The Great Commission and Our Everyday Relationships
When most Christians hear a reference to Jesus’ post-resurrection command to spread the gospel, known as the Great Commission, we usually think of foreign missions. We hear the first part as if on a loudspeaker: “Go out and make disciples of all nations…” and we think of unreached people groups in jungles or desert plains, children and women being trafficked and abused, or poverty-stricken countries without clean water.
Other Christians may look at the Great Commission and sense the need in their own city: the homeless men and women at the freeway entrances who are begging for some spare change or the countless children in foster care homes who do not understand love, safety, or a sense of home.
Both of these ways of viewing our responsibility and opportunity to take part in the Great Commission are vital, good, and in line with Jesus’ mission for all people to know Him. There is unthinkable evil going on throughout the world as well as within our own zip code, and Christians are called to serve those who are being pushed aside, ridiculed, and unloved by our society as well as the world at large. But is that the full extent of what Jesus meant in the words that make up the Great Commission?
If we only see the Great Commission as a call to foreign missions, a vast percentage of Christians would be excluded from this call. Many of us have full-time jobs and families that are planted in a certain city and do not feel a personal call to live in a different country as missionaries. Likewise, if we see ministry only as a vocation employed by pastors, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers at downtown shelters, we are missing out on each of our individual opportunities to be ministers of God’s message of love right where He has planted us. Each and every Christian has a role in the Great Commission, though it looks different for each person.
Without discounting or begrudging either of the two aforementioned ways to view the Great Commission, I want to highlight a third way to view the Great Commission that was explored in the fantastic book, War of Words by Paul David Tripp. His premise is this: The Great Commission also applies to our everyday relationships with Christians. The “unreached” people that need to hear the gospel are not only people who have never heard or accepted the gospel. They are also the people who are sitting in the church pew right next to you and bear your same last name or are a part of your weekly Bible study groups. They are the cranky neighbor, the gossiping friend, and the notoriously late carpool buddy.
Our families, friends, co-workers, and other people in our close sphere of contact are part of God’s call to proclaiming the gospel, specifically through our talk. Our words can encourage or they can maliciously and strategically break down. There is power in our words. Proverbs 18:21 states that “the tongue has the power of life or death,” and James 3 compares the tongue to a wildfire full of poison. These seem like harsh words, but in my heart of hearts, I know they are true in my own life. Without the redemptive saving power of Jesus, my words cut and break down those I love most. Like a raging wildfire, I leave brokenness and ashes in my wake.
The Great Commission is a lifestyle and when we see it as such, we are less prone to divorce the ministry of proclaiming the gospel from our daily lives. Our normal, everyday lives are meant to be launching pads for bringing reconciliation among Christians and reflecting God’s plan for our communication with one another. Paul David Tripp says, “The Great Commission is not only a call to bring people into the kingdom of light, but also a call to teach them to live as children of light once they are there. When we lose sight of the second half of the Great Commission, we lose sight of its claim over our everyday talk” (p.171). Having what he calls a “second-half of the Great Commission mentality” allows us to lovingly and humbly enter into deep relationships that allows us to correct and instruct each other so that we can point each other to the redemptive love of Jesus.
As a newlywed, this makes me cringe a bit. I want the storybook romance and instead I am daily faced with my sin. Being married is a beautiful mess. I am loved deeply by a man who cherishes me, respects me, and is fully committed to me. And yet, I fail at loving him and sometimes he fails at loving me. When we said our vows to one another, we were each sinners who have been redeemed by Christ, but who are still working through the whole sanctification thing. And being with my husband every day, especially in the not-so-romantic moments makes me realize how far we are from having a perfect love. I am learning that marriage between two people is like a refining fire. It brings out the worst of each person just as the fire a silversmith uses will bring out the worthless dross that masks the priceless silver. But as we engage in a redemptive love for one another, seeking to love each other in a way that reflects Jesus’ gospel love for us, we begin to see His love more clearly and can love each other better and better.
The refining is painful and hard. Whether in marriage, strained relationships with siblings or parents, horrible bosses, jealous friends, or nosy neighbors, it is hard to be vulnerable enough to have conversations that deal with heavy topics that can involve conflict. But when we choose to dive into the hard places and ask God to help us see these relationships as opportunities to proclaim His redemptive, unfailing, gospel love, we all reap the blessings. When we put aside our resentment, bitterness, anger, self-pity, and disappointment and choose to show grace to those who know how to hurt us the deepest, we can take part in the Great Commission in our daily conversations and circumstances. Viewing our relationships with a redemptive, gospel mindset is consistent with Jesus’ mission and call in the Great Commission.
Confrontation and conflict are not easy. I tend to run as far away as I can or deny anything is wrong—even at the expense of my hurt feelings. But avoidance never fixes the rifts in our relationships and often only worsens them. Being fearful of bringing up past hurts or blatant sin in each other’s lives can be heart-wrenching and painful, but God is able to do great things when two people humbly enter into these conversations and seek to speak in love and truth towards one another. He is able to bring repentance and avoid deeper pain that could occur from not dealing with the difficult issues.
I am nowhere near perfect – or even good – at this, but I feel like God desires me to view my relationships, specifically my marriage, in light of the Great Commission. What does this look like? It looks like me praying for wisdom, forgiveness, and humility before I blurt out an accusation. It looks like me holding back my excuses or justification when my husband points out ways I have hurt him or sinned. It looks like repenting of deep-seeded bitterness because I realize the damaging effect it has had on relationships. It looks like my husband forgiving me even though I keep making the same mistakes. It looks like me choosing to put aside a scorecard of who-won-which-argument. It looks like seeing myself as needing my Father God everyday because of my inability to do this on my own, but also being confident of my worth found in being His beloved child rather than beating myself up every time I fail.
The effects of living lives that are focused on the gospel and Great Commission do not only bless our relationships but also those who are around us who are witnessing broken and sinful people loving each other in a way that only is possible through Jesus. It gives others a glimpse of a love that is not perfect, but that is holding on to the Perfect Love of Jesus, and thereby further reflecting the Great Commission. Because “go and make disciples” will sometimes mean traveling to a foreign country or a downtown shelter, but it will always mean going in your current community and allowing the gospel to transform you and those around you into disciples who are daily seeking to make Jesus known to each other and the world. And Jesus, who is with us always (v.20) and has all power and authority (v.18) is able to make this a reality.
A few questions to think about:
What does it mean for you to view the relationships in your life with a redemptive mindset? What are some practical steps in pursuing this for you personally?
Where has fear of conflict caused you to avoid issues, excuse someone’s sin, or sugarcoat how badly they hurt you?
Are there certain relationships in which it is especially hard to think redemption is possible? Do you have people who you can talk to and pray with about those specific relationships?
Elena is a newlywed to a handsome mister, a lover of books, a daydreamer of traveling adventures, and an admirer of all things lovely (like tea, flowers, & hand-written notes). She loves encouraging others towards the beautiful hope found in Jesus, especially through one-on-one conversations and through her blog, Beautiful Hope.