The Commission is Forward Focused

Commission is Forward Focused

 

The Commission is Forward Focused

 

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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 28:18-20

 

Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.  Though the world may deny this, it remains true.  He said it.  There is coming a day when all creatures will confess Jesus to be Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).   No matter the position a person may hold on this earth, it is below the authority of the King of kings.  Jesus alone has all authority.  When He works through His people, it is His work.  When He is pleased to add to His churches, it is His saving power.  When missionaries are sent forth, it is His authority which sends them.  The Lord said to Isaiah, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

 

Having all authority, Jesus looked at His infant church and said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  Though they had baptism which began with John, they were to go forward.  Though they had sat at the feet of Jesus, they were to go.  Though they had seen the risen Christ with their own eyes, they were to go.  Without a doubt, the things which they had seen were to drive them.  The things which they were taught were to be relayed to those they were sent to.  But, clearly the focus of the Commission was to take the things they had been taught forward to the ends of the earth.  At best a failure to go calls the faithfulness of any group into question.  If we don’t show up at our secular job, we can expect to be fired.  If we aren’t taking forth our marching orders as a congregation, we have little reason to call ourselves a church of the Lord Jesus Who gave these instructions. 

 

We are to go in order that we might “make disciples of all nations.”  Unquestionably, this is the duty of every church and every church member.  Multitudes are dying in their sins around us.  The communities in which churches are planted are full of those which are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1).  We have been entrusted with the soul saving message of the Gospel (Romans 1:16).  Oh that our passion for lost souls would get us into the highways and byways of our communities.  “Go”, He said.  Let us be reminded that merely showing up for church 3 times a week (or less) is not fulfilling so much as the first part of the Great Commission.  We must ever be zealous to “Go”!

 

Perhaps for just a moment we should remember one of the major problems that led the Pharisees down the wrong path.  They declared their authority to be greater than Jesus’ when they said, “We have Abraham as our father” (Matthew 3:9a).  Note Jesus’ response to them – “…God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham”(Matthew 3:9b).  What was their focus?  Cleary, their focus was history.  They declared, “we are accepted because of our pedigree” or “we have the history to prove we are God’s children”.  Now, certainly they did have a lineage all the way back to Abraham.  This was not questionable.  However, this history had nothing to do with their present rejection of their Messiah.  And, it certainly did not trump it!  They focused on the past.  Jesus focused on the future. 

 

Let nobody misunderstand.  I do not mean to imply in any way that the past is unimportant.  Certainly, it is.  Even our ordinances point to the past.  Baptism points back in time to the resurrection of Jesus.  The Lord’s Supper clearly points back in time to the death of our Lord.  The message of the Gospel points back to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  These blessed truths drive us…forward.  You cannot drive a car while focusing on what’s behind you.  The occasional glance is certainly beneficial as you may be getting rear-ended.  However, the focus of good driver will be what is ahead of him. 

 

Perhaps Paul, having been a Pharisee, knew the dangers of focusing on the past.  To the Philippian saints he said, Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.   Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained”(Philippians 3:12-16). 

 

Paul was forward focused.  It was important to forget “what lies behind”.  This is not to say completely forget it in every sense of the word.  However, he is saying don’t let it become your focus.  Don’t become obsessed with it.  How often does a church speak of the “glory years” when things “used to be” so much better than they are today?  How often I have heard people say, “I remember when this church building used to be full”.  Perhaps we should ask why it isn’t today.  Is it because God isn’t saving people?  Certainly, that is not the case.  I do not doubt there are many false professions today.  However, not all are.  Has God “from these stones raise[d] up children for Abraham”?  Do we take any of the blame when our churches are dying?  If we aren’t “making disciples” in our communities, we are directly to blame. 

 

We must “press on toward the goal”.  Again, Paul was forward focused.  And, he said if we are “mature” we will be as well.  A church that is focused on the past is a church that is soon to die.  The lifeline of a church is the Great Commission.  If this generation doesn’t “make disciples”, this generation can expect no fruit since they have not labored.  If this generation doesn’t “make disciples”, it will be the generation that closes the doors of the church.

 

Several times our service is likened to a race.  Paul told the Corinthian saints, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it”(1 Corinthians 9:24).  Similarly, the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).  As he neared death, Paul said of himself, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).  This repetitive use of a race should give us some bit of pause.  There is much to learn here.

 

My wife and I recently ran a half marathon.  Much training went into it.  We spent months in preparation of it.  For those that do not know, a half marathon is 13.1 miles.  Even an avid runner cannot just go run 13.1 miles.  It takes a lot of dedication to build up to that distance.  We had participated in a numbers of shorter runs (5K, 8K and 10K).  In these, we were generally able to keep a rather fast pace for the entire run even if we slowed a bit near the end.  However, a half marathon is much longer than any of these.  We had to learn to watch the clock and our pace.  We had to stay hydrated.  We even had to learn to eat carbs during the run (a thing I couldn’t imagine).  I say all that to say this – a half marathon is not a sprint.  You must focus long term and train accordingly.  You must stay steady.  You must focus on the end, not on the immediate moment.

