What I wanted to do yesterday was try to persuade you that missions is not the ultimate goal of the church; worship is, and that missions exist because worship doesn’t — that is, the ultimate goal of the church is to magnify God, to glorify God, to display God, to reflect back or image God, as those who are created in his image.
I was reading recently in Acts 18 in my devotions, and saw in verse 13 where Paul, before Gallio, is accused of: “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” What a great self-understanding for a missionary. “This person persuades people to worship God.” So the persuading and the going are penultimate, and the worshiping God is ultimate. So the main thing about the church is not missions; the main thing about the church is worship and gathering people from all the tribes and tongues and nations into a worshiping community. When you realize that that missions is not the main thing, it brings power and clarity and fire to missions. Because now we know what the point and the thrust and the dynamic of it all really is.
Jesus Loves Me
But the way I went about it yesterday was by highlighting the fact that God is the great God-magnifier: God is uppermost in God’s affections. God is the most God-centered person in the world, in predestination and creation and incarnation and crucifixion and sanctification and consummation. He’s doing everything he does to magnify himself to glorify his name. Missions, therefore, is the willing joining up with God in his global purposes of self-glorification. Missions is the willingness to be recruited into God’s passion for his own self-glorification.
That was the implicit message of yesterday morning, and I closed with a question for you: I said at the end quickly, Are you interested in joining a God like that? Does that sound like good news, or a God that you would want to go with? Or does that sound like a God on an ego trip? Does that sound like megalomania? Does that sound unloving? And the last thing I said was: whether you’ll want to join that depends on how you answer the question, Is the love of God for you his mercifully making much of you, or is the love of God for you his mercifully enabling you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” — when you say that — does that mean Jesus esteems my intrinsic value? Or does it mean Jesus, at great cost to himself, has done what needs to be done so that I can enjoy the infinite value of God?
Now, if you answered the second answer to that question, yesterday will sound like good news to you. And if you answered the first way, yesterday will land like bad news to you. Because God’s unwavering commitment to his self-glorification is good news wherever people believe that seeing and savoring God is ultimate satisfaction — not seeing and savoring ourselves. So, How free are you from the twentieth century? is the question. How biblical are you? How much have your bones been saturated by the biblical worldview rather than the therapeutic, man-centered worldview that we’ve breathed for a couple of centuries?
It’s good news that God is devoted to his self-glorification. God’s commitment to his own glory is good news, because his commitment to self-glorification and my commitment, desire, for ultimate satisfaction are not on a collision course. If they were, I’d have no good news; I would not be in this pulpit. If God’s commitment to the glorification of God and my passion to be a happy person forever were on a collision course, I would quit the ministry in a minute because there would be no gospel in the universe. They are not on a collision course. In fact, I want to affirm this morning, and now try in a few minutes to demonstrate from Scripture, they are one. God’s glory and my gain are one.
True, Lasting Gain
I only have time to point you to something you now will be able to meditate on deeply. I want you all to be good Bereans here: they were more noble than the Thessalonians. And when they heard surprising things, they went home and then sought the Scriptures to see if these things were so. So, I just want to send you out seeking the Scriptures to see if these things are so. What I am trying to do at this moment is show you from the Bible that yesterday’s message is good news by arguing that God’s self-glorification and your passion to be ultimately satisfied are not on a collision course; they are in fact one.
Paul’s Passion in Life and Death
We’re going to go to Philippians 1:20–21. Paul here is saying something that we need to hear because it relates absolutely, directly, powerfully to what we’ve been saying — namely, how is Christ, the Son of God magnified in life and in death? Here’s his answer:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
So just stop there and get it clear what he’s saying: his passion in life — and I want yours to be this, I want mine to be this because this will produce missions. His passion is that in his life and death, Christ would be made great among the nations — magnified, glorified, honored. People will read off of your life: “Wow, their God is great!” That’s what that verse says. That’s what he wants to happen.
Now, Paul is so helpful for us. He is in the Bible one of those great arguers; he gives reasons for things. So, the next verse begins with for or because, and now he’s giving the underpinning of how you live in life and death that magnifies Christ. He says,
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Now, we’ve got our two concepts on the table. We’ve got glory on the table — the glory of God, the magnifying of God — and now I’ve got gain on the table. How do they relate? That’s the question: How do they relate in this text and how do they relate in your life and how do they relate in world-evangelization? And I don’t think it takes any great exegetical skill; it just takes some thoughtfulness here to see the logical connection.
Let’s just take the death pair here. Do you notice that life and death are in verse 20 and to live and to die are in verse 21? Those payers correspond to each other. Now in verse 20, corresponding to life and death is “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So let’s just take the death pair. I would deal with both, but we’re not going to have time. He says, “I want my life and my death to magnify Christ. I want to join with my death in God’s self-glorification, the glorification of his Son.” How? Because dying is gain. How is it gain? Why is it gain? Would you consider it gain to die before you get your degree or marry or get that job?
It’s gain because of verse 23: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ.” Dying means, for Paul, more intimacy with Jesus. You can have intimacy with Jesus here, but I promise you if you’re a Christian, you’re going to have a thousand times, ten thousand times, more enjoyment in the presence of Jesus — free from sin. The spirits of just men and women made perfect when you die, so it’s going to be gain.
Now, are you ready, with me, to put the two together? “I want,” Paul says, “more than anything, for my dying to be a means of magnifying my God, my Christ.” How shall that be? He says, “It will be, if for me, dying is gain.” Let me say it a different way: Christ will be magnified in my dying, if in my dying, I count Christ as gain. Or to put it another way: prizing Christ is the key to praising Christ. Or to put it another way: Christ is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Christ — even when I die.
If that’s true, then God’s glory and my satisfaction are not on a collision course; they are one. If the way God has designed for his glory to be magnified in the world is for his people to count him gain, to cherish him and treasure him and be satisfied in him, then there is no conflict between God’s being magnified in your life and your being satisfied in life. In fact, I’m going to argue tonight with all my might over there in Pierce Chapel, that the implication of what I have just said is that your ultimate vocation must be the pursuit of your joy in all that you do, or you will dishonor God in all that you do.
Join Him in the Greatest News
Therefore, missions, which is a recruitment to join God in his global cause of world-evangelization, is not a recruitment for loss but for gain. And if you realize that — that ultimate gain, ultimate satisfaction, ultimate joy, ultimate contentment — is found in making much of God, then you won’t hear yesterday as bad news; you will conclude this: God is the one being in all the universe for whom self-exaltation is the ground of all lasting and deep jubilation.
I’ll say it again and then I’m going to pray: God is the one being in all the universe for whom self-exaltation is the ground of all lasting and all deep jubilation. They are not at odds; they are one. Join him, I beg of you — for your joy and for his glory — join him in his self-glorification among the nations.