I’ve just finished Oswald J Smith’s book, The Challenge of Missions. This book was originally written in 1959 and although I know that the science of missions has undergone huge changes since the time this book was written, I would be dishonest if I did not admit that many things he wrote left me in awe of the insight he had in missions. For one, many years ago he went to the auditors of his church in Toronto and asked them how much money their church had spent on work at home. The answer came: $53,000. He then asked the auditors how much had been spent on missions. They answered: $318,000! This was more than fifty years ago! In another chapter he mentions how he had moved from country to country to assist in evangelism crusades. This was in the 40s and 50s. Most of the travelling was probably done by boat. I mean, flying is bad enough today, sitting in seats invented by someone with a very evil mind, spending hours of worthless time in transit at airports surrounded by shops specialising in exotic liquor, cigarettes and perfume, being subjected to x-ray machines and body searches (yes, in Russia they do body searches before you leave the country). But I’m sure that all this is still better than what Oswald Smith had to go through when he was preaching all over the world.
However, he got me thinking again about our motive for missions. One of his own motives is to hasten the return of Christ through evangelism. Basing his conviction upon Matthew 24:14: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come, Oswald Smith believes that haste should be made to evangelise all the nations of the world as Christ cannot come before this had happened.
I cannot recall any modern missiologist that would seriously believe today that this should be our motive for missions (or for that matter that our earnestness in spreading the gospel would actually cause the second coming of Christ to occur sooner.) But the question remains, what then is our motive for missions? First and foremost, obviously, I see it as obedience to God. We do it because God wants us to do it. (And the opposite is also true: We do not do missions because we don’t want to do what God wants us to do!)
But I am also totally committed to missions because I firmly believe that God wants us all to have a better life on earth than what most presently have. When Jesus says in John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full, most people see the thief as Satan who had come to destroy our lives. While that is certainly true, the thief actually refers to the religious leaders of that time who, through their unbearable laws and regulations, had taken all joy away from the people. To be able to proclaim a gospel which truly sets people free, is a privilege. When moving around Swaziland and seeing how people are bound by culture and traditional beliefs and seeing the burden it places upon them, then I really experience how Christ can set people free to live life abundantly.
I still often struggle to know when I should address cultural issues and when I should keep quiet, but I do know that I may proclaim the joy of freedom found in a relationship with Christ. And this becomes, at least for me, a wonderful motive to keep on with what I am doing.