The Commission Jesus gave to His first disciples was carried out by them and by their converts after them. From generation to generation as believers took the Commission mandate and made it their own, Christianity flourished and grew. As it was in their day, so must it become in ours.
Personally and Corporately. For the most part, contemporary Christianity has turned the Commission into an almost exclusively corporate mandate. For the most part, church members do not engage in the great commission at a personal level but rather by contributing resources so that the corporate body can send out a “Great Commission Expert” (missionary) to do it for them. However, this is a far cry from what the Lord intended when He issued the Commission. These men were to take the message personally and to individually participate in making disciples. So must all believers in any age. It is certainly true that the corporate body of Christ and its local expressions must engage in taking the gospel to the nations. Certainly missionary support is a worthy and essential component of this strategy. However, unless the individual members of each local body are actively engaged in personally participating in Great Commission work, the missions program of such churches will languish. Great Commission work does involve nations far away from our own but it starts in our own backyard. No church who takes the great commission seriously can content itself with a missionary board of 30 foreign missionaries but with very few of its members actively and aggressively living out the Great Commission locally. The obligation of the great commission is both personal and corporate in nature. No one is excused. Everyone must report for duty and engage personally in the mission.
Locally and Globally. Not only must the Commission mandate be shouldered personally by each believer, it must take place locally as well as globally. In many churches, the focus of Great Commission work is almost entirely global rather than local. That may not have been the case in the days of Hudson Taylor and Jonathan Goforth but it certainly seems to be the case in our day. Many churches will mobilize energy, resources, and people to reach far-away people with the gospel. Nor should that be minimized. However, it is not unusual for people to take a short term mission trip to New York or Mexico and come back with wonderful news of the power of the gospel that reached many souls for Christ. Yet those same people rarely if ever take time to share the gospel with people in their home town. Even rarer are the wonderful testimonies of people who were so eager to receive Christ. In other words, it is much easier to reach people with the Gospel in a far away place where they can remain when the week is over. Far more difficult is winning converts at home because those converts require ongoing investment. They bring the baggage of their sinful past to church. In fact, many church members who shout “amen” upon hearing of sinners converted on foreign soil are the first to pull their children out a youth group where sinners are being converted and are now coming to activities. They are overjoyed to hear of churches being started on foreign soil but recoil when newly converted sinners start attending church and sitting next to them in their pew. In past generations, the church needed to be reminded of its obligations to carry out the Great Commission to the far corners of the earth. In our day, the church needs to be reminded that this Commission must start at home!
Had Tiberius Caesar from his palace in Rome been able to see and hear the event which transpired that day in the hills of Galilee, he would probably have roared in derison. But the followers of the One speaking on that mountain would found a movement that in a few short decades would win devoted convertes in Caesars own house! Moreover, the movement they founded would stand undaunted thousands of years after Tiberius’ kingdom lay in ruins. [i]
At the end of the day, we will never fulfill this commission until we have been gripped by its vision, energized by its power, and transformed by its message. Only then will we see again in our day men and women who, like Jonathan Goforth of old, are willing to do the will of God at all cost. And such men and women are the only sort who will be bold enough to go where the Gospel isn’t in order to make disciples of all nations and in so doing, bring many sons to glory!
[i] Illustration adapted from Herschel H. Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew, Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1965, p. 418.