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“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 28:19-20

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Mark 16:15

“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” 

Luke 24:45-48

“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

John 20:21

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

The five recorded declarations of the Great Commission that are found in the Gospels and the book of Acts provide us with a wealth of information to help us grow in our definition and understanding of a missionary and his primary duties. To facilitate our understanding of this information, we will consider five specific areas that are drawn from the texts—Authorization, Sphere of Ministry, Message, Purpose, Range of Activities. In this article, we will address the Message and Purpose of the Great Commission.

Message

Throughout the entirety of the New Testament, the great and primary message of the Great Commission and is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This truth is powerfully and succinctly demonstrated in the twelve words of Mark’s commission, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”1 Luke declares the very same truth, but in greater detail, giving us the content of the gospel:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.”2

If there is one truth that stands out about the missionary, it is that he is a gospel-bearer. His business is to know the gospel and to be able to boldly proclaim it and carefully make even its most intricate and profound truths known to the most unlearned of men, women, and children. There can be no room in the missionary contingent for any novice with regard to the doctrines of the gospel for he will bring judgment upon himself and death to the people to whom he is sent. The Scriptures are clear that those who preach an unbiblical gospel bring condemnation upon themselves,3 and like the Pharisees of old, they “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people.”4

Along with the proclamation of the gospel message, the missionary must also be qualified to teach all that Christ has commanded,5 which includes all that was written in the law and the prophets before Him and the inspired instruction of the Apostles whom He commissioned to write after Him.6 Therefore, we may rightly say that the missionary is not only a herald of the gospel but also a scribe of all that is written. The missionary is not an inventor of new truths, nor is he an editor of old ones. He has not been called to contrive a message, but to faithfully proclaim and teach the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of the living God.7 And in all his preaching and teaching of the Word, the gospel of Jesus Christ must be central—always center-stage!

Purpose

In the five commissions from the Gospels and the book of Acts we discover that the one great purpose of all missionary labor is the making of disciples. It is a fact that simply cannot be exaggerated. With regard to ministry, the missionary is a disciple maker! In fact, the making of disciples is the standard by which the effectiveness of all our missionary activity should be judged. Regardless of the missionary’s intentions, passions, extraordinary labor, and sacrifice, he must constantly ask himself, “Is my life and ministry resulting in the increase and strengthening of genuine disciples of Jesus Christ?”

It is important in this age of superficiality to realize that the making of disciples is more than hands raised at an evangelistic crusade or an increase in yearly baptisms. True and biblical disciple-making results in persons who have been made alive by the Spirit,8 who trust exclusively in the person and work of Christ,9 who are growing in the knowledge of the Scripture,10 who are being conformed to the likeness of God,11 and who are active members of a biblical local church.12 Again, this is the standard for every person who sets foot on the mission field, from the preacher to the mission administrator, “Are true disciples of Christ being made?”

Having said all this, we must use a great deal of wisdom and caution whenever we set out to judge the effectiveness of our own work or that of another. The essential questions are: First, is the goal of our ministry biblical? Second, are we using biblical means to reach that goal? Third, are we laboring with the faithfulness, hard work, and perseverance that are required of a servant of Christ? We must understand that the sovereignty of God and our particular field of labor will often determine the results of our labor. Some missionaries labor for years sowing seed that does not bear fruit until a later generation. Others enter into their labor and reap a harvest. Those who judge a missionary’s labor by mere numbers are, more often than not, weighing with a false scale and looking through a skewed lens.  

  1. Mark 16:15
  2. Luke 24:26
  3. Galatians 1:8-9; James 3:1
  4. Matthew 23:13
  5. Matthew 28:20
  6. II Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Romans 15:4 – “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
  7. II Timothy 3:15-17; II Timothy 4:1-2; II Corinthians 1:17; 2:1-2
  8. John 3:3, 5; Ephesians 2:4-5
  9. Acts 4:12; Galatians 6:14
  10. I Peter 2:2
  11. Romans 8:28-29; Ephesians 4:22-24
  12. Hebrew 10:23-25

Paul serves as the HeartCry Coordinator in Western Europe. He is currently overseeing our missionaries in Italy, Spain, and France. He is also the founder and director of the HeartCry Missionary Society. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.

More By Paul David Washer