NASHVILLE—Last week, Deborah and I spent time in central Pennsylvania where we enjoyed Thanksgiving with William and his wife’s family and attended a wedding in Lancaster. One of my highlights was visiting Lititz, a small town in Lancaster County that was founded by the Moravians in 1756.
Though most Protestant communities that settled in North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were fleeing religious persecution in Europe (like the Pilgrims from England and Holland), the Moravian settlements in North America and the Caribbean were founded in the pursuit of global mission.
This reminds me of two Greek words found in the New Testament that are commonly translated as “send” in English.
The first word is “apostello,” referring to someone who is “sent out” on a particular mission with honor and authority (see Matthew 10:5 when he sends out the twelve disciples).
The second word is “ekballo,” referring to someone who is “sent out” or “driven out” in a particularly violent manner. Jesus uses this verb once to discuss sending out laborers into the harvest field (see Matthew 9:38), but most of the time, this verb comes in the context of “driving out” demons (see Matthew 7:22).
When we look at the Bible, we find many examples of these two different ways that God “sends” His people out on mission.
In Genesis, we see that God’s original purpose for man was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28; 9:7). God was sending (apostello) them out to be His image bearers and to cultivate the earth that He had made. But very quickly, we see people beginning to resist God’s purpose—most famously in the Tower of Babel where man’s purpose was to “build a name” for themselves and to avoid being “dispersed over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:4).
So what did God do? He confused their languages and “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8). Instead of being “sent,” they were “driven out” to do what God had originally called them to do.
We see the same thing happen in Acts with the apostles. In Acts 1:8, Jesus’ followers are baptized with the Holy Spirit in order to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” But instead of going, the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. And it took a severe wave of persecution (see Acts 8:1) before the apostles got the hint and began taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
All of church history is littered with stories of people who were either “sent out” (apostello) or “driven out” (ekballo) by God onto mission. Either way, God will accomplish His purposes in the world, but if it’s up to me, I’d rather cooperate with God and be “apostelloed” rather than “ekballoed.”