The church today is hustling about to promote, encourage, exhort, pray for, and do evangelism and missions. This is a good thing. The church must regularly be about these things. It is our mission. I do believe, however, that many have a misunderstanding or upside-down perspective of what the biblical motives for evangelism and missions are. Following are the biblical motives, and I have ordered them according to preeminence:
1. Love for God and a desire to see Him glorified among the nations. Our first motivation for evangelism and missions ought to be the glory of God. Because God is Creator, He is worthy to receive the glory and honor due Him (Rev. 4:11). Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is worthy to receive the reward of His redeeming blood (Rev. 5:9,10, 12). The glory of God is preeminent. If we do not begin here in our motivation for evangelism and missions, then we have sunk into error and have placed something above the glory of God. This first motivation is foundational to the others.
2. Humble obedience to the Great Commission. Our second motivation is a heart-felt commitment to the commands of our Lord and Master. He has instructed us to go and make disciples of all the nations, which entails proclaiming the gospel, baptizing disciples, and teaching them to observe all that our Lord has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Our love for God and a desire to see Him glorified produces within us an eagerness to obey Him. In humble obedience we will fulfill the first and primary motivation.
3. Love for the lost and a desire to see them worship the one, true God. Our third and final motivation is our desire to see the lost saved and brought into the fellowship of God’s people, where the name of the LORD is lifted high. Paul had such a loving desire for the salvation of his kinsmen that he wished himself to be accursed for the sake of their salvation (Rom. 9:1-3). Paul “endured all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). Because we love God, and God loves people, we are to love people. They are our neighbors. They too are created in the image and likeness of God. Sharing the gospel and taking part in mercy ministries are ways in which we show our love for people, but this must be grounded in and performed to the glory of God.
The problem I have noticed in our day is that the motivation for evangelism and missions is often inverted. There is much talk of the love of men when speaking of evangelism and missions, yet very little talk of the glory of God. There, too, is much talk of being obedient to Christ’s call, but it is often done in a legalistic way (being separated from the first motive and grounded in the third). To speak of obedience apart from the glory of God in evangelism and missions is misguided and backwards. To speak of the love of men without first giving preeminence to the love of God is idolatry. It would be as if Jesus had said, “You shall love men with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your God as yourelf.” Such of course is utter blasphemy, but this is where many are in the area of evangelism and missions today. Man is the driving force of all that they do. This is why so much of contemporary evangelism and missions is performed with a watered down gospel, seeker-sensitive methodologies, and manipulation. This must be remedied. The only remedy is not putting God back in His place, but recognizing that He has always been in that preeminent, glorious place, and then to repent and live with this God-centered perspective. This is true evangelism and true missions.
In summary then, our motivations for evangelism and missions, in their proper order, are God’s glory, Great Comission obedience, and love for the lost. I would like to suggest a few books that I believe represent well this biblical perspective: Tell the Truth (Will Metzger), Let the Nations Be Glad (John Piper), Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (J.I. Packer), A Vision for Missions (Tom Wells).