A Passion for the Supremacy of Christ—Where He Is Not Named
Today my aim is to build the message on several different Biblical texts around the theme of missions instead of dealing with only one text. When Tom and I talked a few months ago about missions week, what struck us was how few people are here today who were here when the driving convictions of our church in missions were being formulated. Probably fewer than 10% were here in 1983 when the Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism was sounded, and a few more in 1984 when the first Missions in the Manse was held, a few more when "90 by 90" was conceived and achieved, and a few more between 1985 and 1988 when the Maninka were adopted and the goal of "2000 by 2000" was resolved in 1990. But most of you are newer than that, and even members of long standing can use refresher courses from time to time.
Bethlehem had a vision for missions long before I came in 1980. Ola Hanson went out and planted the church among the Kachin in Burma 100 years ago. In the mid '40's when the BGC was forging its own missions agency, the members of Bethlehem and pastor Sjolund were in the thick of it.
But the period of missions I know best is the last 16 years. It would be good to review it so that God's mercy and the force of our convictions will be seen. They say words are cheap, show us your check book and we will know your values. So consider the checkbook of Bethlehem for a moment.
In 1981, the missions budget was $62,270 and was 22% of the over-all budget. In 1996, the missions budget is seven times as large—$439,661—and is 32% of the budget. To give this a sharper point, keep in mind that during the same period the percentage of the budget devoted to staff compensation has dropped from 52% to 46%. In other words, comparatively, we are doing more in missions for less outlay at home, and that is good.
But there is another statistic that probably shows even more clearly the transformation of values among us. In 1981, the average missions gift per week of each Sunday morning attender was $2.50. Today it is $8.90. In other words, the annual missions budget divided by the average weekly Sunday attendance divided by 52 has increased 356% in the last 15 years. In other words, the reality here is not so much about growth in dollars or people; the reality is about altered values. New priorities. Many of us believe that the end of debt in three weeks will usher in another period of remarkable growth in missions at Bethlehem. This is the main aim of Freeing the Future.
What Drives this Vision?
So the question should be asked. What is the vision driving this amazing commitment to missions among the people at Bethlehem?
Tom and I thought that this missions week should be an effort to get as many of you on board with the driving convictions as possible. Part of that was the reaffirmation last Wednesday of our adoption of the Maninka. Part of it was the uniting of worship and missions last Friday. And another part is this morning's message about the convictions that drive the missions engine of this church.
There are at least seven convictions that have driven our commitment in recent years. The leadership knows them and loves them. They shape all we do. If you are a part of Bethlehem, you need to know them too. May the Lord cause them to capture your heart, and fill you with fresh zeal for the greatest cause in the world. There are only three kinds of Christians when it comes to world missions: zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient. May God deliver us from disobedience!
Conviction #1: God is passionately committed to his fame. God's ultimate goal is that his name be known and praised by all the peoples of the earth.
In Romans 9:17, Paul says that God's goal in redeeming Israel "that [his] name may be proclaimed in all the earth." In Isaiah 66:19, God promised that he would send messengers "to the coastlands afar off that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations." We believe that the central command of world missions is Isaiah 12:4, "Make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted."
The apostle Paul said that his ministry as a missionary was "to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ's] name among all the nations" (Romans 1:5). The apostle John said that missionaries are those who "have set out for the sake of the name" (3 John 7). James, the Lord's brother, described missions as God's "visiting the nations to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). Jesus described missionaries as those who "leave houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake" (Matthew 19:29).
Back in the mid-eighties God drove home to many of us that a God-centered theology must be a missionary theology. If you say that you love the glory of God, the test of your authenticity is whether you love the spread of that glory among all the peoples of the world. Or another way to say it is that worship is the fuel and the goal of missions. Missions exists because worship doesn't. God's passion is to be known and honored and worshipped among all the peoples. To worship him is to share that passion for his supremacy among the nations.
Conviction #2: God's passion to be known and praised by all the peoples of the earth is not selfish, but loving.
God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the ultimately loving act. And the reason is easy to see. The one and only Reality in the universe that can fully and eternally satisfy the human heart is the glory of God—the beauty of all that God is for us in Jesus. Therefore God would not be loving unless he upholds and displays and magnifies that glory for our everlasting enjoyment. If God were to forsake or dishonor or disregard the infinite worth of his own glory he would be unloving in the same way that a husband is unloving who commits suicide.
Perhaps the best way to see that God's passion for his fame is an expression of his love is to notice that God's mercy is the pinnacle of his glory. This is what he wants to be honored for above all else. You can see this in Romans 15:9 where Paul says that the reason Christ came into the world was so "that the nations might glorify God for his mercy."
