The Supremacy of God in Missions

Christian & Missionary Alliance General Council | Charlotte, North Carolina

Sometimes when I talk about the supremacy of God and I emphasize that with all my heart, people ask me, “What are the roots of that in your life? Where did that come from? Did you get that at seminary?” And the answer is yes.

But when I have a chance to spell it out a little further I go back to the beginning. And I pay tribute to my parents. I brought this book in with me tonight, Desiring God. Not because I want to sell it. It does all right on its own, but because I dedicated it to my father, whose here tonight.

“To William Solomon Hottel Piper, my father, in whom I have seen the holiness and the happiness of God.” This is moving for me because I don’t think Daddy’s heard me preach for twenty years. And there’s a whole slew of relatives with him and a few friends and I want to know where they are.

And what I say when I’m paying tribute is that when I was growing up, I don’t remember theology, but I remember prayer and faith. And I remember when the evangelistic meetings were not lined up the way they needed to be for this traveling evangelist, the family got together and we prayed.

“If you try to bottle up the satisfaction that God gives you in himself, it will rot.”

And Daddy was never discouraged. At least not out loud, and he always quoted Romans 8:28: “God works all things together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” And, therefore, I absorbed faith in a sovereign God. And I just want to express out loud the profound gratitude I feel to God for causing me to born into the family of Bill and Ruth Piper.

You do not choose where you are born. If there ever was an act of grace, it is to be born into a Christian home and so publicly, thank you Lord and thank you Daddy. Mother is with the Lord.

We’re Satisfied, He’s Glorified

Well, let’s get down to business here this is very important tonight. For those of you that haven’t been here, let me try to, in two minutes, pull pieces together and focus it now on missions. The supremacy of God in preaching and the supremacy of God in praying came together for us like this: that God has a tremendous passion to be gloried in creating and redeeming a world, and every human I know has a passion to be satisfied in their deep heart. And if these things were at odds there would be no gospel in the world.

But these things are not at odds. The gospel is that in prayer and in worship they come together as one, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Now it’s incredibly important to realize that that satisfaction comes to its consummation when it flows over to other people, and they are drawn into the experience of it. If you try to bottle up the satisfaction that God gives you in himself, it will rot.

And, therefore, missions flows necessarily out of a passion for the supremacy of God. Which is why I said that our church mission statement is, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things,” and then don’t forget this phrase, “And for the joy of all peoples.” With an “S” on the end to highlight that missionary focus. All the unreached peoples in the world are to be brought in to the joy that we have in the supremacy of God.

Now I have an outline for tonight as I talk about the supremacy of God in missions. It’s very simple and goes like this:

  1. The promise is sure.
  2. The price is suffering.
  3. The prize is satisfying.

The Promise Is Sure

So let me state the promise that I have in mind, and then we’ll dig into these three points. The promise is this: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

Spurgeon used to talk about how he loved to preach on the “shalls” and the “wills” of the Bible and I do too. I wrote a whole book called Future Grace and all I mean is when the Bible says it shall be because when the Bible says it, I know it’s going be then. And when the Bible says, “This Gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as testimony to all the peoples or nations.” I know it’s going to happen. And so the promise is sure. That’s point number one.

Now under that point, I want to develop maybe four reasons why you might be confident tonight that this is sure. So that you can say to your young people and say to your retiring people, who ought to be entering missions instead of going to golf courses in Nevada or wherever they park their RVs, they ought to be buying senior discount tickets to Mongolia. You can say to them, “One of the most exciting reasons for being a part of this is because it cannot fail. It can’t fail.” Why be a part of something that is vulnerable and fragile and liable to fail?

1. God Never Lies

And here’s reason number one why the promise is sure. God never lies. “Heaven and earth may pass away but my word, says the Lord, ‘Will never pass away.’” God never lies.

2. The Ransom Paid

The ransom has been paid. The ransom has been paid, and when a ransom by God has been paid what he bought is coming home. He does not purchase in vain. Here’s the text. “Worthy are thou to open the seals, for thou was slain and by thy blood did ransom men for God from every nation, and has made them a kingdom and preached our God and they shall reign on earth.” When the ransom has been paid for people from every nation they are coming home. Whatever it takes the ransom will not be paid in vain.

Do you remember The Moravians? The story? The Moravians were a great missionary people just like the CMA, and those young people got on the boats there in northern Europe. Do you remember, and as the boats were pulling out into the harbor ready to sail themselves into slavery in the West Indies never to come home again that they lifted their arms and shouted over the waters to their relatives, that they’d never see again, “May the Lamb receive the reward for his suffering.”

And you know what they were quoting? It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief when he makes himself an offering to sin. He will see his offspring he will prolong his days. He will see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.

