Willing to suffer for Christ
In this series examining the great subject of mission, we have so far looked at four principles: (1) mission begins with the God who has chosen to save sinners; (2) conscious faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation; (3) we seek to reach nations and not just people; and (4) the local church has been given this great responsibility.
The final question we must consider is this; who should the church send? God’s agency for mission is the local church, but churches send out missionaries who are people. What type of people does the missionary cause need?
They must be sacrificial, Christ-centred people who are willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake and the blessing of his people (Philippians 3:8; 2 Timothy 2:10). From this flows a model for the kind of mission which ensures that all whom God plans to save will hear the good news.
Willing to suffer
The great passion of missionary-minded people is the glory of Jesus Christ and they will do anything he asks for the sake of his name. Consider Matthew 19:23-29, the discussion that follows Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. Peter rehearses the sacrifices the disciples have made and Jesus assures them that it has been noted.
But he uses a key expression in verse 29: ‘for my name’s sake’. Here is the motive for missionary service – it is done for the sake of Jesus’ name, for his reputation and glory. This follows because God’s goal is that his Son’s name should be exalted and honoured among all the peoples of the world.
The same phrase keeps appearing in the pages of the New Testament. In Acts 9:16 Paul is told that he will be God’s missionary to the Gentiles for the glory of Jesus Christ but will also suffer for the sake of that name.
When Paul, ending his third missionary journey, was warned not to go to Jerusalem, he replied that he was ‘ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 21:13). For Paul, the glory of Jesus’ name, and his Lord’s reputation in the world, were more important than life. That is the type of person the missionary cause needs. That is why Paul was sent out from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3; see also Romans 1:5).
Such thinking is typical of those who spread the gospel. John urges Gaius to send missionaries on their way ‘in a manner worthy of God … because they went forth for his name’s sake’. He continues: ‘We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth’ (3 John 6-7).
To be effective in the missionary cause, whatever your role, you need to be utterly convinced that ‘the name of Jesus Christ’ is altogether worthy. You must see the magnificence of Christ. We shall have no desire to draw others into our worship if we have no passion for worship ourselves.
Strong in passion
We measure the value of something by what we will gladly give to get hold of it. If we will sell everything to gain it, then its value is supreme. If not, it means we treasure more what we already have (Matthew 13:44).
If we view Christ as supreme – treasuring him above everything else – we shall be willing to suffer for his sake, and even give our lives should he ask (Hebrews 10:32; 11:23; 12:1-2). All these people in Hebrews had such joy in God that they were willing to suffer. This is the mindset which must dominate us if the nations are to be reached.
This is nothing more than Jesus asks of all his disciples (Mark 8:34-35). The attitude of self-denial is essential for the work of mission. When Jesus sent the Twelve on their first preaching mission he told them to expect suffering as part of the work they would do (Matthew 10:16-25) – and again it is all ‘for [Christ’s] name’s sake’ (v.22).
Note also that when Jesus speaks about the end of the age (Matthew 24:9-14), the two things that go hand in hand are suffering (v.9) and the proclamation of the gospel (v.14). This is the price of mission and it is going to be paid. The question is, are we willing to be involved and pay that price if called to do so?
The usefulness of suffering
But why should God call on us to suffer? There are several reasons.
Firstly,suffering makes others bold. Philippians 1:14 shows how God uses the suffering of his devoted emissaries to make a sleeping church wake up and take risks for God.
For example, the execution of Wycliffe missionary Chet Bitterman by a Colombian guerrilla group in March 1981 unleashed an amazing zeal for the cause of Christ. He was killed by a single bullet to the chest. In the year following Chet’s death, ‘Applications for overseas service with Wycliffe Bible Translators doubled. This trend was continued’.1 This is not our way to motivate missionary activity, but sometimes it is God’s!
Secondly, suffering shows the love of Christ. Paul seems to take the idea one step further: not only is suffering the price, but it is also the means God has ordained to finish the work (Colossians 1:24-26; 2 Corinthians 1:5-6).
Through our suffering, God makes a visible demonstration to the world of the sufferings of Christ. Suffering is an ordained means of reaching the peoples of the world and the hearts of the lost.
Thirdly, suffering is often the seed-bed for missionary zeal. The first man to die for the cause of Jesus Christ was Stephen. His suffering had an immense missionary impact (Acts 8:1; 11:19) – even before we consider the effect of his testimony on Saul of Tarsus. Without it, none of these things might have happened.
The lesson here is that comfort, ease, affluence, prosperity, safety and freedom often lead to great indolence in the church (Revelation 3:14ff.) Conditions that ought to produce a creative investment of time and money for the missionary cause produce instead the exact opposite – apathy, lethargy, self-centredness and a preoccupation with security.
The richer we are, the smaller the percentage of our income we give to mission and the less willing we are to give up our comforts for his name.
Implications for the church
There are lessons here for all of us. Firstly, we need to get radical. We cannot just ignore the cause of mission – it would be the same as denying our Saviour. After all, Jesus has sent us (John 20:21). We need to have a world mission orientation and to be engaged in this task in one way or another.
Secondly, we need to lower our expectations for this life. We have swallowed the philosophy that advises us to ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. We put so much of our energy into this life, but the desire for riches and a comfortable lifestyle is deadly.
We need to be shaped by the economics of Christ rather than the consumer culture – to stop building bigger barns and, instead, show the world that we seek riches in heaven. The glory of Jesus’ name among the nations is more important than our comfort and security now.
Thirdly, we need to be willing to take risks. Too often we hold back from being bold because we are unwilling to suffer. We must be willing to suffer reproach ‘outside the camp’ just as our Saviour did (Hebrews 13:12-14).
An aging Christian once objected to John G. Paton’s plan to go as a missionary to the South Sea Islands. ‘You’ll be eaten by Cannibals!’ he warned. Paton responded: ‘Mr Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms.
‘I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer’.2
How else will the Muslim nations be won? Many Muslim converts will risk their lives to follow Christ. Will we risk ours to win them?
Finally, we need to be joyfully satisfied with Christ. If we do not treasure him we will not be willing to suffer for the sake of his name. After lives of extraordinary hardship and loss, both Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone said, ‘I never made a sacrifice’. Why? They were totally satisfied with Christ and believed that what they had in him was far greater than any losses they had borne. Do we value Christ that much?
1. Steve Estes, Called to die (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p.252.
2. James Paton, ed., John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, an Autobiography (1889, 1898; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), p.56.