 

The life of a church is much this way.  Some churches choose to sprint immediately when they are formed.  This may lead to immediate growth.  However, it may or may not be the kind of growth you want.  If a church employs unscriptural means to reach their community, they may take on dead weight rather than adding disciples.  The Gospel must always be the means with which we reach our communities.  This may be relayed through various mediums to different groups in the community.  But the message never changes.  Another church may never run at all.  In overreacting to the sprinting church, this church may declare itself faithful because of its lack of running.  However, you cannot finish a race in which you are not a participant.  

 

If we liken the life of a church (and individual members) to a race, we can glean a few important points.  First of all, the church must be dedicated to the goal in front of them.  The making of disciples must be a focal point.  Without a doubt, Jesus could have said many things before He ascended into Heaven.  He clearly felt the most important thing was to give His church her marching orders.  “Go…make disciples”.  Secondly, a church must train to do this.  This involves both corporate and private study around the Word of God.  You cannot make a disciple if you are not one yourself.  “Disciple” in the Greek simply means “learner” or “student” or “follower”.  We must be a follower of Christ to lead others to be followers of Christ.  Thirdly, a church most stay focused on the future.  Nothing in the Great Commission looks back.  “Go…make disciples…baptizing them…teaching them”.  This all looks forward.  This certainly is the only way to run a race. 

 

One of the most startling teachings of Jesus is the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  In this parable, a man left three of his servants in charge of portions of his property while he went on a far journey.  He gave one 5 talents, another 2 talents and the last 1 talent.  These talents were distributed based on each man’s ability (Matthew 25:15).  The first two servants (with 5 and 2 talents respectively) labored and earned their master a 100% return.  They were rewarded accordingly.  However, the final servant didn’t labor.  He hid the talent he was given in the ground.  He seemingly had great confidence in the master for he said, Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed…”(Matthew 25:24).  This servant understood the ability of the master but, oddly, chose not to labor with the talent.  Could not this be likened to a church which had been given instruction but failed to labor in it?  Have we not been given the Gospel to take to every person?  Have we not been told to “make disciples”?  We may believe in the ability of the Master but this doesn’t negate our instructions to “Go”.  We must be forward focused.

 

It should be pointed out that this servant suffered loss for his refusal to work.  “But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?   Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.   For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Matthew 25:26-29).  The master confirms the servant’s confidence in him.  However, he spins it a different way.  The servant had sat on the master’s ability and used it as a reason to hide the talent.  The master, however, says his ability should have encouraged the servant even more to labor with the talent he had been given. 

 

If we, as churches (and members individually), have confidence in the Lord’s ability, let us “Go”.  Church planting should be the desire of every congregation.  It is the forward, positive movement that is instructed in the Great Commission.  If we aren’t following the Lord’s instructions in the Great Commission, we needn’t fool ourselves into believing we are faithful.  We, like the servant in the parable, are “wicked and slothful” if we aren’t laboring in the instructions that Christ has give to His churches.  We are, at best, questioning His authority.  At worst, we are rebellious to it. 

 

Perhaps one may declare the importance in looking back to find proper truth and practice.  Now, if this one means looking back to the example of the early churches and Christ, this is a valid point.  These truths are recorded in God’s Holy Word.  If, however, one means looking back to the previous generations for truths and practice, this can be detrimental.  This approach most always leads a church into traditionalism.  If it’s recorded in the Bible, it’s God-given truth.  If it isn’t, it’s man-made and should never be made to be requirement.  We must ever be mindful of what is a preference and what is a Scriptural declaration.  History would definitely be beneficial if we didn’t have God’s Word.  However, we do have the Bible.  Remember, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”(2 Timothy 3:16-17).  To put it bluntly, we don’t need history to declare doctrinal truths to us.  We have God’s Word.  When we place history at the level of Scripture, we are no better than the adherents to Romanism. 

 

Even in our focus on good doctrine, it is a forward focus.  We study God’s Word so that we may “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  We learn proper theology so that we may better “run” or “go” or “contend”.  So, even in the teaching ministries of our church, we must ever stay focused on the Commission that Jesus gave to His churches.  We must focus on doctrine so we can properly “Go”

 

There are dangers if our focus is primarily on heredity or history.  Perhaps the greatest danger is that we will become complacent with the very instructions Jesus has given us to do.  Frankly, if we aren’t seeking to “make disciples” as we have been ever so plainly commanded to do, what business do we have calling ourselves a church of the Lord Jesus Christ?  If we aren’t going forth, we are in rebellion to the Head of the church and the very command that He has given us to do.  If our focus is merely on the past, then we aren’t focusing on the future.  If we aren’t focusing on the future, then we aren’t running the race.  If we aren’t running the race, we are failing in carrying out the Great Commission.  If we aren’t carrying out the Great Commission, we can expect our churches to die.

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