This conference on missions is a dream come true for me. And my prayer is that many of you will look back some day and see that this was a decisive moment in a dream come true for you—that some day, ten or twenty or thirty years from now, you will recall the very first Cross Conference, 2013, as a turning point when God did something decisive in directing the rest of your life. If you came with low expectations, get big ones right now.
My Dream Come True
There are at least four reasons why this conference is a dream come true for me:
God created the world and has been active in it from the beginning so that the transcendent beauty of his holiness might be known and enjoyed and shared by a redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and this conference is God’s work to propel that purpose toward completion. To be a part of something so central to God’s ultimate purpose is what I dream about for my life.
This conference is a dream come true because every human being on this planet is lost and bound for eternal suffering unless they come to know and treasure Jesus Christ and the good news that God sent him into the world to die, and in dying to absorb and remove that judgment for everyone who believes. And this conference exists to make that global human lostness—that impending eternal suffering—shockingly clear, and then propel to all the unreached peoples of the world an army of lovers who care about all human suffering, especially eternal suffering.
Third, this conference is a dream come true for me because in my lifetime God has brought about a great awakening to the glory of his sovereign grace. Call it Reformed theology. Call it the doctrines of grace. Call it the new Calvinism. Call it big God theology. Call it a passion for God’s supremacy in all things. Call it the resurgence of God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated worship. Call it a vision of a great, holy, just, wise, good, gracious, sovereign God, whose throne is established in the heavens and who does whatever he pleases. Call it what you will. God is doing this—God is awakening millions of people all over the world, especially young people—to these stunning and glorious realities. And this conference is a fruit of this awakening. It is the sharpening and the pushing of the point of the spear of this gospel truth into the unreached peoples of the world, “for the Imperial Majesty of Jesus Christ and for the glory of his empire” (John Stott).
Fourth, this conference is a dream come true for me because I am old and you are young. Most of my heroes died before they were my age—Calvin, Luther, Tyndale, Owen, Spurgeon, Edwards, Brainerd, Judson—all dead before they were 67. They didn’t have this privilege at my age. Ever since God did an unusual awakening in me in 1983, when I was 37 years old, I have wanted my life to count for the sake of the unreached peoples of the world. The rising of the Cross conference for students feels like a crowning gift from God—like an answer to the prayer of Psalm 71:18, “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation.” God is mighty, young people. Unstoppably mighty. He will have the nations. He will have his world.
And now I get the privilege of talking to you about him under the title: “The Chief End of Missions: The Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.” So this is all a dream come true. And I pray again that many of you will look back some day and see that this was the beginning of a dream come true for you. Or perhaps not the beginning but a decisive milestone making plain what God has been doing in your life all along.
The Chief End of Missions
“The Chief End of Missions is the Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.”
You may hear in that title a paraphrase of the first question in the Westminster Catechism:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
So I have replaced “chief end of man” with “chief end of missions”—which seems legitimate because missions is shorthand for “man active in doing missions.” There is no missions in the abstract without human action. There is only people doing missions. What is their chief end or goal? Or, what is God’s chief end in their action?
Then I changed the glory of God to the supremacy of God. The chief end of missions is the exaltation of God as supremely glorious—supremely beautiful and valuable above all other reality. The chief end of missions is the radical transformation of human hearts through faith in Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit so that they treasure and magnify the glory of God supremely above all things. In that sense, the end of missions is the supremacy of God.
Then I changed “and enjoy him forever” (“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever”) to “the joy of all peoples.” Missions is not just about winning your neighbor to Christ. It is about the peoples of the world. “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:3).
So the chief end of missions is the glorification of God’s supremacy in the jubilation of human hearts among all the peoples of the world. Or we could say: the chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the satisfaction of the peoples in God. Or, the chief end of missions is the glory of God in the God-centered gladness of the peoples.
And The Two Became One
But the most important change I made in the catechism was changing the word “and” to the word “in.” The catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” What does “and” mean? If “and” means: There is one end of man called “glorify God,” and another end of man called “enjoy him forever,” then why did the authors of the catechism use the singular “end” when they answered, “The chief end of man is . . .? Why didn’t they say, “The chiefs ends of man are to glorify God and enjoy him forever”?
