Evangelical attitudes throughout the church age toward the Great Commission have been strangely divergent—some have practically ignored the command, others saw it merely as a secondary job, and still others devoted their lives to world missions and made it their entire ministry. Yet missions have most prominently contributed to the rapid spread of the Christian faith, both numerically and geographically. This should come as no surprise, because the Bible clearly teaches that God’s hand guides history, directing the good and bad from the start until the appointed end in which he will prove victorious. Meanwhile, God uses our sinfulness and limitations and still continues to build his church; the primary method he uses is missions.
Arguing on behalf of world missions, therefore, seems almost needless or useless to the believer. No Christian would outright deny the importance of missions verbally, but actions, oftentimes, speak louder than words. Living missionally is undoubtedly a foreign concept to many believers, most neglecting the daily opportunities to share the truth about Jesus for fear of rejection, looking foolish, or any other number of (well, let’s be honest here) self-serving reasons. If we truly love God and desire to be obedient to his Word—as all Christians will admit to—then we must consider what he revealed to us about the importance of foreign missions. Let’s consider just a few aspects.
The Lord commands missions. During the early portion of his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke very little concerning missions; but during the final portion—the period between his resurrection and ascension—he spoke of little else. There were so many matters Jesus and his disciples could have discussed during his final forty days on earth, but Christ’s mind was filled with encouraging his followers to take the good news everywhere. At times he spoke on this matter as a master would address his soldiers or a king his subjects. At other moments he suggested, he exhorted, he urged. But in Matthew 28:16–20 we observe the commands to “Go” and to “make disciples.” The gospel message must be delivered to the whole world, the primary reason for evangelism and missions.
The human condition necessitates missions. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), Paul poignantly reminds us. He presents a distressing description of the consequences of sin; it brings death to all humans. No one, regardless of whether or not that individual has heard the gospel message, can claim to be free from guilt before God. All people will be held accountable, every mouth will be stopped when standing before the Judge, because they know they are not innocent (Rom. 3:19). And, so, the Christian understands Jesus alone is the only way of salvation (John 14:6), that is, the only hope mankind has to be reconciled with the Maker and be delivered from future punishment.
Missions enable Christians to participate in the greatest endeavor on earth. Because God chose the “folly of preaching” to bring the message of salvation, it allows Christians to be directly involved in the salvific process. Every believer has a role in the process of gathering the sheep. Paul made this clear when he wrote, “Ihave planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase,” (1 Cor. 3:6). One kind gesture or timely spoken word might just be the impetus that leads someone to Christ.Edward Kimball never could have imagined the impact Dwight L. Moody would have on the world the day he led him to Christ. Similarly, Mordecai Ham had no idea the sermon he preached in a tent meeting in the spring of 1934 would lead to the conversion of Billy Graham and the impact he would make for Christ. The point is that we must always witness to others through our words and actions and trust God with the results, because we never know how profound our efforts will be or the fruit that might be produced.
Missions ensure the labors of Christians will produce results. Another reason we evangelize is because we know with certainty that our efforts will not be in vain. God’s promises to save his people from eternal punishment will not go unfulfilled.Spiritual death has been conquered, and eternal life exists for God’s people. If God was not sovereign over the affairs of all humanity we could not say with certainty that any one would ever come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. There would be no guarantee that our labors would yield fruit, but the Lord promises many will be saved—saved with the help of our efforts.
Missions are the solemn duty with which Christians are charged. The command to “Go” was not given merely to the apostles but is the responsibility of all who profess the name of Christ. We trust that Christians will continue to obey the Lord, just as all true disciples do, fulfilling the Great Commission and the promise that Jesus will continue to build his church.