Why We're In Business

Bible Book: John  4 : 27-39
Subject: Evangelism; Church; Missions
[Editor's Note: Dr. Henry delivered this sermon a number of years ago, but the main thrust of this message was true then and is certainly true now!]

Jesus' dramatic encounter with the woman at the well underscores His primary concern for the lostness of humanity.In Washington, D.C., a business closed down. A sign hung on the front door for passersby to read: "Going Out of Business. Didn't Know What Our Business Was.

 "What is true in the business world is too often true in the spiritual world. There is a constant diluting of purpose in all worthwhile endeavors. Only a steady reminder and continual refocusing can help us stay on God's track.

 A newspaper article reported that a mainline Protestant denomination was making a study to redefine the church's mission. Saying it was entering its third century as a denomination adrift without a vision or sense of identity, 112 seminary professors recommended the study. The professors were saying the denomination had lost the sense of what it was all about."The question before us is of the loss of a common sense of mission, which is indeed the mission of God," said one of the professors recommending the study. "When that mission is lost, the people perish for want of a vision.

 "What has happened to that denomination can happen to Baptists or any other group that wanders from its prime reason for existence. Jesus, as recorded in John 4:27-39, in dealing with this "woman of the streets," led her to a new life, a new identity, a new joy. She met someone who turned her into a new creation. Because Jesus fulfilled His mission, her life was changed eternally. In this encounter, there are some great lessons about Jesus' dealing with people. There are at least four absolutely essential things we can learn from this encounter to remind our churches "why we're in the missionary business."

I. Jesus Saw People As More Important Than Anything Else

Verses 31-33 depict the intensity of Jesus' concern. He had to have been physically hungry. He had been traveling, and the energy demands of His ministry had drained Him. Yet He forgot His needs, because the woman had a far greater need. The disciples were amazed when Jesus said: "I have food to eat that you know nothing about" (John 4:32, NIV).

 In our vernacular, Jesus said, "I have some soul food." Jesus' reply was not so much to rebuke as to enlighten. He knew that we can be so absorbed in our pursuits that we ignore the larger picture.

 Throughout the life of Jesus, we see the tremendous love He had for people: a widow whose son was dead, a soldier with a dying daughter, a thief on a cross, a blind man in Jericho, ten lepers, a seeking Pharisee, children on the shores of Galilee. You cannot study the life of Jesus without seeing Him involved with an intensity beyond anything we usually practice.

 You may say, "I can't be like that!"Why not? Didn't Jesus tell us that we would do greater things than He did because He was going to the Father (John 14:12)? Jesus is in the people business.

Missions is people. The church's mission is people. 

II. Jesus' Supreme Desire Was Obedience To God's Will

The motive that prompted Jesus' ministry is seen in His statement in John 4:34 (NIV): "'My food,' said Jesus, 'is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.'"When this word will is pursued through the Gospel of John (6:38-39, 17:4; 19:28-30), we understand His prime mission was to die for the sins of lost humanity. That death was in the very heart of God's eternal will (I Peter 1:17-20).

God's will was always Jesus' will.

 A friend, retired from military service, said that he studied the word command in the New Testament and found an amazing thing. A command means that a commander-in-chief gives an order."When I was in the military," he said, "I knew that the general was the commander, and that he gave the commands. As a colonel, I carried them out and passed them on. If God, the commander-in- chief, gives a command, all we can do is carry out the orders!"

 Why don't we carry out the command to reach our world? I believe there is probably a combination of reasons.

 1. Perhaps it is because some of our church members have never been saved. Having no life with Christ, they have nothing to tell.

 2. Another reason is that we often have accepted the good instead of the best. Most of our churches offer a variety of excellent programs and ministries. We can be consumed with so many good activities that we overlook the priority.

 3. Sometimes traditions root out our mission. There is a tendency to think that the Holy Spirit is bound to the way we did something five or 50 years ago. Our traditions can shackle rather than free us. Openness to the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit can bring a revitalized direction, plan, and sense of purpose to accomplish our Lord's mandate.

 4. There are times when we are too comfortable. We're not willing to pay the price. We'll do some things if the price tag isn't too high. The sacrifice to be missionary at heart and in practice often causes churches and individuals to exchange the valley for the mountain.

 5. Maybe it's because of a misguided understanding of missions. If I say "missions," some people immediately think, "Africa, Bangladesh, Brazil." But missions is where we are. It begins at home, in the office, and in the community, and it expands until it encompasses the world.

