Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1)
Those of you who know me well, already know I have been studying for ordination exams in our denomination, The Presbyterian Church in America. In our beloved denomination, this is not a short, simple, or easy process. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, however. Last semester, our youth looked at the book of Exodus, and the testing God’s people endured. Testing has a way of revealing two things. It reveals what we already know and what we still need to learn. To be tested is to be taught. This is true for the student, and it is true for the people of God. Suffice to say, my ordination exams are teaching me a great deal.
As a result of my examination process, I’m getting more and more acquainted with our standards of faith. As I do so, I’d like to confess to you a struggle I have in this process, and I think it’s a struggle many of us share. It’s often easy to elevate knowing about God above knowing God. This is a vice that the seminary-educated are certainly prone toward. Madeline and I often heard our professors say, “You’re not here to get a Master of Divinity. You’re here to be mastered by Divinity.” However, this temptation doesn’t discriminate between those who do or don’t have degrees. We all like to “know stuff.”
Knowledge, itself, isn’t inherently bad, but our thirst for it can sometimes turn the Bible into a book, theology into a mental exercise, and the living God into a conceptual idea. Unfortunately, books are cheap, mental exercises get boring, and conceptual ideas cannot save. We were not saved just by information, as if the God of the universe could be downloaded onto a hard drive in so many megabytes. We were saved by a person – the Lord Jesus Christ.
The catechism offers a beautiful reminder to those of us with this struggle. In relationship with God, we’re not just seeking to glorify God by knowing more about Him. We’re seeking a personal joy in that knowledge, as well. To enjoy God places demands on our hearts, our senses, our desires, and our affections. We don’t just glorify God by declaring that He is good. We glorify Him first by tasting and seeing His goodness (Psalm 34.8). Goodness demands to be known and when known, to be savored. To be a Christian is to seek both knowledge and joy. Consequently, to share the Gospel with your neighbor is to share both your knowledge of God and your joy in Him. Do our neighbors see our joy?
Our session and our pastors have been lavishly kind to me in encouraging me to study, learn, and grow. I often remind myself that as knowledge grows, affection must grow, too. Friendships and marriages grow ever richer when knowledge and delight grow ever deeper.
As we read God’s Word, catechize God’s children, and hear God’s sermons, let us never forget the chief end of it all – that God might be glorified, and we might enjoy him forever.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16.11