How Can Life Have Meaning?

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How Can Life Have Meaning?

July 31, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23                    Luke 12:13-21            Colossians 3:1-11

What is your “why”?

At some point, most of us discover that our lives need a “why,” we need a purpose, we need something that gives our lives meaning.  For some people it’s writing, or painting, or other kinds of creative endeavors.  For others it’s building things or helping people.  But if we don’t find something that gives our lives meaning, it can cause us to struggle emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.  A life without meaning is a lot like planning a trip without having a destination, we wander from place to place, from one interesting thing, one shiny object to another, without knowing where we are going or why we are going there.  It might be fun, it might be interesting, and it can consume the waking hours of our lives, but before long, we begin to wonder why we’re doing it.

When I was an engineer, I really liked my work.  I liked the challenge, I (mostly) liked the people, I liked designing and building things, and it brought a great sense of accomplishment when I could go out on the loading dock and see us shipping out a machine that had once only existed in our imaginations and then only on paper but now was built, operational, and on its way to its installation.  But at some point, in large part after 9-11, I began to ask myself if that was enough.  We had built this great machine, but it was replacing another great machine that another engineer had imagined and built, thirty years earlier.  And I didn’t have any trouble imagining that in another thirty years, everything that we had done, everything that we were so impressed with and proud of, would likewise be torn out, cut up, and sent to the scrap yard.

This place of reflection and self-doubt where we question the purpose of our lives is not unique to us in the twenty-first century and it is not unique to those of us in the post-renaissance or post-modern eras who have sought to be “self-actualized.” This human struggle to find meaning and purpose is at least as old as recorded history.  In Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 we read the words of King Solomon, the richest, most influential, and most powerful king that ever lived.  And in these words, we hear Solomon thinking about his “why.”  What is his purpose?  What is it that gives this man of wealth, power, and influence a life of meaning?  Solomon says:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Solomon had it all.  He had hundreds of wives who were some of the best looking, most intelligent, and fun to be with people that his kingdom had to offer, he had more money than he could spend, he led an economy and a military that influenced much of the known world, he had servants and subjects who could do almost anything that he asked, and by most definitions he had it all.  And yet, he begins the book of Ecclesiastes by saying that everything is meaningless.

He studied academics, he learned wisdom, and found no meaning in it.  He had seen foreign countries, met dignitaries from around the world, and accumulated more of life’s experiences than anyone living, and found no more meaning than chasing the wind.  He worked to accumulate possessions, wealth, and power but knowing that one day all of it would be left to someone who hadn’t worked for it, found those things to be meaningless also.

So, if we don’t find meaning in the pursuit of wisdom and academic knowledge, or in sex and pleasure of all kinds, or in money, power, possessions, experiences, or influence, then what is it that can give our lives meaning and purpose?

This is the same question, and the same problem, that Jesus highlights in Luke 12:13-21 when someone asks him to help them settle a family dispute over their father’s estate.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Jesus listens to this request and then makes two statements.  First that he is not the judge appointed to make such a ruling, nor does he desire to be, and second, that such a request is rooted in basic human greed.  Jesus also warns that all kinds of human greed afflict us, and the accumulation of possessions and money is not how we are to build a meaningful life.  Next, Jesus tells the crowd a parable about a wealthy man whose only focus was on becoming wealthier.  But, just as Solomon pointed out, all that accumulated wealth would soon be left to someone else.  The point of Jesus’ story is this conclusion: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  Jesus says that it is hopeless to build a life on the selfish accumulation of things if we are not rich toward God.  It is hopeless to accumulate wealth or possessions, power or influence, wisdom or knowledge, sex, pleasure, or experiences, or anything else if God is not an integral part of our “why.”

But what is it then upon which we should build a life?  What will give our lives meaning and purpose?  And as we consider those questions, we find that this is exactly what Paul is considering in Colossians 3:1-11 as he expands on the teaching that we saw in the story of Jesus in Luke 12.  Paul says:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Paul says that now, since you have put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, have chosen to follow him, and he has raised us from death to life with him, then it matters what you do with your life.  Aim is important.  Where you point your life is important.  The meaning and the purpose of your life is important.  And to aim your life in the right direction, Paul says, we must point our hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly things like sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires, and greed.  If we are to follow Jesus, then God calls us to get rid of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, and to stop lying to one another so that we begin to increasingly resemble God and not our old self. 

