The Biblical Basis for Missions: Treasure in Jars of Clay

World Missions Pre-Conference: God's Love Compels Us

Don Carson unfolds the biblical basis for missions from 2 Corinthians 4 at The Gospel Coalition’s 2013 Missions Conference at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.


So what is the biblical basis of mission? How shall we go about answering the question? Well, we might simply tease out the Bible’s entire storyline. We begin with creation, and everything is good. Then in the rebellion, this anarchic revolution against God. Already in Genesis 3:15, God himself promises that the seed of the woman will crush the Serpent’s head. He could simply have destroyed the race at that point, but already he is promising redemption.

Then when hatred and idolatry multiply, he could have wiped out the entire race in the flood, but he spares eight. Then he starts a whole new humanity, as it were, calling Abraham. Yet Abraham, though he is called a friend of God and a man of faith, manages to be a liar more than once. His son is a bit of a wimp.

The patriarchs.… Well, one is sleeping with his father’s concubine. Another is messing around elsewhere. Ten of them tried to decide whether to kill or sell the eleventh into slavery, and these are the patriarchs. Yet God spares them, preserving the promised line, until even in the book of Genesis there is promise that from one of these patriarchs will eventually come a redeeming King, the lion of the tribe of Judah.

The book of Exodus shows judgment and mercy as God constitutes the Israelites a nation. In the giving of the law, he institutes certain rites and rituals that anticipate what is yet to come. The sacrifices of the Day of Atonement, for example, offered up for the sins of the priest and the sins of the people, repeated year after year, which have the effect of reminding us of our sins even as they obey what God himself has stipulated.

Then the degeneration of the book of Judges, endless cycles of depravity getting lower and lower until by the end of the book of Judges the scene is so dark you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. Even the good guys are terribly embarrassing, with texts of Scripture that are really difficult to read in public. “O God, how we need a king, for everyone is doing what is right in his own eyes.”

Eventually, God raises David, a man after his own heart. This man after God’s own heart manages to commit adultery and murder. One wonders what he would have done if he hadn’t been a man after God’s own heart. That dynasty rules over the 12 tribes for only two generations. Then the nation is split. Eventually, in sin, idolatry, depravity, and endless malice, greed, and cruelty, the 10 tribes go into captivity, and then 150 years later the southern tribes go into captivity.

Then there are the words of the prophets, promising eventually a servant who would be wounded for our transgressions. That same prophet, Isaiah, in chapter 19, foresees a time when God will say, “Israel my third, Assyria my third, Egypt my third,” envisaging a time when the locus of the people of God will not be one nation or one tribe. “ ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance,’ says the Lord.”

Then we come to the Lord Jesus and the Great Commission, the bestowal of the Spirit, and eventually, at the end of the Bible, a consummating vision of men and women drawn from every tongue and tribe and people and nation, one redeemed community, the blood-bought around the throne in resurrection splendor. In other words, we could assert that the basis of biblical mission is anchored in the entire Bible. God graciously goes after sinners and wins over a vast number of them.

Or we might simply focus on Jesus himself. We could consider, for example, his various titles and functions. He is the King, and as the King he says, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples.” Or we could consider him as the Good Shepherd, and as the Good Shepherd he gives his life for his sheep. Or he’s the High Priest who offers up the perfect sacrifice. He is the Word of God, God’s ultimate self-expression to be declared to the entire world.

Or we think of the obedience of Christ. In Gethsemane, his prayer is not, “Oh, I really do want to go through with this because I love those sinners so much.” His prayer is, “Not my will but yours be done.” The driving power that drives Jesus to the cross is, first of all, his obedience to his Father, to his Father’s will. This is the heavenly Father’s plan. “The world must know,” he says in John 14, “that I always do what pleases him.”

Or we might consider great events in Jesus’ mission and their bearing on the biblical basis of mission: the cross, the resurrection, the second coming. “Every knee shall bow to him.” Another way at getting at the biblical basis of mission is to focus our attention on a specific passage. There are many texts to which we could turn, but I will fasten our attention on 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verses 1–12. Let me begin by reading these verses.

