Lesson 7 The Disciple's Vision For A Lost World

The Son of Man visited our planet with the stated intent of seeking and saving that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Although limiting His activities primarily to the confines of Judea and Galilee, His mission extended well beyond only the salvation of the “lost sheep of Israel.” He spoke of the Gentile peoples, who knew nothing of a promised Messiah, “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Jesus was the Mediator sent by a God who desired “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-6). His blood was the ransom payment necessary for the purchase of people “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

As our Lord traveled from village to village teaching, evangelizing and healing, the mere sight of the masses gripped His heart. Observing the distressing spiritual state of the lost sheep of Israel and their sad lack of any shepherding care, He was visibly moved with deep compassion for them. Deeply burdened for people, He began speaking to His disciples. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send our workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:35-38). Jesus envisioned a mighty army of willing workers being sent out to harvest men and women who needed His salvation. It would be necessary for these laborers to share His vision in order to fulfill it.

The global nature of our Lord’s vision for reaching the lost, indicated in the gospels, was most clearly expressed during His resurrection appearances. This spirit-empowered enterprise would commence in Jerusalem and would not be completed until the gospel had been preached in “the remotest part of the earth … to all creation” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; Mark 16:15). The Lord of the harvest commanded His disciples first to go to all the peoples, and second, to make disciples of them by baptizing them, and teaching them to adhere to all of His teachings. Furthermore, the responsibility for global evangelization would be shared by all disciples, since this last command is to be observed by all true disciples (Matt. 28:18-20).

The Vision Which Overcomes Narrow Vision

As the Lord began sharing His plans for world evangelism with His original disciples, He had to contend with the prejudice and narrowness prevalent in those times. The Jews misunderstood their privileged position. Instead of conceiving their role as God’s witnesses and instruments of blessing to the nations, they despised them. Some rabbis even considered the Gentiles to be so much fuel for the fires of hell. The Book of Acts records a long teaching process necessary to overcome this error. The Christians literally had to be forced by persecution beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem (Acts 11:19). Supernatural visions, the miraculous convergence of circumstance and the believing gentiles’ visible, audible reception of the Holy Spirit were necessary to convince the apostle Peter and his Jewish brethren. They saw that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to approach Him (Acts 10:34-35).

The Jewish antipathy toward the neighboring despised Samaritans was even more drastic. On one occasion, upon being denied lodging in a Samaritan village, our Lord had to remind His followers of their wrong attitude (Luke 9:51-56). He intended that one day these same Jewish apostles would call down upon Samaritans not fire from heaven, but the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). He spoke favorably of Samaritans (Luke 10:33). To the astonishment of the twelve the Master would begin His Samaritan campaign by speaking to a despised woman.

The Lord exclaimed, “Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look upon the fields, that they are white for harvest.” Then lifting their eyes, the twelve beheld the Samaritan village near at hand. This unexpected harvest field was indeed ripe (John 4:1-42)!

Most Christians would deny having any racial or religious prejudice, yet the same ones would have a very limited vision for world evangelization. Most believers never point anyone to Christ. Perhaps this is due to fear, or lack of training, or ignorance of their responsibility. Still others might be wrapped up in their own comfortable existences. They are not gripped by the utter lostness of the lost. Their concern does not extend beyond the confines of their own family, church or region. This is what is meant by narrow vision.

Henry Martyn, the great missionary to India, said, “The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of missions and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” How un-Christlike have many Christians become!

The Vision for Worldwide Harvest

“Eyes that look are common. Eyes that see are rare,” said Oswald Sanders.

It is very difficult to visualize the vast multitudes without Christ. At the outset of the 1990’s, there were about 5.3 billion people inhabiting our planet. About one-third of this number are church members or professing Christians. Less than 300 million belong to church movements that could be termed “evangelical” by any stretch of the imagination. Many of these are only nominal Christians. Even assuming that a good number of true believers are present in non-evangelical churches, this might be offset by the number in evangelical churches who are living with a false profession. The total then would still be only 300 million at best, though we could hope for more.

