Proclaiming the Excellencies of Christ, Not Prosperity, Among the Nations
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
This is the second message of our annual Missions Focus. Here’s how I see this message each year: It’s a point in the life of some of you when you will be moved, if God wills, to make a public declaration that you believe God is moving you into long-term, cross-cultural missions. Not short-term. I hope all of us will do short-term missions sooner or later. By long-term, I mean at least two years and an openness that it could be the rest of your life.
I see this service and this message each year as the time and place where God’s work of decades in your life—or years or months or weeks or days—comes to a decisive point of conviction, and you are ready to come to the front and say by coming, I am not infallible, but I do believe that God has been at work in my life to move me out of present situation into cross-cultural, Christ-exalting, missions long term.
So I give you that heads up now so that you can be praying and listening with this in mind.
The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel
This message was originally conceived as a response to what is often called the Prosperity Gospel—or the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel. This distortion of the gospel is blatant among some prominent TV preachers. But what makes it relevant for a missions message is that it is one of the most tragic exports from America to the two-thirds world, especially Africa.
This “gospel” says, to quote one of the founders of the movement, Kenneth Copeland, “There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function. They will work when they are put to work, and they will stop working when the force of faith is stopped” (The Laws of Prosperity, 19). And what is sadly obvious and prominent is that material prosperity, not spiritual prosperity through hardship, is the focus.
Or as a more contemporary representative says more simply, “God desires us to become wealthy for him.” (Tecoy Porter, Releasing Your Inner Treasure: 8 Kingdom Keys to Unlocking the Wealth Within You, xxvi). There is so much to say about this kind of preaching.
True Missions: Dying to Material Prosperity
But as I have prepared for this message, that part of what I want to do has receded to the background. I will mention it shortly, but what I hope to do is give you a more straightforward positive encouragement toward true biblical missions, and leave most of the criticism of the Prosperity Gospel for articles later on.
At the heart of true biblical missions is the willingness to die to the cravings that prosperity preachers exploit. At the heart of true biblical missions (both for the goers and the senders) is an eagerness to live simply and give lavishly. At the heart of true biblical missions is suffering, not merely as a result of proclamation, but also as a means of proclamation—a means of making the saving sufferings of Christ known to the world. As Joseph Tson says, “Christ’s sufferings are for propitiation; our sufferings are for propagation.”
Proclaiming Jesus’ Excellencies
There is a surprising way that cross-cultural, global missions stands out from 1 Peter 2:9. Peter says to those who trust Christ, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” You may say, “It seems pretty straightforward. It’s not surprising to see missions implicit in the words ‘that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ That’s what missionaries do, isn’t it?”
Yes. But that’s what all believers do. This purpose doesn’t define missionaries. It defines Christians. All of us have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of eternal life. And all of us are meant to proclaim the excellencies of Christ wherever we are. But not all of us are called to choose an unreached people group, learn a new language, cross a culture, proclaim the excellencies of Christ, and plant the church of Jesus Christ where it does not yet exist. That is what missionaries do. It is a glorious calling.
The Glorious Calling of a Missionary
We are not all so privileged. God does not intend for us to be. Paul was, and some of you are. This is your calling. God will make it plain. Paul said to the Roman believers as he made his plans to go to Spain by visiting them first: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named. . . . Since I no longer have any room for work in these regions . . . I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you” (Romans 15:20–24).
In other words, “I don’t want you to go with me. I want you to help me on my journey. Support me. Send me. Hold the rope for me. This is my calling, not yours. I am a missionary. You stay home, and I go. But don’t forget me. I need you.”
That’s the arrangement. Some send. Some go. It’s always been that way and will be till Jesus comes. God has ways of making known to his missionaries who you are. I don’t create missionaries. God does. It is utterly amazing to watch it happen. The wind blows here, and the wind blows there. And we don’t know where it comes form or where it is going. So are those who are called to be missionaries. There is no human explanation for why some young people and some middle aged people and some older people give their lives as missionaries. God does this. The rest of us have our work to do—very important work—but we stand amazed at that work.
A Surprising Link to Missions
Back to 1 Peter 2:9. I said there is a surprising way that cross-cultural, global missions stands out from this verse. But it’s not mainly in the second half of the verse, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” That applies to everybody. Wherever we are we proclaim the excellencies of God in Christ. No. The surprise is that missions stands out by comparing the wording of the first part of verse 9 with the wording of Revelation 5:9–10.
Let’s go there for a moment. I’ll read the key words in 1 Peter 2:9 and then Revelation 5:9–10.
