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Editor’s note: Matt Smethurst (Managing Editor for The Gospel Coalition) interviews David Platt based on questions sent in from participants in the Something Needs to Change simulcast.
Matt Smethurst: Dina asks, “I feel grateful for God’s salvation, but sometimes I feel a little guilty as well. How do we handle the weight of being chosen by God unlike others who, as you say, live in terrible circumstances on earth only to go and suffer an eternity in hell?”
David Platt: Yeah, that’s a great question, Dina. I think that’s one of the questions … In my quiet time this morning, I was in Galatians 1, Paul just talking about God choosing to show grace to him. I just don’t have an answer to why I was born into a place in the world where I’ve heard the name of Jesus pretty much since I was born. It’s just I didn’t have anything to do with where I was born. That’s the pure mercy and grace of God, and so I can’t explain that. I praise God for it. I praise. I was praising him this morning for it. I praise God right now for it, and I know so I can’t explain why. Why was I not born in these mountains where the gospel has not yet been heard? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that I’ve been given grace for a reason.
That’s exactly what Paul was saying in Galatians 1:15 and 16 this morning. God was pleased to reveal his son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles. So I preach him among the nations. So there are some things I can’t explain, but this I know. I’ve been given mercy for a reason and that’s to make mercy known. I’ve been given grace for a reason and that’s to spread grace, to spread the gospel. So I guess I look at it this way. I could sit around and try to figure out some of the mysteries here or I can just go with the grace God’s given, believe his word, and give my life unreservedly to making his grace known so that less and less people wake up to places where the gospel is not yet known. And you and I can actually be a part of making that happen.
Matt Smethurst: Renee asks, “Is a nominal Christian, so someone who’s just a Christian in name only, just as lost as the Himalayan who’s never heard the name of Jesus?”
David Platt: Yeah, I would say any non-Christians, which would include nominal Christian, like Christian in name only, not actually a follower of Jesus, yes. I would say like people right next door to me in my neighborhood are just as lost, nominal Christian or just atheist or whatever, as people in the Himalayas. The difference is that I think we just got to make sure to keep in our minds and when we talk unreached, this is what unreached means. It doesn’t mean lost. So people are just as lost in metro Washington, DC as they are in Saudi Arabia. The difference is there’s access to the gospel in metro Washington, DC. My neighbor has access to the gospel. Your neighbor has access to the gospel.
So yes, they’re lost. The difference is in Saudi Arabia, they don’t. Most people don’t even have access to the gospel, and so that’s why we need to work to get the gospel there because they don’t even have a Christian around them who can share the gospel with them. That’s the big difference. Two billion people in the world have little to no knowledge of the gospel. They’re not just lost. They don’t have anybody who is actively working to tell them or even around them where they can hear the gospel from. And that’s what I mainly mean when I think urgent spiritual need. They don’t even have access to the gospel, people being put on funeral pyres who never even heard of Jesus or knew a Christian.
Matt Smethurst: That’s a natural segue to a question that we’ve received from a few different folks. They ask basically and you hear this question in different ways, but it’s essentially this. Brooke writes, “I have a friend who always says there are plenty of Americans who need the gospel.” So how should we respond when someone raises and oftentimes it’s well meaning, it’s well intentioned, but when someone raises the objection or at least the hesitation that shouldn’t we take care of the lost in our own home country before worrying about people on the other side of the world.
David Platt: When somebody says, “Many Americans need the gospel,” it’s like, “Yes. No question. No question. And so let’s share the gospel. Let’s make the gospel known, especially if God’s called us to live here.” Right now, God’s called me to live in metro Washington, DC. I want to make the gospel known here in metro Washington, DC with zeal. And so I find sometimes people say, “Well why go there? What about the needs here?” It’s kind of a spiritual smokescreen. There’s a lot of people who say that who are not really that zealous about making the gospel known even right here. But yes. Yes, here, but again going back to those who’ve never even heard, we’re not talking about people who have heard the gospel and rejected it. We’re talking about two-plus billion people in the world who have never even heard.
When I go up on these mountains and say, “What do you know about Jesus,” and somebody says, “Who’s that,” they’ve never even heard his name, have never heard his name. They need to hear his name. That needs to change and we … There’s so much we can go into. I would just close by saying, I mean I’m saying some of my words, Jesus’s words, Matthew 28:19, “Make disciples of all the nations.” He has told us not just to make disciples in a nation among one type of people. He has specifically told us to make the gospel known, make disciples in all the ethnic groups of the world, all the people groups of the world. So if we’re a Christian following Jesus, then we will be zealous about getting the gospel however God calls us to people in places where the gospel has not yet gone. This is just the heart of Jesus and if Jesus’s heart is in us, then it’s our heart.
