It is one thing to “have” missionaries on your bulletin board at church. It is quite another to “support them” in a way that is consistent with what the Bible teaches. John instructs the church in his third letter to support them “in all your efforts,” and that missionaries should be sent on “their journey in a manner worthy of God.” Why? Because these “have gone out for the sake of the name.” They have left behind family and friends and comfort and security and moved, in some cases, to a place where they will face trials and suffering and sometimes even death. Not for their name’s sake, but for His.
How should we support missionaries, especially those whom we have sent out from our own church? I would suggest three things at minimum that would fill up part of what John meant by “in all your efforts.”
With prayer. John Bunyan said, “You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” We are to pray first and most of all. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The promise to give us whatever we ask is in the context of mission. As we go and bear fruit in the mission He has given us, we can pray with confidence. That means we can and should pray with boldness for the missionaries we support, that God would protect them and provide for them. But even more importantly, we must pray that God will use them for the sake of His name.
With practical help. From a prison cell in his last months, Paul asked for three things from his son in the faith, Timothy. He asked for his cloak. Paul was cold. He asked for his parchments and books. Paul wanted to read, especially the Word of God. He asked for Timothy to come to him. Paul was lonely! We support missionaries when we write to them or skype with them. We support them when we send them supplies. We support them the best, perhaps, when we go and visit with them to encourage them and help them in the work.
With financial support. We support a family of five in Chisinau, Moldova. Let me share part of their Christmas newsletter with you:
Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” The missionary’s job is to make sure he is doing God’s work in God’s way. But where does “God’s supply” come from? Most often, it comes from God’s people. We must make sure that we are doing our part to supply the needs of the missionaries we support. With prayer, practical help, and finances.
Found on the internet recently: a Pony Express recruitment poster from 1860 that reads: “WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
Were I to respond in the spirit of the age I would say, “That’s narrow-minded and discriminatory.” I mean, what if I want to ride for the Pony Express and I am over 60? Or I weighed more than 300 pounds? And what’s all this stuff about risking death? No way, Jack! I want to ride but I don’t want to do anything that might risk my hairdo, much less my life and limbs. Are you really telling me that I cannot apply? Well, you will hear from my lawyer, “Mr. Express.” Count on it!
If you think that club was exclusive, you should check out Jesus’ qualifications for discipleship. He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Not only do you have to come and risk death; if you want to follow Jesus, you have to come and die every single day.
See, here’s the truth about Jesus’ church-growth “methods.” He preached a crowd-thinning word, not a crowd-pleasing one. He told his followers that they would be dragged before the magistrates and authorities. He told them they would be hated for his sake. He told them that they would have much tribulation. Then he spoke the mother of all “anti-church-growth” messages when he said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him.” He wasn’t talking about cannibalism there or even about the elements of the Lord’s Supper, as many have supposed. He was talking about so identifying with him that those who would follow him would take his life for their own, would lay down their desires and their plans and take up his. It was at this point that “many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.”
Jesus did not seek a crowd. He was never interested in drawing crowds or mobs. Jesus was the leader and still is, of the remnant. He was looking for disciples, not warm bodies. He wasn’t interested in scaffolding, which is temporary support but cannot be trusted under any kind of significant load or stress. Scaffolding is up today and gone tomorrow. A scaffold will say, “Lord, we ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets,” but Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Scaffolding comes and goes, blown about by the wind, but stones set in mortar are here to stay. The cornerstone, Jesus, was getting ready to lay down his life, and he was looking for some men who would lay theirs down as well. He was searching for solid stones, suitable for setting in mortar next to the cornerstone to build a building whose maker and builder is God.
Someone asked a pastor once how he was able to have such a wonderful congregation of people gathered together on a Sunday morning. They knew that it had not always been that way. In fact, when the pastor first came to the church, it was filled with turmoil and division. Now it was thriving, filled with worshipers who loved the Lord and each other. “How did you do it,” the pastor was asked. “I preached it down to four,” he replied. Jesus preached it down to eleven. The crowd wandered off, but the disciples remained. How about you?
This is what the angel said who appeared to the shepherds on a Bethlehem hillside many years ago: ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news was that the Savior had been born.
