I’m sure all of you have faced this question at least once in your life time, perhaps during childhood or teenage, someone asking you, “What’s your ambition in life?” It doesn’t matter what you answered then, it is a question worth pondering over any day of your life. What do you live for? The sad reality is that many of us do not even have a purpose to live for. We just exist. Life just goes on.
The Apostle Paul was a man with a mission. He had a definite understanding of what he was called to do in life by God. And he pursued his life purpose with passion and perseverance till the end. In his moving farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian church, Paul reveals his one and only aim in life. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24 (ESV).
The Power of the Gospel
Paul was very well aware of the power of “the gospel of the grace of God” to transform the lives of people (I Cor.1:18). His own life was a testimony to this life-changing power of God’s grace (I Tim.1:13-16). Hence, he firmly believed that the gospel is what the world needs for a transformation. Likewise, Paul knew that he has been entrusted with this gospel and God was counting on him to pass on this grace to others (I Tim.1:11-12). No wonder he cried, “Woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor.9:16).
What can we learn from Paul? I) Gospel has the power to transform individuals, communities and nations. 2) All those who have been transformed by the power of the gospel have a solemn responsibility to share it with others who need it.
The world needs to hear the good news of the grace of God. There are people all around us living under bondage, superstition, exploitation, utter poverty, fear, injustice, so on and so forth…waiting for the gospel to deliver them. And they are crying out, “Come over and help us.” Do we hear those cries? Paul heard those and immediately responded (Acts 16:9). The question is do we hold back the good news to ourselves or release it? “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.” (II Kings 7:3-9).
A veteran missionary once stood before the general assembly of the Scottish Presbyterian Church to make an appeal for missionary work in India. But there was no response. In the midst of his appeal he fainted and was carried away by a doctor. When he opened his eyes, he cried, “Where am I? Where am I?” The doctor said, “Lie still. You just had a heart attack.” The missionary shot back, “I haven’t finished my appeal. Take me back. Take me back. I must finish my appeal.” In spite of the advice of the doctor and organisers, the missionary wanted to speak to the crowd. So, with the help of two people, one on each side, he stood on the platform and renewed his appeal. He said, “When Queen Victoria calls for volunteers to India, hundreds of young men respond, but, when King Jesus calls, no one goes.” Then he paused. There was silence. Again he said, “Is it true that the fathers and mothers of Scotland have no more sons to give for India?” Again he paused. An uneasy silence continued in the hall. Then the missionary concluded, “Very well, then aged though I am, I’ll will go back to India. I can lie down on the banks of the Ganges and I can die and thereby I can let the people of India know that there was one man in Scotland who loved them enough to give his life for them.” At this moment, the silence gave way to the cries of many young people who said, “I will go! I will go.” The veteran missionary was none other than Dr. Alexander Duff (1806-1878) who was mainly instrumental in ushering English education to India. India received the gospel light through men and women like Duff who gave up themselves.
Dear friend, do not forget the fact that you indeed heard this good news because of someone who was willing to share it with you; someone who willingly spared his/her time for you, someone who took the pain to leave his/her comforts to reach out to you. Would you not share the good news with someone who needs it?
The Need of the Hour
Paul was clearly aware of God’s agenda for the world. He did not think, “Let me do ‘something’ for God.” Instead, he understood what God was doing in the world and re-aligned his life according to God’s divine purposes. Getting to know the big picture of God’s mission is important. Let me just show you three crucial verses in this regard (Eph.1:9-11, II Cor. 5:18-19, Rev.7:9-10). In history, here and now, God is reconciling the world unto Himself through Jesus Christ. And one day, in the future, history will reach its culmination. Rev. 7:9 gives a glimpse of the grand finale of world missions, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It is important to understand this agenda of God when we get involved in missions. What is God’s ultimate agenda for the world? To redeem a people for Himself from every nation, tribe, and language who would worship Him as King forever and ever. Making this possible is goal of missions.
