Christmas and Christian Mission
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’” (John 20:21).
We don’t often think of Christmas as connected to missions but it really is. Let me show you. First, “Christmas” is actually shorthand for “Christ’s mass.” The English word “Mass” comes from the Latin word missa, which means to be “sent.” So, Christmas reminds us that Christ was sent.
He was sent to accomplish something. And His mission was not just to be a cute little baby. Jesus’ mission was to bring salvation. That’s actually how He got His name.
Matthew clearly spells it out for us: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
The name Jesus is actually the Greek form of the name Joshua. And it means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.”
Friends, the bad news is we have not loved and listened to Yahweh, the one true God, as we should. But, the good news is, Yahweh saves. He saves in unexpected and amazing ways.
He saves by sending Jesus, the Promised One, to be born in a mere manger. He saves by sending Him to die the death we deserved to die.
So, Jesus was sent on a mission. He accomplished that mission. And we see that we now are sent on mission. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
We are sent on a different mission but in the same way that Jesus was sent we too are sent. We too must carry out the mission. Christians join Christ in the Missio Dei, the “mission of God.” We are not the good news, but we tell the good news.
Christmas—Christ’s mission—should remind us of our mission. Thankfully, it is not our mission alone. Jesus did not leave us alone to accomplish the mission. He Himself is with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). And He Himself sent the Holy Spirit to be with us as our Helper.
 This Latin shows up in missions and in missionary.
 See John 20:22 and John 16:7-8.
Gospel Motive Filter
How can we know if our motives are gospel-focused or not? In the below video I outline a way to filter out motivations that are not gospel-focused.
Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles
I really appreciated Elliot Clark’s book Evangelism as Exiles. Here are some of the things that stood out to me:
“Picture an evangelist. For many of us, our minds immediately scroll to the image of someone like Billy Graham—a man, maybe dressed in a suit and tie, speaking to a large audience and leading many to Christ. As such, we tend to envision evangelism as an activity—more commonly a large event—that requires some measure of power and influence. In communicating the gospel, one must have a voice, a platform, and ideally a willing audience. It’s also why, to this day, we think the most effective spokespeople for Christianity are celebrities, high-profile athletes, or other people of significance. If they speak for Jesus, the masses will listen. But this isn’t how it has always been. Not throughout history and certainly not in much of the world today” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Elliot Clark gives six essential qualities of a Christian exile on mission:
“With the help of God’s Spirit, such believers will be simultaneously (1) hope-filled yet (2) fearful. They will be (3) humble and respectful, yet speak the gospel with (4) authority. They will live (5) a holy life, separate from the world, yet be incredibly (6) welcoming and loving in it. While these three pairs of characteristics appear at first glance to be contradictory, they are in fact complementary and necessary for our evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“From the perspective of 1 Peter, the antidote to a silencing shame is the hope of glory, the hope that earthly isolation and humiliation are only temporary. God, who made the world and everything in it, will one day include us in his kingdom and exalt us with the King, giving us both honor and also a home. We desperately need this future hope if we want the courage to do evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Here is a long string of quotes I found instructive:
“over the last decades, in our efforts at evangelism and church growth in the West, the characteristic most glaringly absent has been this: the fear of God… “Knowing the fear of the Lord, ” [Paul] explained, “we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11)… The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that if we have the appropriate fear for them and of God, we’ll preach the gospel. We’ll speak out and not be ashamed… our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“In a world teeming with reasons to be terrified, the only rightful recipient of our fear, according to Peter, is God… Fear of him, along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“According to Peter, we’re to honor everyone. Take a moment and turn that thought over in your mind. You’re called to show honor to every single person. Not just the people who deserve it. Not just those who earn our respect. Not just the ones who treat us agreeably. Not just the politicians we vote for or the immigrants who are legal. Not just the customers who pay their bills or the employees who do their work. Not just the neighborly neighbors. Not just kind pagans or honest Muslims. Not just the helpful wife or the good father” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
The Missional Mandate for Christians
As followers of Jesus, Christians have a missional mandate (Matt. 28:18-20). Christians are pupils and apprentices. We follow Jesus and we do as He did. We give our lives away in love and we tell people about the good news of Jesus. To be a disciple is to be missional. We are not true disciples if we are not missional.
We lovingly engage with the people around us. We do not shut ourselves off in “God ghettos,” we do not create Christian castles. Jesus said that we are to be lights in a dark world (Matt. 5:15). Paul said we are not to leave the world (1 Cor. 5:9-11) but be messengers of the King in the world (2 Cor. 5:20).
