I’ve heard people say, “I want more of a heart for missions.” I always respond, “Jesus tells you exactly how to get it. Put your money in missions—and in your church and the poor—and your heart will follow.”
It wasn't until I was in college that I heard the Great Commission.
I mean, I had heard it a thousand times before but for some reason, this time, it passed through my ears went into my brain and landed deeply in my heart. It finally made sense!
Though I understood Jesus loved and cared for me, he had a purpose not just for me, but for every person in the world. How did I miss it?
At that point, the Great Commission combined with the Greatest Commandment had become my Greatest Passion.
And Jesus came and said to them,
Since that time, I have read the Great Commission a hundred times with thousands of college students across the United States, and joined in the commission of Jesus -- going to the ends of the earth.
After reading it so many times over so many years, I wanted to share these seven insights that have made it so valuable to me.
It begins with Jesus’ Authority
In the beginning, Jesus spoke and all things came into being. By his word, he created the innumerable galaxies. He commanded a demon, a storm, and a dead man to “stop!” and they all obeyed. His authority has no boundaries and no end.
With this same authority, he gives us our marching orders. Because it is His authority, we march not for our namesake, but for His. We joyfully march under the banner of a Savior drenched in love,
It commands us to make disciples
Jesus, the one who possesses all authority, gives a command to his followers just before he ascends into heaven.
The commanding verb in the Greek is to "make disciples," (not "Go").
Too often we forget Jesus' hope for us is that we make disciples regardless of where we are geographically located. It is our joy and purpose to extend the blessing of Jesus to those who don't have it whether in Arkansas or Afghanistan.
It compels us to go
I've heard it said the word translated as "go" actually means "as you are going." The difficulty comes because we are reading in English, while it was written in Greek.
In his book Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace (p. 645) outlines how this phrase meets the particular conditions in which the attendant participle ("Go") takes on the command-form of the verb ("make disciples").* So the phrase becomes "Go and make disciples" which is exactly how it is translated.
This means, as followers of Christ, we are to make it our ambition to go to the places in the world where the gospel isn't -- to make disciples.
It is for all nations
In his landmark book Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper shows that "all nations" doesn't just mean all the geographic or political states we know today, but includes all languages, peoples, and tribes (p. 215).
Piper further clarifies what it means for groups to be "reached" vs. "unreached."
He states, "a group is reached when mission efforts have established an indigenous church that has the strength and resources to evangelize the rest of the group" (p. 216).
After thoroughly outlining the use of "all nations" throughout the Bible, Piper definitively states, "the missionary task of the church is to press on to all the unreached peoples until the Lord comes" (p. 211).
It should be our passion, our privilege, and our duty to take the gospel to the 3.1 billion people without the access around the world.
"the missionary task of the church is to press on to all the unreached peoples until the Lord comes"
It isn't one verse
When we see the phrase “Great Commission” one particular verse comes to mind. The phrase "Great Commission" never appears in any verse of the Bible; it's only a sub-heading that was added by publishers. In most Bibles, the sub-heading appears in one place - in Matthew 28.
One of the earliest uses of the phrase can be dated back to the 1800's in a book titled The Divine Enterprise of Missions (p. 20-24).**
American pastor A.T. Pierson read through the New Testament and grouped together multiple verses that involved five commissionings of Jesus to his followers.
The five commissionings he outlined are:
More so, Pierson was collecting and connecting a theme that Jesus was continuing from the Old Testament -- a thread woven from Genesis through Revelation.
This gives us just a small list of the thousands of verses to show Jesus was not starting something new. He emphatically intended his followers and his church to pick up the mission of God that began on the first page of the Bible! He wanted us to be involved in bringing the good news to all the nations of the earth.
It isn't just for a few people
As we've seen, the Gospel isn't intended for a small group of people, but for all people groups on earth. Likewise it doesn't come through a select group of people. The gospel goes to all peoples through all believers.
The gospel goes to all peoples through all believers.
It is commonly believed only the eleven disciples received the commission. From there it would be easy to say the Great Commission is a “special calling” for a few people -- not for all believers. But this can't be true.
New Testament scholar D.A. Carson states (pg. 589) that when Jesus gave the Great Commission, there were likely a multitude of people present:
"the natural way to interpret (the word) ‘my brothers’ in (verse) 10 is not as a reference to The Eleven (disciples) but to all those attached to his cause who were in Jerusalem, most of whom had followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem as his ‘disciples.’" (especially Matthew 28:7)
“The view that interprets the (word) ‘some’ of (verse) 17 as a reference to others than the apostles is supported, and the resurrection appearance of v. 16-20 may well be equivalent to the appearance before the five hundred reported by Paul” (in 1 Corinthians 15:6).”
This means there were many in addition to the disciples who had followed Jesus and were likely present when Jesus gave the commission just before his ascension, possibly numbering up to 500.
Therefore the Great Commission was not meant for just the eleven disciples but, for everyone who follows Christ -- even us today -- until the task of filling the earth with worshippers is complete.
It gives us a promise
Jesus’ commissionings to go and make disciples of all nations could likely be one of the most difficult commands in Scripture.
But in the gracious nature of God, He begins the commission with his authority and completes it by underwriting the command with an equipping promise: "Surely I'm with you always even to the end of the age."
The beauty of the promise is Jesus is the guarantor of the command -- He is building his church and no one can stop it.
The Great Commission is not a command from a dictator, but a joyful commission of a overwhelmingly gracious Savior who longs to extend love and grace to us -- then through us -- for those who have yet to receive it.
It is a rallying cry for our churches, small groups, bible studies, and Christians everywhere to live with a mission and a purpose of filling the earth with worshippers of God.