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

How, then, does this passage contribute to our grasp of the biblical basis of mission? Verse 1 opens by talking about this ministry we have. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” This ministry, according to verse 2, is bound up with setting forth the truth plainly, and according to verse 4, what we are placarding is the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

When we discharge this ministry, we are nothing more than clay pots, according to verse 7 and following. Yet all of this achieves eternal glory (verse 17), as we fix our eyes.… Now here’s a paradox. We fix our eyes on what is unseen but eternal, at the end of the chapter. In other words, these verses do not so much define world mission as describe it. Sometimes the most powerful and moving biblical basis for mission is in the Bible’s depiction of what it looks like. It will be helpful, I think, to unpack three parts of this description.

1. Gospel ministry demands unqualified integrity.

Verses 1–3 begin in our English Bibles with the word therefore. When I was a little whippersnapper, my father, who was trying to teach me elementary interpretation principles, said, “Don, whenever you see a wherefore or a therefore, see what it’s there for.” In this case, therefore connects the previous chapter with what is found in our verses.

Second Corinthians 3 establishes the fact that apostolic ministry, the ministry of Paul in particular, is blessed with many privileged advantages over the ministry of Moses at the time of the giving of the law. To put it another way, the ministry of the new covenant sealed in Jesus’ blood is superior to the ministry of the old covenant.

So we read in chapter 3, beginning at verse 4, “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Note some of the contrasts between the two covenants as they’re teased out.

Verse 7: “Now if the ministry that brought death [the law], which was engraved in letters on stone [the Ten Commandments], came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!”

Verse 18: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Chapter 4, verse 1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” In other words, this presupposes that despite the privilege of this ministry, which is unsurpassed, there are many reasons for losing heart, for deep discouragement, but since it is through God’s mercy that we have this ministry, as 2 Corinthians 3 has shown, therefore we do not lose heart.

Now before we go farther, we should ask two questions. First.… Do these references to “this ministry” or “our ministry” refer only to apostolic ministry? If so, we should be careful about applying them to us and to world mission work today. But although 2 Corinthians 3 focuses on Paul and apostolic ministry, at the end of chapter 3 and right through chapters 4–5, Paul elides the discussion into the ministry of all believers.

You can see this, for example, at the end of chapter 3. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory …” Or again in chapter 5, verses 9–10: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” So although he begins with his own ministry, and doubtless that is, in some ways, a model for all of us in any case, he specifically elides the discussion into as broad a set of parameters as he can possibly manage.

Secondly.… What is the nature of the discouragement Paul faces? Why is he tempted to lose heart granted all of these incredible privileges of belonging to the new covenant? Well, first, it’s pretty obvious that many people are offended by the straight talk of Scripture. That surely is what hides behind verse 2. “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

Why would anyone use deception? Why would you use slightly shady language or ambiguous categories? Simply because we know full well that some of what the Bible says isn’t going to be too popular. Moreover, many people are blinded by contemporary culture, whatever the culture. You can have deep discussions with devout Muslims who really do understand what you’re saying but don’t really see the gospel. They understand it at some level, but they don’t see it.

Or you can have deep discussions with hedonists, and they don’t really see its value at all. They are blinded to it. The god of this world has blinded their eyes. Moreover, there are particular forms of tolerance now taught in this world that are remarkably intolerant. If you proclaim an exclusive Jesus today, it’s difficult to engage with the subject because you are already dismissed as a bigot. So what are your options?

Well, of course, everybody has his own point of view, and maybe there are other ways of getting to God after all. Maybe Peter wasn’t telling the truth in Acts 4:12 when he said, “There is no other name given to men by whom we must be saved.” Maybe Jesus was exaggerating a bit when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.”

After all, those are narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant statements, at least by the standards of contemporary definitions of tolerance, which are really out of vogue with the entire history of tolerance in any case. As a result, the god of this age, this particular culture, blinds the eyes of countless people. It is very difficult for many people in this generation to think of themselves as guilty.

We’re much more prone in Western culture in particular to think of ourselves as victims, but how do you come to grips with a savior who dies for our sin if, at the end of the day, what we really need is simply a savior who takes us out of the muck? Certainly there is a pretty hard-nosed refusal to contemplate hell, but the person who talks most about hell in the Bible is Jesus himself. It’s pretty hard to say nothing about hell and be faithful to Jesus.

