Desiring God Roundtable

Chapters 9–10

Bethlehem College and Seminary

Pastor John, my question is from page 261 in the book. You don’t have to turn there, but can. You’re dealing with the verse from 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” The question that you asked regarding this verse is: How many Christians do you know who could say, “The lifestyle I have chosen as a Christian would be utterly foolish and pitiable if there is no resurrection”? How many Christians are there who could say, “The suffering I have freely chosen to embrace for Christ would be a pitiable life if there is no resurrection”?

As I see it, these are shocking questions. I agree. It shakes me and makes me think. I don’t feel like my life is lived that way. My question is: How can I pursue suffering, whether it’s in the context of missions or in the context of just normal everyday life, specifically with regards to my family? Realizing I want to live a life that is devoted to Christ and makes him look great, and I want to embrace suffering, if that’s what he has for me, but I also have to realize I’ve got a wife and a daughter that I’m supposed to love and provide for and care for.

I don’t know. I don’t know for sure. Paul chose, I think, not to be married in part because of what you’re describing, because he knew that his sufferings were extraordinary. When Christ called him, he said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my sake.” My guess is that that personal revelation to Paul ended the prospect of marriage for him. That’s just my personal guess as to when Christ made clear to him the extent of his sufferings.

Paul said, “I can’t take a woman through that. I can’t go to jail or risk dying every time I go into a new city. I can’t have her deal with the pain of my back when I’m lacerated these five times, and the beating with rods three times and the shipwrecks and the danger on the seas and the danger on the roads and the danger from rivers and the danger in cities. God has made it plain to me, my life is extraordinary.”

I’m just not sure how much every believer is called to that extent. Given what we see in the way Paul writes to say to the poor and to the rich, and the pastorals, it doesn’t sound like that’s normal Christianity, to go to jail every other weekend or to be beaten that many times. I am troubled by that statement, because I don’t think that statement, in 1 Corinthians 15:19, refers only to apostles.

I think there are degrees, but I think every Christian should be marked by number one, a readiness to die, a readiness to suffer. That means a readiness to die in the presence of my children or a readiness to die with my children. Many have gone to the grave with their families because they refused to renounce the name of Jesus. Therefore, we can’t elevate the family above risk for Christ or above Christ’s name.

Nevertheless, clearly, if we don’t care for them, we’re worse than an unbeliever. Paul says so. In the normal steady-state life, we should want to provide for them, protect them, and lead them in Christ. Then the last thing I think I would say, given how uncertain I am about what that looks like for everybody, I think we should all pray earnestly and lead in such a sweet way with our wives that they’re ready to go with us anywhere and do anything and embrace any lifestyle.

Somehow or other, we Christians must use our money, use our time, use our leisure activities, use everything so it’s clear to the world, as clear as we can make it, that these things are not our treasure. I doubt that I have figured that out for my own life. I mean, I try to set limits on my lifestyle, but goodness gracious, I live in America. I suppose, to those outside America, it would be very hard for them to discern whether my car or my house or my computer is a God to me, since I have it.

I still think we should pray toward that and seek to find ways of living that use our things in a way that the 1 Corinthians 7 where it says the time has grown short, let everyone who laughs live as though we weren’t laughing, everyone who cries live as though we weren’t crying. Everyone who marries, live as though he’s not married. Everyone who does business, do business as though we weren’t doing business. There’s this kind of holding these things so loosely that you’re just ready to go in a minute, ready to lay down your life in a minute. There should be a flavor about our lives so that others can detect that.

John, how does the term missional — new in the last decade or so — relate to the difference between frontier missions and domestic outreach?

That’s an interesting question. My first reactions were negative to the word missional. I’ve stopped complaining about it. I didn’t like the sound of it, first of all. It just sounds like an ugly word to me, missional. I’m over that. I shouldn’t even be saying that.

My concern, with regard to its current use among younger, zealous ministers, is that it doesn’t tend, as often as I would like, to embrace a passion for reaching unreached peoples of the world. By unreached peoples, I mean what’s referred to in Revelation 5:9, “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is different than countries of the world, and it’s different from geographical movements.

About 300 yards from where I’m sitting, there are two towers, mostly full of Somali, mostly Muslims. There is only a tiny little gathering of believers. We have ministries, but we should care as much about penetrating and planting a church there as we do among people that look more like us or share our American culture.

