WHAT IS MAN?
A great many times in life each of us is asked the question,“Who are you ?“ It comes in many different forms. Sometimes it is, “Do I know you?” or “I don't believe I know who you are.” In any case it implies that someone wants us to identify ourselves. Just as the question may come in many forms, so the answer may be given in many different ways. Sometimes we merely give our names. Sometimes we answer in terms of where we live. Sometimes we answer by giving our nationality. When we travel abroad we need to identify ourselves as Americans. Occasionally, we identify ourselves as Tennesseans, or New Yorkers, or Californians, or our response may involve stating our race. The most immediate identification is sometimes in terms of who our parents are. There are many, many ways in which we may tell who we are but even when we have used them all we have only touched the surface of our being. There is a second question which is much deeper and more profound. It is the question “What are you?” Oddly enough, I never remember having been asked this question, though it is one of the most significant questions that man can conceive and has been considered so by the thinkers of all ages. David asked it in the long ago when he wrote, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalms 8:4) Although we may not have the ability to give a complete and comprehensive answer to this question, let us address ourselves to the task of spelling out the essential nature of man. Surely such a quest will be both interesting and challenging
Probably there is no better place to begin than by looking back to see what some of the profound thinkers of the ancient world have said about man. Among these, Plato and Aristotle are outstanding. Several centuries before Christ, Plato spoke of three separate aspects of man's nature. He first conceived man as being vegetative, by which he meant the eating, sleeping, exercising part of man's nature, the part of him that merely exists. On this level man is not too much above an ox or a cabbge. He then conceived of a second level of man's nature which he called the appetitive, a word akin to our word appetite. Man does, in addition to existence, possess certain desires which lead to love or hate. This is the level of the passions. Then Plato came to his climax, visualizing man as essentially a rational being with the power to reason. The biggest mistake that man can make is to be ignorant, to lack knowledge and therefore to fail to rule his life rationally, according to Plato. This is an interesting analysis of man, but it is not enough, as we shall see.
Aristotle added a concept that is intensely interesting. He agreed with much of what Plato -said and then added this. Everyhing has a purpose. Think of that idea for a moment. Everything does have a purpose. The clouds that float overhead have a purpose, and the earth beneath has a purpose. The sun has a purpose. Then Aristotle added that everything is good or bad in terms of whether it has achieved its purpose or not. A hammer is a good hammer if it drives nails efficiently. A shipbuilder is a good shipbuilder if he can build boats that float and carry people and cargo safely from place to place. A doctor is a good doctor if he saves lives. We could multiply examples, but we need not for you can already guess Aristotle's point. He asked, “What is man's purpose?“ Everything must have a purpose; man must have a purpose. Everything is good or bad in terms of how well it achieves its purpose. What is man's purpose and how well does he achieve it? At this point we leave Aristotle for he could give no really meaningful answer.
Plato and Aristotle had very profound conceptions of man and his nature, but their conceptions are incomplete and inadequate. We must turn to the Bible to find a fully satisfying analysis of what man is. The Biblical analysis begins with the statement that man was created by God, but not only was man èreated by God, he was created by God in His own image. That fact immediately brings to man a dignity and a value that cannot be conceived if man's origin had come in any other way. Man, created in the image of God, is more than body and mind, for he has within him that which is spiritual. At this point he leaves all of the other creatures of earth far behind. In the first chapter of the Bible we read, “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1 :27). In chapter two we find, “Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground.” That is literally true, for physically every element in man's body can melt back into the earth, from which the elements originally came. But that is not all, “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”(Genesis 2:7). This is the distinctive quality of man. Man was created in the image of God and has within himself a part of that image, a spiritual nature, a soul. So that what you see when you look at a man is only the “case” in which the soul exists. It is only the house, and while the house itself is a remarkable mechanism, it is only a wonderful case for a more wonderful being made in the image of God.
But our quest is not finished when we say that man is made in the image of God. Borrowing Aristotle's question we ask, “What is the purpose of man?” We are concerned about why God created man and what man is to do. When we say that man is created in the image of God we are not saying merely that he has a spiritual nature. We are saying also that God breathed into man a purpose. That is essentially bound up with the statement that man is created in God's image. Man finds his purpose, his reason for being, in the fact that he is created in the image of God. God made man according to a law or principle of his own nature. God caused man to come into being in order to show forth that principle of His own divine nature. What does this mean? It means this: when you read in I John the statement that “God is love”(I John 4:8), and when you realize that man is made in the image of God, it means that man is created primarily, fundamentally in order to love. God is love and from God love and the benefits of love shower down upon man infinitely. When God created man and made him more than a cabbage or an ox, He gave him the ability to love, an ability the animal and the vegetable world have never known.
