If you are reading this article in SBC LIFE, you are likely a leader in one of the more than forty-six thousand churches the International Mission Board partners with to spread the Gospel around the world, particularly among people who have never heard the Gospel.
That’s a pretty awesome thought: you and your church are joined with forty-six thousand other churches who say, “Together we want to get the Gospel to every person and group of people on the planet.” And the primary way we do that together is by sending and supporting missionaries all over the world.
Thousands of missionaries have been sent out from this coalition of Southern Baptist churches. These missionaries are not just sent out; they’re also supported by the giving of our churches. God’s Word shows us in 1 Thessalonians 1 why giving together like that makes sense—and, even more, how giving in your church is resounding to God’s glory around the world.
First Thessalonians is the first letter Paul writes to the church that he, Silas, and Timothy had played a part in starting. These men had a close relationship with this church—fifteen different times in this letter, Paul calls them his “brothers,” over and over emphasizing his love for them. And over and over again, he expresses thanks for them, for who they are, and for what they are doing.
That’s what draws me to this book when I think about you and your church: As a part of this coalition of churches who are sending and supporting thousands of missionaries around the world, I just want to thank you over and over and over again. I want to thank you for what you’re doing, not just as a family of brothers and sisters there in your church, but as a family of brothers and sisters far beyond your church.
In that sense, then, I want to say some of the same things to this entire coalition of churches that Paul says to the Thessalonians. Paul starts by reminding this church how the Gospel has affected them—how the Gospel has changed their lives—and how that Gospel has spread through them. First Thessalonians 1:8 tells us the Gospel has sounded forth from Thessalonica not just throughout Macedonia and Achaia (the nearby areas), but everywhere around the world. In the same way, then, I want to encourage you to stop and reconsider how the Gospel has affected you—how the Gospel has changed your life. And I want to celebrate with you how the Gospel is spreading through you everywhere around the world.
How the Gospel Affected You
Paul reminded the Thessalonian church that the Gospel is our foundation. He said, For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:4–5, ESV). This same reality unites our coalition of churches, including your church. You exist because the Gospel came to you one day in power and in the Holy Spirit with great conviction. You exist as a church for one reason: God loves you. God brought you the Good News that though we have rebelled against Him and deserve His judgment, He has not left us to die in our sin. Instead, He has saved us from our sin. This is the greatest news in all the world: we have been delivered from the ultimate penalty of sin—death itself!
This Gospel is good, and it’s the whole reason the International Mission Board exists. It’s the whole reason this coalition of churches is working together to send and support missionaries around the world: the multitude of people in the world who have never heard this Gospel. We estimate that there are at least 2.8 billion people today who have little to no knowledge of the Gospel. In other words, no one has ever even told them the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus. It’s not tolerable for us that billions of people in the world still haven’t heard this Good News, and together we want to change that.
Paul also reminded the Thessalonians that the Gospel is our motivation. The Gospel was driving, compelling, motivating, and changing the early Church (1 Thessalonians 1:3). It produced work marked by faith, labor driven by love, and endurance driven by hope. The Thessalonians not only believed the Gospel in their heads and their hearts; it affected their hands. Their love for God and for each other enabled them to endure through the persecution and trials they faced.
The Gospel at Work in You
The same is true today. As you care for one another in the church, and as you love and serve the community around you, that’s the Gospel at work in you.
Last year, our coalition of churches gave the highest amount we collectively have given in the history of the IMB: $165.8 million. That broke our all-time record by over $11 million! And when I saw that number come in, I thought, “What a picture of God’s grace.” What a picture of the Gospel at work in the hearts of God’s people, that you would be compelled to give $165.8 million together for the spread of the Gospel around the world.
I praise God for your faith-driven work, your love-driven labor, and your hope-driven endurance. I praise God for your Gospel-driven giving. I praise Him that the Gospel is your ambition, just as it was for the Thessalonians, to sound forth God’s glory not only in our communities, but around the world.
Right now, because of your giving, there are missionaries going up and down the Amazon and proclaiming the Gospel to remote tribes. Right now, people in European cities who are being attacked continually by terror are also hearing the hope of the Gospel because of your giving. Right now, as a result of your giving, there are brothers and sisters spreading the Gospel across West African villages, sub-Saharan countries, Middle Eastern cities, South Asian fields, Central Asian mountains, and Southeast Asian islands.
Your faith is literally resounding around the world for the glory of God.
A couple of months ago, I was actually in Thessaloniki. The city has become a holding place for refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran who want to get into Macedonia. I walked late at night on the Macedonian border, north of Thessaloniki, through a sea of refugee tents swimming in mud as freezing rain fell on them. I looked at lines of men and women standing and waiting for small rations of food in the freezing rain, listening to the sounds of their children crying and their babies coughing in these tents, children the same age as my kids. These are men and women just like you and just like me, living in semblance of hell on earth.
But Here’s the Good News.
Right now, because of your giving, missionaries are living and working right in the middle of those refugees. People from Syria, for example, who have never heard the Gospel before, are hearing it for the first time, and they’re responding.
One Syrian woman said to our missionary, “I’m tired of being tied to a religion that doesn’t offer me hope; I want to be a new person.” She, her husband, and their friend all placed their faith in Christ that day and were baptized outside the camp.
Two Kurdish brothers whose family had been killed by radicals in Iraq, including their parents right in front of their eyes, straight up said, “We don’t want to be Muslim anymore. We want to follow Jesus.”
A Palestinian-born man who was raised in Syria because of conflict in Palestine, who was separated from his wife and children and not sure when or how in the world he will reunite with them, saw our missionary distributing water. He pulled him aside and asked him two questions. “Do you speak Arabic?” (To which our missionary said, “Yes.”) The second question was, “Can you tell me how to become a Christian?”
Because of your church’s giving, right now refugees are hearing the greatest news in all the world. Or to put it in the words of 1 Thessalonians: because of the Gospel in you and your church, God’s glory is sounding forth right at the border of Macedonia, and everywhere around the world.
So I want to thank you. And at the same time, I want to encourage and challenge you. I want to encourage you to give all the more generously and all the more sacrificially and all the more cheerfully in the days ahead so that people who have never heard the Gospel might hear this Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus, that they might receive it, just as you have—and that through them, this Gospel might resound all the more in the world to the glory and praise of God.
Take the next step at IMB.org/LMCO.