Missions and the Epistles
We’ve all heard people who think the Great Commission applies only to the apostles. They point to the epistles as justification for “not putting so much emphasis” on missions. On the surface, one wouldn’t think that Paul prioritized evangelism. Few commands in the epistles talk about sharing the gospel with others. How many times does Paul actually discuss the need to “share our faith” with others?
Three Ways that Missions is Important in the Epistles
However, I argue that although missions may be less visible, it is no less present in the epistles. First, let’s remember that frequency of a particular truth does not necessarily correspond to its importance. Sometimes very important truths are assumed rather than stated outright. For example, no theologically conservative Christian denies that the existence of the lake of fire is taught in scripture. But we are given very little information about it, and it is not mentioned often in either testament. Does this mean it is irrelevant, or that we should ignore its implications? Certainly not.
Some commands are assumed, too. The Bible forbids gluttony and it is on the list (next to fornication and homosexuality) of sins that define those who don’t enter God’s coming renewed creation (1 Corinthians 6:9). But aside from those mentions, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about the topic. I would argue that Paul assumed that the church should be outreaching, so he didn’t command them to do so. Also, missions involvement flows from excitement around the gospel, so it makes sense that Paul would choose to talk about the nature of the gospel far more than he does about missions.
Second, we can learn what Paul desired concerning missions and the church by what he commends:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. (Philippians 1:4-7)
The primary reason Paul thanked God for the Philippian church was that they joined him in defending and confirming the gospel. Apparently, he saw missions as important not only for him but for the church in general. Similarly, Paul praises the Thessalonian church because through their witness “the Lord’s message rang out” to the whole region.
Third, the epistles explicitly call for the church to exercise herself in missions. Ephesians 4:16-17 contains the illustration of the church as a body where all the members need to function properly so the body can increase. Paul believed that a well-functioning church is one where new converts enter and are discipled, thus growing the body. Paul writes in the same chapter that God gives evangelists to the church, as part of the process to “build the church.” Clearly, a core function of the church is missions. It may be more straightforward in Matthew 28, but it is present in the epistles also, reminding us of our mission to bring the gospel to the world.
What are you doing about that mission?