Category Archives: Missions

Fulfilling Our Commission (Part 2b)

On the heels of the last post, part 2a, on “How do we fulfill the Great Commission?”, here are a few practical considerations for how to be a faithful supporter and sender of missionaries.

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Fulfilling Our Commission (Part 2a)

In part 1 of this series on the Great Commission, we asked the question, “What is the Great Commission?” Now we answer, “How do we fulfill it?”

The Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We have established that the main verb “make disciples” is clarified by the verb “go” and the prepositional phrase “all nations.” So the natural question is, “Does this mean that every Christian must go abroad and make disciples of foreign peoples to fulfill the Great Commission?” I draw my cue from 3 John 5-8:

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

John writes of traveling ministers who visited the recipients’ church. These ministers, apparently, had left their homes to minister “for the sake of the name”; that is, to preach the gospel. More than that, they were ministering to Gentiles, and in order to preserve the reputation of the gospel, they refused to accept financial support from their evangelistic prospects so that they might not be a burden (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9) or be seen as using the gospel message to fill their own pockets (cf. Titus 1:7). In short, these were missionaries. As the Great Commission reminds us, missionaries are those who have “gone out” to deliver the gospel to those who have not heard it. Also, their model of ministry is similar to the missionary model we have today. The vast majority of missionaries I know raise their own support so that they will not be a burden or seen as monetarily opportunistic.

So John gives us a description of missionaries and their ministry. Then he delivers an incredible truth: If we “support people like these”–again, these are missionaries–then we will be “fellow workers of the truth.” This is good news for everyone who does not have a calling at the present time to be a full-time, go-to-all-nations missionary! Going to the nations is not the only way to fulfill Jesus’ commission. You can fulfill your commission by supporting those who go, and God graciously allows you to partake in their ministry that way. In fact, we could put it like this: If you are not at this moment going to the nations, you must support those who do. If you do neither, you are not fulfilling your commission. As John Piper puts it:

So, you have three possibilities in world missions. You can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient. The Bible does not assume that everyone goes. But it does assume that the ones who do not go care about goers and support goers and pray for goers and hold the rope of the goers. (source: Ligonier)

Not everybody is called to go. I think most of the people reading this will be reading this from their home country, the one they grew up in. Most of the people reading this may not feel a calling from the Lord to go–and that’s OK. When Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church at Antioch, Luke says of the leaders of the church, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3, emphasis mine). Scripture does not condemn them for this choice to stay and send. The church has a great need for people who stay, but only if they stay in order to send. William Carey, missionary to India, once said, “I will go down, but remember that you must hold the rope.” Missionaries need people who will pray for them and fund their ministry and in all possible ways, partner with them to provide support.

Jesus insists that everybody fulfill the Great Commission. No one is exempt from that. But in His wisdom and grace, He appoints some to go, and some to send; some to venture out for the sake of the name, and some to support workers like them. These are the only two categories for fulfilling the Great Commission. My hope is that as you grow in a passion for God’s global glory, as you are sanctified in your desire to be obedient to the Lord, you will consider your participation in and fulfillment of your commission. You have been tasked with bringing the gospel to every tribe and language and people and nation! What a joyous task, to make known the name of our Savior! I hope that you will eagerly pursue obedience to the Commission.

You may be wondering, “What are some practical ways for us to support missionaries?” By what means can we be faithful senders? As usual, this post is getting really long, so I’ll provide some practical considerations in the next post.

Fulfilling Our Commission (Part 1)

Yesterday, I wrote:

Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I’ve had this thought a lot before, and I’m now able to verbalize it:

To suggest that someone obeys the Great Commission by making disciples because the main verb of the verse is “make disciples” is like saying that if you asked your friend, “Can you drive me to the grocery store in 15 minutes?” he or she has fulfilled your request by driving you.

Here is a lengthier explanation of my quote.

I found out a little over a year ago that the main verb of the Great Commission is “make disciples.” I am no Greek scholar, and I have no reason to doubt the faithful men who have told this to me. I am, however, an English minor and someone who is, like most people, able to understand sentences. So it strikes me as incomplete for Christians to say, “The main verb of this verse is ‘make disciples.’ So are you? You have a missions field in your backyard. Your workplace is a missions field. The international students at your school are a missions field. The parents at your children’s school are a missions field. You can be faithful to the Great Commission by making disciples in those missions fields. So are you?”

