Missions is distinct from evangelism.
In evangelism we speak the gospel of Jesus among people who are culturally like us, and where a self-sustaining church already exists.
In missions we cross a culture, learn a new language, and attempt to establish the church of Jesus Christ where it does not yet exist, or is too weak to be self-sustaining.
But the essential aim in both evangelism and missions is the same. We aim to impart to other people the full and everlasting satisfaction that we ourselves have in God through Jesus Christ.
And when I say satisfaction in God, I don’t mean satisfaction in his gifts — even his best gifts — like the forgiveness of sins. When I speak of satisfaction in God or pleasure in God, I am referring to the joy that comes to the human soul because we taste and see the greatness and the glory of God himself. The human soul has the capacity to see the beauty of God and to taste the sweetness of God. And we were made to find our deepest and most enduring happiness in that beauty and that sweetness.
Joy to the World
The essential aim of missions and evangelism is to impart this joy into the hearts of other people, even if it costs us our lives. Or another way to say it would be this: Evangelism and missions happen when the expansive impulse of joy in God reaches a tipping point, and we overflow in love as we share the gospel, and share our lives.
“We aim to impart to other people the full and everlasting satisfaction that we ourselves have in God.”
In Romans 15 Paul gives the Old Testament foundation for his mission to places where Christ is not named. In Romans 15:10, he cites Deuteronomy 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” In other words, his mission is a response to God’s command that the nations of the world should rejoice — specifically, that they should rejoice with God’s people, which means rejoicing in God. You see this foundation for missions again in the Psalms.
- Psalm 67:4: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.”
- Psalm 66:1: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.”
- Psalm 97:1, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”
In other words, what we are doing in world missions is joining with God in calling the nations to be glad in God. Missions is what happens when our joy in God reaches the tipping point and overflows into the lives of people from other cultures through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Best Gift
I’ll go even further and say that full and eternal joy in God through Jesus Christ is the best gift we have for anybody anywhere in the world. You might object and say, “Isn’t the gospel the best gift we have?” Or “Isn’t Christ the best gift we have for the nations?”
My answer to the first objection is No. The gospel is not the best gift. The effect of the gospel, the goal of the gospel is the best gift, namely, immeasurable joy in God with Jesus forever. The gospel of Christ is a glorious and absolutely essential means to that great end of everlasting joy in God. But it is not the end. It is a means — a means worth living and dying for.
And my answer to the second objection is Yes. Christ is the best gift we have to give to the nations. But not a Christ who remains boring, or marginal, or uninteresting, or ineffective, or unsatisfying. The only Christ who is worth having is the true and real Christ! The glorious Christ! The all-satisfying Christ! The Christ that is so beautiful and so valuable, that when you know him, you have in him everything you will ever need or want.
That’s what I mean when I say: The best gift we have to give anyone anywhere in the world is full and everlasting joy in Christ, who is God incarnate.
Two Implications for World Missions
I want to develop two implications of this understanding of world missions. The first implication is that you can’t share a satisfaction in God that you don’t have. So if you care about missions, you will pursue joy in God.
If God is not your supreme satisfaction, it is unlikely that you will reach the tipping point of pouring that satisfaction into others. You will try to do the right things. You will try to lead others into joy in God. But the burden of inauthenticity will crush you in the end.
The second implication is that only joy in God himself will give you the freedom and strength to love people and endure the burdens and the sacrifices that a life missions requires.
The call to missions is a call to suffer. Paul said in Colossians 1:24,
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
In other words, Paul’s own suffering — and perhaps your suffering — is not just a result of missions, but a means of missions. Paul’s suffering was the extension of Christ’s suffering, so that people didn’t just hear about the sacrifice of love, but they saw it in Paul’s ministry.
“Full and eternal joy in God through Jesus Christ is the best gift we have for anybody anywhere in the world.”
So my two messages are devoted to each of these implications. The focus in this message is the first implication: You can’t share a satisfaction in God that you don’t have. And the focus in the next message will be on the second implication: You’ll never love people and survive the suffering of missions unless God himself is your supreme satisfaction.
Seven Reasons to Pursue Joy
So what I would like to do in the rest of this message is not simply awaken temporary joy in Christ tonight, but rather motivate you and empower you to pursue your supreme and eternal satisfaction in Christ for the rest of your life. The reason I take this approach is that fifteen or thirty years from now your joy in Christ will be just as much a battle as it is tonight. And I would like to help you fight that battle not just the one you are in tonight.
So I would like to try to persuade you that the Bible itself — not just John Piper, but the Bible itself — teaches you to pursue your full and lasting satisfaction in God with all your might through all your life. This is the path to sacrificial and fruitful missions. You can’t share a joy you don’t have. And the greatest gift we have to share is full and everlasting joy in God through Jesus Christ. And you won’t have it if you don’t pursue it. So I want to persuade and empower you to pursue it.
I’ll mention seven arguments from Scripture for why your pursuit of your joy in God is of ultimate importance.
1. You should pursue your full and everlasting joy in God because there are clear biblical commands to do so.
Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”
Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.”
Psalm 100:1: “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.”
These are commands, not optional suggestions. This is the will of God for his people. If you are indifferent to the pursuit of this joy, you are indifferent to obedience.
Someone said to me once, “You should tell people to pursue obedience, and stop telling them to pursue joy.” And my response was, “That’s like telling people to pursue fruit, not apples.” But apples are fruit. Yes! And joy is obedience. Joy is commanded. To pursue it is to pursue obedience. Not to pursue obedience is sin. So, the first reason you should pursue your joy in God is because the Bible commands it.
