The Importance of Missions
May 23, 2004 | Randy Smith
The Importance of MissionsPsalm 96:3
Sunday, May 23, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
A Gallup Poll conducted in February of this year revealed the issues deemed "very important" to Americans. In descending order, the top 14 were:
The situation in Iraq
The federal budget deficit
These statistics reveal the priorities of many fellow Americans, but they do not reveal how much these issues really impact their hearts. The only way we can determine that statistic is to measure the efforts or the sacrifice such individuals are personally willing to invest in making a difference.
You see, from the activist marching on Capitol Hill to the adolescent marching into the principal's office, efforts are taken to produce change in the issues we really deem important. These efforts may begin with petitions and letters and marches. Often times they progress to the organization of coalitions and the contribution of large sums of money. Sometimes they even advance to the ultimate sacrifice of a willingness to lay down one's life for the cause. My point is this: We are willing to sacrifice for that which is most important to us. And the degree of sacrifice often parallels the degree to which a cause grips our heart.
What are you passionate about? Do your top 14 concerns echo those I read earlier? Is your passion demonstrated in effort? Can your passion be measured by evaluating how much your time and your energy and your pocketbook have pursued the cause? What does God think about your concerns? What does God think about your efforts?
The topic I have been assigned this morning as we conclude this blessed conference is "The Importance of Missions." Missions did not make America's top 14 concerns that I read earlier - did it make yours? Does the conversion of all people groups around the world stir you to action? Recently I read Psalm 96 in its entirety. Allow me to focus in on verse 3. "Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples." Is anything more important in the sight of God? Is anything more important to you?
1. THE UNSUCCESSFUL APPEALS
If interest is measured by participation, and participation in the Missions Conference this weekend indicates your value of missions, many of you remain unconvinced about the vital importance of missions. Why is that? Well, maybe you have been deceived by an unsuccessful appeal.
The Bellhop God
The first unsuccessful appeal is what I call the "bellhop god."
The argument often follows these lines: "People today are suffering from despair and a low self-esteem. God wants them to realize their human potential. He wants them to be all they can be. He wants them to have everything their heart always desired. He wants to bless them with health, wealth and prosperity. God is in the business of making people happy. God is just waiting in anticipation to gives these people what they want, but they will never receive it unless we tell the world about Jesus."
Does this god compel you to value missions? Is this a god who is worthy to be known for who he is or what he does? Is the god who serves me worthy of worship or flattery? Did this appeal convince you to prioritize missions? Would this plea motivate you to risk your life to reach radical Muslims for Christ in central Iraq?
But God said in Psalm 50:21, "These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes."
The Simplistic God
The second appeal to convince people the importance of missions is what I am calling the "simplistic god." Form the "bellhop god" to the "simplistic god." Their argumentation commonly follows these lines:
"God will promise to forgive all their sins, if people invite Jesus into their heart. If we can get them to pray a certain prayer they will go to heaven. Their lifestyle is not important. Their obedience is optional. But their fire insurance is guaranteed. Souls are perishing. People must be told how they can be saved!"
Again I ask you, is this god worthy to be worshipped? Is He portrayed as God over all creation or simply a "get out of jail free" card? Is the concern for perishing souls the greatest motivator for missions? Would this missionary appeal move you to empty your bank account for the heathen in Papua New Guinea?
But God said in Matthew 7:22-23, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'"
The Frustrated God
The final plea to stimulate missions is the "frustrated god." From the "bellhop god" who only cares about people's emotions to the "simplistic god" who only cares about people's souls to now the "frustrated god." Here's the argumentation:
"God has devised a wonderful plan to save the world; however, his people have been disobedient with their commission. They have been carnal, passive and unconcerned about world missions. God wants to see people saved, but there is nothing more he can do. He's frustrated and limited because of the indifference of his people. Therefore, we must support god and save him from this embarrassing situation that his love has gotten him into."
Maybe the following illustration will be of assistance. The Lord gathers his elect angels and tells them what he is about to do. "I am sending my Son, My beloved Son, to earth." The angels are silent. "There," God goes on, "He shall die!" Nothing like this has ever been heard in heaven before. "Why?" ventures one of the awe-struck seraphim. "He shall die in the place of sinners, so that all who hear this good news and trust in Him shall have their sins forgiven." "But how shall they hear?" asks another timid voice. "My people will go into all the world and tell them." Becoming bolder, an archangel spells out the question on every mind: "What if they fail?" For a moment there is thoughtful silence. Then God speaks, "I have no other plan" (Used from: A Vision for Missions by Tom Wells, Banner of Truth, p. 59).
2,000 years have passed and hundreds of people groups are still without the Gospel. Did God's plan fail? Did God unwittingly back Himself into a corner? Was God unable to foresee the tragic results that hell is being populated by the thousands each day contrary to His will? Is the desire of God thwarted by the freewill of man and disobedience of His children? Is a frustrated god fully dependent on his creation worthy to be worshipped? Does a god who needs our pity motivate you to extensively pray for the lost souls in China?
