God's Missionary Program
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich”—2 Corinthians 8:9
In this last half century we have seen two world wars, and these have rocked civilization to its very foundation; if ever we stood at a critical moment in world history we do today. One crisis seems to follow another until we live in such a moment when either the Lord must soon be coming back, or disaster confronts us. There is just one other alternative and that is, that the Protestant church must recover its vision of God’s plan for missionary enterprise that the Gospel may reach out to every land in this generation. Another generation would be too late! The return of our Lord, the ruin of our civilization, or the revival of our Protestant faith, resulting in an outpouring of men, money and equipment to the uttermost parts of the Earth while there is yet time—these, I firmly believe, are three alternatives which face us at this moment.
Such revolutionary world changes as have taken place in these last years have left missionary enterprise lagging behind, both in terms of method and in terms of men. Never has there been a time when the church needed more than now a word from the Lord in heaven as to His will, plan and strategy for this tremendous hour. So much of our Christian living these days lacks any sense of goal or of heavenly directed motive: so much of it is haphazard, without concern, and indifferent to the vital issues of the day.
I was interested to read that in 1959 this country spent no less than four billion dollars on what is called “religious and welfare activities,” but it spent sixty and a half billion dollars on tobacco and alcohol. I wonder if there is any connection in that shattering statement between that fact and the fact that we spend seven times as much in church buildings as we do on foreign missions. In a poll of seventy Bible colleges, seminaries and institutes for the past ten years of about thirty-three thousand graduates, only 9 ½% have gone to the foreign mission field, 36 ½% to the home ministry and no less than 53% to secular work. I wonder if there is some connection in indulgence in tobacco and drink in the world, and the lack of vision and of real Holy Ghost concern and a sense of spiritual values that exists in the church today. My dear brethren and sisters in Christ, the task is overwhelming, but we have a God-given opportunity to seek His face concerning His plan for His people at this moment. God grant we may not miss it, and God grant that as He speaks to us, we may not only hear but we may respond and take action.
Surely the most vital issue is to see to it that our lives are totally adjusted to the principles of heaven’s missionary program, and that therefore the overall missionary enterprise is in line with the pattern and purpose of the mind of God. Only as that is so can we expect to see the unfinished task completed, because He gives His Holy Spirit without measure to them that obey Him, and only Holy Spirit strategy can be adequate for a day like this. In this task, we are engaged in a total spiritual campaign against a ruthless and powerful enemy: a spiritual enemy and a powerful foe, whose only superior—let this be noted and underlined—is God the Holy Ghost. It is therefore with gratitude to Him that in the course of our studies in 2 Corinthians, He has brought us this morning to these verses, for here we find heaven’s strategy for missions, which is so often misplaced by futile human ingenuity.
Originally given as the motive for the Corinthian church in a matter of financial responsibility, our text is in fact the whole principle of the Christian life, and the secret of our strength and strategy for this great moment of missionary opportunity. Paul has spent a good deal of time in appealing for funds for the church in Jerusalem. This is evidence, incidentally, that the church is one and has a worldwide responsibility. Paul quotes the example of the churches in Macedonia of whom we read in the second verse in the rather startling paraphrase in Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches: “Somehow in most difficult circumstances their joy, and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people.” What a statement! But how did they come to do that, out of their poverty to give so recklessly? It was because they were gripped by the principle of heaven’s program as outlined in the ninth verse. It was nothing less than that, and the understanding of what was involved in it, that brought them to the uttermost in surrender and sacrifice. For they “first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (v. 5). Not only did they give themselves to the Lord in commitment but then, and only then—after having made a total commitment to the Lord in response to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—they gave themselves to His church as His ambassadors and His servants in total availability for whatever the will of God might be. Surrender to Christ was followed by abandonment to the church of Christ in carrying out the church’s program for world evangelization.
Now that same spirit of all-out dedication on every level must somehow catch all of us, for it lies at the very heart of heaven’s strategy, and for lack of it the cause of Christ is in a tragic condition today. But how can these things be accomplished? How can Christian people be stabbed awake and into alertness? Is it by the high pressure of financial appeals? Is it by masses of impressive statistics of world needs? Is it by fearful and horrifying stories, albeit true ones, of the advance of communism? No, not by any of these things will you stab the conscience of a Christian to get into the will of God. You will never do it by impressive statements concerning the need of the world, or of the shortness of funds. You will only do it when every child of God catches the glow and the fire in the heart of God in His love shed abroad by the Holy Spirit, and as we see the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that He launched at Bethlehem, continued at Calvary, and continues today from the throne of heaven, and one day shall complete when He returns. We shall only catch the glow and fire, and be stabbed awake, when we see what was involved in God’s mighty counter-attack against sin and Satan. No, if the church is going to arise to the tremendous opportunity and challenge of the sixties, it will only be as we see and know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.
