The Heart of the Great Commission

May 19, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Selected Scriptures |

The Heart of the Great Commission | Selected Scriptures
Dr. Steve Coffey | May 19, 2024

Good morning! It is a privilege and a joy to share this weekend with you, a weekend where as a church we stop the rhythms that are normally part of our worship from week to week and give attention to what God is doing around the world. I want to say a personal thank you to you as a church for participating in the work that God is doing through several couples who serve with Christar. Thank you for your prayers for them. Some of you may be daily prayer partners; know that your prayers are an essential part of what God is doing in and through them.

As a church, as you participate in finances as well, we thank you for your generosity to serve the peoples of this world through the people that God has sent out. We are privileged to be partners with you.

I want to mention that there’s a table with some literature out there. I made a threat to Marv Newell and said anything that’s not taken by the people here I’m sending back with him. So if you want to be kind to Marv, take some literature. I have no need to take it back, but if you would like to have some information about what God is doing in and through Christar, we would love for you to take some literature.

I want to begin this morning with a quote from someone who has become one of my favorite authors, Michael Reeves. He writes this:

“Mission is the overflow of love from the enjoyment of divine fellowship. As we partake in the Father’s pleasure in his Son and the Son’s pleasure in his Father, as well as the Spirit’s enlivening of their mutual love, it causes us to share in their love for the world. Thus we become like what we worship.”

I love that.

The mission of Christar, our purpose for existence, is stated in the following way: “The mission of Christar is to glorify God by establishing churches among least-reached Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and other Asians worldwide.”

Now, this morning is not about Christar, but I want you to hear that because it is an important part of a story that I want to tell you. Some years ago, a young couple was following God’s guidance in their lives, and they sensed that God would have them serve in another part of the world, and they were actually going from a number of different organizations, from one to another, and talking with these organizations about what it would look like to potentially serve together. So they set up an appointment to spend time with us in our office, and we had a wonderful time of fellowship and went out to eat a good Mexican meal. It was in the midst of that meal that Dave asked me a question that no one had ever asked me before, and quite frankly, no one has ever asked me since. Here’s that question. He said, “Steve, what does it mean to be a success in Christar?”

Now, I’ve just shared with you the mission statement of Christar. Wouldn’t you think it would be appropriate that my response to him would be, “Dave, to be a success in Christar would be to participate in God’s work among people and see them put their faith in Jesus Christ and gather together as a body of Christ and worship in a local church and grow as a church to a place of maturity, to plant other churches”? That would be, I think, an appropriate response to him.

But that was my response to Dave. My response to Dave and Gloria that day was, “To be a success in Christar is to have a greater love for God, a deeper love for God, when you return from the field than when you left.” Let me say that again. To be a success in Christar is to have a greater and deeper love for God when you come back from that place of service where God has led you than when you left.

The reason I say that—even as a mission leader, you would think that I would be speaking related to the Great Commission, but the Great Commission is not the greatest commandment in Scripture. The greatest commandment in Scripture is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, where it says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall” what? “ the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

So my response to Dave was not so much related to the commission that we have as followers of Christ as much as responding to the command that is for every person to enter into the joy of our great God, in loving him and delighting in him. Such love that God calls us to experience in him is all-encompassing.

I love what Philip Ryken, in his wonderful little book Loving Jesus More, says. He says,

“When the Bible tells us to love God with mind, heart, soul, and strength, it is not telling us to do four different things, but giving us four different ways to do one and the same thing. The point is to love God with everything we have. God calls us to delight in him, to enjoy him.”

Now, if you’re like me and someone says, “Love me,” I kind have a thing of, “Why should I love you?” Maybe I would have the same type of question: why does God want us to love him?

Well, John answers that question in his first epistle (1 John 4:19), where he says four simple words. We love God because—here it is—“[God] first loved us.” John’s words demonstrate that God initiates the process of reconciling mankind with himself. God’s love is active and intentional in restoring a relationship with those he created, a relationship that has been broken by our sin. This is the heart of the gospel!

Now, how many in here have studied another language? I didn’t say you learned it. I’ve studied two languages; I learned one of them and kind of learned another one. Now, learning another language is both joyful and painful.