He won’t lose one of them. The fruit of the travail of the soul of the Son of God will come home, through missions and in no other way. Therefore, the success of missions is certain. Oh, there are so many more texts we can refer to.

I was in Amsterdam last year with the Frontiers Folks. You know that mission? To Muslims? Oh, what a radical group of martyrs. They are ready to give themselves all over the world to win Muslim peoples to Christ.

And they introduced to him a man who has been in jail forty days last summer, and couldn’t come to the annual meeting in prison in a Muslim country. We got up and gave the testimony and he said the text that sustained him was Acts 18:10, where the spirit comes to Paul in the middle of night and says, “Do not fear. Keep on preaching. I am with you. What can man do to you? I have many people in this city. I redeemed them. I bought them and I will see to it that they are found and I will use it to that end.”

And so my second reason for why you can know this promise is coming true is because the ransom has been paid.

3. Glory on the Line

Here’s reason number three. The glory of the Lord is at stake. I made much of that last night I won’t belabor it tonight except to say this text from Romans 15: “Christ was made a servant to the circumcised in order to show the truthfulness of God. In order that he might confirm the promises to the patriarchs and in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy.”

Why did he become a Jew incarnate in Palestine, and suffer and die? So that the nations might glorify God for his mercy. There are many people who argue about what’s the ultimate purpose of God in creation, and some argue that it is a manifestation of his love. That’s almost exactly right.

“Missions flows necessarily out of a passion for the supremacy of God.”

It’s just not quite the ultimate thing, because there in that verse what you see is, he became a servant to the circumcised in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy. Mercy is penultimate. The glory of God is ultimate but the glory of God is at stake in mercy reaching the nations and winning them to himself, and therefore since the glory of God is at stake, it is the ultimate purpose of God in creation and therefore it cannot fail, because God did not create the universe to fail. He will not create in vain.

Reason number four, that you can count on the promise coming true and be a part of this without any fear of failure is that God is sovereign. Well A.W. Tozer almost got it right tonight. We should follow our Presbyterian brothers and our Reformed forbearers. I will not go with them all the way. I will.

4. Sovereign over Everything

Now I don’t want to divide the house here, but let me tell you what I mean by that. Charles Long here said to me beforehand, “I don’t know what this theology is. I hear some ‘Amens’ come in here, but I don’t want to read anything into them. I do, but won’t,” he said to me because of his phenomenal experience in giving up his cherished people there in Vietnam to God and watching God do phenomenal things. He believes in more than ever in the sovereignty of God.

Come now you who say today or tomorrow we will go up to such and such a town and spend a year there and get gain. What do you know about tomorrow? Your life is but a vapor here today and gone tomorrow. Rather you ought to say, “If the Lord wills we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13–15)

If the Lord wills, I will not drop dead before I finish this message. If the Lord wills, my plane will not crash tomorrow. If the Lord wills, my son Barnabas will not be killed in an uprising in Uganda, and if the Lord wills, my son will die. That’s what I mean by going all the way.

Now it’s one thing for John Piper to in his comfort in this air-conditioned room with hardly any problems in my life compared to what most people live with to say that, it’s another thing for people who right now in this room have cancer or had a child die last year. So, let me let others bear testimony. Nathan comes to David having committed adultery and having killed Uriah in effect and says, “You are the man.” And David repents and confesses about Uriah. I mean after Nathan says, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord? Because you have done this, the child which was born to you will die.” And the next verse, verse 15 of second Samuel 12 says, “and the lord struck the child” (2 Samuel 12:15).

Exodus 4:11: “Who makes men seeing or blind? Who makes him dumb or deaf? Is it not I, the Lord?” I had a man call me on the phone a few weeks ago. Desperate. He said, “I got to come talk to you.” I said, “Where are you calling from?” He gave me a city fifteen hours away. I said, “Why in the world do you want to come talk to me?” He said, “Because I’m in the darkest time of my life.”

And I said, “Well surely there’s somebody there who can help you. You don’t need to drive to Minneapolis.” And he said, “I have consulted with so many people here and the first thing out of their mouth is to say, ‘God didn’t have anything to do with this.’” And I know God has to do with this. I know God is sovereign over my life, and I read your book, The Pleasures of God and I can’t find anyone that will start at a biblical starting point. And I think maybe you can help me.

“The ransom has been paid, and when a ransom by God has been paid what he bought is coming home.”

“Has evil befallen the city unless The Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). I wonder how many of you saw in Christianity Today this amazing article a few months ago. Now those of you who are old enough to remember, the martyrdom of the five missionaries in Ecuador? Nate Saint, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Jim Elliot. Roger Youderian. They were all speared to death with nine-foot-long spears on January 8, 1956. It was the fortieth anniversary last year. That’s why this article came out, written by Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint.

