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Christian Missionaries and Missionary Christians

Tom Ascol

THE ELDER, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 1:1-8).

The Apostle John wrote 3 John to a man named Gaius in part to commend him for his expressions of love toward fellow ministers of the gospel. Evidently some itinerant missionaries had been sent out by John's church and had returned with a report about how well Gaius had treated them.

There are two different categories of Christians that John mentions in verses 1-8. First are those whom he identifies as "brethren and strangers." These are Christian Missionaries, people who have left home to carry the gospel of Christ to others. Then there is Gaius himself, who stands as a wonderful example of a Missionary Christian.

These two different categories of believers highlight an important missiological axiom: Not every believer can be a Christian Missionary, but every believer must be a Missionary Christian.[1] We can learn some important lessons about both from John's letter.

Christian Missionaries Go

In Close Relationship with the Church

Christian Missionaries leave the confines of their familiar surroundings in order to take the gospel to others. But they do not go on their own. Rather, they go in close relationship with the church. John learned of Gaius's wonderful work through the testimony of the missionaries who were reporting to "the church" (v. 6).

The significance of the this relationship is made very clear in the first official missionary enterprise which is recorded in the book of Acts. In the first 5 verses of chapter 13 we are told how Paul and Barnabas became missionaries. As men who were already faithful in the local congregation of believers at Antioch, they were set apart for their work by the Holy Spirit through the church. Paul and Baranabas were sent not only by the Holy Spirit (v. 4) but also by the church (v. 3).

It is not enough for a man to sense the inward call of the Spirit to go preach the gospel (at home or abroad). Such a call is essential but inadequate to justify entering into missionary work. The church must bear witness to that call and be willing to send the missionary out. Self-appointed, self-sent missionaries have a hard time biblically justifying their independence from a local church. In the New Testament, Christian missionaries are sent by the church.

Their work is also defined in terms of the church. What did Paul and Baranabas do as missionaries? Equipped with the Word and empowered by the Spirit, they went out to make disciples and to establish them in local churches. Theirs was a church planting effort (as Acts 13 and 14 make clear). Humanitarian aid has its place and works of mercy are never to be slighted, but let the Red Cross and the Peace Corp set their sights exclusively on such efforts. Christian Missionaries are to aim at planting churches of new believers among the unreached people groups of the world.

Furthermore, not only are they sent by the church with the goal of starting churches, but also we discover in the New Testament that Christian Missionaries are accountable to the church. Luke records the conclusion of Paul's and Baranabas's first missionary journey with these words:

From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:26-27).

The missionaries were accountable to the church which set them apart and sent them to their work.

Just as there are no lone ranger Christians in the New Testament, so there are no lone ranger missionaries in the New Testament. Jesus said "I will build my church." Christian missionaries go out from one church in order to plant others. They are a part of Christ's church by maintaining a close relationship with local churches--both the one from which they have been sent, and the ones which they help to plant.

For the sake of Christ's name

Verse 7 of 3 John tells us the motivation which undergirds a Christian Missionary's work. "They went forth for His name's sake." Why leave family, friends, opportunities and comforts to travel to an unfamiliar country with a completely different culture? For the name of Jesus Christ.

God has always been concerned for the honor of His Name. He raised up Pharoah in order to display His power and declare His Name throughout the earth (Romans 9:17). He did not destroy the Israelites in the wilderness for the sake of His Name (Ezekiel 20:14). He spared Jerusalem from enemy forces for His own Name's sake (2 Kings 19:34). He restored Israel from exile in order to vindicate the holiness of His own great Name (Ezekiel 36:22).

The first petition which Jesus taught us to make to God in prayer is "Hallowed be Your Name." To follow Jesus means living your life for the sake of His name (Matthew 19:26-29).

Paul's whole life as a missionary was lived for the glory of Christ's Name. When God called him, He told Ananias to go to Paul, "for I will show him how many things he must suffer for My Name's sake" (Acts 9:16). As Paul traveled he knew that his apostleship had been received from Christ "for obedience to the faith among all nations for His Name's sake" (Romans 1:5). When confronted with the prospect of suffering and persecution he rebuked his well meaning friends by declaring, "I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 21:13).

