Previous article in this series: December 1, 2021, p. 114.
In my last article, I began to examine the truth of the covenant as it relates to our mission mandate and our antithetical calling in the world. Our antithetical calling must not become a separatist mentality. We may not hunker down inside our covenant community, consolidate our resources, enjoy our riches, and wait it out until the Lord comes. In addition, we must not be too quick to elevate our own needs as churches above the needs of the elect who are still lost in the world. We must have a covenantal culture for missions, a growing zeal for evangelism, not only on foreign fields but also in our own backyards. Then, it seems to me, we may expect to see more men who are eager to go into the world, locally and internationally, to declare among the heathen that the Lord reigns.
We now focus for a time on those missionaries who go out from the covenant community into the world to “preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things” (Rom. 10:15). Yet, much will apply to local pastors as well.
The missionary is a man of the covenant. He has been brought by divine grace into an intimate relationship of fellowship and friendship with God through Jesus Christ. Baptized in the name of the triune God. Admitted into the Christian church. Distinguished from the “strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). He grew in his faith, grew closer to God, and lived for some time in covenant with Him…for a missionary is not a novice. For years, he heard God talk to him through the preaching of the Word, partook of holy communion, and received the assurance that Christ loved him and died for him. For years, he learned to walk with God in joyful thankfulness, daily prayer, ongoing conversion, and weekly worship on the Sabbath day. He came to love the life of the covenant in the household of God with his brothers and sisters in Christ.
But now God through the call of the church has sent him outside the covenant community into the world of darkness. He must now live as a man of the covenant in antithesis to the darkness where he finds himself. He must also preach as a man of the covenant in antithesis to the lies of the world.
First, regarding his life, living as a man of the covenant does not mean he must maintain all the customs of his own church culture on the mission field. Rather, he must adapt himself somewhat to the customs of the native people, like the great apostle who said, “I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews…. To them that are without law [Gentiles], as without law…that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:19-22). The great desire of the missionary is to gain into the covenant those whom God has ordained to eternal life for the praise of the glory of His grace. Believing that God became man to save him into the covenant, the missionary is willing to become like the people of the culture he enters to gain them into the covenant. Believing that Christ left behind His life in heaven and gave up His life on earth to save him, the missionary is willing to deny himself the comfortable life he once enjoyed and to lose that life for however long a time to gain others to Christ. He adapts. He does not compromise with evil. But he contextualizes. He places himself into the context of the people and adapts himself to their way of life for the sake of the gospel. He lets go of customs that might hinder or spoil the work of the Lord. He does not rigidly cling to all of his own customs with regard to eating and drinking, clothing and shopping, time and money, language and music, accomplishing goals and maintaining relationships, and more. When we lived in the Philippines, we needed to remind ourselves often that our American cultural ways were not necessarily better than their Filipino cultural ways. Different does not always mean better.
But living as a man of the covenant means the missionary lives the Christian life in an exemplary way, as all ministers must (I Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). On the one hand, it is crucial that he keep himself unspotted from the world. The missionary goes into the world! He should expect to encounter spiritual darkness because the world is the realm of Satan where evil reigns, idols stand tall, debauchery prevails, and lies run wild and free. But he must not become one with the heathen in their sins. He must not stroll into the pagan temple or down a dark alley in the city to join himself to a harlot. He must not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils, or partake of the Lord’s table and the table of devils. He must not feast gluttonously before the poor or drink excessively with the fools or dance to the beat of worldly music. He must not join them at their gambling tables or otherwise show himself to be a lover of money. He must not swear in his anger or react to opposition or criticism with rage. He must not strut about as if he is someone important, looking down his nose at others. Such are the behaviors of the ungodly among whom he labors. Such must not be his behavior. O, what damage is done to Christianity and the honor of God by the missionary who is supposed to represent the glorious covenant of God but who acts like the heathen and joins in the darkness!
On the contrary, he must live as a man of God who shines in the midst of the darkness. Such is a man who knows the God of the covenant personally and intimately as One who loves him and dwells with him. He is a man who has tasted the goodness of the Lord and found it sweet beyond all else, who testifies that the lovingkindness of God is better than life, than all the glittering pleasures that intoxicate the men of the world. He is a man whose heart is truly with God, who truly enjoys fellowship with God by faith from day to day. A man of fervent, thankful, and intimate prayer. A man who knows the forgiveness of his sins by his gracious and merciful Father in heaven through Christ. A man who forgives others, strives against his indwelling sins, flees from temptation, runs with patience the race set before him, looks to Jesus the Author and Finisher of his faith. In his love for the God of the covenant, he is willing to sacrifice the comforts of home and friends. He is able to live joyfully and contentedly in an unfamiliar place with earthly challenges like a harsher climate, a less developed infrastructure, cultural distance, heavy traffic, and even persecution. For he walks near to the Lord his God and drinks deeply from His fountain of grace day by day in the communion of prayer and songs of thanksgiving. Daily he contemplates the cross of Jesus, which stands ever before his eyes as the most amazing and astonishing reality he has ever seen, and which takes his breath away time and time again. That amazing cross guards his soul from fastening on the illusions of happiness and pleasure that are the empty things of the world.
But furthermore, the missionary of the covenant must also preach the gospel of the covenant, a message that is antithetical to the lies of the world. He must preach the message that Jehovah alone is God, the personal Creator of the universe, who dwells eternally in covenant within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, and there is no other god beside Him. That message is distinct and bold in a world that worships a pantheon of gods and detests the exclusivism of Christianity. He must preach the unpopular message that we are all corrupt sinners in Adam, conceived and born totally depraved by nature. Then he must also preach the gospel that there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved than the name of Jesus, the promised Messiah, Son of God, and Mediator of the covenant, who through His crucifixion and resurrection has made a way for sinners to inherit eternal life. That message is also scandalous to the world that seeks salvation in other names, that scoffs at the cross, or prays to spirits. He must preach the message that God establishes an everlasting covenant of intimate fellowship and friendship with all whom He predestined to eternal life. That message of unconditional election will also incite opposition and stand out as distinct in a world that praises the free will and equal opportunity of every man. The message must emphasize that God does not establish His covenant with sinners on the condition that they do something first, but God brings sinners into His covenant by sovereign grace and gives them faith whereby they experience a small foretaste of fellowship with God in this life.
The missionary must also preach the call of the gospel, which is likewise antithetical in nature. In a world that rushes headlong toward the damnation of hell, the missionary must utter from the housetops, “Repent! Turn from your idols to the living God.” He must preach the warning of the gospel that those who walk in darkness and reject the gospel will be damned. He must preach the promise of the gospel that those who come to the Light and believe the gospel will be saved. Although the promise of the covenant is particular, the proclamation of that promise must be general. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” the missionary must cry out, “and thou shalt be saved into the everlasting covenant, in which God will be your God and dwell with you forever.”
Finally, the missionary must teach believers all the antithetical commands of Christ. “Follow Christ,” he must say, “by keeping all His commandments in gratitude for what He has done for you.” When the missionary himself is practicing what he preaches, living an antithetical and thankful life on the mission field, his exhortations will carry more weight and be more effective. He must call converts to live the life of the covenant, the life of thankfulness to their God who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. He must patiently disciple them and call them to be transformed from their former conduct to the Christian life by the renewing of their minds.
May God prepare many such men as shining heralds of His covenant in the world.