Morning Sermon: Psalm 67, Let The Nations Be Glad

New Testament Reading: Acts 1:1-11

“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:1–11, ESV).

Old Testament  Reading: Psalm 67

“TO THE CHOIRMASTER: WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS. A PSALM. A SONG. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (Psalm 67, ESV).

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

Please be patient with me this morning, brothers and sisters. It will take me a little while to get back to the text of Psalm 67, but I assure you, everything will tie together in the end. 

I wish to begin this sermon by addressing a terrible misconception that some have of those of us who are Calvinistic and Reformed, and that is the misconception that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism or world missions. 

Have you ever encountered this claim? I know that many of you have! This charge was slanderously leveled against us when we planted this church nearly ten years ago, and I have heard that some of you have been asked this question even recently. So is it true that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism or world missions? The short answer is, no, of course it is not true.

So where does this misconception come from, then? Please allow me to make three brief remarks about this: 

One, it may be true that some within the Calvinistic and Reformed tradition have neglected evangelism and world missions. I do not doubt that for a second. But listen carefully. Their neglect is not the result of our beliefs, but of sin. These, for one reason or another, have failed to do what they know in their minds the scriptures call them to do — that is, to go and make disciples of all nations through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, if there has been neglect amongst the Reformed, it is not the product of our theology, but of spiritual lethargy. And, if our critics were to be honest they would admit that this same spiritual lethargy does sometimes appear in other traditions besides the Reformed tradition. 

Two, there are some who would call themselves “Calvinists” who hold erroneous views on this subject. We would call them hyper-Calvinists. And these do in fact error in their doctrine by downplaying the role of human responsibility in the Christian life in general, and in the salvation of sinners in particular. But these hyper-Calvinists are badly out of step with the Reformed faith, that is to say, with biblical Christianity. As we will see in just a moment, the Reformed believe that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation, and that man is also responsible to do what God has called him to do. And one thing God has called his church to do is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. So please do not confuse us with the hyper-Calvinists.

Three, it is ultimately the ignorance of our critics that produces the misconception. They are ignorant of our beliefs, and they are also ignorant of the scriptures. When our critics hear us say that God has chosen some for salvation (which is what the scriptures clearly teach) they assume that means there is no need for evangelism or world missions. It is truly an absurd notion. Our critics are guilty of jumping to this conclusion. 

Watch how they jump. They hear us say what the scriptures say — that God has chosen some for salvation (see Ephesians 1:3ff, for example), and that God is sovereign over salvation, meaning that he will certainly bring those whom he has chosen to faith (see Ephesians 2:1ff, for example) — and they jump to the conclusion that there is no place for evangelism in our theological system. But they have connected dots that do not necessarily connect.   

Think of it. If it is true that God has chosen some for salvation from before the foundation of the world (see John 17, and Romans 8:28ff), and if it is true that God will certainly save these (see again the texts cited above along with John 6:35ff), the question must still be asked, how will God bring his elect to faith and to salvation in Jesus Christ? How will he do it? What means will he use? How will he move these elect of his from unbelief to belief, from death to life, from wrath to grace? Will he simply act upon them immediately and supernaturally without any human intermediary? Will God simply zap his elect from on high and cause them to believe upon Jesus the Messiah? No, that is not what the scriptures teach, nor is it what we believe. 

So, how will God bring his elect to faith in Christ and thus to salvation? Answer: through the proclamation of the gospel, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This will be the means. Yes, the Spirit of God must work. The Spirit must open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and breathe spiritual life into those who are spiritually dead. God must do that work. And if he does not, then none will ever believe (see John 3:3ff and 6:44ff). But the gospel must also be proclaimed by us, for this is the way that God has determined to bring his elect to salvation — through the preaching of his word and the working of his Spirit. 

