The God of Missions: His Character
Our topic for this series is “The God of Missions.” The overarching question is “What does a study of God teach us about missions?” We will approach the answer to that question inductively by looking at passages related to a specific question and seeking to draw a conclusion from those passages.
In this post and the two that follow, we will look at three aspects of God to see how each relates to missions. Each post will use a narrower question to help focus our study. In this post, the question is: What does a study of God’s character teach us about missions? Let’s try to answer that question by looking at five passages.
Let’s begin with one of Jesus’ parables. What aspect of God’s character do we see in this parable? With a parable, we’re always trying to identify the central point Jesus wanted to make. What point is Jesus trying to make in this parable? It looks as though he tells us pretty clearly in verse 7. Remember that Matthew was writing to Jewish-background readers, who were reluctant even to mention God’s name. When Jesus talks about “rejoicing in heaven,” he’s talking about the place where God’s throne is. So, what is he saying? Jesus is saying that God himself rejoices when a sinner repents. In this parable, then, we see an important aspect of God’s character; we see God’s great rejoicing when a sinner repents
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? We all know these verses pretty well, don’t we? They actually tell us quite a bit about missions. They tell us that the motive for missions is God’s love (v.16), the scope of missions is God’s world (v.16), the objective of missions is God’s salvation (v.17), and the ambassador of missions is God’s son (v.17).
Let’s focus on verse 16, though. The heart of the idea is in the statement “God loved the world.” That statement tells us about the scope of God’s love: God’s love extends beyond a particular ethnic group (e.g., Nicodemus and the Jews) to all of humankind. John describes it this way in Revelation: men and women from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. That is the scope of God’s love.
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? Paul says that God has chosen to extend his mercy to both Gentiles and Jews alike. Why? Because it makes his glory know. It is to his glory that he extends his mercy to the Gentiles who were Anot God=s people@ (v.25-26), and it is to his glory that he extends his mercy to the Jews who deserve the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah (v.27-29). So, in Romans, we actually see two aspects of God’s character; we see God’s mercy and his glory as they relate to both Jew and Gentile.
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? Several are mentioned: mercy and love (v.4), kindness (v.7), and grace twice (v.5, 7). Since we have already looked at God’s love and mercy, let’s think about God’s grace for a minute. These verses highlight two aspects of that grace. Of course, there is saving grace (v.5; cf. v.8), and that’s where we tend to focus. But look at verse 7 – “the surpassing riches of his grace.” The Greek word translated “surpassing” means to go beyond all expectation or comprehension, and the word translated “riches” means an abundance exceeding the norm. Put them together and you get grace that is so great, it goes beyond what we could ever imagine, and there would still be leftovers.
2 Peter 3:3-9
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? Take a look at verse 9. What attribute of God does Peter highlight? It’s his patience, isn’t it? Some scoffers will tell us that it’s clear Jesus will never return because he has waited so long (v.3-4). Peter tells us that the delay in Jesus’ return is evidence of God’s patience (v.9). He is waiting patiently until he brings in all those who are his. We deserve judgment, but God delays that judgment so that he can save all those who repent and turn to him. In fact Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s patience is what leads to repentance
What do we learn about God’s character from these five passages? We learn . . .
That God rejoices greatly when a single sinner repents.
That God’s love extends to all peoples.
That God does what he does out of his mercy and for his glory.
That God’s grace goes beyond what we could ever imagine.
That God is waiting patiently for all those who are his to repent and come to forgiveness.
So, what does a study of God’s character teach us about missions? It teaches us that God’s character makes missions inevitable. God must act to reach individuals from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation with the gospel because his character demands it. A gracious, merciful, loving, patient God who acts to demonstrate his own glory and rejoices when a single sinner repents must act in accordance with his character and, therefore, must make certain the gospel is proclaimed “in the whole world” and “to all the nations” (Matt 24:14). There is no other option.
What are the implications for us? As followers of Jesus Christ, the same Holy Spirit who is part of the Trinity dwells in each one of us. That means God’s character should be our character. In fact, the Spirit is trying to help us develop that character each day as we walk with Jesus Christ. So, if God must act to make certain the gospel is proclaimed to all the nations in the whole world, we must also. We will see that even more clearly in our second study, but for now, the question is: How well is your character aligned with the character of the God of missions?
Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of CIU's Seminary & School of Ministry