Bold Advance in Missions
December 4th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 9:16-17
BOLD ADVANCE IN MISSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 9:16-17
12-4-77 10:50 a.m.
We are preaching through the Book of Acts, as you know, but this morning, I am turning it aside in order to preach a message in keeping with our weeks of prayer for foreign missions and our Lottie Moon Christmas offering. So we are going to begin with a little exegetical presentation of two verses in the first Corinthian letter, chapter 9: 1 Corinthians chapter 9, verses 16 and 17.
I asked Dr. Patterson, “Do you have your Greek New Testament with you?”
He said, “Always.”
“Well,” I said, “You’ll be interested in these brief introductory words concerning the text.”
The title of the message will be Motives for Missions, our Bold Advance in the Missionary Enterprise. First Corinthians 9:16-17; Paul writes:
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for a necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
For if I do this willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
He has kind of a play upon words: “For if I do this willingly, I have a reward.” If I volunteered for it, if I chose it, then there might be something that would accrue to me, some glory, some praise, some recognition of achievement, if I did this of my own will [1 Corinthians 9:17]. But if against my will, if I choose not to do it—and I did not choose to do it, the Lord intervened in my life, laid His hand upon me and called me into this ministry, and sent me out as a missionary—if against my will, if I did not volunteer for it, nevertheless, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” [1 Corinthians 9:17].
Now for the little exegetical presentation: there is a word, it is adjectival in Greek, hekōn, translated here “willingly” [1 Corinthians 9:17]. Hekōn means “willing.” It’s an adjective. It means willing. It means voluntary. “If I am willing”—hekōn—“in this, I have a reward. But if against my will”—then he uses an alpha-privitive in front of it: ahekōn. The two vowels wheneverer they’re put together like that—the second one falls out. So it becomes akōn. So what he says is: “If I am hekōn, why, then I have a reward, but if akōn, then nevertheless; an oikonomia”—translated here “dispensation,” which is fine—“an oikonomia is committed unto me” [1 Corinthians 9:17]. Oikonomia is a stewardship. It’s an assignment. It’s a slave word. A man who presided over a great house, over, say a great estate, would have one of his gifted slaves to be in charge of the estate. And that “in charge of” is called an oikonomia, a stewardship, an administration.
For example, we think of these slaves in the South as being, you know, out there picking cotton and all of the things. And I don’t say they were not, but, did you know, in the old antebellum days of the South, practically all of the great plantations were run by those black men? A black man would be over all of it. And his master entrusted into his hands the entire administration of those great, vast estates that characterized the South. You’ll see the plantation homes in Louisiana, in Mississippi, beautiful things, in Georgia. Slaves did that. And this is a slave word. Oikonomia is a slave word. This is the slave who was chosen to administer this great estate, over the household of his master.
So Paul is saying, “Whether I do it, I have a reward if I volunteer. But if I choose not to do it, which I did not do, nevertheless, an oikonomia, an administration, as a slave is, and then, this word translated “committed” [1 Corinthians 9:17]. It’s a beautiful word. The Greek word for belief, for trust, is pustule, and when you make a perfect out of it, that pepistuemai, that’s an indicative: pepisteumai. It’s a perfect and translated here “committed,” built on the word pisteuō, to believe, to have faith in, to trust. An administration has been entrusted to me [1 Corinthians 9:17]. The Lord believed in me and committed into my hands this ministry of being a missionary, preaching the gospel, trying to make Jesus known in the world. In all of that, out of this word that he says: “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
And that gave rise to my message today of the motives for missions: “Necessity is laid upon me”—an oikonomia has been entrusted to me—“and I have no choice. It is something God has laid upon me” [1 Corinthians 9:16]
Well, let’s take the first one. “Necessity is laid upon me,” the lostness of the peoples of the world [1 Corinthians 9:16]. Is that a theological fad that people are lost without Christ? You have all kinds of fads. They come and go. There are fads in eating, and fads in dressing, and fads in singing, and fads in everything. There are fads in theology. There are things that will rise to the fore and all of these theologians talk about it, and write about it, and gather about it, and speak about it, and teach about it, and discuss it and, you just—it’s fads and after a while, twenty years later it will be something else. Are there fads in theology, and is this one of them, that people are lost without Christ, that they face judgment and damnation and hell without the Savior? Is that a fad?
In 1740, for example, had you gone to church, you might have heard Jonathan Edwards preach a very famous sermon entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And, as that theologian, you can imagine the power of Christ that came from him, because Jonathan Edwards preached with his nose in his manuscript. And as he delivered that sermon—Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God—with his face down, reading it, yet the people cried out in terror at the judgment day and at the fires of hell.
