Should every Christian be a missionary? Does the Great Commission call everyone to go to the nations? In this episode of Neighborhoods and Nations, Steven Morales is joined by David Platt to discuss the responsibility of every Christian in the Great Commission.
It’s 1984 and researchers for Coca-Cola had an idea for the biggest marketing opportunity ever: to put Coke in space. So the company developed a can that would work in space and would maintain its fizziness. NASA greenlit the plan and the following year we put Cokes in space.
The Coca-Cola Phenomenon
Coca-Cola has long been on a path to go where no other drink has gone before. Coca-Cola is the second most understood word in the entire world right after “Okay.” It’s sold in virtually every country in the world. They claim that their iconic brand is recognized by 90% of the world’s population. And at the end of the day, brand recognition means profit. When your brand is recognized everywhere, it’s not hard to sell your product. It kind of reminds me of a quote by William Carey in 1792 when he said something that explains why the Coca-Cola Company sells 10,000 soft drinks every second. “Men can insinuate themselves into the favor of the most barbarous clans and uncultivated tribes for the sake of gain.”
We are willing to do anything and go anywhere if we know we’ll gain from it. It’s why the Apostle Paul tells Christians that we’re to count all things as loss in order to gain Christ. Jesus gave a parable that says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a hidden treasure, that once we find where it is, it’s worth selling everything in order to get it. For Christians, gaining Jesus is worth more than anything. And yet, at this moment, there are billions of people who have no idea who he is. Many or most of them live in countries that probably aren’t high on your vacation bucket list.
And in any case, there are a lot of people around us who also need Jesus, right? Why would we go to another country to share the gospel when particularly in the US today it can feel like there are fewer and fewer Christians every day? These are the kinds of questions that I think about all the time. And maybe you do too. Questions like “Am I doing God’s will for my life?” “Am I really willing to lose everything to follow him?” And “Am I doing enough to reach those billions of people who have yet to hear about Jesus?”
So take a moment to think about the billions of people in places where it’s extremely hard to hear the gospel. Who should be going to them? I wonder who we could ask?
Who Should Be Going
David Platt: I think about Acts 13. In the Church in Antioch, the Holy Spirit sets apart Saul and Barnabas. Like two people out of Antioch to go to some new place. He didn’t call everybody in Antioch to go. When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he didn’t say “Everybody in the church in Rome, it’s time to pack your bags. We got to get the gospel to Spain.” He says: I’m coming through there on my way to Spain. I need you to help me get the gospel there. And that might mean some people going with them, but that’s where to be a follower of Jesus means to say, “Here’s my life, whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go, however you want me to live, to see disciples made in all nations, this is what I live for.”
And that’s not just for a few. That is for us all.
Steven: So here’s where things kind of break down for us a little bit. Speaking generally, in the Western church, we’ve unintentionally created these unhelpful categories Sometimes for making disciples. We think Christians have a calling to make disciples right where they are, and that’s true. But that’s not completely true. There’s a little bit more to it.
In the Great Commission, Christians have a calling to make disciples of all nations, go to all nations. But if I asked you today who are the people who are making disciples, going to other countries, taking the gospel where the gospel is not… You wouldn’t say Christians necessarily. You’ll probably say missionaries. And what inadvertently happens is that now we don’t really think that’s an US thing. It’s not really our responsibility to do something about the need over there in the nations. That falls on these guys, missionaries or your missions pastor or that guy in your congregation who really cares about missions. As long as I’m just doing this here in my local area, then I’m good, right? Well, not really.
The Great Commission is for everyone. All nations is the goal for all Christians, not just for missionaries. So does this mean you should hop on a plane to India right now? Well, maybe for some of us, but definitely not for all of us. But perhaps there’s more than one way to make nation-going disciple-making happen. I think a little history lesson might be helpful for us here.
A History Lesson
“An Inquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” This is the book that put William Carey on the map. And I know we don’t really say heathens anymore, but the idea of leaving your home country and moving to another one to share the gospel was not very common in those days.
But Carey was adamant that it is the duty of those who are entrusted with the Gospel to endeavor to make it known among all nations. And he wasn’t kidding. Within a year of writing it, Carey was on a ship with his family and a friend to India, where he had a lasting positive impact on language, religion, and social reform. The effects are still seen today. So again, does this mean we should all pack our bags and go to the nations? Well, Carey didn’t seem to think so.
