The Great Commission. It’s the bedrock of the Church’s unshakable commitment to offer every living person an understandable presentation of the story of Jesus. We use terms like obey, fulfill, and finish when we speak of the Great Commission.
Rarely do we speak of missions as worship. But, what is God up to when he sends us on mission? Jesus told us that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV) The lost. We all know what humankind lost in the Fall—eternal life and a relationship with our Creator. God lost something, too. When Adam and eve sinned, God lost the worship of His creation.
Jesus told us what God is looking for, when he told the woman at the well in Samaria, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23 ESV)
God has been seeking worshippers for a very long time, it goes all the way back to the very beginning. Before you continue reading, read this story from Genesis 4:1-9.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Since their parents were directly created by God, Cain was the first person ever born. Soon he was joined by a brother, Abel. Throughout history, it has amazed parents that two children from the same gene pool can turn out to be such different people. This was certainly the case with Cain and Abel. In many ways they were polar opposites.
From the story it appears that Cain was the prototypical first-born child. He was hardworking, dominating, with flashes of arrogance. Adam’s oldest son preferred an ordered life. Not surprisingly Cain gravitated toward the disciplined world of the farmer. Aside from the weather, farming was a predictable occupation. Straight rows. Plant in the spring. Harvest in the fall. Many farmers that I have known value frugality. Save. Avoid debt.
I suspect that Abel was more of a free spirit. Abel adopted the more spontaneous and less-structured life of the shepherd. He was not lazy, but not as compulsive as Cain. While his older brother was plowing straight rows, Abel wandered in search of water for his flocks and fiercely protected them from predators. Of the two sons, Abel may have been more relational, more fun-loving and easiest to be around. This young man was a giver. He valued generosity.
For some time, the “First Four” apparently lived in peace, but the brotherhood of Cain and Abel encountered a strong test.
A Test at Harvest
The story of Cain and Abel—of all humankind, for that matter—takes a big left turn during a harvest season. Harvest is a most important time for the human race, even those who have never seen a farm. During the harvest, the food that sustains us is gathered, ensuring that we will survive and thrive for another year. Harvest is a season to celebrate God’s goodness, provision and favor. God’s grace finds a simple yet profound expression at harvest. Harvest is a season of worship.
Because Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were the first persons on earth, they were the first to do everything—breathe, walk, eat, bear children, and sin. They were the first to seek God in their brokenness. Their sacrifices were the first acts of worship.
At its core, worship is a worthy offering, from a grateful worshipper to a worthy God. “What will you offer to God?” was the test that confronted Cain and Abel in the season of harvest. Abel passed with flying colors. He offered God his best. He found a completely unblemished lamb, and sacrificed it to the Lord.
“…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions…” (Gen 4:4 ESV)
This is the essence of worship—if God is God, he is worthy of our best. Abel’s generosity opened the door to God’s favor.
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” (v. 4b, NIV)
In contrast, Cain miserably failed the test of harvest. He went to his barns and gathered “some of his crops” (v. 3, NLT) While Abel brought the first and the best, Cain offered some. His frugality got the better of him and morphed into tight-fisted greed. Cain saved for himself instead of giving to God. As a result, he erected a barrier between himself and God’s favor.
“but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Gen 4:5 ESV)
Alienated from God and furious at his brother, Cain murdered Abel in cold blood. When God confronted him, Cain utters the most famous irresponsible disclaimer of all time, “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Gen. 4:9 NLT)
What does all of this have to do with missions? The test of the harvest confronts us in many forms today. Missions is one of them.
Cain lost favor with God when he failed to take responsibility in three important areas…
Sin. Sin is an inherited trait. We do not learn to sin, it is in our spiritual DNA. It crouches at the door of everyone’s heart. Cain failed to master it, as has every person since. Murder was the culmination of Cain’s evil heart, not the beginning of it. Long before God disregarded Cain’s offering, Cain had disregarded God. His “worship” became a meaningless act to Cain instead of a connection to the God of redemption.
When Abel offered a lamb, he anticipated the ultimate and permanent sacrifice that reconciles humankind and God—the death of Jesus on the Cross. We do not need to offer a lamb anymore. But we do need to come to Jesus by faith and give our lives to him.
Service. Many people get themselves into trouble through ignorance, foolishness, or recklessness Fire and rescue personnel often find themselves rescuing persons who have made are drunks, unfaithful spouses, deadbeat dads, or violent criminals. They are not accountable for the choices made by the victims they are rescuing. As public servants, however, they are accountable for the oath they took, to provide the highest level of protection possible to citizens—and when necessary, take calculated risk to save lives and protect property.
I am my brother’s guardian. I go because I signed up with Jesus to "Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” (Mar 16:15 GNB) Jesus came to die so that others may live. They are in trouble and need to be rescued.
Sacrifice. God is God, and therefore worthy of our best. As a follower of Jesus you are compelled to do something—your best—in praying, giving, and going.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1 ESV)
Certainly the needs of the world are great. But I am not committed to missions because the needs are great—that would be its own expression of arrogance and selfishness. I am a missionary because God is great. God has given me a heart for the lost, and I love them; but, I am a missionary because I love Jesus—he called me to this ministry.
Yes, missions is worship. We value missions so highly because Jesus is worthy. Give your best, not to the cause of missions, but to Jesus.