David, thank you again. And once again, thanks to you and Sheena for your warm hospitality and to this church and the missions committee. If you’ve treated your missionaries the way you’ve treated me this weekend, I know they can’t wait for next year to get back to First Presbyterian Jackson! I mean, I got to my hotel room last night and you had these cookies and all these sweet things! I ate one whole box of them and then I realized what I was doing and I’ve got them in my bag to take them home to my wife! But you’ve been so kind to us. And Wiley and Molly, thank you for your hospitality today at lunch. And the Hartmans, thank you for yours this afternoon. It’s been such a pleasure to be with you. It’s always encouraging simply to be with folks who take the Great Commission seriously, who really want to pursue it. We are a family. I’ve just found through the years that my closest friendships are those with whom I’m working on the Great Commission. And so God has met my social needs and my psychological needs, hopefully, and so many of my spiritual needs. Just be engaged in His mission. And what we find as we give and we go and we pray, that we’re the ones who are being so mightily blessed and encouraged in the Lord as we do so. So I know that you’re here with that motivation. It’s just a pleasure to be with you.
Well, during these Missions Conferences, churches like First Presbyterian sort of re-up yourselves for another year of commitment to the Great Commission here in this country and around the world and it’s just a joy to see you doing that. I want to encourage you in it. Churches like this, as I said this morning, not only need to keep it up but step it up because we look to these leadership churches as being those that are always changing. You know, we are reformed and always reforming. We are giving and always giving more. And I know that you’re doing that and I encourage you in it.
And tonight, I want us to look at a text of Scripture that I think helps us plan how to do this. And it’s hard for me to imagine a better example, other than the Lord Jesus Christ, than the apostle Paul who I consider to be the greatest evangelist and church planter in world history. I doubt we’ll ever have another one quite like him. I’ll make some mention of that tonight, but I want primarily to look at one of his texts with you if you’ll turn to Romans chapter 15. And while you’re turning, and before we read the text, let me give a little background on Romans.
My assignment this coming week is to be with about a hundred young adults who will meet twice this week at five-thirty in the morning for two hours and once at seven-thirty at night, and they want me, in six hours, to take them through the book of Romans. Haha! That’s a joke! I’m going to talk fast when I get to be with them. Fortunately, I get to look at one text with you tonight. But I’ll be telling them, of course, that Romans is perhaps the greatest piece of literature ever written. It’s hard to say that when all the Bible is inspired, but the letter of Romans, of course, we camp out there over and over again just because we find the heart of the Gospel there; we find Paul speaking to so many relevant doctrinal and ethical issues. And of course we know Romans that way. We realize that a letter like 1 Corinthians is written ad-hoc. It’s written to a particular set of circumstances and you can feel the apostle interacting with them, even arguing with them at times, about either thing he’s heard or things he’s observed in Corinth in which he’s engaging. But often, we think of Romans as kind of being some sort of pure, ethereal, doctrinal deposit that God made through the apostle without any ad-hoc circumstances behind it. And I beg to differ with that. I think Romans is very ad-hoc.
And the first way in which it is, is that obviously Paul had never been to Rome. Of course, you get to Romans 16 and you find out how many friends he's got. And once again, they are friends of the Gospel ministry which he knows and which he's met and he sends greetings all back and forth, which also tell you something about the way in which he did ministry. It was always in group, in church, with partners. And that's what First Presbyterian has been doing and is trying to do in the future. But Paul had a particular concern about them. Number one, you notice from Romans 9 through 11 in particular, and you also pick it up big time in Romans 14 and 15, Paul is concerned about how folks from different ethnic and religious backgrounds are going to do church together. So he’s very concerned about relationships in the local church in Rome. And specifically, they consist of a lot of Jews and a lot of Gentiles. And these folks have very different backgrounds. They look at ethical issues differently. They tend naturally to exclude each other as they just cluster with one another.
And you can notice this even in churches with the kind of homogeneity that we enjoy in these Presbyterian churches. If you have someone who’s from Jackson, well that’s different from being from northern Mississippi, you know. There are these little ways. Or if you’re in one of the historic Jackson clans, you know, you fit into historic Jackson. These new-comers, you know, they’re different! Well even in places where we have homogeneity, we notice that we get clannish at times. Well, you've never seen anything like the clans that the Jews would create and the Gentiles. They thought of the world very differently, and Paul was teaching them, "You are one church under the Lord Jesus Christ."