The answer is that the authors did not consider God’s getting glory in man and man’s getting joy in God as separate and distinct ends. They knew that God’s being glorified in us and our being satisfied in him were one thing.
One thing—the way God looking stunning through me is one thing with my being stunned by him. He looks stunning in my being stunned. God’s being glorified and my enjoying him is one thing the way God looking ravishing is one thing with my being ravished. God’s being glorified and my enjoying him are one thing the way God looking like the supreme treasure over all is one thing with my treasuring him as the supreme treasure over all. The world sees the supreme value of God in our valuing him supremely.
Those great Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century knew that God’s being glorified in us and our being satisfied in him were not two separate goals of creation. They were one goal, one end. And so they wrote, “The chief end (not ends) of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” And what I am doing is simply making it explicit and clear how they are one in my paraphrase: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples”—namely, the joy of all peoples in God.
When the peoples of the earth come to rejoice supremely in the Lord, the Lord will be supremely glorified in the peoples of the earth. There is one end, one aim, one goal, of missions: the full and everlasting gladness of the peoples in the glory of God. Or, the glorification of God in the full and everlasting gladness of the peoples in God.
Our Driving Missions Motivation
What does this most important change from “and” to “in” imply for your motivation in missions? The change
from: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God and the joy of all peoples,”
to: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.”
Why does that matter for you? For your motivation for being here at this conference? For being open to God’s leading in your life in regard to the unreached peoples of the world?
The reason it matters is because this change (from “and” to “in”) clarifies the relationship between the two great biblical motivations for doing missions: the joy you have in seeing God glorified, and the joy you have in seeing people saved—passion for the supremacy of God and compassion for perishing people.
Which do you have? Which has brought you here? Which is driving you? God’s glory or man’s good? God’s worth or man’s rescue? God’s holiness or man’s happiness? The exaltation of God’s supremacy or the salvation of man’s soul? What is your driving missions motivation?
A Rescue Movement for Glory and Gladness
The main reason it matters that I have changed “the supremacy of God and the joy of all peoples” to “the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples,” is that this makes it clear you don’t have to choose between those two motives. In fact you dare not choose. If you choose between them, both are cancelled. They live and die together. Rightly understood these two motives are one and not two.
When we say, “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples” we make plain that zeal for the supremacy of God includes a zeal for the joy of all peoples. And the other way around, compassion on the joyless eternity of lost peoples includes a zeal for the glory of God. Rightly understood, it cannot be otherwise.
These are not separate motives, as if missions could be pursued with a zeal for the glory God, but no zeal for the joy of lost people! Or as if missions could be pursued with a zeal for the joy of the lost, but no zeal for the glory of God. No, that’s not possible. Indifference to the glorification of God is indifference to the eternal joy of the peoples. Indifference to the eternal joy of the peoples is indifference to the glory of God. Because missions aims at the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples—the joy of the peoples in God.
To be sure, not all people will be saved. Not all will enjoy God forever. Many will hate him to eternity. And God will glorify his holy wrath in their righteous judgment. But that is not the goal of missions. Missions is a rescue movement to glorify God in the gladness of the peoples.
These are not two separate motives. They are one. “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in—not and—the joy of all peoples.” You don’t have to answer the question I asked a moment ago: “Which has brought you here? Which is driving you? God’s glory or man’s good? God’s worth or man’s rescue? God’s holiness or man’s happiness? The exaltation of God’s supremacy or the salvation of man’s soul?”
Stated like that, there is no right answer to that question. This or that. No. Not: this or that; but: this in that. Not: God’s glory or man’s joy; but: God’s glory revealed in man’s joy—man’s joy in God. Not: God’s worth or man’s rescue; but God’s worth revealed in man’s rescue—his rescue from the deadly condition of not treasuring God’s worth. God’s worth is magnified when a person flees from a lifetime of belittling God’s worth.
So you dare not choose between being motivated by your compassion for lost people and your zeal for the glory of God. If you know what the glory of God is, and you know what it means to be rescued from sin, then you will know that you must have both motives because they are one. The glory of God in the gladness of the peoples, and the gladness of the peoples in the glory of God.
God’s Word About God’s Glory
Let’s go to the Bible now and see if these things are so. Perhaps here is where the Holy Spirit will put the match to the kindling I am trying to lay.
