“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”– Matthew 28:18-20
It is appropriate that we begin our discussion of missions by considering the fundamental truths that are revealed in the Great Commission itself. “What is the Great Commission?” and “What does it command us to do?” Only by answering these questions can we avoid the tragic mistake of doing what is right in our own eyes.1 Before we go anywhere or do anything, we must understand what is to be done. Regarding the building of the tabernacle God told Moses, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”2 How much more should we be careful to carry out God’s greatest cause according to the pattern He has shown us in the Scriptures? It would be a terrible loss to have dedicated our entire lives to the Great Commission only to discover on that Final Day that we had lived our lives and ordered our ministries in ways that were contrary to Christ’s commands! All our sincerity, earnestness, and self-giving will not compensate for having lived and ministered in a manner contrary to the will of God.
On the basis of this warning, we will now turn our attention toward the Great Commission as it is recorded in the Scriptures. We will focus upon Matthew 28:18-20, which is the most-complete and well-known text of the five Great Commission passages.3 From this text we will seek to draw out the fundamental truths regarding what the Great Commission is and what it commands us to do.
The Great Commission
The descriptive title, “Great Commission,” is not used in the Scriptures, but it does appropriately embody the meaning and significance of Christ’s command to the church for world evangelization. Webster defines a “commission” in the following terms:
“A formal warrant or authority granting certain powers or privileges and authorizing or commanding the performance of certain acts or duties; a warrant conferring authority to raise and command a body of troops.”
In light of this definition, it is not difficult to see why the term “commission” has been so often employed with reference to Christ’s command to the church to make disciples of all nations. The parallels between the term and Christ’s commands are striking: (1) The church has been placed under a solemn and irrevocable obligation to make disciples of all the nations; (2) The church has the warrant or authority to raise whatever size army of gospel preachers that might be necessary for the completion of her obligation; (3) The church has the authority to send her preachers to every nation upon the earth without limitation of jurisdiction or restriction of number; (4) The church has the authority and obligation to use whatever biblical means necessary to accomplish her task. (5) The church will always be the church militant on earth until she is crowned the church victorious in heaven.
The Greatest Command
The first great truth that we must comprehend regarding the Great Commission is that it is not the greatest command, but it does flow from it. The greatest of all commands is that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is like it: we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.4 Upon these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,”5 and from these two commandments flows the impetus of the Great Commission. In other words, the Great Commission is a labor of love. As we as Christians grow in our love for God, so grows our desire that the name of God might be great among the nations from the rising of the sun even to its setting.6 As we grow in our love for Christ, so grows our desire that the Lamb might receive the full reward for His sufferings,7 and that every knee might bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.8 As we grow in our love for our neighbors near and far, so grows our compassion and sincere desire to labor for their salvation.9
Thus, the missionary must not only “go forth” with biblical doctrine, using biblical means, but he or she must also go forth with biblical motivation—a burning love for God and His people. Such love is not an option for the missionary but an absolute essential. The aspiring missionary candidate and the veteran on the field must constantly seek to cultivate and nurture such a love by renewing their mind in the Word, communing with God in prayer, and ministering among the masses. Without the Word, love will become unbiblical; without prayer, it will become powerless; without ministry, it will become theoretical and romantic.
- Judges 17:6; 21:25
- Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5
- Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8
- Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27
- Matthew 22:40
- Malachi 1:11
- A quote often attributed to the Moravian missionary movement (see also Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 53:8)
- Philippians 2:10-11
- Matthew 9:36; Romans 9:1-3; II Timothy 2:10
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer