Resources / Mission for the Glory of God
Mission for the Glory of God
by Steven Sim
Mission exists where worship does not, John Piper reminds us that mission, contrary to what many many of us seemed to be taking it to be, is not the ultimate, God is. The totality of experience during the preparation and the running of the conference invite me, and I hereby invite you who are reading, to come once again to the knowledge of the everlasting God. Because, if from Him, through Him and to Him are all things, that is, God is to be the ultimate of all things, our conception of this God must necessarily be of extreme importance. A wrong idea of God may lead to a half-baked practice of religion at best or a heretical cult a worst. And for a long time, we have been so complacent with our idea of a God, that we either seemed to have forgotten who the real God truly is or have created a god in our own image, or worst, both.
But let us who claimed to worship the one true God truly worship him in truth. The worship of a distorted idea of God is a worship of another god, it is idolatrous. It is none so apt a time as now, at the threshold of our mission activities that we begin to reconsider who this God is, afresh. I believe there are many wonderful things to be discovered about God and when even after tens of thousands of years, bright and shining like the sun, we shall not even begin to exhaust the Person of God who dwells in thick darkness and reside in unapproachable light. Yet the terminus a quo must be established with deep conviction if anything at all is to be built upon it. I believe there is something meaningful that we can say about God that will provide us a sufficiently comprehensible picture of the God of our missiology.
If anything, I know that YAHWEH is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever YAHWEH pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in seas and all deeps (Ps 135:5-6). The sovereignty and supremacy of God is the foundation of all things, just as someone once said, if God is to be King at all, he has to be the King of all. And such is the God we worship, one whose plans proceeds from his pleasure and wisdom and cannot be thwarted in any way by anything. In his hands are power and might, so that none is able to withstand him, our God is supreme in all things. In a seemly evil and hopeless world, this knowledge of the supremacy of God in all things not only presses us ahead towards a time of vindication when our King will win against his enemies, but also give us the boldness and strength in the present to stand before the most powerful overlords in the world and declare to their face that Jesus, our God, is Lord. Knowing well that we have a stronger and more powerful Lord, we can contend with great assurance with these overlords – not only the physical ones, but any evil elements in this world, i.e. injustice, corruptions, immorality etc. Because Jesus is lord, Caesar is not, because Jesus is lord, Marx and Freud and Nietzsche aren’t; because Jesus is lord neither modernity nor post-modernity are. Because Jesus is King of all, it makes sense to obey him rather than the lesser kings whenever there is a conflict of interest.
But of course if this great doctrine is not put into perspective, it will indeed give us a horrible picture of an infallible Dictator in the sky. YAHWEH is not like the other gods. He is not too awesome that we cannot at all grasp and touch him. Yet he is not too petty that we can kick him around like a football, indeed if we believe that everything is divine, a football must be divine. The God of the Bible who is supreme in all things is a God who would invite a rebellious people to sit on a round-table to negotiate the terms with him. This is our God who though is many times higher in status and greater in dignity, is willing to call us to a partnership; Come now, let us work this out together (Isa 1:18). To think that the supreme King would make us his partner, that is unthinkable. I cannot imagine Prime Minister Pak Lah or Mr. Bill Gates asking me to sit on a meeting table and discuss matters out with them. Now this is the God who created the Universe inviting me to do so! This is our God who, in Wright’s words, rolled up his sleeves and get down to work personally. Ah, YAHWEH has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Isa 52:10). If anything, he has done this most literally! Two thousand years ago, his blessed parents, the poor shepherds, the wise kings from the east, they all saw the little bare arms of a little babe. So tiny were his fingers and so feeble were his bones, but make no mistake, it was the bare holy arms of YAHWEH, the supreme King. The King has now come into this world personally to reclaim, or in a more familiar word, to redeem, what was his own. When Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world, Jesus did not accept it because he knew very well he will finally possess them, but not in this manner, not handed over to him on the Devil’s silver platter. The great King, nay the supreme King, will once again bare his holy arm, this time to support his dying body on the stake, nailed into the splinter. And that, that weakening arms, bleeding and bloody, make no mistake; it was the bare holy arms of YAHWEH, the supreme King. It was in this manner that Jesus knew he would conquer his enemy and reclaim his property; to break the wretched law of sin and establish his own law of grace and demonstrate it to be an infinitely better alternative. This is our God, who is not a dictator floating in the clouds, nor the “absentee Landlord” of Marxism, he has invited us to come into a partnership with him, he has rolled up his sleeves and came into the enemy’s territory only to win over the enemy and proclaim victory and ownership of this world.
