We are at the start of Chapter 4 entitled "People Who are a Blessing to the Nations." This chapter title resonates with me because of my own personal ministry focus. My work with Perspectives is to mobilize Christ-followers to reach the nations wherever the Lord calls them and to equip them with the understanding of God's global plan. My work with the Mission America Coalition is to mobilize the Church nationally and here in DFW to reach to, with and beyond the nations the Lord has brought from the ""Unreached and "Unengaged" places of his world. We use the tag line "Blessings the Nations Among Us" to communicate our mission so this chapter title is one I firmly believe needs to be understood for the depth of God's mission and for living sent today. Let's make no mistake, it is God's intention that all the nations of the world come to the knowledge of his glory which is Christ Jesus our Lord. (For further reading, I unpack this story in Ethnic Embrace USA - Blessing the Nations Among Us). And, it is our assignment to bless them.
To begin, Wright asks who was the greatest missionary in the Bible? Other than Jesus Christ who left his eternal home to enter this world for the mission the Father had sent him on, the answer accordingly is the Apostle Paul.Wrights next asks three important questions to open this chapter:
How did Paul understand his own missionary life and work?
What was he trying to accomplish?
What kept Paul going through all the battering and bruising (literally) of his missionary career?
Thankful we don't need to guess at the answers but we do need to learn from them and make them our own. What motivated Paul to suffer beyond our understanding, especially given our often too comfortable lives? What kept him on the task in pursuit of the higher calling? When we understand the answer to these question it will motivate us to live on that same mission. Paul tells us Romans 1:5 that his mission was, "to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his [Christ's] name among the nations" (ESV). Obedience to what? Not only to God but also to God's mission? Many get the first right but neglect the second because they don't understand the story we are in. Paul understood the story he was living in, the story that flows through all of Scripture, the story that takes shape in the life of Abraham. Paul's missional life was shaped by this story.
What are you living for? Everyone want to find meaning in life but the 50-60 hour work week has many worn out and frustrated. The American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare for others. Americans are looking for "hope and change" from the weariness of life. Finding purpose is more and more becoming a fleeting reality for more and more Americans. We're told to "live OUR best life now" but we need to be reminded of the meaninglessness of pursuing what this world values (Eccl 12:8,13) ). When we don't understand the story we are living in, the grand narrative we're part of, the transcendent purpose for which we are created, we will live at less then optimal, less than God's best for us. Let's hear Paul say again, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1).
Wright put Paul's mission in focus with this insight: "Paul is indicating...that his lifetimes service of the gospel was all about producing communities of Abraham look a-likes in all the nations, not just in the nation physically descended from Abraham." Wright says this is "an ambition goal, for sure, but profoundly rooted in his reading of God's mission as expressed in his promise to Abraham. If we are to understand the mission of God and the mission God has us on we need to understand this promise to Abraham. It is what motivated Paul, and the mission of God throughout history. It should motivate us to follow Paul as he followed Christ.
We find the promise of God to bless the nations in Genesis 12:1-4:
This passage is one of the great mission motivating scriptures in the Bible. The depth of what God says here needs to be grasped. Often these verses are taken to refer to one nation as God's chosen people, Israel. While it is certainly true that God has a special place in his heart for Israel (Zech 2:8), what we need to understand is that God has a special place in his heart for "all peoples on earth." Wright goes even further when he says..."The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
"But it goes deeper than that....God's promise to Abraham was not merely a random illustration of something else. It was the thing itself - God's own agenda for saving the world. God's promise to Abraham was, in short, the gospel."Hold the phone. Didn't Jesus in the New Testament announce the Gospel for the first time? It took until Jesus came with the Gospels for people to begin to understand the Good News, didn't it? Not according to Paul:
"Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Gal 3:8)This is one of the reason we must understand the whole story of God, as the Lord gives it to us in the whole Bible, so that we can grasp the expansion of the whole Gospel. Wright shares that, "...the gospel, the good news, from God's own mouth, is that God intends to bless all nations, and to do so through Abraham and his descendants." By faith, we are Abraham descendants, as Paul puts it...
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:28-29)But what does this mean for the mission of God;s people, for our mission? We'll explore this more next time. But one thing is certain, we must embrace our rightful place as "heirs according to the promise.". Then we will be empowered, like Paul in spite of his hardships, for living sent today.
Q - What do you prioritize in your life and how does that reflect the fact that you are an "heir according to the promise?"