So, we as followers of Jesus…
Leave the “bubble”
We remove excess emphasis on Christian bubble activities and programs and instead spend time relationally engaging together with peers, neighbors, and coworkers. We are intentionally in the world. Jesus intentionally went to the world, He left heaven. He incarnated Himself (Matt. 1:22-23; Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:7).
We follow our King and we enter the world in love (Matt. 5:13-16; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:12 cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-10; Jn. 17:15-16).
Living to Share the Gospel
As we read in Philippians we see that Paul lived to share the gospel. That’s what he was all about. Even when he was imprisoned for sharing the gospel he said, “It’s okay. It actually worked out quite well because I was able to tell the prison guards about Jesus.”
Paul lived to share the gospel. But what made him live like this? He hadn’t always lived for the gospel so what changed him? And what perhaps needs to change in our own lives so that we will live to share the gospel of Christ?
As I was preparing to write this I struggled because this portion of Philippians (1:12-18, 27-30) seems irrelevant. It seems disconnected from our everyday life. So, I was trying to think of some angle that I could share to make it relevant and I was struggling to do so. I was thinking that if I were talking about procrastination, lust, or something else then that would be relevant.
As I continued to think about it, however, I realized the problem is not with the passage. The problem is with us, with me. The passage doesn’t seem relevant because we don’t share the concern that Paul had, and that the Bible has. We, I am afraid, our deficient in our devotion to the gospel.
Sharing the gospel and our…
This first point comes from my own mouth and mind and not directly from Philippians. However, upon reflection, I think it is important that we consider our potential deficiency.What is our deficiency? Or, what would make this passage seem irrelevant?
I fear we (myself included!) get used to the gospel. It ceases to amaze us. We take it for granted. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was likely written 30 years after his conversion but we see that he is still amazed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and later on he says everything is rubbish compared to Christ (3:8).
Our deficiency is our deficient view of the gospel. We esteem it of low worth. Until that deficiency changes we won’t delight in sharing the gospel and we won’t carry out our duty of sharing the gospel. So, briefly, what is the gospel?
Philippians 2 talks about Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, made Himself nothing and humbled Himself to die for us, even by death on a cross. 2 Corinthians 8:9 reminds us of the wonder of the gospel: our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich. This is the good news of the “great exchange.” Jesus, God in flesh, took our filthy sinful stains upon Himself on the tree; and He gave us His beautiful robes of righteousness.
The apostle Paul understood that and that’s why he said everything—everything!—is rubbish compared to Christ. We too need to understand that. It makes sense logically but often times it hasn’t worked itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.
So, we see the need of cultivating a heart of worship, a heart that is amazed by the gospel. As John Piper has said,
“No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.”
It is when we taste and see that a restaurant is good that we tell others about it. It is the same with the gospel. We need to “taste” that it is good. We need to know understand that the LORD “has done gloriously.” Look at Isaiah 12:1-5:
“I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation… Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”
It when we taste the God’s goodness that we say, “Let this be known in all the earth!”
Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Devotion (Phil. 1:12-18)
In a letter such as this, it would have been customary for Paul to explain how he was doing. It would have been natural to discuss his physical conditions. I expect Paul to say something like:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, especially for the gift you gave me. That was really helpful. However, as you know I am in jail for preaching the gospel and I am fresh out of funds. I don’t have a lot of food and my sneakers are worn out. It’d be great to get some help. I am also very tired as my bed is very uncomfortable and the blanket they gave me is terrible. The guards also keep me up late. They like to play cards and their cursing is terrible…”
However, Paul says nothing like that. Actually, we’re not even really told about his physical well-being, let alone the state of his sneakers.
Yet, imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul. One commentator has said, “For a traveling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.” Yet, Paul was not complaining.
Why is this the case? Certainly, Paul had material concerns. There are times when Paul let his material needs be known. For instance, he asks for his coat and books (2 Tim. 4:13). Paul surely had physical/material concerns but they weren’t main concern. We see Paul is concerned with the gospel and its advancement.
Paul’s good is wrapped up with the gospel. Even though he was locked up he could rejoice because it “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul made known to his guards that he was in jail for telling people about Christ. It was such a big deal that it got around to a bunch of people, “the whole imperial guard,” it says (v. 13).
“The soldiers were used, of course, to the ‘gospel’ of Caesar—the supposed ‘good news’ that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different ‘gospel’: that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him.”
The guards were interested in hearing Paul’s story because they probably thought Paul was crazy at first. After all, they must have thought, who worships and confesses as King and Lord a crucified Jew?!
