Have you ever given much thought to the question, “What is my purpose in life?” Or “What is the purpose of all humanity?” If you’re a Christian, maybe you’ve asked a similar question, “What is God’s will for my life?” or “What does God want for me and from me?”
We often (implicitly) define purpose as the means to achieving success however we might paint it. For example, if we ultimately define success as the American dream, then our purpose can easily become about working hard to attain a lifestyle of comfort and happiness.
If you’re a Jesus follower, maybe you believe that your purpose is to leverage your life to make the biggest impact. Maybe it's achieving a goal that, on a surface level, appears to be a great thing, like planting a church or starting a non-profit organization. And so our purpose in life becomes tethered to achieving that goal. But this is problematic, mainly because it isn't biblical.
What if I told you that God's desire for your life isn't a code that needs to be cracked. What if God said that your purpose is simpler than that? The answer to the question of purpose can only be answered by one person—and that is the one who designed us.
Let me use the analogy of a hammer. The maker of the hammer designed it to be a tool used for driving nails into softer materials such as wood or drywall. If the hammer decided instead that it wanted to be used as an eating utensil or a baseball bat, that wouldn’t change the fact that it was still designed to drive nails. It is most successful when it fulfills that design. Its design determines its purpose, and it was its maker who determined its design.
And so it is with humanity.
God created humanity with one ultimate design and purpose, and that is to love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as ourselves (Ephesians 2:10).
The wisest man to ever live, King Solomon, concluded that the chief duty of humanity is “to fear God and keep His commands” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Let’s break that down. First, to fear God means that he is reverenced above everything else. He is regarded as the ultimate and final authority, and he is seen as the sovereign Lord of creation. His word trumps everything else. It means we don't place our desires for comfort or happiness above his commands; we submit to them. Second, Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 that the summary of all his commands is to love God and love our neighbor. Therefore, it would be consistent to say that the chief duty of mankind (aka our design and purpose) is to humbly revere God by loving Him and loving others as ourselves. Your purpose is to be intoxicated by the love of God and to love him in return by demonstrating it to others.
The thing about purpose is that if we believe our purpose is out of reach right now, or that our purpose is something we can’t control, then we might have an unbiblical view of what our purpose is. We may have ambitions and goals, and these are not wrong, but let’s not mistake these with our ultimate purpose. Your purpose is within your reach, but your goals may not be. Your purpose is something you can live out right now; your dreams may not be. Yes, have goals and pursue ambitions, but understand that if you reach all your goals and do not have love, you gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13). If you start a church but do not have love, you gain nothing. If you move to the deepest, darkest country to be a missionary but do not have love, you are nothing. If you listen to sermon podcasts and worship music all day long but do not have love, you gain nothing. If you spend all your time giving to the needy but do not have love... well, you get the point... it's nothing.
Our purpose is not to achieve a goal or make the biggest impact. Our purpose is to love. Jesus didn't run around cutting conversations short with people just to increase his numbers. He patiently gave everyone around him the time of day. Jesus never burdened us with the task of changing the world or making a huge impact; he taught us to love. And he taught it best by demonstrating it. But here’s the bonus...
if we love, we will make an impact. If we have love, we will change the world. Because it is love that makes the greatest impact.
It was love that made the biggest impact of all when God loved the world so much that he sent his son to the cross (John 3:16). Strategies, goals, hard work, activity… these are all good things when they are done out of an overflow of love. But they are not substitutes. They are nothing short of meaningless without love.
Your purpose is less about what you accomplish and more about who you are. This is good news because it removes the burden of success as it is so often mispresented. It is better to be poor and have love than to be wealthy without it. Every time you interact with someone at home, at work, or at church, you have an opportunity to live out your purpose. Every conversation, every social media comment, every interaction is an opportunity to live out your purpose. It is an opportunity to love.
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.” —1 Corinthians 13:5-8