The uniform and pervasive message of the Bible is that all things have been done by God for the glory of God, and all things should, therefore, be done by us for the glory of God. This doesn’t mean we do them to increase his glory, but to display his glory. To communicate his glory—the supreme beauty of his manifold perfections.
The apostle Paul comes to the end of the great explanation of redemptive history in Romans 9–11 and writes in Romans 11:36, “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” “To him are all things.” All things exist to him, that is, to his honor, to his fame, for the sake of his name and his praise. All things—absolutely all things, from microwave ovens to global missions, from the tiniest microbe to human cultures, all things are “to him.” To him be glory forever. All the peoples, all the languages, all the tribes are to him. They exist for him. His name, his praise, his honor, his glory.
Paul says again in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created through him and for him,” referring to Christ. Everything in creation exists for him. For the honor of Christ, for the glory of Christ. For the name and the fame of Christ (cf. Heb. 2:10).
Or again in Romans 1:5 Paul says, “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s name among all the nations.” “For the sake of Christ’s name.” Paul’s apostleship, and by extension the cause of missions, and this conference, exist “for the sake of Christ’s name among all the nations.” For the name and honor and glory and fame of Jesus Christ.
This is where John Stott says in his commentary on Romans that the mission of the church exists “for His Imperial Majesty, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire.” For all we know America may be a footnote in the history of the world someday, and every President virtually forgotten, just like the Caesars of Rome—how many Caesars can you name (there were 80)? But we know beyond all doubt that the name and the majesty and the kingdom of Christ, in the words of Daniel the prophet, “shall never be destroyed. . . . It shall break in pieces all the kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
The point of all these texts—and dozens more like them—is that God’s aim in creation is to put himself on display and to magnify the greatness of his glory. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). He designed it that way. That is what the galaxies are for. And that is what everything that happens in creation is for. All of history, from creation to consummation, exists for the communication of the glory of God.
Isaiah 48:9–11 flies like a banner not just over God’s rescue of Israel from exile, but over all his acts of rescue, especially the cross of Christ:
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
All of creation, all of redemption, all of history is designed by God to display God—to magnify the greatness of the glory of God. That is the ultimate goal of all things including missions. “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God—the display and communication of the supreme worth and beauty of God.”
God’s Word About Our Gladness
But there is another stream of revelation flowing in the Bible concerning what God is up to in the world he has made and the world he is governing. He is not only seeking the glorification of his name, he is seeking the jubilation of the peoples in his name. Ponder this second stream of texts with me for a few moments.
Paul tells us in Romans 15:8 that the Son of God came to confirm God’s promises to the Jews. But immediately then he adds in verse 9, “and in order that the Gentiles—the non-Jewish peoples of the world—might glorify God for his mercy.” And then he tells us what it means to glorify God for his mercy—his mercy! He quotes four Old Testament passages about God’s purpose for the joy of the nations (Romans 15:10-12):
As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
What does it mean that God’s aim in missions is “that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy”? Gather up all his words! It means, Let the peoples praise! Let the peoples sing! Let the peoples rejoice! Let the peoples extol! Let the peoples hope! It is unmistakable what God is up to in history! The gladness of the peoples in God.
And if we go back to the Psalms, the purpose of God for all the peoples of the earth is clear: joy in God above all things.
Psalm 47:1, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”
Psalm 66:1-2, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.”
Psalm 67:3-4, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.”
Psalm 68:32, “O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord.”
Psalm 96:1, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!”
Psalm 97:1, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”
Psalm 98:4, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
Psalm 100:1, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!”
There is no doubt that God’s global aim in creation and redemption is not only the glory of his name but also the gladness of the peoples. Specifically, the gladness of the peoples in God.
The Greatest of These Is Joy
And if someone asks, Couldn’t you do the same thing with faith and obedience and life? Couldn’t you trace through all the Bible the places where God aims at these. Why not focus on those as the aim of God and the aim of missions?
If you ask that I would ask, why do you think the great theologians who wrote the Westminster Catechism said, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”? Why didn’t they say: “To glorify God and trust him forever”? Or: “to glorify God and obey him forever”? Or: “to glorify God and have life in him forever”?
