What is our purpose and how does that connect with mission?

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Today we are more likely to say, “What is humanity’s purpose?” The answer given is: “Man’s chief end (purpose) is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

In the article “To Glorify or Enjoy Forever?”, Dennis Hollinger points out that there is often a tension in people’s minds between enjoying God and glorifying God. But there shouldn’t be.

"Our enjoyment of God actually brings a worship and glory to our maker and redeemer."
"Our enjoyment of God actually brings a worship and glory to our maker and redeemer."

Enjoying God and glorifying God are two sides of the same coin. Hollinger writes, “our enjoyment of God actually brings a worship and glory to our maker and redeemer.”1 Enjoyment of God includes enjoyment of God through fellowship with him, and enjoyment of his good gifts (read: creation). And while glorifying God is sometimes portrayed as work or discipline, it really is the fruit of love.

As we think about what it means to “glorify” and “enjoy”, we can’t forget that Jesus needs to be humanity’s true model of a life lived well. Scripture portrays Jesus enjoying life and enjoying God. Jesus spent time with friends and with people he met. We never get the impression that his investment in them was a project. In fact, Jesus enjoyed life so much he gets accused of going too far by the disciples of his cousin John (Mt 9:14), who suggest that he and his disciples need more spiritual discipline, particularly ritual fasting. The apparent lack of conformity to religious convention in Jesus’ ministry doesn’t seem to lead to a lack of intimacy with God. In fact, Jesus says that “he and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30); a deeper intimacy is hard to imagine.

Jesus’s enjoyment of life doesn’t suggest purposelessness, either. He knew that he had been sent to do the Father’s will. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Then in John 17:4, he says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

Jesus lived in a way that allowed him to enjoy God and glorify God.

So, what’s the connection between our “chief end” and mission? Well, almost everything. Our purpose and mission are inseparable. If the “chief end” is the “What”, then participating in Jesus’ mission is the “How”.

God has a particular plan to redeem and reconcile all creation to himself that runs through history. In John 3:16–19, Jesus says that God loves the world and has sent the son (Jesus) into the world to “save the world through him”. This is the mission Jesus lived and the mission he gives to us (2 Cor. 5:17–21). It includes the average individual—not just clergy or missionaries—and has a corporate dimension: local worshipping communities, the people of God in a nation, globally, and throughout time.

The word mission is derived from the Latin “missio”, which means “sent”. Every person who declares that Jesus is Lord and Saviour is called and sent to participate in Jesus’ mission. Scott Sunquist points out four essential characteristics of mission:

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Firstly, we note that mission is from God’s heart—grounded in God’s love. Secondly mission is to particular contexts—it is contextual or incarnational. Thirdly, mission has a temporal reality—it participates in the suffering of God. And finally, it has an eternal dimension—reflecting God’s character, God’s glory.

Scott W. Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission, 2013, pxii.

But, what have we been sent to do? In Christian Mission in the Modern World, Chris Wright writes that:

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Sending is certainly a very important component of a biblical theology of mission….However, a broader concept of mission includes not just the act of sending itself but the overall purpose, goal or plan within which those sendings take place and make sense.

Christopher J.H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World, 2015, p36.

He goes on to say:

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To speak of God’s mission is to speak of God’s plan and purpose, or what Paul sometimes referred to as ‘the will of God’ (thelēma; Ephesians 1:9–10), or “The whole counsel [boulē] of God” (Acts 20:27)—his ultimate goal of bringing the whole creation into reconciled unity in, through and under Christ.

Ibid, p37.

We participate in mission when we become more Christlike.

The starting point of understanding Christ’s mission of reconciling the whole of creation to himself, is to experience the work of reconciliation in our own lives. As that process is underway, we then become authentic bearers of good news to “particular contexts”. Basically, we’re announcing through our lives, word and deed: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is real and powerful and available to everyone who believes, see it’s changing me.”

Romans 8:28–29 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In other words, we participate in mission when we become more Christlike, and when we do the things that Jesus did and say the things that Jesus said.

I’ll give the last word to James K. A. Smith who writes,

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But for the most part, Spirit-empowered redemption looks like what Raymond Carver calls ‘a small, good thing.’ It looks like our everyday work done well, out of love, in resonance with God’s desire for his creation—so long as our on-the-ground labor is nested as part of a contribution to systems and structures of flourishing.

James K.A. Smith, Discipleship in the Present Tense, Calvin College Press, 2013, p9.

Footnotes

  1. Hollinger, Dennis P., “To Glorify or Enjoy Forever?”, Knowing and Doing, 2003, https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/520. [back]

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About the author

Profile photo for John Hall

John Hall became the Executive Director at Mission Central (formerly Missions Fest Vancouver) in 2014. In 1997 he, his wife and brother in-law started Eco Outdoor Sports in Metro Vancouver. In 2003 the business was sold, and his family entered a seven-year ‘desert experience’. During that time the Lord impressed on John and his family the importance of hearing and obeying Jesus every day, something that he tries to integrate into everything he does. In 2010 God changed the family’s direction and led him to finish his degree at Regent College in preparation for life as a full-time missionary overseas. Although that ministry opportunity didn’t develop as planned a whole new perspective and participation-in Christ’s mission was born at Missions Fest Vancouver. It’s now a daily occurrence for John’s business background and theological training get a workout.

John and his wife Wei live in Richmond, BC. They have two wonderful adult girls. John completed his MA at Regent College in 2010.

Church
Church
The Tapestry Church (Richmond, BC)
Organization
Organization
Mission Central (Burnaby, BC) — Executive Director

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