Jesus Speaks to Us About Purposelessness
November 10th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
JESUS SPEAKS TO US ABOUT PURPOSELESSNESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-10-85 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the great multitudes of you who share this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Jesus Speaks to Us About Purposelessness. In an extensive survey made over a wide spectrum of our people, there were five problems that they faced. One was loneliness, and Sunday, a week ago, the sermon was Jesus Speaks to Us About Loneliness. And the second one was helplessness, hopelessness, and the sermon last Sunday, Jesus Speaks to Us About Hopelessness. One was emptiness, and the sermon next Sunday, Jesus Speaks To Us About Emptiness. And the next Sunday, the last of the series of five, Jesus Speaks to Us About Fear, trepidation, anxiety for the morrow. And then this Sunday, purposelessness, Jesus Speaks To Us About Purposelessness. The background text is in the passage that you read in Luke 12:19:
I will say to my soul, Soul, thou has much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry—1 Corinthians 15:32 adds to that—for tomorrow we die.
An Epicurean interpretation of life: nothingness, meaninglessness, purposelessness, “Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But God shall say to him:
Foolish one, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
A life that is without meaning: no goal to reach, no God to serve, no purpose. In the parable that the Lord spoke concerning the barren fig tree, in the next chapter of Luke, He asks, “Why cumbereth it the ground?” [Luke 13:7]. Why be? Why exist? Why live, if there’s no meaning, or purpose, or goal, or dedication in life?
The word “purpose” refers to a mighty thing in destiny, in life, in law, in eternity. When the Lord poured out His Spirit of grace upon the Gentiles in Antioch [Acts 11:19-21], the first Gentile congregation, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what God had done [Acts 11:22]. And the Scriptures say that Barnabas was glad, when he saw the mighty hand of the Lord upon them. And Barnabas exhorted them saying that “With purpose, they cleave unto the Lord” [Acts 11:23], a great meaningful dedication. And I say it interprets for us the entire meeting of life, of law, of destiny, of eternity: “purpose.”
I was completing my work in the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937. And in that awesome year, the greatest flood that this part of the world had ever witnessed swept down the Ohio River Valley and inundated the city. And as I stood and looked at it, I saw those great distilleries buried underneath the flood of water. And I thought, “This is a judgment of God. Look at those whiskey distilleries, buried under God’s judgment.” But the same great flood also buried the little village church where I pastored. Those waters backed up into the caverns of Kentucky, and to the amazement of all of our people, our little village church was in the middle of a depression that filled with the flood and was buried. The difference in my reaction, as I looked at the distillery inundated—I called it a judgment of God. My little church buried under the same floodwaters was a trial and a testing of the faithfulness of our people. The difference lay in purpose, purpose!
In the concluding years of the Second World War, on all the front pages of the papers of the earth, I and the rest of the world looked at a picture of Mussolini and his mistress stripped naked, executed with their heads upside down. And as I looked at that, I said, “That is a judgment of God.” Mussolini, the most contemptible figure, I think, in my lifetime. In that same world, and in that same nation, and in that same country, the apostle Paul was executed on the Ostian Way. The difference in their lives, both of them executed, the difference: purpose, dedication.
The far-famed pastor of this First Baptist Church in Dallas and my predecessor, George W. Truett, with a shotgun killed the chief of police of the city of Dallas. Last week, I looked at the picture of a criminal who was executed for killing a policeman. The difference? Purpose. I say it shapes life, and law, and history, and destiny, and eternity.
We’ve coined a little phrase. “He did it on purpose,” or “It was not his purpose.” Now, how regnant and how pertinent in our lives when we look at the possibility of the empty rewards of giving our lives to nothingness, to worthlessness, to purposelessness, and it is defined so largely in terms of the possessions, and the emoluments, and the rewards, and the achievements of this life and this world.
I read of a grocery man coming to the end of his days. And he had written out the epitaph to be inscribed on his marble tombstone. And it was this: “Born thus and thus day and year, a human being. Died thus and thus day and year, a grocer.” And somebody asked him, “Why would you put that as an epitaph on your tombstone?”