If we deduct from the total population those who are true believers, we arrive at a figure of 5 billion people who need Christ as Lord and Savior. Half of these scarcely know anything at all about Him, let alone have a clear understanding of the gospel. Visualize this great multitude in this way: Picture a great mass of humanity walking past, one hundred persons abreast. At a brisk march, 80 rows per minute might pass, 8,000 a minute. In a day there would be 12 million. That would be scarcely a beginning, marching steadily day and night at this rate, it would take a month for 360 million to pass. It would take two months of this for the population of India alone to pass. It would take 14 months of this to review the total number of people who are presently bound for a Christless eternity. Half again more of this number will come into this company by birth during the coming 15 years. So vast is this number that some have estimated that half of the people who ever lived may be numbered in this generation. It is little wonder that unbelievers have challenged us about our belief that all men are lost without Christ. “If you truly believe this, why haven’t you done more to spread your message by every means?” Our answer is weak and unconvincing.

The Vision for Cross-Cultural Outreach Penetration

If we would lift up our eyes and behold this gigantic harvest field, we would recognize that understanding the immense task is merely preliminary. The vast majority of those lost souls live on the wrong side of a formidable cultural and linguistic barrier which deprives them of the witness of vital evangelizing churches. While it is true that churches exist in about every nation in this world, there are various peoples, tribes, ethnic groups and differing languages within each nation who are almost totally unreached.

This challenge of cross-cultural evangelism is exemplified by Pakistan. It is a country with a population of 100 million, but with only 1 million nominal Christians. For a Muslim country a ratio of 1 in 100 as believers does not seem bad. However, 99% of these professed believers are from nominal Christian homes or out of the lowest Hindu castes. Moreover, the Christians are called “the sweepers” because many come from those employed as street sweepers. They have no social links whatever with the 97% Muslim majority. The gospel impact on this huge majority of the population is negligible. Only 3% of the populace can be reached without radical cross-cultural evangelism, which has not taken place. This same phenomena repeats itself around the globe!

The Vision For Present Action

Our mandate extends to the entire world and we cannot pretend we are already there. However, we must think about future events in connection with our own present actions. A global vision calls for local action. What role can we play in this gigantic effort?

A. Involvement At Home

1. Personal Prayer. Informed prayer is needed daily. Correspondence with workers on the field, special handbooks such as “Operation World”1 or the “Missionary Handbook” can jog your memory for systematic prayer. Remember our Lord’s own prayer request for laborers for the harvest (Matt. 9:38).

2. Prayer Groups. Those who meet regularly have proven to be an effective means of intercession. Good leadership and preparation of such meetings is needed.

3. Missions Emphasis. Support the missions work of your local assembly. Know the missionaries commended to the Lord’s work on the foreign field. Attend and support missionary conferences. In some places a limited type of missions emphasis has been substituted for a global vision. The focal point of the undertaking has often been shifted from “the fields” (John 4:35) to the workers; from the needs of the national churches to those of the missionaries themselves. Instead of identifying ourselves with the spiritual condition of the churches and the lost among a people, we find ourselves admiring the sacrifice of the missionary. A balanced approach to missions will emphasize the one without neglecting the other.

4. Financial Support. As God leads, give generously to support missionary enterprise. Resist responding to the fervent direct mail appeals, with multicolored brochures. Workers who don’t resort to such solicitation methods, but trust God instead for the supply of their needs, deserve the highest priority. Don’t overlook your assembly as a means of forwarding funds to workers (Phil. 1:7; 4:15-18).

5. International Students Ministry. While many countries still restrict Christian endeavor, visitors from these countries pour into the colleges of the free world. Educational opportunities lure thousands of gifted nationals from these lands. The opportunities to evangelize on campus or to extend hospitality are as strategic as they are numerous.

6. Refugees and Minorities. Multitudes of internationals have come within range of the gospel while fleeing oppression and war. Many more Cambodians have been won to Christ in the U.S. than in their entire history previous to the recent war.

Here are unique opportunities to demonstrate Christian love and to reach the otherwise unreachable. Many are interested in improving their language skills.