The correct Christian is the believer who has a worldview. That is the view from the top! God's will is for the world to come to Him. We are partners in that plan. That's why we're in business-to fulfill God's eternal plan to witness to all humanity. 

III. Jesus Surveyed The World With Harvest Eyes

A look at verse 35 gives us a sense of the discernment Jesus had for the opportunity at hand. I think this is the scenario.The disciples came trudging to Jesus and said, "Lord Jesus, it's tough over in Samaria. We've worked hard and with little results. This is a hard situation, if not impossible. It will be at least four months before we see any harvest."While the disciples were complaining to Jesus, the woman at the well is on her way to Jesus with a large contingent of her village following her.

Jesus saw what was happening. He said in essence, "Listen, fellows. You say there are four more months until harvest. Turn around and look! The harvest is coming in right now!" Jesus surveyed the world with an eye to immediate harvest.

 Many in the world are ready to be harvested. It only takes laborers. The up-and-out are ready to be saved. They have tasted all of life, and they're still empty. The down-and-out are ready, too. One defeat after another has left them in despair, and they're looking for answers.The skeptics are ready. Their cynicism has left their souls bone dry, and they are thirsty. Those who have never been told the good news are ready and often receive the gospel more readily than the calloused. The world is ready. Humankind's governments, systems, programs, and philosophies have been tried and found wanting.

 The successful are ready. Newsweek magazine ran a feature article on the rapid changes taking place in Japan. Successful Japanese businessmen, when interviewed, showed an uncertainty about their reason for living.

 Youth and children are ready. Someone has said, "The young people are dancing now, but someday they will have to face the music."With a needy and open world like ours; with a surge in new converts, churches, preaching points, and enthusiasm in Third World countries; with urban complexities driving American citizens to look for fresh answers; with humanism and dead religion leaving Western Europe hungry for vital faith-the fields are white unto harvest.

IV. Jesus Taught The Great Principle Of Sowers And Reapers Sharing The Same Joy And Reward

The amazing truth of equal reward for reapers and sowers eluded my grasp for many years. Early in my ministry, I witnessed to a man for nearly three years without seeing him come to Christ. I had been on my new church field only a brief period of time when I heard that the pastor who followed me had won him to Christ and baptized him and that he had become active in the church.

My first reaction was not so much joy as jealousy. After all, I had sown for three years, and then someone else reaped the harvest. Years later, when this principle Jesus laid down in verses 36-38 became a reality to me, I learned to rejoice in the role of sower, as I do in the role of reaper!

This principle doesn't apply in most other fields. A farmer expects to reap what he sows; an insurance salesman expects remuneration from the policyholders he has developed. A car dealer works hard to make a sale to a reluctant buyer and looks forward to his commission. But in the business of missions and evangelism, the sower may sow, and someone else will reap, but they both share the same joy.

Annie Armstrong understood this principle. Lottie Moon understood it. Adoniram Judson understood it. William Carey understood it. Bill Wallace understood it. Gripping this truth brings the sense of releasing a spiritual time bomb that can explode anytime or anywhere. As someone has said, "There is no limit to what can be done if it doesn't matter who gets the credit!

"David Bryant, in his book, "In the Gap," says that every Christian experiences a three-part conversion: a conversion out of the world to Christ; a conversion out of self into the body of Christ; and both tied into a conversion with Christ and others back into the world. If we can move more quickly into that third stage, we will see an acceleration of worldwide Christianity beyond anything in Christian history.

Why are we in business? Every Christian, every church, every denomination, must constantly ask and answer that question. We are in the position of Bobby Merrick in the novel "Magnificent Obsession," who is talking with Nancy Ashford about taking her dead husband's medical practice as his own. In a way, she was asking that he live out her former husband's useful life. As he mulls over the decision, he realizes that such a commitment would be for life and that there would be no discharge from that branch of service. It's the same for Christians. Once we have signed on with Jesus, there's no discharge from the war for the souls of the nations. That's why we're in business!

Illustration - Eskimo Priorities. It has been said that Eskimos probably enjoy food more than any people in the world. One man reported seeing six Eskimo men eat 50 pounds of meat in one sitting! Yet, while hunting for seal, an Eskimo will stand motionless over a hole in the ice for many hours, even days, forgetful of food in his or her intense eagerness to spear a great seal. Hunting takes priority over eating at certain times. Eskimos understand that ineffective hunting means insufficient eating. The long-range goal becomes more important than the short-range goal! For Jesus, the long-term goal (mankind's salvation) was more critical than the short-term need (His empty stomach).