John Piper writes:
Suppose there were two luxury liners on the sea, and both began to sink at the same time, with huge numbers of people on board who did not know how to swim. And suppose you were in charge of a team of ten rescuers in two large boats.
You arrive on the scene of the first sinking ship and find yourself surrounded by hundreds of screaming people, some going down before your eyes, some fighting over scraps of debris, others ready to jump into the water from the sinking ship. Several hundred yards farther away the very same thing is happening to the people on the other ship.
Your heart breaks for the dying people. You long to save as many as you can, so you cry out to your two crews to give every ounce of energy to pull as many as possible from the water. Spare no pain! Spare no effort!
There are five rescuers in both boats and they are working with all their might. They are saving many. Then someone cries out from the other ship, “Come help us!" What would love do?
I cannot think of any reason that love would leave its labor and go, if, in fact, it is fully engaged saving people right where it is. Love puts no higher value on distant souls than on nearer souls.
In fact, love might well reason that in the time it would take to row across the several hundred yards, a net loss of total souls saved would result.
It might also reason that the energy of the rescuers would be depleted; which would possibly result in a smaller number of individuals being saved.
Not only that, it may be that from experience you know that the people on that other boat were probably all drunk at this time in the evening and would be less likely to respond to your saving efforts.
So love, by itself, may very well refuse to leave its present rescue operation. It may stay at its present work in order to save as many individuals as possible.
The point of the illustration (as artificial and imperfect as it is, since the manpower of the church is NOT fully engaged!) is simply to suggest that love alone (from our limited human perspective, which usually tends to be quite man-centered), may not conceive the missionary task the way God does.
God may have in mind that the goal of the rescue operation should be a gathering of saved sinners from every people in the world (from both luxury liners), even if some of the successful rescuers must leave a fruitful reached (or semi-reached) people in order to labor in a (possibly less fruitful) unreached people.
The conclusion I have come to through the biblical investigation recorded in this paper is that some agency or group in every church and denomination should see as its unique and primary goal
- NOT merely to win as many souls or plant as many obedient churches as possible cross-culturally,
- BUT to win souls and plant obedient churches in as many unreached peoples as possible.