Shelby G. Floyd

Have any of you ever had anybody come up and ask, “What are you?” I’ve never had anybody come up to me and ask that, but I have had people come up to me and ask, “Who are you?”


We’ll answer that question by maybe giving our name, our address or whether we’re a Hoosier, Kentuckian, or whatever. But I’ve never had anybody ask me, “What are you?” Yet, that is a question that is asked in the Bible. It is not “Who are you?” The question is “What are you?” There are a lot of different theories that degrade man and do not give man the proper rank, dignity and honor that God intended for man to have. For instance, some say that you are born a child of the devil. That’s the theory of total hereditary depravity. Some teach today even in our higher institutions of learning that man is born a child of a gorilla. That’s the theory of evolution. And some for fifty years or more, until just recently, had argued that we are born the child of the state. That’s communism. Any one of those theories would degrade man and not elevate him to his proper rank and dignity.


If you really want to know what is man and when I ask that question and when the Bible asks that question, we are not making a distinction here between man and woman. When we say, “What is man?” we are using that in the Greek use of the word anthropos, mankind, including both the male and the female sex. What is man? What is mankind? If you really want to answer that question, we must go to the Bible, because the best book on self-knowledge is the Bible. God made us and then He gave us a handbook on what is man. If you want to know what you are, you must study the book on self-knowledge called the Bible. The Bible is not only the book that reveals God to man, it’s a book that reveals man to himself. Down through the ages, the scholars, the sages, the wise men, have asked that question. For instance, Marcus Aurelius, philosopher at Rome, said, “Control thyself.” Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Juvenal said, “From heaven descended the precept ‘Know thyself.’” And the English poet Chaucer said, “For wise is he that can himself know.” And the great poet Alexander Pope, wrote, “Know then thyself. Presume not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man.” So if you really want to know what is man, you have got to study man. The proper study of mankind is man himself.

Now when we go back into the classical age of Greece, Plato wrestled with this question. They were not dummies. He wrestled with the question, “What is man?” His first answer was that man is a vegetative being. By vegetative, he meant that man has an eating, sleeping, exercising nature. Well, that is good as far as it goes. All right, man is a vegetative being. We even use that word today and say, “Well, I’m going to go home and vegetate.” We mean we’re going to crawl on the couch and go to sleep watching the ball game or something. Then he said that man is an appetitive being. By that he meant that we have passions, both the good and the dark side of man. Man has appetites. Then he said that man is also a rational being. According to Plato, the biggest sin, the biggest mistake that a man can make is not to be informed, not to be intelligent, and, therefore not to regulate and rule his life in a rational way. Plato was a great philosopher. What is man? According to Plato, he’s vegetative, he’s appetitive, and he’s rational as a being.

The next man that came along was Aristotle. Aristotle agreed with just about everything that Plato said, but Aristotle went a step further. He said that everything in this world must have a purpose and everything in this world is either good or bad as to whether it carries out its purpose. The clouds overhead have a purpose. The sun has a purpose. The moon has a purpose. The earth has a purpose. It’s good or bad as to whether it fulfills its purpose. A carpenter is a good carpenter if he can build a good house. A ship is a good ship if it can carry passengers and cargo to its destination. A hammer is a good hammer if it will drive a nail. But then he led up to the question, “What is man’s purpose?” Have you ever asked that question of yourself? Why am I here? Why are we here for just a few years and then we shuffle off the stage of action? What is man’s purpose? We must leave Aristotle right here, because he can’t answer that question. He asked the question, but did not give the answer. You know a lot of people are good at asking questions, but not too good in giving answers.