Let me start with the painful. It’s painful because it’s humiliating, just to say it bluntly. Years ago, when my wife and I were early in our time of serving in France, I was walking to the market one day. It was in our first year of living there. I’m headed to the market to get some groceries, and I’m walking along, and this little boy comes up beside me—probably about seven years old. He was quite the curious little boy. He started asking me some questions, and at one point—I thought I was responding appropriately—he asked me a question and I answered him, and he wasn’t being mean, but you know what he said? He goes, “We don’t talk like that.” Take the knife out. I’m thinking, “I used to know how to talk! Here I’m being corrected by a seven-year-old.” It can be humiliating. There’s a little pain involved in learning another language, but it’s worth it. Why? Because it’s in learning another language that we have the privilege of sharing the treasure of the gospel with someone in their own heart language.

But I would say there’s another reason why learning another language is beautiful and joyful, and that is because of reading the word of God in another language. Now, I’m not going to ask for a raising of hands, but if you were like me, maybe when you read the word of God you get to a certain passage that you’ve read over and over again, and there’s a natural tendency to just read right past it. If you have a Bible like mine, you even have the markings. You know where they are. It’s very natural to just kind of read past and not slow down and listen to the voice of God. I’ve done that far too many times.

The joy of reading in another language is, especially at first, it causes us to have to slow down. We don’t know the language that well, so we have to read a little bit slower. I want to read to you some verses that we read just a few minutes ago as we began the service together, Psalm 67:1-2. I’m going to read them to you in English and then in French, and then I’m going to translate the French back into English, because there’s a beautiful truth in this related to what we’re seeing in Scripture. Psalm 67:1-2:

“God be gracious to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us—
That Your way may be known on the earth,
Your salvation among all nations.”

Here’s how it reads in French.

Que Dieu nous fasse grâce ! |Qu’il nous bénisse !
Qu’il nous regarde |avec bonté,
afin que sur la terre |on reconnaisse |comment tu interviens,
et que chez tous les peuples |on voie comment tu sauves !

Isn’t that beautiful? Any response? It’s beautiful, not because it’s in French—and I admit there are some people who think we’ll speak French in heaven—French is a beautiful language, but here’s what’s beautiful about it. Let me back-translate into English what verse 2 says. It says, “That your way may be known on earth,” in English; in French it’s translated, “So that on the earth we would recognize how you intervene.” Wow. What a beautiful truth!

God did not create us and give us the capacity to choose him—that’s one of the primary ways we glorify him, by choosing him—he did not create us knowing that we had the capacity to choose ourselves instead of him, and having done so leave us to wallow in the mud of our sin and the bondage and results of sin. He intervenes! He enters into the world that he created. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, took on flesh in order to pay the perfect sacrifice. God initiates the process; he first loved us. How could we but respond to him in love? Why love God with everything we have? It’s because he first loved us. That’s the gospel. That is the way of God. We deserve to die. All that we merit through our sin and our selfishness is his eternal punishment. But Jesus Christ entered into this world and gave his life.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ—for by grace are you saved—and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ.”

Know this: God loved us before we were born, and he loves us now. He gave his Son to pay the penalty of our sin, satisfying the righteousness and justice of God and demonstrating his great grace and mercy for those who believe. God loves us when we don’t meet his or other people’s expectations. God loves us when we’re unfaithful. God even loves us when we’re lazy.

This is important: God doesn’t love us any more when we’re successful than when we fail. God’s love is not related to our actions, it is an overflow of who he is. It is his nature. It is his gracious kindness that loves us, period. So we respond in love.

That brings us to the main idea for today. I’ll say it in two different ways. Living the Great Commandment is the essential element of participating in the Great Commission. Or to say it a different way, the most important reason we obey the Great Commission is because we live the Great Commandment.

That has a number of implications. It speaks to why we get involved in the Great Commission, the motivation behind it. It speaks to how we engage the Great Commission. Finally, there are a couple outcomes that flow naturally from this. We want to look at these principles this morning.

(1) First, let’s understand why we engage in the Great Commission. When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, obedience to our Savior’s commands is normal. The Bible is filled with commands and instructions about how to please God. The faith that we profess is manifest in a life that is in alignment with God’s standards. Even with a correct understanding of why we live in obedience to these commands, it is so easy to slip into a mindset of allowing obedience to become the main thing, rather than obedience being a demonstration of our love for God.

Jesus demonstrated his love for God in taking on the form of man and living and giving himself. He communicated his love for his disciples in John 13 as he stooped to serve them. Now, in John 14, Jesus communicates something new. He speaks of his love for his disciples, and he calls them to love him and to manifest that love through obedience. John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:21: “The one who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal himself to him.”