Like the concept of God, we have for a very long, an unjustifiably long time, speak in abstract, unfounded, and sometimes to our perils and others’, unbiblical understanding of many other “Christian concepts”. Words such as “faith” and “grace” have long dominated our language and given time and humanity’s ill state, their meanings were lost in complacency of usage. When today we speak of the glory of God, many of us, I am not spared, will imagine a big thing, perhaps a blinding light, perhaps a silhouette of a white haired, white dressed, white faced old man and not unusually all of these things manifesting at once. We sing, Glory, we speak Glory and yet I think this is one term many of us have not worked it out to our own loss.
The main speaker, Mike Raiter opened the conference with an unashamed proclamation of God’s commitment to his own glory. His love to us, yes, while it is an eternal, unshakable, undeniable, unchangeable and most infinitely valuable truth, it was God’s commitment to his own glory that is the foremost in all that he does. At the risk of oversimplication, let me define God’s glory here as God’s esteem or worth. (For a far more excellent paper on God’s commitment to his glory you can read chapter 1, “The Happiness of God”, in the book Desiring God by Dr. John Piper. Also available free-of-charge to the glory of God at http://www.desiringgod.org/dg/id6.htm). This concept has a great affinity with the supremacy of God in all things. For if God is infinitely powerful and infinitely good, he must be infinitely worthy. The first thing to learn is that God’s worth, or his glory cannot be exceedingly great if God is not the King of all. If God has no control over the next moment in human history, thus unable to ensure his wills are executed, how much of a glory does he have? Perhaps some worth, but we cannot sing in those sorts of “we praise your infinite glory” language as we do so now without giving much thought. Let us consider afresh today what kind of a God we would sing, “Our God is an awesome God He reign from heaven above…”. Is it a God who must bow to human’s lust for power and self-determination and therefore bow to man’s wild imagination of a free and sovereign human will? I will not worship a God who cannot overrule my wretched and evil will in order to bring about his good agenda. And I am convinced that the God of the Bible whom I worship is not such a weak god. I glorify in an infinitely strong and supreme King.
We, however, often forget, now and then exchanging the glory of the immortal God with the preoccupation to serve and meet the needs of mortal man and birds and animals and the environment. The ultimate objective of our mission cannot be to meet human needs, but because worship does not exist, that is, because the glory of God is not appreciated and proclaimed (by the way, worship is rendering to God his true worth). Yet I also learnt that many a times, thank God, we do not have to choose between glorifying God and meeting human needs. The old theologians understood this very well when they taught that, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. To choose between the two is more often than not, a false dilemma. Precisely because God’s commitment in his glory is uppermost to himself, man were created in such way that our enjoyment, our true and pure happiness, our utmost satisfaction will flow like the wild rivers when we glorify God. As John Piper puts it, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This should be a great motivation for our mission. If we, in our frailty cannot fully fathom the commitment of God to his glory, then let us remember that as we proclaim and invite others to worship him truly, to render to God his real worth – which is infinite and inexhaustible – we are meeting the greatest need of mankind.
The supreme King has rolled up his sleeves and came into the enemy’s territory only to win over the enemies and proclaim victory and ownership of this world. We are called to be heralds of this new kingdom advancing every moment against the former kingdoms of the world. And in proclaiming the arrival, the advancement and the final consummation of this kingdom, we are in fact proclaiming the greatness of the kingdom’s glorious King. As we enlist ourselves into the camp of this supreme King, let us continue to spread this rumours of our King who will personally come again to lead his army in a last battle to wipe off his enemies. We will shake the enemy’s camp with our talks of the arrival of this great King who has fatally wounded their kings and captains in his previous campaign. And we will continue to enlist others, entreating them to give up their vain opposition against the supreme King and join us in our camp. All this can only be done if people see the glory of God. No one, no one will give up their lives and count all else as nothing, as loss, as rubbish to follow an unworthy king. Paul’s King was not such a weak king.
Our mission reflects the kind of God we worship. The worshipers of a god who requires sacrifices will be bloodthirsty and violent. The worshipers of a sensuous bacchanalian god are promiscuous. The God of the Bible is a god who rolled up his sleeves, demonstrated the true way of being human and gave himself as sacrifice to save many. The worshipers of such a God must inevitably be passionately involved in the world, presenting an alternative blueprint of being human and doing this lovingly and selflessly. There are many ways of doing mission, but I shall reflect on how from the worship of this God which we have experience translates into our mission files and fields.
Missions flow inevitably from the event of the Incarnation. Because the supreme King has come into the world and reclaimed it as his own, we are to be herald of this new rule. Our task is to declare, by actions and narrations, the good news of the arrival of the supreme King who not only have conquered the enemy, but also liberated the world and in liberating the world, offered a chance of liberation to mankind. For too long we have been under the difficult yoke of atrocious overlords. Now our Hero has finally arrived to save us. In one radical revolution against the power and principality, Jesus reversed the fortune of the world, broke the grip of the law of sin and offered a new hope to a hopeless humanity. Now this was the hope of the Jewish people, the day when YAHWEH himself would come into his holy temple, judging the nation of Israel and the world and spelling out the terrible wrath which is to befall. The Jews jolly well knew that the day when all these things happened, God’s rule as King over Israel and Israel’s status as the First Nation of the world will be established. Indeed, but not quite. The coming of Jesus Christ inaugurated the kingdom of God into history and marked the beginning of the End. The kingdom is not anymore in the future, but it has begun now advancing towards a day when it will be see the supreme King Jesus coming again to wrap up everything and bring his kingdom into fullness. Yet this is unlike the kingdom in Jewish expectation. YAHWEH himself has come into his holy temple, judging the nation of Israel and the world and in spelling out the terrible wrath which is to befall, he took upon himself that terrible wrath.
The kingdom of King Jesus was established in violence, but not a violent armed revolution as many messianic movements in first century Palestine would imagine the manner the kingdom of God would come to being. Against and beyond all expectations, Jesus took upon himself, quietly like a lamb led to the slaughterer, the awful wrath of God in the form of the violence of the lawless men. His revolution was no less a radical one, yet his weapon was not spears and swords. He taught that the true children of God, a title Israel claimed for herself, are not the zealous guerrillas but the ones who love and promote peace. When faced with persecution, Jesus called his followers to rejoice, not retaliate. This kingdom is not marked by national or racial boundaries. Israel was to be extensive, not exclusive. Israel was the foretaste of God’s final act of liberation of the whole world. Now that the act has begun, so also the liberation of the whole world has begun. No longer could the people of the kingdom speak of kosher, circumcision, holy land etc. these “flesh, blood and land” as N.T. Wright calls them, are to be replaced with the Cross, the new outward symbol of the people of God, characterized by love, hope and faith. In a world where true racial harmony seemed so impossible to achieve, we can never quote enough number of times this scripture to remind ourselves of the characteristics of the kingdom of God, in Jesus Christ, you are all God’s children through faith…there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, all are one in Jesus Christ…heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:26-29). And this is the kingdom which we are to be heralds of, declaring everywhere we go and going everywhere to declare.
There is not a thumb’s breath of this universe about which Jesus Christ does not say, “It is mine”. The Incarnation tells the story of a God who is involved and who is reclaiming for himself the whole domain of Creation, not just one spot here or there. While mission is more often than not thought of as spreading the gospel, it must now be reconstructed in a more holistic manner. The missionaries of Christ not only spread the gospel of salvation offered by God, that good news of the kingship of Jesus, but also live out this gospel in every sphere of life and thus demonstrating at the same time Jesus’ rule in those areas. The good news must be substantiated by our living response towards it or else it will remain good news or some wonderful ideas or even, God forbids, a bluff. Communism is an idealistic philosophy, but that is nearly all it is. Christianity is an idealistic philosophy, but if divorced from praxis, idealistic will be all Christianity ever is. I could not have said this better than Wright:
Our task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting [the revolution] flags in hostile soil, setting up sign post which says that there is a different way of becoming human. And when people are puzzled at what you are doing, your task is to find ways of telling the story of the return of the human race from its exile by way of explanation.