And we’ll see how desperately important this was to him as a Jewish man, converted to Christ, whose commission was to be a minister to the Gentiles. And so he always had to teach Gentiles and Jews to get along together. Now the way in which he does that, of course, is to teach them the Gospel. That’s the reason you get this powerful, systematic presentation of the Gospel in Romans 1 through 8. Paul is setting them up to understand that every single one of us are reconciled to God in the same way. It has nothing to do with your Presbyterian heritage or your baptism here. It has everything to do with the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It has to do with your being brought into union with the Lord Jesus Christ by His predestinating grace in your life. And that being the case, you now have the theological foundation to treat each other as brothers and sisters who came in the door the same way with no special privileges given to anybody else on any other grounds. So when you see his ad-hoc interest in Jew and Gentile relationships, you can understand why he wrote this exquisite explanation of the Gospel in detail so that there could be no confusion here how we all came to know the Lord Jesus Christ and how He has made us family. Now I think that’s one of the pressing concerns in the letter to the Romans.
But there’s another one, and we get it in chapter 15. Paul is intent on hopscotching from Rome to Spain. Now he’s been intent on getting to Rome for years and he’s been promised by the Lord that he would get there. I don’t think Paul planned on getting there the way he got there – as a prisoner and then shipwrecking – but nonetheless, he knew that he would get to Rome eventually. But here we see that, yes, he’s going to Rome, but Rome is not his ultimate destination. He’s a missionary. He’s a church planter. He’s an evangelist. He’s thinking broadly about the lost peoples of the world and he has a passion, an ambition as we’ll see, to get to Spain. “And you folks in Rome have a pretty prosperous church over there.” And so he writes to the people in Jackson – I’m sorry, Rome! And he says to them, “I’m coming your way. I’m looking forward to it. It will be wonderful to see you.” And then we’re going to see that this is a missionary prayer letter and he is writing them to say, “I’m giving you the Gospel so that you can relate to each other and have good intra-church relations. But I’m writing to you because you need a Missions Conference and I’m going to be your missionary.” And he gets real direct about it, as we know the apostle is.
Well, I can’t be as direct as he is, but I want us this evening to hear this Word of God as the Word to us. What is the Lord saying to you tonight about your engagement in the mission of the world? The question that each one of us has to ask tonight and during every Missions Conference, I think, is this – “Is your life your best answer to God’s Great Commission? And if it's not, tonight is the night to resolve to change your life so that your life is your best answer to the Great Commission, because the Great Commission is why we’re here.” Ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to do everything better in heaven. You’re going to sing better – and you sing well. You’re going to love each other better – you love each other well. But everything you do here, you’re going to do it better there, except for one thing – evangelism. And the reason is, there will be no sinners there. Eternity is a long time. It’s all stretching out before us. You have your three-score-and-ten, or by measure of strength, four-score, or if by further measure of strength you’re Jim Baird and you get to four-score-and-ten, it’s only a moment. It flies by. And then you’re in the presence of the Lord never to see a sinner again. In all of your eternal history, this is your only moment to relate to sinners. Let’s get it right. Let’s invest ourselves well.
That’s the reason for our time together in the Word tonight. It’s so that you and I might take another hard look and say, “Have I planned this short moment in my eternal history so that my life is my best answer?” And I’m assuming that all of us will go back before the Lord and ask Him, “Lord, do You have my checkbook? Lord, do You have my prayer life? Do You have the passion of my heart? Lord, do You have my life? And am I willing and ready and yes, even eager to lay it down for You?” And there ought to be more and more young people from this congregation going around the world. Dan Burns, who’s the missions pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, told me not too long ago, he said, “Well, about a third of our missionary force now is from Second Presbyterian.” I said, “Dan, good job!” He said, “Oh, we’re not finished. We’re shooting for half!” And that doesn’t mean you just automatically support your own kids and put them on your missions program. What it means is, the high standards that you’ve got for your missionaries, your kids are reaching, aspiring to, qualifying for the field under your standards. And then you enthusiastically support them.
These are the kinds of questions that we need to ask tonight. And here’s why. We’re believers. This church, for years and years, since 1837, has believed the Bible as the Word of God. And in the Bible, we are told clearly what happens to lost people. It’s not an attractive picture. Jesus says at the end of the age, everyone’s on the right as a sheep or on the left as a goat and there are no “geep” in the middle! There’s no such thing! It’s one or the other. And the only way you become a sheep is by putting your trust in Jesus Christ. And the only way you put your trust in Christ is to hear the Gospel and believe. That’s the reason Paul says in Romans 10, “How shall they hear? How shall they believe unless they hear? And how will they hear if no one is sent?” It’s a rhetorical question because the answer is obvious – they won’t! They won’t believe if they don’t hear, and they won’t hear if no one is sent. So the only way we can be in Christ is to hear the Gospel and believe in what we hear.