Do you see how conviction #1 and #2 come together in that little phrase: "glorify God for his mercy"? God gets the glory, we get the mercy. God is praised, we are saved. God gets the honor, we get the joy. God is glorified for his fullness, we are satisfied with his mercy.
So to sum up convictions #1 and #2: there are two basic problems in the universe: God is profaned and people are perishing. Conviction #1 says that God will not suffer his name to be dishonored indefinitely, but will act mightily to vindicate his name and glorify himself among the nations. Conviction #2 says that God has planned a way to do this by saving the perishing through the death of his Son, Jesus, and making them a worshipping people who enjoy his glory. In the sacrifice of his own son for the sake of the nations, God reveals the pinnacle of his glory—his mercy. So the salvation of the nations and the glorification of God happen together in missions. They are not at odds. It is a loving thing for God to pursue his glory like this.
Conviction #3: God's purpose to be praised among all the nations cannot fail. It is an absolutely certain promise. It is going to happen.
When Jesus gave the great commission in Matthew 28:19, he gave it a massive foundation of certainty. He said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore . . ." In other words, nothing can stop him: "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
When I was at Wheaton last weekend I said to the students gathered for the World Christian Fellowship that there are four reasons we can be absolutely sure that the mission of God will triumph in the world. First, the word of Jesus is more sure than the heavens and the earth (Matthew 24:35). Second, the ransom has already been paid for all God's elect, and God did not spill the blood of his Son in vain (Revelation 5:9). Third, the glory of God is at stake and in the end he will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 48:9-11). Fourth, God is sovereign and can do all things and no purpose of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2).
In the September 16, 1996, issue of Christianity Today (p. 25) Steve Saint, whose dad, Nate Saint, was martyred in Ecuador in 1956 by the Auca Indians, wrote an article about new discoveries made about the tribal intrigue behind the slayings of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming. He wrote one of the most amazing sentences on the sovereignty I have ever read from the son of a slain missionary:
As [the killers] described their recollections it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing took place at all; it is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention. (italics and bold added)
There is only one explanation for why these five young men died. God intervened. This is the kind of sovereignty I mean when I say no one, absolutely no one, can frustrate the designs of God to fulfill his missionary plans for the nations. In the darkest moments of our pain God is hiding his explosives behind enemy lines.
Conviction #4: Domestic ministries are the goal of frontier missions.
This conviction addresses the tension that develops in a mission-driven church between those who have a passion for ministering here to our own desperately needy culture, and the radical advocates of taking the gospel where they don't even have access to the Source of any ministry at all.
By domestic ministries I mean all the ministries that we should do among the people in our own culture. For example, ministries relating to evangelism, poverty, medical care, unemployment, hunger, abortion, crisis pregnancy, runaway kids, pornography, family disintegration, child abuse, divorce, hygiene, education at all levels, drug abuse and alcoholism, environmental concerns, terrorism, prison reform, moral abuses in the media and business and politics, etc., etc.
Frontier missions, on the other hand, is the effort of the church to penetrate an unreached people group with the gospel and establish there an ongoing, indigenous, ministering church.
Now stop and think about that. What this means is that frontier missions is the exportation of the possibility and practice of domestic ministries in the name of Jesus to unreached people groups.
Why should there be tension between these two groups of people? The frontier people honor the domestic people by agreeing that their work is worth exporting. The domestic people honor the frontier people by insisting that what they export is worth doing here.
Conviction #5: The missionary task is focused on peoples, not just individual people, and is therefore finishable.
Many of us used to have the vague notion that missions was simply winning to Christ as many individuals as possible in other places. But now we have come to see that the unique task of missions, as opposed to evangelism, is to plant the church among people groups where it doesn't exist.
Revelation 5:9 is a picture of how Christ's death relates to missions: "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals for thou wast slain and didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." When the church has been planted in all the people groups of the earth, and the elect have been gathered in from all the "tribes and tongues and nations," then the great commission will be complete. Missions will be over. The task of missions is planting the church among all the peoples, not necessarily winning all the people.
Conviction #6: The need of the hour is for thousands of new Paul-type missionaries—a fact which is sometimes obscured by the quantity of Timothy-type missionaries.
Timothy left Lystra, his hometown (Acts 16:1), and became a church worker (a Timothy-type missionary) in a foreign place, Ephesus, (1 Timothy 1:3) which had its own elders (Acts 20:17) and outreach (Acts 19:10). This is the model of a Timothy-type missionary: going far away to do Christian work where the church is fairly well established. It has Biblical precedent and it is a good thing to do, if God calls you.