Matt Smethurst: And then I’m reminded of the powerful video we saw tonight, A Beautiful Hope, the film. And there was that quote that flashed on the screen from Carl FH Henry. “It’s only good news if it gets there in time.” That just underscores the urgency- that you’re talking about both in terms of physical need, but ultimately in terms of spiritual need. David, Alyssa writes in I think a really transparent and helpful question for anyone considering missions to consider. She says, “I know we all sin, but when I keep succumbing to the same sin over and over, I feel like I’d be a hypocrite to go overseas. I’d like to go someday, but I just feel so weak that I fear I will be ineffective.” So if someone is struggling with a particular sin, a besetting sin, can they still be a missionary?
David Platt: I really appreciate that question and I appreciate the honesty. So yeah, missionaries are definitely not perfect. You look clearly … we’ve been reading through Acts as a church. This is not perfect people who are doing this work. This is very imperfect people saved by grace. So I would just say this. Well one, succumbing to the same sin over and over again, I’m actually preaching on Galatians 2:20 and just the power of Christ in you so I would encourage just press in all the more to Christ with your church around you, just okay, because you can have victory over that sin. You can. The spirit of Christ is in you. I just would, I want to encourage you passionately that way. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying that there’s not some continual struggle with the flesh in different way, but you … Greater is he is in you than he was in the world.
And then at the same time, I would just encourage you, Alyssa, you know what it’s like to hate sin and to be very thankful for a savior to redeem you from it, to save you from it. And that’s what you need to know to be a missionary, to make the gospel known to those especially who’ve never heard it. You need to know the seriousness of sin and the beauty of a savior who will save from sin fully and finally in eternity, and so be encouraged by the grace of God, the power of God’s spirit even in you now and in the future. Just know that’s the beauty in this mission we’ve all been called to, making disciples of the nations wherever we live, it’s not dependent on us. It’s dependent on the spirit of Christ in us and He’s sufficient to empower us over sin and He’s sufficient to empower us to be witnesses if we will not look to ourselves but look to him.
Matt Smethurst: There have been a few questions about the role of the local church and so I’m just going to combine a question from Ken and a question from Sarah because I think they go together. And I’m really thankful that they asked this because I know in my own life when I was in college, I developed a heart for the nations, but I wasn’t developing alongside of it a heart for the church. I didn’t understand how the two went together. So the question, David, is, “What is the role of the church, of the local church in someone’s life when they’re discerning their calling?” And then the other part I want you to answer is, “What’s the role, what should be the role of the church for a missionary on the field?” So discerning calling on the front end, on the field afterwards.
David Platt: I would just say in everything we’re talking about, the local church is central in many ways because what is the church? I mean it’s a body of believers joined together on mission in the world. That’s what one of the pictures I give in the book, it’s just meeting these brothers and sisters in this small church after days of hiking and just seeing simple, raw love for Jesus, love for each other, willingness to lay down their lives to make the gospel known. It’s like, “Okay. This is what the church is.”
Matt Smethurst: And hiking two hours to get there.
David Platt: Yes, yes, that’s right. Hiking up mountains to get there from all ages. This is what the church is. So let’s be a part of churches like that. That’s why like work all this together through with the church and then as God leads different people to do different things, it’s the church that speaks into that. So maybe it’s being a missionary, maybe it’s doing this or that. Do that in community. None of us is called to be lone rangers in this picture.
So yeah, Acts 13, anybody who’s going to go and be a part of the spread of the gospel among the nations needs to be sent by the Holy Spirit through the church. I mean that’s the picture we see in scripture. So I would encourage anybody who’s wrestling through, “Okay. What does this mean in my life?” Go to your church, wrestle through this with even church leaders, and this is where I would say church leaders. Yeah, let’s make sure we’re cultivating a zeal for urgent mission in the church. Let’s not take those results about mission and be like, “Oh, okay. Kind of put you over in the corner somewhere.” Let’s work together to have just simple, raw love for the Lord, love for the lost. How do I make the glory of Christ known? This is what our community is about. And then that leads to inevitably people will go out from the church to places where the gospel has not yet gone. The Spirit’s going to do that in any church that is focused on the great commission, but this church is going to be central in all of it.
Matt Smethurst: Yeah. One thing I appreciated in the book was how you encouraged readers to look to scripture for how we do church. I think we often go to scripture for other aspects of theology. We go to scripture to get our soteriology, what we understand about salvation. We go to scripture for our missiology, but we also should go to scripture for our ecclesiology. And I think you do a good job in this book of calling us back to the book when we’re thinking about church.
