What advances missions and evangelism?
No question that Holy Spirit is fundamental; however, what does the Holy Spirit like to use? Is it money? Is it missionaries? Is it seminaries? Is it good books? Is it good preaching? Is it good community? Is it Gospel-centeredness?
I think all of these things are important and vital to the advancement of the Gospel. I preached at Columbia OPC to kick of their Missions Week from 1 Peter 3 (listen here) to try to answer the question from another angle. Some of you have heard this sermon already, so go on and skip over to the update section. See below for an excerpt from that sermon:
"8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing.”
The hope of Peter is that through our humble and faithful obedience, people would be able to cause non-Christians to confess Jesus as their Lord. This verse comes at the end of one giant section that describes how the church should act in this hostile, non-Christian environment. He gives three case studies in order to illustrate his idea of missions through suffering. The first case study – he says, you know the neighbor that has been mocking you. You know that governor that has interrogating and torturing Christians. You know that Emperor that imposes heavy taxes upon you. “Honor everyone. Fear God. Honor the emperor." The second case study – he says “2:18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Do you know that Boss that mistreats you, discriminates against you, abuses you? I want you to turn the other cheek. The third case study – “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” Do you know that unbelieving husband that mocks your faith, who ignores you, who mistreats you… do not win his heart with beauty, but win his heart with holiness, so that he may turn to God. In all three cases, Peter is describing what v9 is saying, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.” This was unimaginable for anyone in the 1st century—in an honor-shame culture, honor, power, status is valued more than LIFE itself. People would rather DIE than what Peter asked them to do. True genuine humility is absolutely shocking. When we actually do what the Lord calls us to do, it freaks people out. Wait, you actually read the Bible and try to love God and love your neighbor? Wait, why do you work harder for me when I just took credit and plagiarized your work? Wait, why did you throw out that HUGE promotion because you wanted to protect your time with family and your Sundays? Wait, why do you spend hours and hours helping out a person who’s struggling with addiction when you could be watching football or playing golf? Wait, why would you give 10% of your money to strangers to advance some sort spiritual mission? What Peter is basically saying is this: if you want to do missions or fulfill the mission of Christ, you need to suffer. Missions is Suffering. The Christian walk is taking up your cross and dying to oneself. That’s what it takes to do missions/evangelism as well. However, many of us want to do the Christian walk without suffering… or the least amount of suffering. And I think it is this expectation of least amount of suffering that brings us to burn out. We want to grow in the Word and Holiness, but we don’t want to pour hours into prayer, the Word, and the Church. We want to share the Gospel with people and our children, but we don’t want to do the hard, laborious work of building relationships and earning trust. We want to share the Gospel, but we don’t want non-Christians to bully us on the political, academic, and social level. We want to support Missions, but we don’t want to sacrifice away time, money, careers, our pastors, our children, and our own lives for missions. And here Peter is saying, my fellow soldier, our call is not to succeed. Our call is not to have the most impact. Our call is not to win the city over to Christ. No, our call is to be faithful and to suffer for His missions. There are no short-cuts to humility and missions. In fact, if you look at the entire Bible, our God is not in the business of setting up successful, influential, impactful missions. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Promised them a land of Milk and Honey with millions of descendants, but they died trying to get to it with no real results. Moses? Commissioned to get Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land, but he ends wandering with Israel for 40 years, and dies in the wilderness with the first generation because they were disobedient. Joshua? Well he conquers successfully the land of Canaan and brings peace, but the Israelites basically disobey and again falls into Civil War. David/Solomon? The house of David/Solomon starts off on a good step, but devolves into a cycle of idolatrous country who have fallen away and have stopped reading the Scriptures. Jesus’s Ministry? Yes, he may have had a great crowd following him in the beginning, but all of his disciples deserted Him on the Cross. The Ministry of the Apostles? Have you read the epistles? Many of the churches are under threat of false teachers, external persecution, internal strife. It seems the churches are on the verge of collapse by American Christian standards. The Church is called to faithfully suffer for the advancement of the Gospel without any guarantee of worldly success.