This is why Christ told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18ff). And this is why he sent them out as his “witnesses” (Acts 1:1ff). And when they went out from Jerusalem to go to the nations, what did they do? They proclaimed Christ crucified and risen. And why were they confident that anyone would believe in their message? Their confidence was in God, in the knowledge that he had his elect scattered throughout the nations, and that as they went and preached the gospel of the kingdom, those chosen by God and appointed to salvation would in fact believe. Stated differently, their confidence was in the sovereignty of God over all things, and over the salvation of souls in particular. So no, their belief in the sovereignty of God over salvation did not produce lethargy in them, but rather it propelled them to “go” with boldness in obedience to Christ’s command, knowing that God would surely accomplish all of his purposes through them.

This mindset  — that God is sovereign over the salvation of his elect, and that we must be responsible to go and proclaim the gospel, for this is the means by which all will be saved — is clearly seen in the book of Acts. For example, in Acts 13:13ff we read of Paul and Barnabus’ gospel ministry in Antioch. As the story unfolds we learn that many of the Gentiles in that place were receptive to the gospel message. And listen carefully to how Luke describes what happened. He says in verse 48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48, ESV). Did you hear that? The gospel was preached by Paul and Barnabus, and many believed. And how did Luke interpret this? He says, it was those “appointed” or “assigned” to eternal life who believed the message of the gospel. In other words, the elect of God believed. Those chosen by God believed. And this was the understanding of Christ and all of his Apostles — the gospel would be preached, and the elect would respond in faith as the Spirit of God worked upon their hearts. This is exactly what Christ taught when he concluded that parable regarding the invitation to the wedding feast with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14, ESV). He was teaching his disciples that many would hear the external call of the gospel with their natural ears, but it would only be those chosen of the Lord, and are therefore called of God inwardly and effectively, who will respond in faith to the invitation. 

So no, the biblical doctrines of predestination and effectual calling, which the Reformed are faithful to teach, do not nullify the need for evangelism, for it is through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that the elect will be drawn to faith and salvation. Stated most bluntly: no gospel, no salvation (with the exception, perhaps, of “elect infants dying in infancy… and [other] elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word”. See 10.3. of our Confession of Faith). But in general, no gospel, no salvation. For the Lord has determined to bring salvation to his elect by the means of gospel proclamation.

And this is why Paul — yes, the same Paul who so clearly teaches the doctrine of election or predestination in all of his letters — says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV). And a little later in the same letter, he says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ [Now listen to this] How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’” (Romans 10:9–17, ESV)

So please hear me. The Reformed agree with Paul and with the rest of the scriptures that there is no conflict between the biblical doctrine of election and the need for evangelism, for this is how the elect will come to saving faith. To call on the Lord, they must first hear about him. And to hear about him, someone must preach. And to preach, someone must be sent. 

Far from being a hindrance to evangelism, the doctrine of election does in fact motivate it. For it is the doctrine of election that says, God has his chosen ones scattered throughout the world and he will certainly bring them to faith in Christ. So we must go and prayerfully preach the word, and watch as the Lord does his work. Stated differently, it is the doctrine of election that reassures us that the fields are indeed ripe for harvest (John 4:35). God has his elect scattered throughout the world. He will prepare them. He will draw them inwardly. We must simply go and harvest them with the gospel message freely offered. 

And this was exactly what motivated Paul to persevere in his missionary work, despite all of the suffering. He says so in 2 Timothy 2:10, where he writes, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10, ESV). Paul knew that all of the sufferings he endured in his gospel ministry were for “the sake of the elect” of God. His mission was to go and harvest those whom God had chosen. He did not know who they were, but he would find out as preached, and as men and women responded in faith. 

So, this idea that those who believe and teach the doctrine of predestination, effectual calling, limited atonement (and all the rest), do not believe in evangelism is ridiculous. This is not what we believe. This is not what we teach. For this is not what the scriptures say. Also, it is not difficult to see that this is not the case when one considers church history. 

