That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you are able to help others, and refuse, so often did you do them wrong. — Augustine
Obedience to the Great Commission has more consistently been poisoned by affluence than by anything else. — Ralph Winter
The apostle Paul gave us our top priority: “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The gospel, and therefore the spread of the gospel, is of first importance.
Church budgets often designate less than 10 percent of their income to missions. And what’s called “missions” often includes ministries directed at reaching our own country or community. More than 90 percent of an average local church budget never leaves the country. According to the U.S. Center for World Missions, only 5.7 percent of giving to Christian causes goes to foreign missions. Of that, 87 percent goes for work among those who are already Christians, 12 percent for work among already evangelized non-Christians, and 1 percent for work among people groups who are unevangelized or unreached. Americans spend far more on pet food—and chewing gum!—than on the cause of world missions.
Ninety percent of the world’s Christian workers live in countries with 10 percent of the world’s population. Here’s a question corresponding to this statistic: If you saw ten people trying to lift a huge log and wanted to help them, and nine of the people were lifting at one end and one on the other, which end would you go to?
Some would say, “We have plenty of needs in our own country. People here are just as important as people off in some jungle. A soul is a soul—God doesn’t care whether it comes from our country or another.” But the gravity of needs of those without access to the gospel is obviously greater than that of those with churches in every community, a Bible on the shelf, gospel programs on the radio, and Christians living next door. (Why should some hear the gospel many times over when others have never heard it at all?)
Furthermore, although it’s certainly true that we’re surrounded by needs, our nation has vast resources. And almost every church and organization pours its funds back into our country, resulting in still greater resources. Our family and ministry gladly joined in contributing to help after the events of September 11, 2001, and again because of Hurricane Katrina. But given our extreme wealth, the truth is that America on its worst day was far better off than most nations on their best day.
We must realize that God is interested in more than the total number of souls in Heaven. He also cares where they come from! The four living creatures will join the heavenly hosts in singing praise to the Lamb: “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). John was overwhelmed when he saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
Christ is glorified not simply by the total number who worship him, but also by the fact that this number includes representatives from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Therefore, we must be making concerted efforts to see that missionaries, whether from our country or another, reach the “hidden” people who have not yet heard the gospel.
Shortly before he and his four friends were killed by the Auca Indians in their attempts to bring them the gospel, missionary Nate Saint wrote:
As we weigh the future and seek the will of God, does it seem right that we should hazard our lives for just a few savages? As we ask ourselves this question, we realize it is the simple intimation of the prophetic Word that there shall be some from every tribe in His presence in the last day, and in our hearts we feel that it is pleasing to Him that we should interest ourselves in making an opening into the Auca prison for Christ.
As we have a high old time this Christmas, may we who know Christ hear the cry of the damned as they hurtle headlong into the Christless night without ever a chance. May we be moved with compassion as our Lord was. May we shed tears of repentance for these we have failed to bring out of darkness. Beyond the smiling scenes of Bethlehem, may we see the crushing agony of Golgotha. May God give us a new vision of His will concerning the lost and our responsibility.
We are motivated first by the glory of God, but we’re also moved by the eternal needs of people. Many of us decry the fact that religious liberals don’t believe in hell. But there’s a shame even greater—that we who do believe in hell make so little effort to keep others from going there.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13-15)
Some of Christ’s disciples must leave behind their money and possessions to go reach the thousands of unreached people groups of the world. Some of his disciples must stay where they are, reaching out to those around them and living lifestyles that allow them not only to pray for the others but also to give generously to send and support them.
The opportunities for using our financial resources to spread the gospel and strengthen the church all over the world are stronger than they’ve ever been. As God raised up Esther for just such a time as hers, I’m convinced he’s raised us up, with all our wealth, to help fulfill the great commission. The question is, what are we doing with that money? Our job is to make sure it gets to his intended recipients.
Imagine Christ multiplying the five loaves and two fish, and the disciples accumulating the proceeds until they were buried underneath, while the masses went unfed. It’s a bizarre scenario, yet how easily we bury ourselves in the resources God has handed to us, while the needs of the world go unmet. We assume that God has multiplied our assets so we can keep them, when in fact he has multiplied them so we can distribute them (2 Corinthians 8:14; 9:11).
All the royalties from my books go to Christian ministries, and most go to missions, famine relief, and development work overseas. Our ministry makes available at no charge all my books to missionaries and international Bible colleges and seminaries that can use them to train and enrich those serving Christ. I don’t believe God has called me (for now) to spend my life overseas, but it’s our privilege here to earn money and give resources to help those who have been sent. Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Think of what Christian publishers could do overseas (some of them are doing this now) by giving away great books in English, giving away translation rights to worthy recipients, and helping to train nationals to become fluent writers in their own languages. Think of what your company might be able to offer at no charge to missionaries and needy national churches. Such giving should not be done indiscriminately but could be administered through existing faithful agencies that know best how to utilize such resources. (We at Eternal Perspective Ministries would be happy to link you with qualified ministries who will gladly help you.)
Giving money to evangelism is no substitute for evangelizing, but it’s an excellent supplement to it. There’s no greater way to invest our money in eternity than in the cause of world missions. All of us should be giving regularly to our local churches, and we should encourage our leaders in turn to invest an even larger share of their church budgets in world missions. Beyond that, most of us can invest substantially in the cause of world evangelization through many fine mission organizations.
