There is a Greater Commission.
It is generally referred to as the Great Commandment, and it has two parts: To love God supremely, and our neighbor as ourself. When Jesus laid down these two “love commandments” He emphatically declared “there is none other commandment greater than these”.
Not even the Great Commission.
So why is it so many Christians, including first-rate scholars, bristle at the mere suggestion that there is something more important for the church than the Great Commission?
Why is it that, despite vivid, in-your-face, impossible-to-misunderstand, unforgettably-plain statements like the one of Christ just quoted, church leaders and pew-sitters alike take exception to the idea that there might be a “commission” greater than evangelizing the lost?
Volumes could be, and have been, written in answer to that question. Those new to the debate will find the defenses elaborate and perhaps even impressive.
Some, however (present writer included), find them unconvincing instances of religious overthink wholly unable at the end of the day to explain why, for example, America is headed into its 41st (!) year of legalized abortion-on-demand. For if, as these defenders of the status quo maintain, “it is only when the church is doing something other than engaging in social justice missions that it actually shapes members ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God’ (Mic. 6:8)”, then where, pray tell, are all these members that are supposed to have been shaped to do justice and to love kindness? In light of the bold affirmations that keeping the so-called “main thing the main thing” will produce these culture warriors in droves, their actual paucity is nothing less than astonishing.
Clearly, something is seriously wrong with the extant missional formula.
It’s no mystery what that something is. Jesus told us what it is. Paul told us what it is.James told us what it is. John told us what it is. It isn’t complicated: We’ve simply got our priorities reversed. We’ve put ministry ahead of love. We’ve failed to differentiate between the church’s primary mission and its exclusive mission. We’ve put the Great Commission ahead of the Greater.
This isn’t a word game. It isn’t just semantics or some academic exercise that ultimately adds nothing to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, or worse, does positive mischief to it by raising a needless distraction.
It matters and it matters hugely. I would argue that lack of clarity on, and priority to, the church’s Greater Commission is the single most significant factor to account for why we are living in a culture of death today. I would argue that it is the chief reason there has not been more effort by the church to try and end abortion and many other social evils plaguing our world.
The corollary to Farmer’s brilliant insight is that nothing is more important than people –any people, all people. Nothing, not even evangelism. That’s why Jesus made love for our neighbor our first priority after loving God. Indeed, John the apostle said we prove our love for God whom we have not seen precisely by loving our neighbor whom we have seen.
Ideas have consequences. Just as evil inevitably ensues whenever we get the idea that some people are more important than others, so does it when we regard a thing –anything– as more important than people. There is nothing more important than people. If we don’t get that, we really don’t get the whole point of the cross of Jesus.
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Yet we, the church, stumble over this daily, globally, when we prioritize the Great Commission ahead of the Greater Commission. We inevitably wind up acting as though human lives matter less than the proclamation of the gospel; that words, doctrines, ideas, campaigns, causes, programs, and ministries are more important than people. It’s a subtle difference, but one that has stunningly profound implications, as 55 million murdered infants could testify – if they could testify.
The church, regardless of intent, in reckoning the Great Commission its first priority, makes the activity of evangelism more important than the people it is evangelizing. An inexpensive tape-recorder could dispense the word if dispensing the word was all that God wanted done. But He wants us to love people. Tape-recorders can’t do that.
There is no question God wants us to dispense His beautiful words of life. But He wants us to do it the way He did. He did not merely speak the word to us, He became the Word in His body. And in that living, breathing, sweating, aching, bleeding body He loved us more than His own comfort, more than His own convenience, more than His own life. That is how God in Christ “proclaimed” the gospel of His saving love. He incarnated it. His word was an incarnate love sonnet written in crimson hemoglobic ink on human vellum. He valued people above all things and gave us salvation’s narrative “not in word only, but in deed and in truth.”
Surely, if we have learned anything from the sorry history of mankind, and, yes, of the church as well, it is this: That when it comes to human sin, what can be will be. If it is possible for us to evangelize without loving people we will do it.
The apostle Paul said it is indeed possible, and what else can we make of our actions since Roe v. Wade? On pretext of delivering “what Christ most wants from His church” we’ve turned a blind eye to the ruthless slaughter of almost 20% of our population while, with infinite irony, spieling on about the love of God like so many soulless tape-recorders.
Jesus deliberately put love above evangelism, purposely gave us a Greater Commission, not only to keep us from valuing things above people, but also, paradoxically, to insure the effectiveness of our evangelism. Remarking on human nature, English Puritan Richard Baxter observed that, “If they can see you love them, you can say anything to them.”
Putting the Greater Commission ahead of the Great Commission as Christ intended is a win/win proposition. Priority really is everything.
* * *The Poem
Here underneath the parabolic air
The angel chiseled out the oracle
In prolix verse on stone, describing there
The Poet’s anapestic canticle.
No sooner had the wondrous words appeared
Than we mistook for narrative His art,
And thinking He sought only to be feared
We overlooked the passion in His heart.
For not until He came Himself and wrote
In crimson ink the serenade sublime
Did we perceive His true intent or note
How He in love made death and life to rhyme;
And fervent that it no more be obscured
He summed His poem in a single Word.
Rolley Haggard is manager of Information Technology at a software firm in the Southeastern US. He’s also a feature writer for Chuck Colson’s online magazine, BreakPoint. Some of his similarly-themed articles include “We Could End Abortion ‘Overnight’ –If We Really Wanted To” , “Brilliant Darkness: The Rationale by Which Biblical Christianity has Justified 40 Years of Abortion Apathy” , and “Agape Defiled: How the Church has Failed 55 Million Orphans” .