Holding the Rope
by John Piper
A shared vision for world missions is crucial in the life of the church. Why should world missions be fundamental in the ministry of the church? What do we mean by it? How do we go about it? What is your place in it? Consider these five points for building a vision of world missions in our congregations.
First, we must understand that the Word of God is the foundation of world missions. Let us be a church that builds our missionary vision on the Word of God, which has to do with the truths about God and His way of salvation and His way of life revealed in the Bible. This also has to do with doctrine — not the less central ones but the crucial, central doctrines of the Bible. When we choose and send missionaries, let us send those who can preach and teach the truth about God with an understanding of central biblical doctrines. The apostles built their lives and missions on these great truths. So should we.
Second, world missions are God’s work. What this means is not that He does it instead of us but that He does it through us. But He really does it. Missions are fundamentally supernatural. They are really God’s doing, God’s work in and through us. Thus, missions are not mainly a human enterprise but a divine one. It is God’s work based on God’s Word. We speak and we do. But in and through us God speaks and God does, or all is in vain. We rely on Him. Our job is to obey and be faithful and trust Him. Just as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6–7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Next, consider the aim of world missions. It is, simply put, the worship of God. The reason the universe exists is that creatures might have the joy of worshiping God. Therefore, missions exist where worship doesn’t. Missionaries are seeking to awaken worship for the true and living God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Consider how Paul describes his missionary service in Romans 15:15–16. He says it is like a priest preparing an offering for God. Grace was “given me by God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” So the aim of missions is to be like priests of God who prepare an offering acceptable to Him among the peoples of the world. What does that mean? How are the Gentiles an offering to God?
Romans 12:1 explains: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The Gentiles are an acceptable offering to God when their lives are an act of worship to God.
In Romans 15:9 Paul says that the aim of Christ’s coming into the world (as the model foreign missionary) was “for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy.” Then Paul supports this claim with a string of Old Testament quotations in verses 9–11. This is how Paul thought about his mission. It was a fulfillment of Old Testament expectations that the Gentiles — the nations — would praise the Lord by rejoicing in Him above all other joys. That is the goal of missions: the worship of God.
Fourth, the way to do world missions is to go to unreached peoples. In other words, the way to do world missions is not to settle down with the peoples that already have churches (even if they are across the ocean), but to keep going to the unreached peoples until all the peoples are reached and have their own Christ-worshiping churches.
In Romans 15:19–23 Paul says that the gospel is fulfilled in a region where there are tens of thousands of unconverted people. How? Answer: The task of frontier missions was done, not the task of evangelism. What this means for us is that there must always be missionaries like Paul if we are going to finish the Great Commission, which is not just to reach more and more people, but more and more peoples — people groups — until they all have churches and can evangelize their own people. We call this frontier missions. This must always be a high priority for our missionary endeavors.
Finally, God calls some to be wardens of the mission who watch over it from home. “Wardens” ought to be understood as “senders.” Consider Romans 15:24. Paul says he aims to go to Spain, which was wholly unreached as far as we know: “I hope to see you in passing…and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
This is important because of what he does not say and what he does say. He does not say: “Everyone in Rome who is obedient to the Great Commission will go with me to Spain, or will go to some other unreached place or people group.” What he does say, in effect, is: “My hope is that you will refresh me and then help me in my mission to Spain.” In other words, he calls the church in Rome to be senders, wardens of the mission. He wants them to be partners in his mission, supporters of this God-exalting work.
So, you have three possibilities in world missions. You can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient. The Bible does not assume that everyone goes. But it does assume that the ones who do not go care about goers and support goers and pray for goers and hold the rope of the goers. Paul was linked with many churches, and they sent support to him over and over again. So it should be with every church and its missionaries.