What is our Motivation in Missions?
August 17, 2011
At most missionary conferences, the theme is likely to be centered on how many human souls are lost in darkness with no hope of salvation. We are urged, therefore, to “rescue the perishing.”
Should that be our main motivation in foreign missions? Surely we should be burdened and concerned for the lost. God is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9). He would like all men to be saved (I Timothy 2:4). He loved us and gave Himself for us to redeem us from eternal death. So we should likewise love the lost and give ourselves to save them.
But that’s not the main purpose of foreign missions given in the New Testament.
Winning lost souls to Christ is called “evangelism.” Every member of every church should be involved in some way in helping to spread the good news to every creature. We should realize that all men are sinners in need of a Savior, and without Christ they will be lost forever.
But if this is our only motivation in missions there is no need to go to foreign countries. Millions of unsaved souls are all around us, and who is to say that the lost in Lhasa are more precious than the lost in Louisville.
A frequent answer is that the lost in Kentucky have a chance to hear while millions in Tibet have not had a chance, because that land has never admitted foreign missionaries.
In the Word of God, concern for overseas missions is something quite different. It centers in the word “apostleship.” Paul told the saints in Rome that he had received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name (Romans 1:5).
That’s why he had to preach the gospel not where Christ was named (Romans 15:20). Then he said, Now I have no more place (to do missionary work) in these parts. How could he say such a thing? Thousands of lost souls who had never heard the gospel were all around him. Yet he says, “There is no more work for me to do here.”
Obviously his motivation was not just the salvation of souls but planting churches to honor the name of our blessed Savior.
When God Almighty looks down on this planet, He seeks a response from the people He has created in His own image. Most have turned to idolatry and are preoccupied with created things rather than their Creator. Covetousness (desire for earthly things or recognition) is idolatry as much as bowing to a Buddha (Colossians 3:5).
Because of idolatry, God created the nations at the tower of Babel. When He scattered them to the ends of the earth, He gave them up (Romans 1:21-25), temporarily. Isaiah 54 tells how the Messiah will regather them (see Galatians 4:27).
That’s why God called Abram and promised that through one (and only one: Galatians 3:16) of his descendants all nations would be blessed. Until Messiah came God’s witness on earth was limited to one nation. Looking down from the heavens He could say, My house sits in Jerusalem. There I have a people for my name.
But that was temporary, until the Seed should come through whom some from every nation will be redeemed. When He died for our sins and rose again, the time was fulfilled. Over and over our Lord repeated, all nations, all nations.
Not that every nation would be converted or Christianized. Just the opposite. He told His disciples they would be hated of all nations (Matt. 24:9). His purpose is to have a witness for Himself, a people for His name, in every nation.
That’s why the first church conference emphasized how our Lord was visiting the nations to take out a people for His name (Acts 15:14). The original word for church is ecclesia, meaning called out. Some from every tongue, tribe and nation.
So the purpose of foreign missions is to build the Lord’s house (made of living stones: I Peter 2:5) among those people and in those places where as yet He has no people for His name.
Christian Aid gives priority to helping indigenous ministries in unreached pioneer areas like Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet. When Prem Pradhan went back to Nepal after finding Christ in India, he was the only believer in his country. Some 80 nations (ethnic groups) there had not one Christian among them. Now, 60 years later, our Lord has a people for His name among every nation in Nepal. And Prem’s disciples, with help from Christian Aid, have been working day and night to build the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16) among them. Other native missionaries are planting churches among nearly 4000 ethnic language groups scattered across the earth.
People ask, “If you have contact with 4000 indigenous ministries having over 200,000 missionaries, how do you know which ones to help?”
Simple. We give priority to those working among unreached people groups. We search out those who go where no Christian has ever gone before. We want to help God’s servants in lands where missionaries from America cannot go.
Speaking of His return to this earth, our Savior told us He would come again when He has a witness for Himself, a people for His name in every nation (Matthew 24:14, Mark 13:10). Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.