What is the value of our lives? This is a question that has been asked by civilisations through the ages. It is a question we Christians, too, ask ourselves. Certainly, we trust that when we die we will go to heaven. But in the meantime, what is our purpose here? Are we merely biding our time, like pilgrims, till we are called ‘home’ to heaven?
The Spirit lifts our sights to the far more noble and glorious meaning of our lives. He calls us to be filled with a zestful sense of purpose, an awareness of the positive function of our lives here on earth. Speaking through the Apostle Paul He says that we are ‘God’s fellow workers’ and that, as such, our Christian service ‘is not in vain in the Lord’.
Vanity without Christ
Such an outlook is radically different from that of society around us. Having lost its faith in the one true God, it has lost perspective, purpose, and hope along with it. As 20th century philosopher Albert Camus said: nothing really matters; the only question facing us is whether to commit suicide. This vanity, meaninglessness, futility of life has found its way not only into literature but also rock songs, plays and feature films. And not surprisingly, for such a barren outlook is the logical consequence of unbelief.
One might argue that the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes also speaks of all being vanity. Doesn’t the preacher say:
“…I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 2:18)?
Being a deep thinker, he says, “I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (1:13). The results? “All is vanity.” Is this not the same message that today’s thinkers have ‘discovered’?
In a sense it is. The preacher’s findings highlight the desperate need for the promised Messiah. Indeed, the whole book of Ecclesiastes is a cry for the coming of the Christ. Only Christ restores a mankind lost in sin to a life with a glorious purpose. A Bible-based living, prayerful, trusting relationship with the risen Christ again gives meaning to life. Ecclesiastes is a cry for Christ to come because He alone can restore meaning to people’s life and labour.
Christ – key to purposeful service
That is why, after Christ came, the Apostle Paul could say that ‘your labour is not in vain in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 15:58). Paul was responding to the claim of some in the church in Corinth who said, “Dead is dead, and therefore Jesus must still be dead’. If that is the case, says Paul, everything is still vanity, ‘your faith is still futile… and we are of all men most pitiable’. But Christ has risen, has conquered death and Hades, has ascended into heaven, and sits there as head of the church in full control of everything (1 Cor. 15). He is directing history, pursuing His great work of gathering, defending and preserving His church till, at the climax of world history, the full number of the elect are brought in and Paradise is restored. And it is in this glorious kingdom work of Christ that those who are united with Christ in love and faith and obedience are allowed to participate; indeed, are called to participate.
This participation involves a wonderful perspective and gives life a purposeful meaning. It is to join in the work Christ is doing in establishing His kingdom, a work He condescends to share with His people, the members of His church, as He works towards the great culmination, the ultimate catastrophic event that will usher in the New Jerusalem. In that grand activity we have become fellow labourers of the Lord, whether in the home or hospital, school or work site, whether free or a slave, as a child or a frail aged person. Wherever we consciously serve the Lord, ‘our labour is not in vain in the Lord’.
Do the things we produce have value for eternity?
One may ask what such puny people as we, with our sins and weaknesses, could ever do to have value for eternity. What is it in our lives that the Lord condescends to use to contribute to the coming kingdom? Is it as Abraham Kuyper says, that somehow a part of the things produced on this earth, such as pieces of art and modern inventions, are carried over into the eternal Jerusalem? Quoting Rev. 21:24, 26 ‘and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it’, Kuyper claims that ‘the universal human development in every field of culture will surely carry over into eternity, minus the baleful influences of sin, of course’.[i]
However, others (e.g. Prof. S Greijdanus & Dr. K Schilder) disagree saying this text refers to what’s happening now in the process of the coming and development of God’s Jerusalem in history. Think, for example, of when first the Egyptians and later the Babylonians sent the O.T. church, Israel, away with gifts of gold and silver later used in the worship services. Schilder says that in heaven our lives will be so radically different that man’s present culture could serve no useful purpose in heaven. And besides, what could man wish to carry along, supposing he was able? What will be left after the fire of God’s judgement cleanses the earth?[ii]
Well then, how do our lives have value? Schilder says that the real value of the Christian way of life does not lie in what has been produced, such as pieces of art and modern inventions, but in preparing, through the fluctuating tension of the process, the arena for Christ and the antichrist. And through it all God is pursuing his purpose in achieving his greatest piece of art – namely, the triumph of the last one of His elect over the world, in the power of Jesus Christ.[iii]
Fluctuating tensions of the process? Yes, for tension is created there where people live in faithfulness to the Lord. Whilst on the one hand we have peace with God, on the other our struggle for the honour of God’s name, the promotion of His church or kingdom, brings tension because Satan levels his attacks most strongly and slyly where faithful believers honour and serve God. The history of God’s people shows that where they were most faithful, the antithesis set by God in paradise (Gen. 3:15) manifested itself most clearly.
The world would have us believe that the antithesis lies between rich and poor, white and blacks, oppressors and the oppressed. God says that the antithesis lies between Christ and Satan, the church and the world, between those who believe and obey, and those who don’t. Satan would like us to think that there are areas of life outside this antithesis, neutral things and neutral territory, where we can tolerate one another’s differences and be at peace. It is the great lie that has lured thousands into his net. Christ, on the other hand, says, ‘Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace but a sword’ (Mat. 10:34). For the world is the great battlefield where the great drama of these two conflicting forces, headed by Christ and Satan, and in which we are involved, reach the fever-pitch climax of history when Christ will usher in the awesome, everlasting Paradise of God.
Meanwhile, Christ gives us the purpose of our lives when He reveals His own aims in the Lord’s prayer: ‘hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done’. He directs us in His Word to know God so that we praise Him with our words, honour Him through a Godly walk of life, seek God’s kingdom through our words and actions and keep His commandments diligently. He tells us that we are privileged to share in His anointing so that in all things we confess His name, present ourselves a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him and faithfully fight against sin and the devil in this life (LD 12). Here is the purpose of our lives in a nutshell; a glorious purpose with a wonderful perspective that far outweighs the tension of the antithesis it brings with it.
Albert Camus said there is no God to give purpose to life, no heaven, no hell; however, he would not commit suicide but instead heroically accept and endure life’s absurdity. This is heroism blinded by unbelief, the voice of one already in the realm of the dead. Christian heroism, on the other hand, is to know you have life in Christ and consequently to dare to show that you follow Him. It is to uphold the honour of God, speak God’s Word when you need to speak, give liberally to church, the reformed school, mission, poor and other needs. It is to show in word and deed that your greatest delight is to submit humbly in all things to the will of God. In short, it is to be conscious of sharing Christ’s anointing as prophet, priest and king, governed by the divinely inspired, people-inspiring, purpose-filled Word. Such service has value in the sight of Christ our Lord, value for the kingdom of God, value for eternity.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
[i] ‘Abraham Kuyper: Theologian of Common Grace’ in H R van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., Philadelphia, USA, 1972, p. 121
[ii] K Schilder, Wat is de Hemel? JH Kok, Kampen, The Netherlands, 1935, p. 294
[iii] Schilder, p. 305