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A lot of people have been unhappy about Ann Coulter’s article branding the missionary doctor Kent Brantly ‘idiotic’ for going to serve in Liberia (and risk Ebola) rather than focus on his native America.

There have been lots of good responses, including from Matt Perman.

The letter to the Philippians also occurs as a good response. It was particularly moving when Kent Brantly alluded to Phil. 1:20 in his statement on leaving hospital.

Coulter’s argument is basically a utilitarian/pragmatic/economic/efficiency one: Brantly’s mission was unstrategic, a waste of money.

In Philippians you have Paul in what seems like a really ineffective place – prison. He looks least placed to advance the gospel and yet he says that ‘what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).

Because of Christ, he sees even death as gain (Phil 1:21). Sure, there are advantages in his staying around in terms of his nurturing of the Phlippians (Phil. 1:24-26) but he is already absolutely sure that they will keep going to the end (Phil. 1:6).

Then you have the original Kent Brantly:

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Phil. 2:25-30)

The Philippians might have been tempted not to honour their missionary. They might have been tempted to respond like Ann Coulter that the whole thing had been a waste of time and resources. But Paul says, no, it wasn’t a failure. Showing partnership in the gospel across countries and continents, standing together in the battle, nearly dying for the work of Christ is worthy of celebration and honour.

This is a different universe to the strict utilitarian cost-benefit analysis.

Look at marriage.
Look at child-raising.
Look at how Jesus conducted his ministry.
Look at Paul’s mentoring of Timothy.

A utilitarian or a pragmatist might look at these things and think, no, no, no, there is a much more efficient, strategic way to run this. But that is (wonderfully) not how God runs his world, not how he’s set it up. He’s set it up to be about overflow, prodigal, sacrificial giving regardless of cost.

Grace.

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