When a missionary returns from the field, I am sure that they feel the need to give a good report. Think how well they would be received if they did not have something good to say. Some churches might reconsider their support of a non-productive missionary. But the facts of missions work back up the truth that success is not as prevalent as we would hope. Before judging a missionary’s work, we would do well to consider the extreme opposition which they face each day. The opposition is so fierce that missions is almost impossible today. I am writing this article to reveal the struggles missionaries face and the need for us to uphold them in our prayers.
The sinful nature of man — In Romans 3:10-12, Paul reveals that an unregenerated man is completely opposed to God. Because of his sinful nature, man does not desire God at all. On his own, he does not run to God with open arms. Instead, he is antagonistic to God’s ways. He is unrighteous. The truth does not make sense to him. He does not understand or want what God has to offer. When a missionary preaches the gospel to unsaved men and women, he is hoping that they will respond. He is hoping that they will listen to the Scripture and turn from their sins to Christ. But we have seen what they are up against. Missionaries are preaching to unregenerated, sinful men and women who hate God. They are born with a sinful nature and do not desire to please God at all. Instead, they actively choose to turn away from God so they can remain in their sin.
The sinful nature of the missionary — In Romans 7:18-19, Paul pointed out to his readers that he was not a good person. Inside of Paul there was no good thing. Even this great apostle, who had planted many churches and led many people to Christ, was a sinful man. He was still a work in progress, was tempted, and even gave in to sin at times. The truth is that we are all that way. Although every Christian has been saved by God’s grace, he still has a sin nature that is opposed to the Spirit that lives within him. It would be nice if our sinful nature was completely eradicated, but it is not. Not until heaven will we be rid of that dreadful sinful nature that tempts us so often.
Think now of the missionaries we support. Some of them have lived on the mission field for a long time. They have successfully preached and served for many years. However, they are mortal men and women. They go through the same struggles we do. They are tempted to sin. And believe it or not, they actually sin! So what do we have? We have a saved missionary with a sinful nature trying to convince unregenerated, sinful people to believe in something they don’t want and which they don’t understand. How can that ever work? Is that even possible? The truth is that it is almost impossible for a missionary to overcome these two oppositional forces. But that is not all they face.
As you study the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, you will see that he faced much opposition in just about every city he entered. That opposition can be divided into three categories. These same categories are active today. Consider the first.
Physical Opposition — Jesus promised persecution for his disciples. Just as the world hated him, so it would hate his followers. And shortly after his ascension, persecution came. The believers in Jerusalem were the first to face it. Peter and John were imprisoned. Stephen was stoned. James was killed. Paul was beaten, whipped, stoned, and eventually killed.
Why is it that the world hates us so much? One of the reasons is that the world doesn’t like the change. We used to run to the same excesses but now we are opposed to that same lifestyle. We used to go to the bars, watch the same filth, laugh at the off color jokes, and enjoy it all. But now we are different. The world doesn’t like it. Another reason why the world opposes Christianity is that they do not know Christ. Without him, they are blinded by Satan. They do not understand the gospel or the holiness of God. To them, Christians seem like a bunch of “goody goodies.” Without Christ, the Christian life does not make sense.
Now consider how this applies to missions. Missionaries have faced physical opposition from worldly people. Today a missionary may face angry people who dislike the fact that he speaks out against their worldly activities. Imagine a missionary telling villagers in Africa that God is against immorality and nakedness. Imagine the German missionaries teaching college students that evolution is wrong. Imagine a missionary telling a chief that polygamy is not right. The hatred of the world could result in physical opposition to the gospel. We need to pray that they will stand firm despite the opposition.
Spiritual Opposition — A few years ago, a Christian writer became famous for his books about spiritual warfare. I did not read the books, but heard that they were sensational, including battles between angels and demons. Such books are exciting, but is there any truth to them? In Ephesians 6:12, Paul spoke about spiritual battles. He warned the Ephesian believers that they needed to keep their spiritual guard up. He wanted them to know that they were not just battling physical opposition. The fight in which we are involved is against spiritual foes. The devil and all of his followers are against everything that God desires. They are armed with deception, unrighteousness, unbelief, doubt, and anything that will turn us away from obedience to Christ. While we cannot see the devil or his followers, we can see the result of their work. Television, the internet, movies, magazines, newspapers, entertainment, and many other activities are being used to oppose Christ everywhere you look. These are all a direct result of ungodly people who have been influenced by spiritual beings that hate God.
Do the missionaries we support face such opposition? Yes, they do! And they especially need to arm themselves with the armor of God which is listed in the following verses. But think about the opposition they face. The missionaries are our elite forces. These are the ones whom God has led to leave the comforts of America for the front lines of spiritual battle in foreign lands. How can they do it? When Satan sees their zeal for the Lord’s work, he desires to stop them. They are the ones who are fighting most against his plans. He wants to stop them and will even kill them to do it if allowed. Remember what he did to righteous Job?
The work of missions is humanly impossible. The opposition missionaries face inwardly and outwardly makes their task too much for even these heroes of the faith to fight. So, it appears that there is no hope for them ever reaching lost souls with the gospel. There is too much against them to give any hope of even the samlles, spiritual success. Inwardly there is much opposition in their own lives and in those whom they are striving to reach. Outwardly there is much opposition. The world and the devil are too much for a human to overcome. Is the opposition to the gospel too great for us to handle? Yes, we as humans are no match for the opposition. But these is still hope. Consider what the Lord said about this matter.
“And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
— Matthew 19:24-26
This same thought ought to encourage us in regards to missions. Yes, the opposition is great from within and from without. But with God it is possible. People have been saved. People have been changed. Missionaries have been able to endure great dificulties for the glory of God. And it is all due to the great power of our God. As you think about the missionaries we support, pray that God will encourage them in their work and that they will continue to trust the One who is able to make their work successful.