I know that the so-called great commission was one of the last words that Jesus spoke, but He spoke so many amazing, profound words of wisdom that I am always befuddled when pastors try to say that this piece of scripture is more important than any of the other countless truths that can be found throughout the Bible. This, of course, is a prideful stance that sounds suspiciously like legalism, the cherry picking of certain verses and obsessing over them to the exclusion of the rest of this amazing book. While the message of the cross and the redemption and reconciliation of man back to God is an incredible story, it is only the beginning of the much longer story of an entire life lived in daily sacrifice to God’s service, as we work out our salvation in the process of sanctification, accumulating ever greater glory to our Amazing God as we lead lives of living sacrifice to Him by His Power, by His Wisdom, and by His Love.
The great commission is not just pimping the product of the message of salvation. The other parts that many pastors forget to talk about are the baptizing, the discipleship, and “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). This latter part, of course, refers to the entire rest of the laws, prophets, songs – the entirety of Scripture. The things that Jesus commanded are not merely the teachings in the New Testament. Since Jesus was preexisting in Heaven before His incarnation on this earth, He probably worked with the Father and the Holy Spirit to inspire men to write all the words of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, since Jesus is Truth itself, then all of the words of the Scripture proceed out from Him, and lastly, He came to be the completion of the law in His crucifixion, so all the law is important to Him – not just the great commission.
A lot of evangelical churches became obsessive about the great commission to the detriment of the real work that God wanted them to be about. They became like this pastor that visited me in Mississippi who was neglecting the works of service, not speaking the hard Scriptural truths and not speaking for those who could not speak for themselves. If you read Matthew 25:-31-46, you find out how Jesus really discerns between His people and those who just give lip service to His commands. Jesus doesn’t use the criteria of how many times they shared the gospel message. Instead, he judges them by the acts of loving service to those who were in need and were suffering: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’… ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
Additionally, in the Old Testament, the Lord confronted His people who were just playing at religion and were not living out the lives of loving service that God has always desired of His people. In Isaiah 58:6-7, God teaches His people what really exemplifies those who are serving God completely: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
I think that modern evangelicals took the path of least resistance by obsessing on just one piece of the great commission, making the same mistake that so many legalists have made ever since Jesus started His church. They allowed Satan to deceive them into the enticing easy lie which would keep them from doing the much harder daily work of sacrificial service to the community and the world around us. But those who take the easy route get their reward. They live an easy life with very little accomplishment on behalf of God, accruing very little glory to God, and when they come into the kingdom, they will have very little to show for their lives to their momentary shame. Fortunately, our God is so infinitely loving that even the least and the worst of our numbers will still receive a great reward in Heaven far beyond what they and we deserve.
May God bless you with His wisdom in knowing how best to serve Him and others.