Start with Why: The Motivation for the Mission

In the fifth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul describes the activity of mission, the identity of those on mission, and the motivation for pursuing the mission of God.

The mission of God, of course, is his wonderful plan to show the people of every tribe, tongue, and nation the greatness of his glory and the glory of his grace. It’s God’s redemptive work to reconcile the world to himself, which results in our forgiveness, peace, and joyful worship.

Amazingly, God’s great work involves us. It is a mission that requires the church’s full engagement. It touches every aspect of life, and it impacts every Christian. This mission sends people to the slums of Rio de Janeiro and to the shanties of Cape Town. It sends us to refugee villages along dangerous borders and to remote peoples in the far-flung corners of the world.

The same mission also sends us into the false security of the suburbs, the elitism of the city, and the remoteness of rural communities. Crucially, the mission also involves the establishment of churches and the multiplication of disciples that makes this possible (Acts 14:21–23).

Yet, all this is simply one way of describing what the mission of God is. I haven’t yet told you why we go, and the reason why is the most important of all.

Start with Why

With a cumulative view count of fifteen million strong, Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk ranks near the top of the organization’s most popular videos.

In truth, Sinek’s anthropology is quirky and deficient. Furthermore, the quality of the video recording is noticeably substandard. His mic even dies in the middle of his talk. Why, then, is the video so popular?

Why indeed.

Sinek’s argument is brilliant in its simplicity: you have to know why you do whatever it is that you do. Every organization knows what they do, of course, and many have a decent sense of how best to accomplish that. But very few organizations have a clear grasp of why they do what they do.

That’s a problem because the why is your belief, your purpose, your cause, your reason for existence. It’s the source of your willingness to make sacrifices and your sense of direction in moving forward. It is the motivation for everything you do.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that apostle Paul beat Simon Sinek to the punch. The apostle Paul starts with why. Before telling us the exact nature of God’s mission, he starts with the motivation for the mission.

The Motivation for the Mission

Our motivation for God’s mission must be rooted in more than shoulds and shouldn’ts or dos and don’ts. Such attempts to generate motivation have never worked very well.

Consider, for example, the infamous poster of an eagle soaring high in the clouds with the word “Excellence” printed at the bottom. How well does this motivate you to strive for excellence in all you do?

Thought so.

The same goes for that poster of a man in khaki pants at the top of a mountain. Not only is it doubtful that he climbed to the top of anything in that clothing, but also it is doubtful that his stunt will ever inspire me to do much whatsoever.

When considering a mission that matches the magnitude of God himself, therefore, we need a motivation that is worthy of the cause. And the only motivation that fits this bill is the love of Christ himself.

The Love of Christ for Others

Paul writes, “For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14–15 HCSB). In other words, Paul tells us that the love of Jesus is our motivation for mission in two ways.

First, we are compelled by Jesus’ own love for those he died to save. This may sound obvious, but John Dawson argues that it’s much harder to love the lost than we might think. Essentially, it’s because we struggle to feel a deep love for the abstract and impersonal. Just imagine trying to truly and deeply love a stranger in a photograph, for example. Now imagine trying to love a whole nation or people, much less the massive category of “all lost people.” It is difficult almost to point of impossibility.

But everything changes when you remember that people you do not even know (let alone love) are already known and loved by Jesus. Suddenly it is enough to know that the God we love has loved these people to death—literally. In this way, the cross leads us to regard everyone as someone who Jesus thought worth dying for. The love of Christ—for others—compels us to love them truly and deeply because Christ himself loves them in this way.

The Love of Christ for Us

Second, we are compelled by the love of Christ for us. To state it simply, Jesus loves us—full stop. He loved us before we even knew him. And he loved us before we ever attempted anything for him. “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 HCSB).

This is true at all times, but it is especially important to remember when we seek to evangelize, to make disciples, or to plant churches. It is good news that the love of Christ for us is not dependent on our love for him. This means we do not have to live for him in order to earn his love or gain his approval. Rather, Christ has set free to live for him because he already died for us. And his love is so complete, so satisfying, that it enables us to give ourselves away on mission just as Jesus gave himself away for us. The love of Christ—for us—compels us to live for him.

Friend, if you feel little or no motivation to make Christ known, don’t focus so much on the “what” of God’s mission. Start with the ultimate motivation for the mission, and let the love of Christ compel you to live for him.

Cliff Jordan is the lead pastor at Movement Church in Richmond, Virginia, which he planted in 2010.