Ch.9 Missions: The Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism

Desiring God by John Piper


Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere
that half of the men retiring in the state of New York die within
two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other
psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a

These are the words of Ralph Winter, founder of the United States Center
for World Mission. His life and strategy have been a constant summons to
young and old that the only way to find life is to give it away. He is one of my
heroes. He says so many things that Christian Hedonists ought to say (although he wishes I would not use the word hedonist)!

Not only does he call on retired Christians to quit throwing their lives away
1. Ralph Winter, “The Retirement Booby Trap,” Mission Frontiers 7 (July 1985): 25. For those who want to take Winter’s words to heart, I would recommend visiting the website of Finishers Project: The Finishers Project is a service designed to provide adult Christians information and challenge for processing and discovering ministry opportunities in the missions enterprise — short-term, part-term, or as a second career. The vision statement says, “The Finishers Project is a movement to provide information, challenge and pathways for people to join God in His passion for His glory among the nations. Boomers are and will be the healthiest and best educated generation of emptynesters ever. This generation is skilled and resourced with a multitude of talents. We can either give them to Jesus to lay up as treasure in Heaven or lose them.”

on the golf course when they could be giving themselves to the global cause of Christ, but he also calls students to go hard after the fullest and deepest joy of life. In his little pamphlet “Say Yes to Missions” he says, “Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame.… To follow him is your choice. You’re warned! But don’t forget the joy.”

In fact, in all my reading outside the Bible over the past fifteen years, the
greatest source of affirmation for my emerging Christian Hedonism has been
from missionary literature, especially biographies. And those who have suffered most seem to state the truth most unashamedly. In this chapter, I will tell you some of my findings.

But first, back to the issue of retirement. Winter asks, “Where in the Bible
do they see that? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military
officers retire in the middle of a war?”2 Good questions. If we try to answer
them in the case of the apostle Paul, we bump right into a definition of missions, which is what we need here at the beginning of this chapter.

As Paul writes his letter to the Romans, he has been a missionary for about
twenty years. He was between twenty and forty years old (that’s the range
implied in the Greek word for “young man” in Acts 7:58) when he was converted. We may guess, then, that he is perhaps around fifty as he writes this great letter.

That may sound young to us. But remember two things: In those days,
life expectancy was less, and Paul had led an incredibly stressful life—five
times whipped with thirty-nine lashes, three times beaten with rods, once
stoned, three times shipwrecked, constantly on the move, and constantly in
danger (2 Corinthians 11:24–29).

By our contemporary standards, he should perhaps be “letting up” and
planning for retirement. But in Romans 15 he says he is planning to go to
Spain! In fact, the reason for writing to the Romans was largely to enlist their support for this great new frontier mission. Paul is not about to retire. Vast areas of the empire are unreached, not to mention the regions beyond! So he says:
2. Ibid.

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 15:23–24)

Paul was probably killed in Rome before he could fulfill his dream of
preaching in Spain. But one thing is certain: He was cut down in combat, not
in retirement. He was moving on to the frontier instead of settling down to bask in his amazing accomplishments. Right here we learn the meaning of missions.

How could Paul possibly say in Romans 15:23, “I no longer have any room
for work in these regions”? There were thousands of unbelievers left to be converted in Judea and Samaria and Syria and Asia and Macedonia and Achaia. That is obvious from Paul’s instruction to the churches on how to relate to unbelievers. But Paul has no room for work!

The explanation is given in verses 19–21:

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.”

Paul’s missionary strategy was to preach where nobody has preached before. This is what we mean by Frontier Missions. Paul had a passion to go where there were no established churches—that meant Spain.

What is amazing in these verses is that Paul can say he has “fulfilled” the
gospel from Jerusalem in southern Palestine to Illyricum northwest of Greece! To understand this is to understand the meaning of Frontier Missions. Frontier Missions is very different from domestic evangelism. There were thousands of people yet to be converted from Jerusalem to Illyricum. But the task of Frontier Missions was finished. Paul’s job of “planting” was done and
would now be followed by someone else’s “watering” (1 Corinthians 3:6)
So when I speak of missions in this chapter, I generally refer to the
Christian church’s ongoing effort to carry on Paul’s strategy: preaching the
gospel of Jesus Christ and planting His church among groups of people who
have not yet been reached.


My assumption is that people without the gospel are without hope, because
only the gospel can free them from their sin. Therefore, missions is utterly
essential in the life of a loving church, though not all Christians believe this.

