Ok. Let’s try something. I’m going to say a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? Missionary. Be honest! Big black Bible? African village? Eating bugs? Fedora hat? Socks with sandals? The word missionary has many connotations. I prefer global partner. Some people refer to our family as either. Just for the record, I do own a big Bible, I have lived in an African village, I have eaten bugs, and I where sandals 99% of the time, but without socks. That’s weird.
What is the church? That is the question. If we were on Family Feud and we surveyed 100 people we may get 100 different answers. Often people think of the church as a building (with a steeple). Or a group of spiritual people. Or a place where we gather to sing songs about Jesus, listen to an inspiring talk or any number of things. We tend to think of the church like a gas station (be filled up), movie theatre (sit/stare) or drug store (help for pains). It’s so much more.
Why do we do church? What is the purpose of the church? And where are we going as the church? What is the church’s mission? These are questions we will interact with today as we look in the Bible.
Romans 15 is where we will be. Romans was a letter written by Paul. That’s right, it was a letter—a long one. Paul wrote it with a pen on paper while on a mission trip in Greece. Paul was a missionary. During his lifetime he made at least three different mission trip to dozens of towns sharing the gospel and planting new churches among unreached people in what is today Turkey, Greece and Italy. After these trips, he would write letters to followup with the churches. We can read seven of these letters in our NT. The big difference with his letter to Rome is that he had never visited Rome. He only heard about them and he wrote to encourage them. His letter would become his magnum opus—teaching the story of our salvation. When you read it today it still can causes the newest Jesus follower to the eldest scholar to tremble and be filled with awe of our Great Salvation. Paul sums up the letter,
“The Gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.”Romans 1:16-17
In chapter 15, Paul wraps up his lengthy letter and will tackle the question, What is the Purpose and Mission of the Church? I will summarize Paul’s words with 3-Be’s: The purpose and mission of the church is to be a people who belong to God, believe the gospel, and are bringing the gospel to the entire world. So the purpose and mission of the church is not so much about what we do, but about who we are (and are becoming). Let’s explore that more.
THE CHURCH IS A PEOPLE WHO BELONG TO GOD
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”
Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”
And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans15:7-13
An invitation (v.7): Paul beings with a welcome. It’s as if he says, “You all are invited. Come. Join in.” If you have a living relationship with Jesus and you consider this your church, then listen up. If you look around, you are so different from one another. Appearances. Skin. Age. Income. Degrees. Roles. Freedoms. Maturity. Strengths. Weaknesses. Struggles. Hopes. Yet you part of something—Someone. The local church is an unlikely collection of people. With earthly eyes it may be hard to see that you belong together. With spiritual ones, however, it is clear. In the church, you belong together. You might say, “Anyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me.” This spirit of belonging brings glory and praise to God.
I first got connected to a church when I was a teenager. Before then, I’d go to church on the holidays, but I didn’t really belong; I attended. Rather my group was my friends. They were a rebellious bunch and I created problems for my teachers and parents. I was a flat-topped punk. That was my identity even though it left me empty and filled with shame. I was a broken, angry, lonely, and confused teenager. Until, my mom and step-dad moved from Milwaukee to the sticks of central-Wisconsin. We began to attend a small church. The first week, I remember everyone had a Bible, which was weird. The pastor even asked people to open their Bible. I didn’t know what I was doing. The next week, my mom went to Sam’s Club and bought us all Bibles. We kept going. The people welcomed us in. They came alongside us. They loved us. They showed us the Spirit of Jesus. The church became a new place to belong. It was safe place where my life with Jesus was encouraged and my spiritual gifts were developed. It was place that cultivated my passion for God and compassion for others. It was a place that sent me out into community to be a light. This church wasn’t perfect, but they showed grace, they cared for me, and reminded me that I/we were part of something bigger than me/us.
First, we belong to the historical redemptive story (v.8-9a): Paul becomes a historian for a moment to reintroduce us to Jesus. This Jesus who was promised so long ago. This Jesus who came from his people (for all peoples of the world). This Jesus that met him on the Damascus Road and completely altered his life. This Jesus that called him to go and tell others no matter the cost.