B. Involvement Overseas-Should I consider long-term involvement overseas? This is a question calling for serious consideration and realism. Many gifted and otherwise committed Christians, who could have been greatly used on the mission field haven’t given this question adequate consideration. It would seem that young men especially are prone to giving themselves to career goals. The educational track on which they run leads them elsewhere. Many young aspirants are deflected from the mission field by affairs of this life only.

Not everyone is called to service overseas, but the desire to do so is to be commended and will be rewarded by God (1 Kgs. 8:18). Many missionaries serving on the foreign field are qualified neither in character nor in ability, and God did not lead them there. It is of utmost importance that we use sound judgment when appraising our gifts and suitability for this work. The danger exists of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3-6). Godly elders should be more objective in their appraisal. Their counsel can be a valuable help in ascertaining God’s call (Acts 16:1-3; 18:27-28; 1 Tim. 4:14). If God is leading us to serve Him in some greater capacity, ask Him to confirm this conviction through other godly leaders (Acts 13:1-3).

C. Other Suggestions

1. Cooperate with God in dealing with your character flaws now. The biggest problems on the mission field today are often the missionaries themselves. Learn to resolve grievances quickly. Get along with and work well with others. A disciplined devotional life is a must! Self-discipline in general will be at a premium. If you haven’t learned to manage the limited time remaining after your work week, how will you work efficiently with more time on your hands?

2. Demonstrate your ministry skills in the local assembly. Fruitfulness in evangelism should not wait until you become a financial care for the people of God. Fruitfulness should be a prerequisite for going. We should demonstrate effectiveness in our major gift area as well.

3. Correspond with experienced workers on the field. It will encourage them and stimulate your prayers. Try to capitalize on their experience; try to avoid any mistakes they may have made.

4. Preview the work through a preliminary trip to a field in which you are interested. If married, have both husband and wife go as a team. It might avoid a mistake when the stakes may be higher.

5. It is possible to check out a field through a parachurch organization. It might be a good way, but not always the best. If possible, work for a time with a seasoned senior worker (Phil. 2:19-22, etc.) This is better than working on a team with inexperienced and sometimes ill-prepared young people.

The Vision With Lasting Motivation

1. There Must Be A Sense Of Urgency. Present missionary activity is totally insufficient to meet the need. The task of reaching every tribe, language, people and nation is unfinished (Rev. 5:9).

2. There Must Be A Sense Of Personal Responsibility. A certain man once asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). His answer was the famed story of the Good Samaritan. This man was a despised racial outcast who helped a wounded stranger while many religious people passed by. If believers are not responsible to carry out God’s desire to reach a world of lost sinners, then who is? The clear command of Jesus Christ in the Great Commission is all that we really need (Matt. 28:19).

3. There Must Be A Proper Motivation. Because Christ loved me and reached down to my need, then I ought to hear His voice of concern for others. It is His love that should constrain us (2 Cor. 5:14), not to gain acceptance with God.

Charles Marsh in his missionary classic2 tells this touching story of an Algerian Muslim youth with whom the good news about Jesus Christ, the Savior sent from heaven, was shared. The Muslim asked the believer:

“Are there any beside yourself who know this?” “Indeed there are, for there are millions in the world who have believed in Jesus Christ and through Him have found peace and joy and forgiveness.” “But surely no one else in this land knows it?” “Oh yes, they do.” “How many others know it?” “There must be many in Algiers alone and many, many more in Europe.”

“Then, if they really believe it, why has no one ever been to tell us? No, you Christians do not really believe your message. If you did really believe you would have come to us before!”

Lesson 7 The Disciple’s Vision For A Lost World

1. What idea or concept has challenged you most? What response do you have to the number of people who need to be reached with the Gospel?

2. In what way has your sense of responsibility towards world missions changed through this lesson?

3. In what way have you involved yourself in world missions? Review the list under “Vision for Present Action.”

4. How might you be more personally involved in world mission efforts in the future?

5. What prayer efforts are you currently involved in for world missions? For what foreign missionaries or countries do you frequently pray?

6. What can you do to keep the urgency of this task before you? Read Appendix A, A Strange but True Story, before answering.

1 P.J. Johnstone, Operation World (Bromley, Kent, England: STL Books, 1978)

2 Charles Marsh, Too Hard for God (Bath, England: Echoes of Service, 1976)