In the previous two lessons, we have seen that mission is, first and foremost, rooted in the work of God. God’s mission is the impetus for all other forms of mission if they are to be successful. This week the focus moves from God’s mission to humanity’s call to partner with God in sharing His love with the broader world. While the focus is on the human aspect of mission, all that follows should be read in light of the previous two weeks, which focus on God’s missiological initiative and intent.
Scripture has numerous stories and passages that illuminate God’s active call to human beings as His partners to share in the blessings He desires all humanity to experience. This week, we will explore several such instances. All the examples found in this week’s portion must be read in light of God’s original Creation design found in Genesis 1–2, summarized most succinctly in Genesis 1:26–28. Even after the Fall, God’s original intentions for humanity remained the same, but His implementation of those intentions changed because of the relational breakdowns that were a result of Adam and Eve’s choice. Now, in addition to God’s original desire, there was a need for a plan of Redemption. This plan started in the Old Testament; was fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; and was shared, throughout the rest of the New Testament, by the followers of Jesus.
When God created the earth and placed humanity within the newly created world, God shared an original intention with Adam and Eve. They were called to watch over the earth, including all the living creatures, and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:26–28). Implicit within this injunction, through the constant refrain of “good” during the Creation week, is the notion that God placed humanity in a world surrounded by wonderful things. To learn about these things and live within this world would lead to flourishing and abundance. God was intimately involved in the ongoing life of earth; God’s practice was to walk in the Garden of Eden periodically (Gen. 3:8). The first humans were given substantial freedom to live out their God-given functionalities in creative ways. This enterprise was the original mission call from God to humanity.
After the fall of humanity and the entrance of sin into the realities of this earth, things changed. But the changes did not negate the original call of God to humanity. Repeatedly, God reminds those willing to listen that they are to be fruitful and multiply and take care of the earth (Gen. 9:1; Gen. 15:4, 5; Gen. 22:17, 18; Gen. 35:11). The Bible repeats this theme from beginning to end, culminating in a re-created earth found in Revelation 21–22.
Sin, however, ushered in the necessity of a salvific plan that would make it possible for humanity to be able to fully live the life God intended. Redemption was demonstrated to humanity through the ritual of sacrifice. As Adam and Eve shared this plan with succeeding generations, they included the sacrificial act as part of revealing the scope of what God would do to rescue fallen humans. While many probably struggled to grasp how Redemption would work, some could see that God had a plan that brought hope. This plan would become part of the call of God for humanity to share with the world. God’s plan would make it possible for humans to live the reality He originally intended for them in Eden.
The Call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3)
This week’s lesson highlights the call of God to Abraham, found in Genesis 12:1–3. The call has several vital elements that need to be understood if we are to fully grasp what the call of God for mission has been, currently is, and will continue to be. First off, the call is rooted in the Genesis 1:26–28 narrative. This connection is most clearly articulated in Isaiah’s reference to the call of Abraham and Sarah to share the joy of Eden with the world (Isa. 51:1–3). When God called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, the divine call implied that the blessing entailed sharing a way of life, expressed through profound freedom and creativity, intended by God from the beginning. A quick read of Genesis 12:1–3 makes it difficult to fully grasp the blessing, but its meaning becomes clearer when read within the broader corpus of Scripture. Genesis 22 adds additional detail to what Abraham was called to share, namely, the plan of God to provide a Substitute for humanity through death and subsequent resurrection. This plan gave humanity hope that the effects of sin and death could be overcome. It also gave hope that the promises of Genesis 1:26–28 could be fully realized again in the future.
Another element of the call to Abraham that is overlooked is found in Genesis 12:1–3. Abraham was called to bless the nations. We are called to do the same. We often fail to note that the nations also would bless Abraham (Gen. 12:3a). God’s call to mission always implies a two-way blessing. Those who follow God must be prepared to receive a blessing from the broader world around them, as well. The call to mission is always a call to bless and be blessed. Understanding this dynamic changes the called person’s, or persons’, attitude toward others and changes one’s approach to sharing the good news. We will explore this theme more next week.
When we read Scripture, a noticeable trend flows throughout both Testaments. The trend is that God had to remind humanity periodically of the original call in Genesis. The need for a reminder resulted from two things: (1) often God’s followers forgot what God called them to do, and (2) changing times required reinforcements of their calling. That is, the overall point to God’s call needs to be contextualized, from time to time, but the call itself remains essentially the same.
Space does not allow for a full exploration of all the subsequent reminders of God’s call to mission throughout the Bible, but a few can serve as examples. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness, God explicitly reminded His people that, as a nation, they were called to serve all other nations as priests (Exod. 19:4–6); in other words, Israel was called to be a blessing to the nations around them and to receive blessings from them. Solomon repeated the call in his dedicatory prayer for the newly built temple (1 Kings 8:41–43). The prophets of both Israel and Judah repeated this call in various ways, as can be seen in Isaiah 19:23–25 and Micah 4:2–5. After the Israelites returned from exile, God again reminded them of this call through the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:20–23).
Jesus lived out the call and demonstrated it, ultimately leading to the fulfillment of the plan of salvation through His life, death, and resurrection. After spending a few years with Jesus and witnessing His resurrection, the disciples were called in the same way that Abraham and then Israel had been called, as we read in Matthew 28:18–20. The apostle Paul also recognized that his calling was rooted in the same call as that given to Abraham, as he states explicitly in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia (Gal. 3:8, 9, 14). The last time the call is given in Scripture is found in Revelation 14:6, which is not a new call but rather simply a reiteration of the call that started in Genesis 1:26–28 and was carried forward throughout history. We believe that this final call is for those of us living during this time in the last days of earth’s history.
Thus, the call to live and flourish, as God intended in the Garden of Eden, is our call today. We have hope that living the calling and flourishing is possible because of what Jesus did on earth and does for us now in heaven. It is a privilege to partner with God in this calling and to go out intentionally into the wider world with a blessing to share, while also expecting to receive a blessing from those we meet.
Often when people hear or preach on the call to mission, they reduce that call to sharing the good news as a form of information. There is no doubt that part of sharing the blessing first introduced to humanity in the Garden and carried forward through many conduits in history involves sharing information. But the call is so much more than that.
When we recognize that the call of God to us, as humans, is rooted in Genesis 1:26–28, this understanding can lead us, through our various talents and skills, to draw people toward the blessing of flourishing that God intends for us. Our witness to others should be combined with sharing the plan of salvation, but, ultimately, the life that salvation makes possible will give meaning to the call God has given us. Therefore, our call is to live out the blessings of God in such a way that people see and desire what we have in God. This idea means that your workplace, your home, and your circle of friends are the primary locations where you live out the call of God. While preaching and handing out literature have their place, the primary fulfillment of the call to Abraham and you also includes how you live out your daily life in intentionality with others who have not surrendered to Jesus, or have not had the privilege yet of meeting Him. But remember that the call of God is a twofold blessing. As you live out the call in your daily life, expect and look for blessings to come back toward you from people whom you may not even expect.