TODAY’S READING: Joshua 9–11
Partnership is essential to missions. The American church cannot reach unreached peoples by itself. We were not the first to engage in missions and we won’t be the last.
Americans, however, do not have a corner on the market as far as hubris goes. No one nation can reach all the nations, no one nationality is the answer. It is as unwise to say, “The Africans are the answer!” Just as it is to think the Latinos (or Arabs, Asians, whoever) are the future of missions. The unfinished task (i.e., representatives of every people group worshiping Jesus) will only be accomplished when all nations send missionaries to all nations. We can’t do missions without partnership across the mission agencies and across the national ethnicities.
Non-partnership is also essential to missions. Who we don’t align with is just as important as who we do. Our “no” is as important as our “yes.” Our “no” may be required for strategic partnerships. We say “no” to partnership because that union would dilute the specific task God has called us to. The potential partner could be saved, well intentioned, and obeying what they believe the Harvest Master asked of them, but to join them or have them join us would not be best for either of us. There are some cases when the godliest thing we can do is to agree to work in our respective corners of God’s field. There are other cases in which our “no” is because union would inject harm, poison, or distraction into our spirit and actions. As critical as partnership is, God does not ask us to partner willy-nilly. There must always be parameters and an assurance of like precious faith. Above all, we must “ask counsel of the Lord” (Josh. 9:14). Joshua and the leaders made this classic error with the Gibeonites. They made an agreement based on appearances, not on the Lord’s call to work together.
In mission partnerships, two essential reactions can mislead or oppose us. One is deceit (the action of the Gibeonites in vv. 22–24) and the other is assault (the action of the King of Jerusalem and friends in 10:1–5), and both reactions are based on fear. Fear then is the real enemy of mission partnership. Fear can lead us to seek alliances that we should avoid. Fear can lead us to resist or attack those that we should make peace with, and this fear is usually connected to jealousy or anxiety about being overlooked or left behind. By all means, let us partner, for we will not see God’s glory among the 4.7 million Turkmen if we don’t work together. But let our partnership decisions not be based on fear; let them be based on taking the counsel of the Lord. He will show us who to make peace with and who to fight, who to align with and who to peacefully avoid.
A second beautiful reality of mission partnership is that our essential union with each other is based on us partnering with Jehovah: He the senior partner, and we the little lads and lassies He allows into the fray. It is a bit of a mystery why God includes frail humans in His mission. After all, consistently “more die from the hailstones than the children of Israel kill with the sword” (v. 11). In other words, God’s part is so much bigger than man’s part whenever peoples are saved. God indeed fights for us (v. 14) and does most of the work, yet not in a way that our little contribution is unneeded or insignificant. In partnership with God regarding mission, there is mystery. God doesn’t need us, yet He chooses to need us. God could save the nations without us, yet if we decline partnership, there is a deadly cost paid by the unwarned (Ezekiel 3 and 33). I cannot logically or emotionally settle the justice or terror of someone going to hell because of my disobedience, so my determination is to make that question redundant by obedient participation in mission. I will draw my little dagger and lend it to God’s almighty sword.
When we join with God, He does impossible things. God says, “Come near, and put your feet on the necks of kings” (Josh. 10:24). As we look at the imposing sizes and entrenched deception of unreached peoples, our Mighty General says, “Don’t fear! Believe! Come near! We will comprehensively overcome! Kings and peoples will be overcome by My love and glory” (10:30 – 11:14). God help us. Even our global combined partnership is puny when compared to God’s power. Yet God delights to use our combined weakness, and He will put our feet on the necks of kings.