From the Bible's opening verse to its last verse

Missions: The heart of God

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" -- Genesis 1:1

"God had a mission strategy from the very beginning. God wanted to have a holy, loving relationship with all people." -- Randy Seedorf, worship and discipleship pastor

Rarely do people see Genesis 1:1 as saying something significant about world evangelism. That is an oversight because a strong case for cross-cultural missionary outreach can be built on Genesis 1:1. Revelation 4:11 explains why: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."

The majestic phrasing of Genesis 1:1 about God as our Creator should push us away from the live-and-let-live argument of relativism. That philosophy says, "Why bother other people? They have their religion; we have ours."

Such attitudes run counter to the implications of the Bible's opening verse. Because Yahweh created the universe, including the human race, doesn't He have exclusive rights to reign over all human beings -- even those who know little or nothing of Him? Paul tried to make this clear to the people in Lystra, who regarded him and Barnabas as gods after a healing miracle. Alluding to Genesis 1:1, Paul explained that he was not a god but that his missionary group had come to Lystra to spread the Good News about "the living God, who made heavens and the earth" (Acts 14:15).

One clear "therefore" from Genesis 1:1 is that when God commands us to evangelize the whole world, He has every right to send us there. God loves the whole world precisely because He created it all. Therefore, shouldn't we call all those at "the ends of the earth" to offer "glory and honor" to the One who brought the universe into existence and who has reached out to all in the person of Jesus Christ?

Both Testaments speak of people having forsaken the Creator to worship other things. The Apostle Paul laments that people worldwide have "exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). Jonah acknowledges from inside the big fish that "those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them" (Jonah 2:8).

The first words of Christian Scripture -- Genesis 1:1 -- are very relevant to the cause of world evangelism. If we fast forward to the end of the Bible, we'll see Holy Scripture coming to a close with a call to "worship Him who made heavens and earth" (Revelation 14:7). That concept coming at the beginning and again at the end of the Bible validates a statement by long-time Nazarene missions leader Nina Gunter when she said: "If you take missions out of the Bible, you won't have anything left but the covers." Dr. Gunter is right. God's love for all peoples and His desire that we be message bearers to all unreached people grow out of what Genesis 1:1 expresses. That theme then appears repeatedly throughout the Bible all the way to the final pages of Revelation.

Discussion questions

  1. How might we help people see that Genesis 1:1 is part of the biblical foundation for cross-cultural missionary outreach?
  2. What contrast do you see between the live-and-let-live argument of relativism and the implications of Genesis 1:1?
  3. In the light of Genesis 1:1, why can it be said that God has exclusive rights to reign over all human beings?
  4. In what ways do the first and last verses of the Bible validate the call in other biblical passages for world evangelism?
  5. What relationships should people see between Genesis 1:1 and biblical passages that express God's love for all peoples?

Afterword

Genesis 1:1 lays the foundation for our responsibility to engage in cross-cultural missionary outreach. It reminds us why God's love encompasses all peoples. Genesis 1:1 rejects the notion of religious relativism and calls us instead to embrace Yahweh's exclusive sovereignty over all creation. As Christ-followers, we should allow Genesis 1:1 to inspire us to get the Good News of the Gospel to every "nation, tribe, people and language."

    -- Howard Culbertson,

The Great Commission was a redundancy, not a new revelation. From the beginning, God had planned on making Himself known and available to all people." -- Betsy Stuetze, youth pastor

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.

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