THE CHRISTIAN’S SUMMUM BONUM

THE CHRISTIAN’S SUMMUM BONUM

[While sorting through old files I ran across this short piece I wrote for The Lookout on April 10, 1988.]

Years ago a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter made a random survey, asking people about their concept of “the good life.” Here are some of their answers:

“I don’t know. I’m new in town. A lot of money, I guess. To be left alone. Maybe she’ll know; ask my wife.”

“First of all, the good life means being happy in what I’m doing. Having health for both myself and my family. And not necessarily having any economic woes.”

“Just being able to get up in the morning, face the day’s challenges, go to bed without a worry in the world.”

“I guess the good life would be doin’ somethin’ and makin’ money at it. The key to it is money.”

These people probably did not realize it, but they were giving their personal answer to the venerable philosophical question of the summum bonum, a Latin expression meaning “the highest good.” Whatever form the question takes, it is important for all of us to stop and consider how we would really answer it. What is our personal view of the “highest good,” or what do we consider to be the most important thing in the world? What are we seeking to accomplish above all else with our decisions and actions?

Most of the answers given in the Enquirer survey were quite materialistic, as the above examples show. Their view of life’s highest good is summed up in the following message printed on a fast-food place mat (I’m not kidding): “Our quarter pound 100% all beef mouthful. It starts with a whole quarter pound of thick, juicy beef. Then it’s smothered with cheese. And piled with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and our own scrumptious sauce. Everything that makes life worth living on a golden sesame seed bun.

How different is Jesus’ answer to the question about life’s highest good! He says in Matthew 6:33 (ESV), “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Here is our summum bonum: the kingdom of God! With every breath and thought and deed, we should be seeking to accomplish this above all else.

But what is “the kingdom of God”? For most of us the word kingdom usually means the realm over which a king reigns. Thus God’s kingdom would be the realm over which he reigns; many equate this with the church and see Jesus instructing us to put the church above everything else in our lives. But this is not really the main idea. The Biblical words for “kingdom” mean primarily the REIGN of God itself, i.e., his kingship, his lordship, his dominion, his glory. THIS is the Christian’s summum bonum; this is what we should be seeking above all else: to honor God as Lord and King of all, to glorify his name above all names. Everything we do should have this as its ultimate goal.

Jesus says to seek first God’s kingdom “and his righteousness.” In this context I believe Jesus is thinking of righteousness as obedience to God’s will. Jesus adds this because it is the main MEANS by which we bring honor and glory to God. More than anything else, in our Christian life what glorifies God more than anything else is our obedience to his will (his law commands).

We will remember that in his “Great Commission” Jesus told the apostles to go and teach all nations first of all to be baptized (Matt. 28:19). We cannot honor God in anything else until we have made this new beginning. But then we are not surprised that Jesus then told them to teach the nations “to observe all that I have commanded you” (v. 20). Observing or obeying all of God’s commands is the righteousness that honors and glorifies him.

How many of us really put God’s kingship first in our lives? How many of us on the other hand have the “golden sesame seed bun” philosophy of life? Jesus refers to this latter lifestyle as serving “Mammon” (money) rather than God (Matt. 6:24). He instructs us not to put material things first, not even to make the provision of food, shelter, and clothing our top priority (Matt. 6:25-32). He makes us this promise: if you will put God’s kingship first by being faithful to his will, “all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). This is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” When we truly put first things first, God will provide what we need. Let’s order our lives as if we really believe this!

[Addendum: sermon outline based on these ideas: What Life Is All About: I. The GOAL – the Kingship of God. II. The MEANS – the Righteousness of God. III. The RESULT – “All These (Other) Things.”]

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THE CHRISTIAN’S SUMMUM BONUM — 5 Comments

  1. Thank you for your response. I appreciate your response to every day problems in the church. Keep up the support.

    In Christian love

  2. Mr. Cottrell, is it dangerous for a New Testament Church to be teaching Post or Premillenialism? If yes, what are the dangers?

    • I believe the amillennial view is the Biblical view. I believe postmillennialism and traditional premillennialism are false doctrines, but are not necessarily dangerous to the church (beyond the general truth that any false doctrine is wrong). However, dispensational premillennialism (the secret rapture doctrine) is not just false but is dangerous to the church. I have discussed this on pp. 486-487 in my book, The Faith Once for All. Among other things I say this: “In my judgment dispensational premillennialism is not just false doctrine; it is seriously false and dangerous doctrine (something I do not say about the two previous views). This is a dangerously false view because it is diversionary: the obsession to constantly restructure prophetic application to keep pace with ongoing world events absorbs the attention of many and keeps them from attending to more important spiritual matters. It is dangerously false because it detracts from the glory of Christ’s blood-created New Covemant (Luke 22:20) and his blood-bought new people, the church (Acts 20:28). Those who insist on continuing to exalt physical Israel in God’s plan are the new Judaizers and are violating every warning of Paul in Phil 3:2-3. A final reason this is a dangerously false view is that it creates a spurious and precarious basis for belief in Christ and his Word. By presuming to declare that contemporary events, especially about Israel, are the fulfillment of myriads of Bible prophecies, dispensationalists are thus tying the accuracy and trustworthiness of God’s Word to the fate of modern Israel. . . .”

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