Walbert Buhlmann, a Catholic missions secretary in Rome, spoke for many
mainline denominational leaders when he said:

In the past we had the so-called motive of saving souls. We were convinced
that if not baptized, people in the masses would go to hell. Now, thanks be to God, we believe that all people and all religions are already living in the grace and love of God and will be saved by God’s mercy.3

Sister Emmanuelle of Cairo, Egypt, said, “Today we don’t talk about conversion any more. We talk about being friends. My job is to prove that God is love and to bring courage to these people.”4

It is natural to want to believe in a God who saves all men no matter what
they believe or do. But it is not biblical.5 Essential teachings of Scripture must be rejected to believe in such a God. Listen to the words of the Son of God when He called the apostle Paul into missionary service:

“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant
and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in
3. Time (27 December 1982): 52.
4. Ibid., 56.
5. For the detailed support of this claim, see chapter 4, “The Supremacy of Christ as the Conscious Focus of All Saving Faith,” in John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd ed., revised and expanded (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2003).

which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from
the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that
they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to
God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those
who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16–18)

This is an empty commission if in fact the eyes of the nations don’t need to
be opened and they don’t need to turn from darkness to light, and don’t need to escape the power of Satan to come to God, and don’t need the forgiveness of sins that comes only by faith in Christ, who is preached by the Lord’s ambassadors. Paul did not give his life as a missionary to Asia and Macedonia and Greece and Rome and Spain to inform people they were already saved. He gave himself that “by all means [he] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

So when Paul’s message about Christ was rejected (for example, at Antioch
by the Jews), he said, “Since you thrust [the Word of God] aside and judge
yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). At stake in missionary outreach to unreached peoples is eternal life! Conversion to Christ from any and every other allegiance is precisely the aim: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).


God is not unjust. No one will be condemned for not believing a message he
has never heard. Those who have never heard the gospel will be judged by their failure to own up to the light of God’s grace and power in nature and in their own conscience. This is the point of Romans 1:20–21:

His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the
things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although
they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.

Apart from the special, saving grace of God, people are dead in sin, darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, and hardened in heart (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18). And the means God has ordained to administer that special saving grace is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise
and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are
in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God
for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:14–16)


The notion that people are saved without hearing the gospel has wreaked havoc on the missions effort of denominations and churches that minimize the biblical teaching of human lostness without Christ. Between 1953 and 1980, the overseas missionary force of mainline Protestant churches of North America decreased from 9,844 to 2,813, while the missionary force of evangelical Protestants, who take this biblical teaching more seriously, increased by more than 200 percent. The Christian and Missionary Alliance, for example, with its 200,000 members, supports 40 percent more missionaries than the United Methodist Church, with its 9.5 million members. There is amazing missionary power in taking seriously all the Word of God.6

Many Christians thought the end of the colonial era after the Second
World War was also the end of foreign missions. The gospel had more or less
penetrated every country in the world. But what we have become keenly aware
6. In 1980 the Division of Overseas Ministries of the National Council of Churches had a membership of thirty-two missions representing just under five thousand missionaries. Income approached $200 million annually. The Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association represented ninety interdenominational mission boards with roughly 10,700 missionaries and an income of $150 million. The Evangelical Foreign Missions Association had a membership of eighty-two mission agencies representing more than ten thousand missionaries and an income of $350 million.
During the decade of the seventies, the DOM (the more liberal group) lost 3,462 missionaries, while the IFMA and EFMA (the more evangelical groups) gained 3,785. Incomewise, the DOM increased by $28 million or 24 percent while the IFMA/EFMA increased by $285 million or 293 percent. Peter Wagner, On the Crest of the Wave (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 1983), 77–8.

of in the last generation is that the command of Jesus to make disciples of “every nation” does not refer to political nations as we know them today. Nor does it mean every individual, as though the great commission could not be completed until every individual were made a disciple.


We are increasingly aware that the intention of God is for every “people group” to be evangelized—that a thriving church be planted in every group. No one can exactly define what a people group is. But we get a rough idea from passages like Revelation 7:9:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could
number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

It is almost impossible to draw precise distinction between “nations,”
“tribes,” “peoples,” and “languages.” But what is clear is that God’s redemptive purpose is not complete just because there are disciples of Jesus in all twenty first century “nations,” i.e., political states. Within those countries are thousands of tribes and castes and subcultures and languages.

So the remaining task of Frontier Missions no longer is conceived mainly in
geographic terms. The question now is “How many unreached people groups are there, and where are they found?”7

In his inspiring book published in 1998, Patrick Johnstone says, “We reckon
that there are now nearly 13,000 distinct ethno-linguistic peoples in the countries of the world.” Of these, he says that about 3,500 “are still pioneer fields for mission endeavor. The indigenous Church is either non-existent or still too small or culturally marginalized to impact their entire people in this generation without
7. For a detailed exploration of the biblical support for thinking of the great commission in terms of reaching people groups, see chapter 4, “The Supremacy of Christ as the Conscious Focus of All Saving Faith,” in Let the Nations Be Glad. An excellent discussion of the definition of “unreached peoples” and the problem of counting and locating them is given by Ralph Winter in “Unreached Peoples: The Development of the Concept,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 1 (1984): 129–61.

outside help. Of these probably about 1,200–1,500 peoples have either no indigenous church at all or no residential cross-cultural team of missionaries seeking to reach them.”8 In reality, the statistics are now changing so fast that the reader should consult websites like for the most recent state of world evangelization. Concealed within these numbers is the heartrending fact that about 2 billion people live in unevangelized people groups. They are found mainly in the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Animist peoples of the so-called 10/40 Window.9


To keep us sober in our estimates of the remaining task of reaching the
unreached people groups of the world, Ralph Winter reminds us of two facts.

