Desiring God, 9: Missions

Chapter Nine is about Frontier Missions. The story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 has two incentives for frontier missions: 1) every impossibility with men is possible with God, and 2) Christ will pay back our sacrifice so much that we will be unable to say we have sacrificed at all.

First, what is Frontier Missions? There is a difference between frontier missions and domestic evangelism. Preaching the gospel to a previously unreached people is like planting the seed. Working among people where the seed has been planted is like watering the seed. Frontier missions is planting the seed; domestic evangelism is watering.

Romans 15 is an example of Frontier Missions from Paul’s life. He states that his work is done in the regions of Judea, Samaria, Syria, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. There were many people yet to respond to the gospel in those regions but the Gospel had been planted. It was someone else’s job to water; Paul’s job was to plant where nobody had preached before (even though he was of golf-course-retirement age).

There is an urgency to the need. Piper asserts that it is not biblical to believe that those who do not hear and respond to the Gospel can be saved. This is defended by Acts 26:16-18 where God sends Paul to preach to the lost so that they may turn from darkness to light. If there is no need for their eyes to opened and for them to turn, then why the commission to preach to the nations? Again, Acts 4:12 shows that no name other than Jesus brings salvation.

People are dead in sin without God’s grace (Eph 2:1, 4:18). God uses preaching to communicate his saving grace (Romans 1:14-16). However, God is not unjust. Those who have never heard the gospel will be condemned based on the witness of nature that they rejected. (He does not state whether nature is enough of a witness for people to be saved by it, or only enough to condemn them for not responding.)

If only the gospel saves, then people without the gospel are without hope. This means that approximately 2 billion people are without hope in the 10/40 window unless someone preaches to them.

Piper equates the notion that people might be saved without hearing the Gospel with universalism. Universalism has had a detrimental affect in that mainline Protestant churches are losing missionaries. However, evangelical Protestants are increasing their missionary force. This is because the evangelical Protestants take God’s Word seriously. In contrast, Universalism reduces the emphasis on missions. This results in fewer missionaries. Therefore, universalism is damaging to frontier missions.

Geographically, the world has been covered with the Gospel. But there are many people, and people groups (especially those in the 10/40 window), who have not been reached. Those people and groups constitute our mission field.

As previously defined, Mission is the task of establishing the initial church movement among a people group. Evangelism is the ongoing task of reaching the people of that group with the Gospel. Thus, while the Evangelism task is not finish-able the Mission task is. It is our mission to finish the Mission: to reach all people groups with the Church. The story of the rich young ruler confirms that what is impossible with man is possible with God. In fact, Jesus has sheep that “are not of this fold” that he must bring in. Piper takes this to mean that no matter what impossible-to-reach people group you identify, God has set apart some people for himself among them and he promised us that they will hear his voice.

After the encounter with the rich young ruler, Peter stated that they had sacrificed everything for Jesus. But Jesus countered that he pays back a hundredfold. Jesus himself will make up for the home and family we leave behind. Jesus expects us to love ourselves enough not to want to be destroyed. Therefore he tells us to deny ourselves in this life in order to prosper in eternity. We give up a lesser good for a greater good for our own good. Paul, David Livingstone, John G. Paton, the Moravian Brethren of the eighteenth century, Lottie Moon, Amy Carmichael, John Hyde and Samuel Zwemer all offer evidence that Jesus makes good on his promise, even in this life, to make up for our “sacrifice.” All of these found joy in making “joyful sacrifices”.

My reaction: I am moved by the force of the various witnesses that Jesus pays back our sacrifice. I want to sacrifice for him such that I can look back on a wealth of repayment.  

Interesting that he must charge Peter with making an error (241), of self-pity (244), and of legalism (248)  in Mark 10:17-31. This suggests to me that as beneficial as the concept of Christian Hedonism is, it may be a little strained. This suspicion is raised again when Piper appropriates David Livingstone’s quote, “I never made a sacrifice” but must rebuke (“unhelpful and inconsistent”)  and correct a portion of the context of that quote (243). I think the recurrence of war imagery further strains the hedonism concept.

Having said this, I am inspired by the notion of Christian Hedonism. It is motivating to think of getting joy out of the salvation of souls, and in addition, the presence of Christ. I don’t know if I will ever participate in frontier missions but something in me desires it. Piper certainly fans any flames one has for this pursuit.

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