Now, those people are some here, and they’re scattered all over the world. Frontier missions, the completing of the Great Commission, go make disciples of all ethne, 6,000 of them unreached, go and do that. I just pray and hope that God will so move among all church planters, all younger pastors, that there is a passion for neighborhoods and nations, a passion for planting the church in the city and becoming culturally relevant to the 20-somethings in the city, which is so cool to do these days and culturally relevant for the Baloch, in Pakistan, culturally relevant for the Fulani, culturally relevant for the hardest to reach peoples of Northern India where they don’t want you to come.

I just so long for there to be a rising up of young people, just a wave of ready-to-die young men and women just flooding to the unreached peoples of the world. Because just one biblical illustration of this that gripped me tremendously back in that time when Tom was talking about. Paul said in Acts 15 that he had completed the gospel from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, Northern Greece, and now there’s no room for work here.

Well, that’s absurd because he left Timothy in Ephesus and told him do the work of an evangelist. How is there no room for Paul to do his work if there’s plenty of people to be evangelized? This is what grips you about frontier missions. Paul was a missionary. He would not stay where the church was planted and the resources were there to evangelize the folks there, thousands of them, in most of our cities. Paul looked at Spain, nothing in Spain. Peoples in Spain with nothing, no access. That’s still true 2000 years after Jesus gave this commission.

I’m just pleading that God would raise up Paul-type missionaries, not just Timothy-type missionaries. I call Timothy a missionary because he left his home, traveled with Paul for a season, and got planted in Ephesus. He didn’t grow up in Ephesus. Ephesus was a new church plant, a new, young missionary field like say Manila would be today. It’s not wrong that missionaries go from America to work in Manila, but, oh, for a whole band of people to go to the places where there’s been no church, there is no church, there is no possibility of local evangelism, because there’s no group of people to do it. That’s what I would want missional to include every time people use it.

Pastor John, many times what we’ve seen, at least here, speaking directly to the Somali Muslims that live over in the towers over there, we’ve seen whole cultures kind of transplanted from around the world into the Twin Cities and into other urban areas. Many times they come along with where their culture and their religious identity are perfectly wed with each other. Many times Islam is that case, sometimes with Hinduism.

My question is, kind of generally, and then a little bit more specifically after that, generally how much separation should we call someone to when we call someone to convert, and they’re converting out of Islam for instance, and at the same time they’re cutting off all cultural attachments just because the religious and the cultural identity are so close. That’s generally speaking. Specifically, maybe what that would look like is would you encourage if you knew a Somali Muslim that then converted, would you encourage or be okay with that Muslim or that convert returning then to a mosque and participating in any way, in an attempt to reach out to the other Muslims that are there?

The key phrase in what you said is any way. Participating in any way. I am concerned about the extent to which some are pressing contextualization, even to the point of calling the Quran a genuine prophecy or being hesitant to use the term Son of God, because it is misunderstood by Muslims or participating in the mosque. Of those three things that I just said, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I am not going to complain about dress, wouldn’t urge any particular change in dress, head covering or whatever, things like that. I think seed sown of Christian liberty will bear fruit in due time.

You said culture is all bound up with religion, but probably even Muslims make some distinctions about how closely some cultural forms are attached to religion and how less closely. I would think dress is less closely attached than mosque attendance or praying in a certain way.

I would say, if it’s close enough to jeopardize the truth of the gospel, truth of the Trinity, truth of the crucifixion of Jesus, truth of the unique authority of Scripture, if it’s close enough to call that into question by the people watching it happen, probably pretty soon, pretty quickly, we’d want them to distance themselves. I want to cut a lot of slack though to somebody trying to form a fellowship.

My guess is what would happen, here in the Twin Cities, is I would encourage them that they have a fellowship where they can speak their own language, a fellowship where they just kind of feel dress-wise and language-wise, culture-wise at home and participate in a local church. It’s a huge stretch, a huge stretch, to go into this church. I mean, what we do on Sunday morning is just weird. It’s just weird, but it’s been weird forever. I remember thirty years ago when we were talking just about the urban poor, just people like us, racially diverse, but growing up in America and how hard it’s to them.

