A Surprising Testimony
A Chinese brother studying at RPTS told us the story of his conversion. He was raised in an atheistic family. Before he was 40 years old, he had never heard of Jesus. He worshipped money, power, and idols. But, while reading a secular book, the author happened to quote Matthew 9:37-38, probably out of context: “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (NKJV).
These two sentences touched him deeply, and he began weeping and shedding tears. He was overcome by a desire to find more about these living words. Out of hundreds of pages of beautiful prose, as well as perhaps hundreds of other books he had read in his lifetime, those words of Scripture had a power that eloquence and human wisdom did not have.
Those words were not even the content of the Gospel. They were peripheral. They made no sense apart from the Gospel. But every word of Scripture, however plain, and every sentence, however obscure, is inspired and endued with power. And history is full of people who have been converted by the obscurest verses.
When history runs its course, and the full number of the elect are gathered into the kingdom, we will see that no verse of Scripture was wasted in bringing many sons and daughters to glory. All have accomplished the work that the Lord intended - not just when they were written, but down through the centuries, and not just for conversion, but also for the edification and encouragement of the saints.
Application to Missions
That surprising conversion testimony only confirms what we already know of Scripture (from Scripture itself – which, after all, is our only ultimate authority). According to Hebrews 4:12, “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The LORD affirms the same truth from the pen of Isaiah:
10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The inherent life and power of the Word is an immense encouragement in missions, for several reasons.
1. The Word is the seed we plant.
Christians are known by Muslims as ahl al-kitāb, “the people of the book”. This is an apt description! Christianity differs from every other religion in many ways, but one way is that we have a living book, rather than a dead book, inspired by God, rather than demons. And this Word is fundamental to Christian missions. Truly, we are “the people of the book”.
Jesus compares the advance of the kingdom of God to a man sowing seeds (in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8). What is the seed? Luke’s account gives us the answer: “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” Missionaries are those who plant the seeds of the Word on foreign fields. Given the nature of that Word, we can be sure that the missionary’s labor will not be in vain.
2. The Word spreads and grows.
Acts 6:7 describes the growth of the church in Jerusalem in terms of the spread of the Word: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” Like an invasive plant, the Word, once planted, will naturally spread.
Dandelions were once unknown to the American continent. Now they are ubiquitous! That’s because each flower produces hundreds of seeds suspended by parachutes which are spread by the wind. In like manner the Word also spreads by each subsequent generations of believers. In fact, the metaphor of a dandelion is particularly apt, because dandelion seeds were brought to America by the Puritans, who valued them for their medicinal and nutritional value. And, like the dandelion, the Word is not always appreciated by the world!
In Acts 8:4, the wind of persecution blew the seeds of the Word throughout the Roman world. By Acts 12:24, despite the persecution, Luke can affirm that “the word of God grew and multiplied.” Such is the nature of the Word. It spreads. It grows. It multiplies. This is the seed we bring to foreign fields, and one day it will fill the land!
3. The Word will never pass away
We often think of Jesus’ promise to Peter as the grounds for our confidence in the future security of the church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). But we could equally look to the immutability of the Word as the grounds for our confidence in the church: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35, c.f. Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33).
The church, as we have seen, is inextricably tied to the Word of God. So long as the Word remains, the church will remain. And so long as the church is incomplete, the work of missions will remain. And the fruits of that work will endure forever. For,
“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you (1 Pet. 1:24-25).