Every individual believer and every local congregation should live out their walk of faith in intimacy with Jesus, showing love to others, and seeking to encourage others to find the same relationship with Christ that they have. The Four Greats of Missions presents a cyclic progression that models how that can happen in a way that impacts lives near and far.
1. The Great Question
Life is full of questions. In fact, it can be argued that the course of our lives is the result of how we respond when confronted with questions. For example, in 1995 I was asked by my
employer at the time whether or not I wanted to remain at what I was doing by moving to Atlanta or stay in Birmingham in another position. Although not knowing it at the time, had I chose to remain in Birmingham I would not have written this article for TMS Global.
Some questions are more important than others. Some forty years ago I asked Deborah if she would be willing to become my wife. That question was much more important than if I had asked what she had for breakfast that morning. There are other important questions in life such as: What house should we buy? What college should we attend? What line of work should we pursue? But as important as these questions are, they pale in comparison to the one great question.
That question is found in Matthew 16: 13-16. Here Jesus asked the disciples who was it that people were saying that he was. Their response was that some were saying that he was John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others were saying he was Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Then Jesus said, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
That one question is the question of the ages. It is more important than any other question one will ever be asked. As Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola put it in their excellent book Jesus Manifesto, “if we get our ‘you say’ wrong, we get everything wrong, since Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all things.” Peter responded correctly by saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and was commended by Jesus.
2. The Great Commandment
Immediately upon answering the Great Question correctly, one moves to the next great, The Great Commandment, recorded in Matthew 22:34-40. In answering a lawyer’s question as to what was the greatest commandment, Jesus responds, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is discipleship to the max because learning to love God as described is a never-ending quest. The more one learns of Him, the more one knows. And the more one knows, the more one loves Him. This deepening cycle of learning, knowing, and loving leads to a desire to be like Him. As Philippians 3:1-2 says, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
Paul goes on to say that we should look not only to our own interests, but to the interests of others, that we should have the same mindset as Christ, and we should take on the role of a servant (verses 4-7). So, like Jesus, we love our neighbors and that would be people we may not like to be around initially and are culturally different from us. Such was the message of the Good Samaritan parable of Jesus.
3. The Great Commission
It is not enough that followers of Jesus remain in this Great Commandment state of loving God and loving neighbor without adding the third great to their faith journey. Jesus clearly indicates that as a follower of His they must engage in making other disciples. This is the Great Commission and although it is found in all of the Gospels it is most quoted from Matthew 28:18-20. It reads, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘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.’”
So Jesus is saying that His followers are not only to be disciples but are to be disciple-makers. Additionally, there is no place on earth that we should not be willing to go to bring that about. He further gives the promise that He will be with us in power and authority as we go.
In his book, The Senders, Rev. Paul B. Smith provides an analogy of Great Commission work with that of a military campaign. He makes the point that not every soldier is on the front lines of the battle. There are also planners, logisticians, suppliers, financiers, cooks, mechanics, etc. Though not all are on the front lines, all are prepared for battle should an opportunity to engage the enemy present itself. In the same way, not all involved in God’s mission are on the front lines, but every believer is called to find their place in the Great Commission effort and be ready to give an account of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. The stakes are too high and the task is too vast for any believer to sit on the sidelines.
4. The Great Plan
Jesus not only told his followers to go but gave them a plan to do so. It is the Great Plan and it was so important that it was the last thing he told His disciples before ascending into heaven. Acts 1:8 describes this plan this way, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In that brief verse, Jesus gives his followers the impetus for going (the power of the Holy Spirit), the reason for going (to be his witnesses), and the places to go (Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth).
That brings us full circle. His disciples go so that non-disciples may have the opportunity to respond to the Great Question, “Who do you say I am?” in the hopes that they too will become disciples that make other disciples. This is how God has chosen to build His kingdom.
Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of Unfinished magazine. It appears here in an updated form.