In 1648, the Church of England published the main articles of English protestant faith: and they became known as: ‘The Westminster Confession’.
The second of them says this: ‘The chief end of man, is to worship God, and to enjoy him for ever’.
Today, we might say: ‘The main purpose’ of man…’ but the word ‘enjoy’, would have to retain the sense in which it was used, in 1648: otherwise the meaning of the statement would become lost.
The meaning was, then; and remains as; ‘the use, or benefit of’.
When we buy a house: the legal terms of the transaction, tell us that we may enjoy…‘have the use and benefit of’… the property: and they include a list of just what those uses and benefits actually are.
Jesus taught that our Heavenly Father wants us to ‘enjoy’; to … ‘have the use and benefit of ‘… those of his divine qualities and attributes that he makes available: and that are essential to the fulfilment of our Christian calling.
In this earthly realm, our ‘chief end’, or ‘main purpose’ is to obey God: which obedience is best expressed, through the loving and faithful service that he commands of us.
Inevitably: obedient service requires faith to be expressed in actions. These God-ordained actions are, in the Bible, referred to as ‘work’, or ‘works’.
Christ also taught that the context, out of which we act; is of great importance: because, for good or ill, it affects the value and effectiveness of what we do. Largely: our attitudes determine what we think, say and do.
Attitude tells much about who a man really is. It can reflect worldliness and aspects of sin, on the one hand: or reflect something of his belief about God: and of the divine gifts and graces, entrusted to his stewardship: on the other.
Who a man is, and what he thinks: is most clearly expressed through what he says, and what he does.
The ways in which ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ can powerfully affect a man’s actions, or ‘works’, is, largely, what sin is all about, on the one hand: and what righteousness is all about, on the other.
Jesus said that who we really are, can be clearly seen by other people, and can affect them, in positive ways: and he tells us to…
…‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works; and give glory to your Father, who is in heaven’. (Matthew 5: 16).
Down through the centuries; and in so many ways; Christians have been accused of bad actions: or highly praised for good actions. But, there is something else: easy to overlook: until it is too late: and that is inaction.
One very sad thing; at receptions; after funerals; is when someone says: ‘If only’: if only I had done this, or that, how different things might have been.
Obviously: failure to offer goodness into situations of need, when opportunity was there: leaves those needs unmet, and the people concerned, are left without the help and benefit that they might have received.
Christ never failed to offer goodness into all situations: even in the midst of his own sufferings at the cross.
At John 5: 17, Jesus says: ‘My Father is always at his work: to this very day: and I, too, am working’.
Nothing has changed. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; still undertake their ‘works’ of mercy: grace; love and care, in the world.
At John 5: 36, Jesus says: ‘The very work that the Father has given me to accomplish, and which I am doing; testifies that the Father has sent me’.
Perhaps Christ’s most direct word; about us, in this matter of ‘works’: is: ‘I chose you, and appointed you, to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last’; the ‘fruit’ being the product of a life of obedient service.
As the scriptures state: nobody enters into salvation grace, through doing ‘good works’: but only through fully accepting Jesus Christ as their God, Saviour and Lord. ‘Works’ are quite incidental to salvation: stemming from it; but doing nothing to bring it about.
Therefore; a huge difference exists; between the ‘good works’ that we may think are necessary; but are not: and the ‘works of the Lord’, that are necessary; which he entrusts to us, to do.
As Christians; our primary calling is to be about the Lord’s work; to do what he appoints: all else being entirely secondary: and God supplies us with the wherewithal; to undertake that which he gives us to do.
When Christ taught that his followers must have ‘the use and benefit’ of many divine qualities and attributes; gifts and graces; in order to fulfil their calling: he did not leave us guessing about what these things are.
Scattered through his teachings; he lists those things of God, that are entrusted to our stewardship; and touches on the benefits and blessings, stemming from their application.
Here are the five, main, action-linked ones; put in sequence.
1)- Firstly ‘COME TO ME’ – and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28-30). This invitation has nothing directly to do with quiet and relaxation: for these things are only incidental to what Christ had in mind.
Theologically, and biblically, ‘rest’ means relief (in the sense of rescue) …. release and relief from the tensions of trying to manage on our own; and the mental and spiritual contentment that follows, through Christ being in charge of our lives.
2)- Secondly ‘LEARN FROM ME’. This part of Christ’s invitation, is also from Matthew 11: 28-30. Here, and elsewhere in scripture, the word ‘learn’ has the primary meaning of ‘receive from’.
The Lord says: ‘Come to me, and receive Godly qualities from me’. The qualities that he particularly mentions: are gentleness and humility – both essential to the effective, and fulfilling, Christian life.
3)- Thirdly ‘BECOME AS ME’. Again (as part of the mystery of our Christian calling) Christ’s words are an invitation. He offers all that is needed in our lives: but won’t force it upon us: looking, instead, to our accepting response.
At John 14: 27, Jesus says: ‘My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives’. Gracious giving, on his part; requires a gracious receiving, on our part, to fulfil it.
Worldly peace can be the mere, negative absence of aggression, in any form; and might be of very short duration…
…but the peace that Christ gives is eternal; being of the very nature of God himself: and is the positive application of caring love, at all times.
4)- Fourthly ACT AS I DO’. At John 13, we find the story of Christ, washing the feet of his disciples. At verse 15, he says: ‘I have set you an example, that you should do, as I have done ….for you’.
Christ’s action pointed to something far greater than the washing of feet: and illustrated the need of gentleness and humility; in the lives of his followers; when they came to minister to the needs of world, that he was soon to die for.
At verse 17, Jesus says: ‘Now that you know these things; you will be blessed if you do them’; that is: ‘If you have learned from me…
…and if you have received from me, those Godly and enabling qualities that are needful… then fulfil your calling, through undertaking the ‘works’ that are given you to do.
All of this, may seem wonderful enough; but Christ offers yet another part of his great, ongoing invitation…
5)- …for he also says: ‘SPEAK AS ME’.
In ordinary, social terms: an agent speaks for an organization; company, or person: and brings a second-hand word to whoever is listening.
In theological and spiritual terms; we are not ‘agents’ of Christ; but his representatives, who speak as him, in first-hand words, to all who will receive them. Who says so? The Lord, himself.
At John 13: 20, Jesus said: ‘He who receives anyone whom I send, receives me; and he who receives me; receives him who sent me’. To this important teaching, Jesus adds something else, at Luke 10: 16.
There, we find Christ commissioning seventy-two of his followers: as they go on mission, without him (Luke 10: 1-17). The Lord said to them: ‘He who listens to you, listens to me’.
Today; Christ gives us that same, almost breath-taking commission: to come to him; learn from him; become like him; act true to him; speak as him…
… In so doing: we quite naturally fulfil his command: ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works; and give glory to your Father, who is in heaven’.