And fourthly, we know from the Bible that we’re it. We’re the ones to go. If I’d been in charge of heaven, I’m sure that I would have appointed the angels to do this. We need perfect creatures to do this. But, for some reason, Jesus chose us. And I speculate, maybe it’s because we’re sinners just like everybody else and we understand the predicament and the plight of a sinner and we’ve been redeemed and we can tell people about our own experience. Angels haven’t sinned and they haven’t been redeemed. So we’re redeemed sinners telling other sinners how to be redeemed. And Jesus has chosen to do it this way. So with that pressing upon us, we must ask the question, “Is my life my best answer to the Great Commission?” And when we look at the world, there are 7.5 billion people in the world and 2.5 billion of them claim to be Christians. We think maybe a little less than 1 billion actually are Christians. But that leaves 5 billion people who don’t claim to be Christians, and of those, 60% of them, 3.1 billion people, live in what we call “under-evangelized regions.” That means less than 2% evangelical Christians. Which means that they’re not likely to ever hear the Gospel. That’s 3 billion people.
You know, I grieve often thinking about the children of the world who are in poverty and there are 22,000 of them every day that die simply of starvation. We’ve easily got enough food to feed the world, but 22,000 children every day die. But you know what I think about more? Is 70,000 people who die every day without the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m an evangelical. I’m a believer in the Bible. I know what the Bible says about that condition. I have to ask myself, “Am I investing myself as my best answer to the Great Commission?”
Well with that, let’s look at the life of the apostle Paul. I think it should be an encouragement to all of us, and a challenge. And let’s look at chapter 15, verses 14 all the way through the end of the chapter. And would you please stand with me as we pray and then we’ll read and make some comments on the text.
Gracious God, we thank You for raising up apostles and prophets, evangelists and pastors and elders and other teachers and spiritual leaders who have nurtured us. We pray that we may learn from them all, but especially, O Lord, we would learn from You. Speak, O Lord, for Your servants listen. Amen.
Romans 15:14. Hear the Word of God:
“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written,
‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’
This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Please be seated.
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever. Amen.
In looking at this text, and we’re going to go rather quickly, I just want you to notice two major divisions in it. And I would make that division verses 14 through 19 first of all, in which we understand what God has done. What has God done to propel this mission around the world? What has God done to make it possible for you even to enlist in the service of the Great Commission? What has He done? And I want us to notice two things in those verses. And then when we come to verse 20 through the end of the chapter, I want us to speak for just a moment on three things that we must do. Three things that we must do in response to what God has done as we ask ourselves that question, “How can my life be my best answer to the Great Commission?”
What God Has Done
Well, first of all, let’s look at what God has done. Two things.
Gospel Designed for the World
First of all, in verses 14 through 16, you can’t help but notice that God has designed this Gospel for the world. He has specifically designed this Gospel for the world. You know, other religions, if we take for example the Jewish religion, there are a few proselytes, but generally speaking, if you’re in Judaism, it’s because you are an ethnic Jew. Generally speaking, if you’re Muslim, it’s because you’ve adopted Arabic as your religious language and some customs that are common to Muslim people. And so there’s no way to read the Koran adequately and accurately, they say, unless you read it in Arabic. You must become an Arabic speaker and reader to be a faithful Muslim. But you’ll look at the Christian faith, and ladies and gentlemen, it goes everywhere. And if you just look at it demographically you’re quite amazed that nation after nation on every continent, people group after people group of every language, are able eventually to understand the Gospel in its essence and able to contextualize it in their own culture so that it becomes really their expression of the Christian faith. I don’t think you find this anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.
And here’s the reason. The Gospel is designed that way. This is exactly what God intended. For example, Paul says in Ephesians chapter 3 that the very mystery of the Gospel – now there are other aspects of the mystery of the Gospel, but in one sense, the mystery of the Gospel, Paul says, is that Jew and Gentile are included together. That’s of the very essence of the Gospel. And so if your Gospel doesn’t travel, I don’t think it’s the Biblical Gospel. One way you can check your Gospel – see if it works for black and white. See if it works for male and female. See if it works for rich and poor. See if it works for east and west. See if it works for north and south. See if it works around the world. And if it does, it’s very likely you’ve got the real thing. If it doesn’t, you’re off base. The very Gospel is designed that way.
