You talkin’ to me?!? A Church-wide view of the Great Commission

In the narrow experiences of my life, Christians I know have generally understood the words of the Great Commission to mean that Jesus is speaking to all Christians. The words are most familiar from Matthew 28:18-21 (HCSB):

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Though obedience to this command is varied, most Christians I have known believe that the command is for every Christian. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin has even said, “Some of Jesus’ last words on earth were to go; so you better ask permission if you plan to stay.” Going. Making disciples. Baptizing. Teaching. Sermon upon sermon has tread on these topics to provoke obedience and faithfulness among the brethren.

But was this command actually intended for every believer or just Jesus’ disciples? Likewise, is the call for ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ from 2 Corinthians 5 a call to all who are “in Christ” or only those apostles who are writing the letter? Wouldn’t it be great if each Christian was not actually expected to personally evangelize, but only those who have been called to such a task? (Even writing that questions seems self-evidently unfaithful for many reasons.)

As best I can tell, those passages were written about the disciples (apostles) specifically. However, I also believe that the instructions apply to all who are in Christ. The following are some reasons:

  1. A popular observation regarding the Great Commission from Mt. 28:18-21 pertains to the instruction to teach all that Jesus commanded. That instruction to teach everything would surely include the command to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach everything. Therefore, though the commission itself might have only been spoken from Jesus to the 11 disciples, the inclusion of a re-instruction command would have immediately ignited a movement of disciple-makers.
  1. Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:18-21 are slightly more complex. Paul speaks in the same passage of anyone who is in Christ, his reconciliation to God, his ministry of reconciliation, and his ambassadorship on behalf of Christ – who is making His appeal through Paul, “Be reconciled to God.” But Paul doesn’t say “me”. Instead he says “us”. Does the “us” mean all who are in Christ or Paul and the people with him (Timothy is specifically mentioned in the introduction to 2 Corinthians)? Paul did hold an apostolic office by the authority of Jesus Christ, who came to Paul directly and set him apart for ministry. So the question then would be: Is the work of evangelism only a duty of the apostolic office?
  • We see some insight into the purpose of the apostolic office as the original 11 disciples of Jesus set out to replace their 12th – a position vacated by Judas’ death. Look at Acts 1:21-22, Peter says:

“Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

We see evidence here of a reason for the 12 apostles – they were eye witnesses of everything that had happened from the beginning to the end of Jesus’ ministry. There were no gospel books already written. Testimony of one or two would be discarded as biased or manipulated. But out of 120 people still gathered, the remaining 11 apostles were able to identify 2 who had been through everything with them. They chose Matthias to replace Judas as a witness. An apostle was a credible witness to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ along with His teachings.

  •  Where the apostles the only ones who were spreading the gospel?

No. The account of the founding of the church at Antioch shows the extent to which anyone who was going out into the nations was also likely evangelizing. Look at the account from Acts 11:19-22:

Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. Then the report about them was heard by the church that was at Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch.

Who started the church among the gentiles? Barnabas? Paul? Nope, some Cypriot and Cyrenian men – not significant enough to be mentioned by name. Were they officially apostles? There is no indication that they were. Were they doing the work of an apostle by bringing credible witness to those who had never heard? Definitely. It’s as if at some point they were commanded to go, make disciples, baptize and teach.

  • What does that mean for those who now have documented Scripture?

A portion of the apostolic ministry was diminished with the documentation of the gospel letters as well as the other letters of Scripture. But the physical availability of the reliable witness does not completely exempt apostolic work. The documentation of Scripture should serve as a catalyst for evangelistic witness, not an excuse to stop speaking. Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

If these powers are available in Scripture, for what purpose should Scripture serve? See how many of these are outward focused, away from the reader of Scripture himself – teaching, rebuking, correcting. Training in righteousness may be both internal and external. In the end, if you are in Christ and you have the credible witness of Scripture, then you are equipped for every good work. What work could possibly be better that serving as a minister of reconciliation?