1 Peter 2:9: “You [that is, you who trust Christ] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.”
Revelation 5:9–10 (a glimpse into heaven after this age and the task of missions is complete): “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you [Jesus] to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”
You can hear the connection in the parallel words. “Nation” in 1 Peter 2:9 links with “nation” in Revelation 5:9. “People” in 1 Peter 2:9 links with “people” in Revelation 5:9. “Priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9 links with “priests” in Revelation 5:10. And “royal” in 1 Peter 2:9 links with “kingdom” and “reign” in Revelation 5:10. In both texts, God has made for himself a royal priesthood. It called “royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9. And Revelation 5:10 says, “You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and thy shall reign on the earth.”
A Nation Made Up of Nations
But Revelation 5:9 makes something crystal clear that 1 Peter only hints at. This kingdom of priests—this royal priesthood—will be made up of persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. So when 1 Peter 5:9 says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”—one race, one nation, one people, one priesthood—it means that this one new race is made up of all races. This one new people is made of all peoples. And this one new nation is made of all nations. And this one new royal priesthood will reign with Jesus Christ, and have personal access to God through him, and will be made up of ordinary converts from every kingdom and every religion on the earth. Because the Lamb who was slain is worthy. He will have an inheritance from all nations.
That’s the surprising way that cross-cultural, global missions stands out from 1 Peter 2:9. There will be, at the end of this age, one chosen race, one royal priesthood, one holy nation, one people for God’s own possession, and that singular, unified reality will be composed from all races and all nations and all peoples because missionaries were called and were faithful.
God’s Globalized People
Missions and missionaries in this age are at the heart of what God is doing—forming one new race and nation and people and priesthood from all the races and nations and peoples of the earth. God is jealous for them all. Revelation 5:9 uses the word every. It says, “You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” He bought them with his own blood. He will have them.
Long before the united financial crisis in New York and Tokyo and Paris made globalization more understandable, God created a globalized people. But it is far more than globalized. God’s aim is not that his redeemed people be made up of people from a mere 192 countries from the United Nations. His aim is peoples, tribes, languages, ethnic groups—all of them. All 13,000 ethnolinquistic groups in the world.
1,568 Unengaged Peoples
According to Joshua Project, there are 6,850 of these peoples with fewer than 2% evangelical Christians. And 1,568 of those are unengaged—that means there are no believers in Christ and no missionaries working among them. In other words, the task of cross-cultural, global missions is not finished. There should be no unengaged peoples. Given the global scope and education and wealth of the church, the global church of Jesus Christ should have teams of missionaries in every people group in the world.
Lack of Money Is Not the Problem
Of course, contrary to what the Prosperity Gospel teaches, wealth is not usually a blessing. It is usually a curse. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Wealth is a mortal danger for those who have it. It does not make us generous and humble. It makes us buy more stuff, and it numbs our conscience because we have to blind ourselves to our inconsistencies with the Calvary road.
Paul said to the prosperity preachers of his day, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).
The Problem: We Have So Much Money
No, it isn’t for lack of money that there are 1,568 peoples with no missionaries. It’s because we have so much. The comforts of the West have made us soft and cautious and fearful and indulgent and self-protecting, instead of tough and risk-taking and bold and self-controlled and self-sacrificing. When prosperity preachers fly their personal jets to the Two-thirds World and promise the poor that if they believe in Jesus, they will get rich, they are not doing Christian missions. They are destroying its foundations. That is not the gospel that saves and produces sacrifice.
Where do missionaries come from? Most of the peoples that are still unreached today are in places that are dangerous. Nobody who has the mindset of the Prosperity Gospel is going to be a missionary among those peoples. The only ones who go will have the mind of Christ—who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, and who said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you (Mark 10:45; John 20:21). I don’t send you to get rich. I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16).
Where Do Missionaries Come From?
Where do such people come from? How are they made? I think 1 Peter 2:9 points to the answer. They are people in whom God does a special work of grace. When they read these words, “You are chosen . . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” they know and feel that they were once in hopeless darkness. They know and feel that Christ died for their sins,—and not for theirs only, but for all the nations. They know and they feel that God called them invincibly into light and eternal life. And they know, and they feel that the light in which they stand with Jesus Christ is marvelous. More marvelous than all the money or mansions in the world. They have experienced these things.
And then, God does that special work. When these ordinary born-again people hear about the nations, something happens. There is no point in trying to describe it or quantify it or control it or package it. It happens in a thousand ways. It happens in a moment. Or it happens in a month. Or in a 50-year wrestling match with God. Sooner or later, for these people—these ordinary people called missionaries—it becomes irresistible. They finally know: I must go. It becomes clear to them; they must.
And God has been doing that for some of you. So in a moment I would like to invite you to come to the front as a decisive step of saying yes to what you believe God is doing. What we want to do is give you a card to get you connected to the Nurture Program and pray for you.
Here is who I would like to come: missionaries and those who have already cleared the hurdles and are on your way. And those who believe God is moving you into long-term, cross-cultural missions. By long-term, I mean at least two years and an openness that it could be the rest of your life. If you believe God is leading you like that, please come now.