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The Greater Commission

Sermon_On_The_Mount_Copenhagen (1)

Editorial Note: The views of guest contributors do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Steve Deace Show. By publishing them we deem them worthy of consideration. 

by Rolley Haggard

There is no higher calling of God upon the church and the individual believer than to proclaim the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission. Right?

Wrong.

There is a Greater Commission.

It is generally referred to as the Great Commandment, and it has two parts: To love God supremely, and our neighbor as ourself. When Jesus laid down these two “love commandments” He emphatically declared “there is none other commandment greater than these”.

None.

Not even the Great Commission.

So why is it so many Christians, including first-rate scholars, bristle at the mere suggestion that there is something more important for the church than the Great Commission?

Why is it that, despite vivid, in-your-face, impossible-to-misunderstand, unforgettably-plain statements like the one of Christ just quoted, church leaders and pew-sitters alike take exception to the idea that there might be a “commission” greater than evangelizing the lost?

Volumes could be, and have been, written in answer to that question. Those new to the debate will find the defenses elaborate and perhaps even impressive.

Some, however (present writer included), find them unconvincing instances of religious overthink wholly unable at the end of the day to explain why, for example, America is headed into its 41st (!) year of legalized abortion-on-demand. For if, as these defenders of the status quo maintain, “it is only when the church is doing something other than engaging in social justice missions that it actually shapes members ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God’ (Mic. 6:8)”, then where, pray tell, are all these members that are supposed to have been shaped to do justice and to love kindness? In light of the bold affirmations that keeping the so-called “main thing the main thing” will produce these culture warriors in droves, their actual paucity is nothing less than astonishing.

Clearly, something is seriously wrong with the extant missional formula.

It’s no mystery what that something is. Jesus told us what it is. Paul told us what it is.James told us what it is. John told us what it is. It isn’t complicated: We’ve simply got our priorities reversed. We’ve put ministry ahead of love. We’ve failed to differentiate between the church’s primary mission and its exclusive mission. We’ve put the Great Commission ahead of the Greater.

This isn’t a word game. It isn’t just semantics or some academic exercise that ultimately adds nothing to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, or worse, does positive mischief to it by raising a needless distraction.

It matters and it matters hugely. I would argue that lack of clarity on, and priority to, the church’s Greater Commission is the single most significant factor to account for why we are living in a culture of death today. I would argue that it is the chief reason there has not been more effort by the church to try and end abortion and many other social evils plaguing our world.

Dr. Paul Farmer nailed it when he said, “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

The corollary to Farmer’s brilliant insight is that nothing is more important than people –any people, all people. Nothing, not even evangelism. That’s why Jesus made love for our neighbor our first priority after loving God. Indeed, John the apostle saidwe prove our love for God whom we have not seen precisely by loving our neighbor whom we have seen.

Ideas have consequences. Just as evil inevitably ensues whenever we get the idea that some people are more important than others, so does it when we regard a thing –anything– as more important than people. There is nothing more important than people. If we don’t get that, we really don’t get the whole point of the cross of Jesus.

Yet we, the church, stumble over this daily, globally, when we prioritize the Great Commission ahead of the Greater Commission. We inevitably wind up acting as though human lives matter less than the proclamation of the gospel; that words, doctrines, ideas, campaigns, causes, programs, and ministries are more important than people. It’s a subtle difference, but one that has stunningly profound implications, as 55 million murdered infants could testify – if they could testify.

The church, regardless of intent, in reckoning the Great Commission its first priority, makes the activity of evangelism more important than the people it is evangelizing. An inexpensive tape-recorder could dispense the word if dispensing the word was all that God wanted done. But He wants us to love people. Tape-recorders can’t do that.

There is no question God wants us to dispense His beautiful words of life. But He wants us to do it the way He did. He did not merely speak the word to us, He became the Word in His body. And in that living, breathing, sweating, aching, bleeding body He loved us more than His own comfort, more than His own convenience, more than His own life. That is how God in Christ “proclaimed” the gospel of His saving love. He incarnated it. His word was an incarnate love sonnet written in crimson hemoglobic ink on human vellum. He valued people above all things and gave us salvation’s narrative “not in word only, but in deed and in truth.”

Surely, if we have learned anything from the sorry history of mankind, and, yes, of the church as well, it is this: That when it comes to human sin, what can be will be. If it is possible for us to evangelize without loving people we will do it.

The apostle Paul said it is indeed possible, and what else can we make of our actions since Roe v. Wade? On pretext of delivering “what Christ most wants from His church” we’ve turned a blind eye to the ruthless slaughter of almost 20% of our population while, with infinite irony, spieling on about the love of God like so many soulless tape-recorders.

