Jason Gray is a well-known Christian singer/songwriter. His songs are popular on Christian radio, and he has been widely recognized by websites and critics as a bestselling musician. Yet, what many people probably don’t know about Jason is something that you can’t necessarily pick up on by hearing his music; Jason has a speech handicap commonly known as “stuttering.” God’s grace to Jason is that his stuttering ceases whenever he sings. In his live album Acoustic Story Time, he tells the story of what it was like to feel compelled to become a musician who has such a handicap. By his estimation, there was no room for such a weakness in one of Christ’s disciples. Christ’s ideal disciple, Jason thought, was a person who carried him/her self like the Marlboro Man – someone who was cool, calm, collected, and competent.
What Jason realized over time, however, was that God does not call us to be his disciple in spite of our weaknesses but because of them. He has since observed in his time traveling the world that Christians tend to have such an emphasis on the virtues of strength and healing that they leave no room for the virtues of weakness and suffering. It is the latter, Jason observes, that are often the sweeter gift. For not only is God able to use the latter to increase his strength and glory in our lives, but he also uniquely equips us to become instruments of mercy to others who are suffering.
Dr. Richard Gaffin, professor of Biblical and Systematic theology at Westminster Seminary observes, “The Pentecostal Spirit is as well the Spirit of suffering, although this tends to be the spiritual gift that no one is talking about.” He is right. The church today struggles with properly understanding the role of suffering in the Christian life. Is there room for suffering and weakness, and if so, what should that look like?
The Apostle Paul gives us a very important key to answering this question. In Romans 8:12-17, Paul teaches us that if we have the Spirit of God’s salvation, then we have become children of God. The Holy Spirit himself testifies that we are children of God, and because we are children, we are also God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ. I think a lot of us would end our description of this important passage there, but we’d leave off the most important part of the passage – that all of the above is true only if we are joined in suffering with Christ (Romans 8:17).
One of the reasons why we Christians tend to handle suffering poorly is because we are not prepared adequately for it. The truth is, those whom God has adopted through Christ should prepare themselves for a life full of various trials, toils and difficulties. When these sufferings come our way, we can handle them with joy and praise because the more we endure misery and affliction, the more our union with Christ – our salvation – is confirmed.
There are those who would say that there is no place for suffering or weeping in the Christian life. Some would go so far as to say that depression or mourning is a conscious act of sin, and that unless the Christian is filled with joy at all times then they are rejecting God. Such a view of the Christian life is both cruel and unbiblical. John Calvin was accurate in his strong rebuke of such people:
Among Christians, too, there are those who hold similar views. They believe it is sinful not only to groan and weep, but even to be downcast and anxious. Such outlandish ideas are the work of lazy individuals, who spend their time in speculation rather than in honest work, and who produce nothing but empty fantasies.
This reality is probably the one thing that makes me saddest about health and wealth teachers. It is not the mere fact that they are theologically wrong (which is true), but that they are denying those who follow them the privilege of rejoicing in their suffering as an adopted child of God. For it is when we suffer that we are most able to relate to the ministry of Christ. Charles Spurgeon once said,
Personally, I also bear witness that it has been to me, in seasons of great pain, superlatively comfortable to know that in every pang which racks his people the Lord Jesus has a fellow-feeling. We are not alone, for one like unto the Son of Man walks the furnace with us.
Our strength to find solace, refuge, joy and strength in our sorrows and suffering does not come from ourselves, but in the reality that Christ went ahead of us in this way. He groaned and wept; he suffered physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is in this example that he teaches us to do the same: the world will rejoice while we weep and lament, yet our sorrows will be turned into joy (John 16:20). So Christian, be prepared for suffering; and when it comes, rejoice! This isn’t easy to do, it’s a daily fight for joy in our suffering. But we can take comfort in the fact that as we suffer, our Father is verifying our status as a son or daughter, and he does so in love for us as he uses this light and momentary affliction for our good and our joy.
In the Fall of 2012 I took a course on Christian missions that really helped shape my Biblical understanding of the need and call of Christian missions. Of all the resources and material we digested for the course, there was perhaps no book that had greater impact on me than M. David Sills’ book Reaching and Teaching. As I have been too busy to write anything “original” lately, I wanted to go back to this text and share some motivation and encouragement for cross-cultural ministry.
The passage below is an excerpt from Reaching and Teaching that is specifically speaking on Paul’s missiology and his methods, with the implication that Christians today can learn much from Paul. Christians often think of missions as something overseas in destitute places – and while certainly there is a great and growing need for effort on this front – the local missions frontier cannot be completely abandoned either. Sills point therefore in the below passage is to show that the Christian does not need to go overseas for cross-cultural ministry, as it is currently being brought to our doorstep. Learning about other cultures, learning other languages, and learning how to break down cultural walls can be just as applicable in the West as it can be overseas.