For the follower of Jesus, obedience is not from the perspective of being beaten down and responding to a harsh taskmaster, it is a beautiful response of gratitude.

John wrote of this in his first epistle. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” Well, if his commandments are not burdensome, what are they? Well, the psalmist answered that question hundreds of years before when he wrote that “I delight to do your will, O God; your law is within my heart.”

When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, obeying God is not something that we do out of obligation, it’s what we do out of joy and gratitude and love for our master and Savior.

Jesus’ life exemplified this truth. Consider this testimony. He said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” Then further he says, “But so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded.”

Jesus’ life revealed his love for the Father. His obedience demonstrated his delight in the Father. Responding favorably to the commands of Jesus is normal if he is the one that I treasure. The one I love is the one I obey.

I love this quote from John Piper, when he said, “Loving God means admiring and valuing and treasuring and desiring him with such ardency and authenticity that his will is our delight, and it is not burdensome.”

Why do we respond in obedience to our Savior when he leads us? Because we love him. So when the Father speaks to a doctor about using his skills in South Asia, he obeys out of love. When God leads an educator to invest his or her skills into students in other parts of the world and through that communicate the love of God, he obeys. She obeys out of love. When God touches the heart of a business entrepreneur to begin a business among a people where there is no church, he obeys out of love.

(2) Second, when the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission it informs how we engage in the Great Commission. Knowing that God is a missional God, the Father sent the Son, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. We know that God sends us into the world. And we participate in that. So we see that Jesus is the example. As he was sent by the Father, he tells us, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” He is our model; he is our example for a life of obedience that flows from a love for the Father.

So there are a number of principles that demonstrate how we participate in the Great Commission.

When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, number one, living for myself is no longer my purpose and priority. What is my priority, then? Well, Paul described it this way in his letter to the Corinthians.

“For the love of Christ controls us—” my love for Christ, his love for me. “Having concluded this, that one died for all therefore all died. And he died for all, so that those who live no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose on their behalf.”

When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, my priority in life is not me. It’s being transformed. It’s Christ, who gave himself for me. So my lifestyle is no longer me-focused.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. None of us are perfect. We all live with that choice every single day. All the way back to Adam, every man and woman who’s ever lived in this world has a choice: Live for myself or live for God.

But as God transforms us, that which is my priority is no longer myself. It becomes more and more God and his purposes.

Paul testified to that reality among the elders at Ephesus. He said, “I do not consider my life any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of God’s grace.”

So when the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, there is a transformation that is taking place. Living for myself is less and less my priority.

Jesus, when facing the ultimate test of his love-founded obedience to the Father, went to the cross, and for the joy that was before him, we read in Hebrews 12, endured the cross. Why? Threw as something greater than the pain and the difficulty of his life of obedience, of his sacrifice. It was the joy that was before him; the glory of the Father and the redemption of mankind.

Number two, when the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, it changes our attitude toward the things of this world. Very similar to the first point, it’s not about me, but it’s also not about the stuff of life.

When we first moved to France in 1989, there were a couple of TV shows from the U.S. that were still quite popular in France. One was titled “Dallas.” Anyone remember J.R.? Who shot J.R.? That was a big deal. The other show that people watched a lot was “Knots Landing.” People would ask us, “Why did you leave that big house, the four or five cars, the horses, the pool, the ranch?” I said, “It wasn’t hard, if you don’t have the big house, the horses, the ranch. That wasn’t hard, leaving our mobile home there in Virginia. It wasn’t a big deal.”

But it raised the question, “Why would you leave your family, your friends, go through the humiliation of learning another language? We would respond with the answer that Jesus described in Matthew 13. Jesus described the kingdom of God as being like a man who’s working in a field and he finds a treasure. What does he do? He hides it. He goes and he sells what? Those stock options that didn’t do so well last year? That third or fourth car? “Well, the kids are out of the home; we don’t need them.” That vacation place? What does it say he sold? Everything. He sold all that he had, and he bought that field, and his joy was great.

Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.” The stuff of this world doesn’t compare to the beauty and the glory of God’s kingdom.

There’s a second thing that happens when we engage the Great Commission from the perspective of the Great Commandment. It changes how we not only view the things of this world, but it also changes how we deal with the things of this world in terms of generosity. God has entrusted to every one of us things that we’re responsible for.

