Don Carson: The Biblical Basis for Missions #TGC13

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My notes from Don Carson’s opening session of TGC13’s World Missions’ pre-conference, “God’s Love Compels Us.” (All notes are paraphrased.)


What is the biblical basis for mission? How might we go about answering the question. We might do so by teasing out the story of redemption from the beginning of Scripture…  we could assert the biblical basis for missions is anchored in the entire Bible with God graciously and continually going after sinners for his glory. Or we could consider Jesus Himself—we could think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or the obedience of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene, or His actions… but another way of getting to the biblical basis of missions is by focusing on a particular passage. And we will do so today by focusing on 2 Cor 4:1-12.

So how does this passage contribute to our grasp of the biblical basis of mission?

These verses do not so much define mission so much as describe it.

Gospel ministry demands unqualified integrity. (1-2)

Verses one through three begin with the clause “therefore.” And this “therefore” connects our text with the previous three chapters. There, Paul is telling us that apostolic ministry has many superior privileges to the ministry of Moses. Or to put it another way, the new covenant covered sealed by the blood of Christ is superior to the old covenant (see 2 Cor. 3:1-3, 7-11, 18)

Do these references to “this ministry” refer only to apostolic ministry? If so, then we must be careful in how we apply them today. Although 2 Cor. 3 describes the superiority of apostolic ministry, his use of “we all” reminds us this is for all of us.

What is the nature of Paul’s misery? Many are uncomfortable with the plain teaching of Scripture (2 Cor 4:2). Why would you use shady language? Because the language of Scripture isn’t too popular. Further, others are going to be blinded to it. Devout muslims may understand what you’re saying, but not why it matters. Secular hedonists may not see its relevance. There’s even a new tolerance that isn’t tolerant at all, which says that proclaiming an exclusive Jesus makes you a bigot.

The “god” of this age has blinded them to the truth.

In other words, sometimes it is the truth itself that is offensive. Jesus knew this Himself, as he told some onlookers in his day, “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe.” It would be bad enough if he said “although…” But he uses a causal—”because.” So what do you do? Tell untruths? But then what are they believing? Something that isn’t true.

If you read the pagan literature of the first three centuries, the most common complaint about Christianity is it’s too narrow. Sound familiar?

So it’s easy to be disheartened. But because this ministry comes from God, we do not lose heart. We use clear words, we do not use cunning and underhanded ways… and “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.”

There are ways to change the message to increase income. There are some who change the message looking for a “strong” man who will tell them where to step off. What is required of us, though? Backbone. Gospel ministry demands unqualified integrity.

The gospel itself displays the glory of Christ (v. 3-6).

Our task is to herald the gospel even to those who can’t see it’s light. I knew a graduate student at the university of Cambridge who was given John Stott’s Basic Christianity. She read through the book, even looked up the references… and when she was done, she said, “I’ve decided Christianity is for good people like you and Carol [her Christian roommate], but not for me.” How does a graduate student at Cambridge decide this through John Stott’s limpid prose? Because she couldn’t see it. She was blind to the truth.

Now, if you want to see how do we see the glory of Christ? By looking at Jesus Himself. Jesus isn’t a cypher for the glory of God. His Lordship is predicated upon His death and resurrection on the cross. This is the news we proclaim.

We can’t forget that the gospel is news—it’s new about Jesus, who He is and what He has done to purchase men and women from every tongue and tribe and every nation, until the Kingdom comes in the new creation.

The good news is not “believe.”

The good news is not “turn over a new leaf.”

What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.

If we have come to see the light of the gospel, it is because God has shone that light in our hearts. It is not because we’re brighter, or because we are Western, but because God has somehow illuminated our hearts—the language is specifically evocative of creation. God said “let there be light” and there was light, and John’s gospel says that the darkness couldn’t stop it.

Until God says let there be light, darkness abides.

And so my confidence is not in myself, but in the God who says “let there be light.” The gospel itself displays the glory of Christ.

Gospel ministry is characterized by paradoxical death to self and overflowing life in Christ. (7-12)

We have this treasure—this treasure of Christ, of the gospel—in jars of clay so that this all surpassing power is known to be from God and not ourselves. If you read on in the book, you’ll see that he’s been shipwrecked three times already, he’d been beaten multiple times, whipped five times—and they kept going until you died or they got tired—on top of dangers on every side… perplexed, but not despairing. I wonder if this isn’t Paul’s articulation of Christ’s command to take up our cross and follow. Paul has faced so many occasions he wouldn’t have chosen on his own—and then he says “so that.” The “so that” is the power of the gospel at work in us…

When I was a boy, there was a lot of emphasis in missionary meetings, there was a large emphasis on sacrifice. Lord knows we need to be reminded of this nowadays. Although Paul says he’s been crushed and persecuted and struck down, he also says His life will be manifested in our bodies… these two emphases necessarily hang together. We are crucified with Him. We see glory with Him. We die to self and we experience more of His life. You can’t have one without the other. They hang together. God is no one’s debtor. But as Christ picked up His cross and went to calvary, so we pick up ours and follow Him. Gospel ministry is characterized by paradoxical death to self and overflowing life in Christ.