First, evangelism can never be finished, but missions can be finished. The
reason is this: Missions has the unique task of crossing language and culture barriers to penetrate a people group and establish a church movement; but evangelism is the ongoing task of sharing the gospel among people within the same culture. This fact allows us to talk realistically about “closure”—the completion of the missionary task—even if there may be millions of people yet to be won to Christ in all the people groups of the world where the church has been planted.

The second fact Winter reminds us of is that there are probably more
people groups than the ones listed among the 13,000 ethnolinguistic groups
mentioned above. He illustrates by pointing out that tribal divisions along the lines of mutually unintelligible dialects may vary, depending on whether the dialect is spoken or written. So, for example, Wycliffe Bible Translators may detect that a translation of the Bible is readable in a dialect covering a wide area, while Gospel Recordings may determine that seven or more different audio recordings are needed because of the audible distinctions in the larger dialect.

Thus, Winter asks, which level of people group did Jesus have in mind
when He said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the
8. Patrick Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, 1998), 105–7.
9. The 10/40 Window refers to the rectangular area on a global map measured horizontally from West Africa to East Asia and vertically from the tenth to the fortieth latitude north of the equator.

whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”
(Matthew 24:14)? Winter’s answer: “We’ll find out…the closer we get to the
situation. In the meantime we need to live with guesses.… We can only learn
more as we go! And at this hour greater human resources are looming into view than have ever been available to the unfinished task!”10

The point of these observations is that the job of Frontier Missions is not
complete. In fact, the vast majority of missionaries are working in “fields” where the church has been planted for decades. The need for Frontier Missions is great. The Lord’s command to disciple the remaining unreached groups is still in force. And my burden in this chapter is to kindle a desire in your heart to be part of the last chapter of the greatest story in the world.


There are historical as well as theological reasons for the hope that the task of world missions is finishable. The following chart is truly amazing. It shows a picture of the progress over the two-thousand-year history of the preaching of the gospel.11
10. Ralph Winter, “When Jesus Said…,” Missions Frontiers 17, no. 11–12 (November/December, 1995): 56.
11. Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think, 105, emphasis added.

Johnstone observes:

It is interesting to see how few of the world’s people had been reached
by 1800. The number of peoples reached had considerably increased
by 1900, but even then more than half the peoples of the world were
still completely unreached. The dramatic change has been in the latter
part of this century.

Although many people are still unreached, the number is only a
fraction of that of 100 years ago. The goal is attainable in our
generation—if we mobilize in prayer and effort and work together to
disciple the remaining least reached peoples.12

Even though there is an ongoing and urgent need for more frontier missionaries to penetrate the final unreached peoples with the gospel, it seems that the momentum of closure is accelerating. In addition to the ironclad promise of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 that the gospel will penetrate all the peoples, there is the empirical evidence that this is in fact happening, and at an increasing rate. It is “A Finishable Task.”


I would like to believe that many of you who read this chapter are on the brink of setting a new course of commitment to missions: some a new commitment to go to a frontier people, others a new path of education, others a new use of your vocation in a culture less saturated by the church, others a new lifestyle and a new pattern of giving and praying and reading. I want to push you over the brink. I would like to make the cause of missions so attractive that you will no longer be able to resist its magnetism.

Not that I believe everyone will become a missionary, or even should
become one. But I pray that every reader of this book might become what
David Bryant calls a “World Christian”—that you would reorder your life
12. Ibid.

around God’s global cause. In his inspiring book In the Gap, Bryant defines
World Christians as those Christians who say:

We want to accept personal responsibility for reaching some of earth’s
unreached, especially from among the billions at the widest end of the
Gap who can only be reached through major new efforts by God’s
people. Among every people-group where there is no vital, evangelizing
Christian community there should be, there must be one, there
shall be one. Together we want to help make this happen.13


The biblical basis for a Christian Hedonist’s commitment to missions is found in the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17–31):

As [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt
before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit
eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No
one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not
murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness,
Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it
will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And
13. David Bryant, In the Gap (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1981), 62. If you want to take a next step in understanding the global purposes of God, I would encourage you to consider taking the course offered around the world entitled “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.” I would also encourage you to get a copy of Operation World, edited by Patrick Johnstone, which tells the state of Christianity in all the countries of the world and how to pray for them. I was also greatly helped by Johnstone’s The Church Is Bigger Than You Think. For my attempt to give a fuller account of mission theology, motivation, and implications, see Let the Nations Be Glad.

the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again,
“Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to
enter the kingdom of God.”

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then
who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is
impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed
you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house
or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my
sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this
time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and
lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many
that are first will be last, and the last first.”