Think for a moment of the Bible and its primary instructions to man. They are always in terms of directing man's love upward toward God. Man's primary purpose on earth is to love God in return for the love which God has showered upon man. When you come to the ten commandments, for example, the first four are designed to claim for God the central place in man's love. Listen to them again. Number one: “I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Number two: “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them.” Man's allegiance must be so exclusively given to Jehovah that he makes no image of anything and bows before it. Number three: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”(Exodus 20:2-8). Obviously, the first four commandments of Moses' law are designed to say, “God is first.” When you come to the New Testament, the story is the same. When the scribes came to Jesus and said, “Which commandment is the greatest of all, “ Jesus answered, “Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”(Mark 12:28-30).
I was reading again this week the forty-second Psalm in which we find an excellent expression of the soul of man yearning for God and reaching out toward Him, fulfilling this primary purpose of man's existence. “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks so panteth my soul for thee, 0, God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night. While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me, How I went with the throng and led them to the house of God. With a voice of joy and praise a multitude keeping holy day. Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? And why are thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Psalms 42:1-5). This is typical of many of the Psalms in which we find this pouring out of devotion to God, this fulfilling of man's highest purpose.
If it be true, as we haye said, that man's essential nature is to love, and that the highest relationship that man knows is that relationship with God, we have a basis for understanding what sin is. Essentially, sin is to love someone, or something else, in place of God. When man takes God from central place in his life and puts something else in, then man has committed the basic sin.
God created man to be free. He endowed him with freedom and gave him the power of choice. By the very nature of his makeup, as we have seen, man must love, but he can determine the object of his love. Sometimes men love things, such as houses and cars and clothes and things to eat and drink. Men sometimes love things to the extent that they are willing to give up their honesty, their integrity and their virtue in order to get them. That is a form of idolatry. It is putting the material in the place of God. The apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory cf life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (I John 2:15-17). It is not wrong to use the things of the world: food, clothing, houses and all the other possessions, but it is wrong to love them. That is the reason I feel disturbed each time I read the slogan of one of our downtown apparel stores, “Because you love smart things.” No Christian loves things. We love God and we use the material things He has given us as tools with which to serve Him. Real genuine devotion is never expended on material objects. Jesus said, “A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).
Man, in his freedom, can also direct his love toward his fellow men. But again it must not be a devotion akin to worship. A statement of the Lord covers this exact point, for He says, “He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”(Matthew 10:37). It is possible to so love our own children as to idolize them. Think of the word “idolize” for a moment. Even the expression warns us. Man's love in its primary sense must be reserved for God. Even when we love husband or wife, or children or parents, we must remember that God is first. Because man is made in such a way that his essential nature is fulfilled when he responds in love to his Creator, it follows that when he is not responding to God he is restless. Any object of affection of a finite or limited nature can give man only a finite or limited satisfaction. Man must love, but the kind of satisfaction he receives depends upon the object of this affection. Every object of love satisfies man to a degree, but if it is a finite object only a limited satisfaction results. You cannot get more out of something than is in it. The love of a faithful dog is more rewarding than the love of a fine meal, and the love of a devoted friend is immeasurably superior to the love of a faithful dog, but there is only one ultimate object of love which the soul seeks and that is That is what man was created for.
When I was in high school I heard the story of a boy who when he went to college, placed
over his door a large numeral three. The story impressed me then, but only now have I realized how very close it came to the heart of man's responsibility. This boy did not tell anyone the meaning of the big “3” over his door. In fact not even his roommate k~ew until they both graduated from college. Then, as they were saying goodbye, he asked him, “Why did you put that three over our door?“ The boy responded, “When I came to college I put it there as my reminder that God was always to be first, that my fellow-men were to be second, and that I was to be third.” It is a profound story, for it puts God above and beyond everything else. When I was a child less than ten years old I attended a series of meetings in which W. D. Campbell of Detroit, Michigan preached. He impressed me, along with everybody else, because he concluded every sermon with the words, “God first loved you, love him back. God first loved you, love him back.” He would say it twice at the end of every sermon. I have come to see now that at the end of every sermon he was coming to the essence of man's responsibility. Man's primary obligation is to turn his love upward toward God. Do you love Him? Then are you ready to give yourself to Him? I always count it a privilege to say, “Come obey God's commandments.” I know of no way to show our love to God except by what we do. If you love Him, and I feel that you do,
then come and confess the name of Jesus before men. Jesus said, “Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven”(Matthew 10:32, 33). Jesus also said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish”(Luke 13:3) At another time, Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Obey these simple commandments of the Lord and He will add you to His church. You will be cleansed of all past sins; you will be saved. Then, live the remainder of your days with God as the center of your life. The love of God is man's greatest obligation, man's greatest privilege, and man's most natural act.*
*This message is a reproduction of a sermon by Batsell Barrett Baxter presented on the Herald of Truth Television Program in 1965, produced by the Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas. The author of the message is now deceased.