TODAY’S READING: 2 Corinthians 1–4
Most missionary work is painful. At least in the short term. Paul planted a church in Corinth that descended into debauchery and division. Strong letters and confrontational visits followed, leading some scholars to think 2 Corinthians is a compilation of several shorter letters as the tone shifts from a warm beginning to a harsh ending. Whatever the book’s composition, what is certainly applicable is that missionary messaging must include both the glad and sad, the gentle and harsh. We are not faithful to the missionary heart of God if we do not preach all His counsel or carry our cross.
A central reality of missionary messaging is that the sufferings of Christ will abound. The context of abounding comforts are abounding afflictions (2 Cor. 1:6). If we do not disciple the nations to expect and endure persecution, we cripple their capacity to thrive in Jesus. If we do not model endurance, courage, and fearless faith in persecution, we have no moral authority to ask them to suffer. Over and again I have seen missionaries model fear, protecting their bodies, freedom, or visas at the expense of their example. We cannot flee a country and ask new believers to stay. We cannot protect our longevity and ask new believers to risk their lives. It is ridiculous to teach and preach that to follow Jesus is to abound in calamity and comfort if we are not willing to suffer, if we leave town or avoid meeting with colleagues at the first squeeze of pressure. Paul could call others to suffering because he knew what it was like to be burdened beyond measure and to carry around the sentence of death (vv. 8–11).
A second difficult reality of missionary messaging and living is that we all betray and will be betrayed. We must decide to “pre-forgive.” We are not ignorant that one of Satan’s favorite devices is to allow unforgiveness, to cause division when missionaries hurt and betray other missionaries or locals and vice versa. It was in the context of missionary hurt, betrayal, and disappointment that Paul said God always leads us in His triumph in Christ and that we can be the sweet fragrance of Christ (vv. 14–16). How? By recognizing the devil’s weapon of unforgiveness and turning it against him, by being like Jesus in how often and sincerely we forgive. What testimony it is to the unreached when they see loving forgiveness among the people of God. Those who know they need forgiveness seek with longing a community that will truly forgive.
A third critical component of missionary messaging is that nothing should be veiled; we should not walk in craftiness, never be deceitful, and always manifest truth (4:2–3). We preach Christ who commands light to shine. Missionaries who attempt to veil their message, identity in Christ, purpose for existence, or relationship to the body of Christ do not represent Jesus well. We are proclaimers, not concealers. The excellent power of God is seen in us when we are hard pressed, crushed, persecuted, carrying about the dying of the Lord Jesus, and delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, the very things cloak-and-dagger missions seeks to avoid at nearly any cost.