Advancing Indigenous Missions Annual Meeting
William Carey was the father of modern missions. Most AIM staff have stayed in his parsonage in Calcutta, India. We have preached in his church building next door as well.
Carey, a British missionary, marked a milestone in the history of Christian missions. He established the Serampore Mission near Calcutta on January 10, 1800—the first modern Protestant mission in the non-English-speaking world. He labored from this base for 41 years to spread the gospel throughout Southeast Asia.
As a pastor in Britain at the end of the 1700s, Carey stepped into a situation like ours. He became a missionary when there was conventional indifference toward missions in the West. There were no missionary societies or missionary interest in the Western church during his time. At a pastors’ meeting, when Carey challenged his fellow pastors to launch missions to the world, his older friend Dr. Ryland shouted, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without consulting you or me.”
Carey’s achievements were enormous. His accomplishments were almost impossible to summarize succinctly. This English pastor singlehandedly changed a negative attitude toward reaching the lost and became “the father of modern missions.”
Carey’s epoch message, “Expect Great Things from God, Attempt Great Things for God,” preached May 30, 1792, launched the Baptist Missionary Society and modern missions. That is the title for my message tonight. May God grant that this message have an impact on the cause of missions.
I. LOSS OF EXPECTATION
There is much discussion among mission leaders about the state of missions in the West. Evangelicalism has lost much of its momentum in reaching the world for Christ. Christianity has declined in the Western world: in the 20th century, 80% of North America and Europe were Christian. Now it is 40%.
Dr. Albert Mohler said, “The total missionary force is now a fraction of that during the 1950s, and many of those that remain on the fields have been assigned duties far removed from the conversionist witness.”
This statement has two implications: (1) we ought to highly value missionaries currently on the field and encourage any young person willing to commit to missions, and (2) if the West is no longer committed to sending missionaries, then our primary strategy should focus on indigenous missions.
Over recent decades evangelicals have altered their attitude toward missions. Believers now suffer from lack of belief that they can reach the world for Christ. There is a loss of expectation of what God can do.
This enormous change goes to loss of confidence in the Bible—the loss of truth. Vacuum of truth means a deficit of conviction toward dispersing the gospel to the world. Loss of truth comes from diminished confidence in certainty toward the Word of God.
Christians today do not expect great things from God in general and missions in particular. Do we await great things from God? Everything great in life, every significant accomplishment and every worthwhile endeavor, is the result of someone with an undeniable, unstoppable passion. If we are to reach the world, we must bear vital passion for the true objectives of the Word of God.
This is not easy to do in our culture. We live in an age that dulls passion. This culture blunts expectation by a plethora of options that fill up our time and seize our minds and our energy. These things cast cold water on hearts fiery to reach the world.
Christians today focus more on limited, time-oriented factors in society than on the urgency of eternal heaven and hell. Life is too short and eternity too long to misplace our priorities.
Adopting a Culture of Doubt
Christians generally are not passionately occupied with the cause of Christ. They have allowed themselves to submit to the varied values of our culture.
We are in a place of aping cultural concerns. Today pluralistic ideologies bombard all walks of life. There is a dramatic increase of new belief systems. The average Canadian Christian believes that it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are “sincere.” The impact of this thinking isolates the gospel message into one of many options. Ideologue pluralism has captured center stage of our values in Canada. The Christian faith has become distinctly marginalized. Culture has swallowed convictions.
Believers buy into this culture of doubt without hesitation today. The reason for this is the dramatic rise of new belief systems. By embracing lack of confidence in the message, faith becomes enfeebled. Skepticism takes precedence over confident faith.
With diminishing influence of Christianity on society, many evangelicals have lost trust in their message. They still believe in the gospel but they are not quite as sure about it. The gospel is not the only option for them. They have lost burning conviction that the gospel is mutually exclusive and that it must be dispersed to the world.
Skepticism about the indubitable truth of Christianity undermines both faith and mission. All of this is an echo of old skepticism or unbelief of the early 20th century. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of theological liberalism, bought into German rationalism. His teaching penetrated many churches and eviscerated biblical truth. By the middle of the 20th century, handfuls of liberal congregants huddled in vast caverns of empty, large church buildings. Historical evangelical institutions—such as Oxford, Dartmouth, Columbia, Rutgers, Brown, Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, and Princeton—now stand as citadels of liberalism. Yale was founded to fight liberalism! Harvard was established to train evangelical preachers! Today we are in another down cycle of evangelicalism. No wonder the mission enterprise is not important to today’s evangelical.