This story contains at least two great incentives for being totally dedicated
to the cause of Frontier Missions.


First, in Mark 10:25–27 Jesus said to His disciples:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich
person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at
them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

This is one of the most encouraging missionary conversations in the Bible.
What missionary has not looked on his work and said, “It’s impossible!”? To
which Jesus agrees, “Yes, with man it is impossible.” No mere human being can liberate another human being from the enslaving power of the love of money. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful because the bondage to things cannot
be broken by man. With man it is impossible! And therefore missionary work, which is simply liberating the human heart from bondage to allegiances other than Christ, is impossible—with men!

If God were not in charge in this affair, doing the humanly impossible, the
missionary task would be hopeless. Who but God can raise the spiritually dead and give them an ear for the gospel? “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). The great missionary hope is that when the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, God Himself does what man cannot do—He creates the faith that saves.

The call of God does what the call of man can’t. It raises the dead. It creates
spiritual life. It is like the call of Jesus to Lazarus in the tomb, “Come forth!” (see John 11:43). We can waken someone from sleep with our call, but God’s call can summon into being things that are not (Romans 4:17).

God’s call is irresistible in the sense that it can overcome all resistance. It is
infallibly effective according to God’s purpose—so much so that Paul can say, “Those whom [God] called he also justified” (Romans 8:30). In other words, God’s call is so effectual that it infallibly creates the faith through which a person is justified. All the called are justified. But none is justified without faith (Romans 5:1). So the call of God cannot fail in its intended effect. It irresistibly secures the faith that justifies.

This is what man cannot do. It is impossible. Only God can take out the
heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). Only God can draw people to the Son (John
6:44, 65). Only God can open the heart so that it gives heed to the gospel (Acts 16:14). Only the Good Shepherd knows His sheep by name. He calls them and they follow (John 10:3–4, 14). The sovereign grace of God, doing the humanly impossible, is the great missionary hope.


This sovereign grace is also the spring of life for the Christian Hedonist. For
what the Christian Hedonist loves best is the experience of the sovereign grace of God filling him and overflowing for the good of others. Christian Hedonist missionaries love the experience of “not I, but the grace of God that is with me”
(1 Corinthians 15:10). They bask in the truth that the fruit of their missionary labor is entirely of God (1 Corinthians 3:7; Romans 11:36). They feel only gladness when the Master says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). They leap like lambs over the truth that God has taken the impossible weight of new creation off their shoulders and put it on His own.

Without begrudging, they say, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to
claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). When they come home on furlough, nothing gives them more joy than to say to churches, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience” (Romans 15:18). “All things are possible with God!”—in front the words give hope, and behind they give humility. They are the antidote to despair and pride—the perfect missionary medicine.


This great confidence of the missionary enterprise is given again by Jesus with different words in John 10:16:

“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and
they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Notice three powerful encouragements in this text for frontier missionaries:

1. Christ does indeed have other sheep outside the present fold! They have been “ransomed…from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The children of God are “scattered abroad” (John 11:52). No missionary will ever reach a hidden group and be able to say that God has no people there.

This is precisely how the Lord encouraged Paul when he was downcast in
Corinth and confronted with the “impossibility” of planting a church in that
rocky soil.

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but
go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will
attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
(Acts 18:9–10)

In other words, take heart! It may look impossible, but God has a chosen
people (the “other sheep” of John 10:16), and the Good Shepherd knows His
own and will call them by name when you faithfully preach the gospel.


2. This leads to the second encouragement for missions in John 10:16, namely, the words “I must bring them also.” Christ is under a divine necessity to gather His own sheep. He must do it. He must do it. But of course this does not lead to the hyper-Calvinistic14 notion that He will do it without using us as a means. William Carey, “father of modern missions,” did a great service to the cause of Frontier Missions when he published in 1792 his little book entitled An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.15

God will always use means in missions. Jesus makes this plain when He
says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me
through their word” (John 17:20). Nevertheless, Carey believed, as the Lord taught, that he was helpless and that it is really Christ who calls and saves and works in us what it pleasing in His sight (Hebrews 13:21). After forty years of spectacular accomplishment (for example, he translated the entire Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese, and Sanskrit, and parts of it into twenty-nine other languages), William Carey died; yet the simple tablet on his grave reads, at his own request:
14. Iain Murray writes in The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973), 47:
Hyper-Calvinism in its attempt to square all truth with God’s purpose to save the elect, denies that there is a universal command to repent and believe, and asserts that we have only warrant to invite to Christ those who are conscious of a sense of sin and need. In other words, it is those who have been spiritually quickened to seek a Saviour and not those who are in the death of unbelief and indifference, to whom the exhortations of the Gospel must be addressed. In this way a scheme was devised for restricting the Gospel to those who there is reason to suppose are elect.
This is an excellent book to show how Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist pastor in London in the latter half of the nineteenth century, held together strong (Calvinistic) views of the sovereignty of God with a powerful and fruitful soul-winning ministry. He fought against the hyper-Calvinists on the one side, and the Arminians on the other in a way I consider exemplary.
15. For a biography of Carey, see Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Birmingham, Ala.: New Hope, 1991).