Yet, upon further discussion with Paul, they would have seen that Paul was not a lunatic but rather quite sane. If what Paul said about Jesus was true it would make sense that he would be willing to be imprisoned for Him (the guards themselves had suffered for their own king). Further, in light of Jesus being the King and Lord, it makes sense that Paul was encouraged, even in prison.
We see also the impact that Paul’s example had on the Philippians; they were emboldened to “speak the word without fear” (v. 14). How might our boldness help others to be bolder in sharing the gospel? You never know, God may use you to stir up a revival.
Perhaps the most surprising thing we see is that Paul even rejoices when people “preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (v. 15) and “out of selfish ambition” (v. 17). So, we see Paul had a delight in the gospel that bled out into the way he thought about the sharing of the gospel. Paul was passionate about the gospel and desired it to be shared. He had written previously, in Romans, that “he was ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it was the power of God for salvation to all that believe” (Rom. 1:16). Paul continued passionately and boldly unashamed.
So, what are your aspirations? To make money? To travel? To find a new job? To be in a relationship? To do well in school? To be successful in life (however, you define success)? “None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.” Our central concern should be the gospel and its advancement.
Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Duty (Phil. 1:27-30)
In Philippians 1:27 Paul tells us about our duty. Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul is telling us that the gospel is amazing and calls us to life change. We cannot understand and be impacted by the gospel without being changed. When we taste the sweetness of the gospel then we begin to be moved to desire to live our life in line with the gospel. We begin to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). We even begin to see it as a good thing if we suffer for the sake of Christ (v. 29).
Paul’s form of ambassadorship changed but not his purpose and duty. Paul was an ambassador in chains (Eph. 6:20). This is the case for us too. We might serve in different locations and different circumstances but we are still called to be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. So, the specific call and circumstance might change but we are all called to share and care about the gospel.
When our devotion to the gospel of Christ is waning and deficient we need to work at cultivating a heart of worship. Because not only is the gospel a delight but we also have a duty to share and care about it. We are called to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27) and notice as we stand side by side and encourage each other we can stand firm not and not be afraid of our opponents (v. 27-28).
A Few Questions:
1. What did you find encouraging and what did you find challenging about this post?
2. How is our view of the gospel sometimes deficient?
3. The gospel is the most amazing reality in the world but sometimes it may seem irrelevant. What does that say about us and our focus when that is true of us?
4. What are you tempted to care about more than the gospel? What is your “good news”?
5. Do you care about the gospel? Do you share the gospel?
6. How might your boldness help others to be bold in sharing the gospel?
7. Is it true we should have a devotion to Jesus and His gospel? Or, is it legalistic to say we must be devoted and that we have duty?
8. What would a devotion to the gospel look like in your everyday life?
9. Why would we be devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would motivate us in that way?
 John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 40.
 Paul’s letter “is thoroughly transformed by the gospel” (Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 106 cf. 108).
 N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 89.
 “This passage shows us that when our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel rather than to our physical condition or to the responses of other people to us, it remains firm, even when these circumstances stand against us” (Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, 66).
 We see that “God works not merely in spite of but through adverse circumstances” (Ibid.).
 Ibid. Cf. D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 23.
 D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 26.
 John Stott, The Message of Philippians, 72.
Our Missionary God and Our Mission
God incarnated Himself. Became poor, despised. God is the ultimate missionary. He Himself who is the good news, brought good news.
If we are going to be “missional,” i.e. intentionally evangelistic, we must focus on and learn from God the Great Missionary. God’s love is unrelenting and displayed through a vast array of means. It is tangible. It cares. It comes to us. It gives. God’s love is present, active, premeditated.
God’s mission is not disconnected from who He is but expressive of who He is. God’s character, in Christ, literally bled out. God’s missionary heart is not forced but fundamental. God is a God who calls, reaches, and loves the unloving; and He always has been.
We cannot expect our hearts to overflow with missional love unless we meditate on God’s love that we see expressed through the Scriptures. For the good news of Christ to overflow out of our hearts it must daily be in our hearts as good news. We don’t want the gospel and a life of love to be forced, we want it to be so natural that it pours out. We don’t just need our actions to change, we need our character to change. We need to be different. We need to care in ways that we don’t care. We want to intentionally share, not mainly because we have to but because we want to.
We must regularly challenge ourselves by the active nature of mission. God did something. He was not passive. He came. He had a plan (since before the foundation of the world) and He executed it. It cost Him but He carried it out. He opened wide His arms and welcomed in the unloving and hateful world as He hung stretched out on the tree.
We too must be active. We too must enter the world in tangible and intentional ways. We must have a plan and execute it; even if it costs us.
We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal through us. God speaks through us! So we must implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).