Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MISSIO DEI - Whose mission is it anyway?

Now hear this!

Missions is not merely something that God’s people do. The Bible’s grand narrative is of a sending God, who has sent His Son into the world and who, with the Son, now sends us the Spirit, by which we ourselves are sent forth into the world. It is not “all about us,” missions is something God does.

God is, after all, the one constant. Read any missions history book. Man passes from the earth like grass, like vapor. The old hymn writer depicts the human condition this way, “We blossom and flourish as leaves on a tree, then wither and perish – but naught changeth Thee.” We are but supporting actors. We are but extras summoned for a brief moment in order to better display the character of the lead starring role.

God, who is the author of the production, stars Himself as the main character. It is our purpose to magnify Him and His work so that when the final credits roll only one name appears, the Name above all others who deserves all the glory, Revelation 7:10, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

I desire to briefly sketch two truths in this brief article:

• First, God is not following our lead, but is leading us. Let us not think we are doing grand things for God by going forth into the fields or by “holding the ropes” of those who do. God is doing grand things by leading us and allowing us to even take a small part.

• Second, God is not a God who merely engages in missions. God is, on the contrary, a missionary God. Missions is not merely one activity among many that our God engages in, missions flows from His very Being.

Now, let’s dig deeper into these truths.

First, God is not following our lead. He is out front.

If missions depended upon us, what a pitiful state! What a pitiful God! What a pitiful future! If God waited for our initiative or relied upon our strength, the situation would be hopeless.

I once heard a Baptist missionary proclaim that God needed us to save the heathen. He stated that the salvation of those who had never heard rested upon us. The missionary call had been given to all of us; the question was whether or not we were going to obey it.

Hear this! God is not frail, He marches on. And He marches only to His own drum, whose beat is neither late nor rushed. The pace may appear slow to us, but God is covering the whole earth with His glory like the waters that cover the seas.

God reaches outward with the spreading fingers of His bright glory like the sun reaching through clefts of mountain at daybreak, the dawning light changing from sharp slivers of isolated light to a general enveloping brightness, slowly engulfing everything in its wake. His wonderful name is lighting the last jungle tribes of Irian Jaya, and will yet penetrate the dark deserts of Arabia.

Isaac Watts paints this glory in a paraphrase of Psalm 72, my favorite hymn:

Jesus shall reign wher’er the Sun,
doth its successive journeys run.
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.

God is the one spreading His glory. When a church sends a missionary, God is not in their debt. God is pleased when someone steps out in service to Him, but this pleasure is not the relieved pleasure of a General in wartime, thankful for a few more recruits to throw at the frontline. This is the pleasure of a Father who delights to include his children in His own work. The church that sends a missionary merely gains the privilege of fellowship and participation in the work of this sending God.

Jesus describes the situation thusly, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” (John 20:21). Worshipping this sending God, we become a sending people.

Second, God does not merely “do” missions; He is Himself missionary

God takes the supreme place as the first and greatest missionary. God is the one who does mission and this “doing” springs from His “being,” and we are not so much “doers” of missions at all but “witnesses” (Acts 1:8) to what God is doing. God does not merely have a mission for His church. On the contrary, God has a church for His mission. Likewise, the Bible does not merely contain information about missions. It is, itself, a missionary document. Forget about the question about whether there is a “Biblical basis for missions” or not. There is, instead, a missionary basis for the Bible, that record of God’s self-revealing mission.

Let’s be clear, God does not merely “do missions,” God is a God who is missionary in His being. The very being of God throbs with a missional pulse, a constant willful self-revealing of His glory. God delights in blessing the nations and in spreading His glory. Why else did God create the world? Out of loneliness? God forbid! His love bubbled over and could not be contained. He is the All-Glorious who created the universe as a stage to display that glory.

It is comforting to know that missionary work has a Trinitarian basis! God is a Trinitarian being, who sends and is sent and God’s people, being filled with the Spirit of God, likewise reflect this nature. God the Father sends the Son and the Father and Son jointly send the Spirit which is poured into the church, who is then sent out into the world. God is a missionary who loves His people, whose Son veiled His glory in human flesh to become first an example and then an adequate sacrifice for His People. And now God has sent His Spirit to indwell this same People to empower us to go out into the world as witnesses, sent out to be blessings to still yet others.

Let me sketch another analogy of missions as Trinitarian involvement:

Imagine a father killing a snake loitering on the front door. This father then gives the stick to his young child so that the child, too, can take a few whacks at the dying snake. “Good job!” encourages the father. If the child’s hands waver, the father is there to steady them. Though the parent is the one who has accomplished the final victory, the father delights to include his children whom he loves, for the pleasure of the parent and the furtherance of the teaching of the child.

Praise God! We can participate! Though it is God’s mission, He gives us a part. He has won the victory and has crushed the Serpent’s head but still allows us to tread Satan under our feet.

God has conquered through the sending of his Son and now sends us to gather the spoil. God gives us the Spirit to steady weak arms and through God’s inclusion of us into His own mission, we learn more about our Sending God and His Son Jesus Christ, the Sent-Out one who includes us in His work by the Spirit.

God, by the death of His Son, reconciles the world to Himself and sends us forth, giving us the message of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:19).


Dear Father,

Ultimately, you send us to reap wherein we have bestowed no labor. Another has done the work, and yet we take part in His labors. We look at the fields white for harvest and we pray for the privilege of participation in gathering in this precious wheat. Oh Lord, thank you that we together, You who plant and we who are allowed to harvest, are able to share in this joy together.

Thank you Lord for allowing us to reap the fruit of your labors.


  1. Excellent post! The point about the Trinity is very good.

    What book has had the single most influence on you in regards to mission? - Mark from PuritanBoard

  2. When I was younger I never really read any missions book. Matthew 28 hit me like a semi truck.

    Recently, Piper's let the nations be glad and don't waste your life and Thomas Hale's On Being a Missionary.