Hello, and welcome back to our series on Spiritual Warfare and Missions (SWAM). If you missed the first couple of posts you really should click here to read them first. And be reminded that this series is based on the book by Jerry Rankin and Ed Stetzer called Spiritual Warfare and Missions.
Last week we talked about Satan’s strategy to persecute believers and the church. The Bible makes it clear that persecution and suffering will accompany the proclamation of the gospel in a world hostile to a Christian witness and also that the suffering will be used by God to advance His kingdom.
This week we will see that Satan also uses the idea that missions is somehow optional to rob God of the glory that He is due.
Satan continues to work through godless world leaders and totalitarian governments to keep countries closed to missionaries and restrict a Christian witness, but in this era of modern communication and global commerce, he is unsuccessful in barricading countries against the life-transforming message of Jesus Christ.
His strategy to obscure remote people groups from our awareness is failing as sociologists and researchers have identified the ethnic language groups of the world. Their location and worldviews are known and are systematically being penetrated with gospel witness.
Even persecution and suffering is feeding the growth of the church and expanding access to the Christian message. Satan does not understand the power of love that motivates the sacrificial commitment and the power of the convictions of believers willing to suffer for their faith.
One of the authors says that he will say to one of his daughters something like Sweetheart, will you help me with the dishes? At face value, it seems as if there is an option built into my request. In reality, he is making a gracious dictate to his little girl. The asking is actually directing.
God works similarly with us. He invites us to participate in His mission. But we never find the Scriptures to list is as optional. Because He desires to operate relationally with us, God allows us to make a decision. Rest assured that Satan will seize upon this dynamic at every turn to convince us that missional activity is an option that can and should be denied.
God’s Word calls Satan the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). He leverages a tremendous asset when he works outside the church in the world to hinder the gospel. In the world, he is on his home court. However he is much too cunning to depend solely on closed countries, undiscovered people groups, persecution of believers, and cultures hostile to the gospel. He uses other strategies inside the Christian community to deter the advancement of God’s kingdom and to hinder believers and churches from ever deploying to vast pockets of lostness around the world.
In trying to convince Christians that missions is optional, he diverts churches to focus on their own programs and to see their mission as reaching people for their own church. If he can persuade Christians that reaching the nations has little or no relevancy or urgency to their own life, he has raised a barrier that makes other barriers obsolete. Who, then, will be willing to leave their own comfort and security to take the gospel and declare God’s salvation to the peoples of the world?
This isn’t simply semantics. The church needs to hear a different descriptor than “missions volunteer.” The volunteer is given high regard in our culture. Why? Because volunteers do something that is not required of them. They work although they are not obligated. Volunteers contribute selflessly to a cause greater than themselves. What heroes!
If the devil can convince us that engaging friends, communities, and nations with the gospel is something we really do not have to do, he wins. If he makes the smallest step of Christian service seem heroic, he creates barriers to moving outside our comfort zones. We will serve the Lord and the church on an intuitive, feel-good level only.
Paul would never have considered himself a volunteer. His burden for men, women, and children drove him far beyond volunteering for Christ. Missions was not a voluntary act for Paul. It was compulsory. He describes it this way: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Romans 1:14-15).
The language of volunteerism would be unfamiliar with the deeply burdened missionary apostle. Paul felt obligated to do something about the lostness around him. He owed them an opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. Also, you see that the obligation and debt that he felt produced urgency and courage. In the same passage he said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
In every organization, there are a myriad of forces at work, but two stand out. They can be illustrated by a yo-yo. If you swing a yo-yo around in a circle, two forces are at work (in a non-technical sense). The first is the centrifugal force that pulls the yo-yo away from your hand and pushes it outward. This force represents the missionary nature of our work. The second force is centripetal, the force that draws things inward, the force exerted by the string. This force is necessary to care for the core, and the temptation is to make that the focus. One force spreads, the other centralizes.
For churches today, the choice is to keep pushing toward missionary work as it radiates in a larger circle or to meet the needs of the tether by pulling it inward. The moment a church decides that missions is an optional activity, the tether becomes the focus and the radius of the work begins a rapid decline.
People on mission have made an important discovery. People on mission do not go to church. People on mission are the church. Being on mission for Jesus is a way of life that frees us from the busyness of doing “Christian” activities. It is a choice to be mission-shaped and Jesus-centred disciples living for the gospel in their communities and the world. Mission-shaped means God is bending me to have His heart for the world. Jesus-centred means Hs is the focal point of my life. “For in him we live and move and have our being” is how Paul describes it in a sermon preached in Athens (Acts 17:28). Like the original twelve disciples, we do life with Jesus daily.
Mission-shaped and Jesus-centred people change the world. What does that look like? John gives us a clue. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). The question is: Will we conquer the world? Or will the world conquer us?
So let’s become more mission-shaped and Jesus-centred and take the gospel to our neighbours and the world.