What if the Great Commission isn't so great?
Encouragement,  Lifestyle

What if the Great Commission isn’t so Great?

Not long ago I got a few emails about the Great Commission, the passage in Matthew 28 where Jesus tells his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel. The person sending the emails suggested that through most of history this mandate was given similar weight to most of Jesus’s mandates, that it wasn’t considered the most important command of Scripture.

This caught my attention, because I have been victim of the idea that my sole purpose in this world is to save the lost. And being a fearful introvert, this is not a purpose I get excited about. At one point I doubted God even loved me because I was so dismally made for this purpose.

In college, I belonged to a well-known campus ministry that believed the Great Commission was the do-all and end-all of the Christian life. My personal walk with Jesus meant nothing as long as I was taking bold steps of faith and sharing my testimony with anyone I came into contact with.

It was stressful. I kept wondering what was the point. Why would anyone want to be a Christian if it simply meant turning around and making more Christians? Shouldn’t my life change? What about spiritual transformation and growth and feeling safe and loved in the arms of the Shepherd?

Nope. Most of that got in the way. Time was short, the harvest was ripe, and I needed to get out there.

A little balance

The idea that the Great Commission is simply one of Jesus’s commandments, not the most important one, was a balm. It seems through most of church history Matthew 28 was seen this way, equal in weight to Jesus telling us to come to him for rest or telling us to obey his words. All his words.

Soon after I read this series of emails, I was reading Acts 10. Peter is explaining to Cornelius, a Gentile, that Jesus only showed himself to a few people after his resurrection. Verses 41 and 42 say this:  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 

That sounds a little specific. Jesus commissioned a small group to preach and testify.

Now, that doesn’t get us off the hook from sharing Jesus with those around us. For instance, look at 1 Peter 3:15b: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

So yes, Jesus does tell us to go make disciples. But beyond getting them through the door, he also tells us to teach them. We bring people in and then help them to grow, to obey, to love Jesus more tomorrow than today. And we don’t all play the same roles in this story.

Check out 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6 and 28-29: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work… And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

Working together to build a kingdom
We work together to build a kingdom

Yep, we have specific purposes in this world. As we, the people of God, redeem God’s world and prepare it for the return of our king, we each have a role, and we are to use those roles together. We’re building a kingdom, and a kingdom is made of many people doing many things.

A quiet life

I love these verses in 1 Thessalonians. When I doubt God’s love because I’m not good at hauling in the lost, I always come back to this. Paul, whose life was all about making disciples, rarely tells his churches to get out there and grab more people. No, he tells them to love one another, to remain pure, to live in unity. In fact, he seems to imply that the way we work together, the community in which we live, speaks as loud or louder than an evangelist on a street corner.

1 Thess. 4:10-12 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Live a quiet life. Love God’s family. Mind your own business.

Live a quiet life. Love God’s family. (So much easier said than done, because God calls a whole lot of messy humans into his family.) Mind your own business. Win hearts with your life as well as your words.

I can get behind that. I am to be a disciple of Jesus my whole life, learning from him, behaving like him. Yes, we all play a part in leading the lost to Jesus, but that isn’t all we do, any more than it was all Jesus did. He took his disciples to quiet places and taught them. He spent time alone with his Father. He accepted invitations to dinner and held babies on his lap for blessings.

If I don’t spend every moment saving the lost, I haven’t gone astray. If you have other gifts than evangelism, you haven’t gone astray, either. Together, each of us has a part to play in bringing people into our kingdom, teaching them how to live here, and loving and encouraging them to play their particular roles.

And the kingdom grows in size, in love, in power, always more beautiful than the day before.

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