Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The apostles were dedicated in obedience to this task. The motive was always about the glory of God. We can be driven today by humanitarian needs or stories of the people and how we “fell in love with them”, but those can’t be the primary reasons we go. We go for God’s glory. Don’t hear me wrong—human needs and people are important, but God’s glory is supreme.
With a motivation such as this, the apostles were bold in their witness. What does the word “witness” mean? A witness is something you ARE much more than something you say or do. You LIVE the gospel as well as proclaim it. By public testimony in the face of hostility, ordinary people like you and I can accomplish far more than merely affirming the truth of Christ. Why? It establishes the value of Christ in our lives. And to fulfill His plan of spreading the gospel, He will ask us to publicly display our witness at some point in each of our lives.
How did the gospel spread in such an accelerated manner as it did in Acts? Through the persistence, boldness, and faithfulness of the apostles in fulfilling the Great Commission. How is the gospel unleashed? Through the church. We are Plan A and there is no Plan B. Within the church, God charged two entities with the responsiblity: the local church and the called-out teams. In Acts, you see the church of Antioch as a so-called home base for Paul and Barnabus. Paul’s church-planting team grew out from this and became an autonomous entity, yet still related to the church. If we follow this model, then it is the purpose of the called-out team to plant reproducing churches where there are none. It is not their responsibility to evangelize every individual in an area. The job of the local church is to evangelize, edify, and equip the population. It is the church that unleashes the gospel and it is the church that we must go to establish.
In the context of these definitions we can more accurately call an unreached people group one in which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize that people group. It is the goal of the called-out team to be involved in church planting. This is the rapid multiplication of healthy indigenous churches in a specific people group that plant reproducing churches of their own. These churches must be indigenous and be led by ordinary people empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is who will maximally and effectively reach the people around them.
There are many barriers to this pursuit. One writer likens the barriers to a wall and a canyon. The canyon represents a barrier of conversion and acceptance. The problem with many modern missions is that when we go in, we’re not accepted. The mentality of the local people is that we are there to westernize them; to become Christian would be to strip them of their culture and heritage. This is not at all what God intends! God deserves praise and worship in every unique way He ascribed when He made the nations. Look no further than the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 for evidence that any attempt to change a people is wrong! The devout Jews wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. The disciples said that should not be, as they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit too. When we go to unreached areas, the model should be “become like…remain like”. We should make every attempt to become like, and understand, a people, in order that they may remain like they are, as God made them.
The wall represents a barrier of communication and understanding. A people will not connect to God being their God unless He is speaking to them in their native language. The effort it takes to translate is large and time-consuming. And it cannot always be word-for-word because of strong cultural differences.
Here’s a video of a missionary’s effort among an unreached tribal group. It represents the barrier of communication encountered all over the world. Interestingly, this couple was told they were not “missions material” by the organization they were applying with, but they went anyway. Just watch the power of the gospel when it is unleashed.
Suffering indicates there is value in Christ worth dying for. Just a few of the Scriptures that reference this idea include:
1 Corinthians 16:9 - for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
1 Peter 4:12 - Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
John 15:18 – [Jesus speaking] If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
Matthew 24:9 - Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.
Philippians 1:29 - For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
Colossians 1:24 - Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
The ultimate purpose in suffering and martyrdom is to advance the cause of Christ on earth, resulting in more glory given to God. When Christ’s servants willingly identify with their Master in the depths of suffering and the pain of death for the cause of Christ, God’s truth triumphs, Satan’s power is broken, God is glorified.
How about when you hear the word “apostle”? Perhaps the first followers of Jesus, including the disciples and Paul? Generally speaking, an apostle is one who is sent, or is a messenger. So then apostolic passion would be defined as the deliberate, intentional choice to live for the worship of Jesus to the nations. It is being committed to the point of death to the spreading of His glory. It is being on fire for Jesus, dreaming of the whole earth being filled with His glory.
What does it take to have this kind of passion? First, need complete abandonment. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” American Christianity wants the fruit like Paul’s ministry without paying the price for it. God’s praise among the nations must be all-consuming. Die to self. Be crucified with Christ. Boldly pray for God to reveal any selfish ambition and abandon it.
Second, you need focus. Acts 20:24, Paul speaking:
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Later on in his letter to the Romans, Paul says
“by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” (Romans 15:19-24)
Did you catch that? Paul wanted to visit the Romans on the way to Spain. Think about the historical timeframe. No new world (aka the Americas) had been discovered. Paul quite literally was laser focused on going to the ends of the earth, as they knew it then. We waste a lot of time in good ministries. But the focus is clear: God calls every people to Himself.
Third, you need to be deeply rooted in prayer. Prayer walking is one of the most pivotal moments in missions, whether that is through your neighborhood or in a city of a million people in South Asia. Isaiah 62 describes how at all hours people were set on the walls of Jerusalem to pray unceasingly:
“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.”
We can pray one minute a day in a quiet time in the morning and God will love us no less. But you will not survive in the hard times—particularly in areas where Jesus is not known or worshipped—without intense, unceasing prayer. One modern-day apostle described life without constant prayer like sending a soldier into battle without weapons; you would certainly be killed.
Fourth, you need the right frame of decision-making. Let’s face it, the American Dream can ensnare us without any effort. Oh we may use the excuse for why we don’t act that we’re waiting to hear from God, but all the while we live to make money, provide ourselves a future, to dress and impress, and have fun. In Acts 20 and 21, Paul describes his urgent desire to go to Jerusalem, despite every warning from the Holy Spirit of what awaited him and the disapproval from close friends. Why did he decide to go anyway? Because the greater priority for him was the glory of God.
Maybe we don’t hear from God like we think we’re supposed to because we don’t have this as our priority. It’s only from that standpoint that we can accurately hear God say “go” or “stay”. With this kind of passion, you are no longer about getting and gaining but rather spreading and proclaiming. You are not afraid of loss. You dare to even believe it a privilege to suffer and die for the spread of God’s glory. Your reward awaits you at the throne of your Creator. So let us live with apostolic passion and not waste our lives! Only those who have died in Christ are unafraid of death.