THE GREAT COMMISSION
“The Marching Orders of the Church”
The first words and last words a person speaks are words that are most lasting and memorable. The first recorded words of Christ in the Gospels are “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49), while His last words are recorded in Matt. 28:18-20 and they constitute the “Great Commission” of the church. This “Great Commission” has been aptly termed “The Marching Orders of the Church,” and with that assessment this preacher fully concurs. There are three great truths related to this Biblical mandate
The Importance of the Great Commission
A recent article, that otherwise contains some excellent insights about current religious trends, has alleged that the Great Commission was given only to the Apostles and that in the first century they completely fulfilled this mandate. Churches today are thus obsessed with a false claim and are consequently pouring “all of their money and energies” into an outdated order.
This writer ardently disagrees with this assessment. For nearly half-a-century, this preacher has been emphatically declaring that the only legitimate reason for any church’s existence is the Great Commission. After 50 years in Christian service of expositing and vigorously promoting the contents of this dispensational mandate, he believes more ardently than ever that he is correct in his assertion.
This Great Commission was Christ’s last will and Testament for churches before His departure. It contains the rich legacy He left believers and churches for this dispensation. Christ underscored the great significance of this mandate when He gave this commission five times in the first five books of the New Testament: Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, John 20:28 and Acts 1:8.
While the Matthew passage contains the most comprehensive instructions, each time Christ gave this commission, He presened new insights concerning its implementation, along with special promises for those who labor in its Scriptural injunctions.
In the Matthew passage, believers are given the promise of His Person. In Mark, the saints are granted the promise of His Protection. In Luke, Christ servants possess the promise of His potency to proclaim the twin truths of repentance and remission, while in Acts, soul-winners have the promise of His power for witnessing.
The Identity of this Great Commission
When one examines and exegetes the entire five passages, it becomes clear that Christ did not leave any doubt as to its contents. However, the fullest exposition and explanation of this mandate is given in Matthew 28:18-20 where Christ plainly delineates the commission’s three major components.
A. EVANGELISM: The first element in the Great Commission is evangelism (evangelizing). Christ charged the disciples to “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” Since this command concerning evangelism, comes first, it should always receive the priority in both the individual lives of believers and the corporate ministries of local churches.
Evangelism must never be put on the back burner of either a believer’s life or the ministry of a local church. What comes first with God should come first with His saints! The heartbeat and heartthrob of God is the salvation of lost sinners! Jesus himself said in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” During his brief ministry 3½ year ministry on this earth, our Lord was constantly seeking out lost souls (the woman at the well—John 4, the blind man—John 9).
The Apostle Paul, during his colorful, controversial
and committed ministry, was constantly on the soul-winning
B. BAPTISM: The Great Commission’s second vital element is baptism (baptizing): “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The mandate for baptism is given in the imperative of Matt. 18:19, the method [submersion/immersion] is declared in Acts 8:35-38, and the message of baptism is delineated in Rom. 6:1-5, where Paul portrays baptism as picturing the death and resurrection of Christ. A similar outline summarizes baptism this way: The summons for Baptism is found in Matt. 28:19, the subjects of baptism are disclosed in Acts 2:41 and the substance of Baptism is given in Acts 8:35-38.
For new believers, baptism is the first step of obedience in a new convert’s life. Biblical N. T. Baptist practice immersion because it was the (a) practice established by John the Baptist—Matt. 3:5-6, the (b) pattern exemplified by Jesus—Matt. 3:15-16, and because it was the (c) procedure employed in early churches—Acts 8:35-38.
C. CATECHISM. The Great Commission’s third element is catechism (catechizing): “Teaching them to observe all things... I have commanded you.” For Bible-believing Baptists the word catechism is not some dirty religious word, since the word catechize simply means to indoctrinate, instruct or teach. Christ’s use of the word “all” should never be minimized. In this case, “all means all, that’s all all means.”
