Following Jesus: Our purposes
Esther was a Jewish girl in the palace of the king of Persia in about 460 BC. When the lives of all the Jews in Persia were threatened, her cousin Mordecai told her that she alone could save all their lives if she spoke to the king. He said, “perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14NLT). What would she do? Bravely she spoke to the king and the Jews lives were saved. This is a great example of how God can give us a purpose in life. God used Esther to fulfill His purposes. She was in the right place at the right time. That’s an example of God’s providence (His wise and purposeful sovereignty); it wasn’t an accident. And she made the right decision. That’s an example of human responsibility.
As human beings we want our lives to be meaningful and significant. How can we make our life count? The Bible implies that God made us for a purpose. And as we live for that purpose, we will find fulfilment.
So God has wonderful purposes for our lives as well as what He had for queen Esther. I’m using the word “purpose” instead of “plan”. A plan is detailed like a road map or a blueprint. Whereas a purpose gives direction and a goal or a mission. A plan is fixed, while a purpose is forgiving. A purpose is like a stream that flows to a distant sea. The stream may be diverted from time to time. It may even wander aimlessly in swamps for a period. But it can also recover its way further down the valley and still has the potential one day to become a great river.
Christians as followers
Do you have a role model? Someone you look up to. Someone you imitate. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1NIV). And he told Christians in Thessalonica, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Th. 1:6-7). So they imitated Paul and others imitated them. The early Christians were told to imitate the apostles and their spiritual leaders (Heb. 3:7).
The Bible urges believers to follow Jesus. To share a spiritual relationship with Him – and with others. God also calls us to join Him as partners in His work. That’s our mission. Our reason to live. Our identity lies in our relationship with God, and not in what we do.
This is shown in the schematic diagram where Christians can follow Jesus and follow other Christians who are modelling following Jesus. Like Paul and those in Thessalonica. After following Jesus at Thessalonica, the believers became “a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia”. This is shown by the dotted line.
Are we an example for other believers to follow? If not, then we are probably not following Jesus. Who are the people that we admire as examples to follow in the Christian life?
God’s sovereignty and human responsibility
Although God created everything in the beginning of time. He gave humanity work to do. Adam and Eve were to rule over the rest of creation and work and take care of the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 1:28; 2:15).
Romans 9 says that God has the right to determine His way of salvation. God has the right to decide who will be saved. This is a part of God’s sovereignty (the right and power to do what He decides to do – like a king who is in control of His kingdom). And we know that this way of salvation is based on whether we have faith on Christ or not. He has chosen to save everyone who trusts in Christ. People have a free choice to either accept or reject this salvation. This is a part of our human responsibility. In the table, God’s sovereignty is shown in the left column and human responsibility in the right column.
Likewise, God has the right to determine His way for Christians to live. We find out about this from the Bible. For example, Christians are:
– To become more like Jesus by developing godly character and integrity and becoming mature believers (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5: 12-14)
– To love God and love our neighbor (Lk. 10:27
– To witness for Christ (Acts 1:8)
– To promote reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:18)
– To be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5)
– To make disciples (Mt. 28:19-20)
– To have a positive impact on the world by shining like a light (Mt. 5:14-16).
In summary, Christians are to be God’s disciples and God’s workers. These are some of God’s purposes (or tasks) for us, which are shown in the bottom line of the table.
Christians have a free choice to either accept or reject this way to live. This is a part of our human responsibility.
We have a choice every day to go God’s way or to go our way. Everyday is a new opportunity. Do we pray regularly to be more like Jesus in our attitudes and behavior?
We have seen that God has determined both the only way of salvation and the best way of Christian living.
When Dr Jay Wile went to university, his plan was get a Ph.D. in chemistry and become a world-class scientist. While he achieved the first goal, the second never happened. He got a Ph.D., became a professor, got grants to do research, and did research that lead to many publications on nuclear chemistry. Had he continued, he would have gotten his shot at becoming a world-class scientist. But then something happened. He met his first homeschool graduate.
