The Heart of a Missionary
Lord Jesus Christ, with gratitude for all You have done for my salvation I rejoice to be called a "Christian." Rule in my heart and send the Holy Spirit to work and dwell within me so that I may always conduct myself in a manner worthy of my calling as a child of God. Give me a heart that looks out for others more than myself, that loves others like You love me, that shares the Gospel with others, and rejoices to see and be a part of the work in Your kingdom. Bless us all in our worship this morning. Amen.
Anyone who claims to be teaching God's Word should be tested with God's Word. This includes us. There are many who teach false things. There are many who through ignorance and blindness are believing the wrong thing. We also could be led astray, so we need to use the Scriptures continually to evaluate what we teach and believe. As we evaluate the "spirits" and test what we ourselves teach we do so out of love for God and those who will hear the teaching.
As the Son of God who humbled Himself to be our Savior, Jesus declared that He was not speaking His own word, but only the words given to Him by His Father. Likewise, if we speak of ourselves we are glorifying ourselves. Let us rather speak the saving Word of God! The Pharisees evaluated Jesus' actions with their own laws and found Him sinning. Jesus instructed them to use "righteous judgment"--judgments made with God's truth.
Text: Acts 11:19-26
Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
In Christ Jesus, our Savior who commissions us as His witnesses to proclaim His Word to all nations, dear fellow-redeemed:
Yesterday, our high school, college, and seminary in Eau Claire, WI celebrated graduation. It is a unique graduation because it covers a rather wide span of completed chapters in life.
There are the high school students who are exuberant, glad to have survived the four years of high school, and who are in various stages of determining where their goals lie and where the Lord will lead them in further education.
There are collegiates who are further along in their education process and quite likely have a definite goal in mind which they will continue to pursue through more schooling. This is true except for those who graduate from the teaching courses in college or from the seminary. For these, the time of classroom learning is done and they are going forth in the public ministry by the call of God.
Watching two seminary students graduate yesterday—one of whom is a son of this congregation, Matthew Hanel—it brought to mind a time 10 years ago when I was the one walking across the stage, receiving the diploma, knowing that I was going out on my first call in the pastoral ministry.
This flashback led me to think about the past 10 years of serving in the pastoral ministry. From the West Coast to the Southeast and now to the Heartland there have been many different experiences, many different people, many different opportunities, many lessons learned, but the same rock—the same Gospel to proclaim.
As I thought of all the experiences and of all the things I thought I knew when I graduated and have since have learned differently, one of the themes that has been true everywhere is that it doesn’t take long to see when people’s hearts are in what they are doing. In the pastoral ministry this is perhaps no more evident than in the workers of a hospital or nursing home as they take care of those who are in failing health. It doesn’t take long to see those who are simply marking time and doing a job, and those who really, truly have at heart the best interest of their patients—the ones who show affection and genuine concern and care for the people under their care.
That same heart in what one is doing is so important as we take the Gospel outward. For those two seminary graduates and the two teacher graduates who now enter the public ministry it is important that they have the heart to minister to the souls of the sheep and the lambs in God’s fold. For those who are already serving in the public ministry it is important to have the heart to proclaim the truth of God’s Word out of genuine concern for the souls. And for everyone else—everyone of us here—it is important that we as individual disciples of Christ, no matter what our earthly calling may be, have the heart of our Lord to serve and to proclaim His Word. This morning, using the example of Barnabas and also Saul, we consider THE HEART OF A MISSIONARY.
Before we would conclude that we are not missionaries because we may not be serving in a public call as a missionary, let me assure you that every one of you is a missionary for Christ. For to all disciples Jesus says, “Behold! I have all power in heaven and on earth. GO! MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations!” (Matthew 28:19). This is your commission from your Lord. You are a missionary for Him! The Heart of a Missionary I. Goes to all people II. Rejoices in the Workand III. Confesses Christ.
The events which we read in our text took place after Stephen was killed for his faith. Stephen was stoned with Saul, who would become the apostle Paul, standing and watching. The fear following the stoning of Stephen provided the opportunity to push believers out of the Jerusalem and further into the world. “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists (the Greeks), preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” [vv.19-21]
God used the persecution and the fear that arose from the opposition to Christ to push His people ever further from Jerusalem. Jesus had told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but then to take it out into the world, and they did. The news about Jesus spread in ever-widening circles like the waves going out from a stone dropped into a lake. As the missionaries went further and further from Jerusalem, they would naturally find more and more of the Greeks and other Gentiles who were for the most part heathen—people who were not at all worshippers of the true God. God’s design was that the preaching about Jesus would go to every one across the world!
