The Great Commission is a simple command: advance the kingdom of God to all peoples that He may be worshiped as He rightly deserves. While not all are called to be missionaries and pastors in the field, all Christians are called to support and enable global missions through training, prayer, and physical and spiritual support. The simple command of the Great Commission is carried out throughout the New Testament through the lives of the apostles and the early church, and one of the major elements of missions in the early church was planting churches. Intrinsic in the Great Commission is not simply the conversion of the peoples but disciple-making as well.
Matthew is the one who writes concerning the Great Commission in chapter 28. An interesting parallel that can be seen is Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. The parallel of what to avoid is specifically seen in 23:15 when Jesus condemns, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Suffice to say, this grievous error is something for Christians to take note of and avoid. When the Lord brings salvation upon people, we are not to abandon and leave the new Christian fend for themselves. We are to disciple them and plant them in a local church. If there is no church, then we plant them and stay until the church is able to continue with their own leaders who can continue to disciple.
Missions in the local church are not an endeavor that the Christian strives for on his or her own. Francis Schaeffer profoundly states, “The truth is that by doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, we will accomplish more, not less…after all, who can do the most, you or the God of heaven and earth?” The reality that Christians need to understand is the significance and necessity to do all of the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way. The Lord calls the church to do specific things in specific ways like evangelizing, worship, church planting, church leadership, and so on. Yet, humans would rather alter and change to do their own thing for a variety of reasons. But this results in failed missions, burnout, constant drama, and many issues since it is not done in God’s way. The only way to accomplish anything within the local church and missions is to adhere to the principles, guidelines, and philosophy established by the Lord through His life and through the writers of the Scriptures. A Biblical philosophy of missions is garnered exclusively from the Scriptures and contains a set of non-negotiable standards that any Christian would be foolish to ignore; it cannot be created based on culture or society but solely on the Word of God. The Word of God is the foundation for all Christian missions, service, and deeds and cannot be deviated from if the Christians want to be faithful.
A proper philosophy for Christian missions must be biblically-centered and grounded. There can be no straying from the commands that the Lord has given. Man has no authority to overrule the one who is head over all. Missions are the work of all Christians and are an integral part of being a Christian, and this work must be done with the pursuit of love for God and His people. However, as seen with the church of Ephesus, lovelessness will ruin even the most “perfect” church.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that lovelessness makes service and worship unprofitable. The Lord calls for the church in Ephesus to repent of their sin: the abandonment of their first love of God and God’s people in Revelation 2:1-7.
Failure to serve and worship God with love for Him and His people is a recipe for disaster and fruitlessness. It does not matter if a church has their doctrine 100% accurate, their worship songs accurate, their evangelism is constant, their fellowship is frequent, their correction and rebuke of false teachers is quick and precise, and their leadership structure is a biblical model, it all automatically becomes useless and displeasing to God if these things are not done out of love for Him. The Ephesian church was called to restore the pattern of the love and the passion they had for God as they had at first. How then does this apply to Christian missions?
The motivation of the service of God and people cannot be motivated by fleshly desires but only by a deep and passionate for God and all that He does with an emphasis on His glory. Lovelessness is a sin that requires repentance (Revelation 2:5). Alexander Strauch writes an excellent book on the lovelessness of the church at Ephesus and the cure for that lovelessness in “Love or Die.” Strauch writes, “Every believer should be concerned about the loss of love in the family of God. Although God ultimately is the one who keeps us in his love and motivates us to love, there is also a human side of the equation. Scripture directs all believers to pursue love, keep ourselves in the love of God, abide in Christ’s love, walk in love as Christ loved, and consider how to stir up one another to love and good deed…The nurture and practice of love is a life and death issue to the local church.”
There can be no doctrinal or personal doubt that love must motivate all Christian ministry, service, and worship. While Christian ministry takes place wherever a Christian is, there is a central place that Christians gather to worship God, minister to other believers, refresh, be equipped, and prepare to minister in the world, and that place is the local church. Wherever the Christian comes from or goes to, Paul’s writing in Romans 10:14-15 should be on the heart of every endeavor, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Scripture is not silent concerning missions in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The emphasis of missions in the Old Testament was the “commission” of Israel in God’s redemptive work and Israel being the light to all the surrounding nations. Israel, however, failed in her mission and would ultimately kill ignore or kill the prophets and eventually the promised Messiah. The transition to the New Testament, the Church, and the redemptive work of Christ resulted in a new type of missiology that would send believers everywhere and to everyone. The work of the apostles in the early church to plant and establish God-glorifying churches would then result in the fulfillment of the Great Commission’s call to “all nations.” These churches were planted with those who were qualified as elders and deacons. Ultimately, whether in the Old or New Testament, true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have always had a missional focus. Christians today have nearly 2000 years of missions history to look at as a guide to effective, God-glorifying, Gospel-centered missions. Active missions will always be the work of the Lord utilizing vessels who love Him and have a passion for His name to be declared and made known throughout the world. No mission is successful without the direct working of the Lord God Almighty, and that is a comforting truth that Christians can cling to when fulfilling the Great Commission. Always remember, Christian, that our Lord guarantees his presence in our endeavors to follow him when he says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There is no one better to follow nor to fight for than our wondrous God and Savior, Jesus Christ.