Why should we support missionaries?
'Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth' (3 John 6-8).
The only proper reason for the existence of any local church in this world is the furtherance of the gospel. The church exists on earth only for the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church of God is a sounding board for the gospel. It is our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to proclaim the gospel of Christ as fully and universally as we possibly can to the generation in which we live. We have no other commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8). One of the most effective means we have of preaching the gospel, in any age, is gospel missions, sending out missionaries to preach the good news of redemption and grace in Christ around the world.
When I first moved to Danville, Kentucky, and assumed the pastoral responsibilities of Grace Baptist Church, before we had a house of worship, before we began any other work, before the church was able to support the pastor as they desired, I asked the men and women of Grace Church to make a commitment to the support of gospel missionaries. We had no visible means of doing so. But I was convinced then, as I am now, that where there is a will to give God will supply the ability to give. As in all other things, our people rallied to their pastor's request. (Some of those saints make great personal sacrifices to support their pastor, those faithful men who preach the gospel in foreign countries and needy pastors and churches in our own country. I cannot sufficiently express my thanks to God for them, or commend them too highly.) Today it is our privilege to assist in the regular support of six faithful missionaries and their families, and we have never lacked anything needed for the work at home.
God honours those who honour him, and our congregation has been blessed of God, greatly blessed, since the day we began supporting these missionaries. We have lost nothing, but gained much, as our Lord promised (Luke 6:38).
In the future I intend to call upon myself and our church family to make greater sacrifices, to give more and do more for the cause of Christ, so that any man whom God raises up to preach the gospel of Christ anywhere in the world will not lack material support for his family. I call upon my readers to do the same. Why? Why do I ask for such commitment? Why do I call upon God's people to give to missions? Why should we support missionaries? In this chapter I want to give some plain, biblical answers to that question.
What is a missionary?
First let me clearly define what a missionary is. The word 'missionary' is not used in the Bible, but that should not disturb us. Neither is the word 'Trinity'. We practise missions, as we believe the doctrine of the Trinity, because the concept is clearly taught. The biblical word for missionary is 'evangelist'. Paul and Barnabas were missionaries sent out from the church at Antioch to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-3). Philip the evangelist was a missionary (Acts 21:8). All pastors are to do the work of an evangelist, or missionary (2 Tim. 4:5). But God has given some to his church who are specifically called to be missionaries or evangelists (Eph. 4:11).
A missionary is a man. No woman can serve as an evangelist, for an evangelist is a preacher and God does not call women to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 14:35; 1 Tim. 2:11-12). The wife of a missionary, that is, of an evangelist, is not herself a missionary in the true sense of the word, however much she may be an excellent wife to her husband, any more than the fact of being the wife of the President makes the First Lady herself the President of the United States.
A missionary is a man with God's message. First and foremost, like every other man called to the work of the gospel, the missionary is a preacher. If a man is not gifted to preach, he cannot serve as a missionary. And the message he preaches is, and must be, the gospel of God's free and sovereign grace in Christ. The missionary is a proclaimer of good news; and the good news he proclaims is the redemption Christ accomplished for sinners.
A missionary is a man with God's mission. Missionaries are men called and gifted of God to establish churches, train pastors and help establish those pastors and churches in the gospel of the grace of God, so that they might carry on the work of the gospel for the years to come. Medical missionaries, educational missionaries and cultural missionaries are not true missionaries and should not be supported by local churches. Missionaries are men who have a mission from God, and their mission is to preach the gospel of Christ.