And he said, “That is the tragedy of my life. I was so busy and consumed with making money and selling groceries that I had no time for God, no time for the church, no time for my family, no time for my friends. That is the empty reward of my life. I am dying a grocer.”
There is an illusion that possesses our minds, and our hearts, and our strength, and our energy. There’s an illusion that overwhelms the entire world. We give ourselves to advancement, and to achievement, and to progress, and to accumulation, and to fame, and fortune, and wealth, and riches, and the emoluments of the world; all of these things we strive for and reach for. There is an illusion in them, a deception in them of which we’re not aware. We are deceived. We’re blinded. Look at it.
Abraham, the great patriarch of God, lived two thousand years before Christ. When he traveled, he traveled on a donkey. And when he moved by the call of God from Ur of Chaldea to the Canaan land [Genesis 11:31-12:5], he followed the Fertile Crescent one thousand, five hundred miles. And it took him months and months and months to remove his family from Chaldea to Canaan.
I remember making that same journey in an airplane, straight across the Syrian Desert in a little more than an hour. What progress! What achievement! Take again: communication. When Abraham sent a letter, he had to take soft, moist clay and write in it hieroglyphics, bake it, and send it on its way.
I remember being in Tel Aviv and sending an appeal, a request for a reservation there in Ur of Chaldea, the city of Bozrah. And I did it on a wireless telegraph, and it was done in a moment. What achievement! What advancement!
And I think of the domestic life of Abraham: he lived in a tent, like a nomad Bedouin, exactly like the Bedouins. And I think of our houses today. The rooms in them, and they have running water, and electricity, and the luxuries and accouterments of modern life. And I think, as you do, “what an advancement!” “What progress!” “What achievement!”
But when I look at it actually, am I deluded and deceived? Are we better today than in the days of Abraham? We can travel, but are we traveling better places? God said to Abraham, “Get thee up,” and he was on his way to the Promised Land [Genesis 12:1-5]. Where are we going? And what is the destiny of our lives and the achievement of our souls? We can travel, but are we traveling? We can go, but are we going better places? Are we?
Seeing; Lord in heaven, how we can see today! The whole earth spread there for you to look at daily in your living room. But are we seeing better things? God said to Abraham, “Come out under the chalice of the sky and look up. And count the stars if you can; so My blessings—and Abraham believed God; and his faith was counted for righteousness” [Genesis 15:5-6]. We can see, but are we seeing better things?
We can hear. Dear me! Listen to the voice across a sea, across an ocean, around the world, what we can hear. But Abraham heard the voice of God, and God spoke to him as to a friend [2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23]. And what do we hear? Lord in heaven! The sound and the beat of that constant rock-and-roll and a thousand other cacophonies; we can hear, but are we hearing better things?
Progress, achievement: could it be a delusion? There’s no doubt but that there is progress in human history. In every area of science, in medicine, in chemistry, in anatomy, in all of the efforts of understanding and discovery, there is progress, achievement in human history. You can’t deny it, but you also cannot deny there is also progress in aerial bombing, in German chemical warfare, progress in the development of the hydrogen bomb, of nuclear fission, also progress in the use of media for the dissemination of propaganda and political lies. There is no evidence; there is not a shred of evidence that there is progress from evil to good, from light to darkness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. There is no evidence that there is progress in the betterment of people. Ask you humbly; are we better than those saints of God, in that roll call of faith: Abraham and Sarah, or Isaac and Rebecca or Israel/Jacob and Rachel? Are we better people? I repeat, it’s an illusion, it’s a delusion. It’s a deception that in these things, and things, and things, we are growing God-ward and Christ-ward; that we’re better people. For the most part, our lives are poured into and reaching out for nothingness, worthlessness, purposelessness. When we have it, it is dust and ashes in our hands.