I remember Char, a woman from our church. She said she was converted, I think Char said 17 or 18. To go to church for the first time was like going to a new planet. That’s the way it’s always been. We need to help people somehow make those moves. That’s a take on contextualization. I’m not into C5 for anybody who knows what that means. Cut it off about C4.

Would you consider places in the US where Christianity is not welcome, like universities or other places like that, to be unreached?

Yes, but not in the sense of an unreached people. I don’t want to say that any word in an English language or a Greek language is sacrosanct. Words are words. They’re culturally created and culturally defined. “Unreached” is one of them. “Missionary” is one of them. I just think we need to make clear, while we’re talking, what we mean. When I speak of unreached peoples, I mean peoples who don’t have a church in their language and culture sufficiently strong to evangelize the people group.

Now, if you want to use it another way, like this campus is unreached, meaning there’s a tiny fragment of believers, they have no organization; perhaps there’s no campus crusade, no intervarsity, no navigators, no campus outreach, nothing there. You said they’re unreached in that sense, fine.

There may be churches dotted all around the campus and you say, “Well, okay, it’s not unreached in that sense, people could go there and they speak the same language and they have the same culture and they have money and resources and time. They could do it.” There are universities in India where they aren’t surrounded by churches, so they’re more unreached than any university in America, I don’t care how pagan it is. Let’s just always think our language through and keep pressing.

Let me say this, I so much don’t want to create, in any church, a sense of first and second class citizens. The first-class citizens really care about the unreached peoples of Northern India, and the second-class people really care about reaching the neighborhood down the street where there’s five hundred people going to hell. Please, let’s just not go there. These two realities serve each other, they really do.

Everybody who wants to go to Northern India to a people group should want to go there because he loves what the person down the street is doing and wants it to happen over there. That person should love it when somebody wants to take what he’s doing in the neighborhood and transplant it to a place that he’s not. We can get people ready here to go there and we can take this there. These are two wonderfully necessary things. So whatever language we use, let’s not belittle outreach of any kind.

Pastor John, you talk a lot about frontier missions in the chapter on missions, and that’s a trumpet that just needs to be sounded again and again, because it can so easily be forgotten. It’s been huge in my life, changing the direction of my life. But I’m wondering if you see any dangers in contemporary mission strategy of overemphasizing that, to the neglect of other things. Creating thin, weak churches and not also considering the teaching them to observe all that I’ve commanded. I mean, let’s throw all of our missionaries into frontier missions, but then there’s no one there to follow up with creating pastoral training, missionary sending mechanisms.

Super, super important question. I think historically, and here I want to be so careful, because I would just bow down and kiss the feet of most missionaries, so I’m slow to criticize. It seems to me that burden for lost people, when it grips somebody, can make them quick to criticize those who are investing in depth. I don’t want to name the country, but there’s a country in Africa, I’m familiar with a little more than others, and it seems to me that the church has been there for about 150 years and they’re still so remarkably dependent on much western help. If you look, you can’t find the kinds of schools that would provide the kinds of M.Div or advanced degrees that would enable them to write the books in their own culture that people would read, in that culture.

I wonder if part of that, just maybe a part of it, is owing to the mindset of missionaries who have said, “Can I reach more people? Can I reach more people?” Instead of, “Okay, we’ve reached a tribe or we’ve reached an area, and now we want this to be true in a hundred years, we want them to have all their own scholars knowing all their own Hebrew so that they are writing all their own books and training all their own people.” It’s not a mindset that they have.

I think I wouldn’t want to create a sense of diminishing of burden for the lost, but try to build into those who say, “I’m going to give my life to a people.” All right. “I’m 30 years old, I’m going to be here until I’m 65. What could I do in 35 years?” All right. “I’m going to take about five to nail the language. Just nail it.” All right. Now I’m 35 years old, I can speak like a native. Now what are you going to do? If your mindset is, “I’m going to gather a church and we’ll go deep, we’re going to have schools, we’re going to raise up generations, I’m going to train disciples. I’m going to do my Peter, James, and John, and I’m going to my twelve, my seventy, my five thousand. God, spend me.”