Jesus deliberately put love above evangelism, purposely gave us a Greater Commission, not only to keep us from valuing things above people, but also, paradoxically, to insure the effectiveness of our evangelism. Remarking on human nature, English Puritan Richard Baxter observed that, “If they can see you love them, you can say anything to them.”

Putting the Greater Commission ahead of the Great Commission as Christ intended is a win/win proposition. Priority really is everything.

* * *The Poem

 Here underneath the parabolic air

The angel chiseled out the oracle

In prolix verse on stone, describing there

The Poet’s anapestic canticle.

No sooner had the wondrous words appeared

Than we mistook for narrative His art,

And thinking He sought only to be feared

We overlooked the passion in His heart.

For not until He came Himself and wrote

In crimson ink the serenade sublime

Did we perceive His true intent or note

How He in love made death and life to rhyme;

And fervent that it no more be obscured

He summed His poem in a single Word.

***************

Rolley Haggard is manager of Information Technology at a software firm in the Southeastern US. He’s also a feature writer for Chuck Colson’s online magazine, BreakPoint. Some of his similarly-themed articles include “We Could End Abortion ‘Overnight’ –If We Really Wanted To” , “Brilliant Darkness: The Rationale by Which Biblical Christianity has Justified 40 Years of Abortion Apathy” , and “Agape Defiled: How the Church has Failed 55 Million Orphans” .



  • Alan

    I get that you are writing about those who want to love in word only, and not by also putting that love into actions.

    But I don’t think it is helpful to pit the “Great Commission” against Mark 12:30-31 as if they are separate things. The highest form of love we can show for our neighbor is to tell them about Jesus–his death in our place to pay the price for sins and his resurrection as proof that payment has been accepted by God. Of course those words need to be surrounded by deeds of love on behalf of the whole person–but the “Great Commission” is not a tack-on that we should do after we love people. Rather, it exists at the very core of what it means to love others.

    • Rolley Haggard

      Hi Alan, thanks for your remarks. You’re by no means the first to
      suggest that I am propounding a false dichotomy.

      But there’s another strikingly analogous dichotomy that is widely accepted: inward vs. outward obedience. Most folks would agree it is possible to obey God, outwardly, without really loving Him; after all, that is what characterized the Pharisees: they tithed mint, dill, and cumin but
      neglected the weightier things of the law, the internal virtues of
      justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 23:23). So the formula,
      proposed by many, that “obedience equals love” has clear
      exceptions. We can have every external appearance of being
      God-pleasing, and yet in the sight of God be like white-washed
      sepulchers full of rotting carcases.

      I think my dichotomy is strongly analogous. Preaching the gospel may
      sound like “the most loving thing we can do”, but it flies in the
      face of what both John and Paul said (1 John 4:20 and 1 Cor 13:1-3,
      respectively), and begs the question, how come, if we really love God
      whom we have NOT seen, we are doing such a horribly poor job loving
      our neighbor whom we HAVE seen? If Bonhoeffer and MLK and others are right, “silence is complicity.” So by our (the church’s)
      tepidity to abortion we not only aren’t loving our pre-born
      neighbors, we are complicit in their murders. That’s not only not
      loving, that’s hating. The apostle John said we’re deceiving
      ourselves to assume, under such circumstances, that we love God. In
      fact, he says we’re lying.

      That said, I nevertheless do agree with you that it should not be an
      either/or, but a both/and proposition. My point, however, is that
      though it SHOULD be both/and, in practice it has proved NOT to be.
      Otherwise we would not be treating “the least of these” (the 55
      million aborted) in a way other than how, ostensibly we would treat
      our Lord Jesus Himself. Christ’s point in Matthew 25 (“In that you
      have not done it unto the least of these you have not done it unto
      Me”, etc) was that if we really love Him we will demonstrate it,
      not merely in words, but in deeds that meet the bodily needs of “the
      least of these”. The church’s unconscionable tepidity over the
      relentless slaughter of innumerable of our little neighbors argues
      with incontestable force that what we really love when we preach the
      gospel is not our neighbor (and therefore –by Christ’s own words–
      not Christ), but something else.

      What that “something else” is will have to be the subject of another
      post. :)

  • Alan

    I get that you are writing about those who want to love in word only, and not by also putting that love into actions.

    But I don’t think it is helpful to pit the “Great Commission” against Mark 12:30-31 as if they are separate things. The highest form of love we can show for our neighbor is to tell them about Jesus–his death in our place to pay the price for sins and his resurrection as proof that payment has been accepted by God. Of course those words need to be surrounded by deeds of love on behalf of the whole person–but the “Great Commission” is not a tack-on that we should do after we love people. Rather, it exists at the very core of what it means to love others.

