There is a reason that books begin with outlines. Much like a body requires a skeleton upon which to hang everything, so also high-rise buildings have a hidden steel framework. Even maps have some sort of underlying structure—grid-lines and rules—that ensure that everything is placed where it belongs in relation to what surrounds it.
Violating or ignoring those guidelines will render the entire map useless. You can’t trust a map that has gone off course from its intended purpose. So it is with what is often called the Great Commission.
The commission given to the Christian Church is much more than a program or subset of church life. It is the basis for all that we are supposed to do. The commission provides the structure for Christian life and church activity. To travel off this map is to turn back to the ways of this world.
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 difference between sustaining (reviewed previously) and maintaining is that, the first is about endurance by believers, and the second is about ensuring that the commission remains identifiable and central. Maintaining the commission requires that we stay focused on doing what we have been called to do, and not allow the mission to be watered down, distorted, mixed with social ideology, or replaced with other attractive activity.
Satan doesn’t need to destroy the commission of the Church, if he can alter it enough that we no longer fully do what the Lord requires. That is the danger of looking religious, but not being accepted by Jesus. It only takes a little leaven to overwhelm the entire bread loaf.
The sneaky sin of Balaam was to teach the person who wanted to defeat the people of God that, instead of attacking head-on, or cursing them, he could get God to do his dirty work, by enticing the Israelites to start mixing a bit of socially-normal sinful stuff into their lives. That approach continues to derail many Christians who think that as long as they get it mostly right, all is fine with God.
Doing the Great Commission is not an option; it is a command, and a leading one that establishes the pattern for how the Church is expected to go forth into all the world. Allowing the commission to become a sideline focus, or mixed up with godless activity, will result, just as it does with mixing the Gospel and error, into: no commission at all.
The “go” mission of the Church was confirmed at the start of the book of Acts with Jesus’ words:
“and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:8)
Sometime later, the Church was given a mid-term review by the Lord through a vision given to John. One of the churches was confronted as having a great Christian reputation, but who had strayed from the commission:
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” (Rev 3:1-3)
For he who has an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to all congregations and individuals who make up the Church—remember the details of the original commission, or you will be rejected by Jesus. The Lord made it very clear, as recorded in Mt 7, that many who claim Christ as their Lord, and who preach and do amazing ministry, are just like this church in Sardis. People thought they were amazing Christians, but their deeds did not match up with what they were commissioned to do.
As reviewed earlier, the commission requires that we keep at least 7 details in constant view as we attempt to live out what pleases God. Doing good things for others, helping the poor, providing well water to the thirsty, caring for widows and orphans, and preaching from the Bible, does not necessarily fit with the Church’s commission. They can become stand-alone activities and lose their purpose in Jesus.
The difficulty, is that showing what we think is love, is not the same thing as “going”. Love must remain submissive to the will of God or it becomes human-powered and lifeless. Doing good, is only good, if God is doing it his way.
Highlighting this truth should anger many church-goers, because it is a very common fallacy that has blinded large sections of the church into thinking they are right with God by doing good things. This is what is often labeled as the Social Gospel or Social Justice. Most large, established service organizations struggle with this side-trail. So tempted, for some reason, are long established denominations who seem to put tradition and social acceptance ahead of the exclusiveness of the gospel.
Many hospitals, colleges, businesses, schools, and service organizations may have started as Christian, and some still have a Christian name, but in order to be more widely accepted, or to receive government funding, or to avoid offending those they serve, or to comply with civil laws, the commission has been gutted and left to the wolves.
It is a sad observation that commonly those who quote James’ reference on pure religion, “to look after orphans and widows in their distress”, ignorantly or intentionally leave out the connection “and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. That means that viable Christian service requires biblical purity, which the world cannot provide. Save-the-whale campaigns are popular and considerate, but they are based on human philosophy and the basic principles of humanity. They are not based in bringing people to Christ, and thus are not Christian.
In this vein, I recently heard a pastor state that those who volunteered to serve the handicapped at a special dance event, demonstrated “the litmus test of Christianity”. A popular book called this type of service, the filling of the hole in the gospel. Efforts to confront homelessness, eradicate disease, eliminate poverty, and console the hurting, all are very helpful and decent things, but they are NOT the commission. Those who replace going, as Jesus instructed, with decent community service, distort the mission of the Church into a social-improvement movement.
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Lu 6:26)
Our specific mission is not to fix the world. It is not to get people to like us. It is not to eliminate all problems or satisfy all desires. It is not to establish universal equality. It is not to develop the perfect government. It is not to join our voices with the world. It is not to establish our heaven on earth. Nor is it to hide in our churches or save ourselves.
