The Supreme Importance of the Great Commission
The mission of the church is world evangelization. In Mark 16:15, our Lord Jesus commands us, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to every creature." Nothing could be clearer: Go everywhere and tell everyone.
The Great Commission leaves us no option. Our first task as local churches is to extend the kingdom of God to every nation on earth, including our own. Everything else must be subordinate to that cause. Every time we are considering a new plan or a new program or a new building we must ask the test question of every decision: Is this helping to fulfill the Great Commission on this earth or not?
The church does not exist for itself. In 2 Cor. 5:14-21, Paul teaches us that believers are called to be ambassadors for Christ. We are sent out to represent Him in a lost world. He has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. There can therefore be no argument about which comes first -- home or foreign missions. There is only one harvest and one Lord of the harvest. We all need to work together and support each other in the common task of "going into all the world and preaching the Good News to every creature" and of "making disciples of all the nations."
Prioritizing the Great Commission in our churches will not be an easy task. Each individual believer is assigned a different place in the harvest. Each of us has different gifts and interests. That's why we need to fully understand the Great Commission and the principles of the kingdom. Even though the church is comprised of many different parts, and each part is different, love should be the rule among us. One of the saddest things I find today is that many Christians don't understand this principle. Satan has deceived them into thinking that other things are more important than the kingdom. Usually that "other thing" is their church or their ministry. Too often we're building up our own little kingdoms instead of the kingdom of God. Often the result is bitter competition. Can you see why "self" must be nailed to the cross for us to have unity? Conflict is inevitable in the Lord's work. Jesus promised as much. But it must be with our real enemies, not with our fellow Christians.
If our churches were truly committed to the Great Commission, it would show in a lifestyle that matches our response to a lost and dying world. In Paul's lengthy passage on Christian stewardship (2 Cor. 8-9) he describes the economics of the kingdom. He reminds us of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who became poor for us even though He was rich. Paul adds, "I don't mean that others should have relief while you have hardship. But there should be equity. Your abundance should supply their needs."
Can you imagine what would happen if our churches in America were to grasp this principle of equity and of sharing our wealth and applying it to the needs of the Gospel around the world? Could it be that our materialism is keeping the world in darkness about the Good News? Shocking statistics published recently report that:
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia of all the money designated for "missions" in the U.S. only 5.4% is used for foreign missions. Of that 5.4%, only 0.37% is used to take the gospel to unreached people who don't have access to the gospel. That's about two cents out of every dollar given to missions! The rest goes towards efforts to further evangelize reached people.
Again, let me stress that there is no one-size-fits-all pattern of giving. All churches are called upon to find ways to prioritize the kingdom as the Holy Spirit directs. The most important principle to keep in mind is to employ material things for the kingdom of God rather than for ourselves. This is the true test of where our priorities lie. God may ask us to forgo building that new sanctuary, giving up our Sunday School quarterlies (and using the Bible instead), or sacrificing our padded pews. Many will think you're crazy if you do things like this. The Christian media often measure success in terms of big numbers, big buildings, and big programs. God, I think, measures success differently. He is calling each of us to be a bondslave to a world in need. We are called to be foot-washers for Jesus. We are invited to accept the call to live a life of radical Christian servanthood wherever we are and wherever we go in the world. Today I believe God is calling out an army of Americans who will feel His heartbeat and answer that call.
The conclusion is inescapable: In light of the commands of our risen Lord and Savior and in view of the present desperate condition of a lost world, we must give everything above our basic necessities to finish the task of world evangelization. We cannot serve God and Wealth at the same time. Money will either be our master or our slave. We are to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven -- not on the earth. 1 John 3:16-18 gives us our marching orders:
This is how we can know the love of God, because He laid down His life for us. We too should lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Whoever has this world's goods and sees his fellow believer in need and shuts up his compassion for them -- how can the love of God dwell in that person? My dear children, we must love not in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
The whole purpose of the church can be summed up in that one concept: sharing. We are never commanded in the New Testament to do many of the things we are currently doing (paying out lavish salaries, building huge worship centers, etc.). This is not evil in and of itself, of course. But the Bible clearly commands us to "share what we have with God's people who are in need" (Rom. 12:13). What a rebuke this verse is to the pleasure-loving and disobedience of so many Christians and churches today in America. How much longer will we allow our desire for comfort and "the good life" to be the bottleneck that prevents world evangelization?
Today every evangelical church stands at the crossroads on the question of priorities. Will we surrender to the spirit of the age, or will we join the company of the committed? Will we make a deliberate decision to accept sacrifice and suffering for the sake of Christ, or will we continue the pattern of extravagance and waste that has become the norm of our evangelical subculture?
Jesus said, "I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many." Jesus lived for the Great Commission. Should we not also?
March 6, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.