If you were to shape your world in following Christ, it isn’t enough to say that being a Christian and being a professional or an academic is simply about high moral standard, though it is, or using every opportunity to talk to your student about Jesus, though it is, or praying with or for them, being fair in your grading and honest in your speaking, that is all non-negotiable, but you were called to do something much, much more, you were called prayerfully to discern where in your discipline the human project is showing signs of exiles and humbly and boldly to act symbolically in ways which declares that the Powers have been defeated. The Powers don’t like that by the way, do this only with prayers. That the kingdom has come in Jesus the Jewish Messiah, that the new way of being human has been unveiled. And be prepared to tell the story which explains what the symbols are all bout. In all this you were to declare that Jesus is lord, and Caesar is not as the New Testament did; that Jesus is lord that Marx and Freud and Nietzsche aren’t; that Jesus is lord and neither modernity nor post-modernity are. When Paul spoke of the gospel, the euangelion, he wasn’t simply talking bout a system of salvation but about the powerful announcement in symbols and words that Jesus is the true lord of the world, the true light of the world….
If Jesus is to be King at all, he is to be King of all. And if we are called to be heralds of this new King, let us be heralds in every spheres of life. There is no one spot too filthy for the seed of the gospel to grow.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod
No place but is holy ground
That said, let us constantly remind ourselves that mission is not about setting a Christian ghetto in our workplace. It is not about constantly bugging a non-Christian to join our prayer groups and care-group and “special” cooking classes in church. Mission in the world is not planting forms of Christianity without its substance. Jesus himself describe his own mission
“To proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
It was a mission grounded in the physical reality of sufferings – of poverty, of oppression, of sickness. The good news of the Kingdom, and in relation, of King Jesus the Saviour, is unlike a non-stop train heading towards Shangri-La, picking up a few willing passengers on its way. It is about the Creator of the universe, who is the King, Owner and Lord of our world coming to claim back what was originally his. The master of the vineyard is home and he wants to restore his vineyard from the corruption of the evil tenants. The gospel is life-transforming, and if life-transforming, culture-renewing, and if culture renewing, world-changing. It is about saving souls, yes, but much more. We are offering an alternative blueprint of being human, the real humanity as lived out by Jesus Christ. This include living out at present what would in fact be a future reality – nation shall not lift up sword against nation, peace; the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard with the young goat and the calf and the lion and a little child shall lead them, restoration; justice for the poor and equity for the meek, vindication. These are the principles in the kingdom to be demonstrated now and here and anticipated in the future hereafter.
But we cannot even begin to do this if we are busy “grabbing” people into the church and then quickly close our doors in case anyone gets out or the evil elements get in. Lighting a lamp and shutting it behind church doors would do no good. As the city that is set on the hill so to be seen by all, let the church move into the society demonstrating unmistakably the glorious future awaiting the people of the kingdom and offering an alternative blueprint of being human and in doing so, presenting an infinitely desirable destiny to the world. And really, we can only do this if we, like God began to roll up our sleeves and get down to the dirt. We are back to our point that our mission is founded on God and his commitment to his glory with the Incarnation as the starter motor. The key word is involvement, but not some dispassionate involvement. Hear the affectionate and emotional cry of the King, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…!” As Jesus was to Israel, so the Church to the world. Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. This condescension should translate to our own lives and work as contextualization. God did not come in chariot of fire nor rod of judgment, though he would later, but he came clothed in humanity to relate to the men and women he was reaching out to. He came speaking like one of us, or rather one of them, the Jews of 1st century Palestine, eating like of them, dressing like one of them, even preaching like one of them, doing all these with great interest and passion, yet without for a moment became tainted with sin like one of them. This is our model for mission.
Jesus said this and is saying this today, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21). This is the call to mission. The call is to all Christians for the concern is God’s glory manifested in all believers. The gospel is for all living creatures for the stakes are immortal souls. The time is now for King Jesus is coming soon (Rev. 22:7).