To understand the purpose and mission of the church you got to look back into history. The Old Testament, which is the history of God unfolding his purposes through His people Israel. Many people don’t care for history, but God is a fascinating storyteller—the author and orchestrator of an incredible global story with an eternal hope.
If you’ve ever been to an old cathedral you’ve likely seen stained glass windows. They are big, beautiful and bold with color as the sun pierces through. These windows were functional for light and storytelling. The largest window in the world was recently built in Kansas. It has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Kansas and the Super Bowl of stained glass. The window weighs 16,000 pounds and is the size of a basketball court and cost $3.5 million. It tells the story of the Bible surrounding Jesus.
That window is impressive. But it’s not as impressive as the work of art called the Bible, which was written by 40 diverse men over 1500 years with one golden thread.
Let’s take a moment to see this. Paul creates a window into God’s purpose in all of history:
- “Therefore I will praise you among the [Gentiles], and sing to your name.” (Ps 18:49; David’s death)
- “Rejoice, O [Gentiles], with his people.” (Deut 32:43; Moses death)
- “Praise the Lord, all you [Gentiles], and let all the peoples extol him.” (Ps 117:1)
- “The root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the [Gentiles]; in Him will the Gentiles hope.” (Is 11:10)
God called out a people from Abraham’s family tree to be his treasured possession, his purpose was never for them alone. It was meant to spill over to others. God’s purpose from the very beginning was to receive praise from all the peoples and nations of the world. This purpose and mission got lost and clouded over time because the people of Israel wanted to hoard God for themselves, they became a closed group, and they hated other nations. To make his point, Paul quotes four different Old Testament passages (vs. 9b–12):
Notice the movement or flow of the story that unfolds in these verses. Paul moves from speaking about Jews praising God among the [Gentiles] nations, to Jews praising God with the nations, to Jews calling on the nations to praise God, and then to all the peoples praising God through the Messiah—Jesus. Everything God has done throughout history has been to form a people from among all peoples for the praise of his name in all places (Rom. 11:36). This is why Jesus came and died to fulfill that purpose. This is why Jesus builds the church to fulfill that mission. What would it look like to substitute [Gentiles] with your street, your neighborhood, your town?
Second, we belong to a people who worship and enjoy God. This is our anthem. Don’t you see how worship is woven into those verses? John Piper in his book Let the Nations Be Glad said, “We exist to worship…Missions exists because worship of Jesus doesn’t.” Jesus came for praise from every tribe, language, people and nation (cf. Revelation 5:9; Psalm 67). He came for the praise of people in California, China, Chad, Berlin, Bangkok and Brentwood. He came for the Omega and the nearly 6,741 UPGs in the world. Did you know that in Chad there are 141 different people groups who speak their own language? That would be like going to the towns around you and each person speaks their own language. In Chad, more than 80 people groups do not have a verse of the Bible in their mother language, nor do they have enough believers or gospel messengers among themselves to reach themselves.
Let us not become a church that resembles the nation of Israel. The church is not about hoarding people like us, nor a closed group towards people not like us, nor a group of people that despise outsiders. It is our worship that attracts people to God. Who are the “outsiders” you are sent to worship amongst, with and call to lift up the name of Jesus? The mission of the church is not to fill a building with souls, but to fill souls with God.
We have seen God work like never before in Chad the past 2-years despite Covid-19 and govt coup d’etat. It’s been miraculous and humbling. It’s been the result of decades of (tireless and unthanked) prayer and sowing seeds of the gospel. We shouldn’t be surprised! The past year, I’ve had the joy of discipling a group of believers who are natural leaders and evangelists. It’s a group of men who wouldn’t normally talk to one another nor be in the same room together. But because of their mutual love for Christ, their language, tribe and people group has faded away, instead a belonging and love for one another has grown. Today there are believers from a dozen UPGs gathering throughout the city.
Third, we belong to the living hope (v.13; cf. Mt. 12:21; 1 Pt. 1:3). The result of this belonging brings joy and peace. We as the church have a common belonging to something/Someone bigger/greater than us. We part of this redemptive story; a worship anthem and eternal hope.
So, you may wonder, what is God doing in the world right now? He is doing what he has been doing from the beginning of history, from the dawn of creation (from Abraham, Moses, David). It’s the same thing he sent Jesus to do 2000-years ago. God is saving a people from among all the peoples of the earth for the praise of His name. A half-reading the Bible with one eye closed will still lead you to the inescapable conclusion. As Chris Wright said, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–-God’s mission.” And you and I are in this “family business” with God. (In His story, an anthem of worship that offers a living hope.)
We are people who long want to belong. God created us to be relational groupies. Think of all the groups where you belong—work groups, student groups, social groups, community groups, sports teams, or 4-H, music groupies, Harley group, Jeep club, etc. These groups can give a sense of belonging or common purpose, but they can only be so much. Which of those groups can give you a sense of belonging when your marriage turns sour, when you’re struggling with an addiction, or when you’re needing direction or hope with life?
THE CHURCH IS A PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THE GOSPEL
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:14-16
Paul moves from this redemptive story we (the church) are part of to a life-transforming belief in that story. He takes a personal moment to share his own purpose and mission (although unique) and also he directs his words to the Church to encourage their belief. Belief in what? (vs. 14-16)
First, we are people who believe the gospel. Paul is talking to people who know it, believe it, teach it, and share it. One of the dangers with a word like “gospel” is that we all love it so much (rightly), and want to share it passionately (rightly again), that we don’t take time to explore its full biblical depth. When Paul speaks about the gospel, he refers to good news breaking into history [God>man>sin>Jesus>response—repent/believe—Mk.1:14]. The true church are people who believe this. The church is proof of the gospel. The gospel makes the church relevant. We are broken people from the bottom—enemies and orphans.
Second, we are moreover people who believe the gospel’s transformational effect. We are good news people. We believe the good news matters. Believing is the gospel is just a part, living the gospel is the full part. If we preach a gospel of transformation, we need to show some evidence of what transformation looks like, even if it’s messy. The good news is not good news unless it moves us to take action. We act on things we cannot see.
Paul describes this action like a priest (notice all the Temple/worship terms: offering, sanctified, priestly service), “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God…” A Jewish priest served the people in a few ways, 1) they spoke the words of God to the people to stir them to worship and 2) they offered their life as a service to God. This image was familiar to Jews, but now Paul’s connects this to every believer in the church,
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”1 Peter 2:9
The gospel message isn’t just good news, it is news that has an effect. It effects change or a need for change. Just as salt gives flavor and light helps you see, the gospel has that effect on a human soul. Matthew 5:13-16 says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Confession of a reluctant global partner: Most people think that I wake up in the morning and sprinkle the gospel on my cornflakes. Some days I think I would be a better missionary if I weren’t one. I take out the stinky trash and burn the rice on the stovetop and wrestle with poverty and try to make space for a devotional life, and question what I am doing and how I am helping anybody, every single day. I try to give my kids my attention and discipleship. I make a trillion mistakes and sometimes, truth be told, hide from people. I hide because I feel inadequate in language and culture and want to live normally. I grieve, I seek Christ, I run away from Christ. Sometimes I feel more like a Jonah than a Paul or more like a Thomas than a John. I do many of the same things I did in my home country except there’s more dust and bugs. The biggest effect that the gospel has is on you and the relationships around you. As the gospel transforms you, your marriage, your home, it is like beautiful lamp lighting the world around you. Often it shines best through your broken cracks, pains, and mistakes. (And that’s why we need to believe the gospel everyday, every moment.)
THE CHURCH IS A PEOPLE WHO BRING THE GOSPEL TO THE ENTIRE WORLD
Paul wraps up his thoughts with a roadmap to where he is heading,
Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,Romans 15:17-21
and those who have not heard will understand.”
This is also the mission and end game of the church. Paul is going where people have never heard. Paul coined the phrase long before Captain Kirk “boldly going where no man has gone before.”
This begs a question: Go where? Why not stay here? Jesus’ final words add some clarity and weight when he said, “Go therefore and (as you go) make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always (belonging), to the end of the age.” (Matt, 28:19-20) You don’t go to church. You are the church. And as the church…you go into your community and you go to the nations because you are the church. You become the church in its fullness when you obey the words of Jesus and go.
