What’s So Great About the Great Commission?

You might suppose that something truly great is also greatly known. Not necessarily.

For some of us the “Great Commission” has always been “great stuff.” It has been an essential component of the gospel and is, in essence, shorthand for how we see the purpose of the Christian Church. We can readily identify or even quote the famous words of the resurrected Jesus:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Did you find yourself completing these phrases in your head even before you finished reading them? If so, apparently you are different from most Christians in America.

A recent Barna survey revealed that a majority of American church-goers are unfamiliar with “the Great Commission.” Fifty-one percent (51%) said that they did not know the term; 25% recognized the phrase but could not remember what it was; only 17% knew both the term and its meaning.

Admittedly, the phrase “Great Commission” is not found in this text, nor anywhere else in the Bible. Jesus is not the one who suggested this title. In fact, the phrase does not appear until late in Christian history. Some scholars say that Baron Justinian von Welz, a 17th-century Lutheran, coined the term, but it was Hudson Taylor and other global workers of the 18th and 19th centuries who especially began to use the concept to inspire others to commit themselves to the work of taking the gospel to all the world.

Perhaps the word “commission” isn’t so readily understood today. We may do better to speak of the Christian’s mandate, or cause, or purpose. Whatever we might call it, however, this is certain: it is great! And we, like Hudson Taylor, must make it known! We also want to inspire others to consider just how great it is, and what role God might have for them in fulfilling it. But first we must ask ourselves: Perhaps the Great Commission is no longer so greatly known, but among those of us who do know it, how greatly is it lived out? How greatly is it influencing our lives?

These words of Jesus had a GREAT IMPACT on the lives of the first disciples. When Jesus first called them to follow him, and told them that he would make them “fishers of men,” they hadn’t even begun to realize how much their lives would really change. After Christ’s resurrection and ascension, when they finally went from “fishin’” to “commissioned,” it meant that they literally laid down their lives for the cause of the gospel. Theirs was a ministry of GREAT POWER because all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to their Master Jesus. Theirs was a GREAT MESSAGE because they taught others to obey everything that Christ had commanded. Their mission was uniquely one of GREAT INCLUSIVENESS and GREAT NECESSITY, for Jesus ordained that disciples were to be made of all nations! Finally, this almost unthinkable enterprise was fueled by a GREAT PROMISE wherein Jesus, who died and rose again for all humankind, assured them that he would be with them always. Many generations of Christ’s disciples followed in their footsteps, understanding that saving lives and changing the world in the name of the one true and Triune God was the GREATEST of causes to live for. Indeed, it was so great that it was worth dying for.

Friend, I want to encourage you to consider how you might more fully embrace the greatness of the Great Commission! Jesus wants you to know and rejoice that he has saved you for all eternity, but also to believe and appreciate that he likewise has commissioned you for his worldwide plan. What difference might that make in your life?

In the World Mission Prayer League we believe that the Great Commission is so very great that it encompasses our lives completely. We desire to submit our lives entirely to this proposition, that our greatest purpose – our raison d’être – is none other than the cause of Christ, that all nations would be made his disciples and thus know his love and salvation. Consequently, our daily thoughts and actions are to be guided by this highest of callings. Over the years, members and workers of the Prayer League have referred to this as “commissioned living.” With the truths of Scripture and inspiration from the WMPL Handbook and other documents, we have fashioned a statement that describes more fully our shared commitment to “commissioned living.” You will find it here. Please read it! In coming months, you will find in each issue of Together in Prayer a brief devotional Bible study that will lead you to reflect on one of the aspects of “commissioned living” as outlined in our commitment statement. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will lead you in these studies to know just how great the Great Commission is, and how worthy it is of your commitment.

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