3 Missionary Loves


In June of this year J. Robertson McQuilkin passed from life to life. McQuilkin was quite an extraordinary man. As a former president of Columbia International University and former missionary to Japan, he leaves behind a legacy of unshakable faith in the Lord. For those unfamiliar with McQuilkin, what really set him apart was his committed and humble service to his wife Muriel, who suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years. In order to care for her, he resigned his post as president of CIU in 1990 and cared for her until her death in 2003.

Additionally, McQuilkin also wrote a small, yet impactful book, The Great Omission, which has remained a favorite of mine over the years. In this book, he writes about three loves that motivate us to engage God’s mission among the nations. These loves are the love of self, love of others, and love of God.

We are made to love. What we love motivates us and gives direction to life. At the center of biblical anthropology is the heart. The heart is comprehensive. It includes our affections, our volition, and our emotions. The heart is to be directed, or ordered, toward God first and foremost. (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31). Due to the Fall, our loves are now misguided or misdirected. To use an older term, we now have inordinate loves. Simply stated, “we love the wrong things or we express our love of the right things in wrong ways.”

Building from McQuilkin, I want to use this idea of loves to springboard into a discussion on the three missionary motivations or loves:

Love of Self:  My Goals & desires are most important

Love of self may be the easiest to identify as an inordinate love, for it begins and ends introspectively. It asks questions along these lines: “What will I get out of it?” “Will I be happy & satisfied?” or “Will it be a good experience for me?” As you see, self is at the heart of each of these questions. Personal comfort, experience, and satisfaction take priority over anything or anyone else. The problem with this love is that it interprets all difficulty as negative, and often, keeps one enslaved to “the grass is greener” syndrome. Ministry is difficult and often it is hard to quantify fruit. Often, these self-focused questions are birthed from seasons of difficulty, and ministry where there are few tangible results aside from growing frustration. Love of self does not move one toward sacrifice, faith, or endurance. It certainly does not allow one to fully love God or others.

Love of Others:  So much lostness & need in the world

Love of others is more difficult to understand as an inordinate love. If love of others is our primary love, then our main motive for evangelism and the missionary task is the lost. The problem with others being our primary love, is that often, people are difficult and unlovable. What happens when the ministry is hard, and, if you’re honest, you don’t really like the people you are living and ministering among? It is only the presence of the Lord in your life, through His Spirit, that will enable you to truly love others, even when they are unlovable.

If one is driven by love of others, zeal for ministry is often fluctuating or fleeting. The desire for evangelism can be described often as guilt-based, and ministry burnout is always crouching at the doorstep. Loving others as Jesus did; however, does not mean there is no difficulty in life or ministry, but it does lead to sacrifice of self, time, convenience, and our need to always like the people among whom we minister.

Love of God:  Love of the Father was the consuming focus of Jesus

Love of God is our only hope for truly loving others as ourselves. God-directed love orients all other loves in our lives. This love alone enables us to lay down our lives in sacrifice (see Luke 9:23). In other words, love of God helps us lay down the love of self, and reshapes our love of others. Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane models this perfectly when He prays, “Not my will but Yours be done” (Matt 26). He lays down His preferences and submits His will to the Father’s. Jesus’ love is rightly directed toward God. In Jesus, we find our only hope and strength to be able to sacrifice love of self and rightly love others. These two loves flow from a rightly ordered love of God.


Missionaries, new and old alike, need to be prepared to always sacrifice their desires and plans in loving obedience to Christ. This might mean a change in ministry location. Perhaps taking on new responsibilities or tasks. Maybe even saying ‘no’ to leaving the field for a good opportunity back home. In life, there is a constant conflict between these loves, and the question for all of us is, “Which love wins out when conflict arises?” For the missionary/church planter, this question is of utmost importance because their loves and affections will be tested on multiple fronts—by the enemy, their team, the culture, their ministry. Often, in these difficult times, God is simply reshaping your desires and plans to direct them rightly toward Him. The high calling to love God above all else will sustain you even when ministry is hard, team is hard, your spiritual walk is hard, family is hard—life is hard.

Greg Mathias Contributor
Associate Director
Greg Mathias serves as the Associate Director of the Center for Great Commission Studies. His area of focus is international missions, and Greg works closely with our students who desire to serve in this context.
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