Look at what Paul says. He says, “I myself am satisfied about you, but on some points,” verse 15, “I’ve written to you very boldly by way of reminder because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Paul is speaking in priestly terms. When I proclaim the Gospel, I’m actually a priest raising up an offering for God. Have you ever had this sensation when you’ve led someone to Christ? I’m always, of course, totally amazed that someone could become a Christian because I said something. I’m just watching this miracle take place! But as someone comes to Christ, I have this exquisite pleasure of knowing that I’m making an offering to the Lord because this is what His Gospel is designed for – to reach people who are on the outside and bring them into the inside to be family members. That’s what Paul is saying here. That’s the first thing. That our very Gospel that we enjoy here, is designed to be international and multicultural and throughout the ages.
Empowers the Gospel for the World
Now secondly, look at verses 17 through 19. God not only designed the Gospel for the world, God empowers the Gospel for the world. And you see this in several ways in verses 17 through 19. Paul says, “Look, I have reason to be proud of my work.” I’ll talk about him in a minute. But he says, “I’m not going to venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me – to bring the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed.” Look at the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God. You see, Paul is saying, “Look, I was a religious terrorist. I was on my way to arrest Christians because they’re Christians. That was the mission I was on when I got converted.” As we were saying this afternoon, some of us, you know, whenever someone is a religious terrorist that terrifies us to death, we should think, “You know, that person would make a good evangelist!” Because that’s where Paul came from! He was a terrorist killing Christians because they were Christians, and look what God did with him. Paul never got over that. He said, “I’m the least of all the saints. He has saved me so that I would be a trophy to His mercy. And everybody would know, ‘If that man Saul can get converted, I can sure get converted!’” Paul says, “I was to be an example to everybody because I was so bad!” And so Paul is here again amazed. It’s not about Paul, although Paul is at the genius level and he was exquisitely gifted, we all recognize this, but nonetheless, what is happening through Paul goes way beyond any cause and effect that can be explained by mere human endeavor. Paul was very aware of that. He says, “God gave us signs and wonders as apostles.” Paul says, “The Holy Spirit came and worked through us.”
And you see this again in Colossians chapter 1 when he’s describing how he proclaimed Christ, warning everybody, admonishing everybody in the Gospel, and he says, “We agonized” – it’s “agonidso” in the Greek. He says, “We agonized with all the energy that he gave us by his Spirit.” So we agonize, we do work hard, but it’s what I call an exquisite agony because we’re agonizing not just with native energy; we’re agonizing with divine energy and that agony is actually exhilarating. So the apostle is saying, “Shall I not boast about anything except what God was pleased to do through me?”
And brothers and sisters, we have to remember that before God ever sent them out, before Christ ever sent them out to the nations, He said, “Don’t you take the first step until you get the gift.” And He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and then you will be My witnesses to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. But don’t go out without this power. But when you have it, you will be My witnesses.” So I have to ask you, “Do you have the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you experiencing His power? Do you sense that something is happening to you and through you that takes your witness beyond what can be explained by mere human endeavor? Or are we just painting by the numbers? Are we just trying to engineer our Christian lives?”
Brothers and sisters, it’s much more than that. It’s a divine work through His people. God designed the Gospel for the world and He empowers the Gospel for the world through us. So when you make your offering, whatever it is, when you make your commitment, whatever it is, you can trust God to take whatever you give and multiply it and use it powerfully around the world in ways you never dreamed. And that’s exactly what we expect out of Him because if He doesn’t do that, our giving and our going and even our praying is useless. So look what God has done. And Paul is very aware of this. The greatest evangelist and church planter in the history of the world is very aware of the Gospel he’s got. It works. It’s made for the nations. And God’s power is invested in the proclamation of it. That’s our starting point.
What We are Commanded to Do
Now let's look and see what Paul then does, and what, then, is commanded to us to do. And I'd like to suggest three things. First of all, in verses 20 through 24a, I want us to see that we should be developing a personal mission strategy; developing a personal missional strategy for your life. When you get to verse 24b all the way through 32, I want us to see that we must work as a missions team; work as a missions team. So you have a strategy and you have a team. And thirdly, when we get to verse 33, we’re going to see we have to just trust the Lord with all of this.
