Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
It has been established in previous articles in this rubric that missions, as well as local evangelism and the witnessing of the individual Christian, is not a matter of choice, but of obedience to King Jesus. This is not to say that the work of missions is the exclusive, nor even the chief, purpose of the church. The true church has a genuine, Scripturally directed concern to proclaim the gospel to the fullest of its ability.
We have also established that the objects of mission work are “all nations,” “all the world,” and “every creature” (cf. the Great Commission). The local church is not limited by Christ’s command, just by His providence. While struggling with her providentially set limitations (finances, manpower, etc.), she zealously seeks to be obedient to her God-given responsibilities. When the church operates within the limited resources God has given it, then it must not feel guilty, as long as it is being faithful (doing its best) with what it has. We must do the best we can possibly do with the neighbors whom God places in the path of our life.
In this regard it is worthy of note that often the largeness of God’s heart is larger than ours. Jonah learned forcibly that God’s heart certainly was larger than the borders of Israel. To put it another way, Jonah believed that because God dealt with Israel in a special way, His heart was no larger than Israel. Are there Ninevehs today toward which there exists the attitude that they are good for nothing but judgment? Jonah deemed every enemy of Israel as being God’s enemy, as worthy of destruction and unworthy of the gospel. Therefore, when it meant leaving Israel’s borders and going to Gentile “dogs,” then his racial pride was more important than God’s Word. Jesus said to go into all the world, to take your sons out of the womb of warm churches, and to go through every door He opens, near and far.
Laboring with this perspective the church serves as God’s servant in the accomplishment of His eternal purposes of election and reprobation. The church seeks especially the positive fruit of the gathering of the elect from all nations, gathering them into the universal church of God on earth. Thus God is glorified.
In this article we will consider the motives for the performance of mission work. Is it necessary to deal with motives? What should motivate us in the performance of this work? Are there improper motives for doing mission work?
The necessity of dealing with motives arises because of the need for constant motivation to do the work. The earth-dwelling church and believer are not tireless and depressionless. Indeed, they are prone to weariness even in well-doing. Hence there arises a constant need for stimulation.
For example, some churches do missions only because they see the great need of hell-bound souls, and the miseries which accompany the sinner in every phase of his life. However, the mere knowledge of this need will not keep one in the mission field, because the people will soon rebuke and repel you. Once it is apparent that the people, who are in the greatest need, blindly and stubbornly decline the missionary’s every effort, then what is left to motivate him to stay and labor?
There are others who do missions being motivated solely by God’s command to “Go.” After some experiences of rejection and other difficulties, they continue because they are under orders. You might hear them say, “If not for the command, I would not be here.” They may have lost some or all of their idealism, but they have not lost the ideal.
But a command by itself is not enough. Not only are commands frequently and easily disobeyed but, also, true obedience involves much more than mere external compliance. It is sad but very true that we are capable of rendering outward obedience without willing inward compliance. Our feet can be right, but our heart so wrong. How stubborn is remaining sin!
Think of the example of Jonah. Whereas at first he was unwilling to give even outward obedience, later he went to Nineveh in obedience to God’s commission; but his heart was not right. By the stormy sea and by the great fish God had brought Jonah’s feet to obedience; and by the dead gourd God sought to bring his heart to the same point. Even after the chastening storm and life-saving fish, Jonah only went to Nineveh with reluctance. He would go, but it would be to damn them. He would gladly preach judgment and hell-fire. He anticipated a mighty manifestation of God’s wrath, and he stayed near Nineveh just to watch the great spectacle of God’s quick and sure judgment. Jonah obeyed God’s command, but his motive was far from being right.
By means of the gourd, God used a strange and much milder means than the storm and great fish to set Jonah’s heart right. Jonah had pity for the plant. God asks of Jonah whether He, God, may have the same for Nineveh. Jonah did not labor for the gourd; he did not make it; it was so transient, yet Jonah wanted it and loved it. The Almighty God made Nineveh, and He sustained it, filling it with souls. One gourd over against a great city with its multitudes! Is the value of Nineveh less than that of the gourd?
Jonah is an example of complying outwardly with God’s command, but being improperly motivated. Nineveh’s conversion is a testimony, not of God’s blessing on the obedience of His servant, but of the great grace of God that He would use Jonah even when he was of an improper frame of mind and heart. (Every child of God, and especially every officebearer, thanks God daily that man’s usefulness in preaching has little or no relationship to his heart’s condition.)
We learn to be aware of improper motives!
Many there are who are busy in missions and evangelism for the sake of pride and prestige. This pride is a danger for any Christian not yet in heaven. The power of the old man is very great. It is so easy when speaking of God’s blessings to refer only to that which is nice from the perspective of our flesh.
