Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions.

Come on in. I'm thankful that you've joined me for this episode of Missions on Point. This is episode 149. We're in a series on the centrality of the local church in Missions, and this episode talks about the propempo view. Propempo is the New Testament word, meaning to send forward. We'll do a brief word study of its uses and its implications for how it describes the local church's role in Missions. We'll see that it is the biblically perfect intersection point for ecclesiology and missiology. We've got a lot of ground to cover here, so buckle your seatbelts.

We find the first occurrence of the word propempo in Acts 15:3. Here's the scene: The Jewish Christian leaders of the church in Jerusalem are having a little bit of a problem understanding the expansion of the church in Christianity into areas surrounding Palestine. They call together what is known as the first church council, and the church in Antioch, which was one of the prime offenders in this issue, sends Paul and Barnabas to the church council, which is a great move.

Paul and Barnabas were among the protagonists for Gentiles coming to salvation in Christ through the gospel without having any reference to Jewish law. The church in Antioch is, in effect, saying, "We're sending you to the council to represent us, our position, the church, and what God is doing." And here's what happens in verse three: So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles and brought great joy to all the brothers.

Now, for the sake of time, I'm just not going to be able to go into all the background, but this is a really cool moment. The church sends them on their way. That's the term propempo, that whole phrase - being sent on their way. That's what propempo is translated as in this verse, and it just means the root is "pempo" - to send - and the "pro" part doesn't mean to send before time so much as it means to send ahead, to go out commissioned, or if you will, appointed with a specific kind of authority.

In secular literature, the term propempo may have been used for a military force sending someone to negotiate terms of truce on behalf of their leaders or a political diplomat being sent to a foreign agency or across some boundary to represent the king or the one in authority, and it's being sent ahead or sent forward. It has a little bit of a connotation in secular literature of having bestowed authority in a specific commission.

In this context, their commission was what? What were they told to do? What were they doing for the church in Antioch? Paul and Barnabas were sent giving news of conversion of the Gentiles. They were appointed to represent that side of the case, that the Gentiles were being saved apart from following the Jewish traditions, and they were going to present it at the church council.

Well, everywhere they went, they made stops along the way. This is more than a one-day journey. This is a long hike, and everywhere they went, they just told the stories of what God was doing among the Gentiles, and everyone was joyful. It brought great joy to all the brothers, and the closer they get to Jerusalem, the more ethnically Jewish it was, but they're bringing that story. Well, you know the end result, if we read through the whole chapter, basically the Jerusalem Council says, "This is great. Praise God." They had testimony from a number of key people, and they decided Gentiles can be saved too without having to become Jewish. It's not a problem.

The next occurrence of the word propempo happens in Acts 20:38. Acts 20 is this great passage of Paul's charge to the elders at Ephesus, Ephesus was a big metropolis, an important city. It probably included elders from other places as well. Most seminaries and pastors take this as a sort of model charge to pastors and elders. These church leaders had great affection for Paul. Paul had spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, and as he leaves, they know that he's just walking into trouble. It says this at the end of the chapter: "Being sorrowful, most of all because of the word he had spoken that they would not see his face again, and they accompanied him to the ship." That's the propempo word. They accompanied him, or the equivalent in your translation. What does it mean there? It means that they went along with them and they provided everything he needed.

Presumably, it means they provided passage. It probably means they gave him a sack lunch, whatever he needed. They gave him a little money in his hand. What faith-supportive missionary hasn't had this. At the conclusion of a service, someone presses a $20 bill into their hand in a handshake, or you give a little something on the side and say, "This is just for you or just for you and your wife, or just for you and your family." That's the kind of thing they did. They treated him well. They accompanied him to the ship and provided for him. That's the propempo word.

Let's move to the next occurrence. It's Acts 21:5. Paul and his group are making their way to Jerusalem, and they stop in a few places. In verse five, it says, "When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city, and kneeling down on the beach, we prayed." It is a sweet parting time. For us, this is the group gathering at the departure terminal at the airport, for the guys moving on to something else. So, they went along with them, even with wives and children, and they're quite a little group. They circle around. They knelt down in the sand before boarding the ship to go on to Jerusalem.

