Giving a map of the stars to a coal mine foreman is a complete waste. Maps are made with specific features, over relevant territory, for those intending to travel in such regions. A map maker needs to know his intended audience. So it is with what is known as the Great Commission in Scripture.
The previous post in this series considered the definition of that all-important commission given by Jesus. This round will shift from the “what” to the “who”; namely, to whom was the Commission given and how should it apply to individual Christians today?
This series will focus on 6 features of the map:
Defining the Commission
Commissioning the Commission
Sustaining the Commission
Maintaining the Commission
Measuring the Commission
Culmination of Mission
The commissioning occurred after the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead three days later and appeared to many hundreds of his followers. As detailed also in Mt 28, the Lord spoke the Great Commission:
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mk 16:15)
Those words were given specifically to “the Eleven”, known as his faithful apostles (Mt 28:16; Mk 16:14). As a detail, the word commission is not used scripturally in referencing this command, but rather it best identifies the uniqueness of Jesus’ final directive to his followers on how to continue the ministry he began and wants to promote until it is fully accomplished. At the beginning, Jesus commissioned his apostles to implement the Great Commission.
Even though there were several hundred believers to whom the Lord revealed himself during that time of his resurrection back to life, the commission was specifically given to those leaders and not broadly to the rest. They alone had the God-given authority to define and give witness to the gospel–to set the foundation upon which all future Christians would “go” with the same worded message. In order to rightly grasp this commission and what to do with it, Christians need to recognize the distinctions revealed in Scripture about this command.
The evidence however, in Mark’s Gospel, is that it was “the disciples [who] went out and preached everywhere” (v.20). In other words, the writer shows that the commission was given to the Eleven, and the implementation was applied by the believers. That fits with the pattern recorded in the book of Acts about the development of the Church.
Steven, Phillip, and many others, who were not apostles, contributed directly to fulfilling this commission. But, the distinction is still very important to keep in mind, because many have assumed that they can “go” on their own and that is not in line with God’s word.
The commissioning of the commission was specifically placed upon the original apostles. That does not mean that ministers are the only ones tasked with teaching or going. It means that the “go” command is dependent upon church authority to direct its efforts and not a free-for-all, independent mission. The Great Commission is a Church mission.
Notice below the authority commissioned upon the Apostle Paul and how that translates into the Church. It is in this context that church members are given select gifts of the Spirit, guided by elders, “to prepare God’s people for works of service…as each part does its work”:
“this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:8-11)
Significant portions of the New Testament speak of Christian growth, without specific reference to the commission, but as identified previously, the commanded mission into all the world involves the significant effort at teaching believers to obey everything taught in God’s word. Living and loving in Christ still have an overall biblical context of sharing that hope and grace with others
“as you hold out the word of life”, for “it was good of you to share in my troubles” sending “aid again and again when I was in need” (Phi 2:16; 4:14, 16).
“I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”. (Phi 1:4-5)
Moses was tasked with saving Israel during a critical battle, by holding his arms up, and no one else could replace him. However it was acceptable, and even necessary, for other believers to come along side and hold his arms up. That is how the commission is intended to work as well.
Church leaders are tasked with directing, organizing, planning, and enabling the church to spread the commission to the world, but it takes the rest of the Body of Christ to submissively support and participate under that authority. In other words, the Lord’s commission to his Church applies to each Christian somehow, some way, and should govern everything they do.
As Paul noted, the Body of Christ has many members and each one has a specific task and gift of the Spirit to contribute. No one, not even leaders, can say that they don’t need help from other parts of the Body. To do the commission, we all need to pitch in. Every person in the Church has a role in the commission.
The way this ought to play out is that each of us contribute what we can to support the larger effort of “going” into all the world. Some will physically go, others with speak. Some will pray, and (yes, trite as the phrase has become) some will pay. Others will dig up hard ground, some will plant seeds, and the late-comers will harvest believers into the Church. Some will travel to the unknown, others will spread the commission in their neighborhoods.
Perhaps one of the most important commission roles that many participate in is “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”. Apologetics is part of going with the commission, whether abroad or at home. Another significant role is living holy and godly lives as a display of Christ’s transforming presence. This should not be confused with disobedient behavior that prefers to not openly talk about Jesus. Under conditions that the Bible requires restraint, it may not have a direct mouth part, but it can still win over those God intends to reach, “without words” by the purity of your lives. Love is its own language, and it can speak to the hard-hearted as well as the foreign-tongued.
In turn, not everyone will travel abroad. Not all are expected to speak publicly. Not everyone will baptize believers. It is intended to be a coordinated team effort. We accomplish the commission as each one does his and her part in a submissive pattern under the direction of church leaders.
This is also true of congregations, for groups of believers, no matter how large, will only ever be one small part of the greater Body of Christ, which can only be identified by the Holy Spirit. Individual churches have just as much reason to remain humble and acknowledge their need for other congregations to contribute their part, even praying for and contributing assistance through other parts of the Body.
That said, it should be stated very clearly that just because a person doesn’t feel compelled to participate in a particular way in sharing the gospel, doesn’t necessarily mean that God accepts such self-deselecting. God calls the weak of the world to confound the mighty, and to do so when it is impossible for them to do it on their own effort.
Commission-going requires the power of the Spirit to overcome personal obstacles and fears, as well as to demolish external strongholds that attempt to resist the message. We should do whatever God sets before us and calls us to do, rather than beg-out because we don’t feel like that is our thing. Avoid burying your talent.
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (Jn 20:21)
The call comes from God. The power comes from God. The commission message and potential success belong to God. The placement of believers in the Body with their part to play is established by God. You just need to grab your gym bag and show up ready to play.