It was at first difficult for the Jewish believers to consider that they would take this Gospel to the Gentiles. In the section of Acts leading to our text, God had to provide a vision to Peter to instruct him that yes, the Gospel was intended for Cornelius—a Gentile—and also other Gentiles. God did lead Peter to see that the good news about Jesus was for all people. God did use Peter as the means to bring the saving words of Scripture to Cornelius, and Cornelius and his household were baptized (cf. Acts 10:9ff). The Gospel is intended for all people for sinners everywhere.
It is so important that this Gospel goes out to all people. For this reason it is likewise important that those who are missionaries for Christ have the heart of a missionary which doesn’t keep this news to itself. Rather, the heart of a missionary desires to preach the Lord Jesus to all. As Luke reports, when certain believers began to preach to the Gentiles, the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed! In our epistle reading we heard that one of the ways we see and measure the truth is that those who are of God hear God’s Word and the Word has its effect (cf. 1 John 4:6).
The heart of a missionary seeking to go to all people is a heart of love—a shepherding heart. Not all people who profess to be witnesses for Christ have such a heart. Paul wrote to the Philippians speaking of those who “…indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife…from selfish ambition, not sincerely…” (Philippians 1:15f). In our day we too have seen those who externally are proclaiming the Word of God, but from a heart of self-service and not the heart of a missionary.
Jesus calls us to an active preaching of the Word of God with a heart that looks out for other people and a heart that goes to other people with this saving message. Later in Acts, we hear that Paul told the Ephesian elders that they should “shepherd the Church of God” (Acts 20:28ff). They were to provide for the people’s spiritual needs and aid them in their spiritual defense. We know from Jesus’ example that a good shepherd loves the sheep—ALL sheep. There is no one for whom we should not have the desire to share the Gospel. That desire is rooted in a sincere love which wants to bring all sinners to the Gospel of Christ or to strengthen them in it if they already have it. It is a matter of shepherding the church of God, not for selfish gain, not bringing the Word of God to pronounce some sort of accomplishment for our own selves, but a need and desire that goes out to all people. It is a love that has their souls at heart and in mind.
In his first letter, Peter spoke to leaders in a congregation, but in essence he speaks to us as well, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Shepherding scattered sheep, whoever they are, is the work of a missionary. Consider Jesus who when He saw people aimlessly wandering as sheep without a shepherd provided an answer for their wandering. He preached the Gospel to them! We do not have to look far to find people aimlessly wandering as sheep without a shepherd—wondering where their lives are going, wondering where the solutions to life’s problems are, wondering where there is an answer to all of life’s questions. These are the scattered sheep. These are the souls in need of the guiding hand of the Good Shepherd, their Savior. YOU are the missionaries to take the Word of the Good Shepherd to them so that they may also be shepherded by Him.
The heart of a missionary goes to all people seeking to bring the shepherding of their Savior to them. The heart of a missionary shows no partiality. James warns, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).
The Gospel is indeed for all people. Sinners everywhere need its saving message. We are missionaries for Christ. The heart of a missionary takes that Gospel to all.
The heart of a missionary also rejoices in the work. We hear that when news of the preaching to the Gentiles in the outer regions came to Jerusalem, the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to go as far as Antioch—where this was taking place—to see what was happening. “When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people.” [vv.23-26]
Think for a moment how easy it would have been for Barnabas as the representative of the Church in Jerusalem to act out of jealousy. He could have gone to the new Christians and said, "Because you didn’t hear it from us, you didn’t really hear it." Or begrudge them of their success in preaching the Word and in adding souls to God’s kingdom because they were after all Gentiles.
There are so many opportunities for jealousy to rise up and cause envy toward someone who is having success in the work of the Kingdom while forgetting the purpose of the work. The purpose is to proclaim Christ! The purpose is to bring the saving news of the Gospel to all people and whom the Lord uses to accomplish that purpose is none of our concern. Our concern is that we be among those whom the Lord uses, and not begrudge others who also are used. God can use even a donkey to speak His word as He did with Balaam’s donkey (cf. Numbers 22:28ff). God can use an unbeliever as He did with Caiaphas who prophesied the substitutionary death of the Savior (John 11:50-51). It is not our concern how the Gospel goes forth as long as it is proclaimed in its truth and we also are proclaiming it.