Here’s the important point to understand: it’s not an issue of what I have in relationship to what my neighbor has. The question is, what am I doing with what God has entrusted to me? If he’s given me a hundred dollars, how am I using that for his kingdom? If he’s a million dollars? It’s not a question of what my neighbor does or my brother or sister in Christ; it’s what God has entrusted to me. How am I using that for his glory?

I love the illustration found in Mark 14, where this lady comes in and anoints Jesus’ head with this expensive, costly perfume. The passage describes the response of some of the disciples as being indignant of her gift to the Savior. He didn’t condemn her. He told the disciples, “Leave her alone. She is anointing my body and preparing for my burial.” They didn’t know how that would play out, but Jesus made one of the most beautiful statements about her extravagant demonstration of worship. He said, “She has done what she could.”

It’s not that we have all kinds of resources to do great things; it’s a question of, what are we doing with what we have. Can it be said of us that we have done what we could? When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, it will impact our view of the things of this world, and it will impact our generosity with what God has entrusted to us.

(3) Number three—third principle. When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, people notice. Witness is not about duty, but a natural communication of what we live in our relationship with God. In Acts 14 they said, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. They recognized that they had been with Jesus.” That’s what happens when our hearts are for the things of God, when our hearts are attuned in a loving relationship with the master. It’s not about being a witness out of duty, it is being a witness as an overflow of that joy.

All of us have some type of treasure. For my oldest son, his treasure growing up was basketball. He has played a lot of basketball. He still plays basketball, twenty-four years later, in Australia. He plays ball there. In college, friends would ask us, “Does Steven have a girlfriend?” We said, “Yes, he does. She’s kind of round and bouncy. Her name is Wilson Rawlings.” It’s all about that basketball! You don’t have to be around him very long to know that he delights in basketball. It’s an overflow of who he is. Here’s the good news. From being almost idolatrous in his love for basketball, he has grown to love God first and foremost, and basketball is a tool to connect with others. Praise God for that.

Here’s the point: when the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, our witness is not about fulfilling a duty, it’s the natural overflow of a joyful relationship with our Redeemer.

Let me say this quote from Horatio Bonar:

“Nearness to him, intimacy with him, assimilation to his character—these are the elements of a ministry of power. When we can tell our people, ‘We beheld his glory, therefore we speak of it not as a report, as it were, from someone else, but we have seen the King in his beauty,’ how lofty is the position we occupy! Our power in drawing men to Christ springs chiefly from fullness and personal joy in him and the nearness of our personal communion with him.”

Friends, may our witness be a natural demonstration of that which gives us greatest joy, our walk with God.

(4) Number four: When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, there’s a deepening understanding of Jesus’ presence, being loved by God and knowing God. Look at what Jesus said in John 14. “I will love him and reveal myself to him,” and further down, “my Father will love him. We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Friends, one of the most important prayers I pray for our coworkers and our friends increasingly is that they would know the nearness of God, that they would be able to say with the psalmist, “The nearness of God is my good,” that they would recognize his presence and delight and joy of the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

Friends, some of the saddest things that we hear about among our coworkers is when there is loneliness. Sadly, I have to say it’s not only among single workers. When married couples are lonely and they’re experiencing loneliness in their relationship, it’s not clicking well, they’re not nurturing their walk with each other, that’s painful to hear; but I can also tell you that there’s no greater joy than to hear of those who are experiencing the nearness of God. In the midst of pain and suffering, even in trials and tribulation, there is that nearness of God. They know the Spirit of God manifests the presence of the Father and the Son in their lives, and they thrive in the midst of pain because of that nearness.

This is what Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus: “...that you may be able comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with the fullness of God.”

(5) Number five, quickly: When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, there is peace in the face of pain and death.

Paul said (Philippians 4:20), “It is according to my earnest expectation and hope that I would not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness Christ shall, even now as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

He said that from prison! He said that understanding that his life could be coming to an end! How could he say such a thing? Verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In the face of suffering, in the face of death, there was not a fear, there was not an anxiety. There was a peace that surpassed the circumstances that he was in.

In the year 2000, my father called me. We were in France, and he called, and he said, “I have good news and bad news.”

I said, “Let’s start with the bad news.”

He said, “I just came back from the doctor, and he told me that I have terminal cancer. There’s nothing that can be done.”

I said, “Dad, what in the world is the good news?”

He said, “I’m going to see my Savior!”

