In our last visit on the issue concerning missional focus, we jumped right into the methodology of missions. However, in starting with the methodology, we have begged another question that needs to be answer: what is the central motivating focus of missional work and why do missions exist? This blog will only afford us to answer the first part of that question in regards to the gospel. Although both questions are so very closely related that they cannot be separated, we will build the foundation so as to strengthen our answer to the second part of the question when we visit again.
Christ is Preeminent
Understanding the gospel is pivotal to understanding the implications it has on missional work. To assume that everyone understands the gospel is unwise at best because of how the gospel has been marred in modern evangelicalism.
Paul gives us the essence of the gospel in Colossians 1 in its simplest form: Christ is preeminent. If Christ is not preeminent in your life, preaching, or any aspect of you then it’s a sure bet that you may not have a biblical grasp on the gospel.
Christ has been and will always be the essence of all things. Verse 17 tells us, “And He is before all things, and by him all things consist.” This is the basis for which Christ, the son of the living God, could come and pay the price of redemption for His people. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” Looking to anything else as “good news” [i.e. gospel] is to mar and dismantle the very person of Christ. In Him all fullness dwells, and therefore as such, where else could the gospel come from? Christ is the essence of the gospel. He is the consistency. The all.
Christ came to earth and died a brutal death on the cross to reconcile His people who “were sometime alienated and enemies in [their] mind by wicked works [v.21].” Through “the body of His flesh through death [v.22]”, He not only has saved the sinner who looks to him but is working out the implications in His life “to present [Him] holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight.”
My friends, this is what we had to look to in order to know and understand this grace in our lives, and it is what we continue to look to. It is what all of God’s people from every tribe, tongue, and nation must look to. This is what we must proclaim to every soul that our missional endeavors bring us in contact with. We must point them to Christ and none other. To quote a wonderful hymn, “In Christ Alone, my hope is found”.
Be not moved away
After clearly establishing that Christ is the essence of the gospel, Paul gives us a charge and a personal glimpse as to the implications this has made on his life. He charges the Colossian believers to “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the gospel.” And what is it that Paul is so emphatically saying that they must be grounded in and never move away from? The text is clear: the gospel; Jesus Christ and Him crucified; everything that Paul has just finished establishing is to be our bedrock. We are never to be moved away from this in anyway shape or form. The implications are profoundly life changing for the believer because it is his life. Our faith was rooted at the beginning in the gospel and it continues to be rooted till Christ returns. Ephesians tells us, “as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus, so walk ye in Him.” We received the gospel by faith and we must continue in the gospel by faith.
Therefore you are a minister
The personal glimpse that Paul gives us at the end of this charge sheds incredible light on the implications that the gospel is motivating the believer’s missional work. After driving home the solidity that the gospel gives our lives, he builds on this by sharing with us that the gospel is the very thing that has made him a minister. Lets take a look at verse 23: “and be not moved away from the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.” Paul has just stated with all clarity that it is the gospel that motivates him, that drives him, that gives him vision to be the minister that God has called him to be. For Paul, there is no greater reason. Paul was missional because of the gospel and so should we.
Proclaiming the gospel and its implications
We have talked a lot about the gospel being our driving motivation as a person who does ministry, but you may be asking: So where in God’s Word do we find the implication of the gospel toward “missional work”? Or, where is the GO in the gospel?
Well, in case you have not seen it already, Matthew 28:16-20 is the most obvious but in many ways the most profound place to turn in answering this question. It is here that we are commanded to, “Go ye therefore, teach all nations.” But what is it that we are to teach? The answer is found in verse 20: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The reason this is so profound is because of the context in which it is being said. Realize that Christ has just died for the sins of His people. Remember that Christ has just spent three years teaching His disciples what the gospel is and all the implications it holds. Christ has just lived the gospel before them both in life and in death and now He is telling them to go and tell all nations the things you have heard, seen, and believed. He is telling them to move from where they now stand and go be missional. He is inspiring them with the pure and fresh unadulterated gospel they have just experienced. He is motivating them to go into all the world for the sake of the glorious gospel. And, the motivation is no less true for us: Let us be missional because of the gospel.
In all honesty, we have been building to one last question that I feel answers itself: is the gospel enough? Is the gospel the only thing that drives us to do missional work? Is it what makes us GO? My answer is simply, yes. And based upon God’s word, I will boldly say that any “missional work” that does not have the gospel as its core and sole motivation is not and will never be “missional work”. The gospel is our life. It is the essence of who we are as believers and should always have profound implications for what we do. I leave you with this: eat, sleep, breath, and teach the gospel.
For His Renown,
When we talk about methodology for anything when it comes to evangelism, there is always the danger of looking to the methods verses the person of Christ we seek to proclaim. Furthermore, when it comes to missions, volumes have been written on methodology. It always seems there is a more affective way to do things. “Follow these steps and you will see success in your ministry.” However, as I write this article concerning missions and its methodology, I realize that I to am making a contribution to the numerous things written on this subject. But I would like to ask a question that has been asked countless times: what is the biblical model for missions? Actually, let me rephrase this in a more personal way: Have we ever looked to the scriptures to understand what makes missions “affective”? How can true missions leave a lasting impact on generations to come?