Who should go as Christian missionaries? Those who have already shown a jealousy for the Name of Christ--in personal devotion; in faithful service; in practical holiness (at home, on the job, in the use of time and resources, etc.). A call to be a missionary does mean a change of passion, it simply means a change of location and circumstances in pursuing that passion.

A church should send as missionaries only those who have an observable love for the Name of Jesus Christ. Devotion to "the Name" should be evident in the way a man treats his wife and a wife treats her husband. It should be demonstrated in the way that parents train their children; the way a man orders his home, conducts his business, witnesses and reaches out to others, studies the Word, serves the church, and uses his gifts. When such people are commissioned, they must be charged to carry that same passion to see our Lord and Savior's Name hallowed among the people to whom they are going:

As you move to your new home--remember the Name;
As you miss your family back in the states--remember the Name;
When you reach points of frustration--remember the Name;
When you grow discouraged and lonely--remember the Name;
When you are tempted to sin--remember the Name.
For the sake of Christ's Name, go! Be willing to spend and be spent for the glory of that Name.

As workers for the truth

Christian Missionaries also go out as "workers for the truth" (v. 8). Believers are stewards, not originators, of the truth. We are messengers, not authors. We have had committed to us the faith which has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Christian Missionaries work for that truth by taking it to people groups who do not have the gospel. Consequently, they must have a clear conviction of and submission to the Bible as the Word of God. They must also be diligent students of that Word so that when they speak of it and from it they communicate its message accurately.

The mission field is no place to send doubters and skeptics in hopes that they will come to a surer knowledge of the faith. I had a professor in seminary who told the story of one of his students who came to him, confessing his doubts about the deity of Christ. He loved Christ, he said, and he wanted to serve Him in the world, but he simply could not accept that He was God in the flesh. As he related this encounter to the class, the professor told us how he wisely (as he judged it) responded to the troubled student. He said, "Just keep following Jesus and see where you wind up at the end of the day."

I shudder when I think of that man trying to serve a God in whom he does not believe. The gospel ministry, especially the mission field, is no place for the doubter or skeptic. The work is too important. Souls are at stake. God's fame is at stake! His truth has been entrusted to those who go and as they go, they must carry it with integrity, honesty, and devotion.

Christian Missionaries go in close association with the church, for the sake of Christ's name, and as workers for the truth. But, not every believer can be a Christian Missionary. Nevertheless, every follower of Christ must be a Missionary Christian.

Missionary Christians Send

Just as Christian Missionaries go, so must Missionary Christians send. John encourages Gaius to "send them [the missionaries] forward on their journey" (v. 6). As in the case with the first missionary journey from Antioch, those who did not go, sent (Acts 13:4-5). But how should Missionary Christians send out their loved ones in the world's mission fields?

Filled with love

John commends Gaius for his love (v. 6) which he has heard about from the report of others. Above all, Christians should be characterized by love, especially Christians who are committed to commissioning missionaries. First, love for God will ensure that when we send out missionaries, we do so "in a manner worthy of God" (v. 6). Secondly, love for the brethren, especially for those who go forth for the sake of Christ's name, will cause us to take a serious interest in those who go out from us. Finally, a love for people in the world--the world which God loved so much that He sent His own Son--will make us willing to send our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to declare the great grace and glory of God's salvation to them. To fulfill the calling to be a Missionary Christian, one must have a heart filled with love.

Committed to the truth

But love is not enough. Zeal for world missions is no excuse for being weak on truth. In reality there can be no such zeal, nor genuine love, without a commitment to the truth. Paul says that "love rejoices in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Further, an informed concern for world evangelism carries with it a jealousy for the unadulterated evangel.

Those who send must be as committed to God's revealed truth as those who go. John recognized this quality in Gaius and encourages him to become a fellow worker with missionaries "for the truth" (v. 8). How is such commitment cultivated? By learning to "walk in the truth" (v. 3). That is, by having a steadfast, practical devotion to the truth.

Love and truth make for a spiritually potent combination. It proved to be very beneficial to those who had come to Gaius's church. They had their needs met very well. Such balanced Christian living is attractive and encouraging to believers everywhere.

