Greatest Commandment or Great Commission?

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission. Church leaders have realized that their ministries and the people they shepherd are not reaching the world for Christ. In fact, for the average church attendee, the Great Commission is not even on their radar. To counteract this seemingly glaring problem in the church we have set up conferences on the great commission, included the great commission in our church purpose statements, memorized these sacred words, set goals for people evangelized, and have even given alternate denomination names to reflect a focus on the Great Commission. Even with all the commotion and hype, evangelism seems to remain at an all time low. Now don’t get me wrong, there are those fireballs, those Spirit filled, gifted evangelists that are seeing person after person come to Christ, but what is wrong with the rest of us? How can we nod our head in agreement with the renewed Great Commission focus and yet sit on our laurels without doing a thing? We could blame our lack of action on the cultural shifts that are going on in the world that make evangelism tougher, or maybe the consumerism that keeps us so tied up in our stuff, or maybe our pastor is the problem because the way he does evangelism is too old school for us. But I think the lack of desire to participate in the Great Commission in our churches points to a deeper and more systemic problem. Maybe, just maybe, we have replaced the Greatest Commandment with the Great Commission. Could we have created an idol out of reaching people, replacing our love for the Lord with empty works-based evangelistic activity to somehow make ourselves look good and by extension win favor with the Lord? Do we know what it means to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, and mind without doing a thing?

 The problem seems to be many of us have lost our first love, or never had it to begin with. It is hard to make the effort to convince others to follow Christ if He is not what you love and value in this life. In fact, maybe you have never really been His. In Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about what is the greatest commandment in the Law. This is the third question from the Pharisees and Sadducees in this chapter of Matthew trying to trip up Jesus in the Law, but Jesus’ answer every time is basically, “you don’t get it.” Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question in Matthew 22:37-39 saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Following His statements, in Matthew 22:40, Jesus says that everything in the Law and Prophets depends on these two commandments. Strikingly, Jesus ends this discussion with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:42-46 asking them, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” and no one is able to answer. 

This is the same question I submit to you. What do you think about Christ, whose son is He? If you answer that He is Lord, the Son of the one true God, then Jesus responds with John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you love the Lord then you know the business He is about; reconciling man to Himself through Christ. You, by the very extension of your love for Him, will want to carry out the Great Commission. If don’t know who He is, then you will have no desire to be a part of the Great Commission. If you haven’t experienced His love then you have no reason to want to share it. In fact, to do so would be a great burden. If you feel burdened by sharing your faith, then strongly consider if you know the Lord. Maybe you do know Him, but you haven’t been walking with Him in a way that makes you overflow with the Gospel. Maybe you have become dry. If that is you, ask the Lord to fill you up again so that you can be used by Him. Finally, the most complicated response is to know Christ is God’s Son as truth, yet He necessarily isn’t the object of your affection and love. You engage in evangelistic work out of a sense of duty, and at a lower level, because you want to earn points with God and somehow stack up all the work you have done for Him to purchase your salvation, to have something to point to, or at least something to pay Him back with. If that is you, which is many of us, then Christ’s rebuke to the Pharisee’s in Matthew 23:1-12 may be for you. Stop striving to look good, live in the Grace afforded in Christ, and start loving. If we do lots of work but miss the heart of the matter, we are no better off then the Pharisees. This is not the way of the cross.

To properly engage in the Great Commission, it starts with Jesus. You must humbly confess Him as Savior and love him with all your heart, soul, and mind; that is the Greatest Commandment. The overflow of that is the second greatest commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself. If you Love Christ and know Him, you will love your neighbor. Get first things first, love the Lord, spend time with Him, and experience His love in your life. Let Him root out the sin in your life that so easily entangles. Let Him love you with His grace and mercy. When we spend time cultivating our love for the Lord in the person of Christ, the Great Commission falls right into place within the second greatest commandment becoming the overflow of our heart. Evangelism then is a bursting forth of love from our relationship with God to other people. This is not to say that both the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission cannot be pursued at the same time. In fact, engaging in the Lord’s work is another way of loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. It is when we divorce the Great Commission from the Greatest Commandment that we run into trouble. If your heart has been pricked for evangelism lately, pursue the Lord and His work. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 gives us the perfect picture of what it means to know Christ, have our heart changed, love him, and reach out to others. When we have become the new creature in Christ that 2 Corinthians 5:17 speaks of with the new heart of Ezekiel 36:22-32, we can’t help but speak about Him. When we do evangelism from the overflow of our heart we will be like Peter in Acts 4:20, unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard in the person of Christ.

My guess is that you haven’t been compelled to share Jesus in a long time if ever from an overflowing heart. The next time your heart squirms when the Great Commission is being pushed, regardless of the church leaders motives, maybe you need to check your first Love and see if it aligns with the Greatest Commandment.

 Love Him, Love people.

 Live in the Gospel, Preach the Gospel.
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