Personal Mission Strategy
Now first of all, verses 20 through 24a, we must develop a personal mission strategy. Why do I say this? Well, look at the apostle Paul in verse 20. "And thus, I make it my ambition to preach the Gospel not where Christ has already been named." And he goes on to say, "It seems to me that a logical place to go," and I'm sure he had reasons that were logistical as well as spiritual, "a logical place to go is Spain. And the Lord seems to have put that on my heart. And that's my strategy." Now you know Paul had strategies and they didn't always come through. Paul had planned to go to northern Turkey, you will remember, and the Holy Spirit Himself forbade Paul from going to northern Turkey. That's how he ended up in Macedonia is because he got frustrated and couldn't go to Bithynia. And so Paul makes plans, and they don’t always come true, but Paul makes plans. Why? Because if you don’t make plans, you’ll usually hit them. If you plan for zero, you usually hit it. A person who understands the urgency of the hour and the divine resources that God is willing to exercise through His chosen people, we understand we’ve got to take this opportunity and make the best out of it to the best of our ability. And God will interrupt us over and over again. And we’ll salute and say, “Yes, Sir. Yes, Lord. Whatever You say.” And we’ll happily carry out what He gives us to do. But that will never cease us from being ambitious.
You don’t have to be an extrovert and you don’t have to be selfish to be ambitious. You simply have to love the Lord and His mission and get ambitious. And He said, “My ambition – you have to plant churches where they haven’t been planted.” You know what I’ve noticed? I think that’s your missions committee’s ambition and I think they’re asking all of us here to take on that ambition with them. That we look at the 65,000 ethnolinguistic groups that don’t have adequate Christian witness in them and we pray, “Lord, help us raise up workers in Your field. Use us if You’re pleased and let’s go to places where the witness is not being expressed for the Gospel.” That’s what your missions committee is saying. I think it’s very Pauline.
And think about it. Paul says here that – look at verse 23. This is just a remarkable statement. After twenty years of ministry, twenty-five years of ministry, Paul can say, "But now since I no longer have any room for work in these regions." Do you realize what this man has done with resistance inside the church? So many of the leaders in Jerusalem were not excited about Paul's ministry to the Gentiles and tried to keep him from going. Outside the church, he was whipped and beaten and stoned and thrown in prison on several occasions. He was shipwrecked multiple times. You know, if I was shipwrecked once, I ain’t going on a ship again! Paul was shipwrecked several times. He was paying an enormous price for his ministry. You know Peggy Noonan’s article on Billy Graham the week he died, she said, “Most people don’t realize that after a week of crusades, Billy had bags under his eyes, he had lost fifteen pounds. It took everything out of him.” Well of course it does. And even more so with the apostle Paul and his generation. The apostle Paul stood down kinds and princes, priests in a Jewish church. He stood down counselors, very educated people. He said, “I choose to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and he lifted up the cross wherever he went – alone or with people.
And what he’s saying here, is that by God’s grace in which we brag and boast, that there have been churches, communities of believers planted in every major city on the Mediterranean Sea, which was Paul’s venue after only twenty-five years. I’m absolutely staggered at what this man did. But he said, “I’m not boasting about it. I choose not to boast except for what Christ has been pleased to do through me.” But you’ll notice here he has a plan for his life. He is strategizing. He’s looking forward.
And you’ll notice that it takes his whole life. And I think it must take our whole life. When you’re strategizing for your engagement in the Great Commission, you first of all look at your own family, friends, workmates, classmates, those with whom you have influence. If you’re a senior in high school, perhaps the freshmen in high school. They’ll listen to you; they’ll be very glad to have your friendship. You look at wherever you have opportunity to influence people for the Gospel and you are God’s chosen missionary to those people. You take up the task of world missions right there in your local community and then we’ll see how you go from there. But you start where you are.
One of my missions’ heroes in terms of senior pastors is Harold John Ockenga. I did happen to go to his seminary, Gordon Conwell. But Dr. Ockenga came to Park Street Church in Boston in 1936 during the Depression. Their missions’ budget in 1936 was $6,000, which is the equivalent of $107,000 in today’s dollars. He retired from Park Street Church in 1969 and the missions’ budget was $600,000, which in today’s dollars is $4.1 million. So obviously some good things were happening in the commitment of Park Street Church to the international mission. But Dr. Ockenga said, “We cannot ask people to do in Bangkok what we’re not willing to do in Boston.” And so he was committed to evangelizing his fellow Bostonians. One night after the evening service, some of the trustees at Park Street Church came to Dr. Ockenga – this is back in the 60s – and they said to him, “Dr. Ockenga, do you know what’s happening in the Boston Common just across from this side wall?” It would be this side wall. You go across Park Street and then there’s the Boston Common. And they said, “Do you know what’s going on in Boston Common on Sunday nights?” He said, “No, I’ve never been over there on a Sunday night.” And they said, “Well after the service, you come with us. Get a flashlight and we want to show you what’s going on just a few hundred feet from the church where you’re preaching.”
Well, he took the flashlight and he saw more than he ever wanted to see. And he said, "Okay, next Sunday we're going to do something about that." And they said, "Okay." So after the next Sunday evening’s service, Dr. Ockenga said to his trustees, “Would you please get that big oak table, take it out in the middle of the plaza out there in the middle of the common, and so-and-so is a great trumpet player; he’s going to come. He plays in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He’s going to get on the oak table and start playing that trumpet.” He did and people started coming out of the bushes, whatever they were doing, and they started to listen to the trumpeter. And when he got about a hundred people, he said, “Okay, you can step down,” to the trumpeter. The trumpeter got off and Ockenga got on and he preached. And he did this Sunday after Sunday and led people to Christ right in the public square of Boston Common. And these crowds that began to gather eventually were the initial crowds of the famous Billy Graham crusade in the 1950s. So this is in the 50s, the 1950s in Boston. It was that original crowd that Dr. Ockenga was preaching to.
Well anyway, after a few weeks of this, he noticed some police cruisers were driving around the Boston Common watching this going on. Eventually, they interrupt Dr. Ockenga’s sermon and say, “Sir, do you have a permit?” He said, “No, I don’t have a permit. Didn’t know you needed one.” “Well, you do sir. You can’t do this.” So the police kept him from preaching. So Dr. Ockenga goes to the city council and asks for a permit. They deny him. Here’s what Dr. Ockenga said to his trustees. “Does anybody here got a blow torch? Anybody here do some welding? I want you to weld a pulpit on the side of this church!” And after every evening service, Dr. Ockenga walked right down that aisle, walked up to the balcony, crawled out a window, and got on a pulpit, a wrought iron pulpit; and you’ll see it there today if you go to Park Street Church on the front of the church. And he preached across the street and continued his ministry.
You know why? He knew that his life was to be engaged in the Great Commission and he wanted his life to be his best answer to the Great Commission. And there are lost people here. We start here. We plant churches here when there’s a need. And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul had been doing.
But notice that this personal mission leads to missions team partnership when you look at verses 24b through 32. Here, we work as a missions team. Why do we work as a team? Well, because once you get beyond your workplace, your neighborhood, your friends, your contact list, you can't personally be there. So you’ve got to have partners and that’s the reason for all the missionaries that you support. Those are our partners. They’re going to places on this planet where I can’t go. I’m quite aware that I’m responsible for every square inch of the planet. I’m a Christian. Jesus Christ is Lord of all the earth and I’m His messenger. But I can’t be in every place so I’ve got to have partners who go to places I can’t live. I can’t be everywhere at one time. That’s the reason you’ve joined together as a church and you come up with a unified strategy and you invest in it because you’ve got your thoughtful people, you’ve asked them to lead you to come up with a coordinated plan to reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ. Now even Jackson, First Presbyterian, can’t do that! So the church has to have other church partners who have partners. And that’s what the PCA is all about. You make partners with partners and you network to cover every square inch of this world because it all belongs to Him. We don’t surrender one square inch. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. And so we’re dreaming and thinking and praying and investing ourselves. That’s why we’re here. It’s the only reason why we’re here. Everything’s better later on when we get home.
And look what the apostle does. First of all, you can’t help but notice that he talks about finances. You knew I was getting to that! Look at verse 24. “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, oh, by the way, to be helped on my journey there by you! Can’t wait to see ya! It’s going to be fun having these missions lunches together and you know, doing church together! I’m your missionary!” The apostle Paul is not shy. He’s not like some of the faith missionaries of the 19th century who wanted to do their work without ever asking for money. Paul would say, “Why do you do that?” Now I respect those who do that, who chose to live their lives that way; it’s just not apostolic. When Paul knows he’s in an important ministry, he knows it’s important enough to ask the Christians to help him. And I’m glad he does because we get to participate in everything about that ministry.
He goes on to say about finances in verse 25, “I’m going to Jerusalem to bring aid to the saints,” and so he was carrying an offering to Jerusalem. And he says in verse 28, “When, therefore, I’ve completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I am on my way. Start the offering plates around now! I’ll be there soon!” This is important. Americans don’t like to talk about money that much. When I first went to Ukraine back in 1991, I was so surprised people would just walk up to me, Christian people in the church, and say, “How much do you make for salary a year?” I’m thinking, “No Jacksonian would ever ask me that! You have southern manners!” But that’s just our culture. To us, that’s a scandal that anybody would ever just ask that point blank. But in the rest of the world, it’s just not that important. “What do you make? What do you do with it?” It’s just like, “What league do you belong to? What sport do you like?” “How much money do you make?” We need to get over this, about being overly protective about of own privacy of money. Money is a spiritual issue. It’s in the Bible over and over again. There’s no issue in the Bible spoken of more often than possessions. And the reason is, we’re inclined to make gods out of the possessions.
