November 14, 2006

Holy Ambition

I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.” Romans 15.20-21

Isn’t this a great sentence? Paul, if he were living in 21st century America might say it something like this: ‘Get me out of the Bible belt. Get me out of the Christian suburbs. Get me out of the United States. Get me somewhere where there isn’t a church on every corner. Get me into an office where everyone around me is pagan. Get me into a neighborhood—not where all my friends live, or where the living is comfy—but where the vast majority of people are lost. God, send me somewhere where I am surrounded by lostness—and therefore where my light might shine most brightly!’ That was the heartbeat of Paul. He had plenty of churches that would have bent over backwards to keep him around. But his heartbeat was: ‘God, get me to Spain! Get me to the ends of the earth. Get me somewhere where Christ is not already named!’ And if you read on in Romans 15, you begin to see how this passion affected Paul’s lifestyle—and how having his passion might affect yours. A few notes…

1. A passion for the unreached means sometimes sacrificing the fellowship of the other believers. In verse 22, Paul says “For this reason (his commitment to the unreached) I have often been prevented from coming to you.” Paul genuinely wanted to fellowship with the believers in Rome. But there was something more important. It was more important for Paul to get to those places where Christ was not already named than it was for Paul to enjoy the fellowship of Rome. Such is the sacrifice of the missionary—leaving the fellowship of home and church family to go to the unreached. Are you up for that kind of sacrifice? Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and go? Are you willing, even within the confines of your home town, to give up some of the fun times with other Christians in order to spend concentrated time with some lost family who needs Jesus? Do you have the priorities of Paul?

2. A passion for the unreached means a financial commitment. Paul was writing to the church at Rome largely because he hoped that they would give to the Lottie Moon Offering (or whatever the 1st century equivalent was)! Listen to verse 24: “Whenever I go to Spain…I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you.” Paul wasn’t afraid to ask for money. And he didn’t need to be. He assumed that these Christians in Rome would have the same passion for the unreached as God had given him. And therefore he assumed that they would be ready to give of their means to make sure the gospel could reach the ends of the earth. Could he assume that of you? Are you willing to help modern-day Pauls on their way so that Christ may be preached where He is not yet named?

3. A passion for the unreached starts with compassion at home. Paul’s greatest desire was to get away from the places where Jesus had been named. But it didn’t mean that he had forgotten about the Christians back home. In verses 25 and following, we find him collecting and distributing an offering to relieve the suffering of the poor saints in Jerusalem. This wasn’t a hiccup in his otherwise relentless passion. Rather, it was an outgrowth of it. Anyone who is passionate about the nations will also be compassionate toward hurting people at home. We will not be one without the other. So the person who gives a mint to Lottie Moon, yet ignores or even sneers the homeless person huddled over the sewer grating is hypocritical. Underlying Paul’s passion was a commitment to help whoever had the greatest needs—whether spiritual or physical.

So, this holiday season, let’s learn from the example of Paul. Let’s go for broke when it comes to giving and going to the nations. Let’s also find practical ways to get ourselves among the lost right in our own neighborhoods. And let’s make sure that we not forget the struggling in our city—or the hurting, diseased, and lonely in our own church families.

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