The Beginnings of Missions in the Bible

I had a conversation about international development recently. The conversation spilled over into a fun, talk-argument about missions.

And one of my friends said this: "Missions begins with the Great Commission. 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' That's why missions needs to be about evangelism and not about development or social justice." Was he right? Is that true?

If you know me you know I pushed back on this statement. Missions is definitely about evangelism. But evangelism need not exclude development and justice. Why do I say that? Well, I disagree with my friend's premise.

Missions does not begin with the Great Commission.

Flip back in your Bible and you can find stories of missionaries littering the pages.

Daniel and the rest of the exiles, who went to Babylon. Sure they spoke about God with the pagan authorities, but they also planted gardens and built homes (see Jer. 29).

Jonah, who went to Nineveh. Sure, he preached and evangelized, but he also confronted violence and warmongering.

Farther back, farther back.

Abraham. How about him? Definitely a missionary. God covenants with him to make him a light to the nations. All the people of the earth will be blessed through him. The world will know God through Abraham's family. But this same Abraham led a midnight raid into the camp of Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him. In that raid, Abraham set slaves free and returned money and goods to their rightful owners (see Gen 14).

Over and over again, God's people in mission demonstrate both evangelism and social concern.

Look at Jesus himself. He could demonstrate his power by turning water into wine and multiplying loaves and walking on water. Why would he bother to heal diseases or cast out demons? Sometimes, God's work of revelation also creates transformation.

If your only verse on God's mission is the Great Commission, you will miss God's mission.

Check out this video that illustrates our need to live out our faith with both words and deeds:

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