2. The Bible threatens terrible things if we do not find our joy in God.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)
Sometimes Christians treat joy in God as though it were a secondary matter, as though it were a kind of lighthearted extra that really doesn’t matter as long as you have the essence of Christianity — commitment and duty and obedience. Well, joy is not a lighthearted matter. It is a serious matter — infinitely serious. And God warns us not to take it lightly.
3. The essence of evil and sin is the failure to find God satisfying and then to pursue pleasure in created things rather than God.
How does God define evil in Jeremiah 2:12-13?
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
What are the two evils that God’s people have committed (both in verse 13)?
Evil #1: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters. In other words, they have tasted the fountain of God’s goodness and glory, and they don’t find it pleasing. They find it unsatisfying. That is the root essence of evil
Evil #2: They have hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. In other words, it is a great evil to reject the all-satisfying fountain of God himself and to try to find our satisfaction in the things of this world that were never designed to replace God.
“The Bible threatens terrible things if we do not find our joy in God.”
So the Bible defines the very essence of sin and the evil as preferring anything more than God. No Christian wants to remain in the bondage of such evil. But that is where we remain without the gospel. Therefore, we pursue joy in God with all our might through Jesus Christ.
4. One essential aspect of saving faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.
In other words, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus is not an optional add-on to saving faith. It is an essential part of it. And Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:11 that we are to “pursue . . . faith.” And if joy in God himself is part of saving faith, we should pursue it with all our heart.
But is this what faith is? Consider what Jesus says about faith in John 6:35:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.”
There are two lines, and they are parallel to each other:
- he who comes to me will not hunger, and
- he who believes in me will never thirst.
These are two ways of describing the same thing: Coming to Jesus so as not to hunger, and believing in Jesus so as not to thirst. Does this not then mean that believing in Jesus is a coming to Jesus so as to have our soul-thirst and our soul-hunger satisfied?
So just as we fight the good fight of faith all our lives, so we fight the good fight of joy. We pursue it with all our might.
5. We should pursue full and lasting joy in Jesus because this is what conversion involves.
It’s what becoming a Christian means. Consider the short parable about finding the kingdom in Matthew 13:44:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
This is a picture of what it means to discover the truth and beauty and value of the kingship of Jesus. It’s like finding a treasure. And you realize this treasure is worth more than everything else in your life. In fact, it is worth more than your life. Psalm 63:3: “Your steadfast love is better than life.”
So the person in the parable sells everything he has to get that treasure. And don’t miss the words from joy. “From joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has.” He does not experience this as a begrudging sacrifice. He joyfully lets everything else go because the treasure of being part of Jesus’s kingdom is infinitely better. If that’s what it means to find the treasure of Christ, then we should be pursuing this joy all our life.
6. Jesus’s teaching on self-denial shows that we should pursue joy in God with all our might.
Notice how Jesus motivates self-denial in Mark 8:34–35:
If anyone 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, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Two times in verse 35, he motivates our willingness to lose life in this world with the desire to gain it in the next world.
If you try to save your life by avoiding the cross, you will lose your life.
If you are willing to lose your life in this world by taking up your cross, you will save it forever (see John 12:25).
In other words, there is no such thing as ultimate, eternal self-denial. Jesus’s whole argument is based on the God-given desire for the life that has the fullest and longest joy. And Jesus is saying that the path to life and joy is by bearing a cross and losing your life now.
“You can’t share with the nations a satisfaction in God that you don’t have.”
So stop settling for temporary pleasures, and pursue the fullest and longest joy in the universe: fullness of joy in God’s presence and eternal pleasures at his right hand.
7. Pursuing joy in Christ above all glorifies Christ above all.
This is plain from one of my favorite passages in all the Bible, Philippians 1:20–21:
It is my eager expectation and hope . . . that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Notice the logic of the passage. He says in verse 20 that his great hope is for Christ to be magnified (or glorified) in his body. Then in verse 21, he gives the basis for how this will happen: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” How does that logic work?
Let’s simplify the flow of thought by using only the reference to his death: “My hope is that Christ will be magnified in my death, for to me to die is gain.” To understand that argument we need to know why death is gain for Paul. Verse 23 gives the answer: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Death is gain because death means being closer to Christ. More of Christ.
So here’s the logic of verses 20–21: “Christ will be magnified in my death, if I experience death as gain because I get more of Christ.” This really means: Christ will be magnified in me, if I am so satisfied in Christ, that losing everything in this world except Christ, will be to me a gain. Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in Christ, especially in the moment of loss and death. Therefore, for the glory of Christ, pursue your satisfaction in him with all your might.
Made for Something Better
Now there is one more argument that I wanted to give you to show you that your lifelong pursuit of joy in God is biblical, but I will save that for tomorrow afternoon because it will get one whole message all by itself. This is the argument that if you don’t find God as your all-satisfying treasure, you will not be able to love people. In other words, you won’t have the power to endure the burdens and the sacrifices that a life of missions requires.
But for now, the point is this: You can’t share with the nations a satisfaction in God that you don’t have. And the best thing we have to share with the nations is full and everlasting joy in Jesus Christ. Therefore, for the sake of the nations, don’t settle for the fleeting pleasures of this world. You were made for something far better. And they desperately need something better.
In God’s presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Pursue that, and you will be on the path to sacrificial and fruitful missions.