Our next stop in the biblical usage is Romans 15:24. There are two epistles in the New Testament that Paul clearly wrote to places that he had not been before. Colossians is one, which actually comes later than Romans. But he didn't plant the church at Colossi, and apparently had not visited Colossi, but they had reports of some specific things that came to him, and he addressed those issues in his letter to the Colossians.

For Rome, this wasn't the case. This is prior to his going to Rome in shackles as a prisoner. Why did he write the book of Romans, and really, scholars debated this for a long, long time. Romans is the pinnacle of soteriology for us; it is Christ-centered soteriology. It's amazing. The things that we learn in the book of Romans are fantastic.

I didn't really understand the structure of the purpose of Romans or come to grip with it until I served in Asia. In Asia, the culture is similar to Middle Eastern cultures. The person who is asking a favor or asking something of you never asks you straight out. That's just very American, Western kind of thing. They never ask you straight out. They're going to have all kinds of conversation. They may deal with different issues. They do things with you for some time before they feel comfortable that you might say, "Yes." That prepares the way. I think that's what's going on here. I think that Paul developed and gave them a fantastic gift. That's another thing in Asian culture, if they have a request of you, they may bring you a gift, and you're thinking, "Why a gift? What's going on?" Well, the reason is that the gift is what's called greasing the skids. It's preparing the way. It's making it so that you'll be more accepting of their request.

Paul did that. He gave them this amazing doctrinal insight into salvation and the need of humanity, and even the role of Jews in God's big program in his wonderful providence and sovereignty. Then he comes to chapter 15, and he explains why he would be asking this. It's because he's gone to everywhere else around the Mediterranean. The gospel had already reached Italy. Rome is the center of Italy, so strategically in Paul's mind that would've covered that whole boot-shaped peninsula. The next space to go to that's unreached is what we call Spain. It's that whole Iberian Peninsula. He says this, just diving in, Romans 15:"24, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while." So, that whole phrase, "to be helped on my journey there by you," is centered on the word propempo.

In this case, it implies not just providing things and equipping him for everything but also going along with. It's the 1970s term of convoy along with you. I expect you to send people along on the team with me. And he obviously knew a bunch of them by name, at least by reputation because he lists 30-some in chapter 16. It's amazing. He knows them very well. He says, "I expect to be helped on my journey thereby you when I come." So, there's financial provision, passage, personal support in terms of teammates, probably equipment and outfitting, that kind of thing, outgoing expenses, whatever you would call that. He expects them. He asks them. He just says, "I hope to see you and to be helped on my journey there by you." This is an expectation. It's very key because it's specifically for the task of going to reach other people. We haven't seen that as much until now.

Now, we move to first Corinthians 16:6, picking it up in verse five, "I will visit you, Corinth, after passing through Macedonia, I intend to pass through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter so that you may help me on my journey wherever I go." So, this is more than an expectation now; this is a stated purpose, "so that you may help me on my journey." Remember earlier in this letter, he's already talked about the grace of giving, which he develops more in the second letter. He is saying, "Look, I'm going to come by, and this is my expectation, my purpose, my request in advance so you know, so can be prepared, so that you may help me on my journey wherever I go." This had no specific target in mind that we know of, and you, Corinthian church, this is your role and responsibility to help me out. This is the propempo word, "so that you may help me on my journey."

Just a few verses down from there, in chapter 16:11, he talks about Timothy in the same way: "Let no one despise him, help him on his way in peace that he may return to me, for I'm expecting him with the brothers." "Help him on his way" is the propempo word. What does it mean here? It doesn't mean pat him on the back and say bye-bye. It means you fill his pockets with whatever he needs, whatever he needs for this journey to keep on going in the ministry.

Then we go to 2 Corinthians 1:16. He says, "I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea." Well, it seems this is another trip, but he's asking the same thing. "Have you sent me on my way" is the propempo word. He expected help from the believers, from a number of churches now because he says the same kinds of things to the churches in Macedonia, in Philippi, in his letter to the Philippians. In that letter, he says to the Philippians, "You helped me more than once." Now he's saying to the Corinthians, "You have an opportunity to help me more than once and send me on my way."

