[Today’s post is a guest post by Dr. Rick Flanders. Dr. Flanders is an evangelist sent out of First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, Michigan. He has been in full time ministry since 1973 and preaches revival meetings around the country.]
One great obstacle to progress in the work of the Gospel, both now and in all times, is the unbelief of God’s servants.
Consider the commission given to Moses, and then to Joshua, that Israel should conquer the land of Canaan. The key to fulfilling this commission was faith. Israel was to believe the promises of God and act on them.
I believe the biblical record of that commission is meant to be instructive to New Testament Christians regarding our commission to evangelize the world. Like to the Israelites of old, the key to fulfilling it is faith. We are to find the promises of Christ inherent in the Great Commission and believe in them as we move forward to take the Gospel to the world.
When Jesus said “all nations” in Matthew 28:19 and Luke 24:47, did He mean those words?
When Jesus said “all the world” and “every creature” in Mark 16:15, was He exaggerating for effect, or was He serious?
When Jesus told the apostles that they would be His witnesses “unto the uttermost part of the earth” in Acts 1:8, did He mean it literally?
If Jesus was in earnest as He spoke these words (and of course He meant every word of the Great Commission), then inherent in the command was the promise of success. By saying that we should take the Gospel to the whole world, to all nations, to every creature, even to the uttermost part, He was saying that we could.
Based on the promises of Jesus, we must go forward as the Israelites did and possess our possessions. It was never God’s plan that the conquest of Canaan would be accomplished by anything other than supernatural means. Even so, it was never God’s plan that the evangelization of the world would be accomplished apart from the miraculous hand of God. The key was and is faith.
However, we learn that one generation of Israelites forfeited the opportunity to fulfill their commission by blatant unbelief. The story is told in Numbers 13 and 14. Review the excuses they offered for abandoning the will of the Lord for them. Ten of the twelve spies strongly advised against going forward with plans to conquer the promised land. Here is what they said:
- “Nevertheless” (Numbers 13:28). The land was good; “nevertheless” there were serious obstacles to taking it. But God had told them that they would indeed conquer the land with His help, regardless of obstacles. The cause of the Gospel today is hindered by our distress over obstacles and difficulties. Are not the promises of God still true?
- “We be not able” (Numbers 13:31). The words of the two believing spies, Caleb and Joshua, “We are well able to overcome” (verse 30) were directly contradicted by the other spies, openly denying the reliability of God’s promises. Sometimes the statements made by decision-makers in churches against the scriptural plan of evangelism are just as blatant and shocking.
- “The land…is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof” (Numbers 13:32). But the believing spies later said, “Neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us” (Numbers 14:9). When the situation was viewed through a lens of unbelief, the Canaanites seemed to have the advantage; but when viewed through eyes of faith, the people of God had the advantage. So is the difference between triumphant faith and the doubt of defeat.
- “Let us return” (Numbers 14:4). Those who doubted wanted to go back to Egypt. Every trial in our lives and ministries is a trial of faith. The question is always, Will we believe God or not? When we fail the test by deciding not to believe, our tendency will always be to go back. Trusting God in spite of obstacles leads to victory. Doubting God when our faith is tried tempts us to go back to the world, back to sin, back to the darkness.
These very justifications for unbelief are still current among God’s people, common among preachers, and well-known in churches. Yet unbelief, as we learn from Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 14:5–9, is essentially rebellion against God. It always entails disobedience, and it is greatly destructive when it becomes a working principle in decisions that are made about outreach, church planting, and world evangelism.
We will either do what Jesus told us to do, based on what He said, or we will disobey Him and retreat into the world. May the men of God and the churches of Jesus Christ reach our world with the truth through unwavering faith in the Words of the living God! In this generation may we refuse to rebel against the command of the Lord through excuses born of unbelief.
Rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.—Numbers 14:9