John 17:14-19 – “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Days before His death, Jesus stopped to pray that after He rose and returned to heaven that Christians would be missionaries.
Once upon a time, “missions” meant sending certain people overseas. What the church must do is recover our sense of mission for all of us, for the entire life of the church.
“Missions” is a calling for all of us. The prevailing theology used to say that the Church sends missionaries across the water to tribes of eccentric people who don’t know God. But we have tribes of eccentric people who don’t know God that we cross paths with every day.
Every area of the world needs missionaries and all Christians need to be missionaries. This is why every Christian must love people, serve people, and engage people. This is why every Christian must learn local cultures and seek to contextualize the gospel in those cultures. Jesus did not command us to invite people to “come and see.” He commanded us to “go and tell.” In the same way that good missionaries to China learn the language, learn the customs, engage in the cultural narratives, and contextualize the gospel for the understanding of the Chinese people, part of our mission in all corners of the world and its contexts means listening to people, empathizing, reading the literature, pounding the cultural pavement, even understanding the entertainment.
The question before us is not “Are we missionaries?” The real question is “Are we good missionaries? Or bad ones?” Jesus helps us figure out how to answer this question with his words on being in the world but not of it.
We also learn from the example of Jesus’ own life as a missionary. We see in the Gospels that Jesus doesn’t interact with people on a superficial level. He knows the people – the tax collectors and the sinners, the Samaritans and the Romans, the community of his disciples from all walks of life and even the religious Pharisees and the political Sadducees – He lives among them and invests in relationships with them. He goes to their events and participates in their culture. He goes to weddings and parties. He enters other cultures (as in Samaria). Over and over, we see Jesus working hard to serve as the best missionary to ever live.
The essence of missional living is the emptying of self for the good of others. And, of course, Jesus illustrates the apex of self-emptying by taking upon himself the will of the Father in the atoning sacrifice of his body on the cultural symbol of shame: the cross.
With that sacrifice on the horizon, Jesus prays, “Father, just as you sent me, I am sending them”. Just as God has sent Jesus to a time and place, he has sent you to a time and place. And just as God sent Jesus to sacrifice for the love of the world, you are called to take up your cross, deny yourself, and love the world. Just as Jesus was a missionary, we are to be missionaries. And if God should move you to another place, you are to be a missionary there as well. Every day, wherever you go, remember that you are there on mission from Jesus and that there are people God has sent you to share the love and truth of Jesus with. Someone did this for you, and now you get to do the same for someone else.
How can you be a better missionary in the daily stuff of your normal life and relationships?