The image above is not ancient hieroglyphics, it is a quantum physics equation. It’s a math equation attempting to understand the complexities of God’s vast creation. Complex realities of physics require complex math in order to test theories. This is why scientific discovery is a relatively slow process: Complex ends are attained by complex means.
Imagine if the vast complexities of quantum physics could be understood by simple math. Imagine the scientific advancements we could make if complex realities of physics could be grasped by 1+1 or if complex problems could be solved by 3-2. That’s nonsense, of course, because we know that complex ends require complex means.
God’s ends are infinitely more complex than that of quantum physics. God’s ends involve the fate and destiny of every person in history, even all of history itself. One day, God will transform all of reality as we know it and create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-5). No matter how complex, no math equation can grasp or affect these future realities.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
This is true for his future works and also for his present works. Even now, God’s mission for the church pursues complex ends. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This command seeks complex ends on two levels.
First, the command to make disciples is qualitatively complex. What are disciples? The gospel of Matthew tells us a disciple is someone who follows Jesus (4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:34), who confesses Jesus as Lord (16:16), and who regards Jesus as his master and himself as Jesus’ servant (10:24-25). Most importantly, a disciple loves Jesus (10:37, 22:37) and worships him (2:11, 14:33, 28:9). Therefore, a disciple is someone who follows, confesses, regards, loves, and worships Jesus from the heart. This is qualitatively complex because human hearts are complex. How can a church hope to make true disciples from the heart?
Second, the command to make disciples of all nations is quantitatively complex. Nations, cultures, societies, communities, and individuals are vastly different. How can churches take the single message of Jesus Christ to the roughly 13,000 different people groups in the world? How can local churches hope to make any sort of impact among the nearly 8 billion people worldwide? Jesus diagnoses the situation as follows: “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (9:37).
Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 to make disciples of all nations is qualitatively and quantitatively complex. Who is sufficient for these things? In Matthew 19:24 Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were astonished by the complexity of such a statement (19.25), but Jesus reveals that reality is actually far more difficult than complex. He states in 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus admitted that with man the ends and outcomes of Matthew 28:18-20 are impossible. How then can the qualitative and quantitative impossibility of making disciples of all nations be accomplished by local churches?
In the temporal world, complex ends are accomplished by complex means. In God’s kingdom and economy, where all things are possible, he has graciously deemed that his complex ends are accomplished by very simple means. As we look to Scripture, God provides churches two simple means to accomplish his great ends: Prayer and the ministry of the word.
The apostles summed up their ministry as follows: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Inspired by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, they utilized the simple means of prayer and the ministry of Scripture as the means by which they would make disciples of all nations.
They devoted themselves to the ministry of the word because the word has great power. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, explaining how we make disciples, “teach(ing) them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The ministry of the word is certainly preaching from a pulpit, but it is also counseling from the Scriptures. It is sharing the gospel with non-Christians from the testimony of Scripture. We teach the Bible, declaring the glory and goodness of God. And with the Bible we equip the saints for the work of the ministry that goes out to all nations.
They devoted themselves to prayer because they knew God hears and acts. All things are possible with God, so, we pray. We cannot change a human heart, so, we pray. All of our efforts to proclaim the word are feeble, so, we pray. Jesus told us to pray in response to the quantitative impossibility of the gospel mission: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37).
Can it really be that the complex and impossible mission of Matthew 28:18-20 can be accomplished by such simple means as prayer and the ministry of the word? This is so simple that God’s given strategy for local churches to reach the nations is literally: 1) Repeat what I have already said (ministry of the word) and then 2) ask me to do everything (prayer). Can that really be sufficient for the ministry of a local church?
Yes. When the finite wisdom of man fails to achieve the complex and impossible ends of God, and it will, the only place to turn is the infinite wisdom of God. How great is God that he would be pleased to accomplish such wonderful things through such simple tasks! How great is our God that he would give us such simple tasks, tasks that do not require talent and skill, but faith in the power of God.
This of course leaves no room for human boasting. These two simple means (Repeat what I have already said & ask me to do everything) are meant to unseat and destroy any self-confidence, self-reliance, and pride. Because of such simple means, no church, no pastor, no Christian can say, “Look at what I did!” Our only boast is in the Lord. It is by humble faith that we take hold of these simple means that we might witness God glorify his great name.
All of our energies, efforts, and labors in prayer and the ministry of the word are like Moses hiding himself in the cleft of the rock and declaring to God, “Show me your glory!”
Woe to those pastors and churches who seek to accomplish God’s ends by man’s means. Woe to those churches and pastors that put their faith in their skills and strategies, in pursuit of their own glory. Woe to those churches and pastors who trust in their own wisdom and the world’s wisdom by pursuing worldly means to attract people, rather than trusting in God’s wisdom by pursuing supernatural means to transform people. Woe to those pastors and churches that twist and pervert the Scriptures for their own evil gain. Woe to those churches and pastors who are prayerless and unwilling to trust God for the harvest. They will reap what they sow.
These simple means result in less of us, but they also mean more of God and more of his supernatural power. This is not just a principle, it is a promise. A promise laid out for us at the end of Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”