These are just a few of the many, many calls for those who have been reconciled by God through Christ to do the work of reconciliation of other to God through Christ. I hope that you have found the passages to be clear. I hope that any disappointment in the realization that all Christians are evangelists might be brought before God and addressed at its likely root: fear of man. I struggle with this fear mightily. But let us be complete and do the good work of reconciliation as those who have hope.

The Most Excellent Way

“And I will show you a still more excellent way”…1 Corinthians 12:31 (ESV)

I have a love/hate relationship with Burger King. I love that patented flame broiled smell that rises up from their buildings. I love that their coupons allow me to feed my kids for less than $5. I loved that I could get a large Frozen Coke there for $1 all last summer.

But despite all this, there is one thing about Burger King that I just can’t seem to get over- Almost every time I’m there, with very few exceptions, I feel like an absolutely unwelcome guest, like the fact that I just drove up to buy some chicken nuggets is ruining their employees’ day. As a result, the service I receive there- inexpensive as it might be- is generally slow, sluggish, and nearly always lacking in delight.

Now let’s contrast this experience to that of the other place I regularly go for cheap chicken- Chick-Fil-A. I’m going there to do the exact same thing I do at Burger King. And yet, regularly I leave there amazed at the fact that my $13 purchase really seemed to make some 16 year old’s day. It is as though it is actually their employees’ “pleasure” (to use their common catchphrase) to serve me in this simple, altogether unremarkable day. Needless to say, the difference in these two standard experiences could not be more stark.

In thinking this week about service as it relates to God’s church, this question struck me- Does my service to God and others in the church look more like Burger King or Chick-Fil-A? Specifically, does my service carry with it a spirit of delight or drudgery, of pleasure or obligation? As those who claim to follow Jesus in the context of His church, I think that’s a question worth asking ourselves consistently.

I have some core convictions from the Bible- specifically this 1 Corinthians 12 text- that guide my thoughts on service. Here are a few…

• God, through His Holy Spirit, gifts each of His followers personally and purposefully (1 Cor 12:11)
• This gifting is done with the aim of building up of God’s church, and each member of it (1 Cor 12:7)
• There is a genuine, heartfelt joy that is experienced when we identify and operate in that “sweet spot” of calling and gifting.
• A strong sense of calling and gifting can be one of the most powerful motivators for perseverance in difficult seasons of service.

I believe all of these things strongly. But I also that in the “flow” of this chapter, Paul saves his strongest argument for service done with delight for last. It comes in the form of a somewhat oddly placed statement in 12:31- a statement which he expounds in full in the following, the famed 1 Corinthians 13.

So what, then, is this “more excellent way” to which Paul points? It is the way of love- for God, and for others. Summarizing the message of 1 Corinthians 12:31 through all of Chapter 13, Paul says to us, “The truest measurement of service in God’s church is its motive. Is it done in love? If not, even the most impressive acts will be a waste. But if so, even the simplest acts can be glorious.”

This should be self-evident. It certainly is when you’re on the receiving end of service. Taking my earlier Burger King / Chick-Fil-A contrast, for example, what’s the primary distinction between the behavior of two establishment’ employees? They are essentially performing the same task, for essentially the same length of time, for essentially the same amount of compensation. The difference, then, isn’t external, but internal- in the heart and focus of those rendering the service.

If you serve God and others with a sense of begrudging obligation, your heart and focus will be directed inward, at yourself. And if all you can think about is how this (whatever “this” is) is impacting you, what this is costing you, and the like, you can be almost assured that there will be no delight in it. But if, on the other hand, you serve in genuine love, your heart and focus will be directed outward, at God and others. And when you consider how even the simplest things you do can honor Him and benefit them, you suddenly possess a powerful sense of delight, of opportunity, and of endurance.

In light of that, here’s my encouragement to you today- Self-evaluate your service. Even better, ask some trusted others to evaluate it with you. Is it motivated by love, or something less? And is it characterized by delight, or something less? Are those on the receiving end of it leaving their time feeling like they’ve been to Burger King, or Chick-Fil-A? As you ask these questions, be open to God’s work in your heart and life to lead you to a place that reflects and honors Him. Be encouraged. Be challenged. Repent and move forward. And in the end, serve well- according to “the most excellent way.”