This “all” includes Christ’s instructions concerning (1) the faith—the believer’s attitudes/actions towards the Pharisaical deniers of His deity—Matthew 23; (2) the family—Christ’s teaching concerning marriage and divorce—Matt. 19:5-10, and (3) the fellowship—our Saviour’s teaching about the resolution of problems within local church circles—Matt. 18:15-17.
Christ’s “all” commands in the New Testatment involve the further divinely inspired enlargements and elaborations by the apostles John, Paul and Peter, such as instruction concerning (a) the faith—Jude 3 (b) the family==Eph. 5:19-64: and (c) the fellowship—both its bonds (Phil. 1:4-5 and its basis (I John 1:3,6-7).
The local church pastor’s preaching/teaching responsibilities are part of the Great Commission responsibilities and include the instructive directions of Paul that he declares are imperatives in Eph. 4:12-16. The essential endeavor of “perfecting the saints” involves speaking all “the truth [of God’s Word] in love.” Perfecting by faithful feeding of the saints with the inscripturated Word (Acts 20:28) must always be a pastor’s priority.
According to Col. 1:27-38, this perfecting ministry among saints includes “warning every man in all wisdom.” In I and II Timothy, the apostle Paul earnestly warned about both apostates and compromisers, delineating both the nature and names of each category—I Tim. 1:19-20 (apostates) and II Tim. 4:10 (compromiser).
The Implementation of the Great Commission
The implementation of the Great Commission is actually the truth where more believers and churches fail than anywhere else. However, the assurance of Christ’s eternal presence [eternal security!] in Matt. 28:20 should encourage all saints: “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
To implement this commission, there are three essential elements that are necessary. Individual saints and local N. T. churches as a corporate unit cannot ignore or neglect any of the following three indispensable truths.
A. AN INFILLING POWER: In His 5th reiteration of the Great Commission, Christ promised his power for our Great Commission endeavors—Acts 1:8 “And ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
Since all genuine believers possess the person of the Holy Spirit—Rom. 8:16—the great question is not whether we have all of the Holy Spirit, but whether the Holy Spirit has all of us. The great issue is not whether the Holy Spirit is resident in believers’ lives, but whether He is president of our lives—Eph. 5:18.
B. AN INFLAMING PASSION: For the Apostle Paul, reaching lost souls with the gospel was his impelling motive. In II Corinthians 5:14, Paul terms this deep passion as the constraining love of Christ that intensely affected his attitude toward every living human being.
From the commencement of his Christian experience in Acts 9 until its potential consummation described in II Timothy chapter four, Paul maintained a consuming passion for the lost and the fulfillment of this Great Commission. Paul’s devotion to this massive task never wavered, no matter where he was traveling or writing, or in what circumstances he found himself.
The Christian’s flaming devotion to the Great Commission task should equal or exceed the command given priests concerning the burnt offering in the O. T. Tabernacle in Lev. 6:13: “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.”
C. AN INTENSIVE PESISTENCE: In Gal. 6:9, Paul exhorts the Ephesians saints to “not be weary in well doing,” reminding them that if they are persistent in their good works of obedience to God’s Word and God’s will, that “in due season” they will “reap” if they do not “faint.” Without question, laboring for the fulfillment of the Great Commission is “well doing,” with which believers should never cease. The N. T. apostles gave themselves completely to this great task until their dying breaths.
With all the modern technological tools available to us today to make laboring for fulfillment of this commission a much easier task, can we do any less than those heroic first century martyrs?
The “Great Commission” still constitutes the church’s mandate in the 21st century. The Great Commission is truly “the marching orders of the church.” What will be our response to Christ’s great and last command?
Our rallying cry should ever be the theme song of the college “preacher boys class” in which this writer was enrolled during his college days: “Souls for Jesus is our battle cry; souls for Jesus we’ll fight until we die. We never will give in, while souls are lost in sin. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.” D. J.
Also in this issue:
|Editorial – December 2010-January 2011 Fundamentalist Digest; Permission granted for reprint, so long as proper credit is given.|