In the kingdom of God, there are none of the divisions that turn humanity against itself.  There is no longer a difference between Gentiles and Jews, between those who are circumcised and those who are not, between slaves and free peoples, or between the sophisticated, cultured, and civilized people of the developed world and those who are referred to as uncivilized barbarians from less developed nations.  Those differences are all erased because Jesus Christ is everything that we have, and we can find Jesus Christ in every person that we meet.

Finding a life of meaning and purpose is all about focus.  If we focus our lives on ourselves, our needs, wants, desires, and aim ourselves at selfishly fulfilling them, we won’t ever feel as if we have a fulfilling, meaningful life of purpose.  Instead of focusing on today or tomorrow, we must shift our focus to eternity.  Instead of putting ourselves in the center of the bullseye, we must put Jesus in the center and focus on the needs of others and not on self.

Solomon begins the book of Ecclesiastes in a place of hopelessness as he mourns the meaningless of life, but as we read the rest of the book, he repeatedly encourages his readers to enjoy life and to be content with what they have.  And he concludes by reminding everyone to keep God in the center of their lives, to “fear God and keep his commandments” because in the end, “God will bring every good deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  Solomon wasn’t dumb.  He knew that selfishness emptied life of meaning and purpose.  It is only when we keep God in the center of our lives, and focus on the needs of others, that we can point our lives at a place of meaning and purpose. 

Before we can discover our “why” we must first remember that Jesus Christ is everything that we have. 

Our search for a life of meaning and purpose must begin by remembering that that we can find Jesus in every person that we meet.

If you want to find your “why,” you must start with Jesus.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at  These messages can also be found online at .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

An Adulterous Wife

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An Adulterous Wife

July 24, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Hosea 1:2-10              Luke 11:1-13                          Colossians 2:6-19

I want to be clear that despite the title, today’s message applies to both women and men.  My title could have easily been, “An Adulterous Spouse” but aside from being admittedly more “clickable” on the internet, there are scriptural and linguistic reasons that it can, and should, be gender specific.  And I hope that by the time we’re finished, everyone will understand why.

With that out of the way, for those of you who are already married, I want you to remember what it was like when you were still looking for a spouse.  And for those of you who are not married, and who wish to eventually be married, or even if you can’t ever imagine wanting to be married, I invite you to imagine what it would be like to search for a person with whom you can share your life and build your dreams.  So, whichever group you might be in, think about what qualifications you might look for in a life-partner.  As a group, we would have a wide variety of potential requirements or at least highly desirable traits that we would be looking for in another person.  But, without much difficulty, I would imagine that among those qualifications, absolutely none of us would list “likely to cheat” among the dreams and ambitions that we have for our future spouse.

But that is exactly what God told the prophet Hosea to add to his list.

As shocking as that might be, let’s read the story and find out why.  We begin in Hosea 1:2-10 as God uses a highly unusual method to make a point, over the span of a generation, and send a message to the people of Israel that includes illustrations with whom they must live and interact on a regular basis.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword, or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.”

After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’

God’s instructions to Hosea, as he searched for a wife, was to choose a woman who already had a reputation for cheating and who was likely to cheat on him after he married her.  This was hardly what Hosea expected when God had called him to be his spokesman and prophet.  I am certain that Hosea expected that following God would include living a godly life that followed the Law of Moses, living a righteous life and, one would assume, having a wife that was similarly righteous.  But God’s call, in this case, is for his prophet to marry a spouse that will cheat, leave him for extended periods of time, sleep with other men, and bear children with questionable parentage.  And, despite the unexpected nature of God’s command, and despite how unusual, difficult, and complicated that it would make Hosea’s life, he did as God instructed.

This wasn’t a project that Hosea could complete in a week’s time.  This wasn’t the usual kind of mission that God gave to his prophets of “Go to this place and say these words to this group of people.”  Instead, God’s words were coming to the people of Israel as a demonstration, or an illustration, which was seen, every day, in the lives of Hosea and his family.  God’s point was that Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea represented Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, and so every time that she wandered off, or was missing from Hosea’s life, or was carrying a child that may, or may not, have been fathered by Hosea, everyone was reminded of their unfaithfulness to God.