I believe Paul was conscious of this mission agenda of God. He knew, in God’s redemption plan, his role was to take the gospel to the gentiles, to break new frontiers, to take it to the unreached (Acts 26:16-18, Phil.3:12, II Cor.5:20) – so he kept moving from place to place as a missionary pioneer winning peoples for Christ. Therefore, his ambition was always, “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” (Rom.15:20). Likewise, we can see urgency in Paul’s work – from day one – “if I may only finish the task.” In Acts 20 we see him speeding up to Jerusalem as he wanted to be there before Pentecost so that he may share the gospel to the Jewish Diaspora.
There are millions around the world or in our nation who have never heard the gospel. That must be then our first priority in Missions. An Indian mission leader said, “A tiny group of believers who have the gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story.” Oswald J. Smith echoed the same when he remarked, “We talk of the second coming, half the world has never heard of the first.”
Frontier missions or unreached people groups must be our focus if Rev. 7:9 ought to become a reality. That’s the urgent mission need of the hour. We all love to stay together. There is warmth in Christian fellowship and we just love it. But this has never been God’s agenda in missions. God wants us to be on the move. Robert Savage of Latin American Mission says, “The command has been to ‘go,’ but we have stayed – in body, gifts, prayer and influence. He has asked us to be witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth … but 99% of Christians have kept puttering around in the homeland.” Unless a significant number of people in the Church today are willing to move out of their comfort zones to pioneering situations, world evangelisation will remain as an impossible task for centuries to come.
Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) was one of the greatest missionary movements God raised during the second half of the 19th century. In 1886, it was formed when a group of students were gripped with a spirit for world missions at one of the annual Bible study meetings conducted by D. L. Moody in USA. They were gripped by urgency. They committed themselves stating, “Unless the Lord prevents us, we will all go as foreign missionaries.” Their motto was: “Evangelisation of the world in our generation.” In 60 yrs SVM sent 20,500 young people to foreign lands while around 80,000 actively prayed and supported them from home. Sherwood Eddy, one of the SVM missionaries wrote, “I was one of the first of sixteen thousand student volunteers who were swept into what seemed to us nothing less than a missionary crusade. We were considered fanatical by some. Many sacrificed early plans and ambitions for wealth, power, prestige or pleasure, to go to some distant country about which they knew little save its abysmal need. We felt that we were in one team, working for one world, under one captain.” No wonder the late 19th and early 20th century is called as the greatest era is mission history.
The Cost of Commitment
Paul realised that in order to attain his one aim, he must be willing to sacrifice his life. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.” (Acts 20:24). Paul was willing to sacrifice his wealth, reputation, status, health, and even his life for the sake of fulfilling the task God had entrusted him (Acts 20:23, Phil.1:20, II Cor.11:26-28). Paul’s perspective about his life was a radical one (Phil.3:8, 2 Cor.5:14-15). His life is a demonstration of Christian discipleship (Lk.9:23-26).
Paul’s life reminds us that only those who deny their self can impact the world with the gospel of Christ and fulfil the world mission mandate. Perhaps, many in the church today have an interest in missions. They understand the importance of world missions, know God’s heart cry; even want to give themselves for the Lord’s work. But, self stands in their way. Career ambitions, personal desires, family pride, worldly pursuits, desire for comfort, status, prominence, easy life-style, so on and so forth hold them back.
In 1904 William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. His parents gave him a trip around the world. Travelling through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world’s hurting people. Writing home, he said, “I’m going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.” When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: No Reserves. Turning down high paying job offers after graduation from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: No Retreats. Completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first at Egypt for some preparation. While there he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month at the age of 26. A waste, you say! Not in God’s plan. In his Bible, underneath the words No Reserves and No Retreats, he had written the words No Regrets!!
I believe people like Paul, Alexander Duff, Sherwood Eddy and William Borden are the ones badly wanted in missions today. Will you be one like them?
By Sam K John