Ronald J. Van Overloop is a missionary-pastor of the Protestant Reformed Churches in Northwest Chicago.
(The thought patterns of this article are unashamedly based on an excellent book, which I would highly recommend all readers to obtain and read. It is A Vision For Missions, by Tom Wells, The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1985.)
Evangelism and mission work are conducted and performed for a variety of reasons. Evangelism is performed because God and Jesus command that it be done. Also there is the need for the gospel on the part of those who are the object of the work. And, thirdly, this work is performed so that one’s church or mission station can grow.
None of the above given reasons are really sufficient or completely adequate as to why evangelism and mission work should be a constant activity on the part of any church. The shame for not obeying the command does not move us as we ought to be moved. Even the spiritual poverty of the pagan will not so inspire as we ought to be inspired, though it might move us for a while. And the growth of our own church or mission is often selfishly motivated.
We need a grander reason and motivation. The Scriptures give us the grander perspective we need, to perform evangelism and mission work as constantly and consistently as we ought, and in the manner that we ought. That perspective is that we do this work especially because God is worthy to be known and praised and proclaimed for who and what He is. Psalm 67:1-3 is a clear proof. This is a prayer that God reveal Himself to His church, with the result that they will know Him better. The reason for this request: that God’s way may be known upon the earth, and His saving health be known among all nations (vs. 2). Believers make the request to know God better, so that they might proclaim Him. The third verse gives the result, namely, that all the people praise God.
That God is worthy of being known and then proclaimed for who and what He is in Himself, is the central theme of the whole Bible. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power” (Rev. 4:11). The Westminster Shorter Catechism catches and expresses this well in its first question and answer: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” Every page of the Bible shows God’s worthiness to be known and praised and proclaimed.
This being the case, the basic responsibility any church, missionary, or individual Christian has toward the need to proclaim God is the increasing of our knowledge of God Himself. The more we know God the more we will not only see the need to proclaim Him, but also the way in which we should proclaim Him. Our knowledge of the God we proclaim is going to have a profound effect on our motivation for, attitude about, approach to, and methods for this work.
In order to see this point, consider some of God’s attributes.
God’s Self-sufficiency means that there is nothing that God needs. He is never frustrated. He does not need us to carry out His plans. Knowing this fact determines what kind of Christians we are and the kind of witness we leave. The salvation of men is not to benefit Him, but ourselves. He does not NEED us. That He saves men and uses them to proclaim the gospel is not necessity on His part, but grace. Also he is not a helpless God, but Sovereign.
Consider the sovereignty of God’s power. He has the right and power to assert His pleasure. Joseph saw God’s sovereign control of unwitting servants, so that they carried out His purposes. The fact that David knew God was in control even of his enemy (II Samuel 16:10) made God worthy of being known and proclaimed for what He does. The missionary knows that nothing can stand in the way of God’s gospel. And he knows that even that which seems detrimental will be used by God for the spiritual benefit of His Church.
Consider the sovereignty of God’s grace. That He saves any, and that I am a Christian and my neighbor is not, is because of something in God, not in me; He sought me. If the minister or missionary or believer would look to God, Who has chosen a multitude, the number of which is more than the sand upon the seashore, then he can take courage. This God is worthy to be known and proclaimed for Who He is.
Consider God’s perfect knowledge and wisdom. He knows everything about the physical world, including Satan and his host. He knows everything in the spiritual realm. And all His knowledge is accompanied with perfect wisdom. He is ever at work in His world, seeking His own glory and the good of His people in the best possible way. Only this all-wise God is worthy to be known and proclaimed.
God is worthy to be known and proclaimed in His righteousness. He is the perfect standard of right, there being no measure that stands over or next to Him with which we can compare Him. Even His acts of judgment are glorious because they reveal His justice and righteousness. His righteous acts give us a glimpse of His glory. He is worthy to be known and proclaimed.
Consider, finally, God’s covenant faithfulness. This attribute means that we can trust God to keep His Word; our trust rests on His trustworthiness. No God-sent missionary is a failure, for Jesus is the victorious Prince. This God is worthy to be known, served, followed, and proclaimed for Who He is.
God is best known in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we can see best just how worthy God is to be known, praised and proclaimed. In Jesus the glory of the Father is best seen. At the cross we confront the highest and clearest revelation of God’s righteousness and love. Just a moment’s meditation of Jesus makes it obvious that God is worthy to be known and proclaimed.
God is great! Therefore, He is worthy of praise. It is the knowledge of God that enables us to serve Him, to proclaim Him, and to praise Him.
Therefore those who know God are equipped to proclaim Him. And those who know God best are the best equipped to serve Him and to tell of Him. To the degree that we have learned God, we are equipped to serve and proclaim this glorious God.
The most important and practical consequence of this is that we fill our minds and hearts with thoughts of God. Most of modern evangelism emphasizes the need of zeal for men. In such circles we rarely hear of the glorious privilege of knowing God and of making Him known. Although the Bible knows of man’s needs, the Great Commission says nothing of what men need. Its emphasis is different. This does not mean that man’s needs are unimportant. Rather the Bible takes another view point, namely, that man’s needs are not first. The gospel must be presented in such a way that the convert does not ask, “What is in it for me?” but, “How can I best have the joy of knowing Jesus and how can I act accordingly?”
To the degree that we know God, it is not only true that we can make God known, but it is also true that we must make Him known. This is not as difficult as it sounds, but the supreme passion of those who know God is to declare God’s glory and to praise Him from Whom all blessings flow. It is our personal knowledge of God that inspires us and moves us, that drives us to obedience to His commands.
The better we know God the more we will be praying. Our knowledge of God makes it plain that the outcome is solely up to our sovereign God. When Jesus spoke of the great need for missionary laborers to gather in the plenteous. harvest, He made plain that their first responsibility was to pray to the Lord of the harvest. These prayers are not only that He will provide the missionaries, but also that He will provide the harvest, the fruit upon the labors.
Our knowledge of God will spur us to action. Contrary to the false charge of some and to the evil practice of others, the knowledge of God’s sovereign determination and control of all things does not make us passive nor lethargic. It is not God’s decrees or providence, but His commands, which are the Christian’s rule for life.
We must find our inspiration in God’s character, not in our successes. This is true, of course, not only in the work of evangelism, missions, and witnessing, but also in every sphere of life. This is true for the housewife, student, employer and employee, the rich and poor. We must burn inwardly at the thought of God’s glory, for then we will not burn out in His service.
It is always easy to criticize others’ evangelism. But, as is always the case, criticism is also a call. It reminds us to deepen our own knowledge of God, to search the Scriptures, and to testify of Christ. To mine the Bible’s treasures is our life’s work, and to find our satisfaction in God is our goal. Let us pray and learn: otherwise our criticism is little more than hot wind.
If we love our Savior, let us seek to know Him and to make Him known.
Those who know Him best are the best equipped to make Him known, for it is the knowledge of God Himself and of the Jesus He sent which is the grandest vision for missions.