“You are not a humanitarian”: The heart and purpose of missions

by Roy Tay // February 23, 2018, 2:17 pm


“Therefore go …”

These two words have been the bedrock (Matthew 28:19) of the missional church today. I have been affiliated with several mission organisations: Cru Singapore (CRU), Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Athletes In Action (AIA) and Youth With A Mission (YWAM).

These involvements account for about 7 years of mission influence in my Christian life. But I’ve learned a foundational truth about missions just this year: It’s not about helping people.

It includes helping people but we should not go because we want to help people. We must go – first and foremost – because Jesus is worthy.


“Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” – John Piper

So, you are not a humanitarian: Missions is not merely about doing good. Missions exist because Jesus deserves the worship that mission work results in. The end goal is the unified worship of every nation to God (Revelation 7).

The sacrifice of Christ was for every individual from every people group. When He reigns in the Kingdom to come, only He deserves the praise every soul brings Him. So mission work increases the number of souls, and hence the proportion of praise Jesus receives.

Missions is about extending His Kingdom because He is worthy of every praise. It’s so easy to get caught up in bringing happiness to people in missions that we neglect God’s happiness. We weren’t called to improve the quality of physical and temporary life (though this is still a good thing and a means to build bridges) – we are called to bring the gospel to the world.


I’m sorry, but the world does not need you. Really, let’s get over ourselves: God does not need us to go. He wants you to go because He loves you, and He knows that you will find no greater life on this side of eternity apart from the one He offers you.

When Queen Esther was hesitant to approach King Xerxes to save the Jews, her cousin Mordecai had a serious conversation with her.

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

We know the second sentence well. We can accept that we are on the earth for “such a time as this”, but we don’t really pay attention to the first sentence – God can always send another form of deliverance “from another place”!

It’s so easy to get caught up in bringing happiness to people in missions that we neglect God’s happiness.

You are not called to be the Saviour of the world – that job’s already taken. And if you’ve tried to apply for the job, I can tell you that your application will be rejected because no one has what it takes to fill that position.

Except Jesus Christ.

We need the humility to know our place: Privileged partners with God in the work He does. When we go to an impoverished country to bring medical aid, food or build houses – we must be mindful not to play the saviour role.


Our motivation for mission work must stem from a love for God. There are many missionaries who go into the field because of compassion for the impoverished. That’s not wrong, but if it is the strongest motivation, we will inevitably be discouraged by the reality of things – that the world hates God and rejects His compassion.

“If our devotion is to the cause of humanity, we will be quickly defeated and brokenhearted, since we will often be confronted with a great deal of ingratitude from other people. But if we are motivated by our love for God, no amount of ingratitude will be able to hinder us from serving one another.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

If we reach out to others, with compassion being the sole motivation, we will never be able to love our enemies as Jesus taught us. And what reward is there if you only love those who love you (Matthew 5:46)? It is only in loving God that we can love the unlovable and reach the unreachable.


“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim… and one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’… and I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!'” (Isaiah 6:1-5)

We are familiar with the account of Isaiah, who upon receiving the call, went to go and tell the people about God. But look at what happened before, when Isaiah encountered God in the throne room as the seraphim exclaimed the glory of God.
That vision of God’s glory in all the earth is the foundation of His ministry. So, rightfully, it should be the same for us.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

About the author

Roy Tay

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.