“God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations.” John Piper
God’s mission is that God’s people would multiply so they fill the whole earth with his glory. Our mission is to be image-bearers who multiply God’s image near and far.
(Below is the transcript of a recent sermon preached as part of our global missions emphasis. It provides a condensed summary of how the biblical storyline is driven by mission. The sermon developed from an article written previously on God’s Vision for Multiplication.)
Four years ago, my wife I had the chance to go on a Vision Trip to India. The reason we use “vision” language is because you get to experience firsthand what God is doing around the world. There are many things that made our vision trip great. My highlight might have been seeing a brand-new church in one of the most remote villages in India.
This is a small band of people on the very edge of society living secluded, impoverished lives. However, a few of the kids from this village were able to go to a Christian school a few miles away our ministry partner in India started to reach people. Out of these few children attending this school, relationships were built and the gospel was shared. In a place it would have been hard to imagine a gospel-teaching church ever being, a tiny little hut was erected in this village as a church was planted because people had turned to Christ. I can tell you, there have been few things in my entire life like standing in that little church and meeting the handful of villagers. These Christians live among snake-charmers, shamans, and people oppressed in all kinds of ways, and now the light and glory of God through his people has arrived in one of the darkest places.
That’s why it’s a “vision trip.” When you step back and consider the spread of the gospel, you get a vision for the beauty and the importance of God’s mission. It starts in one place but through the work and partnerships of God’s people it goes forward so joy, salvation, and new life can dawn in every dark corner of the globe. This morning, my hope is to see that this work of global missions isn’t an idea the Church invented or something a handful of elite Christians do, but it’s whythe Church exists. It is the mission of God for the people of God.
Instead of focusing a specific text about missions, I want us to see the whole Bible is a story of mission. From God making man at Creation to God dwelling with man on the New Earth in the future, this is a redemptive story where mission isn’t an occasional element but a constant thread. It’s the driving force of all God’s saving activity in history. God has a mission: to spread his glory throughout the entire globe by redeeming people to himself and sending them to tell others.To see this, we’ll move from Genesis 1 to Revelation, highlighting how God’s mission for mankind in Genesis 1 relates to the mission of the Church in the NT.
The place to start is Gen. 1. Follow along with me in your Bible, starting in verses 26-27.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
First, it’s important to understand how image functions here. When it says God created us in his image, it’s not only speaking about our nature, but it’s talking as well about function or purpose. Genesis 1 tells us the world is God’s. God creates man and woman to be his image-bearers in that world. As image-bearers, they exist to point to God. They reflect him and represent him.
In the Ancient Near East (the culture Genesis was written in), kings used large images or statues as a reminder of who the King was and to embody and extend their rule. This is why in Ancient lands you have so many things like the pyramids, the Sphinx, tall statues, and other images. These images were placed in a land to represent and point to who the King was and what he was like. It was to display the King’s power, wealth, rule, and sovereignty. These ancient images were one way kings spread their fame throughout large regions.
This is the context when Genesis 1 talks about God placing his image into earth. Men and women are to be reminders, or image-bearers, declaring this world belongs to God. “Man is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue. He is evidence that God is the Lord of creation; but as God’s steward he also exerts his rule…” (Hans Walter Wolff) We are to reflect who God is and represent his kingdom way of life.
With this understanding in mind of what an image-bearer is, the next verse (Gen. 1:28) reveals God’s mission for humanity. Our identity leads to our mission.
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
This language of being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, and exercising dominion over it connects to what an image-bearer does. It’s our mission. As God’s image-bearers multiply and fill the earth, God’s glory and renown fills the earth. His kingdom spreads as his kingdom-people or image-bearers spread. God’s mission is that God’s people would multiply so thatthey fill the whole earth with his glory.
If you think of image-bearers as lights, God wants the light to grow and multiply so little lights fill up the darkness. As people come to Christ and are remade into his image, this is what happens throughout the globe.
To provide an imperfect illustration, you might think about how large companies such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Nike, or Apple want to see their brand branch out globally. To do that individual stores must represent their company’s products, values, and culture. As individual stores do well the company grows and other stores are multiplied into new regions and new countries. Whether I fly to Boston or Beirut, Delhi or Dubai, I can find a Starbucks that looks and feels like the Starbucks company. Individual store growth leads to store multiplication that takes the Starbucks name or brand globally.