Our greatest privilege is to complete the greatest story given by the greatest Person by fulfilling the greatest commission.
*I thank Brian Zunigha for teaching this in a Perspectives class in Pasadena, CA.
**I'm indebted to Todd Ahrend for his incredible research and friendship. He was the first to point this out to me.
Just after landing from India I was greeted with the question, "How was your trip?" I didn't miss a beat. I went to places I couldn't pronounce, ate food I couldn't fully digest, and served alongside people I admired.
Every once in awhile, I got a different question, "How was your adventure?" That one took me off guard. Did I go on an "adventure?"
Fast forward 4 years, I became a missions mobilizer. I traveled to college campuses to speak with students about God's passion: filling the earth with worshippers from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Gen 1:28, Rev 7:9). So often I was the first person to introduce a crowd of faithful college students to the biblical theme of missions. It was exciting!
Other times, students thought it was lame, and to generate excitement I would find myself beating the drum of how "cool" adventure trips are. I mean... mission trips.
I realized there are multiple reasons for taking a mission trip -- and no one is always 100% altruistic. After spending years of meeting and listening to would-be missionaries, my one encouragement for those considering a cross-cultural mission trip: don't carry "ruins to ruins."
Missions shouldn't be adventures. I say that not as the old church curmudgeon that probably comes to mind. Adventures are for people searching for something external for internal fulfillment. But missions is for the internally-satisfied who joyfully gives through the repetitive, arduous task of making disciples.
Adventures are for people searching for something external for internal fulfillment. But missions is for the internally-satisfied who joyfully gives through the repetitive, arduous task of making disciples.
Getting on an airplane doesn't change who we are and crossing an ocean doesn't qualify us as missionaries.
Missions isn't for thrill-seekers looking for their next epic story, or for a broken person looking to be fixed. I say this because no matter where one goes, there they are.
Missions is for broken people who know-well the Source of Healing -- and can point others to Him. Missionaries are people who lay down their lives for the sake of extending worship where it isn't. It is difficult and toilsome.
My hope is that we wouldn't do missions to find ourselves. We leave our families and homes and in some cases our safety, to extend the greatest gift we've been given..
Need an thrill? Don't cross an ocean, cross your street -- and invite your Indian neighbor to their favorite restaurant. Need a soul-satisfying experience? Meet Jesus and make disciples.
To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.
"I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation"
- Paul (Romans 15:20)
A story directly from a student dealing with a serious snag.
"My brother moved to East Asia a couple years ago, and it was quite a roller coaster within my family. Both my parent's were supportive Christian parents, but my brother's move was very emotional and came somewhat unexpectedly. Mainly, both my brother and I were setup for a successful career after our academic and personal success in college. Why would we "throw it away"?
Over these past two years through our (my brother and my) obedience to God, both parents have grown in their faith more than I have ever seen! They have began to see God's heart for the world and become much more at peace with my brother and I moving anywhere the Lord calls. They have even began to develop fruitful ministries of their own.
About a year after my brother moved overseas, I graduated and began working full-time with a college ministry, rather than go into the "working world." Both my parents were extremely supportive and did not have any hesitancy about this decision. My brother and I both live on financial support, and rather than being embarrassed, our parents have grown to appreciate and be excited about our work!
Tim** from Indiana writes:
"Stupid question. But I just want to hear a respectable and honorable person answer this question: 'Is it wise for a young man to get a good-paying job in banking/finance immediately after college in order to quickly pay off debt in order to then go where he knows God is ultimately calling him in his pilgrimage on this earth?' Thanks."
It's not a stupid question, Tim. The situation is dealing with debt, and debt can be difficult. I can see wisdom in getting a "good paying job" and quickly paying off debt. But that road can be very tempting as well.
I'm sure no two situations are exactly alike. Guardrails can help us navigate the gray areas. So here's some questions I would wade through if I were in this situation:
1.) What TYPE of debt do I have and is it manageable?
Is this debt from credit cards or college? College debt can be understandable but raising support to cover medical school might be excessively difficult. Likewise, asking people to cover your reckless financial mistakes isn't very responsible either.
Can I raise financial support to cover the debt payment (usually less than $20,000)? Can it be paid off relatively quickly (less than 1 to 2 years)? In the long run, 1-2 years of working a job in the U.S. won't make a huge difference. But the first two years out of college can be very formative to the trajectory of a life and a lifestyle.
2.) How quickly do I want to be overseas?
Will my passion fade if I don't go quickly? Am I a financial steward of money or do I spend frivolously? Are there guardrails I can set up to keep me on my trajectory if I stay?
3.) Where do I want to serve overseas?
Does that country have a business market that can support me financially? Would getting a job in the country/continent I want to go to allow me to live overseas and pay off debt simultaneously? Rural India will most likely not support an American college loan. But Hong Kong could! Could I work as a teacher (tentmaker) in Saudi Arabia/Japan/China while simultaneously paying off debt?
4.) What profession do I want to have overseas?
Do I want to be a full-time evangelist or have a full-time job and share with my coworkers? Learning the ropes of business in the U.S. can help drastically when looking for a job in another country. Sometimes big companies (like P&G, Aramco, Cerner) can allow me to work a job I love in another culture. Or even get the skills to start my own business in another country. But if you want to share the gospel all-day, every-day then raising financial support can free up your time to share with more people.
The clear path isn't cut for everyone. But sitting down with questions like these can really help determine what I see myself doing in the long term -- allowing me to exercise zeal with wisdom. I would never wish debt on anyone, but I would always encourage people -- what would help you get to the mission field and stay there? Then do that!
Got a question? Email me. #holdfast
**Name changed for privacy.