"The field is the world" (Matt. 13:38). What a magnificent vision! It is one that encompasses a message "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). There is no limitation or narrowness to a concern that tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is "the light of the world" (John 8:12). He did not come "into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). The Bible is a book of world vision and the Christian faith is a missionary faith with an urgent message for all people.
Call to Missions
1. Missions Defined. The word "missions" comes from the root word meaning "to send." George W. Peters in
A Biblical Theology of Missions defines "missions" as "the sending forth of authorized persons beyond the borders of the New Testament church and her immediate gospel influence to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in gospel-destitute areas, to win converts from other faiths or non-faiths to Jesus Christ, and to establish functioning, multiplying local congregations who will bear the fruit of Christianity in that community and in that country."6 Missions begins with evangelism. It then moves to disciple-making, multiplication, and church-planting patterned in the New Testament mold. The Biblical missionary endeavor is not a denominational effort to win followers to a certain brand-name group, but an international effort to bring people of the world to know and follow the only God and the only Savior.
Missions Needed. The work of missions is essential because all men in their natural condition are lost. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10; Matt. 18:11). In the triple parable in Luke 15 the wandering sheep, misplaced coin, and wastrel son all typify mankind and were labeled lost by Jesus. Lost men are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). They are without "hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). The entire world is "guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19) and in desperate need of salvation that comes through Christ alone. "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus said, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). That perishing involves an everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46) and a wrath that abides forever (John 3:36; Rev. 6:17; 20:14-15). "He that believeth not is condemned already" (John 3:18).
Clearly this terrifying prospect of punishment for those without the Savior includes the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the earth. For example, over 700 million Muslims live in lands virtually untouched by the gospel. Another 700 million, the majority Hindu, need to be reached in India. Another billion are spread throughout the Orient. Europe was once the center of Christendom. Now over 300 million in those countries are considered a mission field. Tens of thousands of towns or villages have no Christian witness. South and Central America continue to be open to the gospel with another 300 million souls. Japan has over 100 million people with little witness. Countries like Turkey with 40 million people have perhaps one native Christian for every million. Many small countries could be added to this brief listing. Over one half of all the people who ever lived are alive today because of the population explosion. Most of them have never heard the gospel. This vast condition of need is the very reason for missions.
Missions Commanded. The Bible declares the unique Person of the only true God and the manner by which we may approach Him. This God is the Creator and Sustainer of all men (Col. 1:16-17). He is the ruler of all nations (Rom. 13:1; Psa. 103:19; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32). He is urgently concerned about the problem of all men—that of sin (Rom. 3:23). He alone is able to be their Savior (Isa. 43:11). There is no other Savior and no other God (Isa. 45:5, 21; Jude 25). Thus, Jesus gave His disciples the command to evangelize all men. This is often called "the Great Commission." It occurs five times in the New Testament (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8). It is stated in Matthew: " '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' " (28:19 RSV). Missions begin with the eternal God Himself. The greatest of all missionaries was the Son whom the Father sent. As the Father sent Him, even so He has sent us (John 17:18). Every believer is included in this missionary command.
Objections to Missions
The non-Christian often opposes missionary endeavors for several reasons. The following statements are samples of his erroneous concepts:
God Is In All Religions. Such a concept is certainly not in the Bible. The general state of the Gentiles (nations) is that of being "without God" (Eph. 2:12). God thundered His judgment against the polytheism, idolatry, corruption, and false gods of the heathen. Jesus noted that the religious leaders of His day traveled both "sea and land to make one proselyte" (convert) (Matt. 23:15). Their great labors were certainly not because they believed it did not make any difference. Jesus told the woman at the well that she did not know what she worshiped, for "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Paul told the worshipers of the many gods at Athens, religious capital of the world, that they were ignorant worshipers, not knowing the true God (Acts 17:23). He said that God commanded men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
The Heathen Are Happy. That is, they are content with their own religious concepts, and we should not bother their culture with our ideas. "The happy heathen" is a myth. Millions labor under the most depressed conditions of superstition and enslavement to idols and misery. The masses of India are certainly not happy in their wretchedness; nor the numerous animistic tribes; nor others in gospel-poor lands. The worst of conditions prevail in those countries where the gospel has not been established. Many intensely nationalistic leaders of African countries have frankly stated, "we need the missionaries." Isaiah speaks of those who walk in darkness, dwell in the land of the shadow of death, sit in a prison house with blind eyes (Isa. 9:2; 42:7).