The next occurrence is Titus 3:13. Now, Paul is in prison, presumably, and he's writing to Titus, who is on a specific missionary task, actually on the island of Crete, and he's talking to Titus and referencing the church with his final instructions.

In verse 12, he says, "When I send Artemis or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas, the lawyer, and Apollos on their way. See that they lack nothing." So, in this verse, to speed Zenas, the lawyer, and Apollos on their way is the propempo word, and again, he adds to that, "See that they lack nothing." That's more explicit. It was implicit before, but it's explicit here. "See that they lack nothing." What might they need? Well, they need funds. They might need a cloak or winter gear if it's spending a winter in a cold place. They may need companions. They may need a guide. In many places around the world, if you don't have a guide, you could be in danger from highway robbers or local antagonistic cultures. You need somebody to go along with you. Whatever it is they need, they are to supply, and this is the person who is on an island he's writing to.

So, we see in this context a little hint of missionary strategy that he mentions to Titus, "I want to meet you in Nicopolis." Well, that's the frontier. That's the Balkans, Croatia, Bosnia. That's where Nicopolis is. That's a little segment up in the hills that Paul went as far as but not beyond, and it wraps right around to Italy. Geographically, he's still trying to hit these pockets that haven't been reached yet through other people.

Now, let's go to the last occurrence. It's in 3 John 6. You've probably heard missionary support messages from this. I want you to see that it's more than missionary seeking support. It's about the local church, 3 John 6, starting in verse five, reading through verse eight. "Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testify to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey." That's the propempo word "to send them on their journey," in a manner worthy of God, for they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.

Therefore, we ought to support people like these that we may be fellow workers for the truth. This is the last occurrence chronologically in the cannon of this word propempo being used. From Acts chapter 15, where they were sent by the church to represent that position to the Jerusalem council. They were going for the sake of the expansion of the gospel. They were sent out, "propempoed" for the sake of the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles. Even though they were going to a church meeting. That was their role. That was their intent and purpose. That was the final result. When we get here in 3 John, it becomes even more explicit than anywhere else, that when a church takes care of these guys, you do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of the Lord.

The Apostle John is writing a church leader and commending him for leading his church in doing this thing. I think that John knows very well how this term is used and how he's using it. He's using it in a more technical sense. This is specifically support of missionaries going to other places to take the gospel, and they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. So, faith support is not a 19th or 20th or 21st-century thing. Faith support is a first-century thing. You have to help your missionary candidates understand that. This isn't something new that we invented to be a big burden on their back. This is the way it was done at the end of the first century when they were obeying the Great Commission directly from the Lord. Therefore, we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

There is a dynamic partnership that takes place when the church supports, and knows, goes along with, and provides whatever it is that those workers need to get the job done. What is that? In today's world, maybe it's a language school, maybe it's equipping and training in the church, mentoring them before they go out. Maybe it's having the right kind of clothes for whatever that climate and culture is. Maybe it's having housing, or transportation, or wireless internet. But you provide in a manner worthy of the Lord. It's a lavish kind of hospitality extended to them going out into the field.

What I want you to see about this is not just a little bit of an understanding of the word "propempo" (in which I'm biased), but I want you to see this as historical theology from the text. Okay? The theology of supporting and sending out missionaries from the local church, accountable to the local church, is developed in the New Testament over a span of about 50 years, from Acts 15 through to 3 John, near the close of the first century. So, that whole span of time this concept is being developed, and as you read it, the word becomes more and more technical in its use. This is for sending out people who are going to those who have not had the gospel yet.

Through the New Testament, more and more, it's seen in more explicit terms that these are people who are especially recognized by the local church and supported in a way to go out to places that have not had the gospel. The term "propempo" as used in the New Testament encapsulates the whole concept of the local church-centered philosophy of missions. It's the local church that raises up, validates the ministry of, recognizes, sends out, supports, and shepherds their missionaries on the field.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions On Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites and We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast.

Now, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

Comments (0)

Please login to comment.

Register for an account