Imagine that an [earthquake] hits your city, and the head of rescue operations puts you in charge. As you and the rescue teams set out to help save lives, you find that the first neighborhood you enter is in dire need. People everywhere are dying, and they need to be rescued from the rubble. It is far more work than your teams can handle. However, you know that there are other neighborhoods—close by and far away—that also need rescued. But you are overloaded right where you are. If you send some to other neighborhoods, then they will lose valuable time when they could be saving people where you are. Add to that the reality that some of the other neighborhoods are difficult to reach, even resist help. What would you do?
Contemporary wisdom, and even compassion, might lead us to stay where we are and help as many people as possible. This would seem to be the best use of our resources. It will take far more time, far more resources, and much greater risk to try to get to those other places. Unless the rescue commander said to you, “I don’t want you to just rescue as many people as possible. Instead, I want you to rescue people from every single one of those communities.” If that was the command, and it was clear, then you would use the resources at your disposal to make sure that people from every community were rescued.
This is the command given to the church, and it is clear the whole world is in rubble. God wants people from every single people group to be rescued and ransomed by Christ. God’s heart beats for the nations. Therefore, commitment to the Great Commission in your lives and in this church involves you and your resources to get the gospel to people groups that still have not yet heard.
The purpose and the mission of the church is to be a people who belong to God, believe the gospel, and are bringing the gospel to the entire world. Is this the kind of follower you want to be? Is this the kind of church you want to be? Now how do we do this? Consider three ways this should be working out in your life.
1) We all pray for the spread of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. Every day you and I have the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing around the world from our knees. Prayer for global mission is not for a select few but for all of us. Ask God for global eyes. Ask God to move. All movements of God that open eyes and ears to the gospel begin with prayer. (Pray the news.)
2) We all send/give for the spread of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. In Romans 15, Paul talks about collection to help him take the gospel to Spain where people have never heard. Paul hopes the church at Rome will help him on his journey (v. 24). The book of Romans is a long missionary support letter that says, in essence, “Here is the glory of God in the gospel—now please help me get this gospel to people who have never heard it before.”
At the same time, as important as it was to get the gospel to Spain where people had not heard, Paul also tells them of his plan to go to Jerusalem to give a gift to the church there (v. 25). The church in Jerusalem had experienced a famine and was physically struggling, so Paul had rallied churches all across Turkey, including poor churches, to contribute. He gives attention to both urgent spiritual needs (the gospel) and urgent physical needs (famine).
In Romans 16:1–16, Paul mentions 26 different people with different backgrounds and different gifts who were playing different roles and doing different tasks in the mission of the church. The entire church is represented: men and women, single and married, moms and dads, young and old, rich and poor. These are ordinary people doing their part to spread the extraordinary fame of the name of Jesus. Who are some Romans 16 kind of people that you know?
3) We all go for the spread of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. Let’s not be a church focused on getting people to come but to leave. Every follower of Jesus should go and make disciples right where he or she lives and wherever God leads. This involves making disciples where you work, where you play, and where you live/worship. Every Sunday, you are sent out of the worship gathering on this mission. You mission field is everywhere including your own street and hood. It is not a vocation. It is a way of life. As you go.
William dreamed about India. In fact, he had maps of India on his walls, and for years was just praying and longing and waiting for the opportunity to go there with the gospel. When the time came to go he went with his wife, and four children under nine years old. It took seven years before the first person believed. He served 40 years without a break. He never returned home. After 20-years on the field a fire broke out at his home and burned years of irreplaceable work. Included in that were ten versions of the Bible that had been going through press. This was before there was a Cloud. There were no copies; it was just gone. He persevered. That was nearly 200 years ago. William Carey like Paul was followed by hundreds of goers who would follow him to India and to other parts of the world.
That God would use ordinary, broken human beings like me and you in this grand narrative he is writing is frankly incredible, don’t you think? Everyday, in every place, to everyone you give the world a front row seat to God’s grace. He’s overjoyed how his grace is beating through your imperfect-but-redeemed life and through your church “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph. 3:10)
Let’s make make Romans 15:10 our prayer, “Rejoice, O [nations], with his people.”
Pray this every day and watch what God will do.
Give to this and see what God will do.
Go for this and see what God will do.