During one of his polar expeditions, Rear Admiral Robert Peary headed north with his dog team. At the end of the day when he stopped to take a bearing on his latitude, he was surprised to discover that he was farther south than when he began. He resolved the question when he discovered that he had been traveling on a gigantic ice flow. Ocean currents pulled it south faster than the dog teams could go north.
Today Christians are on a gigantic flow of culture away from biblical Christianity, and most do not realize it. We are experiencing a revisionism of Christianity before our very eyes. Infiltration of skepticism in the church is happening without notice by most evangelicals. Unfortunately, precious few Christians seem willing to take the threat seriously. Many church leaders are becoming grossly apathetic about truth and sound doctrine. This has had great effect on the cause of missions.
Declining Biblical Conviction
Diminishing conviction to opinion or personal perspective carries unintended consequence toward missions. Loss of biblical truth leads to reduced conviction about eternal outcomes. In these days a majority of Americans claim to believe in the God of the Bible, yet they are comfortably uncertain about what is true. A suffocating apathy about the whole concept of truth dominates much of the evangelical movement.
Christians today live in a foreign culture; this world is not our home. It is a culture of prevailing doubt about truth and certainty. Believers are blown about with every wind of doctrine. Christians adopt the skepticism rampant in culture. They are becoming certain about their doubts! To know that one does not know has become universally accepted among believers. To them doubt is a universal fact; however, one has to know (not doubt) that he or she does not know in order to doubt. It becomes a circular argument.
Unfortunately many evangelicals have bought into unending doubt at the core of their way of believing. They will not assert some things as true and other things as false. If there is no absolute truth, then there is no basis for Christian convictions.
If we consider every point of truth as an open question, we will be carried about by every wind of doctrine:
Ephesians 4:14: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
Second Timothy nails the fallacy of those who are “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
2 Timothy 4:1-4: “I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
At the Mercy of Circumstances
Without burning conviction about the objectives of missions, we are at the mercy of whims that drive our culture. If we don’t determine what’s important and where to put our priorities, other people will determine them for us.
“If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” (Augustine)
As the old cliché goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” When we believe in nothing, we open the doors to believing anything. This is true within the precincts of Christianity. As the body of common belief has shrunk and its importance has diminished within the ranks of the evangelical world, advocates arise for almost anything. We have displaced the priority of missions with a plethora of alternatives.
It is ironic that people today have strong conviction about weak issues (football, fashions, etc.) while holding weak conviction about ultimate issues.
II. EXPECT GREAT THINGS FROM GOD
Motivations for Expecting Great Things from God
The Thessalonian church was a congregation that expected great things from God. First Thessalonians 1:3 gives three motivations for this expectation:
“. . . remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.”
Motivation #1—“your work of faith”
The first impetus for the Thessalonians was that their work was produced by “faith.” Their work sprang from their faith. Faith occasioned their work. Faith originated work. Their work was the achievement of their faith. In the hall of fame chapter (Hebrews 11), we see many believers who did many exploits by faith. Belief bore fruit. True Christian work always originates in faith.
Look at your works, your production in life. Now look at your faith. Is there any connection between the two? The argument of the book of James is that faith works. True faith shows itself in works. Our faith motivates our work. A faith that is dynamic, active, and real rather than static and lifeless will produce divine work. Dynamic faith will have a major impact on missions.
The essential element to faith is its focus. If the object of our faith is credible, then we can trust that point of belief. Faith claims the promises of God. When we claim God’s promises, we can expect great things from God.
Faith rests upon provision from God, not on our resources. When we lean on God, He will produce something through us. We can work by our own effort or we can work under the power of God. A contractor can carry the bricks of the new house up the scaffold himself or he can obtain others to do it. The resources of his business allow him to hire others to do the work. Every Christian has the capital of God’s resources. The difference between Christians lies in the fact that some use their God-given resources and others do not. When we utilize assets from God, we produce divine results. We can expect great things from God by faith.