Yes. Yes is the answer. It is possible to fail to be holistic in our sense of long-term. I just think we ought to have a historical sense. We are here because our headhunting ancestors in Northern Europe, a thousand years ago, were saved. A thousand years. I mean America, with all of its schools and all of its technology and all of its advancement. It didn’t happen overnight. One hundred and fifty years is not a long time. Somebody might say that to me about that country in Africa.

Another question: Can we be assured that every single unreached people group will one day be reached with the gospel?

I think so. Yes. This gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come. I think that says that God’s heart includes all those nations. “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Now, I know that there are problems like aren’t there people groups that have gone out of existence before they got the gospel? I don’t know the answer to that question. If they are, then I don’t want to push the absoluteness of every.

Everyone that’s reachable should be reached. Everyone that’s there should be reached. We shouldn’t say, “Oh, well that one, it really doesn’t matter.” It matters. Practically speaking, I may not know what to say about some peoples having been extinguished before they were reached by the gospel, but I don’t think we could go from that problem to nullify Matthew 24:14 or Revelation 5:9 or the mindset of the apostles to reach the peoples of the world.

Pastor John, you talk about different incentives that there are for those who are missionaries. For example, you point to Mark 10:17–31 as saying that those who go will receive a hundredfold. Can you just talk about the role of God’s promises in the Bible and Christian Hedonism in general and also particularly at missions?

The text you’re talking about is in the story about the rich, young ruler. He goes away, and Jesus says how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples are stunned like, “Whoa, I thought riches were a sign of God’s blessing, and you’re saying it’s hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven.” Then he says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). In other words, God could break him of his idolatry of money if he chose. Then Peter pipes up and says, “Lord, we’ve left everything and followed you.” I think the tone of voice is one of self-sacrifice and a little bit of, oh, poor me, you’ll pity us. Jesus responds, “Nobody has left houses or lands or mother, father, children for my sake of the gospel who will not receive back a hundredfold in this life,” and whether it’s in Mark or Matthew, “with persecutions and in the end eternal life.”

I took that as an occasion to encourage missionaries to say, if you have left much, and many missionaries have left much, you will, in this life, be cared for by God and given a hundredfold. Now, that a hundredfold doesn’t mean literally money, because otherwise you’d have lots of mothers and lots of wives. It means you’re going to encounter God’s care everywhere you go, that will make you say, with David Livingstone, I never made a sacrifice. He had made a sacrifice, but he said, “I never made a sacrifice.” The reason he said it is that God had fulfilled that promise so profoundly in his life. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory, no matter where you’re serving me.”

Say again what you really want me to address; I feel like I might not be getting it. Is that close?

Can you talk about, in general, the role of promises motivating sacrifice or obedience?

Okay. The Christian Hedonism piece, the joy, whether it’s selfish, whether it’s self-serving to count on your being blessed.

When we look at God’s word and it’s like a promise, and then how does that motivate obedience or love or these different Christian-related things?

Let’s just take one that’s really broad and really general, but I think covers them all. Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Here’s a promise. If you spend yourself, in that situation, it was stay up late, work hard with your hands, serve the people of Ephesus, could be missions. If you spend yourself, if you give and sacrifice, you will be mightily blessed. There’s a promise. The motive there is I want to be blessed. I want to be blessed. The reason that is not selfish and the reason it’s not manipulative of the people you’re serving — if they say, “Okay. Why are you here serving us?” And you say, I’ll say it badly and then I’ll say it well, “I’m here to be blessed. I’m here because I’m a self-centered person and I was told by my Lord that if I came here and told you the gospel, I would be blessed.”

That’s a lousy way to say it. Here’s the right way to say it, which helps reveal the truth. If you say to them, “My God, the God I want you to know, through his Son Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us, for my God has filled me with joy, a joy in his presence now and the promise of eternal joy in the future. He has taught me that if I spend myself to include others in my joy, my joy gets bigger. I have come to spend my life with you so that you could share my joy in him.”

Now, those people, hearing that, would not accuse you of saying you’re selfish, even though you’re there for bigger joy because they are your bigger joy. Their joy in Christ expands your joy. When you are used of Christ and your joy goes out from your heart through sacrificial service into their heart, and you find them enlarging with joy, that’s your joy getting bigger. We’ve all tasted it. Have you not tasted this, that whenever you witness to somebody or whether you do good to somebody, if they get a little glimpse of Jesus, if their joy expands a little bit because of your service in their life, you know, you go to bed at night and you feel so good about that. Your joy is enlarged. There’s a healthy thing.