In other words, sometimes, quite frankly, it’s the truth itself that is offensive. Jesus knew that in his own day. Do you remember the remarkable passage in John, chapter 8, verse 45? He says to some interlocutors in his own day, “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe.” It would be bad enough if that sentence began with a concessive instead of a causal. It would be bad enough if the sentence read, “Although I tell you the truth, you do not believe.” That would be tragic. But it’s a causal. “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe.”

So what are your options? Tell untruths in order to get people to believe? But then what are they believing? Untruths. So it can be very discouraging to articulate the truth, to preach the truth, and find people not simply rejecting it but writing you off as some narrow-minded bigot. That’s disheartening. In fact, if you read the pagan literature of the first three centuries until the time of Constantine, the most common pagan criticism against Christianity was that it was too narrow, too exclusive. In that sense, it was bigoted. Sound vaguely familiar?

Some of us who have volunteered for ministry, including international cross-cultural ministry, when we first feel called, we may deep down be tempted to think of ourselves as fledgling heroes of the faith. We may have read our share of missionary biographies and have learned how someone persevered and saw hundreds converted, maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Then when we actually get there, we discover it’s really difficult; in some places, actually dangerous.

We like to hear the stories of preachers who saw enormous fruitfulness, but then there’s always a Samuel Zwemer, who preached for 40 years in the Muslim world and saw eight converts. Five of them were killed after 40 years of labor. Oh, he did translate the Bible into Arabic too. Even Paul is tempted to lose heart. “But,” he says, “since through God’s mercy …” It’s a privilege to have this ministry. It’s part of the mercy of God.

“Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, this spectacular ministry, this superior ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we buck up.” “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.”

Elsewhere, Paul faces other temptations. In 2:17: “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.” It is possible to shape your message to increase the income. Paul faced the temptation and rejected it. Then a very different temptation in 11:20: “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit [I was] too weak for that!”

In other words, there are some people who look for Christian leaders, who look for preachers and missionaries who are bullies. They somehow feel secure if there’s a strong man who’s telling them where to step off, but how does that breed character and the humility of Christ and godliness and maturity and train up leaders? “I admit I was too weak for that,” the apostle says, his pen dripping in sarcasm.

He is resolved not to use deception, not to distort the Word of God, not to peddle the Word for money. He is not merely going to increase his income by slanting the truth. “On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” What is required is courage, backbone, resolve, a priority submissive to the Word of God. So if you want to know what biblical mission looks like, hear this: gospel ministry demands unqualified integrity.

2. The gospel itself displays the glory of Christ.

Verses 3–6. Our task is to herald the gospel even if some cannot see its light. Verse 4: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Quite some years ago, I knew a young woman at the University of Cambridge, a graduate student, who was given a copy of the book by John Stott, Basic Christianity.

She read it carefully enough that she looked up a lot of biblical references. She was a graduate student at Cambridge. She was not stupid. When I asked her some weeks after I had given her the book what she made of it, she said, “I’ve decided that Christianity is for good people like you and Carol,” her Christian roommate, “but it’s not for me.” My question is.… How does a graduate student at Cambridge manage to read an author like John Stott with his limpid prose and think that the gospel is all about being good people?

I recall when I heard her words it was this passage that came to mind: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.” They cannot see it. What exactly does this gospel display? Verse 4: “The glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Then verse 5: “We proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”

The notion of Jesus as the image of God is bound up in Paul especially with the incarnation. Do you want to know what God looks like when no one can gaze on him and live? Study Jesus. Hebrews, likewise, says he’s the radiance of God’s glory. That’s a bit like saying he’s the light of God’s light. He’s the exact imprint of who he is. He’s not only the effulgence, the radiance of his glory; he’s the exact representation of his being. He’s the image of God.

The gospel is bound up in the first place with Jesus and who he is. Not just Jesus as cipher; Jesus who is thus identified with God himself. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Undoubtedly, that title is his before the world begins as the Son of God, not yet the human Jesus, but Jesus Christ as Lord is bound up with his vindication. He’s resurrected from the grave. His sacrifice has been accepted.

Although he has emptied himself and become a nobody, according to Philippians, God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow. In other words, this is all predicated on his death and resurrection, on his cross work. In other words, we’re not talking about Jesus a cipher, Jesus merely a magic word. Mention the name Jesus, and you’ll get answers to your prayers.