So you have a son writing about a father who was speared to death by the Auca Indians. He has interviewed extensively the tribal people who did the killing. He’s talked to the very murderers and he discovered intrigue in the tribe regarding marriage things and some other thing that was all part of why this all came about.

It was not a happenstance killing. There were things happening behind the scenes that accounted for this. He came to one point in this article, I carry this around with me because I was stunned by this sentence. I read it over and over again to see if I was reading it correctly.

Here’s his conclusion after interviewing and studying the situation as to why his father was murdered. “As they described their recollections it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing took place at all.” Palm Beach was the little island where all the blood was shed. “How unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killings took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of Divine intervention.”

Did you hear that? That is exactly the opposite of what almost everybody says about the work of God in missions in order to get him off the hook when people suffer. And it isn’t the way, Saint, Steve Saint chose to do it.

Let me read it again because you got to get this. This is not me talking now. This is a testimony of a son who lost a father. “It occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killings took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of Divine intervention.”

May I paraphrase that? God killed my father. Praise his name. Or to use the words of Job, “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I go all the way because I believe the Bible goes all the way, and because God is that sovereign, He cannot lose. Nothing is in vain. Nothing. Not one drop of blood has ever been shed meaninglessly or in vain.

The Price Is Suffering

We’re already into it aren’t we? I’m going to read you the verses leading up to Matthew 24:14 that I quoted as the promise. Namely Matthew 24:9–13:

They will deliver you up to tribulation. Put you to death. You will be hated by all nations for my namesake and then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray, because wickedness is multiplied men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

And then comes the promise, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” He who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel will be reached throughout the world as testimony to all the nations but it’s going to take suffering.

Let me give you two passages of Scripture that fill me with a sense of fear and confidence as the end draws near. Revelations 6:11 pictures the martyrs under the throne, “How long? How long, O God until you vindicate our blood?” And he clothes them with robes and said, “Be at peace for the number of your brothers who are to lose their lives is not yet complete.”

God’s got a number of martyrs, and they’re not done yet. When they’re done, we’ll be done, and some are in this room right now. I believe that with all my heart. It cannot be otherwise, in a room this size in this kind of organization. It’s always been true of the CMA.

“The success of missions is certain.”

The other text is Colossians 1:24 where Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings of for you all, and in my sufferings I complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Now that’s almost heresy. As if anything could be lacking in the redeeming work of the suffering of Christ. And nothing can be lacking in the atoning merit of Jesus.

What’s lacking and I could take a long time to defend this exegetically with a parallel passage in Philippians 2:30, but I won’t. I’ll just give you my conclusion. What’s lacking in the sufferings of Christ today is a personal presentation on behalf of Christ to those for whom he died. A personal presentation of suffering to those of to whom he died and Paul says, “That’s my job.” In my sufferings, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s inflictions by making a personal presentation of suffering to those for whom he died. And you’re called to do that.

I heard Oswald Sanders, a great missionary statesman, before he died a couple years ago say a great thing. I snuck into a Chapel at Trinity Seminary to hear him preach, because I admired him so much, and he was 89 years old at the time and he hadn’t quit. He had written a book a year since he was seventy and I said, “All right, yeah! Seventy, what a great time to start a ministry! Go for it retired folks! Start a ministry at seventy!”

I mean that. America has sold older people one rotten bill of goods the AARP sends me a piece of mail every week. I’m 51, and they want me to buy this glossy magazine and you know fight for the rights of old people to rot while they play! What an asinine way to get ready to meet the King.

Well, Oswald Sanders at 89 was telling stories about missionaries, and he told the story about an Indian missionary, a poor evangelist who walked all day. Up to a high village unreached and his feet were bloodied. He was exhausted. He wanted to just rest before he went in the village to try to preach, but he just felt a sense of God-given urgency and so he walks into the village and he declares of Christ that he loved in a simple way and they scorned him and ran him out of town.

And discouraged and weary he lays down under a tree and fell asleep, and just at dust he awoke suddenly an all the people were huddled over him and he thought I’m a goner here, they’re going to hurt me or kill me. And the headman of the village leaned over him and said, “We came out to see you and when we saw your bloodied feet we knew you were a Holy man and wanted very much for us to hear this message and we would like you to come in and say it again. And many believe it.”

And the point was of course, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good tidings, but really the point is Colossians 1:24, “in my sufferings I complete what is lacking in the inflictions of Christ.” In that my sufferings are a personal presentation to the world of what Christ offers them. In my sufferings, they are to see Christ’s sufferings. In my martyrdom, they are to see Christ’s martyrdom. The price will be suffering.