There are many things that need to be addressed when asking the above questions, but for now I would like to focus on one aspect and Lord willing we will come back to the others. Lets jump right into the method. Lets see what the doing actually involves. Lets take a look at the life of Paul – a man who reached continents for Christ even while he was in prison. Lets dissect how Paul went into all nations with the gospel. Lets see what he actually did when he went.
Over the last several centuries, the church has sent missionaries to other countries with the hope of spreading the gospel to the lost. After all, that is what we have been commanded to do: “Go ye unto all the world”. We have raised large amounts of money to support and send these missionaries. The Lord has blessed the work of our hands and His word has not returned void. Countless people have come to know Christ and many stories could be recounted to bring praise to the mighty work of our God through these efforts. However, what happens when the missionaries “retire”? What happens when they leave the country they were serving? Does the work go on? Does it last? Many times it does and that is a testament to their investment to equip the ones who will continue long after they are gone. Lasting fruit can be seen in many countries today from past work of yesterday. However, is this the rule or the exception? It’s a fair question to ask and one that is not asked enough; one that is overlooked in modern missionary work, as we know today.
It is in long-term effectiveness concerning missions that I believe the Apostle Paul gives insight to what really is affective missionary work. Paul as we know was not a pastor but received the special call of the Apostleship. He was commissioned to write the scriptures and as such he had the authority to establish methodology. There are four things that I believe stand out about Paul and his missionary work; four things that stand out about His methodology to which we would do well to pay heed to in the church today…
He stayed for a time
During Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts, we see many occasions were he stayed for long periods of time. Months at a time were the norm. He invested himself day after day to the building up of the saints. Many times it was even at the cost of putting his own life in danger or at the very least suffering brutal persecution in order that the gospel may be proclaimed and go forth in power. Paul was committed to one thing: the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He gave up all – and by all that means completely and fully. His life was not his own, and His love for Christ and the gospel is unmatched and unparalleled anywhere in history. Some historians say that Paul may have even been married since He was a former Pharisee with one of there requirements being marriage. If he was, we have no idea what happened to her. Did she desert him because of His conversion to Christianity? Did she die? Who knows? We are not told. But what matters is that Paul invested his days into the furtherance of the gospel through His missionary work at a cost. He built the gospel in others through the sacrifice of his time. He was not a fair-weather missionary. He was faithful. He invested. He gave his time. He gave his life.
He helped plant churches
We do not have time to go into the theology of church planting. We will only say this: it is biblical and primary. Paul was a church planter. The first place we see him planting churches in the New Testament can be found in Acts 13 & 14. It was on his first missionary journey with Barnabas that we see the church plants of Antioch, Lystra, and Iconium [as well as others]. More specifically, in chapter 14:21-28, we see that he ordained elders for those churches on his return visit [fair assumption that he established churches on his first visit with the new believers seeing he was ordaining the elders on the second.]. Let us not also forget that most of the books that Paul wrote were specific letters written to the local churches that he had help to establish during missionary journeys [Acts] through the years. Paul was committed to the body of Christ and more specifically to the building up of the local bodies that he help to establish. He occupied himself with establishing churches with the new believers of his missionary journeys. He new that Christ had ordained the institution of the local church for the purpose of building the saints for the furtherance of the gospel. He understood the importance of the continued discipleship in the gospel long after he would be gone. And further more, there was no way he could do it all himself. Other saints must be equipped in order for the gospel to continue you.
He equipped local saints
You will notice that Paul dealt specifically with issues that the local churches were dealing with in his letters of the New Testament. We noticed in Galatians, Colossians, and Ephesians him dealing with the heresy of the Gnostics, antinomians, or the Judaizers desiring to impose the laws and customs that had been fulfilled in the person of Christ. Or we have in Corinthians the believers who were having a hard time breaking the old habits of former lifestyles, which he challenged them to die to. And as we have already stated, he would spend months at a time exhorting the new believers that had come to Christ through the faithful preaching of the gospel on his missionary journeys [Acts 14:21-28].
He trained leaders
Throughout Paul’s life we see him not only proclaiming the gospel but also equipping other men to do so. He trained leaders to lead other people in the work of the gospel. Basically, he discipled, but more specifically he trained men who could fill the role of pastoral leadership within the local churches he established. The first time we see Paul taking someone under his wing is in Acts 16 with a young man by the name of Timothy. As we well know, Timothy would go on to be the pastor of the church of Ephesus. While in prison, Paul would write two letters [1 Tim. & 2 Tim.] to Timothy addressing him specifically as the pastor. He encouraged and challenged him in doctrinal clarity, church matters, the importance of discipleship, how to conduct himself as a young man in leadership, and to not loose heart in the work of the gospel. We also see him doing the same thing with Titus in the letter he wrote to him. And though he is not mentioned in detail as much as the first two, Mark was another individual who received the discipleship and training of Paul [2 Tim. 4:11; Act 12:25; Philemon 1:23&24; Act 13:5]. These men continued the work of the gospel in the places he had done missionary work even after Paul was dead. He followed a biblical structure that would and still does leave a lasting impact.