He couldn’t understand how a mother without any training could produce a top science student. So he started working with homeschooling parents, and eventually, he started writing courses for them. Then he realized that he loved writing courses more than university teaching and scientific research, so he left the university and did some consulting work in order to spend more time writing. After his courses became popular enough, he stopped consulting and became a full-time writer. He did that for several years, but now he has found a way to balance teaching and writing, so he now teaches both high school and university students while still producing new homeschooling courses.
While he loves what he is doing, he sometimes wonders about the choices he made. At university he had a solid plan. What would have happened had he followed that plan? Would he have made some great scientific breakthrough? Probably not. While he had made some modest scientific discoveries with the help of others, he didn’t think he had the talent that is required to do great scientific research.
He came to realize that if he followed his plan, he would have probably been a mediocre scientist. Because he followed the opportunities the Lord placed in front of him, however, through his courses and teaching he has helped inspire some truly incredible people to become scientists. And they will eventually produce more scientific advancements than he ever could have. He found what his purpose as in the area of his work.
So if the Lord puts opportunities in your path that require you to change or abandon your plans, you should take those opportunities. His plans are better than ours!
There were arguments between the Christians in the church at Corinth. Some followed Paul and others followed Apollos. So Paul said, “After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers…” (1 Cor. 3:5-9NLT).
Paul wasn’t more important than Apollos. Or vice-versa. They were both God’s servants. God’s workers. They both worked for the same boss. They were channels of God’s message; but not the message itself. They each had a different task to do. And each person is evaluated based on the work they do.
Likewise, God has given us different tasks. We each have different purposes. It’s like a job description.
God’s way of Christian living is summarized in the schematic diagram.
We have already discussed God’s purposes (shown above our purposes) for us to be His disciples. Our purposes are mainly determined by God’s purposes (above) and our resources (below). We will look at our resources in the next post. And people’s needs determine how our purposes are met by serving others. Our role will be mainly dictated by how our strengths fit the needs we identify around us. We will look at our obedience with regard to this service in the following post.
How well do we know God and His purposes (above)? How well to we know our strengths and resources (below)? How well do we know people’s needs (right)? How well do we know the things around us?
Paul and Apollos worked together, not in opposition, “I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (v.6). Their work was complementary; they were not in competition. They were co-workers in God’s service. Being co-workers in the cause of Christ is a central idea in Scripture (1 Cor. 3:9; 12:6, 11).
In his letters, Paul acknowledges many co-workers, including: Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Mark, Luke, Euodia and Syntyche, Clement, Philemon, Urbanus, Justus, Aristarchus, Demas and “others” who are not named. Others that are not specifically called co-workers are: Epaphras, Tychicus, Archippus, and Erastus. It is important to shoulder the burden of service together with other Christians. We are in this jointly with both God and fellow believers (Phil. 4:3).
In the church we are co-workers. We are on the same team, instead of being rivals.
So, we need to cooperate together.
For example, both the members of a sports team and the members of an orchestra need to cooperate and coordinate with each other to play the game and to play the musical score. And all the different parts of our body need to cooperate and coordinate for us to live and to do the things we do.
Are you part of a team of Christian workers? Are you a co-worker? Do you see yourself as being God’s servant and God’s worker?
Areas of life
Our purposes are worked out in five overlaping areas of involvement: the marketplace (work and business), community, church, family and friendships, and leisure. How much time and energy do you give to each sphere of involvement? Are you content with how your energy is being spent?
God wants us to become more like Jesus. He wants us to have purposes that reflect His purposes (for all believers) and our strengths (which are specific to us). We serve others when we apply our purposes to people’s needs.
Every day let’s choose to follow Jesus. And let’s work together with the team of believers in our church.
Then like Esther, we will have a meaningful and significant life that brings fulfilment.
Written, April 2021