Why do people do what they do? The motivation of some is for very selfish reasons. They do what they do for adulation, fame, prestige, and distinction, or to make an impact of some kind on life. This verse says that our motivation should come from our faith. Later in the chapter, Paul wrote that the believers at Thessalonica made an impact by faith on the entire Roman world:
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Motivation #2—“labor of love”
The second motivation of the Thessalonians was their “love.” The Greek puts it as “your labor, the one out of love.” Love impelled their labor. Biblical love is more than sentiment. Love is not maudlin sweetness. We confuse cultural love with true biblical love. Agape love is willingness to sacrifice for others. It is others oriented. To love sacrificially is to labor until it hurts.
The word “labor” means labor to the point of exhaustion. It is a love of blood, sweat, and tears. Self-sacrificial love moves us to labor for Christ. This love is willing to toil and to pay a price. Love activates arduous labor. Love prompts this tough grind.
Our love labor for the Lord only dims when Calvary dims to us and we forget the cost of our salvation.
Motivation #3—“and patience of hope”
The third and final incentive of the Thessalonians was “hope.” Hope has to do with conviction. Thessalonian endurance came from confidence in God’s provisions for eternity.
People who exercise “hope” do not operate on baseless optimism. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking. “Hope” is a very difficult word to translate into English because it carries the idea of confidence. The English word communicates the idea of wishful thinking. We say, “I hope it does not rain tomorrow.” We mean by that, “I wish it does not rain tomorrow.” Biblical hope is no mere wish. It does not produce such an idea as “I have this wonderful ideal that people all over the world will come to Christ. I hope it works out.”
No, hope carries the idea that we have assurance in the future because of who God is. The notion of hope in the Bible is the concept of confidence, assurance, and certainty. This person has confidence that God will keep all His promises despite every appearance to the contrary.
“For we were saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, what does he yet hope for?” (Romans 8:24)
“. . . looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ . . .” (Titus 2:13)
Our English word “patience” carries the idea of passivity or lack of activity. However, the Greek word for “patience” here means fortitude, steadfastness, and tenacity. Hope produces tenacity. A person who carries great hope hangs in there. He carries the character of steadfastness.
This kind of hope produces steadfast endurance through trouble. Hope helps the believer bear up under any trial that may come his way. The word “patience” comes from two Greek words: under and to remain. A person who has patience is one who remains under, continues under the pressure. This person does not give up, no matter what may come his way. This is the quality of perseverance. However, this term does not simply convey unadulterated perseverance but a perseverance that goes beyond resignation to problems; it endures with a quality of life.
Hope helps us claim the promises of God. The problems we currently face do not daunt us because we see beyond the moment. People who want to advance the cause of Christ in the world cannot give up. They must maintain bulldog-like stick-to-it-iveness. They must grab hold of what God wants in the world and hang onto it. These people never give up, although they may fail many times. They get up and try again. They hang in there. Few people possess this kind of vision. Perseverance flows from hope.
Are we talking about operation bootstraps when people exercise tenacity? Biblical hope is no sheer human determination based on blind fate. This is hope based on confidence in God and His promises. This is tenacity inspired by hope.
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Advancement in missions comes from a faith that inspires, from a love that motivates, and from a confidence that rouses us to action. Movement in missions comes from people of inspiration.
C.S. Lewis captures this idea well in his chapter on “Hope” in Mere Christianity:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Milieu for Expecting Great Things from God
Is Missions Worth Propagating?
“The reason some folks don’t believe in missions is that the brand of religion they have isn’t worth propagating.” (Unknown)
The world needs Christians with strong convictions. We look up to people with resolute beliefs who are willing to suffer, to wait, and to persevere. God wants us fully persuaded, not just obedient.
Christians who speak the gospel message out of a sense of certainty are the most successful in ministry. It is clear that the most aggressive evangelistic success—whether in local churches, in missions, or in large parachurch movements—comes from a burning conviction about the certainty of the truth of the gospel. Method does not bring passion for the gospel; only the gospel message itself impassions people to share the claims of Christ.
Evangelical organizations such as Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ), with its rallying cry of “building spiritual movements everywhere,” have made a huge, worldwide impact for the gospel. The reason for this is that their staff have a burning conviction to spread the gospel. The catalyst for their evangelism is the conviction that they have the truth. This dynamic is the persuasion that Jesus is the only answer for eternal salvation. It is the reason that many thousands have joined Cru staff.
Reclaiming Burning Conviction
Everyone has convictions but not everyone has biblical convictions. Principles and passions of the Word must filter everything that comes to our mind. The Bible always takes precedence over our opinions and experiences. Wrong understanding or interpretation of Scripture will eventuate wrong behavior. This will negate the influence of the Word about missions on our lives.