The great encouragement from John 10:16 is that the Lord Himself will do
what is impossible for “poor and helpless worms” like us. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.”


3. The third encouragement from this verse is that the sheep He calls will surely come: “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” What is impossible with man is possible with God! When Paul was finished preaching in the city of Antioch, Luke described the result like this: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). God has a people in every people group. He will call them with Creator power. And they will believe!

What power is in these words for overcoming discouragement in the hard
places of the frontiers! The story of Peter Cameron Scott is a good illustration of the power of John 10:16.

Born in Glasgow in 1867, Scott became the founder of the Africa Inland
Mission. But his beginnings in Africa were anything but auspicious. His first
trip to Africa ended in a severe attack of malaria that sent him home. He
resolved to return after he recuperated.

This return was especially gratifying to him because this time his brother
John joined him. But before long, John was struck down by fever. All alone,
Peter buried his brother and in the agony of those days recommitted himself to preach the gospel in Africa. Yet his health gave way again, and he had to return to England.

How would he ever pull out of the desolation and depression of those days?
He had pledged himself to God. But where could he find the strength to go
back to Africa? With man it was impossible!

He found strength in Westminster Abbey. David Livingstone’s tomb is still
there. Scott entered quietly, found the tomb, and knelt in front of it to pray.
The inscription reads:


He rose from his knees with a new hope. He returned to Africa. And today
the mission he founded is a vibrant, growing force for the gospel in Africa.

If your greatest joy is to experience the infilling grace of God overflowing
from you for the good of others, then the best news in all the world is that God will do the impossible through you for the salvation of the hidden peoples. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”


The second great incentive in Mark 10:17–31 for being dedicated to the cause of Frontier Missions is found in verses 28–30:

Peter began to say to [Jesus], “See, we have left everything and followed
you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house
or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, house and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

This text does not mean you get materially rich by becoming a missionary—
at least not in the sense that your own private possessions increase. If you
volunteer for mission service with such a notion, the Lord will confront you
with these words: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Instead, the point seems to be that if you are deprived of your earthly family in the service of Christ, it will be made up a hundredfold in your spiritual family, the church. But even this may be too limiting. What about the lonely missionaries who labor for years without being surrounded by hundreds of sisters and brothers and mothers and children in the faith? Is the promise not true for them?


Surely it is. Surely what Christ means is that He Himself makes up for every sacrifice. If you give up a mother’s nearby affection and concern, you get back one hundred times the affection and concern from the ever-present Christ. If you give up the warm comradeship of a brother, you get back one hundred times the warmth and comradeship of Christ. If you give up the sense of at-homeness you had in your house, you get back one hundred times the comfort and security of knowing that your Lord owns every house and land and stream and tree on earth. To prospective missionaries, Jesus says, “I promise to work for and be for you so much that you will not be able to speak of having sacrificed anything.”

John G. Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides (today’s Vanuatu in the
South Pacific) gives a beautiful testimony of the nearness and friendship of
Christ when he was utterly alone, having lost his wife and child, and now surrounded by hostile natives as he hid in a tree.

I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I
spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the
frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat
there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my
sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in
my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in
the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will
not fail you then?16

What was Jesus’ attitude to Peter’s “sacrificial” spirit? Peter said, “We have
left everything and followed you.” Is this the spirit of “self-denial” commended by Jesus? No, it is rebuked. Jesus said, “No one ever sacrifices anything for me that I do not pay back a hundredfold—yes, in one sense even in this life, not to mention eternal life in the age to come.” Why did Jesus rebuke Peter for thinking in terms of sacrifice? Jesus Himself had demanded “self-denial” (Mark 8:34). The reason seems to be that Peter did not yet think about sacrifice the way a Christian Hedonist is supposed to.

How is that?

The response of Jesus indicates that the way to think about self-denial is to
deny yourself only a lesser good for a greater good. You deny yourself one
mother in order to get one hundred mothers. In other words, Jesus wants us to think about sacrifice in a way that rules out all self-pity. This is in fact just what the texts on self-denial teach.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his
cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark

The argument is inescapably hedonistic. Saint Augustine captured the paradox in these words:

If you love your soul, there is danger of its being destroyed. Therefore
you may not love it, since you do not want it to be destroyed. But in
not wanting it to be destroyed you love it.18
16. John G. Paton, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, An Autobiography Edited by His Brother (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891), 200.
17. See also Matthew 10:39 and 16:24–26, Luke 9:24–25 and 17:33, John 12:25, and Revelation 12:11.
18. Saint Augustine, Migne Patrologia Latina 39, 1652, Sermon 368.