Or it’s like how that great beacon of goodness Chick-fil-a started in Georgia then spread throughout the south and into the Midwest, and with it new cultures experience what fast food chicken and waffle fries could be. From the south and Midwest it’s spreading west and north, and with it the good news of tasty nuggets and chicken sandwiches is taken to new people. With the spread of individual Chick-fil-a franchises the name gets out to new people and its fame or brand spreads with it. And one day, there just might be Chick-fil-a’s across the whole country and no one will ever need a McDonalds or Taco Bell again, except on Sundays, of course.
And that, in a very small way, is a picture of what God’s mission is for us. As we reflect his glory as image-bearers and share his message so other people are remade in his image by believing in Christ, God’s glory spreads from person to person and country to country across the globe.
God wants every person on the earth to live in light of his life-giving glory, to take it in and reflect it out. This is God’s mission for humankind. Our mission is to be image-bearers who multiply God’s image near andfar.It’s this mission that God gives in Genesis 1 that drives the story of Scripture.
Returning to that storyline, the Fall in Genesis 3 halts God’s mission. An Enemy to the True King deceives Adam and Eve into living not for God’s purposes and glory but for their own. Sin changes everything, and turns God’s kingdom of Earth into enemy territory that must be won back. Humans don’t lose the image of God completely, but it’s so marred that unless the Spirit remakes a person they no longer reflect and represent God as planned in Genesis 1.
Let me quickly mention three other things from Genesis demonstrating that God’s mission does not change in the midst of difficulties, distractions, and failures.
First, consider the tower of Babel. God’s people ignore God’s mission in at least two ways. First, rather than spreading and filling the whole earth they seem to be congregating at one place. They ignore God’s global mission and are content with settling in one place. But they also aren’t focus on building God’s name or kingdom, but it says they want to build up Babel for their own name and kingdom. God says, nope, you will follow my mission not your own, so he confuses their languages and forces them to spread. This is similar to what happens through persecution in Acts. Note, God has a mission he will accomplish through his people. When we think its ignorable and we get content with maintaining or staying put, he does something to spread us out.
Second, at the time of Noah, the world has gotten so sinful that God floods the earth. The way the Genesis tells the story is that after the Flood it’s sort of like a reset to Genesis 1. Rather than Adam and Eve, Noah and his family are to now the head of a new humanity of God’s followers who should spread his kingdom and glory. Genesis 9:7 brings up again God’s original mission to humanity.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man,by man shall his blood be shed,for God made man in his own image. 7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”
Genesis 9 reaffirms man is made in God’s image, and it re-establishes God’s mission. But, what we know from earlier in Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) is that this physical aspect of multiplying and spreading is the means by which we fulfill the true mission of God: filling the earth with his glory by following him, living out his kingdom, and extending his rule. Baby-making isn’t the mission or otherwise evil people in the OT having lots of children and building kingdoms would have been doing this commission. But there’s more than just multiplying, there’s multiplying God’s image in people who follow him, worship him, reflect him, and live in his kingdom. That’s what God wants, and after the Flood with Genesis 2.0 we see God give this mission again.
Third, God creates a people, a nation called Israel, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The earth at the time of the patriarchs has many people in it, but they are not living in God’s kingdom and reflecting his image or glory. God calls a people to himself through the line of Abraham and he says this is the group I will start with. Israel is to be a blessing to all nations. All nations are to see God’s glory and how his ways work for mankind’s good as Israel obeys God, worships God, and uniquely reflects God. Israel is supposed to be an outpost of God’s kingdom in a lost world. It begins in the land of Israel, and as people interact with and come to Israel they are to see a little Eden, a place where God dwells with his people and they live as his image-bearers. And if they will follow him and his way and spread his kingdom and live for his glory, it will spread to other nations.
But like Adam and Eve, Israel constantly chooses to do what’s right in their own heart. They follow enemies of God and pursue their own glory. In doing so they not only reject living out God’s image but they fail to live on God’s mission. Israel is a failure because of their sin and disobedience, but within that is a failure to be who they were created as God’s image bearers living on God’s global mission to spread his glory and kingdom.
The later prophets then not only speak to a coming Messiah who will succeed where Israel fails—though by means of his death—but they anticipate God’s mission being fulfilled as a New Covenant people become a light to all nations. These prophets talk about God’s people expanding beyond the borders of Israel and the lineage of Abraham, and extending to all peoples in the earth as they join the lineage of Christ’s family. In Habakkuk 2:4 we see this future hope that one day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
When we get to the NT and the coming of Jesus, the drama of redemptive history takes center stage as the King comes to defeat the Enemy. Jesus comes to secure a kingdom-people for himself at the cost of his life. Jesus assures that the mission of Genesis 1 will take place by dying to redeem people from all over the world. Not only that, but he gives them his Holy Spirit, who renews us into the image of God and equips us for the mission of God.