Today’s Christians have lost burning conviction about eternal issues. A nonplussed attitude about the cause of Christ in the world is not normal Christianity. Christianity suffers a great cost for this attitude.
How do we retrieve burning passion for missions? Burning conviction is a result, not a cause. Compelling passion comes from confident belief that something is true, from certainty about something. Passion for missions is the outcome, not the reason, for attempting great things for God.
Evangelical fervor to reach those without Christ minus passion for truth will ultimately diminish passion for souls. Bankruptcy of belief produces collapse of passion. One area that unites evangelicals is the call to world evangelism. If this call to missions does not rest on the conviction of a compelling gospel, then no other motivation will support that conviction.
Evangelistic ministries grow by deep conviction that the gospel is true. Esprit de corps must have more than just a desire to evangelize; there must be an absorbing reason to evangelize. The evangelical movement is losing its core conviction and is fragmenting into a plurality of inconsequential convictions.
Outcomes of Expecting Great Things from God
Leverage to Reach the World
Two centuries before Christ, the Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes experimented with the lever. He declared that he could “move the earth” if he had a place to stand somewhere in the cosmos. People need a certain place to stand, a point of reference beyond the self.
Peter asserted that we have a conviction that is “more sure” than personal experience:
2 Peter 1:19: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”
“More sure” than what? More sure than the three apostles personally witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration. Second Peter 1:16 says that Peter, James, and John actually observed Jesus transfigured on the Mount of Olives. They personally saw the event with first-hand knowledge, so they could attest to the event. They were eyewitnesses of the experience. This is “eyewitness” testimony.
They personally heard the voice of God on the Mount (1:18), yet Peter said that they had “a more sure word of prophecy” than the Mount experience (1:19). The Word of God is surer than an apostolic personal witness of the account of the Mount of Transfiguration.
The “word of prophecy” pertains to inspired utterances of the Old Testament. “More sure” comes to mean certain. We can trust God’s Word more than we can trust our own personal experience. We can trust the empirical evidence of the trio seeing the transfiguration, but we can trust the message of the Word of God even more. That is eternal leverage.
Confidence Generates Expectations
Lack of faith equates to lack of conviction and expectation. The Bible deems faith as conviction. Conviction is a strong belief or persuasion. It is the trust that I put in a person or thing, the persuasion that I have, the belief that I cherish. It implies a conviction that is based upon trust, not upon knowledge. Certainty and conviction are at the heart of fire and passion. Certainty makes us confident in the gospel.
The message of assured grace was a catalyst for Paul’s service:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
III. ATTEMPT GREAT THINGS FOR GOD
Protocols for Attempting Great Things for God
The Thessalonian church was a church that attempted great things for God, and they did it in a hostile culture. They lived in a fragmented culture of uncertainty; there was no unity of truth for them. Their culture was one of pluralism, a multiplicity of many gods. No one god claimed single or ultimate truth. Paganism is what we would call relativism today. Each person believes the god or value he or she desires. Everything is a matter of preference. Truth is found in the self—the individual—and not in the Bible. This is what we call solipsism today.
Protocol Against Paganism
Paul, in another context, set up a policy for himself when he went to pagan Corinth. His policy was to not become sidetracked by philosophy in presenting the simple gospel message. Paul did not address the philosophy of Pythagoras, Epicureanism, Stoicism, or any other philosophy. He simply presented the gospel of Christ crucified. Paul established a protocol or policy for himself in 1 Corinthians 2:2:
“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Paul was a person of conviction. A conviction is a strong belief that we make for our life and practice. People of conviction are those who are so thoroughly convinced that something is absolutely true that they take a stand for it regardless of the consequences. As we will see, Paul passed his protocols to the Thessalonians.
Determination is crucial for effective witness of the gospel. When Paul’s team moved into Thessalonica with their heavy gospel artillery of unshakable truth, it became an event of great impact. This message produced four biblical protocols that issued in the Thessalonians reaching the city and the world.
