Missions: The heart of God

Among the nations

Commentary on Psalm 18

"I will praise you among the nations1" -- Psalm 18:49

"I have read and heard the Old Testament stories but never put it together that there was the call to 'all people' or 'all nations'." -- Robert Murray, Nazarene Bible College student

On my Facebook "wall", a friend jokingly wrote that I see world missions in every verse of Scripture. Big exaggeration. The Bible has a total of 32,000 verses. Only about 200 of them contain obvious references to world evangelism.

To be sure, there are people who think it is a stretch of the imagination to see world missions in some of the entries on my list of missions verses. Even if that were true (and, as you might expect, I don't think it is), it should be no stretch at all to see world missions in the statement, "I will praise you among the nations" (Psalm 18:49). World mission overtones in those words reverberate so clearly that Paul quoted that verse in Romans 15:9 to emphasize God's desire that all people groups everywhere be welcomed into His Kingdom.

In spite of Paul's clear reference to it, ask people to list every missions Bible verse that comes to their minds. Rarely will anyone cite Psalm 18:49. That's an oversight, a major oversight. With Paul placing Psalm 18:49 front and center, we ought to view it as a "Top Ten Missions Verse." For one thing, it's echoed by the Nazarene church's denominational mission statement: "To make Christlike disciples in the nations."

Psalm 18:49 was also a key missions verse for German theologian Peter Beyerhaus, who used it in formulating the Frankfurt Declaration on the Crisis in World Mission.

That declaration lays out "seven indispensable basic elements of mission." The second element asserts that "the first and supreme goal of mission is the glorification of the name of the one God throughout the entire world and the proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ." For biblical support, Beyerhaus pointed to Psalm 18:49 and Paul's quotation of it in Romans.

Paul's use of Psalm 18:49 makes clear the fact that Jesus' Great Commission ( Matthew 28:19-20) is not the first time the Bible mentions world evangelization. Long before Jesus' birth, Sacred Scripture proclaimed God's heart for the nations. Indeed, Psalm 18:49 is just one of 120 Old Testament missions verses.

In the light of Old Testament missions-related passages like Psalm 18:49, Bob Sjogren likes to say that Jesus did not give the Great Commission. Because the Old Testament clearly speaks often about world evangelism, Sjogren says Jesus was simply repeating the Great Commission!

From time to time I hear people say that we must win all those "at home" before doing anything to evangelize other parts of the world. Those who say that need to take a good look at the word "nations." It is plural, not singular! Doesn't their "our-kind-first,-then-eventually-other-people" thinking contradict the spirit of Psalm 18:49? Furthermore, pitting near-neighbor evangelism against global outreach derails the fulfillment of God's deep desire.

Through Psalm 18:49, God calls His people to proclaim Him "among the nations." Let's embrace these Holy-Spirit-inspired words composed long ago by David. We all must be involved in this global proclamation through praying or giving or mobilizing or going or some combination of these.

1Note: In the Bible, the word "nations" does not mean political entities like China, India, and the USA. Rather, it means people groups or societies in which people speak the same language, have the same culture, and live in or have originated the same area. "Nations" is synonymous with the plural word "peoples." In other words, nations in the Bible means all of the people groups of the world other than the people of Israel.

Discussion questions

  1. How does the interpretation of Psalm 18:49 as a missions verse reflect the broader theme of world evangelization in the Bible?
  2. In what ways does Paul's quotation of Psalm 18:49 in Romans 15:9 emphasize God's desire for all people groups to be welcomed into His Kingdom?
  3. Why is it significant that Psalm 18:49 is often overlooked as a missions verse, despite Paul's reference to it and its alignment with the Nazarene church's mission statement?
  4. How does the Frankfurt Declaration on the Crisis in World Mission, with its reference to Psalm 18:49, contribute to the understanding of the goal and purpose of mission work?
  5. Why does seeing the word "nations" as people groups rather than political entities challenge the idea of prioritizing evangelism efforts within one's own community before reaching out to other parts of the world?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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, a monthly online magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.

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