The Biblical Realities of the Missionary Enterprise

The After years of service in South Africa, the famous missionary Robert Moffat returned to Scotland to recruit helpers.  When he arrived at the church one cold wintry night, he was dismayed that only a small group had come out to hear him.  What bothered him even more was that the only people in attendance were ladies.  Although he was grateful for their interest, he had hoped to challenge men.  He had chosen as his text Proverbs 8:4, "Unto you, O men I call."  In his discouragement he failed to notice one small boy in the loft pumping the bellows of the organ.  Moffat felt frustrated as he gave the message for he realized that very few women could be expected to undergo the rigorous life in undeveloped jungles.

But…God works in mysterious ways.

Although no one volunteered that evening, the young fellow assisting the organist was deeply moved by the challenge.  As a result, he promised God he would follow in the footsteps of this pioneer missionary.  And he remained true to his vow.  When he grew up, he went and ministered to the unreached tribes of Africa.  He was none other than the legendary David Livingstone!  Robert Moffat never ceased to wonder that the appeal he had intended for men had stirred a young boy, who eventually became a mighty power for God.

The Bible is very clear that God designates certain people to rise above the ordinary course of life and serve Him in extraordinary ways.  And it’s instructive to take a closer look at these people.

For example—they were clearly sent.  In the third and fourth chapters of Exodus Moses offered a litany of excuses as to why he couldn't serve.  God assured him that regardless of his excuses, He was nevertheless sending him, Moses, no one else.  That’s pretty inspiring.

But notice also, they were appointed…ordained…chosen.  I like the fact that Jeremiah was chosen by God even before he was born.  While still in his mother's womb he was appointed to a special ministry.  He didn’t choose this for himself.  He didn’t aspire to this sacred task.  God picked him. Same story in the case of John the Baptist.

It’s also important to note that they were speakers.  Ezekiel was commanded to speak to the people whether they were willing hear or not; whether they responded positively or not:  "And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear..." (2:7).  No one was ever called to be a good example to the lost.  It takes verbalization.  Speaking the truth, in love of course, but nonetheless, they were called to proclaim, not live out a pious silent witness.

Finally, don’t overlook the fact that functioned as representatives.    The message was not theirs, nor was the work theirs. Timothy was commanded to "preach the Word,"  not his word, regardless of how rhetorically eloquent and philosophically astute he might have been.

Lest any of us get the wrong impression, we have to remember that--as important as the messenger is to the evangelism process, the message, not the messenger, is the critical element.  We carry “the words of life.”  The gospel is everything; not the missionary.

Okay, now let’s take a look at the people to whom missionaries are sent.  Rarely are they waiting breathlessly for you to show up and introduce them to the way more perfect.  In Deuteronomy 9:6,13; God called them "stiff-necked:"   "Furthermore, the Lord spoke unto me saying, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people."  And isn’t that the raw reality in the Muslim world?  Are not the Hindus in India, the Catholics in France, and the animists and spiritists in Africa stubborn, resistant, rebellious, and hard-to-reach?

Jeremiah was warned that "they will fight against you" (1:19), which was true throughout his entire ministry.  Ezekiel had a tough audience:  " And he said to me, "Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn…”  "Timid" Timothy was assigned to preach to people who would not endure sound doctrine but would seek out flattering teachers instead.  In other words, none of these designated ministers of God were well received by their audiences.  Their pleas, for the most part, fell on deaf ears.

That can be discouraging until you remember—the quality that endeared them to God was not success, but faithfulness.  God doesn’t demand success or numbers—He demands faithfulness.  Being rejected is just part of the program--Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Daniel, Paul, the disciples, Jesus--were all rejected of men.  We expect it.  We are not commanded to be highly regarded or loved or appreciated.  Our responsibility is faithfulness, and every one of us is capable of that.

I would be terribly remiss, however, if I did not end on this note:  these ministers were held in high esteem by Almighty God.  In fact, in Hebrews 11:38 the Holy Spirit declared that the world was not worthy of these ministers.  For the most part the heroes in Hebrews 11 were ordinary men and women like us who God tapped for special work.  They were not worthy themselves, nor were their audiences worthy.  God, however, had a gracious plan for both.