Isn’t the answer that the essence of each of these experiences—of faith and obedience and life, indeed all genuine spiritual experience—isn’t the essence of them all the enjoyment of God in those acts, such that if you remove the enjoyment of God from them (faith, obedience, life), they cease to be God-exalting acts.
- Isn’t the essence of faith the embrace of God in Christ as the all-sufficient satisfier of our souls—not just the giver of good gifts, but the giver himself? Isn’t faith, at its essence, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus (John 6:35)?
- And isn’t obedience, with all its thousands of manifestations, at its essence, doing what God says with a view to enjoying more of God in the very doing of it, and the reward of it? For example, we obey the command to love our neighbor by expanding our joy in God in our neighbor’s enjoyment of God. I would argue, that’s the nature of all God-exalting obedience (cf. Hebrews 12:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
- And isn’t the essence of eternal life to know God, as Jesus says in John 17:3? And what is knowing God in the fullest biblical sense? To know him like the devil knows him, with all the facts just right, but hating them? No. To know God in a saving way is to know his all-satisfying beauty and greatness and worth for what they really are, precious and soul-satisfying. To know him rightly is to treasure what is known.
If the enjoyment of God is withdrawn as an essential aspect of faith or obedience or life, they cease to be the goal of God. They cease to be what they are. Faith is not saving faith without being satisfied in all that God is for us in Christ. Obedience is not obedience where there’s no obedience to the command, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And life is not life where God himself is not our delight.
God’s Intention in Creation and Redemption
So I say again, in creation and redemption and in the mission of the church God aims supremely at both: the glory of his name, and the gladness of the peoples.
And in the fullness of time, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world to secure both of these goals. He came for the vindication of his Father’s glory, and for the salvation of his Father’s children. And he did this by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.
The night before he died, in great distress he said, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27–28). Christ died for glory-belittling sinners to show that it would be true and clear that God does not sweep the dishonoring of his name under the rug of the universe. He died to vindicate the worth of his glory (Romans 3:23–26).
And he also came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He said, “The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). A ransom from everlasting misery to everlasting joy—“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11; cf. 17:13). And at the end of the age when all the peoples are gathered before Jesus, those who have received him as their treasure will hear the words, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). This is why he came: to purchase by his blood the joy of the peoples in the joy of their Master.
We Honor With Our Happiness
Jesus died for this: the glory of his Father, and the gladness of his people. Frontier missions is an extension to the nations of Jesus’s mission to the world. He came for the glory of the Father and the gladness of the peoples. So the chief end of missions is the supremacy of God and the joy of all peoples.
But not just and, rather in. The aim of history, the aim of Christ in dying for sinners is the glory of God in the gladness of the nations. The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.
This is so because when you enjoy someone you honor that person. You magnify their value. You glorify them. If I say to my wife, “It makes me happy to be with you,” she doesn’t accuse me of selfishness. Why? I just said that I am motivated to be with her by my own happiness. Because when my happiness is in her, it calls attention to her worth, not mine. She is honored when I say, “It makes me happy to be with you.” So is Christ. So is God the Father. They are seen to be a supreme treasure when they become for us our supreme pleasure. They are glorified in us when we are satisfied in them.
We Will Not Choose
Therefore I say again, “The Chief End of Missions is the Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.” When the peoples find their supreme gladness in God, God will be supremely glorified in them. Which is why he created the world, and why Jesus’s cross exists, and that’s why this Cross conference exists. That’s what we pray will be the everlasting upshot of these days.
We will not choose between glorifying God and making people glad. We will not choose between praising God’s supremacy and removing people’s suffering—especially eternal suffering. We will not choose between hallowing God and helping people. In the aims of this conference and the aims of global missions, we will not choose between the aim of seeing Christ magnified among the peoples and seeing the peoples satisfied in Christ.
Because these two are one. Christ is supremely magnified in the peoples when the peoples are supremely satisfied in Christ. We have the best news in all the world: Jesus Christ, the Son of God died and rose and reigns to make the nations fully and eternally glad in the glory of God.
When Christ becomes the satisfaction of the nations, and God becomes their delight, then he is honored and they are saved. And you—you who will take or send this best of all messages—you turn out to be a person of great compassion toward perishing sinners and great zeal for the glory of God. Don’t ever choose between these two: praising God and pitying sinners, divine glory and human gladness. Embrace this one great end, and give your life to it—the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.