Jesus knew this. It was the basis of His argument. He does not ask us to be
indifferent to whether we are destroyed. On the contrary, He assumes that the very longing for true life (1 Peter 3:10) will move us to deny ourselves all the lesser pleasures and comforts of life. If we were indifferent to the value of God’s gift of life, we would dishonor it. The measure of your longing for life is the amount of comfort you are willing to give up to get it. The gift of eternal life in God’s presence is glorified if we are willing to “hate our lives in this world” in order to get it (John 12:25). Therein lies the God-centered value of self-denial.


When Peter blurted out that he had sacrificed everything, he had not thought as deeply as David Brainerd and David Livingstone. As a young missionary to the Indians of New England, Brainerd wrestled with the issue of self-love and selfdenial. On January 24, 1744, he wrote in his diary:

In the evening, I was unexpectedly visited by a considerable number of
people, with whom I was enabled to converse profitably of divine things.
Took pains to describe the difference between a regular and irregular self
love; the one consisting with a supreme love to God, but the other not;
the former uniting God’s glory and the soul’s happiness that they became
one common interest, but the latter disjoining and separating God’s
glory and man’s happiness, seeking the latter with a neglect of the former.
Illustrated this by that genuine love that is founded between the
sexes, which is diverse from that which is wrought up towards a person
only by rational argument, or the hope of self-interest.19

Brainerd knew in his soul that in seeking to live for the glory of God, he was loving himself! He knew there was no ultimate sacrifice going on, though
19. Jonathan Edwards, ed., The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (Chicago: Moody Press, 1949, original, 1749), 149. By “self-interest” I take Brainerd to mean “worldly, self-interest that does not have the glory of God for its pleasure.” He goes on to say that “love is a pleasing passion; it affords pleasure to the mind where it is.” But the object of love is never that pleasure. The object is God and the love is pleasurable. This is why it is confusing at times when we speak of seeking pleasure. It sounds as though pleasure has taken the place of God. But this is not the case. As Brainerd says, God’s glory and our happiness become one common interest. We seek pleasure in God. Not from God.

he was dying of tuberculosis. Yet he knew that Jesus condemned some form of self-love and commended some form of self-denial. So he endorsed a distinction between a self-love that separates our pursuit of happiness from our pursuit of God’s glory, and a self-love that combines these pursuits into “one common interest.” In other words, he did not make Peter’s mistake of thinking that his suffering for Christ was ultimately sacrificial. With everything he gave, there came new experiences of the glory of God. A hundredfold!


On December 4, 1857, David Livingstone, the great pioneer missionary to
Africa, made a stirring appeal to the students of Cambridge University, showing that he had learned through years of experience what Jesus tried to teachPeter:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed
me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending
so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply
paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can
never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a
foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may
make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let
this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the
glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.20

One sentence of this quote is, I think, unhelpful and inconsistent: “Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?” I don’t think it is helpful
20. Cited in Samuel Zwemer, “The Glory of the Impossible,” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Stephen C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey, 1999), 315, emphasis added.

to describe our obedience as an attempt (albeit impossible) to pay God back for His grace.21 It is a contradiction of free grace to think of it that way. Not only is it unhelpful; it is inconsistent with the rest of what Livingstone says. He says his obedience is in fact more receiving—healthful, peaceful, hopeful. It would honor God’s grace and value more if we dropped the notion of paying Him back at all. We are not involved in a trade or purchase. We have received a gift. But this reservation aside, the last line is magnificent: “I never made a sacrifice.”

This is what Jesus’ rebuke to Peter’s sacrificial (self-pitying?) spirit was
supposed to teach. Our great incentive for throwing our lives into the cause of Frontier Missions is the 10,000 percent return on the investment. Missionaries have borne witness to this from the beginning—since the apostle Paul.

Paul was bold to say that everything was garbage22 compared to knowing
and suffering with Jesus:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings. (Philippians 3:7–8, 10) This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing
with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
21. See John Piper, Future Grace (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1995), passim.
22. BDAG, the standard Greek lexicon, says that skubalon, in various senses, means “excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps.” See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its
blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:23)23


It is simply amazing how consistent are the testimonies of missionaries who have suffered for the gospel. Virtually all of them bear witness to the abundant joy and overriding compensations (a hundredfold!).

Colin Grant describes how the Moravian Brethren were sending missionaries
out from the mountains of Saxony in central Europe sixty years
before William Carey set out for India. Between 1732 and 1742, with utter
abandon, they reached the West Indies, Surinam, North America, Greenland, South Africa, China, and Persia—“a record without parallel in
the post–New Testament era of world evangelization.” In recounting the
main characteristics of this movement, Grant puts “glad obedience” at the
top of the list: “In the first place, the missionary obedience of the Moravian
Brethren was essentially glad and spontaneous, ‘the response of a healthy organism to the law of its life.’”24

Andrew Murray refers to this “law of life” in his missionary classic, Key to
the Missionary Problem. Nature teaches us that every believer should be a soulwinner:
“It is an essential part of the new nature. We see it in every child who loves to tell of his happiness and to bring others to share his joys.”25 Missions is the automatic outflow and overflow of love for Christ. We delight to enlarge our joy in Him by extending it to others. As Lottie Moon said, “Surely there can be
23. On this last text Adolf Schlatter comments powerfully:
Paul cannot look at his position as a Christian in isolation, separated from his work in the service of Jesus, as though the way he performed his ministry had no significant connection with his salvation. Since it was the Lord who gave him his ministry Paul stays bound to Him only if he carries it out faithfully. And the Gospel would no longer be valid in his own life, if he forsook his ministry. That gives Paul’s love its purity. He enters into community with all, that he might win them. But his will remains free from the presumption that says to others that only they are in danger and need salvation. Rather the question of salvation retains for him, as also for them its full seriousness. He takes pains therefore that he save others for his own salvation. Die Korintherbriefe, vol. 6, Erlaeuterungen zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1974), 118.
24. Colin A. Grant, “Europe’s Moravians: A Pioneer Missionary Church” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 274. Grant is using Harry Boer’s words in the last phrase.
25. Andrew Murray, Key to the Missionary Problem (Fort Washington, Penn.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1979, orig. 1905), 127.

no greater joy than that of saving souls.”26

What Lottie Moon did in promoting the cause of foreign missions among Southern Baptist women in the United States, Amy Carmichael did among the Christian women of all denominations in the United Kingdom. She wrote thirty five books detailing her fifty-five years in India. Sherwood Eddy, a missionary statesman and author who knew her well, said, “Amy Wilson Carmichael was the most Christlike character I ever met, and…her life was the most fragrant, the most joyfully sacrificial, that I ever knew.”27 “Joyfully sacrificial!” That is what Jesus was after when he rebuked Peter’s sacrificial spirit in Mark 10:29–30.

John Hyde, better known as “Praying Hyde,” led a life of incredibly intense prayer as a missionary to India at the turn of the century. Some thought him morose. But a story about him reveals the true spirit behind his life of sacrificial prayer.

A worldly lady once thought she would have a little fun at Mr. Hyde’s expense. So she asked, “Don’t you think, Mr. Hyde, that a lady who dances can go to heaven?” He looked at her with a smile and said quietly, “I do not see how a lady can go to heaven unless she dances.” Then he dwelt on the joy of sin forgiven.28

Samuel Zwemer, famous for his missionary work among the Muslims, gives a stirring witness to the joy of sacrifice. In 1897 he and his wife and two daughters sailed to the Persian Gulf to work among the Muslims of Bahrein. Their evangelism was largely fruitless. The temperatures soared regularly to 107 “in the coolest part of the verandah.” In July 1904 both the daughters, ages four and seven, died within eight days of each other. Nevertheless, fifty years later Zwemer looked back on this period and wrote, “The sheer joy of it all comes back. Gladly would I do it all over again.”29

In the end, the reason Jesus rebukes us for a self-pitying spirit of sacrifice is
26. Cited in Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1983), 237. Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon was born in 1840 in Virginia and sailed for China as a Baptist missionary in 1873. She is known not only for her pioneering work in China, but also for mobilizing the women of the Southern Baptist Church for the missionary cause.
27. Cited in Tucker, ibid., 239. For a wonderful biography of Carmichael, see Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 1987).
28. E. G. Carre, Praying Hyde (South Plainfield, N. J.: Bridge, n. d.), 66.
29. Cited in Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 277.

that He aims to be glorified in the great missionary enterprise. And the way He aims to be glorified is by keeping Himself in the role of benefactor and keeping us in the role of beneficiaries. He never intends for the patient and the physician to reverse roles. Even if we are called to be missionaries, we remain invalids in Christ’s sanatorium. We are still in need of a good physician. We are still dependent on Him to do the humanly impossible in us and through us. We may sacrifice other things to enter Christ’s hospital, but we are there for our spiritual health—not to pay back a debt to the doctor!


Daniel Fuller uses this picture of patient and doctor to show how the effective missionary avoids the presumption of assisting God:

An analogy for understanding how to live the Christian life without being a legalist is to think of ourselves as being sick and needing a doctor’s help in order to get well. Men begin life with a disposition so inclined to evil that Jesus called them “children of hell” (Matthew 23:15)…. In Mark 2:17 and elsewhere Jesus likened Himself to a doctor with the task of healing a man’s sins; He received the name “Jesus” because it was His mission to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The moment we turn from loving things in this world to bank our hope on God and His promises summed up in Jesus Christ, Jesus takes us, as it were, into His clinic to heal us of our hellish dispositions.… True faith means not only being confident that one’s sins are forgiven but also means believing God’s promises that we will have a happy future though eternity. Or, to revert to the metaphor of medicine and the clinic, we must entrust out sick selves to Christ as the Great Physician, with confidence that He will work until our hellishness is transformed into godliness.

[One] implication to be drawn from the doctor analogy is that while
he will prescribe certain general instructions for all his patients to follow,
he will also make up individual health regimens for the particular needs
of each patient. For example, he may direct some to leave their homeland to go to proclaim the Gospel in a foreign land. There is great temptation in such circumstances for people to revert to the legalism of thinking that they are being heroes for God because they are leaving their homeland to endure the rigors of living in a foreign land [this was Peter’s problem]. Those who are dedicated to do hard jobs for God must remind themselves that these rigors are simply for their health. As these difficulties help them become more like Christ, they will sing a song of praise to God, and as a result “many will see it and fear and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3). People who regard themselves as invalids rather than heroes will make excellent missionaries.30


William Carey, at first glance, may appear to be an exception to the idea that missionaries should see their ministry as God’s treatment for their spiritual disease of sin. On Wednesday, May 31, 1792, he preached his famous sermon from Isaiah 54:2–3 (“Enlarge the place of your tent…”), in which his most famous dictum was pronounced: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Is this the way an invalid talks about his relationship with his physician therapist?

Yes! Emphatically, yes! If a therapist says to a partially paralyzed invalid, “Hold on to me and stand up out of your chair,” the invalid must first trust the therapist and “expect great help.” Mary Drewery’s interpretation of Carey’s motto surely accords with his intention:

Once he was convinced of his missionary call, Carey put his complete faith in God to guide him and to supply all his needs. “Expect great things from God” had been the first part of his command at the Association Meeting in Nottingham in 1792. Though the expectations were not always met in the form or at the time Carey anticipated, nonetheless, he would claim that the help did always come to an
30. Daniel Fuller, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1980),

ever-increasing extent. Thus he was able to “achieve great things for God.”
The blessings were not a reward for work done; they were a prerequisite
for carrying out the work.31

Confirmation of this interpretation from Carey himself is found in the
words he requested on his tombstone, as we have seen: “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.” This is a perfect description of an invalid and his kind and loving physician-therapist. It was true in life (“Expect great things from God”), and it was true in death (“On Thy kind arms I fall”).


The same was true of Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission. His son compiled a short work in 1932 called Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. This secret is that Hudson Taylor learned to be a happy patient in the Savior’s clinic of life.

Frequently those who were wakeful in the little house at the Chinkiang
might hear, at two or three in the morning, the soft refrain of Mr. Taylor’s favorite hymn [“Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art…”]. He had learned that for him, only one life was possible— just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while He dealt with the difficulties, inward and outward, great and small.32

It almost goes without saying that every therapy is painful: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This is what Jesus meant when He said our hundredfold benefit in mission therapy would be
31. Mary Drewery, William Carey, A Biography (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1978), 157.
32. Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody, n. d., orig. 1932), 209. Consistently, he once answered an admirer’s praise with these words: “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me” (201ff.). His son comments that he would have been fully in accord with Andrew Murray, who wrote, “Take time to read His Word as in His presence, that from it you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you. Let the Word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life” (236).

“with persecutions” (Mark 10:30). No naïveté here. For some, the therapy
includes even death, for the clinic bridges heaven and earth: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you…and some of you they will put to death.… But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:12, 16, 18–19).


This is why martyr missionaries have often called death sweet names. “Though we have but a hard breakfast, yet we shall have a good dinner, we shall very soon be in heaven.”33 The faithful missionary invalid is promised a hundredfold improvement in this life, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Missionaries are not heroes who can boast in great sacrifice for God. They
are true Christian Hedonists. They know that the battle cry of Christian
Hedonism is missions. They have discovered a hundred times more joy and satisfaction in a life devoted to Christ and the gospel than in a life devoted to frivolous comforts and pleasures and worldly advancements. And they have taken to heart the rebuke of Jesus: Beware of a self-pitying spirit of sacrifice! Missions is gain! Hundredfold gain!


These, then, are two great incentives from Jesus to become a World Christian and to dedicate yourself to the cause of Frontier Missions as we begin the twenty-first century.

1. Every impossibility with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). The
conversion of hardened sinners will be the work of God and will accord with
His sovereign plan. We need not fear or fret over our weakness. The battle is the Lord’s, and He will give the victory.

2. Christ promises to work for us and to be for us so much that when our
missionary life is over, we will not be able to say we’ve sacrificed anything (Mark 10:29–30). When we follow His missionary prescription, we discover that even
33. Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964, orig. 1648), 83.

the painful side effects work to improve our condition. Our spiritual health, our joy, improves a hundredfold. And when we die, we do not die. We gain eternal life.

I do not appeal to you to screw up your courage and sacrifice for Christ. I
appeal to you to renounce all you have to obtain life that satisfies your deepest longings. I appeal to you to count all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in service of the King of kings. I appeal to you to take off your store bought rags and put on the garments of God’s ambassadors. I promise you persecutions and privations—but “remember the joy”! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

On January 8, 1956, five Auca Indians of Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his
four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Auca tribe of sixty people. Four young wives lost husbands and nine children lost their fathers. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that the world called it a nightmare of tragedy. Then she added, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose.”34
34. Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 19.

If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

The noble army of the martyrs praise thee.

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.