As God said to this man who gave himself to the emoluments of this world [Luke 12:16-19]: “When your soul, this night, is called into reckoning, then whose shall these things be?” [Luke 12:20]. There’s another part of that. Jesus speaks to us about purposelessness, worthlessness, nothingness. So much of humanity can be described as a flotsam and the jetsam of God’s creation. In the Book of Jude, he describes a great people as this:
They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; trees whose fruit withereth, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;
Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
Wandering stars—that vast, created mass of useless, worthless, nothingness in this universe. And the brother of our Lord, Jude, compares that to so vast a proportion and segment of humanity—their lives given to nothingness, flotsam, jetsam, worthlessness—like the matter that floats without meaning in the skies above us.
And I look at this world around. Two days ago, that reporter from the Dallas News, spending a second day; in December there is to be published, in that High Profile, a presentation of your pastor; so she was asking me, she says, “I would think that you live in an ivory tower, surrounded by godly people, holy purposes, that you’re unfamiliar with and you never touch the seamy side of the world.”
I replied, “Largely, I know that is true. I live in a sheltered world. My friends and companions are the people of God. And I walk with them and live with them, I know. But also,” I said, “even though I don’t live in that darkened world, I know of it. I see it, and I read about it every day in the paper; these whose lives are consumed and ruined by drugs, alcohol, drunkenness, promiscuity, AIDS, sodomy, giving life to nothingness, worthlessness, purposelessness. I see it, and it is unspeakable tragedy.”
God’s gifts are so precious and so wonderful. His creations—and all of us have an endowment, all of us—created for some wonderful cause, some of us for this, some of us for another, some of us for still others, but all of us with gifts from God to be used for His glory and for His purpose. And to prostitute it, and to waste it, and to give it into nothingness is such a tragedy of life.
This week I read of a distinguished professional man. Gifted, he had an IQ of 168; he’s in the genius class. A fine physical specimen, but for five years, he’s been with a psychiatrist 692 times and is spending thousands and thousands of dollars with that psychiatrist. Why? Instead of prayer, and commitment, and the purposes of God, and the glory of the Lord, he is consumed and ruined by anxieties, and trepidations, and fears, and frustrations. Why would a man with his gifts from God devote himself to worthlessness? I cannot understand. There’s so much to be done, the need is so vast, and immeasurable, and illimitable, and we consume what God has given us—each one of us—in nothingness, purposelessness; going nowhere, doing nothing for Him.
There’s another angle to that, that is tragic, indescribably sad: the hurt that we bring to others in the dereliction and the prostitution of our lives. Every day I read Ann Landers, God bless her heart. Do you do that? Well, I’m ashamed of you. No, she talks about human life. Now look at this:
I was a latchkey kid from the age of seven. My parents both worked, and sometimes I, an only child, waited for them to return from their labors until after 9:00 at night. I didn’t use drugs, I didn’t steal, my grades were good, I never got into trouble.
When our son was born, I was thrilled. I decided to stay at home and be a full time mother. I was always available to chaperon a class trip, bake a cake, have my son’s friends in, or drive them to a ballgame. My husband coached Little League summer after summer. He helped with the scouts, went hiking and camping. We had splash parties, pajama parties, Halloween parties.
Occasionally when my husband and I went to a movie or dinner with friends, grandparents babysat. No strangers for our kid. Everything we did revolved around the welfare of our son, but in the end our efforts counted for nothing. Our boy is a drug addict, a thief with no morals, and no conscience. He’s made our lives a nightmare.
Eventually we had to banish him from our home because of the criminal friends that he harbored. The troops and the police were always at our door. I became enraged when parents are blamed when children go wrong. The influence in society counts for nothing. Our children are exposed to filthy lyrics, pornographic magazines, sexy ads, and trashy films. Freedom has become a license. What parents teach in the homes is undone on the outside.
Now thanks to television, they don’t even have to leave their homes. It’s right there in the living room. Unlike the kid with his finger in the dike, there seems to be no other way on the earth—and we run out of fingers.
