In any discussion of missions, it seems only appropriate that we begin with a proper definition of The Great Commission. The matter is not as unnecessary as one might think. It is very difficult to obey something if one does not understand the command or how it is to be carried out. Furthermore, there are many missionaries who have given their entire lives to fulfill the Great Commission without possessing a biblical understanding of it! In the following, we will consider six important truths and then draw a definition from them.
First of all, the Great Commission is not the Greatest Command, but it does flow from it. The greatest command given by our Lord is 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 (Matthew 22:37-39). Thus the Great Commission is a labor of love. As Christians, we are to love God and desire that His name be great among the nations. We are to love Christ and desire that He receive the full reward for His sufferings. We are to love our fellow human beings, be moved with compassion by his suffering, and desire his salvation.
Secondly, the Great Commission is not about going, but about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples and teaching those who believe to walk in obedience to Christ’s commands. The most complete and well-known of the Great Commission passages in the New Testament is found in Matthew 28:19-20:
“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.”
It is important to note that the phrase “make disciples” is the only command in this passage, while the word “go” is translated from a participle which is designed to explain only one aspect of how the command is to be fulfilled. We must go, but we must go with the right intent. In fact, there is no reason to go unless it is to make disciples through the teaching of the Scriptures. Regardless of the zeal and sacrifice that drove us to the field or keep us there, our ministries will prove to be hay, wood, and stubble if we are not endeavoring to accomplish the task for which we were sent: the making of disciples.
Thirdly, the Great Commission is about teaching men to observe all that Christ has commanded. The Great Commission is primarily a theological and didactic endeavor. In other words, it has to do with teaching people about the person and will of God. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that if there is one primary and indispensable aspect to missions, it is the task of teaching the gospel and the full counsel of God to those who have yet to hear. Missions is not about sending missionaries, but about sending God’s truth through missionaries who are approved to God as workmen who do not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of truth.
Fourthly, the Great Commission is not limited to the making of individual disciples but involves bringing each believer into an interdependent relationship with others in the context of a local church. Probably most who read this article will be highly influenced by the individualism of Western culture. Therefore, we must be careful to note that although Christianity appreciates and seeks to uphold the uniqueness of individual believers, it is a religion of community. The missionary is not merely called to “make disciples” but also to “make fellowships” of disciples who love and serve one another according to the standard of the Scripture. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Such abiding relationships are only possible within the context of a local church.
Fifthly, we live in an age of media, internet, and cyberspace. In the last several years, many of the advances in technology have proven to be very beneficial for spreading the gospel, especially in areas that are normally off-limits to missionaries. However, it is a maxim carved into the stone of Scripture that these things will never replace the flesh and blood missionary. In other words, we cannot fulfill the Great Commission online! Biblical missions is incarnational. It is about sending people to people. When God desired to reach out to humanity, He did not write the gospel in the sky or send archangels to carry it to every corner of the globe. He robed Himself in flesh and became a man. Now He sends us in similar fashion: flesh and blood to flesh and blood.
Sixthly and lastly, the Great Commission is not only about going in the will of God, but also staying in the will of God. Obviously, not all Christians are called or required to go to the foreign field as a full-time missionary. Some are called to stay! At the great risk of oversimplification, the Great Commission can be divided into two separate tasks: Every believer is called to go down into the mine or to hold the rope for those who have gone down (William Carey).
A believer should either go into the mission field or stay at home and support those who have gone. However, regardless of calling, every believer must demonstrate equal devotion to the Great Commission and be willing to suffer the same loss. Both he who holds the rope above the mine and he who clings to it within the mine will suffer the same scars on their hands.
What is the Great Commission? It is the command of the Lord Jesus Christ to the church to preach the gospel to every person in the world, to instruct in the full counsel of God those who believe, and to establish churches according to that counsel. What are the primary means of accomplishing this task? The sending and going of missionaries!
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 Washer