What’s the best news you have ever heard? Was it when the doctor said, “Good news. You don’t have cancer”? Or was it when the HR department called and said, “Good news. You’ve got the job”? Maybe it was when your future father-in-law said, “Good news. You can marry my daughter.” I know that last one seems like an anachronism, but I know for a fact that there are still young men even in this day and age who would rather ask than tell. So, what’s your best news ever? Was it when the call came that you had qualified for your dream house?
Those are all good news. But they dwell in the lower regions of what we want or don’t want, rather than in the upper region of what we desperately need. They are also temporary good news. Cancer or not, one day we are still going to die. Whether we love it or loathe it, the job will end. Marriage is wonderful, but even if you live happily, it will not be for “ever after.” You will be your wife’s brother in heaven, and she your sister. And your dream house? It will fall down either before or after you do.
That’s what makes Christmas different. The Savior who was born in Bethlehem was Christ the Lord. He came to give us what we need, not just what we want. He came to satisfy the longing that we are all born with, which he created in us. We long for the eternal. We know in our hearts, because he put it there, that this world is not all there is. In fact, we even know in our hearts that we were created for a relationship that goes beyond what a husband and wife have together, or even a parent and a child. He who made us made us for himself.
Jesus’ birth was good news of great joy. Not just for the shepherds, but for all the people. The Savior was born for people all over the world who would come and adore Him. However, His coming is great joy for “all the people,” but not for every person. That’s why the heavenly host of angels also said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” There is a somber message here, mingled with good news of great joy. The coming of the Messiah would bring peace only to those with whom God is pleased. Who does that include?
The Bible says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” The message of Christmas is only good news of great joy to those who believe the promises of God and the testimony of his Word.
It has puzzled many that this time of the year can be the most joyful for many, and the bluest for many others. However, it is no wonder that the season of hope fails to satisfy the heart that is consumed only with what it wants and doesn’t even acknowledge what it desperately needs. It is no wonder that “good news of great joy” eludes the one who lives for the moment and never even considers eternity.
What’s the best news of all time? The Savior, Christ the Lord, has come!
Here’s the name above every name in Great Britain this year: Milo. A survey conducted by a parenting website has declared the name Milo to be the most popular name for baby boys in Britain, surpassing previous favorite, Oliver. The most popular name for girls in the UK this year is Luna. Yep, parents are over the moon about that name, which passed perennial favorite, Olivia, for the first time.
That may be so. But the name that is above every name has been given by God to Jesus. “You shall call His name Jesus,” the angel said to Joseph, “for he will save His people from their sins.” It is a name that is set apart, even by those who don’t believe in Him. Philip Yancey wrote, “Today, people even use Jesus’ name to curse by. How strange it would sound if, when a businessman missed a golf putt, he yelled, ‘Thomas Jefferson!’ or if a plumber screamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi!’ when his pipe wrench mashed a finger. We cannot get away from this man Jesus.” Or from His name. But Jesus’ name in His day would have been as ordinary then as Bob or Joe is today. This was a time of a revival of Jewish pride, and parents were naming their children after the heroes of the Old Testament again. So, Mary was named after Miriam, Moses’ sister. Joseph was named after one of the patriarchs. And even the name ‘Jesus’ was a form of the Old Testament name, Joshua, which means, “He shall save.” The thought that someone named Jesus could be the Messiah was unthinkable. For people raised in that time and in that tradition, Phillip Yancey wrote, it would have been scandalous to even consider that someone named “Jesus” could possibly be the Son of God. Jesus was just a man; he was Mary’s oldest boy, a carpenter who grew up in Nazareth, for goodness’ sake!
Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted him (Jesus) and given him the name that is above every name.” Sinclair Ferguson argues that Paul was making a clear connection between the name Jesus and the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior…For thus says the Lord…‘I am the Lord, and there is no other’… And there is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me… To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”
Here’s the point: God is the only Savior, God says of Himself in Isaiah. Jesus, says Paul, is that Savior. God is the Lord before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess, God says in Isaiah. And Jesus, says Paul, is that Lord.
This is why the birth of Christ divides time, as well as nations, even families. At his first appearance, Jesus hid himself in plain sight, as a babe in a manger. At his next appearance, Jesus will split the skies as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will not come, hat in hand, asking for us to ‘please accept him.’ He never did that in his first coming. When Jesus returns, it will be to consummate God’s perfect plan for all of mankind and judge the world in righteousness.
“When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”
May Christ alone and his righteousness alone be yours this Christmas.