Is it more important that starving people are fed or that they be reached with the gospel? The two are simultaneously critical, which is why Jesus commanded both. The dead do not hear the gospel—so to allow people to die or suffer needlessly is unconscionable. On the other hand, people who don’t hear the gospel can’t go to Heaven (Romans 10:13-14), so to feed them is right but to neglect to share the gospel is wrong. That’s why our ministry only supports famine relief organizations that are explicitly Christian and are committed to sharing Christ with those they help. Some experts estimate that more than half the charitable giving done by Christians is to secular organizations. It’s hard to understand why this is the case, when there are people doing almost every kind of charitable work in the name of Christ and who will bring people what they need more than anything: Jesus himself.
The church I attend has a policy of substantially supporting our missionary families. We prefer to be one of a few churches—preferably in the same area—that make up the bulk of a missionary’s support. Among other things, this concentration of support allows the missionaries to avoid the exhausting process of spending their furloughs visiting dozens of supporting churches and individuals across the country. By spending their furloughs with us and perhaps a few other supporting churches in the same area, they develop close relationships. This helps them not to become just a picture on a refrigerator. Furthermore, this personal contact dramatically increases the commitment and prayer support of the members of our congregation. (This provides another argument for sending people from the church on short-term missions trips to visit and work alongside the missionaries who are supported by the church.)
If a missionary family is supported by one hundred individuals, they have no spiritual community or home base. Likewise, if a church supports one hundred missionaries at $40 a month, it has no missionaries to call its own.
I can think of nothing better than if some readers would feel their hearts being touched by God to spend the rest of their lives on the mission field. If there’s anything I could do to encourage someone to that end, I would do it gladly. I’m a strong believer in missions, and in my travels I’ve seen firsthand God’s wonderful work through missions and national churches. But I also encourage those who do not feel God’s leading into a lifetime of missions to take a few weeks and go out on a short-term mission. Nothing will touch and change your heart quite like seeing the work firsthand and getting involved in ministry. It will also motivate your prayer life and stimulate your giving to missions.
Some have asked me, wouldn’t it be better just to take the money spent on short-term trips and send it to the mission field instead? In some cases, yes. Americans sometimes believe that our seeing ministry firsthand validates it. If a missions trip costs tens of thousands of dollars and involves minimal ministry impact, it’s really nothing more than a fun cross-cultural experience—which wouldn’t be enough to justify it.
But many short-term missions trips are strategic and greatly help the national churches, missionaries, and indigenous people. They create “world Christians,” who come back changed and who will pray for and fund missions the rest of their lives, thereby spreading their world vision and serving on missions task forces in ways they never would have if they’d stayed home. Also, many long-term missionaries have started with short-term experiences that have helped prepare them and move their hearts toward missions.
It might cost a church $5,000, for instance, to send a pastor to Sudan to fellowship with believers, hear their stories, teach them the Bible, and above all learn from these persecuted Christians. But when that pastor comes back to his church, his visit might bear the fruit of hundreds of thousands of dollars given, many hours of prayer, and an ongoing relationship with fellow believers overseas that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Furthermore, if people don’t go on short-term trips, the equivalent money will almost never be spent on missions but instead will go toward cars, vacations, or repaving the driveway. Many missions and vision trips are not funded out of missions dollars but from money that would have been spent other ways.
Our church sends out more than one hundred short-term missionaries a year. Consequently, our congregation is filled with world Christians who know our missionaries personally, pray for them regularly, and give to missions more generously. The eternal dividends far outweigh the short-term costs.
One day years ago, my Nigerian friend Samuel Kunhiyop and I were talking in my living room. We discovered we were the same age. After he shared what a privilege it was to be visiting our country, I said, “It surprises me that you have such a great appreciation for America. So many countries, even those we’ve helped, are anti-American. But many Nigerians were bought or stolen and shipped to America and sold as slaves, weren’t they? With all the countries that resent us without good reason, I’d think you of all people would despise us. Why don’t you?”
I’ll never forget the chills I felt hearing Samuel’s measured response, spoken slowly with his rich accent: “No matter what else you did, you brought us the gospel…and that is all that matters.” (Yes, I do believe that other things matter besides preaching the gospel—among them character, integrity, and social justice. But Samuel was saying the same thing the apostle Paul said—that the gospel is more important than anything else.) Two generations ago, a wave of missionaries sent by American churches had won this man’s village, including his parents, to Christ. As a result, while I was growing up in a non-Christian home in America, he was being raised in a Christian home in Nigeria.
David Bryant asks, “Who wouldn’t like to end each day, putting our heads on our pillows, confidently saying, ‘I know this day my life has counted strategically for Christ’s global cause, especially for those currently beyond the reach of the gospel’?”
The need is desperate. Isn’t it time we emptied our pockets to help reach the world for Christ? Like those who pray, those who give are partners with those who go (Colossians 4:2-4; Philippians 1:4-5). Some can go. All can pray. All can give. Will you?
As you consider your answer, imagine for a moment the warm voice of someone from a different culture—perhaps with a different color of skin—coming to you in Heaven, embracing you, and whispering, “Thank you—you brought us the gospel, and that is all that matters.”
For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn's book Money, Possessions, and Eternity.