“Church growth” is the “in thing.” In fact, there is a “church growth movement.” If you were to walk into your local Christian bookstore with the intention of buying something on the subject of church growth, I would dare say that you would need to use both of your arms to carry the books when walking out. You will find books extolling the virtues of the megachurches already in existence. There will be other books describing how you can get your church to grow. Many seminaries now include this subject in their curriculum, describing how churches can have “dynamic ministries,” jazz up their services, and have friendly members.
It is truth that the growth of the church is a matter of concern to the Reformed believer. But we react against a carnal fascination with size and success. Size is not one of the marks of the true church. In fact, Scripture and history show that usually, though not necessarily, the true church is small. In addition, the Bible warns against this fascination with large numbers when it details for us the history of David’s sin of numbering the people.
Having said this, the Reformed believer must not dismiss or despise the growth of the church altogether, mystically believing that the church will grow of its own accord. Rather, the Scriptures advocate the attitude of looking for and working towards a healthy church growth. Acts 2:42-47teaches that the growth of the church is not something carnal, but highly spiritual. If I love the Lord and the salvation of His people, then I value church growth, then I pray for it, delight in it, and look forward to it.
The proper balance is achieved when we realize that the Scriptures show that the growth of the church is not an end in itself. If it is made to be of such exclusive or primary importance, then it will be a cancer which will ultimately destroy that congregation.
What are legitimate incentives or motivations in the performance of the work of missions? What motivations does the Bible give?
The supreme motive is to glorify God (Matt. 5:16; I Cor. 10:31). First, this is the impelling conviction that God is worthy to be known and praised for who and what He is. Notice that the motive for the performance of missions is the same as that for worship. The need to proclaim God’s glory is met through increasing our knowledge of God. If we have discovered the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, then we cannot hold back. And it can be said that to the degree that we have learned God, to that extent we are responsible and best equipped to make Him known. “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon the earth, thy saving health among the nations.” The result of this knowledge is: “Let all the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee” (Ps. 67:1-3).
With the motivation to glorify God, we renounce the “God-who-serves-me,” and seek to increase the knowledge of how God is worthy to be known. Much evangelism in today’s church-world is zeal for men, not for the privilege of making God known. The Bible does know man’s needs, but the Great Commission says nothing of what men need. Not that man’s needs are unimportant. But they are not number one. (It is important to remember that it is impossible to be God-centered, and at the same time to ignore the needs of men.) God’s glory is to be revealed. Hearers are not to be trained to ask, “What is in this for me?” But they have to know that Jesus is Lord, and that they must act accordingly.
This motivation saves us from peevishness toward God when we face disappointments in our mission work. Then we do our work prayerfully, because we know that the outcome is solely up to our sovereign God. Find your inspiration, not in successes, but in God’s character!
The absence of the motivation to glorify God by making Him known as the driving force behind our work of missions puts us out of harmony with God’s plan of salvation. Fill your mind and heart with thoughts of God. The love of God constraineth us!
A second motivation, which is closely related to the former, is gratitude for so great a Savior and for the salvation of so worthless a person and people. This gratitude is exhibited in an enthusiastic joy for one’s salvation. It is total commitment to Christ, “for me to live is Christ? (Phil. 1:21). It is a genuine enthusiasm about one’s relationship to God in Christ. This gratitude is a constant impetus to be obedient to all of God’s commands, including that of missions. Then my gratitude for all that God has done for me gives me the desire to tell others of my Savior and salvation.
Another motivation is the conviction of and zeal for the truth. The truth of the sovereignty of God, the truth of the vicarious atonement of Christ, the truth of God’s covenant, the truth of God’s love and grace, the truth of Calvinism all are stimuli. The truths themselves, as truths about God, are worthy to be proclaimed far and wide. We are to be motivated by the desire to see the truth published as well and as broadly as possible.
When sowing precious seed with tears (Ps. 126), and filled with the consciousness of one’s own weakness and sinfulness, then we must of absolute necessity be consumed with the motive of confidence and trust in the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit and in the power of the preaching. This confidence delivers from the fear of failing if there is little or no response. It saves us from begging and demeaning the Gospel and its Christ. It delivers us from the fear of speaking or of not being sufficiently eloquent (I Cor. 2:1). It assures us that no one is beyond God’s power to save. It saves us from pride, for no credit goes to man if there is fruit.
A final motive for the performance of missions is love for the neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). The second, great commandment is chiefly manifested in a concern for the eternal state and spiritual well-being of my neighbor. This responsibility toward the neighbor is determined, not by God’s decrees and providence, but by His commands.
There is God’s command. And there is also God’s glory and His truth.
Remember Jonah! May our heart and our feet be together. May God grant us to be well motivated in the performance of our every work.