Worse, the names of Hosea’s children were a daily reminder of Israel’s failures.  The name of Hosea’s first son reminded the people of Israel that when Jehu was anointed as king, he took it upon himself to massacre the previous king, the king’s mother, and his entire family.  Hosea’s daughter reminded the people that they were no longer loved by God, that God had withdrawn his blessing from them and would now give his blessing to the nation of Judah.  And Hosea’s second son reminded Israel that because they had abandoned God, God would now abandon them.  Every day, in ordinary, daily interactions from school to grocery shopping, to gossip, the people were confronted with their sins against God simply in the act of speaking or remembering the names of Hosea’s children.

That is a sad story, but it is also a warning.  King David certainly knew that story and the lessons of that story were on his mind when David chose not to act on opportunities to take King Saul’s life.  Even for us in the twenty-first century, it reminds us that our God is not just a god of love that loves everybody but is also a God of judgement, with high standards, who will remove his blessing from those who turn their backs on him.

I’m sure that someone will want to remind me that God’s standards of judgement changed with the coming of Jesus.  But they didn’t.  After the birth death and resurrection of Jesus, God did not change.  God’s standards did not change.  God’s definition of sin did not change.  What changed is that when we stand before the judgement seat of God, Jesus has already paid price for the sins that we have committed.  And it is because of that change that we are indebted to Jesus and why we live our lives in ways that express our gratitude to him.

How we do that, as well as warnings about how not to do that, are what Paul is talking about as he writes to the church in Colossae in Colossians 2:6-19 where we hear these words:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Paul reminds us that receiving Jesus as our savior and choosing to follow him is just the beginning.  We must also continue to live lives in him that are rooted in him, built up in him, and which are strengthened in faith and overflowing with thankfulness.  Next, Paul warns us about where our life and discipleship can go astray.  He says that we can be taken captive by our dedication to traditions that flow out of deceptive philosophy and spiritual forces that are not godly and which do not point to Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who saved us, and it is Jesus who is in authority over every senator, president, king, prime minister, emperor, czar, ayatollah, or anything else and it is Jesus who has authority over every angel, demon, ghoul, ghost, goblin, or any other physical or spiritual creature.  Our sins condemned us to death, but we are alive because of the sacrifice, and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  

Christianity is more familiar and more recognizable to the people around us than it was in Colossae in the time of Paul.  Our holidays and our celebrations are not as alien and strange to our neighbors and friends than they once were, but still, people often find what we do to be out of the ordinary.  They don’t understand why we pray, or why we fast, they think we’re weird, or even lazy because we don’t want to do certain things on Sunday, or at Christmas, or Easter.  They think it’s a waste for us to give gifts and offerings to the church when we could use them to buy a car, or jewelry, vacations, or fun toys. 

But Paul says that we should ignore their judgement because the little things that we do as a part of our worship are shadows of a larger reality.  They remind us that that the world is bigger than what we see and that the governments and powers of this world are not ultimate powers of the universe, that the physical world still bends to the reality of the spiritual world, that God is in control, that Jesus sits on the throne of heaven, and that all that we are, and all that we have, belongs to him.

Paul reminds us that there will always be false teachers who think too much of themselves, who claim to have visions, or claim special spiritual insight, and who will lead us toward the worship of angels and other false beliefs.  Those people, Paul cautions, have lost their connection to Jesus, the head of the church, and the head of the body of Christ.  And like our physical bodies, when the head is disconnected, growth stops, and death soon follows.

The accusation of Hosea three thousand years ago remains relevant.  The adulterous wife that he was talking about wasn’t ever a woman, it was always the church.  Both then and now, it was always us.  Because the church is the bride of Christ, we can see ourselves as the wandering Gomer as we wander, become faithless, and pursue other interests and put other gods, other hobbies, money, cars, houses, work, or anything else in first place instead of Jesus.  To put anything other than Jesus in first place, with priority, is to risk losing our head.

Stay close to Jesus.  Live your lives in Jesus.  Stay rooted and grounded in him, be strengthened in the faith that you were taught, and be overflowing with thankfulness.  Test everything.  Don’t hold on to traditions that aren’t godly.  Keep hold of worship, and all our little spiritual rituals, holidays, and practices because each of them reminds us of who we are, and whose we are.

God hasn’t changed.  God’s standards haven’t changed.  God’s definition of sin hasn’t changed.  And the need for us to remain faithful, and the importance of faithfulness, hasn’t changed.  Because when we stand before the judgement seat of God, the only thing that will save us…is Jesus.

We are the bride of Christ.

Don’t leave him at the altar.

Don’t be… an adulterous wife.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at  These messages can also be found online at .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.