Someone has said that a missionary is “anyone who cannot get used to the sound of pagan footsteps on their way to a Christless eternity.” When using a broad definition like this, we would have to say that of course Paul was a missionary. In fact, using a broad understanding of the term, the great English Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” His point was that all true believers should have hearts that long for the salvation of lost people everywhere. However, we need to define the term more precisely, or everyone and no one is a missionary.
A technical definition begins with the etymology of the word. The word missionary comes from a Latin word meaning “to send”; therefore, a missionary is “a sent one.” However, a fair question – and the one which this book addresses – is, “Sent to do what?” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that Christians are ambassadors for Christ, sent with the ministry and message of reconciliation: preaching the gospel, making disciples, and teaching disciples to observe all that Christ has commanded us. Certainly, this should be true in the life of a missionary, a sent one.
A proper definition of the term missionary distinguishes the missionary from an evangelist or preacher by including the idea of crossing boundaries for the sake of the gospel. These boundaries may be linguistic, geopolitical, socioeconomic, or cultural. In our modern age of globalization, one does not have to cross salt water to be a missionary. There are people groups traveling and living all over the world, bringing their languages, worldviews, religions, and cultures with them. Regardless of where you live in today’s world, you will find people nearby who identify with other languages and cultures. God provides intercultural ministry opportunities in virtually every corner of the world.
If a missionary is someone who intentionally crosses boundaries to share the gospel, make and teach disciples, and plant churches among them, then Paul was clearly a missionary. John Polhill writes, “No descriptions fits Paul better than that of missionary. Acts consistently portrays him in this role. The patterns of missionary activity established by Paul are in many aspects still followed today.” The Lord Jesus sent Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47, 22:21, 26:17), and the Bible is clear that Paul faithfully discharged his duty and sought to fulfill this calling. Paul was so evidently a missionary that Barnett writes, “Paul the missionary became the great example for centuries of those who would leave the security and comfort of home for the perils and uncertainty of the itinerant missionary.”
Let us then define an intercultural missionary in this way: one whom God has called and sent as an ambassador of Christ with the message of reconciliation to make disciples, baptize, and teach to obey all that He has commanded, and who intentionally crosses cultural boundaries to do so. The life of David Brainerd illustrates the fact that one does not have to cross salt water to fulfill such a calling. He engaged Native American indigenous peoples, learning their language and culture, and preached gospel in such extreme conditions as to hasten a premature death. Countless other missionaries in the pages of history crossed cultural barriers, learned languages, suffered persecution, planted churches, discipled, and taught indigenous pastors who converted from paganism – all without ever leaving the shores of their home continent.
DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, SEPTEMBER 2, 1855, BY THE
REV. C. H. SPURGEON,
AT NEW PARK STREET CHAPEL, SOUTHWARK.
“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14.
IF there were no other text in the sacred word except this one, I think we should all be bound to receive and acknowledge the truthfulness of the great and glorious doctrine of God’s ancient choice of his family. But there seems to be an inveterate prejudice in the human mind against this doctrine; and although most other doctrines will be received by professing Christians, some with caution, others with pleasure, yet this one seems to be most frequently disregarded and discarded. In many of our pulpits it would be reckoned a high sin and treason to preach a sermon upon election, because they could not make it what they call a “practical” discourse. I believe they have erred from the truth therein. Whatever God has revealed, he has revealed for a purpose. There is nothing in Scripture which may not, under the influence of God’s Spirit, be turned into a practical discourse: for “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” for some purpose of spiritual usefulness. It is true, it may not be turned into a free-will discourse—that we know right well—but it can be turned into a practical free-grace discourse: and free-grace practice is the best practice, when the true doctrines of God’s immutable love are brought to bear upon the hearts of saints and sinners. Now, I trust this morning some of you who are startled at the very sound of this word, will say, “I will give it a fair hearing; I will lay aside my prejudices; I will just hear what this man has to say.” Do not shut your ears and say at once, “It is high doctrine.” Who has authorized you to call it high or low? Why should you oppose yourself to God’s doctrine? Remember what became of the children who found fault with God’s prophet, and exclaimed, “Go up, thou bald-head; go up, thou bald-head.” Say nothing against God’s doctrines, lest haply some evil beast should come out of the forest and devour you also. There are other woes beside the open judgment of heaven—take heed that these fall not on your head. Lay aside your prejudices: listen calmly, listen dispassionately: hear what Scripture says; and when you receive the truth, if God should be pleased to reveal and manifest it to your souls, do not be ashamed to confess it. To confess you were wrong yesterday, is only to acknowledge that you are a little wiser to-day; and instead of being a reflection on yourself, it is an honour to your judgment, and shows that you are improving in the knowledge of the truth. Do not be ashamed to learn, and to cast aside your old doctrines and views, but to take up that which you may more plainly see to be in the Word of God. But if you do not see it to be here in the Bible, whatever I may say, or whatever authorities I may plead, I beseech you, as you love your souls, reject it; and if from this pulpit you ever hear things contrary to this Sacred Word, remember that the Bible must be the first, and God’s minister must lie underneath it. We must not stand on the Bible to preach, but we must preach with the Bible above our heads. After all we have preached, we are well aware that the mountain of truth is higher than our eyes can discern; clouds and darkness are round about its summit, and we cannot discern its topmost pinnacle; yet we will try to preach it as well as we can. But since we are mortal, and liable to err, exercise your judgment; “Try the spirits whether they are of God;” and if on mature reflection on your bended knees, you are led to disregard election—a thing which I consider to be utterly impossible—then forsake it; do not hear it preached, but believe and confess whatever you see to be God’s Word. I can say no more than that by way of exordium.