And if you would only take a moment to study the history of the so-called modern missions movement, you would see that it was sparked by men with Reformed and Calvinistic convictions. Perhaps you have heard of William Carry? He is called the “father of modern missions.” Did you know that he was a Particular (or Reformed) Baptist? And did you know that he was sent out to do his work by Particular (Reformed) Baptists? Adoniram Judson was also a Particular Baptist. So too was Luther Rice. These leaders in the modern missionary movement were all Calvinists. They believed just as we believe. Brothers and sisters, Reformed theology properly understood does not hinder missions. No, it propels it. Why? Because Reformed theology simply tells the truth regarding God’s plans for the salvation of sinners, his accomplishment of that plan in Christ, and the means by which he will apply it to his elect in every time and place, that is, through the preaching of his word and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

So, what does all of this have to do with Psalm 67? 

Well, here is the point that I wish to make from this Psalm: while it is true that our doctrine of salvation does not hinder evangelism, but rather encourages and propels it, it is also true that our understanding of the history of redemption  — that is, our understanding of what is called covenant theology — does not stifle our zeal for world missions, but should propel us to take the gospel of the kingdom to all nations, knowing for certain that this has always been God’s plan. 

The dispensationalists (at least the radical ones) miss this. In their minds, the great commission that Christ gave to his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” was “plan B” in the mind of God. Not all dispensationalists will talk in this extreme way, but some do. To them “plan A” was for God’s kingdom to be established with ethnic and Old Covenant Israel, but when Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah, then the gospel was to be proclaimed to the Gentiles as “plan B”. A greater misunderstanding of the overarching story of the Bible can hardly be imagined. We reject this view in all of its various forms and insist that God’s plan has always been the same (How could it not be? For our God does not change?). His plan has always been to save people from every tongue, tribe, and nation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

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Believing Israel Knew They Were Blessed To Be A Blessing To The Nations (vs. 1-2)

Psalm 67 proves the point. Here we have a Psalm (or song) written and sung by Old Covenant Israel. And what is its central concern? That salvation would come to all of the nations of the earth! 

Yes, it is certainly true that from the days of Abraham up to the day of Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the gospel of the kingdom was largely confined to the Hebrew people and to the nation of Israel. They were blessed to have the word of God, to worship God, and to know and preserve his very great promises concerning the Messiah who would come from them. But hear this: they were blessed to be a blessing! And they knew this (or at least some of them did). [SLIDE] Believing Israel knew that they were blessed to be a blessing to the nations. Listen to what they sang: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1–2, ESV)

The first line of this Psalm is drawn from the blessing that Aaron the priest and his sons were commanded to pronounce upon Israel, as recorded in Numbers 6:22ff. There we read, “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’ So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:22–27, ESV).

In Psalm 67 the people of Israel cry out to God for this blessing. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…”, they sing. But in verse 2 the purpose for this blessing is acknowledged beginning with the word “that”. “That…”, or might say, so that “your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:2, ESV). As I have said, Israel knew that they were blessed by God so that they might be a blessing to the nations. They were chosen by God so that through them salvation might come to the Gentiles. This was always God’s plan. And this plan was clearly revealed to them from the beginning. 

Do not forget what the LORD said to father Abraham when he called him to leave his country and promised to make him into a great nation. He said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great…” Abraham did not live to see the fulfillment of these promises, but we know the story. We know that Abraham became Israel. But that is not all that God said. He added these words of purpose “so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV). So, from the beginning, God revealed to Abraham and his descendants that they were uniquely blessed by God… so as to be a blessing to the nations. 

Yes, many within Israel had lost sight of this in the days when Jesus walked the earth. And yes, many from amongst the Jews were offended by the news that the Christ died for all the peoples of the earth, that this gospel of the kingdom was to go to the nations, and that the Gentiles who believed would be grafted into the true Israel of God. But they were surprised, not because this truth hadn’t been revealed before, but because they either misunderstood or willingly ignored, the scriptures.  