When writing to the Philippians about those who were preaching Christ for wrong reasons, Paul does not condone their ill motives. Nor does Paul condone any kind of falsehood, but he does rejoice because at least Christ is being preached. “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
Contentions arose in the Corinthian congregation because the people were dividing into cliques. Segregation and exclusion through cliques is always destructive to the Gospel ministry. The segregation in Corinth was based upon the leader with whom each identified. Paul reports, "…one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another ‘I am of Apollos’” (1 Corinthians 3:4). Paul instructed the Corinthian Christians that it is not about Paul, it is not about Apollos, it’s not about anybody who is proclaiming the Gospel, it is about the Word of God. One plants, another waters, and God is the one who gives the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6).
I recall the story of a pastor years ago who strove mightily to impress upon the congregation the need and value of Christian education. He so wanted to have a Christian Day School in which the lambs of the congregation could be taught. A Christian Day School never came into being during his time of serving the congregation. The next pastor came, encouraged the congregation in the same way, and within a short time the Christian Day school was begun. The first pastor could have held a grudge. He could have been jealous, "Why didn’t you do that for me?!" But it is not about the shepherd. It is about the message and the pastor simply rejoiced in the knowledge that now there was a school in which the lambs were being instructed.
As we go out and as others go out with the Word of God we can find joy in that proclamation and in the work. It is joy that we are counted among those who have the privilege and the calling and the divine responsibility to share the Gospel. We can rejoice when God shows us the fruits of our efforts and we find people growing in faith, coming to faith, and rejoicing in their salvation. But we can also give thanks to God on High for all the other people who are likewise proclaiming the Word of God wherever and whoever they may be. We can rejoice in others’ work in the Kingdom of God because the Word is being preached, sinners are being reached with that saving Word, and are brought into God’s kingdom.
The heart of a missionary rejoices in the work and that work is confessing Christ. We learn that it was in Antioch where believers were first called "Christians."
In this modern era, the word "Christian" has lost a lot of its luster. There are people who in the name of Christianity or under its banner do abominable things. There are Christians who take the name "Christian" but have so little Christ in what they preach that they really ought call themselves Christian. But in the sense that the Antioch believers were called Christians, therein lies the heart of a missionary.
A true Christian confesses Christ. Christ is what makes us what we are. He is our rock, the cornerstone, the foundation on which we build all things. Barnabas went to Tarsus and brought Saul back to Antioch. They stayed a year professing and proclaiming Christ. How could they have stayed a whole year in Antioch if they were confessing themselves? How would they have had any success at all in moving the hearts of people and impacting the lives of sinners if it were not Christ whom they were confessing? We preach Christ crucified! None other! Nothing else! (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). In that Christ is our life, our salvation, and the reason we are missionaries in the first place.
We confess Christ in the words we preach in our congregation. We seek to confess Christ in the words and instruction we give in our school. As missionaries for our Lord, we seek to confess Christ in how we act in our lives, what we say, what we do, how we answer questions that are asked of us, how we respond to the pitfalls of life—the ups and the downs and the challenges. The world is watching. The heart of a missionary confesses its Savior for the world to see.
This Thursday, we will be celebrating Ascension. We will be remembering how Jesus visibly returned to heaven to assure His Church on earth that He is in heaven preparing a place for us where we will live eternally with Him. He also sends gifts to the Church to guide and enable us to proclaim His Word and call many others to salvation.
We certainly pray that the working of the Holy Spirit will create in our hearts such a deep love for the sacrifice for our Savior, and a deep love for our fellow sinners that we are moved to have the heart of a missionary. To have a heart that for our own souls desires nothing more than to remain faithful, and to cling to our Savior who forgives our sins. To have a heart that takes the Savior to all people begrudging no one. To have a heart that rejoices in the work that God gives us the privilege to do and the work that He accomplishes through others. To have a heart that in everything keeps Christ as the focus, the essence of all that we are and all that we do.
I encourage you to pray for the new graduates who are now going into our congregations to instruct the lambs and to proclaim His Word from the pulpits. Pray that they have the hearts of a missionary and do the work with zeal, not only for their congregations, but also for those on the outside. I encourage you to pray for the older called servants in the classrooms and in the pulpits, for the staff in your own Christian Day School and High School, your own pastors, but also those elsewhere and not even just for those in our church body. Pray for all servants of the Word, all disciples of our Lord who are proclaiming Christ. We do not condone the error that is proclaimed, but we can rejoice in the work of the Gospel. Then also, pray for yourselves that you have an ever deepening love and an ever stronger heart of a missionary to take the word to all people and to rejoice in the work as you boldly and happily confess your Lord. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt