In part 1 of this series on the Great Commission, we asked the question, “What is the Great Commission?” Now we answer, “How do we fulfill it?”
The Great Commission:
Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
We have established that the main verb “make disciples” is clarified by the verb “go” and the prepositional phrase “all nations.” So the natural question is, “Does this mean that every Christian must go abroad and make disciples of foreign peoples to fulfill the Great Commission?” I draw my cue from 3 John 5-8:
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
John writes of traveling ministers who visited the recipients’ church. These ministers, apparently, had left their homes to minister “for the sake of the name”; that is, to preach the gospel. More than that, they were ministering to Gentiles, and in order to preserve the reputation of the gospel, they refused to accept financial support from their evangelistic prospects so that they might not be a burden (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9) or be seen as using the gospel message to fill their own pockets (cf. Titus 1:7). In short, these were missionaries. As the Great Commission reminds us, missionaries are those who have “gone out” to deliver the gospel to those who have not heard it. Also, their model of ministry is similar to the missionary model we have today. The vast majority of missionaries I know raise their own support so that they will not be a burden or seen as monetarily opportunistic.
So John gives us a description of missionaries and their ministry. Then he delivers an incredible truth: If we “support people like these”–again, these are missionaries–then we will be “fellow workers of the truth.” This is good news for everyone who does not have a calling at the present time to be a full-time, go-to-all-nations missionary! Going to the nations is not the only way to fulfill Jesus’ commission. You can fulfill your commission by supporting those who go, and God graciously allows you to partake in their ministry that way. In fact, we could put it like this: If you are not at this moment going to the nations, you must support those who do. If you do neither, you are not fulfilling your commission. As John Piper puts it:
So, you have three possibilities in world missions. You can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient. The Bible does not assume that everyone goes. But it does assume that the ones who do not go care about goers and support goers and pray for goers and hold the rope of the goers. (source: Ligonier)
Not everybody is called to go. I think most of the people reading this will be reading this from their home country, the one they grew up in. Most of the people reading this may not feel a calling from the Lord to go–and that’s OK. When Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church at Antioch, Luke says of the leaders of the church, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3, emphasis mine). Scripture does not condemn them for this choice to stay and send. The church has a great need for people who stay, but only if they stay in order to send. William Carey, missionary to India, once said, “I will go down, but remember that you must hold the rope.” Missionaries need people who will pray for them and fund their ministry and in all possible ways, partner with them to provide support.
Jesus insists that everybody fulfill the Great Commission. No one is exempt from that. But in His wisdom and grace, He appoints some to go, and some to send; some to venture out for the sake of the name, and some to support workers like them. These are the only two categories for fulfilling the Great Commission. My hope is that as you grow in a passion for God’s global glory, as you are sanctified in your desire to be obedient to the Lord, you will consider your participation in and fulfillment of your commission. You have been tasked with bringing the gospel to every tribe and language and people and nation! What a joyous task, to make known the name of our Savior! I hope that you will eagerly pursue obedience to the Commission.
You may be wondering, “What are some practical ways for us to support missionaries?” By what means can we be faithful senders? As usual, this post is getting really long, so I’ll provide some practical considerations in the next post.