A missionary burning with a sense of mission
Lennard Sweet encourages in his book ‘Dance the Breath of Life’ to live today as if to die tomorrow. He suggests that just as we learn to face the reality of life, we also need to learn to face the reality of death. According to him, the great gift that death offers is a perspective on what is most important in life and an understanding of our given purpose. In this context, what does the Korean term "사명” mean? It is composed of "사(使)" meaning 'messenger' or 'agent' and "명(命)" meaning 'life' or 'destiny.' Some interpret "사명" as the life or destiny sent by God for a specific mission. An interesting interpretation indeed. Why do you think God sent you into this world? What do you believe is the purpose for which the Lord has sent you into this world?
In today's passage, Acts 20:17-27, we encounter the figure of Paul, a missionary burning with a sense of mission. As he leaves Ephesus, he travels to the port city of Miletus, far from Ephesus, and invites the Ephesian elders to bid them farewell and deliver a parting sermon. Looking at verses 18-21, Paul recounts his actions among the Ephesian believers from the first day he entered Asia until leaving Ephesus, emphasizing that he served the Lord (v. 19). Today, focusing on Acts 20:17-27, I want to meditate on what a missionary burning with a sense of mission should do by considering three aspects and receiving the lessons provided in the text.
First, a missionary burning with a sense of mission serves the Lord.
In fact, the word "사명 (mission)" in Greek is translated as "디아코니아 (diakonia)," which means "service" or 'ministry.' Ultimately, mission is about serving. So, what does it mean to have served the Lord specifically? It means conveying God's will (v. 27; Ref.: v. 20). In other words, a missionary burning with a sense of mission conveys God's will without hesitation. That divine will is precisely to testify to the good news of God's grace (v. 24). In other words, it is to witness repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 21). Paul, during his three years of ministry in Ephesus, diligently conveyed and taught anything profitable to the Ephesian believers, both publicly and from house to house (v. 20). He fervently proclaimed the kingdom of God, moving among the Ephesian church elders and believers (v. 25). So, how did Paul serve the Lord in Ephesus? Look at verse 19: "I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents." Paul primarily exerted humility as a servant of the Lord. Moreover, he served the believers with tears as a tangible expression of soulful love. Despite the trials, Paul faced the testing of the Jews' opposition during his ministry in Ephesus. Nevertheless, he well managed his three-year ministry in Ephesus while undergoing these trials.
Second, a missionary burning with a sense of mission participates in the Lord's suffering.
As Paul delivers a farewell sermon before the Ephesian elders, he speaks about the hardships he will face when he goes to Jerusalem in verses 22-23 today. He mentions that he was bound by the Spirit's guidance to go to Jerusalem (v. 22), and when he went with this purpose, the same Spirit testified in every city that "prison and hardships are facing me" (v. 23). Nevertheless, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem. This demonstrates the unwavering firmness of his commitment. Even though he was aware of the bonds and hardships waiting for him, his spirit remained steadfast and unchanging. He made a resolute determination. We also need such determination. As missionaries burning with a sense of mission, we must decide to obey and act according to the Spirit's guidance, even if we know that various difficulties and hardships await us. We need to have the same determination as Paul, confirming the certainty that going to Jerusalem is the will of the Lord and resolving to act with unwavering determination, regardless of the bonds and hardships that lie ahead. We, too, need this determination. In fulfilling the will of the Lord, a missionary burning with a sense of mission must resolve to obey and act according to the guidance of the Spirit, no matter what bonds and hardships may await. We should rejoice, like the apostles, in suffering for the sake of the Lord and the gospel (Acts 5:41). Like our faith ancestors, such as Moses, we should consider suffering for the Lord more valuable than all the treasures of this world. We should prefer suffering together with our brothers and sisters over enjoying the pleasures of this sinful world. Remember, enduring suffering for the Lord is grace (Phil. 1:29).
Third and last, a missionary burning with a sense of mission considers their life of little value in fulfilling the mission.
Look at Acts 20:24 - "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." The phrase "to finish the race and complete the task" means "to accomplish." In other words, Paul did not consider his own life precious at all in completing the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace. What does this mean? Paul considered the fulfillment of the mission received from Jesus, specifically, the task of testifying to the gospel, more precious and important than his own life. When we see this, it is clear that a missionary burning with a sense of mission has a distinct and firm set of values. When comparing their life with their mission, they consider their mission more valuable and significant than their own life. How can one have such values? It is because they deeply experience God's eternal love. Look at Psalms 63:3 - "Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." A missionary who deeply experiences God's eternal love, which is more precious than their own life, expresses gratitude and joy for that love. Therefore, they dedicate their lives to God, giving thanks for His glory and seeking to fulfill the Lord's will. Thus, such a missionary, praising, "Whether I live or die, let it be according to the Lord's will," willingly places their life on the line to fulfill the mission entrusted to them. We all need such clear and firm values. That is, we need the values that regard God's eternal love as more precious than our lives and consider the mission received from the Lord as more important and valuable than our own lives. When we have such values, we can continue to run like Paul today, sacrificing our lives to complete the mission given to us by the Lord. May all of us dedicate our lives to fulfill the mission given to us by the Lord, testifying to the good news of God's grace. I hope and pray that, like Paul, we may welcome a beautiful life and a beautiful death that proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ through our lives and even through our deaths.
With a heart burning with love for one soul in Christ's heart, I wish for the flame to ignite,
(With the help and work of the Lord, sincerely praying for the completion of the mission)