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Making Missions the Passion of Every Church Member

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When all the redeemed get to heaven, we will begin an eternal education in the glory of God. That education began here on earth in small measure as Almighty God spoke into our hearts the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). But here on earth, we only “see through a glass darkly,” whereas in heaven, we will see his glory “face to face”; now we know “in part,” then we shall “know fully, even as we have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

What is the glory of God but the radiant display of his attributes—his power, love, mercy, patience, justice, wrath, wisdom, etc. In heaven, the entire new universe will be radiant with the glory of God, such that there will be no need for the light of the sun, or moon, or of a lamp to shine (Revelation 22:5). And while every aspect of the radiant capital city of the eternal kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, will shine with God’s glory, and while every newly created mountain and valley and river and tree of the new earth will display God’s glory, yet nothing will display more fully and spectacularly the glory of God than the countless multitude of the redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and nation standing around the throne in white robes worshiping God and the Lamb for their stunning salvation. (Revelation 7:9)

It was to rescue that multitude that God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world. Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Through the Son, the Father is seeking those who will worship him eternally “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The completion of Christ’s mission to the nations was entrusted to all his followers right before he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:8). Amazingly, in the completion of that mission, God’s saving work in us is also made complete, for by engaging Christ’s eternal work, we ourselves grow progressively into Christlikeness. By sacrificial service to that mission, we are rescued from worldly lusts (1 John 2:16) and transformed from glory into glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Every Member

These themes should captivate the heart of every Christian here on earth. We should be passionate about them with a fiery and affectionate passion that far supersedes any earthly love we may possess. Sadly, such is the deception of sin that our hearts can be cold toward the things that really matter. We can be drawn into love for “other things” as Christ’s parable of the seed and the soils warns us (Mark 4:19). These thorny, worldly desires choke out the word in our souls making it unfruitful. That should terrify all Christians.  

So, it is very much the work of all healthy local churches to see each of their members transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2) so that they display the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) for his mission to the ends of the earth. The elders of every church should so passionately teach sacrificial engagement in the Great Commission as the fruit of the gospel in each member’s life that the world’s thorns are weeded out and the seed of the word of God might bear one hundred-fold in their lives. 

Each member should be passionate about unreached people groups hearing the gospel. 

They should be broken-hearted as Paul was over the lostness of the Jews (Romans 9:1–2), willing to do whatever God wants them to do to carry out the mission to the ends of the earth, and saying as Paul did, “I count my life worth nothing to me if only I may finish the race and complete the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). If we are not passionate for this eternally glorious work, undoubtedly the deceitfulness of sin has hardened our hearts (Hebrews 3:12–13). The robust ministry of the word in the local church must be the remedy.

Holding the Ropes

Very few followers of Christ are called to sell all their possessions, pack up their families, travel to a distant land, settle among an unreached people group, learn the language and culture, and deliver the pure gospel. Most followers of Christ worldwide will lead quiet lives in their own neighborhoods and communities, work hard with their own hands, provide for their own families, and grow in Christ in their local churches. (1 Thessalonians 4:11). But those who don’t go must “hold the ropes” for those who do. 

That expression, “hold the ropes,” was spoken originally by the trailblazing missionary William Carey in 1792 as he was preparing to go to India with the gospel. His good friend Andrew Fuller said the mission seemed to him like a descent into a dark, mysterious mine. Carey said, “I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” What a powerful image! The one descending is taking all the risks, courageously venturing into the darkness. But his very life depends on his friend who remains up above holding his rope with all his strength. Every church member must feel the weight of the descending gospel messenger. 

Holding the rope involves financial support, of course. The ongoing support of missionaries and their families is a massive need. So also the funds for their various gospel-related projects. But it involves so much more than money. Paul urged the local church at Rome to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Rom. 15:30). This prayer support is vital, and every church member should be instructed and empowered to grab hold of the rope of prayer. Beyond this, holding the rope involves rich fellowship and accountability across the miles. Local church members know each other, and are known by each other. By this, we “watch over one another in brotherly love,” as our own Church Covenant states. Missionaries need that too. 

Having local church members express true concern for the details of the missionaries’ lives—gospel encounters, difficulties with the local government, health problems, parenting challenges, and so many other details of life—is vital to the staying power and fruitfulness of those missionaries. We have amazing technological reach these days through digital apps, smartphones, laptops, etc. We can “FaceTime” or “Zoom” or “WhatsApp” (or whatever) with missionaries on the other side of the world and walk with them daily in ways that William Carey’s friends could never have done at the beginning of the 19th century. 

So, dear church leaders and church members, I make an appeal to you: root your passion for missions in the rich soil of your own healthy local church. Let a growing passion for the glory of God and of Christ in the salvation of that multitude from every nation on earth drive out all worldly passions. By God’s grace, may the fullness of your local church’s harvest come by this heavenly fire filling your hearts.

Dr. Andrew M. Davis, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina. Andy is a founding council member of the The Gospel Coalition and is the author of numerous books, including The Glory Now Revealed: What We’ll Discover about God in Heaven. For more resources from Andy, visit Two Journeys.
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