Paul reached continents for Christ. His missionary work covered most of the known world at that time. This is amazing considering he was in prison much of his life. However, he went unto all nations to make disciples, and everywhere he went he stayed for a time, planted churches, equipped the saints, and trained leaders who would continue the work of the gospel. He made disciples. This “methodology” was Paul’s life. It’s affective. It’s tried. It’s biblical. It’s the way God designed it and commissioned us to do it.
With this lifestyle, empowered by a gospel vision, he spent his life building the kingdom of God for His glory. It was his passion. It was his call. It was his life work. It was lasting. And, it must be ours. Though we are not Apostles, his life stands, as a continuing monument to what our missionary work should be patterned after – preaching the gospel and making disciples in order for the glory of God to continue from generation to generation till He comes again.
For His Glory,
Leading from the position of being under authority can sound incongruous or unrealistic. After all, being under authority is about obeying and following, not leading. And while those of us under authority should obey and follow, our preconceptions about relationships, leadership, and how God works can blind us to the possibility of leading from there as well. Esther illustrates how wise subordination set us up, as it were, to have proper and effective influence, with those over us. And wisely using any favor we may gain with those over us makes our influence effective.
3. There is a third requirement for leading under authority illustrated by Esther. Let wicked people “hang” themselves. All of us have known the helplessness and frustration of seeing people with selfish motives, or people who seem to have it out for others work their way into favor with the boss. How is it that those in authority fail to see the bad character of the unscrupulous, or overlook significant flaws that affect others (I suppose the answer to that question would be a good chapter for a book). Our tendency is to want to expose such persons and, if possible, have a hand in their demise. While there may be a time for testifying against such persons for the good of the whole group, as we will see later, ratting can often be counter productive.
In Esther chapter three we are introduced to Haman the Agagite. Haman was a shrewd and wicked man who was put in a powerful position by the king. He proved to be the epitome of pride, hatred, and bigotry. His anger over Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him was the impetus for a devious plan of genocide to destroy the entire Jewish nation.
We do not always get to see the wicked and unscrupulous come to justice in this life. Sometimes it seems they get away with their wickedness. And for a time it seemed that way with Haman. His favor with the king seemed secure, but it was to be relatively short-lived. His arrogance and blind self-centeredness was setting him up for a great fall, which we will see in our next point.
4. There is one more requirement for leading under authority illustrated by Esther (and by her cousin Mordecai). As one under authority, there will come those times when you must stand for what is right and leave the consequences with God. It was mentioned earlier that there is a proper time for passing on information about those who are undermining and destroying. It maybe also be difficult to know when to stand for what is right and speak out against what is wrong. It is important that the Christian develop a biblically sensitive conscience and prayerfully approach such challenges.
In Mordecai’s situation, it became obvious that silence and inaction were no longer good and moral options. The wholesale genocide of the Jewish people was evil an crying out for opposition. In Chapter 4, we see Mordecai’s open identification with his oppressed and persecuted people. His action did not go unnoticed.
But there was only so much Mordecai could do. He had put his neck on the proverbial chopping block, and as things stood it was likely to be chopped off. Herein is the significance of Esther’s involvement. Her early attempts were to comfort and quite Mordecai, apparently somewhat convinced that their hands were tied in the situation (4:11). After all, what could she do under the authority of a tyrant like Ahasueras?
However, Mordecai knew this was no time for reticence or inaction. The time had come for Esther to come to grips with her priorities. There are some things more important that security, safety, or even life itself. And this was Mordecai’s challenge to her, and what Esther had to come see if she was going to lead under authority. Leadership and influence are often about timing and how one can be at bringing glory to God where he or she is. Mordecai’s question to Esther and the question we should consider is: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). God has put us where we are, at this time, for His purpose. The stakes may not seem as high as they were with Esther, but the challenge for you and me, if we are to lead under authority, is just as personally significant. This is no time for weak, reticent, security-seeking Christians. But for men, women, and young people who will stand for what is right and leave the consequences with God.
The rest of the Scriptural account though significant, is an addendum to the climatic turning point in chapter 4 v. 16. The nefarious Haman did hang himself. God changed the king’s heart. Mordecai was promoted to a position of prominence. And the Jewish people were saved from extermination. What would have happened if Esther had ignored Mordecai’s challenge? We are given a hint in chapter 4 v.13&14. God can and will raise up those to use to accomplish his will and bring Him glory. He is not dependent on fickle humans. But if we fail to obey Him and stand for what is right, we will suffer the consequences and miss the God-given opportunity to be a part of what His is doing. Godly spiritual leadership is driven by a desire to do the will of God and to live to His glory. He has placed us where we are at the time in which we live. No matter what our position, leadership is not about us. It is about glorifying Him. Esther and Mordecai show us that the Godly spiritual leader stays focused on God and His glory and seizes the opportunity for Him. Wherever God has placed you, let this be a year of Godly influence and leadership, and make it your constant prayer that God will use you to exalt His Son.