HOW DO WE DO MISSIONS?
by Ben Spector
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do we do missions?” Why do churches support missionaries or pray for the salvation of people they have zero personal connection with? Why should you care? To make it personal, why have we spent the last eight and a half years in Croatia sharing the gospel of Jesus? Asking why can be scary—you can uncover unnerving answers—but it is also healthy, for we should know why we do what we do. We should know the convictions, principles, and reasoning that stands behind what we do. While I am sure that there is a lot more that could be said in regard to the aforementioned questions, I want to share three answers that have encouraged us in our work on the mission field.
1. God desires for all people to be saved
When the man and woman rebelled against God in Genesis 3, they fully deserved the consequences that followed. Where they once enjoyed life, blessing, honor, and fellowship with God, their sin resulted in death, curse, shame, and loss of fellowship with God. Sin doesn’t deserve a reward; sin spits in the face of a holy God. So observe with me how merciful, gracious, loving, and kind God is to set forth a plan of redemption immediately following the first moment of utter rebellion and folly (see Gen. 3:15). I’m not going to get into all the details about God’s plan of salvation in the whole cannon of Scripture in this post, but that’s really what the grand narrative of the Bible is about. God wants all people, from all nations to know the blessing that was lost in man’s rebellion. He wants to bless rebels with life, peace, joy, and restored fellowship. He wants the nations to “be glad and sing for joy” (Ps. 67:4) because they know him and his ways. He desires “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:4). If God desires salvation for all people, this should be the desire of those who follow him. If God looks beyond himself to others’ greatest need, shouldn’t we? Moreover, this doesn’t just apply to those in our lives who are near and dear to our hearts, but also those who are dear and near to God’s. The church should care deeply about both their next door neighbors and the distant rice farmer in China coming to faith in Jesus.
2. God uses his people
In Exodus 19, after God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, he called them to himself and brought them to Mt. Sinai. There he established his covenant with them. In other words, God told his people if they would obey his laws (see Exod. 20-24), then the following would happen:
“…if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exod. 19:5-6)
Let’s consider the phrase, “kingdom of priests.” Priests in the Bible had various functions that included offering sacrifices (Lev. 1:1-6:30), serving in the holy place (Exod. 27:21), teaching (Deut. 33:10), discerning God’s will (Exod. 28:30), and also acting as mediators between the people and God (Lev. 16; Heb. 4:14-16). This, coupled with the fact that, in obeying God’s law, Israel would have a special place among the nations (“treasured possession”) and be a “holy nation”—set apart and different from other nations—shows that they were not only to know God, but to make him known by mediating the knowledge and grace of God to the world.
It is interesting to note that many of the laws, some of which seem strange to us in 2020, were intrinsically different from the guiding principles of Israel’s pagan neighbors. Thus, obedience to God’s law would produce a counter-cultural lifestyle so shocking that the nations would take notice and see, at least in part, the moral character and wisdom of God. Still more, God’s presence among them in the tabernacle (Exod. 25:8) shows that Israel was the place where other nations could come know God. In other words, God desired to use his people, Israel, to make his goodness and grace known to the nations.
Therefore, when we read the Great Commission of Jesus to his disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), it’s not strange that God would continue to work this way. God in his wisdom has always used his people in his plan of salvation. It is no wonder then that Peter uses Exodus 19:5-6 in relation to the church:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
God wants us to walk in his ways and lead holy lives, that people might take notice and turn to him (Matt. 5:14-16). On this our witness can stand or fall. Not only this, he wants us to talk about him. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news which needs to be proclaimed; we actually need to call people to repent and believe in Jesus that they might be saved (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 10:14-15).
3. God empowers his people
You might be thinking, this sounds fine and dandy for someone in a paid ministry position or on the mission field, but can God use me? Can God use me in his plan of salvation despite all my weakness and brokenness?
Jesus ended the Great Commission with these words: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He wanted his disciples to carry on his mission in the world so that the nations might be saved, and yet he promised he would be with them as they did it. How? Shortly after this, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to do this task (Acts 1:8, John 20:21-22). If you know Jesus, this same Spirit is at work in you and through you. The point is, not only does God use his people in his plan of salvation, he uses broken, imperfect, yet Spirit-empowered people. His Spirit is the one at work. So, can he use you? Well, yes—but not because of you.
“D” was a young woman who we were witnessing to for many months. And she was a talker. We often left our conversations feeling like we hadn’t said anything at all. Though she was very interested in Christianity, she often changed the subject or dominated the conversation. The more we tried to talk to her about Jesus, the more she resisted. We never felt like we were able to communicate what we wanted to about the gospel.
One night, angels appeared to her in a dream. They told her that Jesus was the only way of salvation and that she needed to turn to him. D turned in faith to Jesus, not because we were perfect and eloquent in communicating the gospel; we never felt like we had done a good enough job. D gave her life to Jesus because he showed up to her. His Spirit worked through our few words to D, and He did the rest. So, be encouraged! It’s God’s mission and we partake in it because he uses his people—broken as they are—by his Spirit.