Think first of the position of Christ, the pre-eminence of Christ, if you like. “Though He was rich…” Through this past week, I have tried to peer through the mystery of that statement; I have tried to plumb the depths; but I have to confess to you that it has been in vain. At least this much I can say: He was rich, rich in possession, the whole universe was His. He has only to speak one word and a new world would be created. He could put His finger on every star. He could put his finger on anything and everything throughout all of His great creation and He could say “Mine.” “By Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him, He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16, 17).
Jesus Christ was rich in honor. I think of the multitude of heavenly hosts that bowed before Him in praise and adoration. From time to time you catch a glimpse of it in the Word of God. Isaiah saw something of them, the Lord sitting upon the throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the Temple and above it the seraphim. Each one had six wings, and with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly—fly to the rescue of this spoiled and corrupt humanity that it might be cleansed from sin. Jesus was rich in honor with a great heavenly host around Him, only too eager to fly at His bidding.
He was rich in love, the love of His Father and of the Spirit. What human being could ever speak of the love which existed within the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost? The love of the Father—the Lord Jesus said in John 17:26 “the love wherewith Thou hast loved me might be in them.” He was loved by a whole host in Heaven. I sometimes wonder—and if this is but a flight of imagination, forgive me, but I am quite sure that when we speak on a text like this, one day when we meet the Lord we shall be ashamed of our efforts—if heaven has held in history what we might call “a court day,” when hosts of angelic beings and those who have not fallen into sin like this human race, visit some planets and stars, and return into the courts of heaven to bring their tribute of honor and glory and worship to the Lamb who was slain and who liveth again. Words fail me, but I know that He was rich, and the best place that heaven affords was His by sovereign right.
Oh, the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ! He was rich, yet He became poor. Oh, let us speak with bated breath. What amazement there must have been in the courts of heaven when the announcement was made that He was about to depart. Can you see Him stripping Himself of His glory? Can you see Him preparing for that journey? Can you see how they followed Him as far as they could into outer space, and even into the heaven around us, crying “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill to men”? Then see Him upon whose shoulders all this universe rested—for all things are upheld by the word of His power—being carried as a Babe in the arms of a peasant woman in Bethlehem. See Him in a dirty stable, and see Him in a carpenter’s shop, no ray of glory now, none so poor as He. We are told that His garments were woven from the top throughout—a mark of extreme poverty. See this wonderful Lord Jesus, Who long ago in the councils of eternity one day dug the bed of the ocean, go to a sinful woman and say, “Give Me to drink.” He saw the foxes and the birds going back to their nests and resting places, and He had to say, “I have nowhere to lay My head.” Once He had been honored by the “Hallelujahs!” of heaven, and all the courts of glory had shouted His praise. Now He is stripped naked; He is put upon a cross to bleed and die; He is spat upon and struck.
Who can measure the gap between the throne and the cross? “He who was rich became poor:” and poverty is always worse when you have known better days. If you want to know extremes of poverty, visit India and the cities of Calcutta and Madras and Bombay and other places, and you would see the poor outcasts in their thousands all suffering, perhaps getting two or three meals a week. But they have been like that since their birth; they have lived with it, and are used to it, and everybody else seems to live with it too. But one day Jesus was rich and He became poor. Oh, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! Cursed by everybody, for He became a curse for us.
What was the purpose of it all? For your sake, “that ye through His poverty might be rich.” For your sake, not just this congregation, not just our listening audience in total, but you, husband and wife, parent and child, young man, and lady, one by one, for your sake, He who was rich became poor.
Those eyes of yours, which He gave for vision, have seldom looked upon Him. That tongue of yours, which He gave for speech, has rarely spoken a word in His name. That life of yours, which He gave for His use and to be available for His purpose, is being used for anything but that. That heart of yours, which He gave that He might love through you, has loved anything and anybody except the Lord—for your sake, He who was rich became poor that you through His poverty might be rich. When I have responded to this tremendous truth and this tremendous work, I discover it in possession. He became poor that you might have within your heart a fountain of life that would never dry up. Not simply a little cistern or pool, but a fountain that would overflow in blessing to the world—God the Holy Ghost incarnate in your life that you might be rich in possession, that out from you might flow rivers of living water. Rich in promises, for every promise in the Book, sealed by His precious blood and absolutely unbreakable, is yours to claim by faith!
“Go ye,” He says, “into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, and I am with you all the days.” Rich in promises and rich in power: “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” Through His poverty you might become rich, and this is heaven’s counter-attack against sin, and this is still the only principle of heaven’s missionary program—the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, communicating Himself, a love that was never turned away by sin, a love that never held back because of unworthiness, a love that is not moved by anger, that is not easily provoked, content to give nothing less than a total complete surrender and an absolute impartation of itself—that is heaven’s counter-attack.
