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Crossing Cultures: The Promise and the Blessing

From the series Ministering Cross-Culturally

John Stott’s four plenary biblical expositions for the 1976 URBANA Missionary Convention have done more to shape my own missiological perspective than any other single source.1 I can still hear his ringing voice proclaiming, “Our God is a blessing God!” What follows flows from reflection and action inspired by his preaching.

Blessed is the most frequent word in the Old Testament, used as a verb 330 times and as a noun 69 times, and meaning to bestow something good. When directed toward God blessing conveys a sense of praise.2 God first bestowed his blessing on the fish and birds saying, “be fruitful and multiply.” He bestowed the same blessing on the male and female he formed with his own hands “in our image, after our likeness…in his own image, in the image of God…” and added an additional mandate to “fill the earth.”3

Fill the earth with what? With “our image, our likeness, our own image, the image of God”: that was the first man and woman’s job description—to fill all the earth with God’s blessing, to bestow his blessing on all creation and in their vocation bring praise to their creator.

Those first two humans stepped outside of God’s intended blessing, desiring to advance and multiply their own image.4 Their decision to grasp equality with God was disastrous, and their divine vocation to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God’s image became filled with pain and futility and a return to the dust from which they were formed. The serpent, the enemy of all life, the initiator of that disaster, was cursed with deformity and enduring hatred between him and humanity. 

God’s blessing was disrupted by that disastrous decision, but not derailed, and to his blessing God added a promise—the promise of an offspring, the woman’s seed who would ultimately crush the enemy of all life.5

God restated his original blessing intent to Abram, blessing after blessing after blessing:

Go from your country,
your people, and your father’s household,
to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

God’s blessing came to Abram and Sarai in Isaac, their own seed of hope, and through Isaac and Rebekah, in Jacob, and through Jacob and his four wives, the twelve patriarchs of God’s promised great nation. God invited that nation to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation and step into his blessing and become a blessing to all peoples.7 Instead, like the first humans, that nation rejected their true king, desiring to be like every other nation on earth.8 That substitution did not work out too well for them. Over the centuries a divided kingdom, David’s Temple looted and destroyed, exile in Babylon, a rebuilt second temple but soon under Roman occupation and destroyed in 70 AD.   

But God’s blessing for Abraham came with his promise, a promise dependent on and fulfilled by God himself, delayed perhaps by human failures, but not thwarted or disfigured, and fulfilled by God himself. His promise was “I will. I will be the one to fulfill my own promise and bring my intended blessing to all peoples. His word to Abram was “I will”:

I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse…

And the curse, when it came, fell on God himself, on his own son, the son that he loved:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

…he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed…

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The promise and the blessing. God promises blessing to and through his people. God is the guarantor of that promise: He will, he will, he will…And he has, in the person of his own son, the promised seed. God has fulfilled and is fulfilling his promised blessing in that seed as he promised, a blessing to and for all peoples.

As with Abram, so with us: we are the beneficiaries of that promise and blessing. We are invited to leave, to go, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with Jesus Christ, the living image of our living God. Going includes learning to minister cross-culturally. That is our blessing, our calling, our mission. We are to be a missionary people, blessed, and being a blessing.

But it is not the people of God who have a mission; rather, the God of mission who has a people. It is God’s mission to bestow his blessing. He will do it. We but follow, and become blessed, and pay that blessing forward.


  1. Stott’s four presentations can be heard at
  2. Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985; and The New Bible Dictionary. Edited by I. Howard Marshall, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman. Lisle, IL: IVP Academic, 1996, p. 160.
  3. See Genesis 1: 20, 26-28.  All references are from the New International Version.
  4. Genesis 3:6–7.
  5. Genesis 3:15.
  6. Genesis 12:2–3.
  7. Exodus 19:6.
  8. I Samuel 8:19–20.
  9. Isaiah 53:1, 5b, 12b.
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Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson

Dr. Ken Anderson serves as board chair for ChinaReach, an indigenous missiological training effort intended to help China move from a mission field to a mission force. Dr. Anderson holds DMiss and MAGL degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. From 2011–2021 he served as an itinerant extension biblical training missionary in China …View Full Bio

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