Because Jesus doesn’t just say “make disciples.” Of course, we should make disciples, because that command is established in other parts of Scripture (see Titus 2:1-8). But I wouldn’t be very happy if I asked my friend, “Can you drive me to the grocery store in 15 minutes?” and he just drove me around town. Or drove me to the park. Or the library. Or came by four hours later, my stomach growling for lack of comestibles. The way sentences work is that we use clauses to clarify and modify the main verb. The main verb of my question is “drive me,” but there are two prepositional phrases that shape the main verb: “to the grocery store” and “in 15 minutes.” Another example? How about this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

In the first half of the verse, the main verb is… “do nothing.” And yet despite the intention of high school believers with intentionally (or jokingly) poor hermeneutics, to do nothing is not to fulfill the intent of Paul’s instruction. There are again two prepositional phrases which shape the main verb: “from selfish ambition” and “from conceit.” The things that we ought not do are from selfish ambition or from conceit. All other things are not addressed. Is this a humorous, almost trivial example? Yes. (And don’t get me started on “counting others.”) But it illustrates how we don’t hold to a “main verb isolation” hermeneutic in other parts of Scripture, and we shouldn’t do that to the Great Commission.

Likewise, if I am making disciples but not “go”-ing or making disciples of “all nations”–or, for that matter, not “baptizing them in the name of” the Trinity or “teaching them to observe all” of Jesus’ commandments–I think it is fair to say that I am not fulfilling the Great Commission in the manner Jesus intended. (I could write a whole new post on how social justice efforts, though God-honoring and necessary, are not in and of themselves a fulfillment of the Great Commission. Another time, perhaps.)

God’s gospel is a global gospel, planned by God to redeem “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).We do not fulfill the Great Commission if we make no reference to the global, “go”-ing, “all nations” plan of God. Indeed, as the psalmist writes, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Ps. 67:4)!

To wrap up, I want to answer a couple of questions:

  1. Why do some pastors and teachers suggest that Christians should live out their obedience to the Great Commission by focusing on “make disciples”?
  2. Does every Christian need to “go” to “all nations”?

I think it is important to consider the first question to understand the intent of those pastors and teachers. I think that their intent is noble and their hearts genuine. I imagine that they want people to cultivate a heart for evangelism and for local, domestic missions. And every believer should! Moreover, “make disciples” is the main verb of Jesus’ commission, and so we do indeed fall short if we as a church, as a missional institution, do not make disciples. So we ought to be doing that both abroad and at home. Moreover, I think that pastors and teachers want their congregations to be involved in missions, and encouraging them to take part in and love the Great Commission by making disciples is one way of doing that. So I think their heart is in the right place. But we still can’t ignore the modifiers “go” and “all nations.”

Which brings us to the second question: Does this mean that every Christian must go and make disciples of all nations in order to be obedient to the Great Commission? No. I think that God graciously allows for people to participate in and fulfill the Great Commission as a “send”-er rather than a “go”-er. In 3 John 8, John says regarding missionaries, “[W]e ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.”

I want to spend some time thinking about and explaining the 3 John 8 passage, and this post is getting long as it is, so I’m going to save that for part 2.

Short Thought: “Go… All Nations”

Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I’ve had this thought a lot before, and I’m now able to verbalize it:

To suggest that someone obeys the Great Commission by making disciples because the main verb of the verse is “make disciples” is like saying that if you asked your friend, “Can you drive me to the grocery store in 15 minutes?” he or she has fulfilled your request by driving you.

The explanation to this ended up being pretty long, so I’ll post a two-part series on “Fulfilling Our Commission” starting tomorrow!

On Serving Family

Every time I go home on a break from school, I’ve noticed that my testimony at home is weaker than my testimony at school. I become more selfish with my time and abrasive with my words. It wasn’t until this Christmas break that I realized why. It’s a mindset problem: I come home to be served, not to serve. I come home to relax, not to look to others interest and to count others more significant than myself (Phil. 2:3-4).