First Thessalonians 1:5 sets forth four indispensable factors that make the gospel a tour de force for attempting great things for God. Each of these four dynamics is crucial for effective evangelism and missions. Each feature begins by the word “in.” The four uses of “in” in this verse show what makes the gospel effective. In effect, these are four protocols for advancing the gospel in the world. Because many evangelicals have lost conviction to be catalytic agents for missions, they wander about in feverish quest for objectives in their lives. They need to regain protocols for their souls. We find four protocols for advancing the cause of Christ in verse five:
“For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
Protocol #1: Spoken Word—“For our gospel did not come to you in word only”
The word “gospel” is emphatic in the Greek. It is the message itself and not the act of preaching that changes lives. The power of the gospel is in the message, not the messenger. Evangelicals cannot find certainty in the message of man. Many have lost anchor in the Word of God because they have adopted the dogmas of man. We cannot find certainty in relative thinking.
Paul’s gospel team came communicating in the sphere of speaking the content of the gospel message. If we are serious about spreading the gospel effectively, we first give people content to believe. The leading unalterable protocol is to set forth the gospel in clear terms. The only way to do this is with words. Everything is secondary to the verbal proclamation of God’s saving message.
Protocol #2: Spiritual Vibrancy—“but also in power”
The word “but” is emphatic in the Greek. The Holy Spirit forcefully wants us to see that the gospel is more than careful clarification of its facts.
The word “also” indicates that sharing our faith involves something more than just explaining the gospel. The impact of gospel presentation is not made solely with words. God uses certain spiritual forces to shape us. The spoken word is necessary, but it is not enough if it stands alone. There is more to the gospel than unadulterated facts.
In this verse, Paul expressed Protocol #2 using the word “in” a second of four times. In addition to speaking, there are three further spiritual dynamics to the presentation of the gospel: in “power,” in “the Holy Spirit,” and in “much assurance.”
We restrict the dynamics of the gospel if we employ only one of these spheres. We need all four dynamic domains if we want to make a full impact for missions. If we dial only three numbers on a safe with a four-digit combination, it will not open. All four protocols are necessary in God’s economy. By executing all four spheres mentioned in this verse, we make the greatest impact with the gospel. When we have all four factors, we do not need to blast open the safe, but rather use the combination and gently pull open the door.
“Power” indicates that there is spiritual vibrancy in the gospel itself. We need to execute the power of the gospel. The manner in which the Thessalonians received the gospel was in the sphere of “power.” The gospel team delivered their message in the sphere of the power of God.
The word “power” is the word for inherent power. The gospel message came in God’s inherent power, power that is intrinsic to God. Power latent in God is real and compelling. This power goes beyond human capacity because it influences men supernaturally. The power is also in the message itself:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
Protocol # 3: The Holy Spirit—“and in the Holy Spirit”
The third occurrence of the word “in” is “in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit can reach into the hearts of people where the mere dead words of man cannot reach. The Holy Spirit can touch the human spirit when no human can do it. He is in charge of operations in the soul. We speak to the ears; the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart. He carries the message to the will.
The gospel team came in the sphere of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit filled the gospel communicators, who operated under His influence. They clothed themselves with the Holy Spirit when they communicated the gospel. He is the one who will convict the world (John 16:8).
The Word without the Spirit is dead orthodoxy. The Spirit without the Word is fanaticism.
Protocol # 4: Powerful Conviction—“and in much assurance”
Since Christianity is becoming distinctly marginalized in culture, many believers reside in passionless, feckless, muted Christianity. Having spoken to pastors across Canada, I find many people in their churches have lost passion for ministry. One reason is that they have lost confidence in the certainty of Christianity. Uncertainty leads to diminishing conviction.
The gospel came with something more than “word,” “power,” and “Holy Spirit”; it came as well “with deep conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1: 5). If we are uncertain about what we believe, we will not convince others of the message.
This is the fourth use of “in.” The gospel communicators came within the scope of deep conviction when they entered Thessalonica. Those who powerfully advance the gospel in the world are people of strong belief and powerful persuasion.
Conviction about the certainty of what we believe motivates Christians to share the gospel. Believers who do not share the gospel are indifferent and nonplussed about giving out the gospel because they do not personally engage with the reality of its message. Certainty brings contagious conviction about distribution of the gospel. This brings courage to share when otherwise we would stay in our evangelistic shell. Certainty means there is no tentativeness or ambiguity about presenting the gospel. Those who are uncertain about truth do not disclose their faith boldly.
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which you heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually works also in you that believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
The Thessalonians came to full conviction that the gospel was truly from God because the communicators were true to the Word and came in the power of the message, in the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, and with burning conviction from Paul’s gospel team. The Thessalonians willingly committed their eternal future to a message like this.