    • Rolley Haggard

      Hi Alan, thanks for your remarks. You’re by no means the first to
      suggest that I am propounding a false dichotomy.

      But there’s another strikingly analogous dichotomy that is widely accepted: inward vs. outward obedience. Most folks would agree it is possible to obey God, outwardly, without really loving Him; after all, that is what characterized the Pharisees: they tithed mint, dill, and cumin but
      neglected the weightier things of the law, the internal virtues of
      justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 23:23). So the formula,
      proposed by many, that “obedience equals love” has clear
      exceptions. We can have every external appearance of being
      God-pleasing, and yet in the sight of God be like white-washed
      sepulchers full of rotting carcases.

      I think my dichotomy is strongly analogous. Preaching the gospel may
      sound like “the most loving thing we can do”, but it flies in the
      face of what both John and Paul said (1 John 4:20 and 1 Cor 13:1-3,
      respectively), and begs the question, how come, if we really love God
      whom we have NOT seen, we are doing such a horribly poor job loving
      our neighbor whom we HAVE seen? If Bonhoeffer and MLK and others are right, “silence is complicity.” So by our (the church’s)
      tepidity to abortion we not only aren’t loving our pre-born
      neighbors, we are complicit in their murders. That’s not only not
      loving, that’s hating. The apostle John said we’re deceiving
      ourselves to assume, under such circumstances, that we love God. In
      fact, he says we’re lying.

      That said, I nevertheless do agree with you that it should not be an
      either/or, but a both/and proposition. My point, however, is that
      though it SHOULD be both/and, in practice it has proved NOT to be.
      Otherwise we would not be treating “the least of these” (the 55
      million aborted) in a way other than how, ostensibly we would treat
      our Lord Jesus Himself. Christ’s point in Matthew 25 (“In that you
      have not done it unto the least of these you have not done it unto
      Me”, etc) was that if we really love Him we will demonstrate it,
      not merely in words, but in deeds that meet the bodily needs of “the
      least of these”. The church’s unconscionable tepidity over the
      relentless slaughter of innumerable of our little neighbors argues
      with incontestable force that what we really love when we preach the
      gospel is not our neighbor (and therefore –by Christ’s own words–
      not Christ), but something else.

      What that “something else” is will have to be the subject of another
      post. :)

  • joe

    “The corollary to Farmer’s brilliant insight is that nothing is more important than people –any people, all people. Nothing, not even evangelism.”

    Isn’t evangelism about people? Isn’t the reason the Gospel is proclaimed is so that people will have an opportunity to spend eternity in the presence of God.

    You can hammer the church for being weak on abortion, but is that not also true–in cases–for homelessness, mental health care, etc. that are also “life and death” issues.

    It seems like there may be a sense that it is this world that ultimately matters to God. Of course God is concerned with our present state, but what is of utmost importance is our future state. That is why fulfilling the “Great Commission” is the best way to carry out these two “greatest commandments.”

    The Pharisee’s question was not one of information seeking, it was designed to trap Jesus. The religious leaders had stretched the original 10 into a list of more than 500+ commandments for Jewish believers to follow. The response of Jesus helped them to prioritize their lives and faith. Love is to be the foundation. Jesus tells us how to best carry that out in Matthew 28.

    • Rolley Haggard

      Hi, Joe, appreciate the input.

      I submit it is not possible for a Christian to love without also
      evangelizing b/c he/she knows it profits nothing for a neighbor to
      gain the whole world and forfeit their soul. On the other hand, it
      is entirely possible to evangelize without loving. And therein lies
      the problem. That’s exactly what the church has been doing for the
      past 40+ years.

      Exhibit A:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34wAgCfAJAg

      Blessings.

  • Trent whalin

    Is this man deranged? So Jesus contradicted himself, huh? I would have more respect for him if he just came out of the liberal closet. Moderns and late moderns have both set up the false dichotomy between love and evangelism. They say bible scholars and good doctrinal churches have sacrificed love when I have never seen their observations. Rather I have never seen a liberal or an emergent go and feed the homeless other than talk about it on CNN.

  • Trent whalin

    I HOPE TO GOD THE AMERICAN CHURCH GETS ITS FREAKING ACT TOGETHER. THEY HAVE SACRIFICED EVERY DAMN THING IN THE NAME OF RELEVANCE AND HAVE GOTTEN NOTHING IN RETURN. ITS ALWAYS A BLOODY FAD FAD WITH AMERICANS