Well, that was in 1740. But today, it would be almost offensive to a sophisticated and cultural ear to hear a message like that, on fire and brimstone, and hell and damnation. Well, is that just a theological fad? It was something of interest in Jonathan Edward’s day, but in our day, why, such a thing is unthinkable.
Well, what bothers me about a discussion like this is, “Is it true or is it not true? Is there a judgment that we face? Is there a hell and a damnation from which we are to be delivered? Is that so or is it not so? Oh, this is one thing in which I cannot gamble! I cannot afford to be mistaken or misled. Is there a judgment and is there a hell? Is there?”
Well, may I answer that in two ways? Number one: the inequalities and the injustices of life persuade me that somewhere, sometime, somehow, someday, there’s going to be a righting of the wrongs in this world.
Hitler was never brought to judgment. Hitler was never brought to an accounting. Hitler was not ever arraigned before a court. But there’s somehow, something in this world that says, “Someday!” He will face those awesome atrocities that destroyed millions of Jews, and that flung eighteen million into blood and into death.
Or, take a holy and a good man. I think of one now—died, cut down, a godly man and a holy man. Is there not somewhere, someday, sometime when these wrongs are not made right? Listen brother, as surely as there is water in this world and as surely as there is air in this world, just so surely is there morality in this world. And we can’t get rid of it.
Just exactly how would you go about dumping the water out of this planet? What would you do? Just exactly how would you go about getting rid of air from this earth? It is the same thing. Morality is in this world! It’s a part of me. I cannot escape it. You cannot. Nor is there any tribe so degraded as not to feel that throb and rush and pulse of what is right and what is wrong. There’s morality here, just as there’s water here, and air here, and mountains here, and land is here, and the sky is here. Morality is no less real. And somewhere, someday God will bring to an accounting what is right and what is wrong in this world.
A second thing, and of course, this is all inclusive for me. I cannot escape that He, who took little babes in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:16], whose heart was moved with compassion over people who were hungry, or thirsty, or oppressed, or poor, or forgotten [Matthew 15:32; Mark 6:34]—I cannot forget that it was He who spoke most, and most solemnly, of the judgment and the damnation that followed those who don’t know God [Matthew 25:41]. I cannot escape that.
It was the Lord who said that, “In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” [Luke 16:23]. It was the Lord who said that “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41]. It is this man Paul who wrote, “In flaming fire shall He come, taking vengeance on all them that reject God and obey not the gospel of Christ” [2 Thessalonians 1:8]. It was the sainted and beloved John, who lay on the breast of our Lord at the Last Supper [John 13:23, 21:20], who wrote, “Whosoever’s name was not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:15].
It was Simon Peter who preached, saying, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. If I have any right to believe this Holy Word at all, then am I terrified by the awesomeness of the judgment that awaits and the burning hell into which those are flung, who obey not the gospel of Christ; lost, lost! [2 Thessalonians 1:8; Revelation 20:11-15].
One time I read in an address by Dr. George W. Truett, who stood here behind this sacred desk for seven and forty years—one time I read in an address, Dr. Truett saying this, talking to a man who did not believe in judgment and did not believe in hell. Dr. Truett said to him, as he recounted in this address—Dr. Truett said, “My friend, if I am right, that there is a hell, and you are wrong, all the tragedy that faces your soul, you have lost everything, everything. But, if I am wrong and you are right, and there’s not any hell, I haven’t lost anything, for my life has been blessed by the sweet graces of the precious Lord Jesus.”
Motives for missions: “Necessity is laid upon me; woe unto me, if I preach not the gospel of Christ” [1 Corinthians 9:16]. Lost, lost, lost without Christ.
Motives for missions, number two: necessity is laid upon me. I am a man under authority. I have a mandate from heaven. We have it. We are all under authority: His. And the Great Commission is plainly said. We read one of them from Luke just now [Luke 24:44-49]. The one from Matthew, we’ve all memorized from childhood: we’re to “go and make disciples of all of the nations” [Matthew 28:19-20]. And the one in Acts: “And ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Judea, Jerusalem, in Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the world” [Acts 1:8]. How can I escape that and call myself a follower of the Lamb?
One of the most moving pictures I know, a painting, is the Lord Jesus with His hand, one hand, upon the shoulder of the young apostle John, and with His other hand, He is pointing to the whole world. And John stands there by the side of the Master, pointing to the world, John stands there, with a look of deepest commitment written in his face. That is our mandate, and we cannot escape it.
Someone went up to the Iron Duke of Wellington and said, “Should we preach the gospel to every creature?”
And the Iron Duke replied, “Sir, what are your marching orders? What are your marching orders?”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in that “Charge of the Light Brigade”:
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of the death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Roared and thundered
Stormed at by shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
We are to be like that. We are men and women under authority, and we have a mandate from heaven. And whether we live or die, ultimately depends on our faithfulness to that Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20].