But that's not what Paul was called to do. His passion was to make God's name known in all the unreached peoples of the world. He said that he made it his ambition "to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named" (Romans 15:20). One of the most stunning things Paul ever said is in Romans 15:19, 23: "From Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum I have fulfilled the gospel of Christ. . . . I no longer have any room for work in these regions." This stunned me, when I finally saw its implications.
No room for work between Jerusalem and northern Greece! His work there is done in spite of all the unbelievers that remain! He is now moving on to Spain. How could he say this? The answer is that he was a frontier missionary, not just a cross-cultural missionary. He was called to reach the unreached peoples, where there is no church to evangelize its own people.
What most Christians don't know today is that there are probably ten times more Timothy-type missionaries in the world than there are Paul-type missionaries. And yet there are still thousands of people groups—especially Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and tribal peoples—who have no access to a gospel-preaching church in their own culture.
Therefore my prayer for our church is that we put a very high priority on raising up and sending frontier missionaries—Paul-type missionaries. Not that we diminish the sacrifice and preciousness of the Timothy-type missionaries, but that we realize what the utterly critical, uniquely missionary need is in the world, namely, there are thousands of groups with no access to the saving knowledge of Jesus. Only Paul-type missionaries can reach them. That must be a huge priority for us. Without the gospel everything is in vain.
Conviction #7: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him; and our satisfaction in him is greatest when it expands to embrace others.
It is amazing how those who have suffered most in the missionary cause speak in the most lavish terms of the blessing and the joy of it all. Start with Jesus: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). We save our lives by giving them away in the cause of the gospel. This is what Paul meant when he said, "This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). And: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
Samuel Zwemer—after fifty years of missions labor (including the loss of two young children in North Africa)—said, "The sheer joy of it all comes back. Gladly would I do it all over again." And both Hudson Taylor and David Livingston, after lives of extraordinary hardship and loss said, "I never made a sacrifice."
When people who have suffered much speak like this, their God is magnified. If God can so satisfy their souls that even their sufferings are experienced as steps into deeper joy with him, then he must be far more wonderful than all that the earth has to offer. Psalm 63:3 must really be true: "The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life."
These are our driving missions convictions at Bethlehem. If God opens your heart, you will see that there is no better way to live than in the wartime lifestyle that maximizes all you are and all you have for the sake of finishing the great commission. Because in this way God is magnified; we are satisfied; and the nations are loved.
When it comes to world missions, there are only three kinds of Christians: zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient. Which will you be?
Appendix More Convictions Behind Our Missions Vision
1. Prayer is a wartime walkie talkie not a domestic intercom. (John 15:16)
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you.
You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
"Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 'Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
2 Thessalonians 3:1
Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you;
2. We are called to a wartime lifestyle for the sake of world evangelization because there is a war going on with devastation and urgency far outstripping anything in World War II. (Luke 14:33).
Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, 30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
3. Worship is the fuel and the goal of missions. (Psalm 22:27)
Goal: the nations are coming to worship the Lord.
All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; And they shall glorify Thy name.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before Thee.
Fuel: You must be glad in God to authentically say "Be glad in God" to the nations; hence fuel.
God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us. 2 That Thy way may be known on the earth, Thy salvation among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise Thee. 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For Thou wilt judge the peoples with uprightness, And guide the nations on the earth.
4. Suffering to "complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (namely, a personal presentation of his sufferings, through our sufferings, to those for whom he died) is the way that the Great Commission will be completed. (Colossians 1:24)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions.
Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
The gift to Paul was a gift of the church as a body. It was a sacrificial offering of love. What was lacking, and what would have been grateful to Paul and to the church alike, was the church's presentation of this offering in person. This was impossible, and Paul represents Epaphroditus as supplying this lack by his affectionate and zealous ministry. (Marvin Vincent, I.C.C., Epistle to the Philippians and to Philemon, p. 78)
While I was working on the missions book in May, I had an opportunity to hear J. Oswald Sanders speak. His message touched deeply on suffering. He is 89 years old and still travels and speaks around the world. He has written a book a year since he turned 70! I mention that only to exult in the utter dedication of a life poured out for the gospel without thought of coasting in self-indulgence from sixty-five to the grave.
He told the story of an indigenous missionary who walked barefoot from village to village preaching the gospel in India. His hardships were many. After a long day of many miles and much discouragement he came to a certain village and tried to speak the gospel but was driven out of town and rejected. So he went to the edge of the village dejected and lay down under a tree and slept from exhaustion.
When he awoke people were hovering over him, and the whole town was gathered around to hear him speak. The head man of the village explained that they came to look him over while he was sleeping. When they saw his blistered feet they concluded that he must be a holy man, and that they had been evil to reject him. They were sorry and wanted to hear the message that he was willing to suffer so much to bring them.
So the evangelist filled up the afflictions of Jesus with his beautiful blistered feet.