“. . . remain at Ephesus . . .” –1 Timothy 1:3
“. . . I left you in Crete . . .” –Titus 1:5
The gospel of grace frees us judicially: despite being guilty in ourselves, we are, at the same time, acquitted through the work of another. The gospel of grace frees us relationally: accepted in Christ, the craving for acceptance from others is emptied. The gospel frees us psychologically: at peace with God and self, the frenetic quest for a self-generated internal stability is emptied, so that we can say with Paul, “I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor. 4:3). The gospel frees us morally: no longer a slave to sin but now a slave to Christ, united to him and indwelt by his Spirit, we are vitally empowered for true virtue.
The gospel also frees us geographically: no longer needing to be in a certain place, known by certain people, on the social mountaintop, we are free to be anonymous, unknown, in the valley. Grace renders a verdict of acquittal not only over our identity but also over our location. A deep rest, a settled “okayness,” lands not only on who we are but also on where we are.
In the gospel, we’ve already been discovered.
A Christian scrambling to be known through geographical locatedness is like a millionaire standing in line for food stamps. The perceived need has already been met. Despite the whispers of the heart, our worth is not tethered to who knows us, quotes us, and tweets us. The frantic need to be noticed has been deflated. We’ve been noticed. We’ve been noticed by the only One whose notice matters, and the only One whose notice satisfies.
Paul told Timothy to stay in Ephesus—not to work there for three years and then move on to Jerusalem or Rome. Paul left Titus on the blue-collar, out-of-the-way island of Crete—not the place sophisticated church planting demographics would have suggested.
Are you discontent in your current place? Could it be that the most courageous, radical, God-honoring life decision you could make this year would be to stay exactly where you are—working your job with integrity, treating your mailman with kindness, truly listening to your spouse, resolving to spread joy no matter what you are experiencing circumstantially? Our worth is all out of proportion to what our Twitter following indicates.
What This Doesn’t Mean
Please understand: this is only one thing to be said about the ambitions that boil up in our hearts. For those who have been gripped by God and a vision of what he might do in our generation, there is an ambition to be sought, cultivated, pursued. Not all ambition is bad. A move to a strategic location, a Jerusalem or a Rome, may be the fruit of godly zeal to do something with your life. By “rest” I do not mean apathy.
Gospel geography doesn’t mean we should eschew ministry of cultural significance.
It doesn’t mean we should neglect strategizing about how to reach the most urban and other highly populated areas.
It doesn’t encourage a false piety that thinks the smaller the field of ministry, the greater the heavenly reward.
It doesn’t mean all hunger for glory is sin (Rom. 2:7!).
It doesn’t mean we can hold back in fear or passivity. For every instance of godless ambition that seeks a name for itself we could find an instance of godless fear that doesn’t seek anything at all. Yuck to both.
What This Does Mean
The geography of the gospel does mean that significance, true significance, significance as God sees it—and what other kind matters—is in inverted proportion to significance as defined by the world.
In No Little People, Francis Schaeffer wrote:
As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. To be wholly committed to God in the place where God wants him—this is the creature glorified. . . . Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the 20th-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc.
Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but he even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh.
The geography of the gospel means you are free to be blessedly content, and truly significant, in the little corner of the world where you currently find yourself.
It means the thought that bubbles up on a bland Tuesday afternoon, “If only I were in [name the place], my life would actually matter” is disbelief in the gospel. It is sin to be repented of.
It means you don’t need to wonder what God’s will for your life is. I can tell you his will. God’s will for you is that the next time you get up from your computer at work to get a drink, you determine—as a new creature, born again, indwelt by the Spirit—to spread as much joy as you possibly can to every God-imaging human being you pass in the hallway. And then go to bed tonight, get up in the morning, and do it again. The will of God for your life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23).
The point here is not to seek insignificance. The point is that in our hunger for significance, let’s be sure we’re after the real thing—significance as defined by the kingdom, a kingdom that demands childlikeness (Mark 10:15) and cringes at self-exaltation (Luke 22:24–27).
The reason we can be content in the small place, in the role spurned by the world but to which we know God has called us, is the gospel.
After all, the second person of the Trinity was significant. He was, from time immemorial, on the social mountaintop (Phil. 2:6). And he descended to the valley (Phil. 2:7). He became insignificant. And he did it so that you and I, in ourselves insignificant, can be vested with true significance, real glory, not through strategic geographical positioning but through the unmerited love of the Father.
A long life of loving your neighbor in Nowheresville is not insignificant. It is glory, a glory that will one day be trumpeted before the nations as the Lord himself puts his arm around you and introduces you to an ignoring world.