We’ve got to go to the Bible to add to what Plato and Aristotle wrote. When we open up to Genesis, the first chapter (and the word Genesis means “beginnings”), we read in verse 26, “The Lord God created man in His image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.” Then Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God (or Jehovah God) formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” What is man? Yes, we have a body. Remember a few years ago on television they had the show “The Million Dollar Man”? Then somebody said that man is not really worth a million dollars. When we die, our body melts back into dust from which it was made and the elements of man are just worth a few dollars. But I have heard that has since been revised. Even from the standpoint of the chemicals that are in your body, man is worth over a million dollars. If you had to go buy the DNA and all the chemicals that make up your body, even from that standpoint, man is a million dollar person. It would cost that much to buy all of those elements that make man a living, walking, moving, working, functioning human being. What is man? He was made out of the dust of the earth and when he dies will go back to the dust of the earth. But man is more than dust. God breathed into our nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

So what is man? The way to answer that question is to go to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. From that we learn that man has an animal self In that sense, we share with the animals that God created in this world, because there are many similarities between man and animals as far as legs, the appendages that God gave us, and eyes, ears, etc. We share many of those similarities. But does an animal have a soul? Does an animal have a rational mind? Does an animal have the ability to love and have other emotions? So man not only has an animal self, he has a soul self. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

In addition to having an animal self and a soul self, we have a spirit self. Paul was not a philosopher, but speaking by divine inspiration to the Thessalonians said man has his whole “spirit, soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23.) So in his metaphysical reasoning there he points out that man is a triune being. What is man? We are a being that has an animal self, a soul self and a spirit self.

But what is man’s purpose? Why are we here? Why did God create us? Why did He put us on this terrestrial globe? Again the philosophers can’t answer that question. Some people think that we are just here to gratify all the passions and appetites that God has instilled within our body, soul and mind. Is that man’s purpose? What is man’s purpose? Again, we to go to the Word of God to find out the purpose of man. Solomon was the greatest ruler in many respects in the kingdom of Israel and God gave Solomon not only wisdom, because that is what he asked for instead of riches, but God said in addition to wisdom He would give him riches, honor and glory. The kingdom of Israel reached its zenith under the reign of King Solomon. He went out and tried everything under the sun to produce joy, happiness and pleasure. After he had tried all of these things, he said there was nothing new under the sun and that is true. It may be new to us today and it may be new to the young people because they’ve never gone that way before, but somebody at some place has tried it at some time down through the centuries. After Solomon had tried everything to try to find pleasure and joy and gratify all of his appetites, he said it was all a vanity and a vexation of spirit and finally he concluded that great sermon by asking, “What is the whole duty of man?” He answered his own question— “Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13). I think in the original language there it is just “Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole of man.” This is our purpose for being here.

Now it follows then that to the degree and to the extent that we can fear God, respect God and keep His commandments, to that extent we would be happy, we would be successful, we would be fulfilling our purpose. Many of us go out today after the sermon is over and have a fine meal. It is rewarding to enjoy a fine meal. Some of you may go home and you may have a faithful dog, a wonderful pet. It’s more rewarding to have a faithful dog or faithful pet than it is to have a fine meal. And we have wonderful families. I love my family. It’s a good family. I love my grandchildren. It’s more rewarding to have a good family than it is to have a good dog or a fine meal. But what is the most rewarding thing of all? If you think you are fulfilling your purpose and you’re trying to fulfill your purpose in all these things that are finite, then your happiness is going to be finite. The only way that you will ever be infinitely happy and successful is by fulfilling your infinite purpose in this life and that is to fear God and keep His commandments. Augustine said back in the fifth century, “Our soul is never at rest until it rests in thee.”

Look around at the world today. We see many going after pleasure, riches, fame and honor and few are happy. Why? Because those things will not fulfill the infinite longings of the soul of man, the spirit of man. What is man? He is a being made in the image of God and he will never be happy until he fulfills that image in which he was made by fearing God and keeping His commandments.