Rather, what we preach is God incarnate, Christ crucified, risen again, vindicated, and sovereign, so that all of God’s authority, according to 1 Corinthians 15, is mediated through him until every knee bows on the last day, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself. That’s what we proclaim. It’s worth constantly asking the question.… What is the gospel? You have to remember in the first place that the gospel is news. It’s powerful news, very largely good news. What do you do with news? You announce it.

But it’s not just any old news; it’s news about Jesus, and it’s not about Jesus a cipher; it’s about who Jesus is and what he has done by God’s own decree, especially in the cross and resurrection and ascension, in order to redeem men and women for himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and constitute this new blood-bought community, the church of the living God, until, in the purposes of God, all comes to a new heaven and a new earth, a home of righteousness, and there is resurrection existence on the last day. That’s the good news.

The good news is not, “Believe.” That’s the entailment of the good news. The good news is not, “Turn over a new leaf,” though you must repent. That’s required because of the good news. What we announce is what God has done in Christ Jesus. That’s why there’s so much emphasis here on announcing and preaching, on this ministry. “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and [in consequence of this] ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

The transformation, the obedience of faith, those who love to do the Word of God.… All of this flows out of the gospel. It’s the inevitable result of the gospel as it takes hold of people’s lives, but what we preach in the first place, what we announce as news, is Jesus Christ and him crucified: who he is, what he has done, especially in the cross and resurrection, to redeem a fallen, broken people for himself. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

So if we have come to see the light of the gospel, we’re told, it is because God has (verse 6) “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” In other words, if we have come to see the truth, it’s not because we’re brighter or somehow more insightful or because we’re Western. It’s because God has somehow illumined our hearts. He has made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

In fact, the language is specifically evocative of creation. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The darkness couldn’t stop it, John’s gospel points out. The darkness couldn’t stop the light. In other words, we preach this gospel, but at the end of the day, every conversion is the result of God speaking again and saying, “Let there be light. Let light shine out of the darkness,” and there is sovereign regeneration.

Otherwise, the darkness abides. Darkness remains. Bright graduate students at Cambridge read John Stott and still remain in the darkness until God says, “Let there be light.” My confidence, therefore, in heralding the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ in obedience to his command as a fruit of the mercy we have received in this ministry …

My confidence is not that by speaking the truth everyone will be impressed by my articulation of it and become adoring Christians but that again and again, in large numbers or in small, God will say, “Let there be light,” and blind men and women see. His light will shine into more hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. If you want to know what the biblical basis of missions looks like, hear this: the gospel displays the glory of Christ.

3. Gospel ministry is characterized by paradoxical death to self and overflowing life in Christ.

That’s the whole burden of verses 7–12. I have a son. He’s almost 28. He’s in the Marines. When he was about 15 or 16, he was playing a lot of violin and viola. He was one of those chaps who liked to pick up an instrument, almost any instrument, and pretty shortly he could get some decent sounds of it. Somewhere along the line, he picked up an Irish pennywhistle, and he became pretty good at it. He bought himself a book, and after a few weeks, he sounded pretty respectable.

One day he said to me, “Dad, do you know what would be nice? If you made me a nice box for this.” He knows I dabble in wood a bit. I said, “Nicholas, that’s a $7 instrument. If I made a decent box, it would be worth 10 times that amount, maybe more. If you lose this instrument or it goes rusty or something, buy another one. Buy 10. They’re cheap.” He said, “Yeah, but Dad it would be cool.” Well, how could I possibly resist that?

So I bought a nice piece of walnut, my favorite wood, and shaped it and routed it out on the inside, put in a velvet lining, inlaid magnets, put a piano hinge on the back and on the front an inlaid brass plaque with his name on it, “Nicholas J. Carson,” and put a nice sheen on it. It was really a nice box. When I gave it to him, I told him it was his “anti-gospel box.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, according to 2 Corinthians 4, with respect to the gospel, all the treasure is on the inside; on the outside it’s a cheap clay pot. This is the reverse.”

Some of us act now and then as if all of the potency for this music comes from the box. Paul won’t have it. “We have this treasure [this treasure of Christ, this treasure of the gospel] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power [this power that actually transforms people; it doesn’t just convince them intellectually but transforms them] is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

If you read on in this book to chapter 11, Paul reminds you of some of the things he has gone through for the sake of the gospel. He had been shipwrecked three times already, and that’s before the shipwreck recounted in Acts 27. Once he had spent a day and a night in the open seas. Five times he had received the synagogue whipping, 39 blows; three times the rods of the Romans. They just kept going until they killed you or they were tired or the local officer told them to stop.

