© 2006, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
Sermon, Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. September 10, 2006
It is more than amazing that God would entrust the gospel to the hands and hearts of men. Though God began to reveal His plan and purpose from the beginning of the creation of man, His call to mission may be first found in His call to Abraham:
Gen. 12:1-3. Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy fatherís house, unto a land that I will show thee: 2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Abraham had developed a deep faith in God, a faith that God could use in His plan for the salvation of mankind from the consequences of their sin. We see how Abraham was called to act upon faith by leaving his home for an unknown destination, in response to a promise of a family that would grow to be a mighty nation. Furthermore, that nation would become identified with God, Himself and through that nation the entire world would be blessed.
How would the nation bless the world? God's plan was simple: the children of Abraham were to become a kingdom of priests. Approximately 400 years after the call of Abraham, the nation that grew from his son, Israel numbered as many as two million. Speaking through Moses, God revealed his plan for this unique nation:
Exodus 19:5-6. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.
When we study the history of the nation of Israel, we do not find a nation of priests, but rather a nation that turned its back on God and chased after the culture of this pagan world. However, the apostasy of Israel would not stop God's plan. A small remnant of the single tribe of Judah, the kingdom of David, remained and it was through this community of faithful that God sent His Son, the Messiah, Jesus who would restore the covenant that was made with Israel. Jesus took God's new covenant to the Jews who remained in the land of Abraham and after three years of ministry formed a remnant of twelve apostles and about 120 disciples. Where the nation of Israel had failed to serve as a nation of priests, the command to do so fell on this new faithful remnant of Jews. After Jesus' resurrection the disciples came to understand Jesus' true nature as Messiah, and Yahweh. He told his disciples:
Matt. 28:18-20. All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The task of evangelism was renewed, and as was the case for God's original covenant with Israel, given to all who place their faith and trust in Him. The task of evangelism is not to be limited to a single, select nation. The Good News of God's offer of salvation is to be taken to all nations, to all people of this world. In these verses we see a call to teach discipleship, to increase the number of disciples throughout the world by following Jesus' example and immerse all who will listen in the truths of the nature and purpose of each person of the Holy Trinity. The nation of Abraham was extended beyond simple blood-lines and instead followed faith lines as the body of Christians are now called as that nation of priests.
1 Peter 2:9. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
The entire community of Christians is now that Holy Nation, that nation of priests who as priests have access to God and the call to take His message of grace throughout the world, bringing God's light to the darkness that fills this sin-sick world. How are Christians to accomplish this task? First, we need to accept the call. The gift of salvation is not one that God intends that we selfishly keep for ourselves. It is not God's plan that our churches become fortresses that separate and protect the saved from the evil of this world. However, unlike any other call to service, the Call to Christian evangelism does not depend upon our own abilities, but is empowered by the same power that created the world.
Acts 1:8. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
You will receive power. When we attempt to minister on our own power, we do not have a very potent source. Our own power is fraught with fears, inadequacies and pride. The power that God offers is the Greek dunamis, like dynamite. It is the Word itself, the power that created the universe. It is the power that overcomes our fears, inadequacies, and pride. It is the power that emboldens and holds us to the task. This power is only found when ...
The Holy Spirit comes on you. Only the Holy Spirit draws you to the LORD, and it is the Holy Spirit that empowers your heart when you come to love the LORD. It is only the Holy Spirit that empowers you to have an unconditional, God-breathed, agape love for others. It is this love for others that then inspires you so that ...
You will be my witnesses. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A light on a hill cannot be hidden." With the power of the Holy Spirit burning in your heart, your light shines among all people. If you are living out your faith, that faith nature cannot be hidden. You will find yourself sharing God's love simply because such sharing is your nature. You will be witnesses to the impact that your faith has on your life everywhere you go. Is it so great a step to then follow God in obedience and share with others the reason for your faith?
To the uttermost parts of the earth. Christianity has been spread throughout the world through the work of witnesses, Christians who accepted the call to step outside of their own comfort zone and their own immediate culture to spread the good news of grace to others. Stepping outside of that comfort zone can be a difficult task, necessitating our reliance on the Holy Spirit to overcome our fears.
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 20And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23And this I do for the gospelís sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
The pagan world teaches us to identify ourselves with some worldly label. We might label ourselves by our race, by our geographical homeland, by our gender, and even by our religious denomination. We tend to put labels on each other, labels that divide us. Cultural diversity is difficult for us, particularly within the walls of the Christian church. Consequently, we tend to build walls of separation and ignorance between people who can be characterized as part of a group. Satan hates cultural diversity, as such diversity leads to the unhindered spread of the gospel. As long as satan can keep us locked into our little social circle, the spread of the gospel is crippled. As long as we reject cultural diversity, our expression of God's love is similarly crippled.
As a Christian, we have only one identity: Christ. Jesus set the example as He drew no boundaries between Himself and those to whom He chose to minister. Consequently, our love for others cannot be limited by artificial boundaries that this secular world would recognize. Christians are called to love strangers, those who may be different.
Love allows us to adapt to other's identities so that our witness can be effective. Each culture group has a distinctive set of accepted behaviors and ideas that they often feel cannot be compromised. Paul's example is to express love to those who have a different set of distinctives by both accepting and adopting those distinctives where they do not violate basic Christian behavioral ethics. He mentions four separate cultures within which he seeks to spread the gospel.
- To the Jew, he became a Jew. That is, while he was with them he respected their religious practices and conformed to them where he could do so in good conscience. These would be those Jews who were not central to the Jerusalem orthodoxy who were more characterized by religious practice than legalism. Paul would refrain from practices that, though acceptable in the Christian community, are not practiced among the Jews.