I think all the promises of God are meant to fill us with hope, fill us with joy, and kind of give us a restlessness about where we are because we just want those people groups, we want the neighbor down the street, we want those who come into church, we want our mom and our dad and our kids to get big with this joy because it completes. I write these things to you. John said that my joy, our joy, would be complete because that’s what happens.

Are those who remain all their lives among their native, reached people depriving themselves of joy that otherwise would have been theirs if they had been missionaries?

Maybe. I want to say that God’s will for you is the place you should be. I’m struggling with whether to say, and it’s the place of maximal joy, is God’s ideal will for you. Okay, businessman, serving Jesus faithfully with integrity, witnessing, raising his family well, giving lots and lots of money to the church, making mission trips. Just everybody knows he’s a rock-solid, great believer, unashamed of the gospel.

Is that the place of maximal joy for him? You may even wonder why in the world are you questioning? The reason I’m questioning is that I just have a sense from reading 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, “This light momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory.” Matthew 5:11–12, “Rejoice and be glad when you’re persecuted and reviled, for great is your word in heaven.” I do think that God has special blessings in the age to come for those who’ve suffered more. I haven’t been one of those. I will be really, really happy if that’s true for them. Really happy.

If the apostle Paul gets to sit closer to Jesus than I do, it will increase my joy that he has more joy because of what he suffered. I would just feel so bad moving up next to Paul, even if Jesus, according to the parable in Matthew 20, there just may be blessings, there may be blessings for those who suffer that are going to be greater, but that shouldn’t make those of us who stay here, by God’s will, feel like God isn’t loving us as much because we all fit into the kingdom in our appropriate place. Our cup will be full. Others will have bigger cups and we should be happy about their having bigger cups. That was a complex answer. Think about it, anyway.

Pastor John, this is a question about frontier missions. I don’t know if it’s specifically addressed in this chapter, but I’m wondering about house churches. There seems to be a pretty big house church movement among missions today. The question I have is, should that be the focus and the end, or should they move toward more traditional churches, as we understand them? Because I’m looking in churches that Paul planted and I don’t see anything in Scripture that specifically lays out that you have to go one way or another. I’m just wondering, should they stay as house churches that are under somebody’s authority, or should they grow into a full, structured church?

I agree with you that the New Testament does not mandate any structure, that I can see, besides elders, and deacons, and spiritual gifts, and the word being central, and prayer. I mean, these really core things you can see in the New Testament. Houses or buildings or rented schools or under a tree, that’s just not there. Length of service, what time of day. I think one of the reasons the New Testament is as ambiguous as it is on form and structure is precisely because it was meant to be a missionary handbook, not a culturally given, specific outline for how to do church.

This book, it’s amazing, quite unlike the Quran in this regard. This book is, to use the words of Andrew Walls, infinitely translatable just like Jesus was a translation of God into humanity. This book is infinitely translatable, which means if you take it whole into every culture, it will find a way to get expressed.

So I’d be very slow to tell any culture, “You’ve got to move towards x.” I just want them to have strong elders. I want them to have deacons who care about the poor and I want them to have word central ministry of the word. I want them to pray together. I want them to do missions together. In China today, and all of you guys should know this, and I get these emails every week or so about what’s happening in Beijing today.

Today’s the 5th of May, 2011, and they’re crying for prayer because there’s been this new clampdown on, they call it, the House Church of Beijing, and they mean hundreds of house churches, but the house church got a name. There’s some kind of structure there of how this works and they’re clamping down on it because of different kinds of reprisals related to Lausanne and so on. We should be very, very, very much in prayer and concern about those, without telling them, “Here’s the way you ought to be structured.”

We had someone write in by email this week because they couldn’t get it into 140 characters. So here’s their brief situation in a paragraph. He writes, “I have been waiting and praying for about ten years now that God would convince my wife that we should go into full-time ministry, but God has not yet made that happen. I’m learning to patiently wait on him, but I still want to find ways to serve him that will magnify him and bring glory to his name.” Here’s the question: What would you say to people like me who want to forsake all and show our love and joy for God in radical ways, but feel that we cannot because our wives have not been moved in the same way?

