This column may not be as controversial as the headline. In this issue of The Courier, we are focusing on “The State of the Church.” Our culture is rapidly becoming more secularized, and churches are not impacting the culture or reaching the percentage of people we once did. Some local churches are vibrant, but most are plateaued or declining — at least in terms of membership and attendance. The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a report from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, as did the South Carolina Baptist Convention from a similarly named task force.
The Great Commission is not the main thing, the only thing, or everything. It is an important, essential, and powerful commission for reaching the world with the gospel and discipling those who believe. However, it may not be the right place to start. The Great Commission must rest on the solid foundation of Jesus and the Great Commandment He gave us. Our purpose as followers of Jesus Christ is to glorify His name in everything we do. We are called to live with a comprehensive foundation of love — love that is rightly understood, married to truth, and active in living out the principles of Scripture.
In Matthew 22, a scholar in the Law asked Jesus which was the great commandment in the Law, or, as some translate it, what is the nature of the great commandment. Our Lord replied in verses 37-40, “And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
After hearing the Great Commandment and the second-greatest, “Love your neighbor,” a scholar of the Law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the good Samaritan. Our neighbor is whoever God puts into the path of our life whose needs we can help meet. It is profound and yet simple: Love God with all our hearts, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Great Commandment is foundational to our lifestyle as Christians. The Great Commission grows from that foundation. All other commandments are summed up in these two. It is possible to focus on the Great Commission to the exclusion of the foundation that makes the Great Commission actually work.
In the days of the preacher-theologian G. Campbell Morgan, he observed that plenty of people attended church services yet did not love God. As with anything else in the Christian life, if we try to carry out any directive of Scripture without the motivation of genuine love, which comes from God, our efforts will fail to achieve God’s intended design. Morgan wrote, “[God] can be loved only as He is known. He can be known only as He is obeyed.” In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” Two verses later, He said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” Obedience to the Word of God is at the core of what it means to love God. When we truly love God, we will obey His truth — including the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is vital. Today, we seem to be failing at carrying out that important commission. Could it be that we have failed to fully obey the Great Commandment upon which the Great Commission rests? None of us can claim perfection. That is not the question. Do we imperfect Christians love God and love that person who enters our circle of life?
There are so many facets to the modern church. Diversity among Southern Baptist churches is greater than it’s ever been. We need each other. We need to disciple people all over the world. Most of all, we need to love God. The Great Commission is not the main thing, but it will be obeyed because of the main thing: love for God and for people!