Staying Mission Focused
The very last words Jesus spoke before being taken to heaven were, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Please notice that Jesus did not say: first in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria and then ends of the earth… Surely the Apostles would begin in Jerusalem since that is the city they lived in, but Jesus said “and, and, and”. He wanted them to expand further – all the way to the ends of the earth.
Surprisingly the disciples did not fully obey Gods command. Initially everything went well. God sent His Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Peter preached and three thousand men got saved and baptized in one day. Talk about amazing church growth.
Understandably but unfortunately, instead of spreading onward to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. After all, they now had a church to look after.
Surely at first everyone was happy and love abounded. But very quickly complaints were raised within the church. Some of the widows were being overlooked at the service of meals. The Apostles quickly understood the need to appoint others to fulfil this task, in order for them to devote time to the Word and prayer (Acts 6:3-4). Certainly there were times when someone said: “Philip, why is it that you are serving me now? I would like it if Peter brought me food.” But nobody can do everything and the Apostles had to prioritize in order to spend adequate time with God.
A significant amount of time passed and yet the Apostles did not obey Jesus clear command to spread the gospel beyond Jerusalem. Finally God had to allow hardship to come against the believers in order to get them moving. It was only when Saul started to persecute the Christians in Jerusalem that the church dispersed into the region. Surprisingly the Apostles still stayed put in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Philip the Deacon became the first man to preach the Resurrection outside Judea as he traveled to Samaria, where God healed and saved many. It was only after revival had broken out in Samaria that Peter and John ventured outside of Jerusalem. They first ministered with Philip and later conducted meetings in multiple Samaritan cities (Acts 8:25). Yet even after this God had to confirm the Great Commission to Peter through multiple visions which finally caused the Gospel to spread to the house of Cornelius and the gentiles. In the end it was Saul (who became Apostle Paul), the man who led the initial persecution against the church, who spread Christianity across the known world.
When we obey God, he tends to take care of the bills. Perhaps the neglect to fulfill the missions call was part of the reason for the severe lack of funds that the Jerusalem church later faced. In fact, collections had to be made in churches planted by Apostle Paul in order for the Jerusalem church to sustain itself.
We may look at the early Apostles and wonder why they did not immediately obey the Great Commission. Yet we may face the same issue that the church in Jerusalem struggled with.
The enemy’s goal is to defeat every believer. If he cannot outright destroy us, he will seek to make us self-absorbed. If he succeeds, we will worry more about our own needs being met than we care about missions. Ultimately we pay little attention to people who do not know Jesus and the Devil “wins” more souls to hell.
In a church setting, the enemy will first try to cause us to lose sight of worldwide missions. Our own city becomes our only concern. It is right to want to reach the city we live in, absolutely! But we must never lose our desire to see souls saved all around the world.
If the enemy succeeds in making us only Jerusalem focused, he will then seek to make us only church focused. Again, it is right to care about people in the church, absolutely. But if that becomes our greatest concern, we lose sight of the thousands of souls who are lost in our city. We become a club where we at first pat each other’s backs and love on each other. However, soon the love turns into criticism. We begin to complain about the lack of attention given to us and our needs. Unbeknown to us, we have fallen into the trap of the enemy. We have lost sight of the purpose of God in keeping his church on earth (the reason Jesus has not come back yet): so that as many as possible would hear the Gospel all over the world!
In a worst case scenario, by our backbiting and critique of others, we actually begin to destroy the very church we think we are building.
This is one reason why every local church always has to be missions focused.
For a message along these lines, listen to: Unstoppable Missions
Pastor Pekka Perho