And I want to say to you, if you expect our missionaries to live frugally on the field – and I think we do. Because when they don’t, it increases the missions’ budget. How about us? You know, sometimes I’ve wondered, “Should the missions committee members give their financials over to the missionaries and let the missionaries give them an assessment of how they’re spending their money?” That would be an interesting exercise! Why not? We all must give answer for how we’re stewarding things that don’t belong to us. They don’t belong to you. The dollars in your bank are not yours. You’re the steward of them. You’re the manager. It’s somebody else’s property. So we must be very careful with this and we need partners to help us. We need the apostle Paul. You need the preacher every once in a while who’s going to say, “Okay, unbutton those pockets. Let’s get generous!” It’s a spiritual issue. We need each other.
I remember years ago when I was pastoring at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, many of you will know the name, Hugh McClellan, who is the chairman of the McClellan Foundation. His daddy was the chair before Hugh-O Jr. was the chairman. And Hugh-O liked to pull pranks. And he pulled one on my friend, Richard Hostetter. Richard was an elder at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian, about ten years older than myself, and Richard – you remember back in the 80s they had these vans that you could drive around and you could redo them on the inside and get your shag carpet and the swivel chairs, club chairs, and put the little TV screen for movies up and you had your own little refrigerator there? Man, you were hot stuff if you had one of those! And Richard got one because he wanted to drive his kids down to Florida and they would just enjoy this van.
His big mistake, however, was driving it to church one Sunday morning. He pulled in that new van right into the parking slot just about, you know, 100 feet from the sanctuary. And when he got out of church, he went back to his van and there, attached to the windshield facing him was a sign that said, “One missionary not sent.” Hahahaha! Thank you, Hugh-O! It was Hugh-O! Hugh-O not only gave generously – and he has said publicly before so I’m not revealing secrets, that Hugh-O gives 70% of his income away every year to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, and 1% of his assets. He has a plan to divest himself in the kingdom.
And I just want to ask you this evening, “Do you have a plan not only for this week and how you’re going to rearrange your finances so you’re living a missionary lifestyle, but do you have a long-term plan?” You know the biggest gift you’re going to make to the mission is when you die. Have you planned that gift? Let me tell you what you can do if you’re a preacher and don’t have much money. I’ve got five children, okay, so they’ve all said, “Dad, we’re all going to really enjoy getting your books!” And they’re figuring out which child is going to get the history section, which one’s going to get the theology section, and so on! But even preachers have retirement income. So I have a 401K. And you know what you can do if you don’t have much money? You can adopt the mission of the church as one of your children. That’s what I did. I now have six children – Drew, Ben, David, Mary, Lizzie, and the Second Presbyterian Church Foundation for Missions. Why don’t you make that plan right now? Get to your lawyer. Let’s get the plan done. Let’s at least adopt the church mission. You don’t need to endow First Presbyterian Church. That’s not even a healthy thing to do in a church with the level of ability that Second or First has. That’s not a good idea. But giving to the mission, the external mission of the church is a really good idea. And you can ask your elders and make them scramble and come up with a plan for you so that it will work. Come up with a financial plan.
Secondly, notice the encouragement that Paul gets from these folks in 24c. “And to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” I just want to say to Michael and Maria, it was good to see you all today. And you know what? It seemed like you got encouraged by these folks this week. I think you did. And your missionaries will tell you that. They’re out there serving in a Muslim country where there’s great hostility to the Gospel. They come into a room like this, full of people who know the Savior, and they go, “Yeah, it’s true. The Gospel works! Okay, back to Indonesia! Here we go!” We’re here for encouragement. We’ve got these people in difficult places. Some of these church planters, not seeing a whole lot of fruit for several years, they need our encouragement as well as our finances.
And then thirdly, of course, you know the prayers. In verse 30 through 32, Paul is not silly. If he believes the Lord has done the work, he knows that we must apply to the Lord to get the next level of work done. And he says, "Please pray for me." Pray! This is not just evangelicalese. It’s not just on the script for every missionary to ask for. Evangelical missionaries know where the power to convert comes from and they do not have this power indigenous to themselves. It’s an extrinsic power. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit and they want you to pray that the Spirit would come down in effusion and power and work through them in their meager resources and abilities and convert a world. Only God can do that, and God has promised to assist His people. So we pray.