The Prize Is Satisfying

I want you to hear this amazing testimony. David Livingston said to the University of Cambridge in 1857,

For my own part I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. As missionary people talk of the sacrifice I have made of spending much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blessed reward? In helpful activity, the consciousnesses of doing good, peace of mind, a birth hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word and such a view and with such a thought it is asthmatically no sacrifice? Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, danger, knowing then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life and they make us pause and cause our spirit to waver and the soul to sink but let this only be for a moment. All these things are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Amen.

Oh, that we would remember the word of Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” You can’t out-sacrifice God. The problem with Peter, you remember Peter after the rich young ruler? You remember that story the rich young ruler walks away because he has great riches?

Oh, the decadence of America and its prosperity. He walks away because he has great riches and Jesus said how hard it is for a rich man to get into the kingdom. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven and the disciples are reeling at that and say, “Then who can be saved?”

And Jesus says, “With men it is impossible but with God all things are possible.” And Peter pipes up and says, “We’ve left everything and followed you. What about us?” And Jesus says to him, “Peter nobody has left houses or lands or mother or father or brother or sister for my sake and the gospel’s who will not receive back in this age, houses and land and mother and sister and brother and in the age to come eternal life.” You cannot out-sacrifice his goodness.

Jesus emphatically says, “It’s “no sacrifice to die for me.” The text that was read earlier was “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Now if you believe that it will put such an end to murmuring in our lives. One of the effects of going overseas, and not having air-conditioning, and not having indoor plumbing, and not having 9-1-1, and not having roads, and having many bugs and many diseases is that, when you come home, you don’t murmur as much.

And if you believed that to live is Christ and to die is gain, I think our hospital visitations would look different. We might pray a little different, and our weeping would not be as those who have no hope.

Becoming Joyful

Let me close with this question. How do you become that kind of person? How do you become the kind of person who’s ready to lay down your life joyfully? And I’m just going to from all the many texts that I could look at with you if you’d like to look at one as we close its Hebrew 10:32 and following. I love this paragraph almost as much as any paragraph in the Bible because I want so much in America to be this counter-cultural.

Let me give the setting for you. In the early days of the church, there have been suffering and persecution and some of the Christians had been put in jail. The others were faced with the question, do we go visit them in jail and risk losing our property and maybe our lives or do we go underground and hide and be safe?

And they made the decision, perhaps they had a little prayer meeting and sang Martin Luther’s hymn even though it was fifteen hundred years too early, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill, Gods truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.” “Let’s go home. Let’s go.” And they went. Now let’s read and see what happened. Hebrews 10:32–34:

Recall the former days when you were enlightened. You endured a hard struggle with sufferings. Sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions. Sometimes being partners with those so treated. So they went and they partnered with them. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.

I want to be that way. Don’t you? You choose your neighborhoods to be safe. You go to the suburbs to be safe. Is your first thought in a call to ministry, will my kids be safe? I got so tired of hearing that question when we were looking for associates at my church. Is your neighborhood safe? No! Who cares? There are people there.

Good grief, what does that question have to do with obedience to Jesus? What happened to these people that they should mark the word joyfully except the plundering of their property? I call this book, “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist,” and got myself into big trouble and I love it and I wouldn’t change this title for anything because people who are willing to risk this book know that what I mean by hedonist is somebody who forsakes the two-bit, short-term inadequate pleasures of American security for this kind of security. That joyfully accepts the plundering of their property. That’s Christian Hedonism.

But here’s the question: “How did they become that kind of person?” And the next phrase gives the answer. Verse 34: “You joyfully accepted the plundering or your property since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

Pick those two words. Oh CMA, oh Christian, we have a better possession and an abiding one. God. And Heaven. Forever. Psalm 16:11 captures those two words, better and abiding. You know that verse? You love it like I love it? “Thou has showed me the path of life, in thy presence.”

We’re not talking streets of gold. We’re not talking even reunion with my dear mother. We’re talking God’s presence. “Thou has showed me the path of life in thy presence is fullness of joy of thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.” It’s better, it’s full, and it’s abiding forever. That’s what this author was talking about.

“God’s got a number of martyrs, and they’re not done yet.”

A better possession and an abiding one. A full joy and an everlasting joy. And you can’t get it anywhere else and every advertisement between the Bulls and Jazz game this very moment is telling you the opposite and I’m glad you’re here.

The more TV you watch the more you will be numbed out in your spiritual capacity to believe that dying is gain and the plundering of your property in the cause of love to bring Christ to world is gain, and therefore I plead with you turn it off and look to Jesus.

It’s not the only strategy but we haven’t had a TV in our home for 28 years and I raised five kids, and the four who are old enough to care never missed it and all of them have pursued missions in one form or another and they are now walking with Jesus and they know the street because I live on the street. I don’t need the television to show me sin. We live in the middle of sin.

The promise is sure. The price is suffering. And the prize is satisfying. Get to know the prize.