“What is man’s chief end ?”
This is the first question and answer that we find in the Shorter Catechism, and it is perhaps the most well-known of all the Catechism, this could well just be because it appears first. But I think the answer goes deeper than that, this Q+A is so well known because in the space of one sentence it answers a question that troubles everyone at some point in their life.
This short and simple statement answers the question “What is the meaning of life?”, as you can reword “chief end” as “purpose”. This is of course one of life’s most important questions “What is my purpose?”, “Why am I even here?”
Here we see the simple answer, we are given a life in order that we may glorify and enjoy God.
It’s as simple as that.
Unlike what we hear every day, that we each have to find meaning for our own lives, which when you really think that, makes no sense what so ever, the Bible clearly states that our meaning and purpose lies outside of ourselves.
Our life is not all about us, instead if we are to live and fulfill our real purpose our life must be lived for God.
So what does this mean for us?
To live a life in which we “Glorify God” means that we must strive to do everything for his Glory. This is not doing things to try and impress God, if we are not Christians then we can never become a Christian by doing good things, we can only do that by trusting in Jesus as the one who has saved us from the punishment of sin, asking for forgiveness and then living for him.
But if we are Christians then we can glorify God with every aspect of our life, that’s why this question uses 1 Corinthians 10:31 as it’s proof text, this verse which speaks of doing even the smallest things to the glory of God. We must be prepared to give all that we have and are over to God, for the sake of his glory.
If we think of the wee boy in John 6:9, he offered his small provision up to Jesus, through his practical offering to Jesus he gave glory to God, through his small offering Jesus showed his power and his care.
It also means that we can all live different lives, unlike what many people think of the Christian’s life, it is anything but monotonous or boring, instead the Church or the body is made up of all different parts, each of us are called to serve in our way and in our own particular situation. (1 Corinthians 12:12) By doing this, by seeking to serve God in each part of our life and relying completely on him, by humbling ourselves and following him alone, we will end up glorifying him all the things that we do. (Ephesians 1:4-6)
If we seek to glorify God in all things we will find our only true source of eternal joy. If we spend our life looking to keep ourselves happy, we can never find any lasting joy, the things we take our pleasure from will one day end , they will run out and dry up. Only if we are rooted in serving God can we find everlasting joy.
If we find our joy in God then we are finding joy in the one who created all the reasons that we have for joy in our life: family, relationships, love, creation itself and all the other many reasons we have.
If we seek to find our joy in God alone, we will find it, but not just in this life but for an eternity to come.
Some extra reading:
An essay by Thomas Watson looking at this first Q and A in greater detail
An article by John Piper looking at the “Goal of God’s love”
A link to an online version of the Shorter Catechism