A Faith for the Worldcomment (0)
January 23, 2014
By Bob Terry
Baptists are a missionary people. We believe Jesus’ Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:19–20 to “go into all the world” is a binding command on Christians everywhere and for all time. Mark’s version of the Great Commission, Mark 16:15–16, makes it clear that as Christians go they are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Those who believe the gospel “shall be saved,” the writer declares. Those who do not accept it “shall be condemned.”
That makes taking the gospel to the whole world the most important task facing Christians; a task with eternal consequences.
Today Baptists and other Christians actively work at taking the gospel to people of every tribe and every tongue. Current missions strategy breaks the world’s population into people groups, referring to groups who share a common language and culture. The International Mission Board (IMB) reports a total of 11,263 people groups in the world. Of that number 2,945 are considered “unreached and unengaged” according to an IMB website. That is defined as less than 2 percent of the population being Christian. The number of people groups with more than 100,000 population considered unreached and unengaged is 348, according to the website.
Looking at the numbers another way, about 191 million people make up the unreached, unengaged people groups. When one looks at the population of groups with 2 to 5 percent Christians, the number swells to 3.9 billion, according to IMB sources. That is almost 55 percent of the world’s 7.2 billion population.
Christians make up about 32 to 33 percent of the world’s population, but that percentage is rising. According to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, every day about 82,000 people become Christians using the broadest definition of the term. That is about 40 percent of the 215,000 people born each day.
Of those 82,000, only about 6,000 will be found in North America. Christianity’s greatest growth will be found in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Some Baptist leaders urge missions activity as a way of bringing in the kingdom of God. For more than 200 years Matthew 24:14 has spurred missions zeal in some. The verse reads, “And the gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”
Some conclude the verse teaches that once the gospel is preached in every nation the Lord Jesus will return. If that is correct, then Jesus’ Second Coming could not happen until the gospel is preached in “the whole world” because Jesus cannot come until Christians share the gospel to every tongue and every tribe, that teaching holds.
Some question linking that verse and the return of our Lord. There is no way of determining how long “then” is, the questioning goes. Does it mean immediately or another 1,000 years?
More recently scholars have begun debating whether or not the early church believed the gospel penetrated the whole world in their lifetime. In Colossians 1:23 the apostle Paul urged the Colossian Christians not to move away from the hope of the gospel “which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” In verse 6 of that chapter, the apostle wrote of the gospel coming to the Colossians “just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.”
Most Bible students understand these and similar references to be hyperbole, not statements of fact. The apostle was trying to illustrate the breath of the gospel’s impact, not say that the gospel had been preached in the whole world.
Whether or not that interpretation offers insight into understanding Matthew 24:13 is up to the individual reader to determine.
At its core, the Christian motivation for sharing the gospel is not to bring about the return of the Lord. It is because the Christian faith is a faith for the whole world.
Jesus was crystal clear when He said, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). God’s love is not selective. It knows no outsiders. It plays no favorites. The Bible teaches that every soul is made in the image of God, and God loves every soul made in His image.
One biblical scholar wrote God’s love “leaps over every barrier to embrace persons simply because they are a member of the human race.”
John 3:16 teaches God saw a world that was perishing and loved every bit of it so much that He sent His only Son.
The word used here for love is agapao. It speaks of a sacrificial love. Agapao is not based on the need of the one being loved but on the choice of the one loving. God chose to sacrificially love a world that could not save itself and provided a way of escape — His only Son as an eternal sacrifice for sin.
In 2 Peter 3:9 one reads, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” When Jesus declared, “For God so loved the world …” He made the same point. God loves every person everywhere and longs for every person everywhere to respond to Him in faith and love.
The Good News of the gospel is that God loves the world — everyone in it. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.”
While God’s love is poured out freely on all people, it is forced on none. God’s divine initiative of sacrificially loving the world requires a human response. Jesus not only said, “For God so loves the world,” He also said, “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Only by personal faith in God’s sacrificial love can anyone escape “perishing” and have “eternal life.”
That is why the Christian faith is a faith for the world. That is why Baptists are a missions people: so everyone everywhere may know they are loved by God and that by accepting His sacrificial love demonstrated in Jesus’ death on the cross, they can be moved from perishing to life eternal.