Commission and Commands


I never cease to be amazed by the fact that even after years and years of studying the Bible that I can come back to a very familiar passage and find something that is blindingly obvious, yet I have missed it for years... Perhaps its just that I am stupid, but if I am I believe that I'm not alone...

I had one of those moments earlier in the week looking at Matthew 25, but I have had another this morning with the latter part of Matthew 28... the so-called "Great Commission", beloved of any minister wanting to stir up his congregation to evangelism... It's not something brand new, as I've been turning these ideas around and round for years, but the pieces of the jigsaw just seemed to fit together this morning in an "Aha!" moment... It may be obvious to to you, but pity one of our heavenly Father's slower children...

I was looking at it, partly as a more in depth look at Matthew in the light of my reflection earlier in the week, partly in preparation for an event at church tonight looking at the future direction of the local congregation, and partly in the light of current reading of books by Brian McClaren and Steve Chalke.
In discussions of the "Great Commission" in the context of the (false) dichotomy between evangelism and social engagement, I have often heard others say, or indeed I myself have said, "Don't forget the great commands..." referring to the commandments to love God and love our neighbour, which was central to Jesus' understanding of the Old Testament, according to all 3 synoptic evangelists (see also Luke and Mark). This emphasis was not completely unique to Jesus, indeed was in tune with other contemporary Rabbis. In the Talmud it says:

Once there was a gentile who came before (Rabbi) Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before (Rabbi) Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.” (Shabbat 31a)

In discussions of the Great Commission and Great Commands, however, I have previously missed the fact that whilst Jesus commissions his followers to make disciples of all nations (disciples, mind you, not converts), he goes on to explain how you go about making disciples... ie. "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:20 ANIV)

"Everything I have commanded you..." Not only is there no real dichotomy between evangelism and social engagement, there is no tension between Great Commission and Great Commands, because the latter is implicit in the former... We can't obey the Great Commission without teaching, by word and deed, the commands to love God and love our neighbour...

Everything else, in the words of Hillel, is commentary... so go, and not only learn it, but live it...



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