God's Goodness Is Sufficient. True, God is loving and kind, but if this did away with the need of missions, why did Jesus give the command to evangelize the world? If it is unnecessary to bring the gospel to the heathen, why bother to tell the heathen in our country? In fact, why should anyone have told us about the Lord? Is it not because we cannot enter the kingdom of God without being born again (John 3:5)?
God Will Ultimately Save All. This would be encouraging if it were true. However, it is contrary to the picture that Jesus gave when describing the majority as being on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13). It is contrary to His warning about fearing the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). It does not explain away the warning about the second death and the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15).
Plan for Missions
Certainly God has not left Himself without a witness in the neglected areas of the world. His plan for missions involves a threefold witness:
Witness Of Creation. God has shown His handiwork to all men (Rom. 1:19-20). "The heavens declare the glory of God" and show His hand to those of every language (Psa. 19:1-4). The illiterate savage in the most backward area can realize that behind the mighty design of creation there is a Creator to whom he is accountable. For this light, he is responsible.
Witness Of Conscience. Written in the hearts of all men is a God-given conscience which acts as an inner moral director (Rom. 2:14-15). It becomes hardened in time and may become an unreliable guide. For this reason, it is dangerous to violate one's conscience.
Witness Of Men. Even when the gospel is not preached in an area, God is able to speak to some heart that is open to Him. He may bring that seeking person a considerable distance to hear one of His messengers (1 Kgs. 10:1-9; Acts 10:22). He may also bring His messenger to speak to that person in an isolated place (Acts 8:26-39). Today, the use of literature, radio, and correspondence courses has helped. Yet, we are aware of how few can be reached by such means. Nothing is as effective as personal communication of the gospel, personal follow-up of contacts, and provision of sound churches for the care of the converts. This takes believers working on the spot.
Response to Missions
In Old Testament Times. The Lord certainly had Isaiah in mind when He asked, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah responded, "Here am I. Send me" (Isa. 6:8). Jonah was dispatched as a missionary to the wicked city of Nineveh (Jon. 1:2; 3:1-10). There is world-wide missionary challenge in the following passages from the prophets: Isaiah 45:22; 49:6; 52:10; 56:7; Jeremiah 3:17; Habakkuk 2:14; Haggai 2:7; Zechariah 9:10; Malachi 1:11. The Psalms have a similar view (Psa. 2:8; 33:8; 66:4; 72:8, 11, 19; 98:2-4). The Messianic promise of the woman's seed was for all mankind (Gen. 3:15). All the nations were to be covered by God's blessings (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 28:14; Num. 14:21). Israel failed in its missionary responsibility. Its failure, however, cannot be used to say that Israel was not commissioned by God.
In New Testament Times. The birth of Jesus brought a message of great joy to all people, not simply to the Jews (Luke 2:10-14). Early in His ministry, Jesus called the disciples to be "fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19). He preached to all sorts of men, including racial outcasts, such as the Samaritans, as well as the despised Gentiles. Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus commanded His followers to go "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Apostles began their ministry on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, where many nations were represented (Acts 2:5). They moved to the Gentiles (Acts 8—12), to Europe (Acts 16), and to other areas. All twelve of them, plus others, were missionaries throughout the world. The letters of the New Testament are filled with missionary challenge and commendation (Rom. 1:8; 15:16, 19-21; 2 Cor. 5:19-20; 1 Thess. 1:8). Missions is the heart of God's program on earth.
