It’s easy to distort mission work as simply being faithful to a command–I do because He told me so. I think this is what saps so much spiritual vitality from what we do. This is what devolves an honest Christian into a legalist. Lesslie Newbigin, in his book The Gospel In A Pluralist Society, shares a refreshing–and I think a true take–on what biblical mission work is about:
There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of “the missionary mandate.” This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel. If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving. (Chapter 10, The Logic Of Mission, p. 116).
By the way, Newbigin’s quote sounds quite similar to one from a book written over a hundred years ago called Steps to Christ. Notice what it says:
No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. If we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and are filled with the joy of His indwelling Spirit, we shall not be able to hold our peace. If we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good we shall have something to tell. Like Philip when he found the Saviour, we shall invite others into His presence. We shall seek to present to them the attractions of Christ and the unseen realities of the world to come. There will be an intensity of desire to follow in the path that Jesus trod. There will be an earnest longing that those around us may “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29.
I would further add that if someone is doing gospel work for anything else than a sense of joy and thankfulness, they need to re-examine their motives. Doing it because I “have to” leads to legalism. Doing it because I can’t contain myself and must is apostolic Christianity.
[image by Jack Fussell]