When Christians think about missions, we often think of it as a command by God. However, if we take a closer look at some of the Bible passages associated with missions such as what is usually referred to as the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20), we will see that it is much more than that. Here, a statement that I recently came across best sums it as “The Great Commission is not just a command, it is also a promise”.
Firstly, there is the promise of God’s plan. The Bible shows us that missions arises from the heart of God as He seeks to reconcile humanity to himself (2 Cor 5:18-20). Just as God chose Abraham to be the agent of God’s blessings to the nations (Gen 12:3), so God is calling the church to go forth and be a blessing through our obedience to God and faithful proclamation of the Gospel. We are saved in accordance to God’s sovereign plan, not just for our own sakes but so that those of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds can also come to enjoy the blessings of salvation through Christ. Thus, when Christians are actively participating in missions (whether it is praying, giving and going), we are actually partnering with God in bringing about his salvation plan for the nations and living out God’s call for us as followers of Christ.
Secondly, there is the promise of God’s presence. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit will be with them as they continue to preach about the kingdom of God (Matt 28:18-20, Mk 16:15-18, Lk 24:49, Jn 20:22, Acts 1:8). To the disciples, Jesus’ assurance of God’s continued presence was of great encouragement to them. This is because up to this point, the disciples were uncertain about their future and doubtful about how God’s kingdom will be restored in the absence of their beloved master.
When Christians are “mission-minded” and seek opportunities to testify about Jesus, we can be certain that God is with us. Even if we are posted to an overseas work assignment in a country which is resistant to Christianity or are staying in a new neighbourhood where people are generally of a different faith, we know that God will not leave us to fend for ourselves. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit can bring to us an intimate awareness of God’s presence when moments of loneliness or homesickness threaten to creep in. Furthermore, in God’s sovereign providence, God’s presence can sometimes manifest itself in other ways such as the relative ease we experience when applying for a study visa or being protected from possible physical harm.
Finally, we also need to be reminded of the promises of God’s power as we desire to bring the gospel particularly to places where people have not heard about Jesus before. We are well aware that we cannot rely on our human efforts or earthly resources if we want to be fruitful in missions. This is especially so since we are up against powerful spiritual forces (Eph 5:12) and our enemy, Satan is going all out to disrupt and discourage Christians from being an effective witness for Christ.
Just as Paul and the other disciples testified about how unbelievers came to faith through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the power of signs and miracles (Rom 15:18-19), there will be times when God answers our prayers in such a manner that none can deny that it is truly God at work through us. Such “power encounters” have their place even in today’s context as they demonstrate the reality of God to unbelievers who may be steeped in the occult or in some form of spiritual bondage.
However, we want to guard against a triumphalistic understanding of how God’s power is at work. After all, God is also at work sustaining the believer who perseveres in a difficult mission situation where the people have been unresponsive to the gospel despite years of labour. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is also at work when following the examples of Adoniram Judson (missionary to Burma) and others, we can find joy despite the personal sacrifices or painful losses we have experienced in the midst of our ministry endeavours. Indeed, it brings glory to God when the believer shows through his life that nothing satisfies him more than seeing the nations come to worship the true God and honouring the name of Christ.
Missions is ultimately all about God. And if we identify ourselves as a Christian, may the Holy Spirit help us to be in continual awe of God and grow in our zeal for God’s glory to be made known to all the nations!
Pastor Edwin Wong
August 19, 2012