also confident that Jesus will stand up for me regardless and call me his friend. That he will have no record of any way in which I have wronged him, and that he welcome me in to his arms as his precious little brother.
And I tell you now, even if he were to cast me away forever, it would be worth it if anything I have ever done in this life has helped bring anyone else to Christ.
Of course, he’s not going to do that, but my point is there is no greater satisfaction nor sure there be any greater priority in our lives than loving God and loving others, and the best way to do both those things is by hanging out with Jesus and increasing his circle of influence.
Next week, I’m planning to continue on this track, and dive more specifically into biblical anthropology, and why Jesus was necessary in the first place. How did we get to this place where our only hope is either some form of either nihilism or belief in a God and immortality? Are we all gods? Do we have souls, or are we souls? Are we all going to be hosted in the cloud with everyone else in the book of Hebrews?
I pray I can help to answer these questions and more in the weeks to come, and I hope you’ll join me.