TODAY’S READING: Ezra 7–10
God’s people are not the only spiritual army with missionary commission. Other faiths and ideologies have global ambition. I have had Muslims weep in their fervent desire to see me embrace Islam, for they truly felt it necessary for my eternal wellbeing. The biblical record, of course, lays out the one way for salvation, and it is Jehovah’s way. Jehovah’s missionary people are to live so satisfied and so enraptured with Him that the overflow compels us to the peoples of the world, inviting them to join Jehovah’s global family, to the shelter from God’s wrath under the protection of God’s Son.
Ezra’s horror at intermarriage with the nations (Ezra 9:1–4) was not racist, but righteous: He knew the plan for God’s people was to influence the world towards Jehovah, not to be influenced towards other gods and idols. Intermarriage led to accommodation of other religions, and God’s people became a mission field rather than a mission force. Ezra had just returned from exile—the clear punishment on God’s people for not being missionary—and here again was the same sin of the fathers, a perversion or prevention of the mission of God. When we mix the world into our worship, our witness is at best warped and at worst wicked, and in that only wrath and weeping in exile await us.
Both missionaries and ministers must be on guard as they seek to contextualize the gospel to culture. While it is appropriate to frame the gospel in ways that can be understood, it is never appropriate to be so influenced by a context that the gospel is defiled in an illicit marriage. There are missionaries who have tried so hard to be relevant that they’ve lost repentance in their message; in fact, in some cases, the host community believed they had missionized the missionary. What folly it is to congratulate ourselves on being relevant or contextual if that means we have actually removed the stumbling block of the gospel, if we have removed the call to repent, to leave what is false, and to divorce whatever is not of the God of the Bible. It wasn’t an easy choice then, and it’s not an easy act now.
Our world is not neutral, and we are not the only missionaries out there. We are being evangelized whether we realize it or not. We are wooed, courted, pursued, and romanced. Let us be on guard and not flattered by the attention. Let us not marry into anything that is not the pure family of Jehovah. There are things to which we must say no; there are alliances we cannot and must not make. There are paths we must not travel. Ezra was wise enough to consult God before he married a plan or power (8:21). No one likes to be a rubber stamp, least of all the Majesty of heaven, but all too often in missions we develop a strategy and then ask the omniscient Lord to endorse it. If the nations will be won to the Way, we must fast and pray (v. 23) to know the path’s details, wed ourselves to it and Him, and live missionary lies impervious to the missionaries who pursue us.