Unless they are sent

Missions: The heart of God

What does Romans 10:15 mean for us today?

Romans 10:9-10 proclaims that we are saved by believing that God raised Jesus from the dead and then embracing Him as Lord. After that powerful declaration of salvation by grace, the passage moves to describe the plight of those who seemingly have no hope of anyone preaching to them the Good News.

The words of Romans 10:15 come next and, therefore, constitute more than random thoughts about a call to preach. That verse points to the Church's obligation to reach those without any access to the Gospel. The phrase about "sending" preachers does not address the need for pastors to shepherd existing congregations, as important as that pastoral ministry is. Because of the context in which it is found, Romans 10:15 is centered squarely on the unfinished task of world evangelism.

People being sent to proclaim a message from God is not something unique to the New Testament. Old Testament writings contain several stories of God sending people as His messengers. For example, the writings of prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jonah give specifics of how and when they were divinely sent.

Though the idea of being divinely sent appears in both Testaments, the New Testament adds an additional nuance: the Church's involvement. As a case in point, Jesus told His followers to "pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers" (Luke 10:2, ESV). Then, Acts 13:2 describes the Holy Spirit directing the Antioch church to be a sending agent for Paul and Barnabas.

During his third missionary journey, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome. In that Epistle to the Romans, Paul asked for their help for his planned missionary journey to Spain (Romans 15:24). Thus, when Paul wrote the "unless they are sent" phrase in Romans 10:15, he may very well have envisioned human involvement as well as the hand of God in the sending process.

Not every believer has understood that. For example, some time ago I was recruiting college students for a mission trip. One campus leader got exasperated at my attempts to get him on board. One day, as we walked together across campus, the young man blurted out, "Well, missions is your thing. It's just not mine!"

He was wrong, of course. "Making Christlike disciples in the nations" will never be accomplished by missionaries flying solo. Maybe God was not calling that particular young man to spend his life preaching the Gospel among an unreached people group. However, God does expect him -- and every other believer -- to be involved in sending and supporting those workers He is calling..

The condition tied to "how can anyone preach" in Romans 10:15 is two-pronged:

  1. How will anyone preach to the unreached unless God calls them?
  2. How can anyone go to the unreached unless the Church steps forward with emotional and financial backing as well as intercessory prayer support?

Discussion questions

  1. What is the significance of the phrase "unless they are sent" in Romans 10:15? How does it relate to the Church's obligation to reach those without access to the Gospel?
  2. How does the New Testament concept of being divinely sent differ from similar concepts in the Old Testament? What role should the Church play in the sending process?
  3. What should be expected of every believer regarding sending and supporting global missionaries?
  4. What are some misconceptions or misunderstandings about world evangelism? What can and should be done in the Church to address those issues?
  5. How can churches and individual believers better encourage and support those who feel called to cross-cultural missionary ministry?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Afterword

Romans 10 emphasizes the importance of spreading the message of Christianity to all people, both locally and globally. It implies that the message of salvation is for everyone, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or location. It highlights the necessity of sending missionaries to proclaim the message of Christ to those who have not yet heard it. The words of this chapter encourage believers to actively participate in global Christian outreach by recognizing the universal significance of the message of salvation and embracing the responsibility to see that it is shared with people in every nation and culture.

More on this topic: "As He sent me, so I am sending you!"

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 36 Bible verses say about world missions.

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