Do you ever feel like your life is being wasted? Do you ever feel like you are really not accomplishing anything of any significance? Last week I asked the question, "What is your purpose in life?" We talked about the fact that our purpose should be to live in obedience to God thus honoring Him. This morning I would like to ask another question, "What is it that makes your life meaningful?" If you don't feel that your life is meaningful, you will feel that it is being wasted. When you wonder what you'll be remembered for, what comes to mind? Most of us have lived relatively obscure lives, and will probably continue to. Really, there are very few people in history who could answer this question by citing the great and wonderful things they would be remembered for.
In the movie, Braveheart, which won the "Best Picture" Oscar the year it was released, the story of William Wallace is told. Wallace is a Scottish folk hero and patriot who was executed by the English in 1305. To this day, Wallace is remembered and revered as a hero by the Scots because he fought against English tyranny. But the vast majority of people are and have always been a lot like us-- ordinary people who've done nothing that most would consider to be heroic or worthy of being remembered for. So are our lives being wasted?
I Often marvel at how people came through such things as the Depression, or how many went off to the war in Viet Nam and saw terrible things and then came back and learned to fit back into normal society again. However, the people that do those things don't usually consider them to be such great and tremendous things and don't count them as the things that give their lives meaning.
However, when it comes down to it, I think nearly everyone wants their lives to count for something. We all want to make a difference in this world. We all want to know that we are not wasting our lives and squandering the chances that we're given in this life. We want to be like a William Wallace. But most of us aren't going to be remembered by a country or known for our heroism but that doesn't mean that our lives are being wasted.
In today's passage, the Apostle Paul has a lot to say to Christians about what it is that makes our lives meaningful. He does this by reminding -- both his original readers and us -- of 3 things that all Christians possess that give value and meaning to life. Let's take a look at them.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (NKJV) Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, 5 that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The first thing that gives value and meaning to life is:
1. WE HAVE BEEN CHOSEN BY GOD.
Notice the phrases he uses in these verses... to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus,.... called to be saints,... you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
He's reminding the Christians in Corinth of all the things that God has done for them. There's a temptation to gloss over that -- "Well, isn't that nice" But you have to remember that the people he was writing to were not shining examples of Christianity. We wouldn't refer to them today as "faithful, Christ-like, people who are clearly committed to their faith." It always amazes me when I see a church that has the name "Corinth" in it-- that was one messed up church. I certainly wouldn't want to be known as a "Corinthian."
They had all sorts of flaws, weaknesses, and sins. We know from Paul's letter that they were divided -- there were fights going on in the church, fights over very trivial things. Those who were better off financially were eating in front of the poor who didn't have any food. We know that one man was living with his step-mother and everybody in the church thought it was fine. No one had a problem with the fact that they were living together outside of marriage. We know that they had a problem understanding that their standards were supposed to be fundamentally different than those of the people around them who weren't Christians.
In the first three verses, Paul reminds them that they're holy -- they're radically different than other people because they belong to Jesus Christ. Paul calls them, "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus." This is explanatory of the church, it consists of the sanctified. The word "sanctify" means: "to make holy, i.e. to purify or consecrate, to set apart for God." Believer, you have been set apart for God, you belong to Him.
Paul is referring here to their positional sanctification, their being declared righteous in the sight of God. We could translate it "to them that are justified in Christ Jesus"
So Paul starts his letter by reminding the Corinthians that they have been purchased from the penalty of sin by the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then he amplifies it by saying that they are "saints by calling." The Corinthians are saints? They were being very divisive, were living in immorality, suing one another, getting drunk at the Lord's supper, just to name a few of their sins and he calls them saints! Was he crazy? No! They were saints.
The word "saints" is the adjective form of the verb "sanctified." It means: " to be set apart in the purpose and plan of God." The term "saint" is never associated with the quality of daily life, although this is how most people use it. We'll say, "They're a saint," referring to their conduct. But the Bible uses "saint" to speak of every believer, all believers are saints, positionally we are holy.
The Spirit of God has chosen to give believers the title of saints more than any other designation other than brethren. We are called saints 62 times in Scripture. If you have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a saint. In the Biblical sense, the most obscure believer today is just as much a saint as the apostle Paul. You can call me saint David.
In practice, the Corinthians were gross sinners but in position, they were saints. They were saints not because of how they lived but because they were "called."
This is a very significant statement, don't miss it. The word called means: "appointed to." We could translate this "called to belong to Jesus Christ." We come to Christ only because we have been called by His sovereign electing grace. There is a strong emphasis on election in this passage. This theme carries on to verse 9 where again Paul says that the Corinthians were called, chosen, or elected by God. Every believer has been chosen by God. This should give our lives meaning and purpose. God chose us. Don't you feel good when you are chosen to do something, chosen for some position or special task? Well we have been chosen to be in God's family.
