Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “The Meaning of Life”

Sermon for Sunday, May 21st, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 73:23-28 ESV] 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

New Testament reading:

[1Co 10:23-33 ESV] 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience– 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 2:1-10 ESV] 1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Introduction

We have the simple subject today of “The Meaning of Life.” I say this facetiously in part. The world’s philosophers, thinkers of all sorts, have weighed in on the meaning of life. They come to different conclusions. Some have postulated a meaning, others have concluded there is no meaning at all, just despair. Wading through all their arguments is no simple task. But the actual meaning of life, as God as revealed to us in His Word is simple. It is simple because He tells the answer.

And we would likely never arrive at the right answer but for God telling it to us. How blessed indeed we are that God has revealed truth to us in the Holy Scriptures.

I. Not A Meaning, THE Meaning.

As humans have battled with this great question of the meaning of life throughout history they have chosen various things to provide meaning in their lives.

On a day to day basis people set goals that provide meaning for a time. A person may seek meaning in trying to run their best mile time ever. Or in finishing a book. Or making it through their shift at work so they can get to the bar and relax with a drink.

But short term goals cannot provide ultimate meaning. These goals and accomplishments come and go. These things will, in some way, always disappoint, and if they are were your heart is set, you’ll need to keep coming up with more and more of them. Task after task, replacing one with the other, in something akin to an addiction with the hope of finding meaning.

So there needs to be found an ultimate meaning. Is there anything better than filling our lives with daily goals?

Some thinkers indeed have had a longer term focus. And they’ve concluded that life is about maximizing pleasure. Others have concluded that life is about service to the state. And yet others have concluded that life is about loving and supporting one’s family.

But why seek pleasure and not pain? Why serve the state and not fight against it? And why dedicate your life to your family, to your children? And they supposed to in turn dedicate their lives to their children, and those children to their children, etc. etc. Ad infinitum. This would make the purpose of all people to be for the good of some generation forever in the future. Can we really find ultimate meaning in that? I think not.

II. How to Find The Meaning of Life

We might stop for a second and ask, “by what method might I find the meaning of life?”

Perhaps, if it is evident AT all, it should be evident TO all? That is, if one person could figure it out, perhaps everyone could figure it out? Maybe?

But when we look around the world, and look around again, and again, what do we see? There are people, there are things, there are events; some “good” and some “bad.” But which one is the purpose of it all? Sports? Family? War? Entertainment? Work? Can any of these have a better claim to the meaning of life than the others? Which one even has any claim at all?

From our observations of the world we simply cannot determine what is of meaning. Our observations at best only tell us what is “out there” not would “should be” and not “what we ought to do.”

So we need some other method. If we are going to find the meaning of life we need another approach.

Fortunately, there is another approach. It is not one that we derived. It is not from our observations or from our dreams or from human mystics or human philosophers. The meaning of life is REVEALED to us by the all-knowing God. He who created us tells us what our purpose is. We find the answer in His word, in the Bible.

There is not a different purpose for each person (as if one person is to their find purpose in being a lawyer, and another person to find their purpose in being doctor), but rather there is a universal purpose, a reason for the existence of us all, and a way we all ought to live.

Now, here is that answer. Are you ready? The Bible tells us that the meaning of life is this: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Our catechism says it in that 17th century style: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” That chief end is our primary purpose, the ultimate meaning of life.

III. The Meaning

The catechism also includes Scriptural proofs; references to Biblical verses that confirm each summary statement.

Regarding this “chief end of man,” this meaning of life, there are two parts. There are verses that speak of giving glory to God and other verses that speak of enjoying Him forever.

A. God’s Glory

In the eventuality of time, the Psalmist says “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” (Psalm 86:9)

That is an end goal of God’s plan, that all shall glorify him.

Again we find that in prophet Isaiah: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.” (Isaiah 60:21)

The Lord shall be glorified! What he promises, that shall come to be.