And I have to ask you again tonight, “Is your prayer life your best answer to the Great Commission?” If you want to pray for the world, I get every day from Operation World on their website, they send me a country every day to pray for. You can get this on Operation World website or you can get their big book. Pray through it every year. Pray for a country. Pray for your particular missionaries. And as you develop this strategy, I suggest you adopt one, or at most two, and pray for them in-depth. When you ask a missionary to give you a prayer list and they know you’re actually praying, you’ll get the list. And you’ll get to know that missionary better than you ever have before because they know you’re committed to prayer. Please, not just your finances, but your prayers.
And then you have to notice, of course, that Paul himself was going. He wasn’t asking anybody else to do what he wasn’t doing. Don’t you love the story of the foundation of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham? When Frank Barker just got some people together, he had evangelized most of them and led them to Christ, and they gathered in a storefront. And they had been worshipping for about eighteen months and nobody in that brand new congregation had offered themselves for long-term service to the mission field. And you know the story, Frank Barker got up after about eighteen months in the storefront, and he said, "I notice that nobody here has volunteered to go over to the mission field." And he said, "If somebody doesn't volunteer in the next couple of months, I'll just go myself." Well, they had some volunteers! And Frank was not kidding! Now I'm grateful that their volunteers went instead of Frank, to tell you the truth, because Frank was such a wonderful pastor at Briarwood. But it starts with you who are in leadership.
Gentlemen of the session, the most important question you answer in this congregation on any issue is this. “So what do you do?” “The pastor told me I should tithe. What do you do?” “You know, my wife sometimes gets a little cranky. What do you do when that happens to you?” Well you say, “My wife never does that.” Uh-huh, right! You’re a liar too! “So what do you do in rearing children? What schools did you pick? How did you make that decision?” It’s the most important question for you to answer and I have to say, here it is, “You believe in the Great Commission? What’s your plan?”
The peace is with us when we’re engaged in the mission. You know, some of you are engaged in a number of ways or you wouldn’t be here tonight. And I do this too. I have particular works in Memphis that I just can’t help but be connected to personally. And I do give individually, especially to certain evangelical works in Memphis where I have very close working relationships and I just simply want to give an extra gift. But let me tell you what I don’t do. I would never allow those gifts to substitute the gift I give through Second Presbyterian Church. Why? Because, in God’s economy, He creates church. And you’ll notice Paul here, when he says, “I’m coming to you and asking for your help,” who’s he talking to? He’s not talking to rich individuals. Paul says at the beginning of Romans chapter 1, “I’m talking to all of you who are in Christ.” He’s talking to the entire church. He comes to the church for help. And the church, in its organized manner with elders and deacons and pastors and so on, they rise up as the people of God and they say, “We’re behind you in prayer and encouragement! We’ll go to the field with you! We’ll give our finances to you! We as a people!” It’s the church that plants the church, not some individual agency or some individual person. It’s the church that plants the church. And that’s the reason that we have missions conferences and unified missions’ budgets because it’s the family. Now this doesn’t in any way disqualify prosperous people like Presbyterians from doing all the giving you want to do, but do not displace your family giving because it’s the church that is standing behind your missionaries. What an encouragement to them!
Now Paul says, lastly, “Trust the Lord with this.” He’s the one who has designed the Gospel. He’s the one who has empowered the Gospel. I’ll tell you what now, He’s the one who is going to give the fruit of the Gospel. And He is – all over the world. The Gospel is growing and advancing all over the world. There are some hotspots, and they’re very exciting as I mentioned this morning, but the Gospel is advancing, the work is being done, and He’s doing it through you. I commend you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, for taking the time and the energy and the care to make your life your best answer to the Great Commission to advance the Gospel around the world. May He forever grant peace to His people who are engaged with Him in the most important work in the universe.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank You for calling us to this great work and giving us, by Your Spirit’s aid, the equipment we need to carry out the Gospel. And so we pray, Lord, speak to our hearts, move us nearer to You, move us out of our comfort zones into the zones of need – physical need and spiritual need especially. And may we, even in this generation, see the work of Your mighty hand as You raise up our sons and daughters and send them out into the field and we see a mighty harvest by the power of Your Spirit here and around the world. This we pray in the sovereign name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2018 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.