Turning the great commandment into the Church’s great commission

I’ve been thinking about how the Christian life has been anchored in what Christians (mostly preachers and scholars) have branded as the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16ff), despite the fact the Scriptures never explicitly or implicitly refer to it in that way. Yet, the Lord Jesus explicitly calls loving God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves the “greatest and most important commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40).

I can’t help but wonder if we should’ve always anchored the Christian life in what Jesus considered “greatest” rather than what preachers branded as “great.” Maybe then we would have never viewed people as projects to fix, problems to solve or prospects to save, but rather as persons to be loved and embraced just as they are.

How different society might look if the Church would have kept first things first. How different people might feel about Christianity if we would’ve considered what the Lord called “greatest and most important” as the “Great Commission.”

As I listen to my friends, who are not Christians, I’m learning that they are weary of words. There are too many politicians on both sides making empty promises. There are too many talking heads on television diagnosing the ills of society with no attempt to prescribe a meaningful cure. There are too many Christians who do not seem to be preaching what we’re practicing.

All of this has led me to ask, what if the Church took the greatest command as our great commission seriously and practically? What if the Church decided to position herself in the world in such a way that others might see the beauty of Christ through the faithful presence of his Holy Spirit filled people call “the Church"?

As I listen to my neighbors, I’ve come to believe that the Church can no longer alienate herself from all that is wrong in society. We must enter into it and display something beautiful. We must display a love that is life-giving and offers peace and hope to a world of racked by fear.

If this is to happen the Church must lay down her anger and replace her defensive posture with the likeness of Christ on the cross–with outstretched arms ready to welcome the weary and hurting and displaced. We must say with our actions that anyone looking for rest, for comfort, for rescue, for security, or to put it another way, a place to call home, can be at home with us because Jesus is Lord.

Our task must no longer be bound up in impassioned attempts to protest the world into a morality, but to project the beauty of God’s passionate love in Jesus Christ by how we embody our beliefs.

Our task can no longer be formed by an understanding that people are projects to fix, problems to solve, or prospects to save, but rather persons to be loved, welcomed and embraced, just as they are. After all, we believe that God loves us just as we are and not as we should be.

Our task must move beyond party-political action, argumentative venting, and to bearing witness to the beautiful presence of Christ among us be enacting gracious hospitality, compassion and self-giving love.

Think about what would happen if we rearranged our lives around a common life committed to the love and life of the beautiful Christ. What if we started with the simple things?

We could make sure that no one in proximity spends a holiday meal alone. We can pay attention to all the single or widowed people around us and make sure they do not celebrate birthdays alone. We can begin seeing the people who greet us in local stores and simply ask them for their name?

What if instead of giving a person living through homelessness money we gave her a meal so we could give her our undivided attention? What if when we made dessert we prepared one more for the single mama living next door or who works in our department?

When we purchase our toiletries we can purchase a little extra so we can give them to those who cannot afford them. Every time we buy a new shirt for ourselves we can commit to either buy an additional one for the clothing bank or chose to give away one we already own (a really nice one, so that someone else could have a nice shirt too).

What if we tipped servers better, especially the ones who give terrible service?

What if when we cut our grass we cut the neighbor’s grass too? What if we hosted a back-to-school party for a neighborhood?

What if we made our homes available to others and extended our tables or adopted a refugee family or committed to help housing a neighbor living through homelessness or spent time with the person who lives in a nursing home?

We may not be able to wield miracles like Christ, like heal the sick or raise the dead to life. We may not be able to draw mega-crowds as we tell life-changing stories that make accessible eternal truths.

But we can love.

We can display the beauty of Christ by how we give of ourselves. As the Church we can organize our life around what Jesus told us was the greatest and most important command. We can make love our great commission.

Perhaps then disciples will be made.

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About the author

Fred is the husband to Alison, father to Ian, a multi-vocational pastor at Williamsburg Christian Church, ethnographer, activist, justice seeker, founder, and president of 3e Restoration Inc. He is also a mission specialist for church renewal with Mission Alive, and an adjunct professor for Regent University. He is currently pursuing a DMin in Contextual Theology at Northern Seminary.

  • Gailyn Van Rheenen

    Fred, this is a great article! Touching. I love its spirit. However, “loving God and loving each other” is the reason Jesus in his final words said “go and make disciples.” The two passage should do not compete for prominence.

    • fliggin

      Thanks Gailyn, I really appreciate you chiming in. Just a gentle pushback to your conclusion. I think the gospels offer a priority rather than binary of prominent and less prominent. There are ‘weightier matters’ of the law, a primal, that should not neglect the others, a secondary (Matt 23:23). To be sure, I am not advocating a false binary with a trajectory toward prominence, rather a gentle nudge that if we really mean to begin from the place of the greatest command, our language must shift. The greatest command is too a commission, one I think Scripture proposes as primal. I believe our articulation needs to change so we can functionally get first things first (love God, love neighbor) before we move on to the second (make disciples). If we fail to do so people will easily move into utilitarian categories (person of peace, prospects to save, problems to solve, projects to fix, etc). I am pushing back against this subtle and often subconscious tendency.

      I can however, appreciate how some can read me for suggesting a binary one-against-the-other, despite my qualifications throughout the piece.