With these things in mind, I want us to examine what the Spirit of God teaches in 3 John about the church's responsibility to missionaries. Here is a letter written by the apostle John to his beloved son in the faith, Gaius. Gaius was not a pastor, preacher, or elder. He was a man whom God had saved, a believer, a member of a local church, which had been visited by some missionaries. These missionaries were travelling about, preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. In their journeys they stopped at the town where Gaius lived, to visit the brethren there. So Gaius took them into his house, fed them, entertained them and lodged them for several days, perhaps for several weeks, and when they left he gave them some travelling money to help with their expenses. When they got back to the church of which John was the pastor, these travelling evangelists, these missionaries, could not stop talking about Gaius. They told John about him. They told their friends about him. They told the whole church about Gaius. When John heard these men talking about his spiritual son, his heart bubbled up with joy and gratitude. He wrote this letter, by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, to commend Gaius. And he does commend him! He tells us that Gaius loved the gospel (vv. 3-4), that he was faithful in all things (v. 5), and that he was generous, charitable and hospitable to his brethren, even to those who were total strangers (vv. 5-6). Like Abraham, Gaius entertained strangers who came to him in the name of Christ, and in so doing, he entertained angels unawares (Gen. 18:3; Heb. 13:2).
After highly commending this man, Gaius, for all that he had done, John urged him to do even more. Realizing that God's servants are to be supported entirely by the generous, free, voluntary gifts of his people, John gave Gaius, and us, four reasons why we should support missionaries.
1. It is pleasing to God for us to do so
John told Gaius that when God's servants come to our town, we are not only to care for them while they are with us, but we are to 'bring [them] forward on their journey after a godly sort' (v. 6).
It is the responsibility of local churches to provide all those things which God's servants need to carry on their work. Missionaries have all the earthly needs that the rest of us have and many that we do not have. They must have homes, food and clothing for their families. They must provide health care for their households. They have to educate their children, and they have to have some means of transport, just like we do. In addition to these things, every expense for the work on the field comes out of the missionary's pocket! Whatever it takes to keep faithful men free of earthly care, so that they may give themselves whole-heartedly to the work of the ministry, we must do!
John tells us that this is a 'godly sort' of work. The marginal translation of these words is: this is a work 'worthy of God'. It is a work becoming to those who serve God. If we do this, if we support God's servants in the work of the gospel, we do well. This is a work pleasing to God. God delights to see those who love Christ showing their love by generosity towards his servants (2 Cor. 9:7).
2. We should give 'for his name's sake'
'For his name's sake they went forth' (v.7). And 'for his name's sake' we must supply their needs.
There is only one thing that compels the tree servant of God to take his wife and children to a remote, far distant country, to preach the gospel, leaving behind the comforts of his homeland, the company of his friends and the warmth of his family: he is motivated by a burning jealousy for the name of Christ (Rom. 1:5, 16, 17).
That same burning jealousy for Christ's name inspires God's saints to give of their means to supply those men with the support they need. Every believer wants all men and women to hear the gospel of Christ, so that our great Saviour may be known, trusted, worshipped and glorified throughout the world. The best means we have of accomplishing that great goal is giving of our means to support faithful gospel-preaching missionaries.
Our Lord is so highly honoured by the service of those whom he sends out to preach the gospel that he counts anything we do for them as having been done for him (Matt. 10:40-42), and indeed it is. God's servants are his ambassadors. Those men who faithfully preach the gospel of God's free and sovereign grace in Christ (the gospel of his electing love, accomplished redemption, effectual grace and saving fulness) are God's representatives and spokesmen in this world (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Anything we do to one of God's ambassadors we do to him. Anything done for God's ambassador is done for him; and anything done against God's ambassador is done against him.
3. Faithful men have no other means of support
'Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles' (v. 7). These men preached to the Gentiles freely, refusing to seek, or even take financial support from unbelievers.
There are three things I want to say about preachers and money. I know what the people of this world think, and I know that the preachers of this world have a terrible reputation regarding money. Preachers, as a whole, are the poorest credit risks in our society. They have a terrible reputation for living beyond their means and not paying their bills. That is horribly shameful! But we must never make the mistake of stereotyping God's servants with the characteristics of religious hirelings. God's servants are worthy of our generous support. Because they are faithful to Christ, the gospel of his grace and the souls of men, they have no means of support other than the generosity of God's people. There are three things we need to know about God's servants.