We have the story, two thousand years of it, written on the pages of history, opened for us to see. There was a time when the center of the Christian faith was in Jerusalem. But, as you know, it developed into an Ebionitic religion, nothing more than a sect of the legalism of the Mosaic legislation. And it died.
The next great center of the Christian faith was in Antioch. And for a time, they sent out missionaries: Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Mark. O what a glory! Then, Antioch was destroyed by formalism, indifference, and the center of the Christian faith came to be in Constantinople. And as the capital of the Byzantine Empire for three hundred years, those preachers like John Chrysostom and all of those bishops and pastors and missionaries made the eastern empire of the Roman Empire literally glow in the glory of God. Then it chilled and it died, and the center of the Christian faith was in Rome. And out of Rome came those great missionary movements that evangelized the Picks, and the Scots, and the Irish, and the Anglos, and the Saxons, and the Teutons, and the Germans, and the Gauls, and the Belgi: and all northern Europe came into the Christian faith out of the missionary impulses that lived in the heart of the church at Rome. Then Rome became filled with a thousand aberrations.
And the great missionary impulse was transferred to Germany, and to Geneva, and to Edinburgh under the leaders of the Reformation, and there was a new welling-up of tremendous dedication to the Lord Christ. Then the Reformation bogged down in theological minutiae, deadness of orthodoxy, and the great center of the Christian faith was transferred to England. And out of Kettering, our Baptist Mission Society, and out of London, the London Mission Society, there came those who evangelized the colonial world, planting the flag of Christ and planting the churches of Christ all over the globe. And England became staid and indifferent, closed down its missions all over the world.
And the Lord raised up America! “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” Oh, America, America, America. God would never allow the destruction of a nation that sends out missionaries, that preaches the gospel, whose people are saintly and godly and prayerful. But I am becoming afraid, and terror sometimes stirs my soul for my America, as our children shall see it and know it.
The great historical denominations all are acquiescing in their missionary spirit, sending out fewer and fewer, fed a humanistic philosophy that believes that men over there, who are Hindus, or Buddhists, or Shintoists are just as well off as we who are Christians. “They’re not lost. They don’t need a Savior. Just teach them how to be better Buddhists, or better Hindus, or better Shintoists, or better Confucianists, or better animists.” As the Lord said to the church at Ephesus: “Except you turn and do the first works, I will come and remove your lampstand out of its place” [Revelation 2:5].
There’s two thousand years of history where God has done that—shall we not tremble before the Word of the Lord? I say, we have no choice. An oikonomia, an administration has been entrusted to us. Necessity is laid upon us! “Woe unto me, and unto us, if we preach not the gospel!” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
A third—and Leo, you’ll surely remember these things—a motive for missions; what are we going to do with these boys and girls and these young people who come and say, “God hath called me to be a missionary?” Why, yesterday afternoon, out at Millie Kohn’s mini-camp, they gave an appeal. One of our missionaries brought the message, and several of those boys and girls came up, answering the call to be a missionary.
The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts starts off like that: “And the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. What are we going to do about that?
Now Leo, we went to school in the Depression. And I remember, in 1934, there were five of those young men in our seminary who made a picture of themselves, all five of them standing together. And they sent out that picture to all over the Southern Baptist Convention, saying, “We have been called. We have prepared. We are ready to go, and no one will send us!” Do you remember that?
Oh, the first Southern Baptist Convention that I attended was in 1933 in Washington, DC. And Charles E. Madry, the head of the Foreign Mission Board, said, “The Foreign Mission Board is in virtual bankruptcy.” And Dr. J. B. Lawrence, head of the Home Mission Board, said, “We have no way to pay our debts!” And I read a tract published at that time, “Are Southern Baptists Going Out of the Mission Business?”
That year, I took my first Lottie Moon Christmas offering. And it was that response on the part of our people that turned our Foreign Mission Board out of deficit into a glorious future, and saved our Home Mission Board.
We face a far more disastrous prospect than we did in the days of the Depression, if our people lose that great commitment for the preaching of the gospel and the evangelization of the world. It’s the easiest thing in the world for these young preachers to be taught; now you’re to be a counselor, so they teach them to be counselors. And you are to give yourself to all of these civic interests. You’re to be the conscience of the community. And they turn aside from evangelization, and they turn aside from missions, and they turn aside from the delivery of the Word of God, and they become fine psychiatrists or splendid psychologists or wonderful social workers. But they’re not preachers any longer! They’re not missionaries any longer. You don’t need to worry about these civic clubs, they’ll be carrying right along. You don’t need to worry about those psychiatrists, they’ll be turning them out of these medical schools.
