The Gospel Advances through Suffering

Last night, the elders met with a young member of the church who shared his desire to be sent out to join a work among an unreached people group. We’ve seen this young man serve in our midst for several years now, discipling, evangelizing, and being fruitful. For many years he has felt the call of missions upon his life, and now, he senses God’s calling to partner with an existing work that we support. But he doesn’t want to just go off on his own. He wants to be sent.

As the elders listened to him, asked questions and affirmed what we’ve seen in him, one of us asked him whether or not he’s counted the cost. This young man is single. He comes from a large tight-knit family with many brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. And there, in deep emotion, we saw him express the sorrow it would be to be apart from them, for his children not to grow up with their cousins, for the sacrifice of distance. In that sorrow, we were sobered by the reality of the cost.

But then, in faith, he affirmed that Christ is worthy of such sacrifice, that He may be praised among the lost.

This is the way of God’s kingdom in this fallen world. The gospel does not advance through worldly success and power and techniques. The gospel advances through the sacrificial suffering of God’s servants.

The Lord Jesus himself modeled this:

John 12:23    Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds…
John 12:27    “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

It was persecution and suffering which mobilized the early church.

Acts 8:1    On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria….
Acts 8:4    Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

And was through the suffering of the apostle Paul that the gospel broke through and churches were planted throughout the Gentile world.

2 Cor. 11:24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

And so it goes on today. Again and again, the gospel advances not as the church experiences the favor and blessing of worldly authorities, but as Christians lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel.

As we listened to our brother share of his desire to be sent out and felt the weight of his sacrifice, we also knew that we had a sacrifice to make. In sending out workers, churches should send out their best. We want to send out workers like Paul and Barnabas. We want to send men and women who are gifted to teach, integral to the ministry, spiritually fruitful… Most of all, we want to send out men and women who are well-known and loved by the congregation. And so we sacrifice members of our very Body, for the sake of Christ and his gospel among the lost. And yet in that sacrifice, both of the senders and the sent, we have a promise:

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed.

But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

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