Paul begins his letter by affirming who they were, he says, "I want to tell you who you are, you are saints, you are positionally holy through your relationship with Jesus Christ. You are part of God's family." The realization of that brings responsibility. As saints, God's children, we are responsible to live as saints. The realization of our position should motivate us to live holy. I think Paul is reminding them that because of what God has given them in Jesus, they are also supposed to hold different values than those who are not Christians. They are supposed to cherish different things than those who do not follow Jesus Christ.
Charles Swindoll, in The Grace Awakening, tells a story about a lady who lived in the Deep South and had a close relationship with her childhood sweetheart. They were married and lived happily together many years. Sadly, one day he died. The lady couldn't bear to part with her husband, so she decided to have him embalmed, put in a chair, sealed up in a glass case, and placed immediately inside the front door of their large plantation home. Every time she walked through the door, she smiled and said, "Hi, John, how are you?" Then she would go on about her business.
A year or so later she took a trip to Europe. While there, she met a fine American gentleman who swept her off her feet and convinced her to marry him. They were wed right there in Europe. After an extended honeymoon, they began their journey back to the United States. Now, this lady had said nothing to her new husband about John back home, in the glass case. As they approached the plantation, the new husband was thinking, " This is my moment to lift my bride over the threshold and to carry her back into her home this wonderful place where we'll live together forever." He picked her up, bumped the door open with his hip, and walked right in. Waiting there in the front hall was her dead ex-husband John! The man almost dropped his bride. He looked at her said, "Who in the world is that?" The lady said, "Uh...that's John, my first husband." Her new husband said, "Well, he's not your husband any more. He's dead." Immediately he went outside and dug a hole and buried the old man, case and all.
Christians often do the same thing as that lady, in a manner of speaking. At some point in our lives we realize that our lives are wasted if we don't have a right relationship with God; and so we exchange a pointless life for a life that is enriched by God, a life that (God tells us) truly means something, but then we sometimes fall back into our old habits and measure our standard of success by the old, worldly standards.
Paul's message is that we're not a part of that value system -- we've left it behind, traded the perishable for the imperishable, the temporary for the permanent, so why would we want to go whoring after things we know aren't worth anything in the first place?
Secondly, Paul says...
2. We Have Been Given God's Grace
Notice what Paul says in these verses, "Grace to you and peace.... the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus you were enriched in everything you come short in no gift." Paul thanks God for His grace that was bestowed upon the Corinthians, recognizing that all they were and had came from Him. "Grace," the basic meaning of the word is "favor," but in relation to God's saving grace, it always has the special and distinct sense of undeserved and unrepayable kindness or mercy given to sinners.
Romans 4:4 (NKJV) Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
This stresses the fact that grace cannot be earned. If we could some how earn God's favor, it wouldn't be grace but debt-- he would owe us.
Paul used this word "grace" in verses 3 & 4, but in the Greek, derivatives of this expression also appear in the word thank (v.4) and in the noun gift (v.7). So Paul stresses the idea of grace.
Understanding God's grace -- this gift He's given us -- is very important. Especially when we ask ourselves if our lives really matter in the big scheme of things.
A TV preacher who was either seriously mixed up on this subject or was deliberately misleading people for personal gain said that poverty is a spiritual problem and not a material problem. He quoted Jesus in Luke 4:18 when He said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." And then this fellow said, "You know what is good news to a poor man? That he ain't gonna be poor no more!" Then he went on to explain that if you're right with God, money won't be a problem, you'll have all you need.
That guy's got it all almost totally wrong. The good news that Jesus was bringing to poor and oppressed people is that he can give them something so great that money and material wealth seems worthless. Believers, we are wealthy beyond measure, do you understand what you have in Jesus Christ?
2 Corinthians 8:9 (NKJV) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
We are plutocrats, not only has God called us to salvation, but He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ. That's God's grace.
Do you know what the difference is between religion and Christianity? Many would answer this way, "Well, Christianity is a kind of religion." That's partially true, in a way. But really the two are fundamentally different. In his book, How To Be A Christian Without Being Religious, Fritz Ridenour talks about the difference. He says...
Christianity is more than a religion, because every religion has one basic characteristic. Its followers are trying to reach God, find God, please God through their own efforts. Religions reach up toward God. Christianity is God reaching down to man, Christianity claims that men have not found God, but that God has found them. To practice Christianity is to respond to what God has done for you.
Religion is people trying to win God's favor, to become acceptable to God. But Christianity is based on the fact that God accepted us even though we are not acceptable to Him. That's God's grace, that's what we have.