A person of conviction is convinced. He is persuaded that something is true and is worth commitment. Confidence comes from the Holy Spirit. We know He is working through us. Doubt does not paralyze a person who has faith in the Holy Spirit working in the message. We carry unfaltering confidence and personal conviction in the power of the Holy Spirit to do His work through us.
“And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration [indubitable truth] of the Spirit and of power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4)
The Holy Spirit demonstrably or indisputably shows that Christianity is true. Man cannot autonomously come to God. Finiteness cannot comprehend infiniteness. Man is at the mercy of God revealing Himself through the Holy Spirit.
In my early years at Grant Memorial in Winnipeg, I wanted to know what made the difference between churches with high conversion rates and those with high transfer growth. I decided to go on a tour of churches with high conversion growth. I found there was one commonality among all these churches. It was not the denomination, the doctrinal statement, or church growth methodology. The factor that all these churches had in common was burning conviction about sharing the gospel; this produced high church morale.
No one lives consistently as a skeptic. To get in a car and speed on the highway indicates that we believe the brakes will work.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, And that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)
“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” (Romans 4:20)
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Exploits in Greece
“. . . so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 1:7)
The words “so that” point to actual consequence. Paul was not talking in possibilities or probabilities. The Thessalonian church actually became an example to other churches throughout Greece.
The word “became” means to become something they were not previously. This is the transforming power of the gospel. Raw Gentiles in Thessalonica embraced Jesus as their Savior and He changed their lives completely. Not only did they become Christians, but they also became shining examples of those who penetrated their world with the gospel. Most churches simply maintain the fish in the aquarium rather than travel to the place of uncaught fish.
The word “examples” in the Greek is in the singular, which indicates that the church as a whole was the example. Paul singled out no other local church as a standard for other churches to follow as he did this church. The benchmark against which other churches should measure themselves is the church at Thessalonica.
The Thessalonian church became the outstanding example to churches in Macedonia, the province of northern Greece, and Achaia, southern Greece. The cities of Athens and Corinth were in southern Greece. In other words, this one church reached all of Greece with the gospel by their influence on believers in other places.
Exploits to the Entire Roman World
“For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
Not only did the Thessalonians reach Greece with the gospel but they spread the gospel to all of the Roman Empire—“in every place” (v.8). And they did this within one year!
“For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth . . .”
The words “sounded forth” come from two words, out and to hold, meaning to cause to sound out, ring out, or resound. “Sounded forth,” then, has the implication of to sound out a trumpet or thunder, to reverberate like an echo. When the gospel gains momentum, then its impact exponentially increases.
The idea of resounding gives the impression that the gospel went out and then reverberated repeatedly throughout the Roman Empire. God’s Word reverberated everywhere in the Empire like rolling thunder. The gospel rang out to the then-known world.
Thessalonica was a great seaport. Christians from this city went preaching the gospel throughout the world. As Paul wrote First Thessalonians one year after he left the city, he heard reports from all over the world about how they shared their faith.
Many people have lost this passion to reach the world. Getting the gospel out is no longer a central value to them. They have lost their sense of heaven and hell, and the wonder of what Jesus did about their sin. It is very easy to take our eyes off the target and focus on things of lesser value. Many good things out there are not the best.
The Thessalonian church made a mark on their world. They made an impact because Christ made an impact on them. They influenced other Christians and so reached those without Christ in places they could not have gone themselves. Churches throughout Greece looked to the church at Thessalonica as their model for evangelism.
“Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not have to say anything.”
Verse eight develops the reason the Thessalonian church became an example to all the churches in Greece (v.7). This was a church of vibrant faith.
With so many evangelicals becoming happily uncertain about what they believe, we see significant decline of Christianity in the Western world. Evangelicals must awaken to the fact that passionless Christianity is nothing more than unadulterated unbelief. It is a new wave of skepticism that places a pall on missions.
In order to advance the cause of Christ in the world we need to set up clear policies for doing so. It is essential to return to fundamental convictions found in the Word of God: a belief in the gospel, a dependence on the Spirit to accomplish the task, and deep persuasion about what God will do through us.
Can it be said of us what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:2: “Your zeal has stirred up the majority”? Will we expect great things from God? Will we attempt great things for God?
Clear biblical protocols will challenge pagan culture. We cannot concede to pagan thinking. Our assignment is to move the unbeliever from the view that there is no final meaning to the belief God has given us absolute truth. If we do this, we can expect great things from God.