The Great Commission
What words are the heartbeat of almost any college ministry? “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus gave this command before he ascended into heaven, and it’s also known as the Great Commission. Disciple making is ministry through spiritual multiplication, modeling and imitating the faith and obedience of others, and is God’s chosen method of expanding his kingdom to the ends of the earth. If you’re anything like me , this vision stirs your soul and gives you a real idea on how to make a difference in the world with your life.
And the college campus is one of the single most strategic places to do this gospel work, for a number of reasons. College students are figuring out what they believe for themselves for the first time. They are as available as they will ever be for the rest of their lives. They are looking for a compelling call, something to give their life to. They have their lives in front of them and are positioned to make decisions that will launch them into the world for the sake of the gospel.
While all of this presents an unparalleled opportunity for fruitful ministry, it can also present a great stumbling block.
The Stumbling Block of Ministry
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Why do I bring this up? Because in all the drive and fast-paced chaos of college ministry, enjoying God himself is one of the easiest things to leave behind. We can be sucked into the vortex of ministry idolatry, put our worth in our performance, and forget what drew us to God in the first place. We forget our first love (Revelation 2:4).
It is possible—common, even—to focus on ministry so heavily that we miss God in all of it. We can give years of our lives to sharing the gospel and making disciples, planning events and training new leaders, teaching about grace, and sending students into the world, yet still, we can fail to actually love God. If you are like me, you are prone to forget that God loves you regardless of what you can produce for him.
The Great Commandment
Jesus encountered Pharisees all the time, and they were almost always trying to trap him with their questions. This was the case in Matthew 22, when a Pharisee asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus responds with exactly what they were looking for: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He recounts the shema (Deuteronomy 6:5), a phrase that was imprinted in the Jewish community. To put it simply, when Jesus was asked what the most important aspect of life is, his answer was to love God. But this begs the question, what does it actually look like to love God?
In John 14:21, Jesus says that one way he can tell if someone loves him is whether or not they actually keep his commands. This means one key aspect of loving God is obedience. If we say we love God yet don’t try to live a life that embraces his rule and command, then we fail to really love him. So obedience is a part of loving God. But it would be a big mistake to assume that obedience equals love.
Obedience is a part of love, but love is much more than obedience. Love also involves delight and joy. Someone who loves skiing or snowboarding don’t sacrifice a bunch of time and money to travel to the mountains because it is some sort of weary obligation in their life. They do it because they love it! They find joy in it! We would never believe a person really loves something if they don’t actually enjoy it. Later in John 15:9-11, Jesus goes on to say that he gives his commands so that we would remain in his love, share in his joy, and that our joy would be complete.
Good News for the Weary
If you believe that God only loves you based on your performance, you will not be able to love him as a father. You will see him as a judge, crossing his arms and waiting for you to screw up. But that is not how God presents himself to us through the gospel of grace. He is Father to us first before he is our judge. God has existed in the Trinity before time began, which is a self-giving love relationship. His self-giving love precedes his judgment. As Michael Reeves says in his book, Delighting in the Trinity, “This God’s very self is found in giving, not taking. This God is like a fountain of goodness…His very nature is about going out and sharing of his own fullness, and so that is what he is all about.”
He cares more about your being than your doing. A helpful way to understand this is that God’s being leads to his doing, and his doing leads to our being. However, we can easily make the mistake of skipping straight to action and think that God’s doing leads to our doing. But no, God wants his actions of sacrificial love to transform who you are at the heart first. He transforms our heart, and our new being then leads to our doing.
For example, in Amos 5:21-24, God says he despises the shallow sacrifices and offerings that Israel tried to give him because they lacked true repentance and didn’t have a heart that really beat for Him . The Israelites were concerned about doing all their religious activities, making sacrifices and going to their religious gatherings, but they didn’t care about the type of people they were actually being at the heart level. God tells them instead to “let justice flow like water and righteousness like an unfailing stream.”
God has no interest in programming you to be a robot who complies no matter what. He’s not interested in mere behavior modification. He wants your heart. And when we give ourselves to the idea of discipleship or planting churches or taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, no matter what the context is, we will always run the risk of idolatry, of taking something that is good and making it god.
In his book, Reeves writes, “Made in the image of the God of love, Augustine argued that we are always motivated by love—and that is why Adam and Eve disobeyed God. They sinned because they loved something else more than him.” Their sin, like ours, is not necessarily void of love, but rather it is disordered love. So even if we desire to follow the Great Commission with our lives and make disciples of all nations, we cannot actually obey it without first loving God.
If you want to labor for a lifetime and last in ministry, you must grasp this deeply. Aim your life at loving God above all things. The Great Commandment is something we will take part in for all eternity, while the Great Commission will be completed one day. He doesn’t call us to be a slave, he calls us to be sons and daughters . Jesus calls us to walk with him, not just to live for him. So, to all who are tired, remember that Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart and offers rest for your soul. He calls all who labor to come to him and find transcendent rest in his love for you.
What Should I Do?
We are dependent on God’s grace to actually love him, but you can still take actions that place you in a position to grow your love for God. Place yourself at the foot of the cross and look first at his love for you. That is what stirs our hearts for him—we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Learn to preach the gospel to yourself (Psalm 103). If you want to follow Jesus into battle for a lifetime, you must learn to exalt him over everything.
If you aim your life at mere obedience to the Great Commission, you run the risk of missing the beauty of the gospel and the joy of Christ. But if you aim your life at the Great Commandment, you aim at the very heart of God, the source of transformation. And in an overflow of love for God and others, your obedience to the Great Commission will be a byproduct of that love. That is the only way any of us will still be in the fields of harvest when we’re old and gray. And that is my prayer for us all.