We often hear about the Great Commission: Go into all the world and preaching the gospel, baptize, and make disciples. This is what we typically associate with “doing missions.” I want to talk today about three commissions God gives in the Bible (there may be more, but there are at least these three). If we are going to serve God by being on mission for Him, I believe we need to take all three into consideration. I will go through them, and then show you how CLG is seeking to be a part of these commissions, with the ultimate focus being on preaching the gospel, baptizing, and making disciples.
The First Commission: Stewardship
“ On the sixth day, humanity was commissioned by God to fill and subdue the earth, and to rule over the creatures (Genesis 1:27). Accordingly, one might justly define the Great Commission as [stewarding] the earth and its creatures.” (“The Great Commission in the Old Testament,” Ligonier Ministries)
Stewarding means, “Take care of it.” If we are to care of plants and animals, how much more the rest of humanity.
The Second Commission: Sanctification
“Israel was brought into covenant fellowship with God at Sinai in order to live as a priestly kingdom and holy nation (Ex. 19:6)—that is, to be a light unto the Gentiles… set apart unto the Lord God for the sake of the nations… Israel needed to be consecrated and sanctified - transformed into the servant of God for the sake of the world - to glorify God before the nations. Psalm 67, one of many psalms calling the Gentiles to praise God, declares plainly that Israel had received mercy and even the priestly blessing so that God’s way would be known on earth, and so that His salvation would encompass the nations.” (“The Great Commission in the Old Testament,” Ligonier Ministries)
A couple examples of how this sanctification would point people toward God:
“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6)
This isn’t yet, “Go!” but it makes clear that the presence of God’s people in the world is supposed to be so full of wisdom and understanding (associated with keeping God’s commands) that the world is amazed.
I am the Eternal One. By righteousness I have called you. I will take you by the hand and keep you safe. You are given as a covenant between Me and the people: a light for the nations, a shining beacon to the world. You will open blind eyes so they will see again. You will lead prisoners, blinking, out from caverns of captivity, from cells pitch black with despair. I am the Eternal One. I Am is My name.(Isaiah 42:6-8)
“Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. …Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.Then your light will shine out from the darkness,and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.( Isaiah 58: 6-10, excerpted)
Before Jesus gave the final commission, he referenced this Old Testament commission:
You are the salt of the earth.But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.”(Matthew 5:12-16)
- The first commission is to everyone: steward the world.
- The second commission is to God’s people: be holy, and be a light. Nations will come to you!
- The final commission is to God’s people once again, but this one is proactive: now you must also go to them.
The Great Commission (NT Style):Proclamation
“Therefore go (and do what?): proclaim the good news - repentance and forgiveness of sins - and make disciples of all nations, (do this how?) baptizingthem in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, andteaching them to obeyeverything I have commanded you…” (Mark 16; Matthew 28; Luke 24)
Now they were making disciples of ALL nations instead of just ONE nation.
…With Great Compassion
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)
We are still called to do all three Commissions:
- First, steward the world (think salt and light in every possible way: the gospel, our lives, culture, politics, social justice - all of it is stewardship).
- Second, embrace sanctification and holiness. The witness of our life and character matters.
- Third, preach the good news of the gospel everywhere we go and make disciples.
“God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation.He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.” (Charles Colson)
If you have been in the church a long time, you are probably used to isolating proclamation when you think of commission, but I believe that’s too small of a vision of our commission to the world. We are on a mission that has multiple parts, all important, all pointing toward Christ. Since this might be a new way of thinking about this, I will offer two more quotes on the commission of service and the commission of justice.
MORE ON THE COMMISSION TO DO BE SERVANTS
“If we take the Bible seriously then justice should be a big deal for us. God does not suggest, He commands that we “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed” (Jer. 22:3). Jesus declared his mission to “proclaim good news to the poor… liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isa. 61:1, 2). “Seek justice” (Isa. 1:17) is a clarion call of Scripture, and those who box their ears to that call are simply not living by the Book.” - Thaddeus Williams
MORE ON THE COMMISSION TO DO JUSTICE
“We see it as a matter of the church rolling up its sleeves and becoming the hands and feet of Jesus. As Christians, we have a responsibility to redress those social factors that conspire to keep entire segments of our population mired in hopelessness and despair. What's more, we need to approach this task primarily from a relational perspective. As we understand it, "social justice" means nothing more than "doing right by one's neighbor." As you know, that's an idea that figures significantly in the words of Jesus.” Focus On The Family