The One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater

people eaterAnyone else remember this odd song? It’s weird.

Our problem is not a monster that eats up people. Our problem is that we become that monster. We do not eat people physically, but we do relationally. Too often in life we forget the person that is the “who” behind the “what” we appreciate in life.

Mother’s Day is a great reminder to appreciate who the person is, not just what they do. There is no “what” that matters in life without “who” the person is. A mother’s love is simply the result of a mother who loves. It does not exist without her. This is God’s intention for our life development and maturity.

God’s process is people. God gives people. God gives all types of people with all types of gifts, abilities, and talents. He desires to use people to help us mature and grow. Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches the importance of people in God’s purposes for our lives.

God desires for us to grow up and look more like Him. He desires that we would grow into “mature manhood, to the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ.” First, God desires us to grow up. Maturity should be the expectation not the exception. Often the problem in our culture (including the modern Church) is that we simply have no expectation of maturity. We accept immaturity and we define maturity incorrectly. Second, God desires us to look more like Him. He desires that in our personal maturity that the fullness of Christ would be evident.

God uses people to grow us up into the fullness of Christ. Specifically in this passage Paul speaks of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. These are people. People God has given a particular set of abilities for a particular reason. His purpose in them is that the Church would be built up and that all believers would be able to do the work of the ministry. These people do not exist to do all the work, but to lead others by example and in truth so that they all, together, might do God’s work.

Maturity is not a destination. Maturity is an ongoing process. Here are a few healthy markers for maturity found in this passage. We should have a growing knowledge of God. JI Packer writes, “A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him.” You learn in your knowledge of Him as you learn about Him and put it into practice. We should have a growing understanding of self. Knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses is a sign of maturity. Growing faith in Christ is another healthy marker of maturity. Growing faith is the result of applied faith. If you are doing nothing in your life that requires full trust upon the Lord to accomplish, then your faith will not grow. Faith is theoretical. The last marker of maturity in this passage is growing love for all. Loving those who love is easy and anyone can do it. Are you loving the unlovable?

If God’s process is people, how does he use them? Here are a few healthy movers towards maturity. Maturity is not defined by these; it is developed through these.

  1. Loving truth.
    We all need people who love us and love truth. These people will speak truth to us because they love us. It is more difficult to be used by the Lord if you love truth more than you love people. The same, however, is true if you love people more than truth. We all need people who love both in our lives.
    Healthy Community.
    It takes a village to raise a child, make sure you are in the right village. We need people who give into our lives and receive from our lives. We need to receive into our lives and give from our lives. We all need this because God designed us that way.
    3. Practiced Selflessness.
    Sacrifice is not a theory; it is a practice. If you think you would sacrifice if God would only be clear in his direction, then you need to read some more. God has been clear. We simply must put selflessness to use in our lives. Put some other people before yourself and see what God will do.

The constant in this process of growing up is God’s sustaining grace. All Christians believe in God’s saving grace. (For by grace are you saved through faith and this not of yourselves…) We, too often, fail to truly believe in His sustaining grace. (My grace is sufficient for you…) His grace is the railroad tracks the rest of these important movers move us along. His grace is the constant. The day you fail to live by his grace is the day you stop growing up in Christ.

So beware of the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater. Beware that it might just be you. People are important. People matter. People are God’s process. You need them. And they need you.

Connect to grow!

The Well-Ordered Life

Worship is an undivided life.

In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus instructs us to remember the greatest commandment. We must remember that God is one and that we are to “love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our strength, and all of our mind.” Worship is the outward expression of inward passion. Worship is expressing our love for God and experiencing his love for us. Jesus calls us to a high calling of love, and undivided love.

Life, however, is divided up many ways. Many of us feel like pizzas cut up to serve the masses. Our even worse pulled apart and wasted by greedy little hands. There are many things in life that pull for our affection and our attention.