From the start, Israel was blessed to be a blessing to the nations. And this is why they were to sing, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us… that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1–2, ESV) 

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Believing Israel’s Desire Was To See the Nations Give Praise To God  (vs. 3-4)

Secondly, we see in this Psalm that believing Israel’s desire was for the nations to give praise to God. Look at verses 3 and 4. They sang, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah” (Psalm 67:3–4, ESV)

Read the New Testament and see the difference between believing and unbelieving Israel. One key difference is that while unbelieving Israel was enraged at the thought that the kingdom of God would extend to the nations, believing Israel rejoiced greatly in this. Considered from the vantage point of Psalm 67, unbelieving Israel could not bring themselves to sing this Psalm, whereas believing Israel sang this Psalm heartily. 

To illustrate, in the book of Acts there is a large portion of the text devoted to the story of the Apostle Peter (an Israelite) proclaiming the gospel to a man named Cornelious (a Gentile). The story runs from 10 all the way to Acts 11:18. Apparently, this was a very significant moment given the amount of space devoted to this story. In brief, Peter was faithful to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to Cornelious and his household, they believed, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Peter reported this to the church in Jerusalem, he concluded by saying, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” And listen to the response  of believing Israel: “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:17–18, ESV)

This was always to be the disposition of Israel. They were to be eager to see the Gentiles believe in the Messiah, and give praise to the one true God, who “[judges] the peoples with equity and [guides] the nations upon earth.”

Why should the Hebrew people be so eager to see the Gentile people give praise to their God? Well, beyond what has already been said regarding the Covenant transacted with Abraham, and the observation that Israel was blessed to be a blessing, we must also say that the Gentile nations should give glory to the God of Israel for he is also God of the nations. 

Yes, the LORD was Israel’s God in a special way from the days of Abraham to the resurrection of Christ — that is to say, under the Old Covenant. The LORD was Israel’s God, and they were his special people. But never did this mean that God was not also Lord of the nations. For we know there is only one God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He is Lord Most High. And he is the judge, not of Israel only, but of all peoples. And so that is one reason why Israel was so concerned to see the nations turn to God in praise — “[judges] the peoples with equity and [guides] the nations upon earth.”

To state the matter most succinctly, when God set Israel apart as his peculiar people, he did not at that moment cease to be God of the nations also. Or to say it another way, when the LORD set Abram and his offspring apart from the nations, he did not forget about the rest of the offspring of Adam. No, in setting Abraham apart, his purpose was to bring salvation to the other children of Adam through his, for the God of Israel is the one and only. 

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Believing Israel Knew That God Preserved Them So As To Bear Fruit Through Them, And They Gave God Thanks (vs. 5-7)

Lastly, in verses 5 through 7 we see that believing Israel knew that God preserved them so as to bear fruit through them, and they gave God thanks. 

In verse 5 we find a repeat of the exhortation of verse 3: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” But in verse 6 the emphasis is not on God as Lord and judge of all the earth 

(as it was in verse 4), but on God’s provision for Israel. In verse 6 we read, “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.” 

Here Israel gives thanks to God for his provision. “The earth has yielded its increase” means, the Lord has blessed us with a good harvest. The Lord has provided food for his people to eat so that we might live. And the words, “God, our God, shall bless us”, are words of confidence and hope concerning the future. In other words, Israel was to testify to the Lord’s past provision when they sang this Psalm, and they were also to confess their faith and hope in God concerning future provision. 

By the way, where did they get this confidence that the Lord would bless them? How did they know that the Lord would provide? Answer: from the unconditional promises given to them in the Covenant that God transacted with their Abraham.

I do love how simple, raw, and down-to-earth this portion of the Psalm is (pun intended). God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants so that they would be a blessing to the nations by bringing Christ into the world. And how did God bless them? Among other things, by causing vegetables and grain to grow from the earth so that they and their animals might have food to eat. 

