UNDERSTANDING The Great Commission: Part 3 Language
At age 11, I felt a call to missions. From that point on, I listened to and learned from every missionary I met. I became convinced that I had to learn another language to be a missionary merely by their examples. Hence, as I grew older, I naturally wondered why missionaries served in England, Australia, Belize, and other English-speaking countries. I was a bit confused.
As I began to study the Bible, I couldn’t find any place where Paul preached to Gentiles in any language other than Greek—a language as familiar to Paul as English is to me. As I studied his ministry methods, I began to see a pattern emerge. Paul never had to attend language school. His emphasis was on penetrating cities that were the cultural seats of a surrounding region. Each community was distinguished by its primary or patron god or goddess. These may have also been known and worshipped in other regions, but they were secondary to the region’s primary deity. Corinth primarily worshipped Apollo, Ephesus worshipped Diana, and Athens, of course, worshipped Athena. When Paul and Barnabas first began to perform miracles and evangelize in Lystra, Timothy’s hometown, the citizens believed them to be Jupiter and Mercury.
Besides each region having its own regional god, they also had their own regional language—just as Paul had his native language of Hebrew. Through military occupation, languages often died, but even when a local language survived, the people typically were forced to speak the Empire’s language. Statistically, today, a language dies every two weeks, and 96 percent of the world speaks one of four languages.
So then, it’s not the languages you speak that make you a missionary; it’s the message you proclaim. Missionaries don’t always have to be bilingual if English is well-known locally or if they have an interpreter.
For the record, at this writing, there are 225 million English speakers in America, but there are also 220 million English speakers in India and Pakistan. Though there are thousands of languages and dialects spoken in India, I have known Indian pastors who only speak one language – English.
Points to Ponder:
• English is the official language of 67 countries and 27 other territories. It is the most spoken language in the world, barely surpassing Mandarin Chinese. The impact is primarily due to the British Empire’s former expansion and the USA’s leadership worldwide.
• Had you ever considered that Paul never had to go to a language school?
• What languages do you speak? Most people enjoy listening to someone who attempts to communicate with them. They are tickled by our errors and honored that we try to speak their language. Swallow your pride and try to talk to foreigners you meet in your town. Your attempts could lead to their salvation.
This is an excerpt from Jon Nelms book, Understanding the Great Commission. Find this and other books published by Final Frontiers here.
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