In spite of all the things that ache our heart, and for which we long to see healed, now is not the time. We need to pay more careful attention to what exactly our job is on this earth.
Consider that the Lord did not heal everyone who needed it. He often left towns that still had crowds of people wanting to hear his teachings and experience his presence. He judged the do-gooders who obediently tithed of such little things as seeds, but neglected the more important matters expected by God. Several times he completely undermined the church-growth model, by intentionally challenging his disciples with things they did not understand and would not accept. He even criticized those who suggested giving to the poor rather than honoring him, when he said:
“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” (Mk 14:7)
Serving others may be loving, but it is not always in line with the commission, and that is supposed to be what keeps us on track. Honoring and obeying the Lord’s words is far more important than participating in some public protest against some human ill. Christians are supposed to follow the Spirit, not the mob.
When we allow social norms to crowd in on our efforts to go into all the world, to disciple others into followers of Jesus, and to teach others every little thing he commanded, then we have gotten dangerously off track. When we go on mission trips to help the hurting, but we avoid sharing the Lord’s name with the intent of making disciples, then we have fallen into quicksand. When we preach from the Bible, but say only what our audience is willing to hear (and continues to pay to hear), then we have become a hired hand that does not reflect the Shepherd.
When we join social committees, but allow it to distract from seeking baptisms and confessions and maturity in Christ-likeness, then we are Christian only by label and not by Spirit. When we claim to believe, but avoid sharing Jesus at work, so as to keep our job or submit to company policy, then we are no longer doing the commission.
We are just doing what is socially-natural sin. It is sin, when off track, because Jesus has commissioned you and me to “go” under his supreme authority, which over-rides all resistance from people, companies, laws of the land, and nations. In striving to obey the Lord first, we submit wherever possible to authorities, and try to restrain defiance by looking for better ways to work around obstacles, while never compromising our mission.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king…we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter”, in spite of the law and the threat of torture; to which the eventual reply came, “Praise be to the God…They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach…be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” (Dan 3)
You have it on the highest authority. Proselytizing the gospel everywhere, and to all people, is your official right and responsibility as a commissioned ambassador of God. It is not something we fight over; it is something for which we stand and go, no matter what anyone else thinks or says against us. We don’t cram it down people’s throats; we promote and offer, until it is clearly rejected or accepted; then we keep going and discipling. We do not force others; rather, we force ourselves to keep going to others in Jesus’ name.
If your church program picks up trash, decide your participation based on how it intentionally promotes the commission. If your community needs help supporting those with challenges, decide how deeply to commit based on how you will be allowed to “go” with the commission of Jesus while you serve. If the Bible study is of interest, then participate so long as it trains and equips everyone to actively contribute to the commission.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” (Pro 11:30)
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Dan 12:3)
We do not all play the same part in promoting the Church commission, but we each will be held accountable for how we actively contributed and maintained a clear and uncompromising focus on fulfilling the Lord’s will.
Show love to others in need with the purposeful intent of leading them to Christ. If they reject him, then dust your feet off and move on. They may still have needs, but as the Lord instructed, “Let the dead, bury the dead”. You are not loving with the Lord’s love, if you think you can continue to “do good” without evangelizing. Everything we do is intended to bring people to salvation. Obey the Lord’s command:
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6)
To remain protected by God as you go out into a hostile world, you must avoid spending your time, energy, resources and attention on those who have shown they have no interest in accepting Jesus, becoming baptized, or maturing as discipled Christians. That is why we are still here on this earth; to do his Kingdom will, not simply to do nice things.
Nice things distract. Holy things transform. Maintain the Church commission as your life’s work and passion. Don’t become side-tracked with social decency, political rhetoric, or personal agendas, allowing them to replace your devotion to living for the Lord. Our citizenship is supposed to be in heaven. Remember:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God”. (Ga 2:20-21)
If you’re a pastor, encourage your leadership team and membership to review every commitment to the commission. If you participate with others in Christian activity, raise the question on how the practical doing can better fit with the commission. Perhaps the most significant contribution to maintaining the Church commission is when an individual believer adjusts their own life’s focus to going as Jesus directed into every corner of their personal world.
To maintain requires uninterrupted progress. The Church commission cannot be a side-line affair, just one more program option in a busy congregation. It must be central to everything. Sadly this is rare, but it remains the demand of God upon the faithful.
“I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Isa 62:6-7)
The Lord has commissioned all Christians as his witnesses, like watchmen on the wall, who never cease promoting the gospel, warning of threats, and calling out for the establishment of the New Jerusalem from Heaven–his Church on earth.
Love salvation into others, who will love the Lord.