When we consider the promises that God made to Abraham and their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ from a high level, big picture perspective, we can lose sight of the fact that God kept these awesome promises concerning the Messiah, by preserving his people in very ordinary ways from day to day, and from season to season, as his chosen people gave glory to him while planting seeds and reaping the harvest for hundreds of years.

We can learn from this, I think. I just a moment I will exhort you to not lose sight of the mission that God has given to us. But here I will take the opportunity to say, don’t neglect the little things. And don’t forget to give glory to God for his daily provision. 

But again, we return to the theme. Israel gave thanks to God for his provision. They knew that God would be faithful to bless them in the future. But they were never to forget their purpose. They were to bear fruit in bringing salvation to the nations. 

Verse 6: “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

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Conclusion 

I began this sermon by insisting that Reformed and Calvinistic theology does not hinder evangelistic zeal, but propels it. God has his elect in the world. Let to themselves they would never come to faith in Christ, and so God will surely call them to the faith. How will he do it? By calling them externally through the ministry of the word, that is, through the proclamation of the gospel, and inwardly by the power of the Holy Spirit. The doctrines of grace, or the five points of Calvinism as they are commonly called, do not stifle evangelistic zeal. To the contrary, they stoke the flame. They insure us that the fields are white for harvest and that God will make our labors effective. It is the Calvinist who has reason to be confident in God when proclaiming the Gospel. The Arminian, if they are true to their system, must trust only in themselves, and in the goodness and light they imagine resides within the heart of every man. 

And I wish to conclude this sermon by saying that is the Reformed understanding of God’s working in the history of redemption which propels our zeal for world missions. Here I may contrast our covenant theology with the dispensationalism that is so prevalent in Arminian churches today. 

When we go to the nations with the gospel, brothers and sisters, we are not wasting our time with God’s “plan B”. God does not have a plan B. God only has plan A. This is what we confess in 2LBC 3.1, which speaks the truth when it says, “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass…” 

And what is God’s will regarding salvation? He has decreed to redeem a people for himself, through faith in Christ, not from the Hebrews only, but from every tongue, tribe, and nation. What a glorious plan it is! 

We must remember brothers and sisters that this plan of redemption was not revealed first to Abraham, but to Adam. God promised to provide a Savior for Adam and his offspring (Genesis 3:15). And when this gospel was clarified and entrusted to Abraham and his descendants, it was always with the nations in view.  Abraham was blessed to be a blessing to the nations.

Brothers and sisters, you and I are the nations. Don’t ever forget it. Think of how gracious and kind God has been to us to bring us the gospel of his Son. It truly is marvelous and mindblowing to consider how this gospel of the kingdom has been preserved and has come here to this place!  And think of how blessed we are to have been grafted into the Israel of God by faith. 

But here is one other thing that we must never forget. Like our Father Abraham, and like Israel which descended from his loins, we, the Israel of God by faith, are blessed to be a blessing. Our mission is still to take the gospel of the kingdom to the nations. Our heartfelt song must be “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy…”

Never can we allow ourselves to lose sight of the mission that Christ has given us. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

May we be found faithful to the end of the age. 

Let me conclude with a few very brief suggestions for application. 

One, let us be faithful to proclaim the gospel of Jesus in this place — in our homes, to our children, in our churches, and in our communities. Being mindful of the nations does not require us to neglect the fields that are white for harvest locally. And so we must know the gospel, believe the gospel, and share the gospel here, praying and trusting that God will make it effective according to his will. 

Two, let us pray that the Lord would raise up ministers of the word of God to be used by him locally and to the ends of the earth as he wills. Christ taught his disciples saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37–38, ESV). We must pray for this, and we must also work towards this. 

Three, let us be sure to never lose sight of the nations. Yes, we are the nations. And yes, this culture is very dark and in need of the gospel and biblical churches. But even still, there are places where the gospel has not been preached, and where the church is in an even worse condition than it is here! We must not forget about world missions. Instead, we must be constant in prayer, and eager to support gospel ministers even to the far-out corners of the earth.  

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that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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