That afternoon, in our family worship time, I asked the children—all three of them were very young at that time—“Who in our family has a deep love for God’s word?” All three of them, their arms went up. They didn’t have to be asked. All three of them said, “Granddaddy!” That day in our family worship time, we looked at Psalm 119:165, which says, “Those who love your law have great peace; nothing causes them to stumble.”

When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, even in the face of suffering and even death, there is a peace that surpasses the understanding of this world.

(6) I’ll skip over the sixth principle of how the Great Commission is manifest, only to say, when the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission discipleship begins in the home. When we respond to loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength, we recognize that the priority of discipleship starts inside of the walls where no one else sees us—living out discipleship, modeling the way, teaching it formally and informally, learning to love God together as a family.

(7) When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, we can expect that there will be a couple outcomes. I want to share two of them with you, among others.

The first one is that our obedience to our Redeemer may cause some to think that we do not love our families. Jesus said in Matthew 10, “The one who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me. The one who loves son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

This is interesting. God tells us to honor our mother and father. That is a command to obey. But Jesus calls us to love him more. Loving family members, especially parents, was one of the highest responsibilities in Judaism. The only one who could rightfully demand greater love was God himself. And when we love God in such a way, an outcome is possible that some will interpret that we don’t love our families. It’s not that we don’t love our family, it’s that we love God even more, and we choose him and what he’s guiding us to do, even when it’s not apparent or agreed with by family members.

R.T. France concludes, “Jesus calls us not for an unloving attitude but a willingness to put Jesus first in the concrete situation where the call of Jesus and the family conflicts.” To put him first.

The second outcome: when the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, transformation takes place in the heart. Many of us have quoted Romans 8:28 over and over: “For we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” We interpret that, too often, as being good equals my comfort. Good equals my healing if I’m sick. Good equals my security, my safety. Good equals my fulfillment.

But that’s not what Paul is saying here. Paul says, “God causes all things to work together for good,” and he actually defines what that good is in Romans 8:29. We see that by that connecting word “for”: “for whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God’s will for each one of us today is that we be transformed into the likeness of Christ. That’s his purpose. When the Great Commandment is the heart of the Great Commission, God transforms our lives through that which is painful, through that which is good. Paul said in Romans 2, “Know you not that the goodness of God leads us to repentance?” It’s all a part of that transforming work of God that he guides us to embrace. God’s purpose is that we experience conforming to the life of Christ and embracing that transitioning, not resisting it.

Transformation is central to God’s work in us, and it is central in God’s work in us through the Great Commission.

One of our coworkers one day told me after serving on the field for fifteen years, “Steve, I’m just now coming to the understanding that the reason God brought me here was not first and foremost for what he would do through me—” and God did things through him. He said, “I’m understanding that the reason God brought me here was for what God wanted to do in me.”

Being transformed into the image of Christ means a growing love for the Father. Remember what Jesus said in John 14? “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do everything he has given me to do.” Friends, it goes full circle: Loving God, being transformed to love God.

You know, in a Sunday message on a Sunday focused on the needs of the world and our participation in the Great Commission, it might seem kind of strange that the emphasis of this message is not to encourage you to go. The emphasis of this message is not to encourage you to pray. It’s not to encourage you to give. Those are important things, but the most important aspect of our participation in the Great Commission is to live the Great Commandment.

So my charge to you this morning is to nurture your love for God, to nurture your delight in him. May he be that treasure that Jesus described in Matthew 13 that supersedes everything else this world has to offer. When that is the fact, when we are delighting in God, he leads some of us to go. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” He will put desires in you to participate, to go! Some he will put a desire in your heart to give. To some he will put within your heart to pray. But all of that’s a result of the important part: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let’s pray together.

Dear Father, how deeply we delight in your amazing grace! We, the broken, have experienced your kindness and your mercy. We’ve experienced your goodness. You have given us what we do not deserve. For all eternity we could never do enough to merit your favor, and yet in Christ we’ve experienced it.

Father, my prayer for each person in this room today is that you would be their greatest treasure. I pray that for myself. Protect us from what Brian mentioned at the very beginning, from gospel amnesia—taking for granted the amazing grace of God. May it be a reality in our lives every single day, that as we grow in our delight in God you guide us to participate as you would be pleased to do, for some of us to go, for all of us to pray, for all of us to participate in your kingdom purposes. May you be honored in our response to your leading in our lives. Amen.