Many people think that there are really two ways to heaven. They picture it as two lines that lead to different gates into heaven. One line is made up of people who are trying to be pleasing to God. That's the religion line, that's the line for those who think they can be good enough to please God. Really, getting into heaven in that line is a theoretical possibility only, because you have to bat a 1000 to make it. So, to get into heaven through the gate that this line ends in, you'd have to be perfect-- never having committed one sin or one selfish act or one lustful thought or done the slightest thing wrong. Most people trudge along in that line, thinking that ,miraculously, the standards will be lowered or that they might somehow live up to them when they get to the gate. That's religion -- every religion that's ever existed falls into that category. Problem is, the requirements are too tough and people only fool themselves into thinking they will be good enough.
But then picture another line. That line is for people who have a free pass into heaven. All they do is show the free pass at the gate and they get in, no matter how terrible and rotten they've been. The free pass is marked with the words, written in Jesus' blood, "I died for this person." That's what grace is like, a free ride. And that free pass, that free ride, is available to anyone who merely trusts Christ for it. That's the difference between religion and Christianity. Very simply, that's God's grace. That's what we've been given; that's what Paul was reminding the Corinthians and us of.
Third, Paul reminds the Corinthians of...
3. The Implications of Having This Gift of Grace
Now, what does all this have to do with the question of exactly what is it that makes our lives meaningful? Why should this matter to us when, in those times when we either look ahead to what we want to accomplish or look back at what we've done, we ask if we have or are wasting our lives?
Well, for one, it matters because it will determine what course we set for our lives. The person who is driven by the world's standards of meaning and success will probably be disappointed, since so very few leave behind great legacies. Frankly, playing by the world's standards is going to lead to a life of frustration and disappointment. But the person who says, "God has given me the gift of salvation and I'm free to go from there." That person is going to set different goals and measure success by a different standard.
Years ago in Manchester England there lived a factory worker who had a very responsible job. The whistle that marked the beginning and the end of the work day was operated by a clock and it was his job to be sure the clock was accurate. So every day on his way to work he stopped by the window of a clock shop. In the window was a very expensive clock and he set his watch by it. Then he set the factory whistle clock by his watch.
The clock shop owner began to notice him stopping by the window every day on his way to work, and asked him about it. He explained that he set the factory clock by that fine clock in the window so that the factory whistle would blow on time. The owner laughed. "All this time I've been setting this clock by your factory whistle!"
Your perspective on success and meaningfulness depends upon what you use to measure it. Christians set their standards by God's idea of success and not by one that is as meaningless and variable as the two clocks in the story.
There is a couple in Boise who, in the recent past, have had to change vocations. They're married and have two children. Both of them used to work for a church. He was full-time and she was part-time. They left those jobs and got other ones. Now, they both work for Micron Computers in Boise, a high-stress, bottom-line company that is interested (as all companies are) only in making money.
A while back the woman met with her supervisor to discuss her future there. She's a temp, but they often hire permanent employees from the pool of temps they have working for them.
This woman explained to this supervisor that their goals were very simple: to work just enough to make enough money to pay the bills and live a simple life. They valued spending time with their children more than getting ahead and weren't too terribly concerned about saving up for any big purchases. Really, they just wanted to make the house payment, keep the cars running, buy groceries, and pay the other essential bills.
She told her honestly that they weren't looking to "get ahead" in the organization. This supervisor's reply: "That is so different than any thing I've ever known! I'm completely unfamiliar with that kind of a value structure."
See, if we Christians could just realize what we've been blessed with. Take it to heart that God has already given us so much more than we could ever hope to collect, beg, borrow or steal in a thousand life-times. If we could understand that, then we could sort of "opt out" of the rat race and live contentedly knowing that we already have so much.
Sometimes it's a difficult thing to communicate clearly -- but understanding the gift of God's grace really should call all of our goals and values into question. The world says the accumulation of wealth is just about the most important thing in this life. The Christian should realize that wealth is only a means to an end -- a tool to be used in the service of God. The world says it's meaningful if you have power and prestige. But the Christian may consider their lives meaningful if they raised faithful children, or helped in raising faithful grandchildren. The world says you're a success if you have a nice home and a new car. But the Christian who realizes the gift they've already been given says that that's not so important, things like helping others are much more important when it really counts.
God's given us so much in Jesus and basically he throws the world out before us and says, "There you go. Your eternal needs are met. Your biggest worry is already taken care of. Now go out there and serve me by serving others."
A man named Michael graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. His undergraduate degree was in business, and his parents hoped that after seminary he would resume his original pursuit of a career in finance. Instead, after graduation he began working with a mission in a Tijuana barrio. After several months, during a visit home, his father asked him, "Why are you wasting your talents in that ghetto?" Michael said, "It is impossible for me to believe that helping someone could ever be considered a waste of talent." The odd thing about this story is that Michael's father is a minister!
See, it doesn't matter whether the guy down the street thinks you're a success. When we ask ourselves if we are wasting our lives, our answer should be that it is impossible to waste our lives in the service of our Creator.