That’s sad, but that is the story of uncounted numbers of families. About two days later, in that same column is another like recounting:
Parents are obligated to do everything possible to help their children lead decent lives, but there’s no way we can force our children to make good decisions or behave decently if they choose to do otherwise. I wish parents who have tried their utmost would quit asking themselves, “Where did I fail?” Sometimes it’s the children who fail, and there comes a time when parents must let their messed up kids accept responsibility for themselves.
But that is the saddest thing that I know in life. Why would a child, born of devout parents, reared in a home where the name of God is revered—why would those children turn aside to purposelessnesses and nothingnesses and worthlessnesses when they could count so much for God?
I don’t understand, I can’t see it; and I have tried the years and the years, and I am as baffled now as I was when I first tried to enter into it. Purpose, dedication, makes all the difference between heaven and hell, between life and darkness.
May I close now with the wonderful thing, the marvelous thing that we see in the life of our blessed Lord Jesus, who had nothing, absolutely nothing? He was born poor. He was born in a stable, laid in a manger where the oxen fed [Luke 2:7]. In the peak of His life, He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds in the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” [Matthew 8:20]. He had nothing.
He knew what it was to be hungry for forty days without food [Matthew 4:2]. He knew what it was to be thirsty. On the cross He cried, “I thirst” [John 19:28]. He knew what it was to be lonely. “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. He knew what it was to be weary. “Thus weary, he sat by the well” [John 4:6]. He knew what it was to be rejected by His own family. They came in the third chapter of Mark to take Him home, for they said, “He is beside Himself” [Mark 3:21]. He has lost His balance. That’s our Lord.
But in heaven, in heaven He was not made after the fashion of the angels. But He took upon Him the humanity of the seed of Adam and of Abraham [Luke 3:23-38; Philippians 2:8], and “was tried in all points, such as we are” [Hebrews 4:15]. And He can be touched. He can be moved with the feeling of our infirmities. “Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16]. Lord, Lord! What we learn from Thee.
Possession and achievement and acceptance have nothing to do with it. It’s the purpose in the heart that lives and blesses forever. Thus our Lord taught us to find God’s purpose in the sorrows, in the disappointments, in the sicknesses, and the sufferings we experience in this life. There is a reason for everything, everything. God has a purpose. And if we will learn and let Him teach us, how infinitely enriched we are!
A little crippled boy was running to catch the streetcar. And he called, saying, “Mr. Conductor, Mr. Conductor, wait up! Wait up! Wait up!” And the conductor stopped the car. And the little boy clambered in, sat down by a man there on the streetcar. And the man looked at him, and the little fellow seemed so bright, though so crippled; so happy, though so hurt. And the man said to the little boy, “How is it you’re so bright and so happy, and you’re so crippled?” And the little boy replied, “My mother says—my mother says God always gives us His best gifts. And my mother says I ought to be happy for God’s best gift for me.”
Lord, that I could be that way! God’s best gifts are always ours, and let me learn to be happy in His best remembrances. The providences that happen to us, and the sufferings by which we are hurt, God intends some wonderful thing for us, teaching us, learning at His feet, enrolling in His school [Matthew 11:29].
O Lord! And sometimes God is teaching us in those times when it seems days are wasted and life is at a standstill, waiting upon the Lord; stopped! There’s not a more beautiful sonnet in literature than John Milton “On His Blindness”:
When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide—
He became blind when he was forty years of age—
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless—
He wanted to write the poetry that was in his soul; he was wrapped up, and caught up, and bound up in that Commonwealth war under Oliver Cromwell—
though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best . . .
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best—
And the last verse—
They also serve who only stand and wait.
[“On His Blindness,” John Milton]
Sometimes when we’d like to be in the thick of the battle and at the front of the charge, we have to wait, we have to rest. Do you remember John Ruskin’s short essay, “The Music of a Rest”?
There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by “rests,”
And we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices are silent, and our part missing in the music whichever goes up to the ear of the Creator.
How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time with unvarying count and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come in between.
Not without design—purpose—Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the tune and not to be dismayed at the “rests.”
They are not to be slurred over, nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, not to change the key-note. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.
