Thanks to readers, friends, and family, we received the funding we needed to support our church in Liberia for another month and we are planning to plant a few more churches this year. In celebration, I am starting this new blog series, “The Missionary.”
“The Missionary” will follow the steps of the Apostle Paul as he was converted on the Damascus road, sought Christ in the wilderness, and began his missionary journeys. Paul’s journey highlights the journey of every missionary. As we work through this series, we will undoubtedly see how modern-day missions has become something so foreign to what the Bible describes. This is not an indictment against any missions organization. My goal is simple- to teach the Word of God and His Word alone. It is everything we need for all of life and ministry.
Paul was what we would refer to in our day as a career missionary. He was what we would refer to as a self-starter. He was motivated by God’s glory. By his own words, his purpose as a missionary was to equip “the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Paul’s goal as a career missionary was not to see people pray the prayer of salvation or to see large numbers of people go into a building. His prominent concern was to equip the saints (in context, those elected by God; Ephesians 1:1, 5), those in whom the Spirit was already working out salvation, so that they might serve and be built up as the body of Christ and as measured by the stature of Christ. Such was Paul’s view of Biblical evangelism because he recognized that God was the one working all things together, even the salvation of His people (Romans 8:28-30). So, the career missionary is a pastor, teacher, and evangelist.
This will not be a series about short-term mission work and it will only address missions giving as we see it in Scripture. This series will not seek to condemn any current organization or denominational way of funding missions. I seek to teach the Bible alone as we all seek to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
So, here it is. I am looking at the Scriptures, I am looking through my literature, and I am thinking back to my “Life and Literature of Paul” class at Oklahoma Baptist University under Dr. Alan Bandy. Let me introduce you to The Missionary.
Ruined in Damascus
There is a defining moment in the missionary’s life. There is that single moment that determines the path he will spend the remainder of his life on. Have you ever wondered what drives the people of God to such selflessness? What could turn worry and concern for one’s own well-being or status into utter self-denial for a cause that gains him no glory at all?
William Carey was the father of modern-day missions, but Paul was a much worse man than Carey and God made Paul the father of Biblical missions. Of course, God Himself is the Father of all evangelism. In Christ, He condescended to us for the very purpose that Paul gives regarding his own missionary work in Ephesians 4: to build up His own body with the number of those that the Father would give according to the will of the Father (John 6:38). Not long after Jesus stated the purpose for His own condescention in John’s Gospel, many people stopped following Him because the teaching was too difficult. Though Jesus did charity, that was not His primary purpose. His purpose was explicitly to build up the body according to the Father’s will. Such was Paul’s purpose. Such was Carey’s purpose as he formed a Particular Baptist missions organization in 1792 to “[propagate] the Gospel among the Heathen.”
Missions begin with God’s will and God’s Gospel. The missionary’s work, then, begins with God’s will and God’s Gospel. Missions work does not begin with human strategizing. It does not begin with a para-church organization. It does not begin on a denominational level. It does not even begin in the local church. God’s mission begins with God, is propagated by the will of God, and finds its ultimate fulfillment in God alone. He receives all glory and Christ will lose none of those that the Father has given by His own will.
Here is the defining moment, wrought in the missionary by the will of God. Paul (also called Saul) was so convinced that he was doing the work of God by persecuting, arresting and authorizing the death of Christians (Acts 7:54-60). As Paul’s anger burned and as the future apostle criticized the servants of God, even offering unfounded and made up accusations against them because he was concerned with the glory of the temple and his own religion and his appearance as being blameless according to the Law (Philippians 3:4-7), God’s servants who were being persecuted and criticized and wrongly accused cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).
God’s servants have quite a different attitude than those people who are lost in their religion. This was the attitude of Christ on the cross as He cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Those following Jesus Christ have the same attitude as Christ. Stephen did. Paul’s only interest was to be critical, accusatory, and to advance his own religion. What does it take for a Paul to become a Stephen? It is not just a behavioral change we see. Stephen is being murdered by Paul’s commission and, still, he makes this great request that God forgive the sins of those throwing stones. This is fruit produced in the person whose character is being changed by the Spirit.
The missionary is on the road to Damascus. He is struck blind. In a single moment, he is made out to be a crazy person. Christ ruins his perspective and causes the missionary to realize that he has been in opposition to Christ. The missionary is forcibly humbled. That isn’t what you wanted to read, I know. I didn’t either, but this defining moment is present in the life of every missionary. It won’t look the same, to be sure, but it will be there. For me it was the loss of a girlfriend and my inability to get a scholarship for the Bachelor’s degree I actually wanted. God shows us that our ways are not quite as good or righteous as we are so convinced they are, and we are all desperately and unwaveringly convinced of the goodness and righteousness of our own ways. Our ways must be ruined first. God ruined Paul because He chose Paul (v. 15). Paul would not change on his own because he was convinced of his own ways. Neither do we change on our own because we are convinced of our own ways. The process involves suffering, as the life of the missionary involves suffering and self-denial on this earth (v. 16) for God’s glory and the building up of Christ’s body. We can’t follow Christ and expect to escape this earth unscathed and not have to give up the things that we have for God’s glory alone. The Bible teaches that we suffer for the name of Christ. Paul counted this as a blessing when he later wrote,
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
That is quite the character change wrought in the servant of God, His missionary. Paul was baptized at that time in Damascus. This defining moment belongs not only to the career missionary but to every Christian. It is the moment of conversion. It is the moment we forsake being first and become the least. It is the moment we forsake our own critical and accusatory nature and take on the nature that screams, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” For, before we knew Jesus, we did not know what we were doing and we were entirely justified in our own minds, just like Paul.
To anyone who desires to serve Jesus, we notice this about the missionary: He or she is converted by God according to His own will. He or she bears fruit that is consistent with repentance. He or she has a deep concern for those still lost in their sin, such that the Gospel must be preached among the heathens (wording of William Carey). It is a concern that holds no grudges, but prays, “Father, forgive them.” He or she trusts that God will win His people according to His will and that none of God’s people will be lost.
“The Christian is either a missionary or an imposter” (C. H. Spurgeon).
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