“The missionary must seek nothing for himself:
no seat of honor, no report of fame…
He must be content to suffer, to die and be forgotten.”
A while back my pastor sent me an image similar to the one above. I added the word “Suffer” as I learned that the image he sent me was based on a quote from Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (a major player in the Moravian missions movement of the 1700s). But, when I posted this picture, an important question arose: is this the life God has for the Christian? Is this it? Where is the joy? The words are definitely a bit counter-cultural.
PREACH THE GOSPEL: What more abundant and meaningful life is there under the sun than to preach the Gospel (Acts 20:24) – to take the best news in the history of mankind and carry it to anyone and everyone who will listen? What other activity is available to us that has a greater capacity for fullness and abundance than this task, this opportunity? Among all the labors that have been made available to man, to be an ambassador of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20), in any and all venues or contexts, is the one labor that stretches beyond the vanity and brokenness of the rest.
Preaching the Gospel, sharing in the mission of Jesus; what greater joy can we find in this life? What greater abundance is there than receiving and participating in the redemptive plan of God?
SUFFER: Either as a display of pure lunacy or real change (I choose the latter), the earliest disciples rejoiced that they would suffer for the sake of Christ (Acts 5:41). They aren’t depicted as reluctantly drudging through it; rather, they were overjoyed. We also get a glimpse in the book of Hebrews of believers who gladly received their persecution (Hebrews 10:32-34), and Paul says elsewhere that tribulations are a part of our journey to hope (Romans 5:3-4). Jesus spent a surprising amount of His time talking about the Christian life in terms related to its inevitable difficulties. He said we’ll be hated because of His name, that we’ll be betrayed by our friends and families, and more (Matthew 5:11-12, Luke 21:16).
But, this hardship is inherent to the Kingdom Life. It doesn’t seem consistent to expect anything else. We belong to and (should) live for God’s Kingdom, which puts us in an often violent enmity with the world system that has rejected Him. If I were bold, clear, and active in sharing the Gospel in all its respects, the certain result would be opposition. Jesus told us this and even modeled it in His life by dying as a result of this enmity.
Jesus most definitely had joy, but it was in spite of His suffering.
Chapter after chapter, someone is plotting against Him, trying to trick Him, and attempting to kill Him (Matthew 12:14; 26:4; Mark 14:1, John 7:30; 8:59, 11:53, etc.). Paul’s missionary journeys are arguably the most successful in Church history, but each is riddled with and, in many instances, directed by persecutions and sufferings (Acts 9:29; 13:50; 14:5; 16:22; 22:22; 23:10; etc.).
Maybe moving into a more extreme perspective, to suffer is only bad from our current, earthy perspective. Though I’d assume none of us will achieve that fullest heavenly perspective, living unfazed by suffering, it does seem to be a worthy pursuit. But can you imagine? To be so enthralled with Heaven, with Jesus, that suffering for His sake would be a reason to rejoice. To look on suffering as a gift, an evidence, a fruit of my newfound adoption and citizenship in the coming Kingdom.
DIE: The thing about death is that it’s an unavoidable reality that lies ahead of all of us. It’s completely inevitable. Everybody’s doing it at one time or another. The difference for the believer is that death is our arrival at the end of vanity and striving and entrance into God’s paradise. To depart and be with Christ was Paul’s greatest hope – even more so, no doubt, because of the hardship by which his life had become characterized. But, he still had reason to stay and serve and grind: the ministry of the Gospel (Philippians 1:21-25).
BE FORGOTTEN: Like death, being forgotten is one of our greatest fears as a culture. We think that being remembered is a means by which we can pursue some form of immortality. I think if my memory or my story can be preserved then I have somehow defied death. But, the bitter reality is that we will all be forgotten; it’s all but inevitable. Ask your average person the name of their great-grandparents and, best case scenario, they’ll remember one or two. So, within just a few generations almost all of us will be forgotten, even by those whose existence requires our own. Plus, even if you do attain memorable status, you’d never even know; you won’t be here to revel in your delusional victory over death.
So wouldn’t the greater, more joyous life-mission be to live in such a way that the world forgets you but remembers Jesus? After all, your name and story can’t save, but His can (Acts 4:12). I will gladly be forgotten if that means that Christ is remembered. I will decrease into functional non-existence if it means He increases to the people around me, and the people around them (John 3:29-30). The ideal is that my life would be such an exclusive testimony of Him that any memory of me would only be recalled as a proof of God’s truth and the salvation found in Christ.
So, to the Christian, our greatest joy in this life, the abundance of following Christ under the sun would be to Preach the Gospel. Suffer. Die. Be Forgotten.
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