If we sadly say to ourselves, “There’s no music in a rest,” let us not forget there is the making of music in it. The making of music is often a slow and painful process in this life. How patiently God works to teach! How long He waits for us to learn the lesson.
“Music in a Rest”; as I reread that essay from the great English writer, John Ruskin, I thought of the numbers and numbers of times I’ve heard you and other choirs sing the concluding consummation of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” And it closes with four great Hallelujahs. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Then, the most impressive rest that you ever heard: everything stops. The orchestra stops. The choir stops. Everything stops. Then they close with that one final “Hallelujah!” I’m just saying that there’s not anything more impressive in the great “Messiah” than that rest that closes.
And our lives can be like that, if we will find God’s design and God’s purpose for us. Purpose: God’s will in every area of our lives, and if I can be strong, and able, and stand here, wonderful! If I’m cut down and sick, no less wonderful. God’s will and God’s purpose is being done. The difference lies in my leaning upon Him, in my looking up to Him, in my learning from His gracious, kind, and loving heart.
And that is our appeal to you this day, to give yourself to the call, high heavenly calling of God in your life. God made you for a reason. He created you for a purpose [Ephesians 2:10], and when you achieve that purpose for Him, it is the most marvelous reward in life, in earth, or in heaven, not achieved in emoluments of this world that are temporary and transient and last for the day and are so gone forever, but the giving of yourself to the call of God, the purpose of God; this hath God outlined for me. And Lord I give myself to it.
To take the Lord Jesus into your heart and life as a personal Savior, welcome. To gather your family together and all of you to belong with us in this pilgrimage from this world to the world to come, to rear your children in this dear place, to answer the appeal of God in your heart, “The Lord has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life.” In this moment when we wait, and when we pray, and when we sing, make that decision in your heart. And in a moment when we stand up, you stand up taking that first step. May heaven reward you for the answer of your life to the call of God. Now may we pray?
Our Lord, opening these sacred Scriptures and sitting at Thy dear feet, O Lord how many things, precious things, beautiful things we learn from Thee, and our Lord, may we be delivered from the discouragement that comes in the frustrations, and the sufferings, and the sicknesses, and the illnesses, and the disappointments, and the hurts of this life. But may we find in every providence God’s infinite will purposing some better thing for us. And our Lord speak to the hearts of our people, and give us once again a gracious harvest. These who accept Thee as Savior, these who put their lives with us in this dear church, and these who answer God’s call in their souls, thank Thee for them, in Thy precious name, amen.
Just for the moment no one leaves. Pray with us, and then in just a little while you will have opportunity to make your departure, but now, stay and pray. And down that stairway from the balcony, down these aisles on this lower floor, “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and here I stand.” Make it now. God bless, while we stand and while we sing.
JESUS SPEAKS TO US ABOUT PURPOSELESSNESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. “Eat, drink, and be merryâ€¦for tomorrow we die” (Luke 12:19, 1 Corinthians 15:33)
B. Life without meaning: no goal, no God, no purpose (Luke 13:6-7)II. Purpose – the difference in life, law, destiny (Acts 11:23)
A. Ohio River flood, 1937 – judgment and trial to bear
B. Execution of Mussolini, Paul – judgment and attack of Satan
C. Truett and a criminal killed a policeman – accident and purposeIII. Empty rewards of life given to worldly purposes
1. Epitaph of a grocer
B. Misled by illusion of achievement, accomplishment
1. Are we better today than in the day of Abraham? (Genesis 15:1-6)
C. There is progress in human history; no evidence of progress in peopleIV. The consuming of our lives over nothingness (Jude 12-13)
A. Worthless pursuits
1. Prostitution of God’s gifts
B. The hurt we bring to othersV. In the life if our Lord
A. He was born poor (Matthew 8:20)
B. He knew hunger and thirst (John 19:28, 4:6, Mark 3:21)
C. He was tried in all points as we are (Hebrews 4:16)
D. God’s best gifts are always ours
1. Poem, “On His Blindness”