If you ask the church that I’ve spent most of my life in what their mission is they have a ready answer: preaching the gospel and preparing a people. I can’t speak for your churches, but I imagine many (perhaps even most) of them would also point to some version of what we call The Great Commission as their mission statement.
Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20, WEB)
Is this a commission? yes, it’s “an instruction, command, or duty given to … group of people.” Is it great? since it came from Jesus and involves a responsibility given His disciples, yes. But is it really meant as the defining mission statement for the entire church from Jesus’ resurrection to His return? I’m not so sure.
A Sobering Warning
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the group He spent the most time criticizing and correcting. They professed to follow God’s highest standards but were in reality hypocrites. They did righteous looking things just to get attention (Matt. 23:5). They went to great lengths to convert people only to pervert their faith (Matt. 23:15). They placed too high an emphasis on money received as tithes and offerings (Matt. 23:16-19). They neglected the “weighty matters” of God’s law and instead followed their own traditions. They even turned the temple itself into a marketplace where they exploited people coming to worship God (John 2:14-16).
The scary thing is, these people honestly thought they were the most righteous God-followers out there. That serves as a warning today that church leaders and organizations have to be very careful where they place their focus. And so do we as individual members of Christ’s body.
A Greater “Commission”
We certainly shouldn’t ignore Christ’s instruction to go, disciple, baptize, and teach. But we need to make sure we’re thinking of that command from Matthew 28 in its proper context. Because there are two other commissions that Jesus plainly told us are His greatest commands. Continue reading
I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.
In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.
Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.
Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting. Continue reading
We had a lovely first day of the Feast yesterday. Our little group is live-streaming from Pacific Church of God, and the sermon yesterday was excellent. Mr. Railston’s main theme was using the Feast to make a positive difference in the lives of other people, instead of focusing on “what can I do for me this Feast?” Our focus should be on rejoicing with others and giving them reason to rejoice, not simply making ourselves happy.
There were two scriptures that particularly stood out to me. In a discussion of Matt. 22:35-40, Mr. Railston pointed out that the first great commandment, loving God, could be done in isolation. The second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, must be fulfilled in the presence of other people. And here’s the second scripture:
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. (1 John 3:14)
I’ve studied the subject of love in the Bible often, but I hadn’t thought much about the scripture in 1 John, or about the fact that we need to be around people to love them. It’s not that I really expected to love my brethren as a hermit — I just hadn’t thought of it in those words. I tend toward a more introspective approach to life, and my first reaction is to worry about changing myself and bringing “every thought into submission.” While it is important to be personally working toward perfection, I think my approach should probably be a little closer to C.S. Lewis’s councel to “not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” Sometimes action has to come before we feel like doing something or we think we’re perfectly ready.