Open your Bibles and turn to John 15:16, and there you will see that Jesus Christ has chosen his people, for he says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” Then in the 19th verse, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Then in the 17th chapter and the 8th and 9th verses, “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Turn to Acts 13:48: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” They may try to split that passage into hairs if they like; but it says, “ordained to eternal life” in the original as plainly as it possibly can; and we do not care about all the different commentaries thereupon. You scarcely need to be reminded of Romans 8, because I trust you are all well acquainted with that chapter and understand it by this time. In the 29th and following verses, it says, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” It would also be unnecessary to repeat the whole of the 9th chapter of Romans. As long as that remains in the Bible, no man shall be able to prove Arminianism; so long as that is written there, not the most violent contortions of the passage will ever be able to exterminate the doctrine of election from the Scriptures.
And now, lastly, to the ungodly. What says election to you? First ye ungodly ones, I will excuse you for a moment. There are many of you who do not like election, and I cannot blame you for it, for I have heard those preach election, who have sat down, and said, “I have not one word to say to the sinner.” Now, I say you ought to dislike such preaching as that, and I do not blame you for it. But, I say, take courage, take hope, O thou sinner, that there is election. So far from dispiriting and discouraging thee, it is a very hopeful and joyous thing that there is an election. What if I told thee perhaps none can be saved, none are ordained to eternal life; wouldst thou not tremble and fold thy hands in hopelessness, and say, “Then how can I be saved, since none are elect?” But, I say, there is a multitude elect, beyond all counting—a host that no mortal can number. Therefore, take heart, thou poor sinner! Cast away thy despondency—mayest thou not be elect as well as any other? for there is a host innumerable chosen. There is joy and comfort for thee! Then, not only take heart, but go and try the Master. Remember, if you were not elect, you would lose nothing by it. What did the four Syrians say? “Let us fall unto the host of the Syrians, for if we stay here we must die, and if we go to them we can but die.” O sinner! come to the throne of electing mercy, Thou mayest die where thou art. Go to God; and, even supposing he should spurn thee, suppose his uplifted hand should drive thee away—a thing impossible—yet thou wilt not lose anything; thou wilt not be more damned for that. Besides, supposing thou be damned, thou wouldst have the satisfaction at least of being able to lift up thine eyes in hell, and say, “God, I asked mercy of thee and thou wouldst not grant it; I sought it, but thou didst refuse it.” That thou never shalt say, O sinner! If thou goest to him, and askest him, thou shalt receive; for he ne’er has spurned one yet! Is not that hope for you? What though there is an allotted number, yet it is true that all who seek belong to that number. Go thou and seek; and if thou shouldst be the first one to go to hell, tell the devils that thou didst perish thus—tell the demons that thou art a castaway, after having come as a guilty sinner to Jesus. I tell thee it would disgrace the Eternal—with reverence to his name—and he would not allow such a thing. He is jealous of his honour, and be could not allow a sinner to say that.
But ah, poor soul! not only think thus, that thou canst not lose anything by coming; there is yet one more thought—dost thou love the thought of election this morning? Art thou willing to admit its justice? Dost thou say, “I feel that I am lost; I deserve it; and that if my brother is saved I cannot murmur. If God destroy me, I deserve it; but if he saves the person sitting beside me, he has a right to do what he will with his own, and I have lost nothing by it.” Can you say that honestly from your heart? If so, then the doctrine of election has had its right effect on your spirit, and you are not far from the kingdom of heaven. You are brought where you ought to be, where the Spirit wants you to be; and being so this morning, depart in peace; God has: forgiven your sins. You would not feel that if you were not pardoned; you would not feel that if the Spirit of God were not working in you. Rejoice, then, in this. Let your hope rest on the cross of Christ. Think not on election, but on Christ Jesus. Rest on Jesus—Jesus first, midst, and without end.