Before leaving his home, he told a dear friend, “I will go down into the pit if you will hold the rope.” That friend was Andrew Fuller, who helped found the Baptist Missionary Society. This organization sent and supported Carey, and Fuller did everything he could from raising money to preaching sermons all over England, all to advocate for Carey’s work overseas.
So did Fuller himself go to the nations? No, but he did obey God’s commands to make disciples of all nations. And he did so by holding the rope.
Are You Playing Your Part?
And so all this leads to the question, are you playing your part in God’s Great Commission to make disciples not just locally, but of all nations?
David Platt: So the command Jesus has given us is clear. Make disciples of all the nations. Like that’s not a calling for a few. That’s the command for us all. This means all of us have a part to play in seeing disciples made in all the nations. That doesn’t mean, in this, we read the New Testament, it doesn’t play out with every single person going to another nation, to another people group for the spread of the gospel.
Steven: While in India, Carey was translating the Bible into as many languages and dialects as he could.
But in 1812, his print shop was tragically lost in a fire, along with most of his library and tools. And there was no iCloud backup at this time. It seemed like everything was lost. But you know what he did? Carey went back to work and with no help from anyone, was able to restore all his work single-handedly. No, that didn’t happen.
After this happened, word actually returned home of the fire that devastated Carey’s life’s work. And God used it to raise up a ton of new rope holders. So many people rallied behind the cause that at one point Andrew Fuller had to stop the contributions because of how much money was pouring in. And so Carey did go back to his work, and before his death, he was able to print the Bible in 44 languages and dialects because of the people holding the rope for him.
Making disciples is not an activity that only happens locally. It’s something you can contribute to on a global scale. So imagine what it would be like to cultivate a culture of rope-holding in your church and with your friends. Outstanding generosity and “we got your back now” for your brothers and sisters serving in other countries. I’m not suggesting you become the mission’s guy, although that’s not a bad thing. But by becoming aware of God’s work around the world, maybe reading a little bit more of what’s happening internationally and even learning a new language, you could also hold the rope for others.
Holding the Rope
Holding the rope can look different for different people. But there’s at least one way it should look the same for everyone, and that’s prayer. Carey says prayer is perhaps the only thing in which Christians of all denominations can cordially and unreservedly unite. At the end of the day, conversion is not a work made possible by men. Only God can open eyes and change hearts. And that work is more often than not preceded by our prayers. God hears the prayers of his people, and he answers, usually through his people. Even when it seems like all is lost.
Steven: How does a Christian know if the part that they’re playing is enough?
David: Well, I think the key is abiding in Jesus, like doing what he is calling us to do. So walking in step with his Spirit. Each of us is only going to play a part. And some people might say, “Well, okay, David Platt, you’re playing this part. I feel like I’m doing so little”. Like, we’re all doing a small part that’s part of the picture. 3 billion people without the Gospel today? Like, that’s going to be a lot of people playing a part in praying, a lot of people playing a part in giving, a lot of people playing a part in going. Again right where we live and then wherever God might lead us.
And as we’re walking in step with God’s Spirit saying “I want to obey this command in my life, this is my life. I want to make disciples of all the nations.” And trusting Jesus to lead us by his Spirit. I think there’s a lot of contentment that can come even amidst a massive need to say, “Okay, I’m doing what Jesus is calling us, calling me to do.”
And to do that as part of a local church where we’re being challenged and making disciples of all nations and what that looks like in our lives right where we are and being open to wherever God leads instead of just being kind of left to ourselves when we can settle for less than what Jesus is calling us to. So we want to guard against that. At the same time, we also want to guard against living like we’re never doing enough. That’s not how Jesus designed us to live.
Every Christian is a Christian because another Christian did something. Another Christian left some sort of comfort zone and reached you with the gospel. Could have been your parents. Could have been a friend. Could have been a stranger preaching on a street corner. Or even through a book or a podcast. But you were reached.
And if you look at the places around the world today where Christians can freely gather to worship and follow Jesus, you can more often than not trace back its religious history to a movement of missionaries who went through extreme trials to take the gospel to those places. These places are reached, but they weren’t reached because God just dropped the Bible in a church building on them.
They were reached because someone was sent. We go down the pit, and we hold the rope for others who do because that’s what Jesus did for us and called us to do.