An end in itself

I’ve been carrying a pocketknife since I was 14. Not as a weapon, but as a useful tool that comes in handy in diverse circumstances in life—opening cans, cutting packaging, minor electrical work, loosening screws, cutting food and so on. I learned this from my father who also carries a pocketknife. It’s got to do with always being prepared. My current pocketknife, a Swiss army knife, was given to me by my father. It has become a vital part of my life, and I feel under-dressed without it. 

A week ago I was on business in Zimbabwe. I was with a client, my client’s employee, and the caretaker of the site where we were going to do a renewable energy project. While walking the site we naturally got into conversation and my client and his employee mentioned how they had been in boy scouts when they were young. They spoke of some of the experiences that they had as boy scouts. 


There was an electricity distribution box in a room that required a special square-shaped key. We needed to get the box open but the caretaker didn’t have the key with him. He was trying to open the box with a pencil. I looked at the lock, pulled out my pocketknife, which has a pair of pliers, and I opened the lock. My client remarked, “Oh! Look at that, the one guy who didn’t do boys scouts!”


Why weren’t the two former boy scouts prepared for this situation? I suggest that it has to do with the purpose for which we learn things. Do we learn them as a means to an end? Or do we learn them as ends in themselves? Does a boy scout learn always to be prepared so that he does well in his boy scout “exam” and gets that coveted patch, or does he learn always to be prepared as a necessary principle of life?

We see this idea portrayed in sports stars as well. After their golden years of playing in top leagues, soccer heroes put on a great deal of weight and generally look unhealthy. Why does a person who is trained to be at the top level of fitness lose it upon retiring? Once again, I suggest that the answer lies in the purpose for which they trained to be fit. A soccer star trains to be fit in order to defeat his opponents on the field, not because maintaining physical fitness is a necessary principle of life. Fitness then is not an end in itself for a soccer star, it is a means to an end—defeating his opponents. 


There are some things in life that we need to remember are means to an end, and not ends in themselves. For example, God gave the Jews the oracles of God not as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end—that they might share them with the entire world. However, there a necessary principles of life that are ends in themselves, that make us human and if we learn these principles as means to ends then we do not completely understand nor fulfil the purpose that God has for us. 

I’ll give four examples of these. Firstly, Bible study. Is Bible study a means to an end or an end in itself? Often Bible study can be means to an end—preparing to take a Sabbath School class, preparing for a sermon, or preparing to debate with someone about our Adventist doctrines. But if we consider Bible study as an end in itself, as something the Christian does because learning about God is a necessary principle of life, then Bible study, and perhaps daily devotion as well, becomes more constant, consistent, and systematic. It doesn’t stop when we no longer need to give that class or preach that sermon, but continues on even when there is no real end other than that Bible study is what Christians do. 

As a second example, consider country living. Country living can be a means to an end if we think of it as preparation for the time of trouble. However, it can be an end in itself when we consider God’s original purpose in the creation of man. Did God create man to live in the cities or to live in the country? The latter. Country living is something that we ought to do even if there were no time of trouble approaching. 


Next, consider the development of mind, body and soul. We could develop these as a means to obtaining wealth, honor, power and prestige. Or the development of these faculties could be ends in themselves because that is how the children of God behave. Ellen White writes in Maranatha:

We are promised that “in the earth made new, the redeemed will engage in the occupations and pleasures that brought happiness to Adam and Eve in the beginning. … Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized; and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body (White, Maranatha, 360).

Continual growth, the upward course, continual development of mind, soul and body is an end in itself—it is what God intended for man. We will continue this development throughout all eternity because He is infinite. 


Lastly, consider our relationship with Christ. Do we cultivate a relationship with Christ because we want to go to heaven, or because we are afraid of the terrors of the last days and facing the judgments of God? We are warned “this [the shortness of time] should not be the great motive with us; for it savors of selfishness. Is it necessary that the terrors of the day of God should be held before us, that we may be compelled to right action through fear? It ought not to be so. Jesus is attractive. He is full of love, mercy, and compassion. He proposes to be our friend, to walk with us through all the rough pathways of life. He says to us, I am the Lord thy God; walk with me, and I will fill thy path with light. Jesus, the Majesty of Heaven, proposes to elevate to companionship with himself those who come to him with their burdens, their weaknesses, and their cares (Signs of the Times, March 17, 1887).

Becoming a friend of Jesus is an end in itself. It makes us human. It is what God intended in the creation of the universe and in the creation of man. To be in a close, growing relationship with Christ is the natural God-intended state of man. 

May we consider our purposes for the principles that we practice day to day. May we seek to do things because they are right, because it is what God intended and because they make us truly the sons and daughters of God. 

Shanley Lutchman is a mechanical engineer from South Africa. He works as a consultant and entrepreneur in the energy sector. He has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with specialization in renewable energy technology. Shanley was baptized at the age of 12 and is a faithful member of his local church in Pretoria, South Africa.