The undivided life is a well-ordered life. We are all always worshiping (something or someone). There is always something or someone that is getting our highest affection and attention. The question is what or who are we worshipping.

The well-ordered life neither neglects nor ignores the people, responsibilities, and opportunities that require our affection and attention. The well-ordered life simply starts in the right place, more specifically, with the right person, Jesus.

Here are a few questions to consider about the well-ordered life. We should consider the things that are first and greatest in our lives as we consider a life of worship. When first and greatest are wrong life is not well ordered, it is destructive.
heart clipart
What divides your heart?
What gets your first investment?
What is the greatest source of your emotions?

First does not always mean most. Jesus clearly brings the relationship of the heart to the issue of finances over and over again. Why? “Where your treasure is there the hearts is also.” Is your first investment the Kingdom of God? Does God get first in your finances or do you try squeeze him in?

If someone were to ask me to write the book My Dumbest Life Now, my main principle for it would be Follow your heart. Scripture tells us the heart is “deceptive and is evil above all things.” Do not follow your heart. Guide your heart.

That is why first and greatest matter. Love is not a feeling. It is action. Loving the Lord with your heart means loving the Lord with your investment. Your greatest emotions are caused by things that you care enough about to be emotional about. For some that is college football for others it is comments people make about them on social media. What causes your greatest emotions? When was the last time you wept over the separation from God caused by sin in your life or in the lives of your friends and family?
flame clipart
What captures your soul?
What gets your first consideration?
What is the source of your greatest anxieties?

The soul is not as easily defined as it is felt. When you need to make a decision, what and who do you consider first? Yes, we must consider our spouse, our kids, the financial realities of this decision, etc. But we must also consider the Lord and his ways…first. That is what loving him with all of our soul means. He gets first consideration.

Our anxieties are a good way to examine the soul. What is causing them? Why? Have you given this issue to the Lord? Are you praying? Are you seeking the truth of Scripture in answering this life issue?
strength clipart
What receives your strength?
What gets your first time?
What is the source of your greatest exhaustion?

Energy is what we manage more than time. We all only have the same amount of time. What are you giving your best time, the time of each day that gets your best energy? In life there are days where my family gets my best time.. There are other days that work gets my best time. There is one day a week, the Sabbath, where God has commanded my best time and energy. It is a reminder of the fact that I need him first in my time.   The Sabbath is a great reminder that every day and in every thing, God is first.

The things that exhaust you often show you the disorder in your life. There are often life realities that are simply exhausting. We should, however, examine our lives to ensure we are not wasting our life energy on things of little value. Things like what other think of us or how many likes our selfie got on social media. When you realize you are exhausted by things of little value, life is out of order.
brain clipart
What consumes your mind?
What gets your first attention?
What is the source of your greatest distraction?

What do you think of first when you wake up? What is the first thought in your mind when you get off of work for the day? First attention speaks volumes about where you are spiritually. Now, it does not mean you will not wake worried about the meeting at work or leave consumed with how to make your football team you coach win the next game. We, as Christ-followers, need to take these anxious attention-stealers captive, though. We need to set our minds on things above and not things below.

It is not that these things do not matter. They do. They simply do not matter as much as the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Seek those things first and everything else we be added unto you as well. Take those distractions captive.

What do you need to give up to give God your all?

We must give it up. I realize I said it needs to be ordered not deleted. We must love the Lord so supremely that we completely give him all things. That is what Lordship means. He is master, owner, King, and ruler.

The issue with Lordship is when we give it all to him completely he is in control of the order. We know that there are things that we have at the top of the list that might now come 3rd or 10th or even disappear altogether.

Do you love Jesus that much?

Today, you might need to give it all up for the first time. Pray, “Jesus, I give you all of me.
Today, you might need to give something back to God for the 1000th time. Pray, “Jesus, I give you all of me.”
Today, you might need to give a new overwhelming situation over to God. Pray, “Jesus, I give you all of me.”

Jesus, I give you all of me.