Contrary to popular belief in Christendom, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20) isn’t our Lord’s greatest commandment. As laypeople sitting in the pews and listening attentively to the messages from the pulpit, we would get the impression that the Church’s primary job is to execute the Great Commission. It’s an emphasis that appears to override other priorities and particularly what our Lord Himself states as the greatest commandment.
In Matthew 22: 36-40, a smart-aleck Pharisee asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘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.” (cf Mark 12:28–34, Luke 10:27a)
In Jesus’ own words, the greatest commandment is to totally love God. To that He adds a second commandment and places it equal with the first: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” As the next line reveals, everything is dependent on the two. Yet, in Christian life are these two commandments our overriding concerns or do practical matters like running a church or fulfilling ministry objectives take precedence?
It is not that loving others is not preached. It is! However, for many leaders, church building means the Great Commission — evangelism — and it becomes the overriding reason to justify church growth and raising funds. Evangelism is definitely the mission of the Church but the Greatest Commandment is what compels the mission. Without the latter, the former is empty, and just another job.
Leaders do teach the Greatest Commandment but they tend to focus on loving and reaching out to God. Loving and reaching out to others is just touched on or assumed to happen naturally! Well, in some cases that may be true, but in most cases, Christians need to learn how to love our neighbours! When that aspect of the Greatest Commandment is addressed, I believe Christians will be more confident of themselves in reaching out to our neighbours. We will learn how to build meaningful relationships with family, friends, neighbours and workmates based on respect and trust despite differences. In the security of other-respecting relationships, surely it would be easier to share the Gospel and make disciples of all peoples?
The Great Commission is coined by men to describe our Lord’s last command before He ascended to heaven: “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.” (Matt 28: 18-20, cf Mark 16: 15, 16, Luke 24: 44-48)
Those who coined the phrase saw it as our Lord’s last commandment and having the weight of a last will which must be executed. It is the primary motive that has driven more than 2000 years of evangelizing the world. No doubt it is something to be proud of but it also begets the question as to why so many Christians struggle with loving others. It’s not an easy thing to do and emphasizing how to get it right will go a long way in improving the Christian testimony. In turn, that testimony will definitely aid in realizing the Great Commission.
A note from Micah Malaysia:
Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself. Living God’s story shows us that as Christians we are commanded to share the good news, yes, but also to serve society with compassion and justice. Each of us is called to do so in different ways, from writing articles such as these, to volunteering and caring for one another in the communities we are placed in. How can we learn to love our neighbours more?
This article is part of a series written by various authors after a Christian Writing for Advocacy Workshop organised by Micah Global, Malaysian CARE, and CTI in mid-2019.
Gertrude Pereira is a journalist, writer and blogger. She has over 15 years of experience in journalism but currently she writes short stories and blogs on politics and contemporary issues at her blog, www.21stcenturycitizen.com. She can be reached at the same website.
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