But God said in Isaiah 14:24, "The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, 'Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.'"
2. THE SUCCESSFUL APPEAL
I believe all of us would admit we've heard these appeals before. I believe all of us would admit they have failed to move our hearts. I believe all of us, if we're honest with ourselves and with God, would admit that we don't value missions nearly as much as we should. I believe all of us led by the Spirit of God deep down inside desire a greater heart for missions. So what's the solution?
Well, allow me to say only God can give you a heart for missions. There is no easy formula. But three steps that I am about to share are the driving convictions behind the greatest missionaries that have ever lived.
Understand the Glory of God
First of all, we must understand the glory of God.
God is passionately committed to His glory! Now that statement often catches people by surprise because such a low view of God is proclaimed from most pulpits today. For many, the statement that God's preeminent concern for His own glory makes God appear unloving and selfish.
On the contrary, nothing could be further from the truth. God's passion for His glory is ultimately a loving act. Listen to John Piper, "God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the ultimately loving act. And the reason is easy to see. The one and only Reality in the universe that can fully and eternally satisfy the human heart is the glory of God -- the beauty of all that God is for us in Jesus. Therefore God would not be loving unless he upholds and displays and magnifies that glory for our everlasting enjoyment" (The Driving Convictions Behind Missions, Nov. 2, 1996).
Furthermore, selfishness as God defines it is preferring some finite thing to the supreme value of Himself. Therefore, I am selfish when I place myself over others violating God's second greatest commandment, and I am even more selfish when I place myself or others over God violating God's greatest commandment. Thus, in order for God to avoid selfishness Himself, He must make His glory His supreme objective. Since He is the highest good in the universe, He must value His glory above everything else. To do otherwise would cause God to commit idolatry.
Listen to God speak for Himself: Exodus 34:14, "For you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Numbers 14:21, "But indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD." Isaiah 48:11, "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another."
Experience the Glory of God
In addition to understanding God's passion for His glory, we must (second step) also personally experience the glory of God. In other words, it's one thing to understand God's passion for His glory in our heads, but it's another to be gripped by this awesome reality in our hearts. For example, it's one thing to hear someone speak of the majesty of the Grand Canyon, and it's another to see and experience the awesome spectacle itself.
The same applies for God. It's the difference between knowing about God and really knowing God. As we come to intimately know the living God as He has revealed Himself in His Word, our hearts will be exposed to His glory. And the more we learn about our Creator in our relationship with Him over time, the more glorious He should appear in our affections.
This is why I am so big on teaching theology. A right view of God must begin with sound doctrine. If your doctrine is off, your view of God will also be off. This is also why I am so big on preaching Christ. The glory of God is best seen in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (Jn. 14:19; cf. 14:7; 15:25).
A. W. Tozer once said, "The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him." Let me be as blunt as possible. If the God you know is not glorious and worthy to be praised, you don't know the true God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. Since God's glory is the summation of His attributes, let me ask you:
Is the God you know incomprehensible? "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
Is the God you know wise? "O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions" (Psm. 104:24).
Is the God you know powerful? Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing" (Isa. 40:26).
Is the God you know sovereign? "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases" (Psm. 115:3).
Is the God you know loving? "The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness'" (Jer. 31:3).
Is the God you know faithful? Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies" (Psm. 36:5).
Is the God you know wrathful? "Indeed this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My wrath from the day that they built it, even to this day, so that it should be removed from before My face" (Jer. 32:31).
Is the God you know holy? "Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders" (Ex. 15:11)?
How can you gaze upon this God and not conclude He is glorious?
When I stand on the beach and gaze east, it's delightful to feast upon the attributes of creation. Whether it is the burning sun appearing over the horizon or the magnificent hues cascading in the heavens or the powerful billows of the waves or the vast immensity of the ocean, everything is screaming for praise. I don't need to manifest an artificial excitement because I've been told it's beautiful. Rather my response of awe after drinking in these attributes is the natural overflow of my heart. I look, I experience and I conclude - glory! My heart has been created to appreciate this beauty.
When God recreates our hearts at salvation, He enables men and women once blind to His character the ability to see Him in all His glory. For instance, our praise extends beyond a beautiful creation to a beautiful Creator! Like my response at the beach, the natural response of our heart after drinking in all the attributes of God should be praise and worship for His glory. As the Psalmist said, "On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate" (Psm. 145:5).
And as Christians, God has given us an eternity to mediate on His glory. Is this not our purpose for going to heaven? Is this not the greatest way God can bless us? Is this not Christ's intent when He said, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me" (Jn. 17:24a).
Share the Glory of God
So first we must understand God's desire to be glorified. Then we must experience for ourselves the glory of God and delight in it. And finally, we must share the glory of God with others.