He was often hungry. Besides all of the other things he mentions, dangers in the mountains, dangers on the sea, dangers from brigands.… Besides everything else, he says, danger of false brothers. He has seen it all. Often hard-pressed, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, but not destroyed. He summarizes the whole thing in verse 10: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

I think this is another way of saying what perhaps we’re more commonly aware of. That is, we’re supposed to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We’re to die to self. Paul has faced so many occasions where, quite frankly, he wouldn’t have chosen that particular course, but in dying to self to pursue the promulgation of the gospel and to honor Christ, it means death to self, and if that means being crushed and perplexed, that’s the way it is.

At the same time, there is a so that halfway through verse 10. “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” In other words, the appeal is not simply to suffering and sacrifice. There is a recognition that God is no one’s debtor, and the so that is the power of the gospel working through our lives, Christ’s resurrection life actually working within us, which brings its own glory and reward.

You recall what Paul says elsewhere in this book in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12. He has been suffering from what he variously calls a messenger from Satan or a thorn given to him by God. He prays earnestly that the Lord will take it away, and the Lord simply says, “I’m not going to do that; I’m just going to add more grace instead,” until Paul recognizes the superiority of experiencing such strength in grace, and he says, “I will therefore glory in my weakness, that Christ’s strength may be manifest in me.”

When I was a boy, there was a lot of emphasis in missionary meetings, missionary calls, and the like, on the importance of sacrifice. God knows we need to hear that side of things. We used to sing.… It’s a song that virtually no one remembers anymore.

So send I you to labor unrewarded,

To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,

To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing,

So send I you to toil for Me alone.

So send I you to bind the bruised and broken,

O’er wand’ring souls to work, to weep, to wake,

To bear the burdens of a world aweary,

So send I you to suffer for My sake.

So send I you to loneliness and longing,

With heart a hung’ring for the loved and known,

Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one,

So send I you to know My love alone.

So send I you to leave your life’s ambition,

To die to dear desire, self-will resign,

To labor long and love where men revile you,

So send I you to lose your life in Mine.

So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred,

To eyes made blind because they will not see,

To spend, tho’ it be blood, to spend and spare not,

So send I you to taste of Calvary.

Yes, that’s right, and it’s only half the truth. Although Paul says he is crushed and perplexed and persecuted and struck down, he also says in verse 10: “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” He also says in verse 11: “… so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” He also says in verse 15, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

He also says in 3:18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” He also says in 4:17, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

These two emphases necessarily hang together. We are crucified with him. We see glory with him. We die to self, and we experience more of his life. You can’t have one without the other. They hang together. You don’t crave the self-sacrifice because you’re a masochist. God is no one’s debtor, but in following Jesus, who went to the cross, so we learn to pick up our cross, and that, too, is part of gospel mission. So if you want to know what biblical mission looks like, hear this: gospel ministry is characterized by paradoxical death to self and overflowing life in Christ.

So what is the biblical basis of mission? What we find in these verses is not so much an abstract definition of the biblical basis of mission as a mind-expanding depiction of how mission works, how it is tied to the gospel, discharged with unqualified integrity, reverberating with God’s passion to display the glory of his Son, Jesus Christ, and heralded in the context of paradoxical self-death, which nevertheless overflows with the transforming life of Christ. Here is the heart of biblical mission. Let us pray.

Forbid, merciful Father, that we should think of missionary service in merely functional categories, but drive us back again and again to the gospel itself, to our dear Savior, who though he was rich yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich; the one who announced his determination to go to the cross and then told his followers they must take up their own crosses and follow him.

O Lord God, fasten our eyes, we beg of you, on what is unseen, for what is unseen is eternal, and forbid that we should be locked into the passing cultural fancies of our age. Grant us, Lord God, that we may hear the mandate to proclaim the gospel through the foolishness of what is preached, knowing full well that in due course, in due time, in due measure, you yourself will say, “May the light shine in the darkness,” and men and women will be saved. Give us this heart, this passion, this vision, we beg of you. For Jesus’ sake, amen.