Being thoroughly committed to God's truth affords a great satisfaction in sending out missionaries who will faithfully carry that truth to unreached people groups. The prospect of being directly involved in sending the gospel around the world is reason to rejoice. But, having a deep love for those who are sent out also exposes one to deep pain. When we send loved ones, we send a part of ourselves with them. It involves sorrow--real sorrow at the thought of separation and change in relationships.

So it is common to find mixed emotions welling up within a congregation at the prospect of sending loved ones into the mission field. There is no need for shame or embarrassment at the tears which flow. We love them. And we will miss them. But at the same time we are devoted to the truth which they are taking with them and rejoice to have a part in the great work of declaring God's grace to the nations.

The following poem was read to missionaries who were commissioned to work among an unreached people group in Central Asia. It was originally addressed to Adoniram Judson by a friend, upon the Judsons' departure for Burma. In its slightly modified form, it adequately expresses the mixed emotions which a congregation feels on the occasion of sending loved ones to preach the gospel to the nations.

We Will Not Say Farewell

We may not tell you what we feel,
For words are powerless to reveal
  Love deep as ours to you;
Love, which no stain of earth can shake--
Love, pure and holy--for His sake,
  Whose image lives in you.

We may not praise: we dare not tell,
The love with which our souls now swell,
  Nor can we cheer your heart;
But with a power unfelt till now,
We would call down upon your brow,
  A blessing ere we part.

We bless you. Feelings long repressed,
Emotions ne'er before expressed,
  Break from their long control.
We bless you with no uttered word,--
But Heaven the voiceless prayer has heard--
  The language of the soul.

We bless you, for the living light,
Poured upon Asia's starless night,
  Bidding its darkness flee;
Let future converts tell the rest:
They bless you, and you shall be blest,
  Through all eternity.

Farewell! We may not call you ours,
Beloved from manhood's early hours--
  Your home is far away.
You are not of us, and your heart
Even now longs to depart,--
  We would not bid you stay.

Yet, yet its hard to let you go,
Feeling that never more below
  You in our midst may dwell.
How our spirits do cling to you,
Though you are taken from our view;
  We will not say Farewell!

We will go with you. Seas may roll
Between our homes, but the free soul
  Across their waves shall glide.
God grant us, when this life is o'er,
To meet you on a happier shore,
  And still be by your side.

Conclusion

Either go or send. But do not remain passive, uninterested bystanders in the missionary work of our Lord. Both goers and senders are needed. Both are important. Both labors must be entered into with equal commitment and seriousness.

Those of us who stay are called to be senders--for now. But, are you willing for God to call you to go in the future? Our attitudes ought to be this: willing to go, called to stay; and therefore determined to do all that we can to be as faithful in our staying as we expect those we send to be faithful in their going.

The ones who go out from us do not merely "become" our missionaries. Nor do we merely "let them go." Rather, we send them. They remain a part of us--our responsibility; our privilege to serve and love--though now in a vastly different way. They are our family--extended across the world, all for the sake of the Name.

As Christian missionaries go they do so as a part of a local church. They go for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ and with a commitment to the truth which is revealed in Him. They go to make Christ known where He is not presently known. Therefore they must go with a determination to live holy lives, to teach God's Word and to tell of His love for sinners. In dependence on God's Spirit, they go to persuade those who have been shut up in darkness to come to the Light that gives life.

When William Carey volunteered to leave England for the distant shores of India to "take the gospel to the heathen," his friend and fellow pastor, Andrew Fuller agreed to stay behind and rally support for the effort. Their lives typify, respectively, what it means to be a Christian Missionary and a Missionary Christian.

Looking back on the solemn occasion when Carey agreed to go, Fuller describes the commitment which was made.

We saw that there was a gold mine in India, but it seemed almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it? "I will go down," said Mr. Carey to his brethren, "but remember that you must hold the ropes." We solemnly engaged to do so; nor while we live, shall we desert him.[2]

May such a spirit live on in a new generation of goers and senders.

This article has been adapted from a sermon preached at Grace Baptist Church during a missionary commissioning service. Audio cassette tapes of that service are available from the church. Write to Grace Baptist Church, 204 SW 11th Place, Cape Coral, FL 33991; or call 941/772-1400.

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