David Platt: And one other thing there, Matt, that I try to emphasize in the book. So yeah, the gospel is people’s greatest need, but really in a sense you take that a step further. The church is where the gospel is made visible/ in a community of people, that transforms lives and in many ways communities. I just think about one. This isn’t even in the book, but there’s this one small church I gathered together with and they said, their words were … So you’ve got this small group of believers. They said, “Our village was like hell until we heard the gospel,” and they just talked about how hearing the gospel, how it was transforming not just their lives but their marriages. There’s the social fabric of their relationships.
And yeah, the gospel has detonating power in this way when it comes to life in a community. When I think about those villages, yes, the gospel is in those villages, but it’s the gospel made visible in the people in the church. So let’s be those kinds of churches wherever we are, and then let’s be a part of planting, strengthening these kind of churches amidst urgent spiritual and physical needs.
Matt Smethurst: Yeah. One of the great things about this event this evening is the people from all stages of life who are tuning in. I want to pitch to you a question from a college student and then from a stay-at-home mom.
First Adam asks, “How can I best utilize my college years to the glory of God?”
David Platt: Adam, I wish we had a long time to talk, but I would encourage you, I mean one we were just talking about, be in a local church where you’re making disciples. You don’t have to wait to do this somewhere. Be in a local church where you’re making disciples, share the gospel, link people to Jesus, teaching them to obey Christ. Do that right now. I would encourage you to at some point in your collegiate … I’d tell all our college students here. I was speaking to a big group of college students recently. Spend at least … Unless God tells you otherwise. So I don’t have a verse I can go to in the bible on this one, but spend at least a summer if not a semester or a year or two somewhere in the world where the gospel’s not yet gone, like extended time. You have a unique opportunity to do that now that, yeah, once you get settled into a job or this or that family, it makes it a lot harder.
You have a unique opportunity to spend at least a summer if not semester, year or two years somewhere where the gospel’s not yet gone, working there. It’s going to change your mindset, your framework, and then think through, I would encourage you to think through how can you, what are the marketable skills, gifts, … The degree you’re getting, how can it be leveraged for the glory of Christ among the nations? Whether you’re getting a dentistry degree and kind of like we heard tonight, that can be leveraged or I think about all kinds of medical professions. I was talking with somebody last, it was two weeks ago who was telling me they know about 2000 jobs right now because they’ve created some avenues, 2000 jobs for people, nurses, doctors of all kinds, all kinds of levels, 2000 jobs right now available in the Middle East for any follower of Christ who wants one. Those opportunities are there. The nations will pay you to bring the gospel to the nations. So teaching jobs.
Matt Smethurst: And can I interject there?
David Platt: Oh, sure.
Matt Smethurst: Because I want to actually read a quote from your book about this. You write, “I can’t help but wonder if God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplace to open up avenues for the spread of the gospel around the world.” I’m sure there are people tuning in right now who don’t feel called to pastoral ministry, don’t feel called to traditional missions, but you’re saying that doesn’t mean-
David Platt: Actually all the better … No, I mean I’m not saying like pastoral ministry is a bad calling. I don’t think it is. I’m kind of there. Or traditional missions, but yes, you can’t get into the Middle East with a seminary degree. You can get in with a teaching degree. You can get in with a medical degree. You can get in with an engineering degree or with engineering experience. There’s so many different avenues like that that are available for you to go and be a part of what God is doing in the world. Take advantage of, yes, steward the globalization of today’s marketplace to make your life count for the glory of Christ among the nations. So yeah, I hope that maybe is a small picture of an encouragement to college students.
Matt Smethurst: Denay says, “I’m a stay-at-home mom of young children in rural Minnesota. How can parents like myself teach our children to be a part of what God is doing in the world even at a young age? What are some practical ways I can parent with missions in mind?”
David Platt: I love that question. Just get a vision for 18 years of pouring a heart for God’s glory among the nations into a child. You have no idea the fruit that can bring. Practical things, I would encourage you to pray with your kids continually for the unreached. So use like an app, like the Joshua Project app. This is something we use with our kids. We just kind of pass it around every day. There’s a new people group on there. It tells you about where the gospel’s not yet gone. Read about it; learn about it, then you pray together. Just start praying there. I would encourage you to read with them missionary biographies. So our family right now, like around the table this morning, we were reading Amy Carmichael’s biography.
Just expose them to stories of people. We’re looking at this biography. Here’s this girl. She was so disappointed that she had brown eyes instead of blue eyes and she thought, “I’d be prettier if I had blue eyes,” and then God used her to be a missionary in India where she was going into places and rescuing little girls and she would have been recognized if she had blue eyes, but she could cover up and she had brown eyes. God has designed every single fabric of who you are for his purposes in the world. So just teachable moments like that.