What we need to worry about is, Lord God, who’s going to preach the gospel? Who’s going to call men to repentance and faith? Who’s going out as a missionary? Who’s going to build churches? Who’s going to plant the gospel?
“Woe unto me, if I do not preach it; for necessity is laid upon me; an oikonomia, a dispensation, is committed unto me” [1 Corinthians 9:16-17].
Last, motives for missions: the uncontrolled urge that you have in your heart to share the blessings God has bestowed upon you. Now this is supposed to be a joke, I don’t know how funny it is. But this is supposed to be a joke. I have come into it several times.
One fellow says to another, “How’s your wife?”
And he replies, “Compared to what?”
So, I think of our Thanksgiving season that we have just been through. How grateful we ought to be. Compared to what? How grateful? “Well, dear God, I am grateful to Thee that I have bread to eat.” Compared to what? “I’m grateful to Thee I have bread to eat, for that fellow over there’s starving to death! I’m grateful that I have bread to eat while he’s starving.” Is that it? Compared to what? Or, “Dear God, I’m grateful that I have health, while this fellow languishes in pain, and sickness, and emaciation, and death.” Is that why I’m grateful? I have health and he’s dying! Is that it? Compared to what? Or, “Dear God, I am grateful that I live in affluence, while this fellow over here is perishing in poverty!” Is that why I’m grateful?
“Lord, I thank Thee I’m not like other men; this guy’s starving to death, and that one on a bed of pain and illness, and this one languishing in unspeakable poverty.” Is that my gratitude to God? You couldn’t think of it! This is the way it ought to be: “Dear God, I thank Thee that I have bread to eat, that I can share with this fellow who’s starving to death. Lord, I thank Thee that I have health and strength, that I can sit by the bedside or kneel by the bedside or hold the hand of somebody who needs encouragement and praying for and remembrance. And dear God, I thank Thee that, in America, we have such an affluent life, that we might share what we have with others who don’t have anything.”
That’s it. And how infinitely does that become true in the gospel? Lord, I thank Thee for my Christian parents. And I thank Thee for my Christian home. And I thank Thee for the little church in which I was saved. And I thank Thee for saving my soul. And I thank Thee, Lord, for the blessings of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 1:3], in order that I might share that grace and goodness and godliness with the whole world.
I must close. Do you remember that story in 2 Kings chapter 7? The lepers who were dying before the gate of the Holy City—the lepers said: “Let us go to the Syrian Army that is encamped roundabout Jerusalem. If we stay here, we die—starve.” They’re starving in there. “If we go there, all they could do to us is kill us. But either way, we die. Let us go to the camp of the Syrians” [2 Kings 7:3-4].
And they went to the camp of the Syrians. And in the nighttime, God had made that evil army to hear a noise as of a rushing of chariots and the marching of armies. And they had fled in the night and left their horses tied, their animals tied, their tents unperturbed, everything just as it was. And those lepers went into the first tent and saw the riches of the Syrian army and the next tent and the next and throughout the camp to the extremity. And there wasn’t a Syrian there. And as they looked at the gold and the silver and the raiment and the riches, one said to the other: “O this is a day of glad tidings, and we are keeping it to ourselves. Let us go tell.” And they went to the city and awakened the porter, and said: “Bring the king” [2 Kings 7:5-12]. And the king and the starving people came out. And there God had provided the abundance, according to the saying of Elisha [2 Kings 7:16-18].
This is a day of good tidings and we keep our peace. Let us go and tell! [2 Kings 7:9]. That is exactly the way of the Christian disciple. God has been so good to us, let us share His grace with the whole world. And when the Lord sees us doing that, the blessings come upon us. They come upon the choir. They come upon these ministers of the gospel. They come upon the instrumentalists. They come upon the deacons, and the Sunday school teachers, and the Training Union leaders. They come upon our institute and they come upon our academy. And they come upon this church, and we just get rich in the faith, for the more we give the more God bestows upon us [Malachi 3:10]. It’s wondrous what the Lord does to an evangelizing, gospel preaching, missionary-giving church. And He will do that for us, and forever, as long as we’re thus, faithful to Him: for an oikonomia, an administration, has been entrusted to our care [1 Corinthians 9:16-17].
We’re going to stand and sing now our hymn of our appeal. And I’ll be right here to the right side, to your right of our Lord’s Supper table. And while we sing this song of appeal, to give your heart to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of His church, to be baptized like God says in His Book [Matthew 28:19-20], to join our church from another congregation, to come by letter, if you don’t have your letter, by statement, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand to sing, you stand up, coming down that stairway, walking down this aisle, “Pastor, I’ve made the decision, I’m on the way, and here I am.” Angels attend you while you come, as we stand and as we sing.