ArticleMissionary Life

Missions Is Warfare

When discouragement in cross-cultural ministry sets in, we must remember that we have been called into spiritual combat.

Missionary work is rarely easy—and you don’t have to be a missionary to recognize this. But often the real difficulty is not the ministry itself but the resulting discouragement that also sets in.

In discouraging times, it’s important for missionaries to have a sense of their purpose, a context for their work, and vision for what God’s glory looks like in their context so that they can motivate themselves to continue faithfully serving God’s call on their lives.

Missionary Work Designates a Divine Chain of Command

God has sent us.

Jesus tells the disciples in John 17: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

This gives form to every global initiative that the church undertakes. Missions isn’t some invention of the church to get more people to join. Missions isn’t a “new markets initiative” that the church invented in the industrial age. Missions work is as old as creation itself—and for Christians, it’s as old as Jesus’s sending of the disciples following the example of God’s sending his own son.

As we follow the Father’s example, and as we obey the Son’s command, we must understand the urgency of missions work to motivate us to persevere during difficult times. In sending us, Christ gives us authority—this means we are part of God’s own command structure to carry out his mission to displace the powers of darkness with the saving power of Christ through the Spirit: “And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases” (Luke 9:1).

Missionary Work Counteracts Real Powers of Darkness

Missions work doesn’t seek to extend the kingdom of God so that it has a high-performing fourth fiscal quarter. Missions work seeks to extend the kingdom of God because there are real lives at stake under the spiritual oppression of dark forces—“so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).

God’s missionary vision isn’t arbitrary. God’s desire to reach the nations for Christ isn’t groundless. He seeks to confront the powers of darkness that cause pain, destruction, and worst of all, spiritual death. The missionary’s work is to advance the kingdom of God against such forces.

Missionary Work Seeks Spiritual Victory to the Glory of God

This brings us to our final point. God desires not only to confront the forces of darkness in this world with the gospel—he seeks to overcome them. The seventy disciples recount the kind of victory Christ aims to achieve through missions work in Luke 10:17-20:

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”

The main application of this text is that our salvation is of greater worth than our spiritual accomplishments. But it should not be lost on us that “the spirits are subject to” the followers of Jesus (v. 20). This comports with Paul’s statement that Jesus, having been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” is now given in this regard “as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22-23). In Christ, we have authority to win against the forces of spiritual darkness. We do not esteem this honor as highly as our salvation itself, but we should nevertheless take note and arm ourselves for our task accordingly.

Conclusion

Although missions work can at times be discouraging, the work is urgent and God is active. John explains: “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). May we participate in God’s work of overcoming the world through faith by diligently working to fulfill his purpose internationally to reach every tribe, tongue, and nation with the message of Christ.

About the Author

P.C. Maxwell is a writer and theologian. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor’s in biblical languages from Moody Bible Institute. He resides in the Chicago area with his wife and contributes regularly to ABWE’s blog and communications strategy.

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