Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Firm grip on the Gospel
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Finishing Well: Keeping a Firm Grip on the Gospel

In the first post in this series on finishing well, I compared a ministry assignment to a leg of a relay race. I also pointed to the baton as a distinguishing feature of a relay race. Furthermore, I identified the baton as the gospel in our ministry race. The gospel is the distinguishing feature of our ministry.1 While Tom Steffen does not identify the baton as the gospel in his book, Passing the Baton, he does devote a whole chapter to “Presenting an Accurate Gospel.” (p 127-141 in the 1993 version of the book.) As relay runners must keep a firm grip on the baton, so also church-planters must keep a firm grip on the gospel. This is no less true for administrative assignments in mission organizations.

What is the Gospel?

This may seem like an unnecessary question. Yet, when we read the definitions of the gospel from Christian websites, confusion is evident.2Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 2010. p 18-20. In a similar way, J. Mack Stiles warns of assuming and confusing the gospel and cultural Christianity.3 J. Mack Stiles, The Marks of the Messenger, IVP, 2010, p 37-47. It is critical to the race before us that we know what the gospel is.

The Gospel Holds the Bible Together

At the first conference of the Gospel Coalition in 2007, D. A. Carson made this observation in a message titled “What is the Gospel?”:

ministry as relay race

Finishing Well: Ministry as a Relay Race

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about finishing well in the past several months. In part, this is because I turn 70 in November and will retire at the end of 2021. But I am also interested in this subject because SEND U has been asked to develop and find resources to help SEND missionaries finish well whether in a ministry assignment or at the end of a career. When reflecting on finishing well, I find it helpful to view ministry as a relay race. 1Tom Steffen’s book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting That Empowers also uses this analogy.

Over the next few months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on finishing well in ministry assignments as a leg in a relay race. In this series, I will be applying the analogy of a relay race to finishing well in a ministry assignment. Presently, I plan to write six more posts. This will be followed by a shorter series on finishing well at the end of a ministry career.

In this post, I want to sketch the analogy between ministry and a relay race.

Ministry as a Race

The apostle Paul describes his ministry as a race in a number of passages (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In the Acts and 2 Timothy passages, he uses the same word in the original language2 (the ESV translates it “course” in Acts and “race” in 2 Timothy). Interestingly, in both passages, he writes about finishing his course or race. In the former passage, he expresses his desire to finish his course and ministry well. In the latter, he expresses his confidence that he has finished his race well.

The Whole Christ: A review

The Whole Christ

I recently watched a breakout session from The Gospel Coalition 2021 National Conference (TGC21) discussing grace and works in the Christian life. Specifically, the question that was posed was “Does grace oppose hard work?”. However, the breakout session did not resolve the issue. Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters provides helpful guidance. Because these issues are vital for evangelism and discipleship, this book is an important resource for missionaries.

The Marrow Controversy

The historical background of Ferguson’s book is a debate in the Church of Scotland in the early 18th century. Now, the term “marrow” seems a bit strange to our ears today. Yet, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it described the seat of a person’s vitality and strength, the essence of a subject matter.1Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ, Crossway, 2016, p.22. The controversy acquired its name from Edward Fisher’s book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, written in 1645. As Tim Keller points out in the foreword, the author “does a good job of recounting the Marrow Controversy in an accessible and interesting way”2 (p. 11).

YouTube evangelism

YouTube Evangelism

God calls all of us to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). As Gary Ridley points out in another blog post, this work is not just with non-believers. Nevertheless, those of us who are called to serve as cross-cultural workers look for opportunities to share the Gospel with those who have never heard this good news. Typically, we expect that we will do so through sharing the Gospel in one-on-one conversations with our friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, we have opportunities to present the good news in public events through sermons or testimonies. A few of us might use Gospel tracts or other printed literature. But rarely if ever did we envision that YouTube could be our best platform for evangelism.

Digital missions

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have become much more interested in “digital missions” – how to do mission work through the Internet. We continue to see the strategic importance of living among the people we serve and learning their language and culture (see my recent blog post on this topic). But when we have fewer face-to-face interactions because of social distancing and quarantines, we look for additional opportunities to multiply our outreach. One of our colleagues in Japan has figured out a way to use YouTube for evangelism. The following article first appeared on the SEND blog and is used by permission.

Partnership in the Gospel
Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

young pastor being ordained
Photo by Marc Scaturro on Unsplash

Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

The Prodigal Prophet: a review

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by [Timothy Keller]

Like the two brothers of the parable

Many are familiar with Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, published in 2008. In that book, Keller highlighted the grace of God portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son. Similarly, in a more recent book, The Prodigal Prophet, he shows how the story of Jonah gives us an Old Testament illustration of that parable. He writes in the Introduction,

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11-34), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25-32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners.1Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 6.

In the Introduction, Keller outlines how the book of Jonah portrays the Prophet’s disobedience (chapters 1 & 2) and then his reluctant obedience (chapters 3 & 4) in a parallel fashion. Jonah’s main theological problem is understanding how God can be both merciful and just. Keller writes,

The question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to see how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men. 2Keller, 5.

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