And also to the Greek
Dear Fellow Worker
Over the years some good friends and supporters of CWI have taken exception to some of my articles in the Herald in which I have argued for the priority of Jewish mission. They fear I am implying that all other ministries are in some way inferior to Jewish mission. If I have ever given that impression, I apologise unreservedly. I do not believe, for example, that pastoral ministry or mission to Muslims or Sunday School teaching is inferior to Jewish mission. Though the gospel is for the Jew first, it is not for the Jew only.
One of the problems about writing for the Herald is the lack of space to adequately develop a line of thought, so misunderstandings are possible. Though we publish full versions of our articles on the CWI website, some of our readers don’t have access to the internet and of those who do, not all will read the web versions of articles. I have set out my most detailed defence of the ‘Jew first’ principle in the first issue of our online theological journal ONE16 and we have begun to post a series of short You Tube videos on the subject (www.youtube.com/cwi1842). Next year I hope to start work on a book in which I will deal with the subject more adequately.
However, if Jewish mission remains a priority for the Church, how do we avoid the apparent implication that other ministries are in some way second rate?
I would like to set out just three reasons for the primacy of Jewish mission that also make it clear that Jewish mission cannot be regarded as some kind of super ministry. Firstly, all the promises of Messiah and redemption in the Hebrew Scriptures were made explicitly to the Jewish people. When I was eleven, my parents promised me a bike but I was mortified when they gave one to my younger sister first. I had to wait two years and pass a scholarship before the promise made to me was fulfilled! If the promises of Messiah were given to Israel, should they not be the first to hear the good news that God has kept his promises? Taking the gospel to the Jew first, therefore, is a matter of obligation which in no way denigrates other ministries.
Secondly, according to Jesus, ‘To whom much is given, from him much will be required,’ and at the start of Romans 9, Paul lists the enormous privileges bestowed on Israel: ’the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.’ In view of all those riches that were lavished on Israel, Paul asserts in Romans 2:9 that there will be ‘tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek.’
In his historic sermon on Romans 1:16, Our Duty to Israel, Robert Murray McCheyne made the point that when lifeboat men set out to rescue the crew and passengers from a wrecked ship, they first head for those in the sea, the ones in greater danger of perishing. Applying that principle to the ministry of CWI, if our field workers focus on the Jews because they are in greater danger than others, that in no way undermines the importance of other types of ministry.
Thirdly, Abraham and his ‘seed’ were called to be a blessing to the nations and, according to Romans 11:29, that calling is irrevocable. Israel’s call to be a blessing to the nations is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, notably in Isaiah 60 and Psalm 67.
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you … the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (Is 60:1-3).
God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us … That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations (Ps 67:1,2).
As it goes with Israel, so it goes with the nations. When Gods glory rises like the dawn on Israel, the nations will be drawn to her light. When the Lord causes his face to shine on Israel, the nations will be saved. The principle ‘to the Jew first’ didn’t originate with Paul. The principle is found throughout the Jewish Scriptures from the call of Abraham to the vision of Zechariah who, in the last chapter of his prophecy, foresaw a day when the nations would celebrate Israel’s most joyful festival. Little wonder, then, that Paul describes Israel’s future salvation as ‘life from the dead’. Israel is yet to fulfil her calling to bless the nations. That being so, taking the gospel to the Jew first actually facilitates and assists mission to Gentiles.
It fascinates me that some of the most ardent advocates for Jewish mission have been men who felt God’s call to ministries other than Jewish mission. These include many of the Puritans, as well as missionaries such as David Livingstone and James Hudson Taylor, and pastors like Charles Simeon, Horatius Bonar, Robert Murray McCheyne and, in our own day, John Piper. Although these spiritual giants were convinced of the primacy of Jewish evangelism they did not feel their own ministries were inferior to Jewish mission.
Whatever ministry God calls us to, he demands that we be found faithful. Those of us who are called to minister to the Jewish people hasten the salvation of the nations, and those who exercise a ministry of evangelising and teaching Gentiles help provoke Israel to jealousy. And so we become workers together with God.
Yours for the salvation of Israel and the nations,