What is your purpose in life? Do you know? The Bible says, your mission is to prepare for eternity. Because life is a preparation for eternity. You’re going to be doing four things in heaven forever and ever and ever. And God wants you to practice those here on earth. What are they? First is worship, you were planned for God’s pleasure – to know and love God. The second is fellowship, you were formed for God’s family – to learn to love each other. The third is discipleship, you were created to become like Christ. And the fourth is ministry, you were shaped for serving God. Now, once we have got those four down, we come to the fifth purpose, which is the only purpose you can only do on earth. You were made for a mission. In John 17, verse 18, Jesus said this – “In the same way that you gave Me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.” In John 20:21, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” To do what? Please turn with me to Matthew 18 because we are going to answer three questions. What is our mission? How do we fulfil our mission? And when will we complete our mission?
1. What is my Mission? (Matthew 18:1-5)
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)
What is the mission of many people in the world? To be the greatest. To be the greatest business success, the greatest politician, the greatest entrepreneur, the greatest actress, the greatest writer, the greatest golfer. You know this aspiration even infects the church. Remember it was the disciples who asked it first. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus insists that this is not your mission. You mission is to what? To enter the kingdom of heaven, and help others enter as well. Your mission is to know Jesus and make Jesus known. And it begins with repentance. “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In the next few verses Jesus explains where people will enter if not the kingdom of heaven – the fire of hell (Matthew 18:8). This is so important to Jesus that his friends get the message he repeats the warning in verse 9.
That’s why Jesus is such good news. “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Once I know that God is in control, once I know that God loves me, once I know that Jesus died to save me, once I know that my life isn’t an accident, once I realise that God has a purpose for my life – well, God expects me to share the good news. My fifth purpose is to share the other four purposes with other people. The word ‘Evangelism’ is just the Greek word for “good news.” That’s all it means. It means good news. And so the Bible says that once I know the Good News, that God loves me, has a purpose and plan for my life and all the things we’ve talked about, God wants me to pass it on, to help others join God’s family.
What is my mission? Paul is real specific in Acts 20, “the most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work the Lord Jesus gave me to tell people the good news about God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). First question: What is my mission? Second question.
2. How do I fulfil my Mission? (Matthew 18:6-17)
Answer. By doing three things:
2.1 Deal ruthlessly with personal sin (Matthew 18:6-9)
6 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:6-9)
If humility is the antidote to pride, repentance is the answer to sin.
This passage teaches us two things. Sin is evil and hell is real. To be free from fear of hell we must deal ruthlessly with sin. Jesus uses vivid language to convey the seriousness of sin. The millstone (18:6) and amputation (18:8 & 9). Each of these three sentences begin the same way “It is better… It is better…..”Jesus would have us value eternity more highly than anything else – even more than our bodies if we had to choose. We must deal ruthlessly with personal sin. Second, we must
2.2 Cultivate a passion for lost people (Matthew 18:10-14)
10 “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. 12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:10-14)
God wants his lost children found. God is passionate about the lost.
The closer we get to the heart of God, the more we will develop a passion for lost people. We will grieve when they seem to despise Jesus, we will work hard at finding answers to their questions. We will pray for them. We will seek to be their friends. That is why evangelism is our first and highest priority. Relieving poverty and standing for justice comes second. Sunday services come third. Entertaining Christians with lots of extra activities comes last. God is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. If you want to fulfil your mission, deal ruthlessly with personal sin and cultivate a passion for lost people. The third way we fulfil our mission is:
2.3 Protect the unity of the church (Matthew 18:15-17)
In “The Purpose Driven Life”, Rick Warren says,
“Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ’s Body. It is the essence, the core, of how God intended for us to experience life together in His church. Our supreme model of unity is the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are completely unified as one. God himself is the highest example of sacrificial love, humble other-centredness, and perfect harmony. In his final moments before being arrested, Jesus prayed passionately for our unity. It was our unity that was uppermost in his mind during those agonizing hours. That shows how significant this subject is. Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony.”
So if you regard yourself as a member of Christ’s Church, it is your responsibility to protect the unity and promote harmony in your church family and among all believers. How are we to do this?
In these three verses, Jesus instructs us very specifically on how to resolve conflict and protect the unity of the church. Lets examine them in a little more detail. Jesus outlines three simple steps:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
Invariably when we have an issue with someone we talk to others first. We gossip. We criticise. This makes the matter worse. Instead, you should go directly to the person involved. Private confrontation is always the first step, and you should take it as soon as possible. If you’re unable to work things out between the two of you, the next step is to take one or two witnesses to help confirm the problem and reconcile the relationship. What should you do if the person is still stuck in stubbornness? Jesus says to take it to the church.