First, I think you’re doing the right thing. You shouldn’t break the marriage by dragging her to a place where she’s going to leave or sink and die. I think that’s probably right. I only say probably because I know some exceptions and I would be slow to criticize them, like William Carey. I think you’re probably doing the right thing. Secondly, I would say don’t cease to pray. I can point to two families at our church, one of which it was around ten years, I think, it was around ten years. I’m almost tempted to name them; they wouldn’t be ashamed of this, as she was waiting. She, this time, not he. She was waiting. God did it and they’re on the field now in a very hard place, but she waited and you may have to wait and love her well, make her feel secure in you so that she could feel secure anywhere.

Then the last thing I think I would say is really give yourself to serve within the parameters that you have. Probably there are ways that you could deny yourself. You know what your own ego needs. Ego denials are harder than food denials and housing denials and car denials. Ego denials of a personal witnessing situation where you know might get yourself laughed at by a sophisticated person. That moment of sacrifice, that little moment of sacrifice, it will be written down in heaven with greater blood, I think, than selling your second car or giving up your lake home or moving into an inner city neighborhood. I really believe that. Don’t think that there is no place for serious self-denial and sacrifice for Jesus, where you are.

Let’s just pray. I’ll pray with you. “Lord, grant that this precious wife would have a turn of heart to just go where her husband feels led to go.”

This summer I’ll be going to Uganda to teach pastors and I’ll be teaching on the gospels, and I’m hoping to do an extended lecture on suffering. How should I approach that topic? Should I put a disclaimer at the beginning that things are not the same in America? I’ve already been told that one of the pastors is missing an arm because of the Rwanda genocide and things like that. As I’m crafting this, how should I go about that?

I want to say two things. One, a caution, and one, cut loose. Cut loose. Okay. I have been talking about suffering since I wrote this chapter a lot. Almost everywhere I go, I push on the suffering issue because we’re Americans. I was doing it at John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference several years ago. Unbeknownst to me, there was in the audience a large delegation from Russia. Here I am, dressed pretty much like this, having gotten on an airplane to go out there, eating meals three times a day, and never having been put in prison for my faith in Jesus, and never having been beaten and feeling, what do I have to say if I knew they were there? I spoke on suffering.

About twenty of them got around me at the end. The spokesman had tears just running down his face, and he said, “I never, ever thought we would hear this in America. Thank you. Thank you. That’s our life.” They did not hold it against me, for whatever reason, probably because I said enough things like you intend to say. I’ve got both arms, what can I say to him? Here’s what you can say to him.

This is what you say to him. You don’t talk out of your experience. You, with tears, talk out of how much God has spared you and the struggle you have with how much you have. You let them know the struggle, but you don’t go there very long. You go here, and you just take text after text after text and help them realize you’re living the church, man. You are living the Bible way more than I am. This Bible has so much to say to you that Americans don’t even know what to do with, they don’t even know what to do with because it’s spoken into the situation of people who are really suffering.

My caution is, you already know it, admit it, declare it. I’m in no position to speak to you, but I’ll tell you who is; the people in Hebrews 10, they can talk to you. Moses in Hebrews 11 can talk to you, Jesus in Hebrews 12, “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), he can talk to you. The saints in Hebrews 13 who are going to go outside the camp and have a city that is not of this city, they can talk to you. Just go at it with the Bible, that’s my recommendation. I’m glad you’re doing it.

Should a Christian’s primary focus be a decrease of what is causing suffering or an increase of contentment in the midst of suffering?

That’s a bad either/or, isn’t it? Clearly, Jesus healed diseases. It moved him deeply when he saw a blind man, but it moved him more when he saw sheep without a shepherd, and to solve that problem he suffered. He walked through life illustrating that he cares about all suffering, and he died to show that he cares especially about eternal suffering. That’s my mantra ever since Lausanne, a few months ago. I want to say, to evangelicals, that we should be the people. I think this should define evangelicalism and that a person who doesn’t bind to both of these shouldn’t even be called an evangelical. I think evangelicals should care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

People that choke on eternal suffering and caring, more about it, I don’t think should be called evangelicals. I think they’re undermining the gospel. Jesus died for sins because sins send us to hell. He died for sins because sins remove or the death removes the wrath of God. If we don’t believe in him, the wrath of God remains on us (John 3:36). Therefore, if you don’t have a special care about removing the wrath of God, you are saying you care more about healing a disease here than about healing people from the pain of billions of years of torment.