This is not only an object for our worship, but it is the pattern and principle for our lives if we are to get into the heart of God’s program today. For this same necessity that brought the Lord Jesus down to our level to lift us up to His level, to communicate Himself, to give nothing less than all for our sakes, to love and never to be turned away by sin, or by anger, or by provocation, is the principle upon which you and I are to live our lives if we are ever to get into God’s plan for the world. For Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Unless somehow this principle gets into the heart of Christian testimony before it is too late—when really and truly, not as a theory but as a principle for life, we die to ourselves for the sake of others—we are in solitude and in fact die while we think we are living, utterly fruitless; but if we die, then He lives in us to communicate His life and power and principle through us.
It was this principle of which the Lord speaks that had taken hold of the church in Macedonia. If you glance at the opening verse of this chapter again, notice how these churches were plunged into sorrow and trouble and deep poverty, that they gave far beyond what they could afford, for they could afford nothing. They gave far beyond prudence, and without waiting to be asked or pleaded with, they begged Paul that he would receive the gift. Just think of it! A church, financially bankrupt, unable to do a thing, so poor and unable to afford to keep themselves, yet this church comes with a gift and begs Paul that he might receive it on their behalf! Why? Because they had yielded themselves to the Lord, and they had seen and know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. They had given themselves up to Him entirely, and when a man comes to a place where he knows he doesn’t own himself, when he comes to that moment in his life when he knows that the grace of the Lord Jesus is such that it did all that for him and therefore he does not own himself, he will never again say that he owns his money. He will never again say that material things belong to him. He belongs to the Lord Jesus himself and therefore everything that he has is Christ’s also. And yet we argue about a tithe, God forgive us! We argue about how much we should give. Christian giving is never by commandment, human pressure or appeals—what an ugly, paltry level all that is—for the giving of money and of life! If the Holy Spirit is talking to us now, we are moving in an area far above all vulgar appeals for the raising of funds to meet the need of missionaries. We are in a place where we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore we give ourselves in utter self-surrender to Him and, not only that, we follow through in the commitment of our lives to the church of Christ for His use wherever He may lead. In other words, we become poor, in every bit of self-confidence that we might make others rich.
I believe with all my heart, though I put this case so inadequately, that this principle of the cross lies at the very heart of heaven’s missionary program. Alas, it has been to a large extent discarded and gone out of use, and in place of it we major on higher education and better techniques, and development of talent, and then find ourselves in the thick of the spiritual battle tragically and helplessly inadequate to take the pressure of the hour. But alas again, instead of recognizing the reason for our failure, we leave the mission field or retire from Christian work and service for a prolonged furlough, and take further studies and more degrees, and we are bent on the same devil-misguided goal to educate the self-life till we fondly imagine we shall have what it takes. Then often after one term on the field and more often still, after two, we are added to the list of casualties.
Where the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ captures the heart, and when you yield yourself with total, complete motivation which has stemmed from a revelation of His grace, to the Lord and to the church, what happens then? You begin then to say (if I may take this word as applied to the Saviour and apply it in another setting to your own life), though you were rich, yet for the sake of others you became poor that they through your poverty might be rich. Once you were rich, not as Jesus was rich, but in self-esteem, self-importance, self-righteousness, in pride and arrogance, but now having known the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who though He was rich became poor, and having marveled at that mighty dynamic counter-attack against sin, you have become poor. For what things were gain to you, those you counted loss for Christ: reputation, education, religion, everything; “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord.” Then out of that utter poverty of spirit that others too might become rich. Paul puts it in chapter 4, verse 11: “For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh; so then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:11, 12).
Only when that principle gets back into the heart of our living, nothing on Earth on in hell will prevail against another counter-attack from heaven in the name of the Lord Jesus, for it is upon such a principle of life that there will rest all the authority of the Holy Ghost. Blessed are they that are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who have renounced all their self-life, important as it was, and have come into poverty, with nothing to offer but their desperate need to the foot of the cross. Blessed are they who have given themselves like that in total poverty of spirit, and then followed through and abandoned themselves to all the sovereign purpose of God until one day they meet Jesus face to face. Oh, that God in these days would bring His church back on to resurrection ground, to give every one of us a new vision, a new venture, a new faith, and a new obedience up to the hilt, until one day Jesus comes and reigns as King of kings. “Behold, the grace of the Lord Jesus that, though He was rich, He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich,” and therefore, Lord Jesus, all I have and all I am, without argument, without debate, without committee, without question, without any possible contradiction, all of this is yours now and forever. I believe that will loosen purse strings. I believe that will warm hearts and cause there to go out while there is yet time a great recruitment to the mission fields and intensify heaven’s counter-attack in this day. God grant that you and I might be found part of heaven’s program.