In the Great Commission passages (Matthew 28 and Acts 1) where Jesus says go and make disciples of all nations, Jesus tasks the Church with the Genesis 1 mandate. The goal is to go make followers of Jesus who know him, represent him, extend his kingdom, and reflect his glory. The great commission isn’t brand new, but it’s how we fulfill the original mission. The commission to spread the gospel globally is the mission to spread God’s glory globally.
The book of Acts shows this happening as it depicts a common NT pattern. The gospel is proclaimed, people trust in Jesus, churches are planted as believers join together, and out of this the gospel is pushed forward to new areas for the cycle to repeat.
Let me give one example of this through the church at Colossae (or Colossians). In Acts 19, Paul spent a couple of years in the city of Ephesus sharing and proclaiming the gospel. Ephesus was a key city everyone came to; like a NYC or London or Dubai. In Ephesus, people are converted through Paul’s evangelism and they returned home on God’s mission where they also shared the gospel. One example is a man Epaphras. In the book of Colossians, we’re told that Epaphras heard the gospel from Paul—which most likely took place in Ephesus—he believes, and then he returns to his own city of Colossae where he shares the gospel. People there then come to faith in Jesus and the church of Colossae is planted.
In Colossians 4 it seems like the gospel spreads from them to neighboring communities. Now trace the map as Paul is sent by the Jerusalem council where he eventually lands in Ephesus, where Epaphras believes and then takes the gospel to Colossae, where some believe, form a church, and partner to see even more regions hear the good news of Christ.
Listen to how Paul describes what’s taking place in Colossae and think of how this reflects God’s mission language in Genesis 1. Paul writes,
“Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you.”(Col. 1:5-7)
This is Genesis 1 language of being fruitful, multiplying, and spreading God’s glory everywhere. It’s happening through the gospel and church planting. G.K. Beale writes, “Therefore, believers are the created progeny of the last Adam [Jesus], who are beginning to fulfill in him the mandate given to the first Adam. The Gen. 1:28 language applied by Paul to them in [Col.] 1:6, 9-10 indicates that they are a part of the inaugurated new creation and are beginning to fulfill in Christ what has been left unfulfilled in the primordial mandate throughout the ages.”
With the coming of Jesus and the launch of his Spirit-filled Church, God’s Genesis 1 mission for mankind is taken up by his people. They spread the gospel message and reproduce image-bearers who fill the earth with the knowledge and glory of God.
What we see in Revelation is this future picture of God’s heavenly city coming down where he dwells on a new earth that’s literally full of his image-bearers from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group. But, there is no future beautiful picture in Revelation of all nations worshipping Jesus unless the Church now tells all nations about Jesus.
What I’ve tried to do today is lay out a very condensed version of how God creates for the purpose of His mission. God rescues a people, he restores them back to the life they were created for by the Spirit, and he releases them into the world to multiply themselves. So, if this is the mission of God, what are some implications for us today? If all this is true, what might we need to actually consider and do?
The first application begins at the individual level. Each of us must ask ourselves, “what is our mission in life?” Why do we exist and what has God absolutely called us to be about in the midst of all the things we’re doing? Although we might know that our mission in life shouldaccord with the Bible, I think many of us live with our priorities—and thus our mission—more in line with the world’s values and mission. I don’t mean worldly in the sense of inherently sinful things, but that the Church is like the world around us in that we’ve built life around seeking ease, personal happiness, affluence, and respect.
The reality is in churches like our own and with people like you and I, complacency, comfort, and pursuing cultural values are just as much a threat to us living on God’s mission as the “big temptations” we’re worried about. While we live as if the enemy’s only threat is tripping us up with sin and moral failing, what’s just as dangerous is the enemy lulling us into complacency and comfort. His goal isn’t necessarily for us to abandon Christ, but to make other things the priority over Christ and neglect (or delay) God’s mission.
I think this is a vital application when talking about global outreach because we often live as if our mission in the world is to avoid the stain of sin, be moral, and build a good life for our family where we have safety, security, ease, and pleasure. Our purpose is pretty much like our neighbors: to fulfill the American dream personally and set my kids up to do the same. It’s not that we don’t believe and follow Jesus, but his mission isn’t the mission driving our priorities.
