Kate is a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan. Scholarship essay for 1999.
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).
What is the most important thing to you in the whole world? What and who do you live and work for each day? Who is the one that forgives us day after day, and year after year when we turn from the good and embrace the evil? Who is our closest friend?
I hope that your answer to each one of these questions is none other than our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. With our reformed upbringing it is not so difficult to give a correct answer to these questions What is difficult is to live a life that witnesses to others that Christ and His work for us are of utmost importance to us, a life that recognizes that this life is only a pilgrimage in which we exist solely to glorify God. I Peter 4:11 tells us, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Having laid out the Christian’s responsibility in this life, brings me to my topic of the layman’s responsibility in missions. I believe that God’s Word calls each one of us to be involved in missions in one way or another. One responsibility that we are all called to is the mission work God has given each of us at home, witnessing to neighbors and coworkers. Another responsibility of the laymen is to support missionaries with prayer and finances. Laymen can also be directly involved in missions using their talents and spiritual gifts in various areas of the world where a church has been established.
Let me begin by defining mission work: bringing the Word of God to God’s elect in all the nations of the world by the power work of the Holy Spirit. It is evident from the Bible (Acts 13:48, John 10:16, John 3:16) that “the purpose of missions is that the church of Jesus Christ is gathered from the very ends of the earth, so that all the elect of God are united in perfection in glory” (Missions by Rev. C. Hanko). It is important in mission work to recognize that salvation is the work of God, not man, so that when men reject the Word of God, we see it is a result of God’s election and reprobation, rather than our failure in missions. All of our work in missions, whether an ordained minister or a laymen, must be motivated by a deep love for God and for His Word with a desire to glorify Christ through the gathering of the church from all nations.
The laymen’s work in missions must begin at home as witnesses to all around us of the love and justice of God. If we really believe that “we are not our own, but belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ,” (Heidelberg Catechism. A. 1) we will recognize that we do not live for ourselves and for our own success, but rather, we live to love God and obey His Word. I think that many of us are too comfortable in our Christian lives going to church twice on Sunday, memorizing and learning doctrine, supporting the Christian schools and going to society all out of a love of God. But this is not all God calls us to do. The Christian life is not supposed to be an easy, relaxed life; every day is a spiritual battle and conflict. We are called to get out of our comfort zones. Do we speak up for our faith? Are we willing to confront sin? How great is our love for God, and thus, our love for our neighbor? Is it great enough to make others mad at us?
In the Ten Commandments, we are commanded to love our neighbor as our self. Our neighbor is not only fellow Christians, but also the unchurched. I realize how easy it is to get caught up in all the rigors of this life and forget about all God’s people right within our own city and neighborhood who have not yet heard the Word of God. We must ask ourselves, how great is our love for our neighbor, or our fellow co-worker. Do we really love them if we do not witness to them and bring the Word of God to them? What kind of love is that? If we really love someone we will be concerned for their soul, we will witness to them and we will pray for them.
The layman’s involvement goes beyond personal witnessing at home. God calls particular men to be missionaries in various areas of the world. Just because many of us are not called to the ordained ministry, does not mean our work is finished. The prayers and financial support of the laymen back home is an important part of mission work.
We must pray for the spiritual and physical strength of the missionary. We must pray that the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of the people so that fruit will abound from the work of the missionary. We must pray for the new Christian converts that their faith will grow and will be strengthened and that they can withstand the ridicule and pressure of their peers and family. We must never underestimate the power of prayer. In James 5:16, James, the brother of Jesus, tells us “the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much.” God uses our prayers to bring about His purposes.
Financial support is also vital to the work of missions. The missionary needs support for the cost of living, to publish literature, for Bibles and Psalters, and for material of Biblical instruction. Financial support in missions in third world countries (or better named, two-thirds world countries) is also important to meet not only the spiritual needs, but also some of the physical needs of the new church. Humanitarian services must not be used as a propaganda tool for the message of spiritual salvation but part of the ministry to the whole. In Matthew 25:31-40 Christ shows us when we minister to those around us we are in actuality ministering unto Him:
Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I believe this passage can also be used to support direct, active involvement of laymen in missions. There are many places in the world where a church has been established, and laymen are needed to help with Bible studies, and to teach members of the congregation how to become leaders in the church. Laymen are also needed to meet educational and humanitarian needs. For example, when I was in Haiti, I met Christian men who were specialized in agriculture and who lived in Haiti to teach the Haitians how to farm properly so that their families will not starve in times of famine.
In conclusion, I would like to say that God uses his people wherever they are and with whatever their talents may be. Whether we are out on the mission field thousands of miles away, or whether we live right here in Grand Rapids, opportunities are all around us to be involved in missions. Christ shows us in the parable of the good Samaritan who we must witness to: anyone that we come into contact with. In John 14 we are told that we are the light of the world, and that we must not hide our light under a bushel, but instead, let our “light so shine, that others may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.” This brings us back to every Christian’s calling on earth. Each one of us must be a witness of the great redemptive work Christ has done within us. God will use our witness to call his church and to bring honor and glory to His name.