I remember well a particularly telling luncheon at T4G. A young pastor, wielding his MDiv and an internship at a solid Baptist church, sat across the table from my friend, Brooks Buser. Brooks had just returned from spending over 13 years suffering loss for the unsurpassable honor of planting a church among the Yembi Yembi. Brooks is an American-born male of European descent, though he grew up in the Iteri tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. His father, Brad Buser, had spent 20 years planting a church among that formerly cannibalistic unreached people group.
Upon hearing that Brooks had gone to an unreached people group, planted a church, and translated the New Testament, the young pastor clamored for a chance to ask Brooks the most important questions a gospel minister could ask in that moment: “What is your view of white privilege and the social justice movement and how they inform the Great Commission?” Brooks kindly told him that this is not an issue he dealt with on the mission field. He encouraged the young pastor to consider our gospel privilege. We have the good news and the word of God in our language. There are 3100+ people groups who do not know this news. Brooks pointed out that this should be our great concern. With complete sincerity, the young pastor responded, “You are not woke.”
The true privilege for American Christians, and all Christians, is not found in the pigmentation of our skin, but the eternal state of our souls. We have heard the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. We have been born again to new life in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has blessed us with gospel preachers through whom we received this good news. Heaven is our home and Jesus is our great reward. Yet, while people groups all around the world languish in darkness, dead in sin, condemned to eternal Hell, the church seems endlessly distracted by questions about how to make our lives in America more equitable and prosperous.
Friends, we need to recapture a better understanding of the glorious privilege that is ours in Christ. Paul understood this privilege well. Paul was commissioned and honored to take this gospel to those who had never heard (Rom 15:20-21). He knew that he was indebted to all peoples. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise” (Rom 1:14). Why is Paul a debtor to Greeks (a people who oppressed the Jews)? Why is Paul a debtor to Barbarians? Why is he a debtor to both the wise and the unwise? In other words, why is Paul a debtor to all, everywhere?
First, Paul is called to be an Apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Rom 1:1). The Lord Jesus has commanded him to take the gospel to those who have not heard. Therefore, Paul is obligated to obey. In this sense, the whole church is under obligation to all peoples. Jesus commissioned the Apostles to “go and make disciples among all peoples” (Matt 28:19). As the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20), the Apostles have passed this commission to Christ’s church. We are those who have been entrusted with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Thus, it is our obligation to make this good news known where it is not.
Second, Paul shared a common humanity, common sin, and common condemnation with all peoples everywhere. What is most essential about man is not our ethnicity, our skin pigmentation, or our language. Our division in these regards is an effect of the fall into sin. These divisions belong to the old fallen Adamic creation. But Christ has abolished this dividing wall of hostility and created one new man in himself (Eph 2:11-22).
Paul knew that all people are image-bearers of God who have fallen short of God’s glory. He knew that all, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin; all stand condemned (Rom 3:9-20 cf. 3:23). And, Paul knew his immense privilege in being brought from death to life through the only name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). While Paul shared a common humanity, common sin, and common condemnation, Paul had a privilege that those who had not heard the gospel lacked. Thus, he was indebted to all men to make the gospel known to those who had never heard. We who call on the name of Jesus share that great privilege. Therefore, we share Paul’s profound indebtedness to make the gospel known where it is not.