No way. We can’t be evangelical and not care about eternal suffering especially, but you can’t have a heart like Jesus and be like the priest and the Levite who walked by on the other side of the road while a man is beat up on the other side. That’s a defective heart that doesn’t know Jesus. This is really important and I just hope the church, I hope we here at BCS and Bethlehem and all of you listening, get this and pray like crazy: “God, help me to care about every kind of suffering I am near enough to touch. Grant me, especially, O God, a passion to care about eternal suffering so that I bring the gospel everywhere I can.”

Pastor John, you’ve said before that Christians can either be goers, senders, or be disobedient. How do we help the senders to not feel like second-class citizens, especially for those who have a role in mobilizing missions, especially when the books and the emphasis are primarily written about the goers?

I don’t know if that’s true anymore that the books are mainly written about the goers. I’m watching the wonderful stuff pour out of the publications today, and there aren’t many like that. There’s a company of committed missionaries who write books for missionaries, but lots and lots of stuff has been written about church planting and about gospel ministry and about discipleship and about nurture. I’m not going to belittle your question because of that.

The biographies, I guess.

Okay, that’s probably well taken. The way we can help senders, stayers not be second-class citizens is to open our Bibles, for example, to Romans and point out to them that Paul wrote Romans to go before him to the Roman church in order that they would be ready when he got there to send him to Spain. I want to be sent out by you, a special kind of language.

He clearly does not want them to go with him. The whole point of the book is you’re in Rome, I’m going to Spain, I need your help. If a whole book of the Bible is a missionary prayer letter designed to help people stay and send, stayers should feel pretty good about that. Then they should go to that text where Tom Steller has preached better than anybody and wrote the afterword to the book, Let the Nations Be Glad!, in 3 John where it says we should send them in a manner worthy of God. There is a kind of sending that is gloriously approved, then that would mean you’ll care about them, pray for them, supply them, visit them, get behind them, be a rope holder, be a Barnabas group as we call them here.

If they’re going to do like me and lift up biographical illustrations of my heroes that I would tend to want to bow down and kiss their feet, he needs to preach a lot also about the indispensable value of sending. There’s so much more to say about the relationship between what I call domestic ministries and frontier missions and the mutual interdependence. You can’t have one without the other. You really can’t, because missions is transporting domestic ministries elsewhere. You’ve got both right there, it’s just trying to be planted there. We out of time?

One more question: How can Paul say that he has unceasing anguish in Romans and tell his readers to rejoice always, in Philippians?

I think that’s a planted question. I shouldn’t be laughing because I was in Alhambra, California two or three days ago with Dan Fuller. Hello, Dan, if you’re listening, my all-influential teacher back in 68 to 71. Dan and Ruth are getting old, like I am, pushing nineties I suppose. I had one question I wanted to ask him, and it was more or less that question, to hear what he would say because frankly it is probably the most front burner emotional question I have from my life.

People I really, really care about, like Paul in Romans 9:3 where he says, “I have unceasing anguish in my heart for my kinsman who are cut off from Christ,” unceasing. He wakes up with it, he goes to bed with it. Anguish. I mean, anguish is really a big word there. It’s not a small word. Then he tells us numerous times, Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice always. And, again, I say rejoice.”

I ask him, I said, “That’s my dilemma, Dan. What comes to your mind?” I asked him, “How do you do that?” There was this silence, pause and he said, “Well, all that comes to my mind is ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,’” which is what I’ve often said flies like a banner over Desiring God and over Bethlehem College & Seminary.

I want these guys around this table and you who are listening to, I almost said, figure it out. We’re not going to figure it out. I want you to go deep with it. I want you to go deep with anguish and deep with joy, and I want you to live it. Maybe that’s the way to end these five weeks is to live anguish for lost people and not let the anguish paralyze us or destroy our joy. There’s a mystery in the Christian life that joy can exist side by side, it seems to me, if not in some kind of rhythm with anguish for lost people.