Challenge for Missions
In the light of the plight of Christ-less multitudes, God's great burden for the lost, and the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus, we need to face squarely the task of missions today. What is God's program in this situation? He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). That is why He sent His Son, "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). He gave Him to take away the sins of
the whole world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). Here then is the challenge of missions: "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15). The Christian failure in missions has been attributed to two things: (1) ignorance of the plight of the heathen and their desperate need for a messenger to tell them of the One who gave Himself for them; and (2) selfishness—we are too wrapped up in our own comforts and pursuits to bother with Christ-less multitudes. How can we overcome this? What can we do?
Seek Information. We need to be informed of the missionary situation and specific needs in all parts of the world. Various reports are available to interested believers. Missionary meetings are too often neglected by younger believers who seem to have no knowledge of the field. Keep a large world map at hand. Get to know those who are missionaries.
Pray. The Lord Jesus specifically told us to beseech "the Lord of the harvest" that He would send forth laborers because there were few (Luke 10:2). He taught that, without prayer, little could be accomplished for God. The great request of the missionary Paul was "brethren, pray for us" (1 Thess. 5:25). Most missionaries plead for prayer interest and support. We should keep special prayer lists for specific requests and intercession. We should pray for laborers, for New Testament churches to be planted, and for the Spirit of God to restrain anti-Christian forces such as communism, materialism, humanism, and Islam. We should pray privately and corporately as a church. If our church has a missionary prayer meeting we should attend. If not, we should start such a meeting to intercede for missions.
Give. The New Testament church was challenged to support workers in the field. Rising costs have tightened the situation for many missionaries. Literature and travel costs have risen. Inflation has had a destructive effect. Believers need to be informed givers, not simply those who send money in response to letters of appeal. Priority should be given to those who do not make direct financial appeals.
Go Yourself. The example of Isaiah's willingness to answer the call of God to go to a needy place suggests the right attitude. By beginning in our younger years, we can acquire language skills and prepare in other ways for a life of service for God wherever He may lead. It has been said that the best indication of a call to another field is the fact that God is presently using us where we are. God wants the very best for His service. Moreover, He wants the best years of our lives. He is worthy of it!
Our Savior came to seek us. Are we willing to have Him use us to seek others who sit in darkness?
1. Explain why the work of world missions is needed (Acts 4:14; John 3:36; Eph. 2:1, 12; 2 Thess. 1:8-9; 1 John 5:19).
2. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Roman 10:14-15.
How do these verses relate to world missions?
3. The "Great Commission" of the Lord Jesus occurs at least five times in the New Testament. Carefully study each of these and then state the major emphasis of each.
What is your personal responsibility to these commands of the Lord?
4. Write a definition of "world missions" based on the "Great Commission."
5. Name two hindrances to the task of world missions (Prov. 24:11-12; 29:18).
What should be our response to the great need (John 4:35; 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 20)?
6. Read Matthew 9:35-38. What was the Lord Jesus' prayer request?
What moved Him to make this request?
What did Paul ask of believers (Eph. 6:18-20; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1-2)?
7. In your opinion, what is the importance of prayer in the work of missions?
List five specific items that you can pray for world missions.
8. What part does giving play in the work of world missions (Rom. 15:24; 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:10-18)?
What Scriptural principles should govern our giving?
Matthew 6:19-21 2 Corinthians 8:2-3
Luke 16:9 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
What is your financial responsibility to the work of world missions?
How should you decide to whom you should give?
9. Study in the Book of Acts the "missionary call" of the men listed below. What part did God have in their call? What part did the church or other men have? What were their spiritual qualifications?
Barnabas and Saul (13:1-4)
How would you determine the call of God to the foreign mission field?
What qualities do you think should be present in your life before you go?
10. In what ways has your concept of world missions been changed by this lesson?
What vision do you now have?
How will you commit yourself now to action in each of the following areas of involvement? (Be specific)
6 George W. Peters,
Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 11.