What is man worth then? Jesus said in Matthew 16, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” What is the profit? If you can gain everything in this world, and many people have tried, what is the profit? When Howard Hughes, the multi-billionaire, died, somebody asked how much he left and someone answered that he left it all, every bit of it. He didn’t take any of it with him. What is man worth? What would it profit you if you gained the whole world and lost your own soul? Sometimes when we become involved in sin and we are so full of guilt that we feel like we’re not worth anything, man is still worth a lot. I don’t care how depraved a person might become in sin, there is still a spark of that divine nature that is in all people. The apostle Paul was a great sinner. In fact, he judged himself the chief of sinners. He said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” If God can save the chief of sinners, Saul of Tarsus who murdered Christians and imprisoned them and beat them and persecuted them and made havoc of the church, He can save any person today. I don’t care how much the divine nature has been marred by sin. God can take a lump of clay like Jeremiah talks about and it was put on the potter’s wheel and the potter started to make a beautiful instrument out of it, but it marred in his hand because the extraneous material that was in the clay. So what he did was put it back on the wheel and worked on it again and molded it. But we must yield as the clay must be pliable and yield to the potter’s hand, so we must be like clay in the hand of God. He can take us even when we mar and we sin and we do not answer our purpose for which we are here. He can take us and mold us and make us into a vessel of honor. God is the potter and we are the clay.

I want to close the lesson with this little poem I found years ago and I have never used it before today. I saved it because I thought that it would work into a lesson one day. It is called,


‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile;
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar “, then, “Two!” “Only two?”
“Two dollars and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—“ But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three Thousand, once; three thousand, twice;
and going, and gone, “said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply;
“The touch of the master’s hand”

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage “, a glass of wine;
A game—and he travels on.
He is “going “once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

—Myra Brooks Welch

What is man? What is man’s worth? If you let Jesus Christ, the Master, touch your life, He’ll make your life worthwhile. What is worthwhile?


Nothing is worthwhile unless you let the touch of the Master’s hand come upon you. What is man’s purpose on this earth? To love God in return for His love that He shows us in Jesus Christ. Batsell Baxter tells about growing up and hearing a preacher and he said every time the preacher closed out the sermon he said, “God loves you. Love Him back.” Brother Baxter said years ago he never understood why he was doing that, but later he understood. He was really saying that love is the key purpose of man in life. God made us in His image, created us to serve Him, showed us how much He loved us by sending Jesus to die for us and our purpose is to show our gratitude and love him back and serve Him all the days of our lives. Jesus himself said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.)

What are the commandments? Jesus said, “If you believe in God, believe also in me, in My Father’s house are many mansions.” (John 14:1-2.) “Repent or ye shall perish.” (Luke 13:3,5.) Repent means to change your will power brought about by godly sorrow, which will result in a change in your life. In other words, if you repent, you have to prove your repentance by bringing forth a new life that is answerable, amenable, and agreeable to what you say you have done. Jesus said, “If you do not confess me before men, I will not confess you before My Father which is in heaven.” (Mt. 10:32-33.) Then ultimately, “He that is baptized shall be saved.” (Mk. 16:15-16.) The purpose is to love the Lord. Show your love for Him by doing all that He has said. Man lives in different states. Sometimes we talk about the state that we live in today as the kingdom of nature. You’re not living in the kingdom of nature today. The kingdom of nature was the Garden of Eden. That was the natural kingdom. Today we live in a preternatural, or unnatural, world. It is not natural to die and suffer and have pain. Satan brought that into the world. We live in an unnatural world. It’s not natural for the earth to be full of briars, thorns, thistles and thickets. It is unnatural. It is the course that was brought on because man violated God’s law and was pushed out of the natural kingdom into an unnatural kingdom. By entering a spiritual kingdom, the church, and living for God, fulfilling our purpose, we can ultimately enter into that supernatural kingdom, or heaven, itself. We enter the preternatural kingdom by a birth of and from the womb. We enter into the spiritual kingdom of God by a birth of and from water (John 3:3-5). We enter the kingdom of glory by a birth of and from the grave. But you will never reach that supernatural kingdom, the kingdom of glory, unless you are born into the kingdom of God. Will you do that and come right now while we stand and sing?*

*A sermon delivered by Shelby G. Floyd at the South Central Church of Christ, 265 E. Southport Road, Indianapolis, Indiana, March 19, 1995; and Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, June 2, 2019, Greenwood, Indiana 46142. Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2019 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142

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