Then, in the New Testament we have Romans 11:36 – “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” And, God says elsewhere (Isaiah 42:8) “I shall not give my glory to another.” All things are arranged for God’s glory. And this makes sense when realizing that this is His creation. He created the world for His purpose. And that purpose is for his own glory. And God, who is perfect, is rightly glorified.

So St. John says in his apocalypse: [Rev 4:11 ESV] 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

The Scripture are clear. God is to be glorified.

Now we have the passage which I’ve chosen for our sermon text today.

It says in 1 Corinthians 10

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” [REPEAT “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”]

The context is that Paul is answering that question of whether one should eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. And there is great wisdom in his answer. He says “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful.” As he continues with explanation we find that it is lawful for a Christian to eat such meat but it might not always be wise to do so. If it is going to cause trouble to a brother’s conscience, then it is better not to eat.

So that is why Paul begins his conclusion with “whether you eat or drink.”

But fortunately for us, his answer expands beyond just the question he was dealing with. He says “whether you eat or drink, OR WHATEVER YOU DO, do all to the glory of God.”

This is where as Christians we have great freedom. There are rules if we seek to glorify God – one biological man should marry one biological woman, for example – but there is freedom for the Christian to find a spouse, so long as you are equally yoked. God doesn’t tell us the precise person who we should marry, but he gives us freedom within the bounds of Biblical law to ourselves chose. (And this is the same whether we speak of marriage, or of business, or eating, or of drinking, or of anything else). In all of these things we are to give glory to God. We do so by following his law. “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Such is how we glorify God.

So in all we do, “whatever you do,” in all things we are to give glory to God. This is our ultimate purpose, the ultimate meaning of our life. God’s law is the reference point for all of our decisions.

Then, what is so great about the catechism’s answer as it reflects Biblical truth is that this obeying God and giving him glory is paired with our finding ultimate joy.

Only in God, the perfect one, can we find ultimate joy. All things of this world have flaws and can never eternally satisfy us. Our ultimate meaning is found in enjoying God. Following God is not a burden but a joy.

B. Your Enjoyment of Him

The catechism again has scripture proofs.

See how the Psalmist find joy in the Lord:

[Psa 16:5-11 ESV] 5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

We should do likewise.

And then Paul says:

[Phl 4:4 ESV] 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

We are to always glorify God and always rejoice in Him.

In fact, one theologian, though I disagree with in some serious ways on other matters, well says that we glorify God BY enjoying him.

So these two parts of the meaning of life are intimately connected. Glorify God. Enjoy Him forever.

So not only does God get what He demands, but we get that which we desire.

And, look at that “great joy” spoken of in the Gospels. The birth of Christ, the coming of Christ, was great joy.

The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

The presence of the Lord. God with us, Emmanuel. That brings great joy. Of course what Christ does also brings joy; the salvation he accomplishes for us on the cross. But his very presence brings us ultimate joy. And to think that we shall eternally be in his presence, what great joy that brings to our hearts.

C. Meaning in all other things.

So we are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

And then, what is fascinating, is that all those other little things (and big things) in life find their purpose in relationship to this ultimate purpose. We can then rightly have secondary or subservient purposes. Whatever we do, give glory to God.

Suddenly our work has meaning because by it we honor God.

Suddenly our loving our family has meaning because through it we glorify God.

Suddenly mowing the grass and brushing our teeth and singing hymns and eating food all have purpose as we glorify God for the physical things He has given us and the talents he has blessed us with.

Truly in all things we give glory to God.

Conclusion

So what are we to do?

What about MY life?

Seek first the kingdom of God.

That should be your ultimate meaning. Then, all else will follow.

And seeking God’s will, you won’t have to “Monday morning quarterback.” You won’t have to ask “should I have gotten married or should I have pursued career? What was God’s will for me?” Rather, you can be glad in the Lord whether you have chosen marriage or have chosen a career or whatever else you chose. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, give glory to God.

Seek first the kingdom of God, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

So we praise the Lord the He gives us meaning; that He is the meaning of life, and we praise the Lord that He has so designed all things that we may enjoy Him forever.

Let us pray.