For example, many Christian parents think the biggest threat to their kids following Jesus is something like sex, drugs, or alcohol, but my experience is more kids walk away from the Church or put Jesus on the back-burner not because of “the big sins” or blatant unbelief but because in the home their experience was sports, school, money, and career were really the most important things in life. Parents might have told them that God should be central but they modeled in their priorities, conversations, and calendars that God can be squeezed in when other things aren’t going on.
And the same is true for adults. What threatens the mission of God most among the people of God isn’t only sin and scandal, but it’s just as much being lulled into seeking comfort and complacency.
Part of the application today for us as individuals and families is confessing where we’ve pushed God’s mission to the side because another mission has seemed more pressing or appealing. REACH reminds us God didn’t create us and redeem us so we could build comfortable lives and help our kids pursue the American dream. God created and saved us so our primary mission in life could be living as his image-bearers and spreading his glory through his gospel to the whole world.
If you feel a little bit of guilt today, like I do, that’s okay. That’s what missions is all about. No, just kidding. Sometimes this guilt, conviction, or discomfort is what we need to do a check on our lives and re-center things on God and his mission rather than naturally drifting down the path of self-pursuits we are all prone to follow.
Second, in light of where we are as a young church in the process of becoming self-governing and moving into a building, seeing God’ mission for his church helps us think about how to view our own church. We were planted here so God’s glory might shine locally and spread globally.
We exist as a church not simply to manage programs or maintain the status quo but to engage God’s mission. Our church is not the end goal just like gathering on Sundays isn’t the end goal. We gather as family each Sunday so we might scatter on mission each Monday. We exist as a church to make disciples locally for the purpose of seeing disciples made globally.As Pastor Nate Irwin said when College Park North Indy expanded their own building, “this is for that.”
This message is a sort of “checks and balances” so that our local church doesn’t get off mission. As leaders in the church, this should press us to ask if we’re focusing our eyes enough on local outreach and global missions. Are we balanced with our two wings of the airplane approach in discipleship and evangelism, or are we so heavy on internal programs and events we’ve neglected a wing? As members in the church, it should press us to consider if our approach to the Church is that of a consumerlooking to appease their tastes and wants, or that of a missionarylooking to participate with other believers in the spread of the message and the mission? Why you are here in this church is the same reason you are here on God’s earth: not to get what you want but to participate with God’s people on God’s mission.
Third, as we talk about global missions in particular through REACH, we’re reminded that it must be based on this bigger, more fundamental mission of God seen throughout Scripture. Global missions is an essential part of our church life because God’s mission is to spread his glory into the whole earth.
If we’re honest, it’s hard to keep global missions in front of us when there are so many pressing matters in daily life. Knowing that’s true, we have to intentionally pursue things that keep it in front of us. So how can you better partner with God’s global mission through what we do as a church? How do we leverage these two weeks of REACH to see global missions find a place on the radar of our lives? And no, I won’t at this point take an offering or tell you to sell everything you have or you need to move to somewhere that sounds terrible, so let’s relax and take a deep breath. I’m not about to guilt-trip you (anymore) but I want to give four easy ways to better connect with what’s happening globally.
- Pray. Pray for the mission, missionaries, church planting networks, and global needs.
- Learn about other cultures and what’s happening globally. Learn by getting newsletters from our missionaries or hearing from them when they’re home.
- Support. Support our missionaries. Give to the general fund to support missionaries. Support missionaries financially apart from your normal giving. But also support through encouragement. Send them letters or emails of encouragement, or specific ways you’re praying, or asking how you can bless them. Send a holiday gift or birthday present.
- Go and see. Take a vision trip and see God at work while encouraging those on the field. A vision trip gives you a context and personal feel for thinking about missions. It will change your perspective because you’re seeing missions in action with real people and places. As I said at the beginning, when we took a vision trip we absolutely loved it and it’s stuck with us.
Pray, Learn, Support, or Go and See. If you do one thing in the next couple of weeks that can get missions more on your radar moving forward, then REACH has been a success for you. But if after the next two weeks our lives have no more attention to how we live on mission or how we partner with global missions, then we’ve missed something. Use REACH to cultivate a heart for missions, and use this week to ask God to realign your heart with his mission to spread his gospel and glory across the globe. Live on mission personally where you are and partner with others doing missions where you can’t be. Join God’s Mission for God’s People in God’s World.