1. God's servants do not preach for earthly gain. These men described by John 'went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles'. They did not go out seeking men's goods. They went forth seeking men's souls. It is never hard to tell whether a preacher is seeking your goods, or the good of your soul. If he spends the bulk of his time talking about your goods (health, wealth and prosperity), you can be sure the rogue is after your money! If he spends his time and energy speaking to you about Christ and your soul, it is because he is seeking the good of your soul.
Paul condemned those pretentious, self-motivated, covetous, greedy false prophets who make merchandise of men's souls and prostitute the gospel for gain (2 Cor. 2:17; 1 Thess. 2:5-9). God's servants do not seek personal gain. They will not enrich themselves by the gospel. It would be impossible to make a faithful pastor or missionary rich. If he is faithful, that which he does not need he will give to someone who does. He has no desire to hoard up money, lands or jewels. Can you imagine a rich prophet or apostle? Ridiculous!
2. Our Lord expressly forbids his servants to solicit support, especially from unbelievers. When he sent his disciples out to preach, he said, 'Go not from house to house' (Luke 10:7). That means, 'Do not go begging, soliciting help, or in any way implying that the cause of Christ, his church, his gospel, or his servants depend upon the aid and support of men.
If I am God's servant, material, monetary, earthly considerations have nothing to do with what, where, when, or how I preach. In over twenty years of preaching, I have never asked anyone for a penny, nor even allowed the consideration of cost or expense to enter into any decision regarding the work of the ministry. I am God's servant, and God meets my needs. The church I pastor is God's church, and God supplies our needs. We will not dishonour our heavenly Father by begging and grovelling before men for a little money. I write from personal experience, but what I have said is true of all who truly serve our God. Any man who begs for money in the name of Christ, promising rewards from God if people give him their money, or implying that God's work might fail if they do not, is a liar and a false prophet.
3. The Lord Jesus also forbids his servants to make provision for themselves (Matt. 10:9-10; Luke 10:4-7). God's servants should not have to provide for themselves, and it is wrong for local churches to make it necessary for them to do so by being, selfish, niggardly misers. No servant of God, no man who truly ministers to the souls of men, should be required to provide even a piece of bread for himself or his family. It is the responsibility of local churches to take care of those who preach the gospel and to see that those who preach the gospel live by the gospel. The less earthly care a pastor or missionary has, the freer he is to give himself to the work of the ministry (prayer, study, preaching, writing, etc.); and the more he gives himself to these things, the more useful he is in the cause of Christ.
Not only is this the responsibility of local churches; it is what God's churches in fact do. God's saints are not misers! If God is in any work, anywhere in the world, God will supply the needs of that work through the free, voluntary, generous gifts of his people. Anything that has to be primed, pumped, pushed, pulled and promoted by men is not of God.
4. By our loving, free generous support of God's faithful servants, we become 'fellow-helpers to the truth' (v. 8)
When we supply a man's needs, so that he can preach the gospel of Christ freely to others, we become allies with him in the work of preaching the gospel. What a privilege! The work of the ministry is God's work, but God does his work through the labours of faithful men, through the preaching of the gospel. And these men do their work by the generosity of faithful men and women, who work hard and freely give of their means, so that the gospel may be preached freely around the world.
God's church is one, and we are one with those missionaries we are privileged to support. Their cause is our cause; their work is our work, and their reward is our reward.
The next time we have the opportunity to show hospitality to, entertain, give to, or do anything for, one of God's servants, let us remember these things:
1. This is a work that is pleasing to God.
2. This is a work that is done by faith in and for the honour of Christ's name.
3. This is a work done for worthy men, men who have forsaken all to preach the gospel. They are worthy to live by the gospel.
4. By these things we are 'fellow-helpers to the troth'.
Let each one of us do whatever God gives us the opportunity and the ability to do for Christ, his servants and the furtherance of the gospel, and let us pray that God will continue to raise up men to preach the gospel of his free grace in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his elect and the glory of his own great name. 'The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest' (Luke 10:2).