- To those under the Law, predominantly the orthodox Jerusalem Jews, Paul restricted his own freedom to conform to that Law, again where he could do so in good conscience. Conforming to these laws among the orthodox Jews would be an encumbrance to his freedom from the Law that Christ gives. However, Paul was willing to give up his rights to freedom so that he would not insult the Jews.
- Those without the Law are the Gentiles, and this group would not understand the need for the myriad of behaviors that were dictated by Jewish Law and tradition. So, in order to better relate to them, Paul was able to set aside his legalistic background and adopt the freedom of the Gentile culture, again where that freedom did not violate godly ethics. For example, Jews were (and are) prohibited from eating pork. The Gentiles knew no such distinction, and when visiting a Gentile home, he would accept the offering of a pork dinner without reservation.
- Those who are "weak" are those Christians who are young in the faith and are still bound by legalistic behaviors. Rather than flaunt his freedom in front of these, he respects and honors their choices and conforms to those choices. An example might be the controversy over eating meat sacrificed to idols, a practice that is rejected by the more legalistic Christians. Paul recognizes that idols have no authority, and meat that was slaughtered in idol sacrifice has no intrinsic power, so he can ignore the source of the meat. While among the "weaker" Christians, Paul will refrain from eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. In a modern-day parallel, Paul would not drink wine when in a community of tee-totallers.
When Jesus made his last trip through Samaria he sent 70 disciples, 35 pairs of missionaries, ahead of Himself and gave them instructions on how these Jews were to conduct themselves among the Samaritans. (Luke 10) Those instructions included the command to eat what is served to them by their hosts. This would necessitate their setting aside their Jewish orthodoxy as they minister to those who do not follow Jewish law or traditions.
Love allows us to be flexible as we respond to the differences in other's culture and behavior patterns. We can make all sorts of plans for ministry that are based upon our preconceived ideas of what to expect. However, once immersed in the actual ministry we may find that our preparations were not consistent with the needs of the setting. Rather than force our preparations on the setting, love allows us to be flexible. Often when we hold training sessions for volunteer missionaries, a single word of advice is repeated continually: Be Flexible! We prepare for ministry by first drawing closer to God, by prayer, and by preparing all we can do with what we know. However, when we find ourselves in the ministry setting we will usually draw from our preparations that which fits the situation, and then fill in the remaining of the ministry work with new preparations.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
Love allows us to sacrifice when we recognize that true ministry to others is not about ourselves: it is about others. We may give up some of our freedoms, or some of our restrictions. We may have to take time out of our busy schedules or sacrifice material resources for ministry that has seemingly little reward either for ourselves or for the Kingdom of God. We may expend considerable sacrifice to simply offer a cold glass of water to a thirsty soul. However, love is not about our sacrifice, it is about other's needs. If Christians are unwilling to share God's love with those who need to hear it most, how will they ever come to know the LORD?
Obedience to God's command to join Him in His mission of the salvation of men is not an option for a Christian, it is a mandate. The call to God's missionary work is clear and simple. God's plan is to use Christians to spread the Christian message. The nation of Israel failed to act upon God's mandate to the missionary task. Many Christians are actively supporting missions and evangelism today that has brought the good news of salvation to every corner of the globe. However, many more Christians are still satisfied to keep their faith for themselves while they are surrounded by people who have not yet been given the opportunity to respond to the gospel message. These are people we meet every day who have not believed because they have not heard.
Not all Christians may be called to be preachers, but all Christians are called to be witnesses of their faith. Not all Christians are called to be career missionaries, but all Christians are called on mission within their own community. All Christians are called to love. All Christians are called to care. There are actions that we can take because we care about the lost.
Because we care, we can pray. We can pray for those who are actively engaged in missionary efforts throughout our own community, our own region, and throughout the world. We can pray for their spiritual and physical support, and for their safety as some will find themselves in harms way. We can pray for the lost who live around us, who live in our region, and who live all around the globe. We can pray about our own part in His missionary plan and how God can use us in His kingdom work.
Because we care, we can teach. How can we support the missionary work if we are not aware of the need? We can provide opportunities for learning of the work of missions for those of all ages, starting with children through adults as we form a missions-culture within our church fellowship.
Because we care, we can go. Opportunities to share God's love and God's message with others can be found within the circle of relationships of your every-day experience, whether it be to minister to the needs of your neighbors, to your co-workers, or others you meet along the way. Opportunities to serve in God's kingdom work can be found through missions organizations that sponsor specific mission tasks that may be local, regional, or global in dimension.
Because we care, we can give. God has blessed us with time, talents, skills, and property, all of which belongs to Him as our Savior and LORD. One way we can support the mandate for missions is to give back to God a portion of what He has given us, and doing so in a manner that supports mission work. Few of us are called to quit our jobs and relocate to a missionary field. However, we can take a portion of what God provides in those jobs to support those who are called to that field. In that way, we are a vital part of that mission work. We can give to missionary efforts with the joy of the knowledge that those gifts are used for God's work in a way that we ourselves cannot do ourselves. Mission work depends upon the gifts of Christians who love the LORD and love mission work.
The Bible contains chapter-upon-chapter and book-upon-book that illustrates how easy it is for us to fall away from our missionary mandate. We may leave the task of evangelism to others, and by so doing we abandon the mission that God has given us. That abandoned mission results only in lost opportunities for those who do not know the LORD to see Him at work through His people and respond to their love. We can take an active part in God's missionary mandate by praying for the work of mission, praying for the lost, learning about missionary work and missionary needs, adopting and acting on a renewed attitude of agape love for all of God's creation, volunteering for mission opportunities, and by giving to the work of missions. We can do all of that, not as a professional missionary, but as a simple and humble Christian who loves the LORD. This is the missionary that God is seeking.