Great Commission Living Is A Way of Life

Sam Horn is the President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and serves on the board of IBMGlobal

 “For almost a year, Gracie lingered.  During those last months she spent as much time in her father’s arms as his work would permit.  Sometimes she lay in her little carriage drawn up beside her father’s desk and at such times all she seemed to crave for was to gaze on the father’s face or slip her little hand in his when free.  The tender love of the parent for his suffering child and her great love for him was extremely touching to those who witnessed it.  The doctor had warned that the end would probably come in convulsions.  The thought of this impending was agony, for both Gertrude and Donald had passed so.  But the good Lord knew all and kept them His promise – “He stayeth His rough wind in the day of the east wind.”  Isa. 27:8.  One evening, the father had gone to rest early as it was his turn to take the vigil at midnight.  Miss Pyke had just come in.  Gracie seemed no worse, only a little restless.  Suddenly, she partly rose and said in a strong commanding tone, “I want my papa.”  Not wishing to disturb the tired-out father, the mother hesitated, when again Gracie said, “Call my papa.  I want my papa.”  Miss Pyke whispered, “You had better call him.  He can walk with her a little, and that will ease her”  (The child was so heavy from dropsy the mother could not lift her).  A few moments later the father had taken his beloved little one in his arms, laying her head gently upon his shoulder as he started to pace the floor.  The mother slipped into the adjoining bedroom and sinking to her knees, cried to the Lord to spare Gracie suffering. . . While the mother was on her knees, Gracie, who had been resting quietly in her father’s arms, suddenly lifted her head and looking straight into her fathers eyes gave him a wonderful, loving smile, closed her eyes, and without a struggle, was gone.”[i]

            Gracie was the third child the Goforth’s buried in the short time they had been in China.  Before their story was done, they would plant two more tiny bodies in cold, dark Chinese soil.  Five children seems an extraordinarily high price to pay for any ministry, much less one that seemed as fruitless as the Goforth’s appeared at the time.  What  could possibly have motivated Jonathan and Rosalind to suffer such devastating loss and count it but a small thing in their service to Christ?  Perhaps the answer lies in the words Jonathan would later inscribed in the flyleaf of his bible.  “In all things seek to know God’s Will and when known obey at any cost.”[ii]

Most certainly, at the forefront of Jonathan Goforths obedience to God’s will, was the final command given by Christ to His disciples shortly before His ascension recorded by Matthew in the final paragraph of his gospel (28:16-20).   The Great Commission is perhaps the most familiar of the Lord’s commands.  It certainly has proved to be one of the most impacting statements ever uttered by the Lord.

In his recent commentary on this passage, Michael Wilkins observed, “The five short verses that comprise this great commission passage are among the most important to establish the ongoing agenda of the church throughout the ages.”[iii]

S. E. Johnson wrote of this passage, “No part of the bible, with the possible exception of the letter to the Romans, has done more to give Christians the vision of a world-wide church.  It has sent them to all nations, bearing the message of salvation through Christ, with which are linked the responsibility and privilege of obeying His Words.”[iv]

What is the Great Commission that Jesus gave?  On the surface, it is a simple command to make disciples from all the nations by initiating into the faith (baptism) and instructing (teaching) people from every nation, tribe, race, and language.   However, is that all the commission has to say to us?  Surely a command that changed the world is worthy of closer examination than what many of us have given.

Certain Biblical texts tend to become associated with particular aspects of the Christian life and once pigeonholed in this way, they are rarely associated with any broader application to life or ministry.   The paragraph in Matthew’s gospel containing the Great Commission has perhaps suffered such a fate.  It is dutifully trotted out when the annual missions conference rolls around.  It is referenced on banners hung on the missions corner and gets dusted off and polished up for use in helping raise the missions budget for the year.  From time to time it makes an appearance in a missionary’s video presentation.  And then, it gets tucked away safely back into our bibles until next year – and other than writing a checks and putting out the missionary prayer reminders, the commission has largely lost its broader impact on contemporary American Evangelical believers.  Was an occasional reminder to foreign missions really all the impact Christ intended His commission have among His followers?  Surely not.

Interestingly, Jonathan Goforth’s commitment to obey this mandate started well in advance of his arrival on Chinese soil.  During his student days at Knox College, he personally engaged in personally taking the gospel to needy souls around the college.  As an example, in one summer he personally visited 960 different homes where he shared the gospel and saw many converted.  This sort of “great commission” living was a way of life for Goforth and it is what made him an effective missionary years later when he arrived in China.  Because we have compartmentalized this mandate and designated as the missions mandate, we have failed to cultivate its design as a personal way of life.  This is perhaps the greatest reason genuine evangelism languishes in the modern church.

[i]Cited in Rosalind Goforth’s biographical sketch of her husband’s ministry in China.  Goforth of China, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: MI, fifth printing 1942, pp. 120-121.  While this was certainly the loss of five children was the most crushing sorrow, it was not by any means the only one.  Twice the Goforth’s lost all their earthly possessions, save their personal bibles, in devastating fires.  More than once, they were both laid low with lengthy bouts of malaria, pneumonia, and a host of other diseases.  They were attacked and beaten on several occasions by angry mobs.  They narrowly escaped death on many occasions.  And if that were not sufficient, at the end of his ministry, Jonathan lost his eyesight due to detached retinas in both eyes.


[ii] This is one of seven rules for daily living made by Jonathan Goforth and inscribed in the flyleaf of his bible.  The full list is as follows:  1) Seek to give much – expect nothing.  2) Put the very best construction on the actions of others.  3) Never let a day pass without at least a quarter of an hour spent in the study of the Bible.  4) Never omit daily morning and evening private prayer and devotion.  5) In all things seek to now God’s will and when known obey at any cost.  6) Seek to cultivate a quiet prayerful spirit.  7.) Seek each day to do or say something to further Christianity among the heathen.  Cited in a letter from his co-worker, Gilies Eadie in an appendix to Goforth of China, p. 356.


[iii]  “Matthew” in The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2204, p. 947.


[iv] Cited by Leon Morris in the text of his commentary on this passage in his work, The Gospel According to Matthew in the Pillar Commenary Series, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 744.