It’s easy, while at school, to live in the bubble of fellowship. My roommate is a Christian, my two other apartmentmates are Christian. The people one apartment over are Christians. Most of the floor upstairs is Christian. And we all go to the same church, and most of us to the same campus Bible study. In the midst of all that, it’s easy for me to serve people I like, and get along with, and who (hopefully) like me.

And it’s not that I like my family, but it’s true that I don’t always get along with them. I’ve had disagreements with my parents on matters large and small. And my family places expectations on me that other people don’t: that I eat when and where everybody else eats; that I do yard work and other household chores; and most of all, that I listen to, obey, or honor my parents as the situation demands. Honoring sinful people is difficult. That command chafes against my sinful and selfish heart. My heart says, “Honor me! And if you frustrate, upset, or inconvenience me, you’re on your own.” And that’s an attitude that is uncovered most frequently when I’m at home.

I saw this most clearly at the start of Christmas break, when my dad asked me to help him re-paint a couple of storage sheds we have in our backyard. One of them came with the house, and my dad built the other one a decade or so ago. They’re handmade from lumber bought at Home Depot, so if they get wet–a small miracle in this California drought–the wood will rot and our stuff inside will be at risk. Hence the re-painting.

2015_12_29 - Shed painting

And my heart rebelled. Externally I complied, because I knew I should serve my family. But inside my heart complained about losing an afternoon to painting in the cold in baggy old clothes my dad lent me because I didn’t bring workwear for Christmas vacation. (I don’t even really own workwear.) But as I stood on a ladder to paint a shed wall, my memory was triggered. I thought back just a few months to an afternoon in Malawi, Africa, where I varnished eight foot tall bookcases on a makeshift ladder in a storage container in the (admittedly moderate) African heat with a team from my church. And I thought about how I didn’t complain then, and how I was complaining now.

Perhaps the biggest difference was that I had trained for the situation in Malawi, whereas I hadn’t adequately trained myself for the rigors of being home. When we prepared to go to Malawi, we told ourselves at every meeting that we were going there to serve the missionary and the seminary. We knew clearly that our ministry was to serve, and that our effectiveness would be determined in large part by how well we understood that. And the bottom line is, it’s no different when I’m at home. My ministry is still to serve.

2015_12_29 - Malawi painting

Below is an email I sent my old Malawi team after I spent a couple days reflecting on all of this. It’s still humbling for me to reflect on this, and whether you have a day or a week left at home for the holidays, I hope it edifies you, too.

Dear team,

A couple days ago, I found myself recruited by my dad to paint. Yes, paint–on vacation. With waterproofing, acrylic-based, with-brushes-on-wood paint. The original paint on two storage sheds in our backyard had started to crack due to sun exposure, so he had me grab a brush and a pint of paint to help him re-paint the sheds.

I found myself doing it reluctantly, not at all joyfully. “This isn’t what I came home to do,” I thought to myself. “I could be watching a TV show, or reading a book. Break shouldn’t be about painting a shed outdoors in NorCal winter cold.” Then I had flashbacks to varnishing bookshelves with you guys in Malawi. It was stressful, and messy, as we tried to finish varnishing on time with seemingly too little varnish and brushes that shed bristles like crazy.

My attitude was so different then–we had spent months reminding ourselves, “We’re going to Malawi to serve. We’ll do whatever Jim asks us to do, even if it’s manual labor, even if he asks us not to do interviews, even though that’s what we’ve prepared for.” We drilled that fact into ourselves: our job in Malawi was to serve and minister to Jim.

I came to the question, Why don’t I think that way when I come home on break?

Imagine how different our breaks would look if we thought about them the same way we think about STMs. “We’re going somewhere for three weeks, and our goal is to serve. Yes, we’ll get tired, and there will be moments where we want to do anything but serve. But this trip isn’t about us, it’s about our family, and serving them, and ministering to them.” Vacation isn’t about me. My life is not about me.

An STM isn’t about serving ourselves, it’s about serving the missionary, and that’s clear to us. It’s also clear in Scripture what the Christian life is about:

Outdo one another in showing honor.

Through love serve one another.

Keep loving one another earnestly–wring yourselves out in love for one another.

I hope–and pray–that our families are as encouraged by us as the Ayres were when we visited. I love you guys, and am encouraged by each of you.