In reference to sharing God's glory, I used the word "must" because we are commanded to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We are commanded to obey our Lord. However, I am also choosing to use the word "compelled." In other words, once we come to experience the glory of God, we will be compelled to share it with others so that we might receive greater joy as God receives greater glory.
David Brainerd, the great missionary who witnessed to the American Indians here in New Jersey was moved to suffer tremendously in order to bring the Gospel to those without the Savior. What compelled this talented young man to endure this hardship? Was it shame or guilt? Not at all. Was it a concern for perishing men? To a degree. Mark this; Brainerd's ultimate compelling force was a passionate drive to see God glorified.
Listen to his journal entry dated August 23rd, 1743. "In evening prayer God was pleased to draw near my soul, though very sinful and unworthy: was enabled to wrestle with God, and persevere in my requests for grace. I poured out my soul for all the world, friends and enemies. My soul was concerned, not so much for souls as such, but rather for Christ's kingdom, that it might appear in the world, that God might be known to be God in the whole earth…Let the truth of God appear, wherever it is; and God have the glory for ever. Amen."
Henry Martyn sailed to India as a missionary at the age of 24. When he arrived, he prayed, "Lord, let me burn out for You." In the next 7 years that preceded his death he translated the New Testament into three difficult Eastern languages. What compelled Martyn to such selfless service for God?
Listen to his journal entry dated July 6th, 1806. "At night I preached on John 9:10, at the mission church, and, blessed be God!, with an enlarged heart. I saw…in tears, and that encouraged me to hope that perhaps some were savingly affected, but I feel no desire except that my God be glorified."
Listen to the words of Samuel Pearce, an early supporter of modern missions; truly a man after God's own heart. "It has pleased God lately to teach me more than ever that Himself is the fountain of happiness; that likeness to Him, friendship for Him, and communion with Him, form the basis of all true enjoyment. The very disposition which, blessed be my dear Redeemer! He has given me, to be anything, do anything, or endure anything, so that His name might be glorified, - I say, the disposition itself is heaven begun below" (Quoted from: Wells, Tom. A Vision for Missions, Banner of Truth, p. 153).
You see, every Christian is a missionary! Whether it be to those across the street or to those across the world. Every Christian is to make it his or her pursuit to explore the glory of God. And every Christian is to make it his or her pursuit to share the glory of God. Therefore I submit to you that the greatest missionaries are those who have come to know the most about God. How contrary this is to many Christians who conduct their most zealous evangelism in the early years of their conversion. Rather the knowledge of God's glory, which increases over time, should lead to a greater passion to see God glorified in the world. God gives us a fuller knowledge of Himself, not to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to excite deeper praise and worship and proclaim to the world that He is a God worthy to be known. Therefore, if we are to be passionate about missions, we must be passionate about the God's glory.
John Piper said, "A God-centered theology must be a missionary theology. If you say that you love the glory of God, the test of your authenticity is whether you love the spread of that glory among all the peoples of the world" (The Driving Convictions Behind Missions, Nov. 2, 1996).
We must experience the glory of God. And when we experience His glory we will be compelled to proclaim His glory to the nations.
Such a passion is the heartbeat of Scripture. In Isaiah 43:21 God speaks concerning Israel. "The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise." In Isaiah 66:19 God promised to send messengers to the coastlands "that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. In 1 Peter 2:9 the Apostle called the church "a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."
Men and women with a high view of God throughout history have rightly responded to this call for missions. In Psalm 72:19 King Solomon concluded, "And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen." In Psalm 145:11-12 King David said, "They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power; to make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom." The missionaries in 3 John 7 "went out for the sake of the Name." And after Isaiah witnessed the splendor of God's holy glory, immediately he responded to God's call to missions. In Isaiah 6:8 he said, "Here am I. Send me!"
So come back to my original question. Why is missions important? Because missions is rooted in God's primary concern to make His glory known. Again bluntly stated, a disinterest in missions is a disinterest in God's glory.
One author rightly stated, "A church that says no to missions is not just saying no to men. It is not just a matter of leaving men in their sins. It is saying no to God's greatest concern: the spreading of His glorious name among the peoples of the world. This is His passionate concern; it must be ours" (Steve Fernandez, Missions and the Glory of God's Name).
All of us are missionaries to those around us without Christ. All of us additionally have a responsibility to take the Gospel to those around the world without Christ. If we are not committed to going, we must be committed to sending. It's been said, "There are only three kinds of Christians when it comes to world missions: zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient."
We can't expect unbelievers to be excited about God's glory any more than we can expect a man who has lived in the wheat fields of Kansas all his life to be excited about the ocean. But as believers we have been given the receptacle to receive and desire and cherish the glory of God. We can't keep it to ourselves. We must double our joy by sharing it with others. We must be driven by a longing for God to be seen, known and enjoyed. We must desire to see "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). And the only way this will happen is if we "tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples" (Psalm. 96:3).
Missions in important because only the Gospel of Jesus Christ will make more worshipers to join us in the chorus of glorifying God's precious name.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21)