The Hidden Glory Of The Unengaged

The Hidden Glory Of The Unengaged

We may forget that missions is also a chance to take part in revealing hidden beauty.

A.W. Workman

     Jesus says that the angels rejoice when even one sinner comes to repentance (Luke 15:7). What then might take place in the heavens when that sinner is the first in the history of the world to worship God from a particular language or culture? What kind of angelic rejoicing might result when not just an individual but a congregation from hitherto-alienated people, at last, join the great choir of tongues and nations worshiping the lamb? This is not a hypothetical situation. We live in an age when the Church of Christ continues to advance steadily, bringing gospel light to even the hardest-to-reach people groups on the planet – although thousands of these groups still await the coming of their very first ambassador. These groups are the unengaged, the people for whom there is not yet even a single team committed to church planting among them. 


     Revelation 21:22-27 speaks of the kings of the earth bringing the glory and honor of the nations into the new Jerusalem. This implies that there are distinctive kinds of honor, unique forms of glory for different groups of human peoples, IE ethnic groups – and that these glorious differences will somehow be present even in eternity (c.f. Rev7:9). These verses in Revelation 21 would have painted initially the picture of rich and diverse royal caravans bringing the material goods of the nations into New Jerusalem (e.g., the queen of Sheba visiting Solomon). Yet any primary survey of the world’s peoples will quickly observe that their unique strengths, their particular beauty, also consist of their distinct cultures and languages. And these deeper characteristics of what it means to be a given people group represent some of their most genuine riches. 


     Central Asians, for example, are natural at extravagant hospitality. Americans stand out for their optimistic, problem-solving approach to life. East Asians model respect for elders such that Koreans may not even call their older siblings by their names but by the respectful titles of older brothers and sisters. Languages also have inherent strengths, with each tongue having a rich vocabulary corresponding to its culture’s emphases. Some languages excel in communicating the abstract or technical (looking at you, English). Yet others, in the beauty of the poetic. Some have given birth to intricate grammar systems so complex it is said that no one over forty can learn them. Yet other languages stand out for their simplicity and efficiency, as is seen in the wondrous flexibility of the world’s pidgins and creoles.


     Where do these various cultural-linguistic strengths come from in the different people groups of the world? They come from the presence of the image of God among the individual members of that language or culture (Gen 1:27). For even in unengaged people groups that have had no gospel access whatsoever, the image of God given at the creation of Adam and Eve continues to linger. It is present in each new generation, though marred and broken by the effects of sin and death. The presence of this broken image among these peoples still speaks as a witness to the reality of the creator. Together with creation, this image reflects(although dimly) aspects of who he is and what he is like (Acts 14:17). But it also gives gifts, areas of strength in each person, language, and culture. These are places where the goodness of God’s creation still generously overflows even after millennia of sin and death.


     Sadly, in the unengaged people groups of the world, these strengths are primarily used in the service of the enemy. Without the presence of a believing community, these gifts are a window of God’s glory only in their witness to his common grace and to His coming judgment. However, when a missionary engages this kind of people group, when the first individual or group of locals are born again, what has been concealed or latent is suddenly revealed. It’s as if a long-buried treasure is suddenly exposed to the sunlight. Or, torches that have not been lit from the birth of that culture and language are suddenly set ablaze. The result is glory, the real beginning of the glory of the nations, now at last truly reflecting the glory of God. The unique strengths and honor of a people group, whether great or small, can now be used for the first time in praise of the King. 


     Extravagant hospitality can now be offered from a motive of gospel love, even to the poor who cannot extend an invitation in return (Luke 14:13). Western optimism can now be grounded in the sobriety of the wisdom literature and matured by an unshakeable faith in God’s promises. Eastern respect for elders can now be done “as unto the Lord” and no longer out of mere cultural duty or fear of shame (Col 3:22). Languages suddenly become vehicles for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs - for the eternal word of God itself as it is preached and as it is translated. In all these things, God’s universal truth and beauty are displayed through the unique facets of local expression. 


     There are multiple biblical motivations for missions, for going to the most challenging and remote corners of the earth to bring the gospel to those who have never heard the name of Christ. Hell is real (Rev 20:15). The love of Christ compels us (2 Cor 5:14).The glory of God calls for universal proclamation (Ps 96). Yet among these motivations, we may forget that missions is also a chance to take part in revealing hidden beauty, the unleashing of latent glory. Every missionary who risks the costs and dangers of going to the unengaged also has a chance to playa part in, even to be there to witness, the glory of the unengaged, finally unveiled to the praise of God. 


     Undoubtedly there is a special kind of joy in heaven when a given language and culture becomes a vehicle for the praise of God for the very first time. Who can tell with what anticipation the angels await the sound of new hymns sung in the language of the Luri, the power of preaching in Shabaki, and mission endeavors planned and carried out in the style of the Hawrami? And it’s not only heaven that will taste this joy. No, it will also be present in the hearts and tears of the missionaries who are honored to witness this glory unveiled and in the gatherings of their sending and supporting churches as they hear the incredible news from afar. 


     Revelation 21 is going to come to pass. God’s eternal glory and beauty will be reflected in the unique honor and glory of each of the nations, in each of the world’s remaining unengaged people groups. The costs of reaching these groups will be high, and the losses dear. But as we send and go, let us keep this vision of this coming joy before us. In eternity we will see the glory of the nations flowing into the new Jerusalem. We will see the beginnings of this hidden glory even now by going to the unengaged. 


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