Jesus goes one stage further. He says, if the person still refuses to listen after that, you should treat that person like an unbeliever. How do you treat an unbeliever? With love and respect, you will encourage them to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – which means to follow his teaching on matters such as this. If this sounds tough then realise that this shows how much Jesus cares for his Church. Rick Warren insists,
“Refuse to listen to gossip. Gossip is passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. You know spreading gossip is wrong, but you should not listen to it, either, if you want to protect your church. Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it makes you just as guilty of the crime. When someone begins to gossip to you, have the courage to say, “Please stop. I don’t need to know this. Have you talked directly to that person?” People who gossip to you will also gossip about you. They cannot be trusted.”
Did you realise that if you listen to gossip, God says you are a troublemaker. Proverbs says, “Troublemakers listen to troublemakers.” (Proverbs 17:14). God warns us over and over again not to gossip, criticise, compare, or judge each other.” Why?
“When you gossip about another believer you are interfering with God’s business: “What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right.” (Romans 14:4).
Whenever I judge another believer, four things instantly happen: I lose fellowship with God, I expose my own pride and insecurity, I set myself up to be judged by God, and I harm the fellowship of the church. The Bible calls Satan “the accuser of our brothers and sisters.” Anytime we do the same, we’re doing Satan’s work for him.
Rick Warren observes that “It is sad that in God’s flock, the greatest wounds usually come from other sheep, not wolves. Paul warned about “cannibal Christians” who “devour one another” and “destroy the fellowship.” (Galatians 5:15) Solomon pointed out, “Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and tensions disappear when gossip stops.” (Proverbs 26:20). John Maxwell in his little book, “There’s no such thing as business ethics” offers ten rules of respect based on these verses. I have found them so helpful I have made them mandatory in churches I have pastored. I invite you to also.
1. If you have a problem with me, come to me (privately).Rick Warren, “There’s no such thing as business ethics”.
2. If I have a problem with you, I’ll come to you (privately).
3. If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. (I’ll do the same for you. The first three principles are based on Matthew 18:15.
4. If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go see him together. I am sure he will see us about this.” (I’ll do the same for you.). This fourth principle is based on Matthew 18:16.
5. Be careful how you interpret me – I would rather do that myself. On matters that are unclear, do not feel pressured to interpret my feelings or thoughts. It is easy to misrepresent intentions.
6. I will be careful how I interpret you.
7. If it’s confidential, don’t tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell, unless (a) the person is going to harm themselves, (b) the person is going to harm someone else, (c) it involves a child who has been physically or sexually abused. I expect the same from you.
8. I do not read unsigned letters or notes.
9. I do not manipulate; I will not be manipulated; do not let others manipulate you. Do not let others try and manipulate me through you.
10. When in doubt, just say it. If I can answer it without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will.
Think how our integrity and credibility would grow. How our relationships would be improved if we loved one another in this way.
Imagine how our unity would be strengthened if we treated one another with this level of respect. We’ve looked at what our mission is. We’ve considered how we fulfil our mission – by dealing ruthlessly with personal sin, by cultivating a passion for lost people and by protecting the unity of the church. One more question:
3. When will I Know I have Completed my Mission? (Matthew 18:18-20)
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:18-20)
When do we complete our mission? When God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Not before. But every time we agree on earth about what God is calling us to do, he will honour it because it has its origin in heaven. That’s what these verses mean.
Notice how in each of these paragraphs there is a promise:
“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:5). “Their angels in heaven always see the face of my father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10). “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20).
Here’s the test to know if you have completed your mission or not. Are you still alive? If you’re still alive, your mission is not yet completed. What could possibly be more important? In Acts 13:36 it says “When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep.” That’s my prayer for myself.
Why would I want to hang around after I have fulfilled my mission?
I can’t think of a anything better to have on my gravestone. “He completed his God-given mission.” In Matthew 18, we have considered three questions: What is my mission in life? How do I fulfil my mission? When will I complete my mission?
You have got four possible responses. You can say like Moses, “Who me?” Or you can say like Jonah, “Not me.” Or you can say like Isaiah, “Send me.” The most dangerous prayer you can pray is “Lord use me.” I dare you to say it. Watch what happens.
I invite you to pray this prayer with me “Father, more than anything else, I want to fulfill the purposes you made me for. So today, I accept my mission. I want you to use me any time, any way, any place. I want to bring others to you. I want to serve your purpose in my generation. And I want to be a part of what you’re doing in the world. I want to build my life around Your eternal purposes, and I want to help our church do the same. Help me to reach one more for Jesus. In your name, Jesus, I pray. Amen.”
[i] This quote and others taken, with thanks from Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan) Day 21 “Protecting Your Church” pp.160-167. Inspired by Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose with help from John Maxwell and John Ortberg.