I would encourage you just in family worship in times where you’re in the word together with them, point out, show like Daniel in the lion’s den. Then that’s my six-year-old’s favorite story. “But all right buddy. It’s not just about Daniel being rescued from lions. It’s this king right afterwards who declared that God of Daniel deserves praise among all the peoples, nations, and languages of the earth. That’s who our God is. He deserves the praise of all the peoples.” And if you were asked my six-year-old right now, like “All right. What does dad pray over you every night?” And it’s Psalm 67:1-2, what we just prayed. “May God be gracious to us, bless us, cause his face to shine upon us so that your ways we know on an earth, your saving power known among all nations.” I’m just praying that that prayer will yield fruit in him and my other kids.
Hopefully that’s helpful just to sow seeds, sow seeds of God’s heart for the nations into your kids continually, and then show them. I would just encourage you to look for opportunities to give. Oh, I’m starting to think of all kinds of other things, but one of the things we do I’ll just share it real quick. Our kids get an allowance and then so we help them think through saving and then we help them think through how do you give to your local church and then what can you be a part of giving to that’s going to be a part of making the gospel known in this way or that way.
At Christmas, we do these giving jars where they do extra things around the house and we give them more money. And then on Christmas day, the first thing we do before we open presents is we count how much money they got from their Christmas jars and then we use some gift catalogs that are doing work among the nations and we spend and amidst urgent spiritual and physical needs. I mean my son was convinced he was getting a goat, but then we were like, “Buddy, it’s not for you. It’s for this family over here where …” Anyway, so there’s opportunities to think through giving and then you show them what this looks like and then go and look for opportunities to take him on a short-term trip when they’re older somewhere in the world where the gospel has not yet gone. Involve them in mission. There’s so many ways.
Matt Smethurst: That’s excellent and helpful for me as a parent. So many questions I wish we could get to, but we only have time for one more. So we’ll close on this note, and this question from Alexia is representative of many questions that have flooded in and this is appropriate that people would be asking this. “I have a heart to share the gospel and I want to go to the unreached. I’m willing to go, but I’m not just sure how. What is the first step I should take? How do I even begin?”
David Platt: I would encourage Alexia, others like one, just start. Make sure to start right where you are. By that, I mean just be active in sharing the gospel right around you. So that’s one of the things I’ve been convicted about even recently in my own life. I’m talking with Yazid, and he’s risking his life to make the gospel known. I live in one of the freest countries in the history of the world. I want to be more bold in sharing the gospel right where I live. So I want to encourage you to speak bold in sharing the gospel right where you live, one.
Then two, obviously I don’t know where you live, but look for are there opportunities to share the gospel with unreached people groups that are represented right around you. So certainly in a city like metro Washington, DC, we have tons of unreached people groups that are represented here, whether it’s Somalis, whether it’s Muslim [inaudible 00:22:32]. There’s all kinds of different people groups here. And so be intentional, look for opportunities right around you where you can be involved in making and sharing the gospel with unreached there, and then I would encourage you to first step beyond that. Look for an opportunity ideally with your church to go somewhere in the world where the gospel is not yet known and be a part of the spread of the gospel there.
So encourage, if you don’t already, your church leaders to develop some relationship with somebody who’s working somewhere in the world where the gospel’s not yet gone and go be a part of it and join with them. Obviously you’re not going to make disciples in a week, but you can be a part of a long term disciple-making process that’s happening there, that is short-term missions done right, helping fuel a long term disciple-making process then as you start to take those steps, God will do all kinds of work in your heart. He may lead you to eventually not just take a short-term trip to go for a couple months, year or two, or maybe longer than that, the rest of your life potentially. Or he may lead you to stay in a more reached context. That’s where I live, but you will live with a different perspective.
You’ll live with zeal for the spread of the gospel right where you live particularly among unreached people groups that are there and you’ll be looking for opportunities. You’ll be praying. You’ll be giving to get behind what God’s doing among unreached people and supporting those who are on the frontlines like Yazid, and then as you have opportunity, you’ll be going. And that’s the beauty. I would just encourage everybody listening to this. Every single one of our lives is designed by God to count for His glory in light of the fact that many people have never even heard His name. So let’s just open up our lives, start to take some of those steps I hope that will be helpful, and just see what He does.
Matt Smethurst: Well, David, thank you for taking this time and again, I would encourage all the viewers to get a copy of Something Needs to Change. It challenged and encouraged me, and I was startled by the vulnerability with which you share the story. It’s not just a travel log. It is an immersive narrative about what God accomplished in you and what He is accomplishing around the world.