Tag Archives: Matthew

Afterword

With the election drawing to a close this week with heightened emotion and intensity for many, we now find ourselves pondering what the future holds from here.  It has oft been observed that this election in particular has been especially polarizing and, in affirmation of this, it has also weighed heavily upon many of our hearts and minds for some time now.  However, as the dust begins to settle, our attention must turn to the matter of how we are going to proceed.  For, though the presidential election is one of the most important events in the United States, which greatly affects and shapes the future course of the nation, it does not negate the numerous other moving parts of our lives.

As Christians, we must not lose sight of the fact that even something as big as the presidential election is ultimately a piece in the bigger picture.  It is a piece that we, as part of the stewardship given to us in our lives, are required to speak to through casting our vote.  Nonetheless, after the election is done, the votes tallied, and speeches made, there will still be evils such as hunger, poverty, corruption, and injustice in our world just as there were before.  Our Adversary, the devil, will still be tirelessly pursuing our spiritual ruin and the spiritual ruin of all humanity.

For these reasons, as we return our focus to our more routine cycles, it is paramount that we remain mindful of the eternal aspects of our temporal lives.  The words of Paul to the church in Colosse are poignant to us following the election:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

-Colossians 3:12-17

Paul’s words provide a gut-check that makes us look at who we are called to be as Christians.  It seems that this last campaign, perhaps more so than those previous, has tended to incline our hearts to hate and wish ill for others depending on who they did or didn’t support.  However, our devotion and obedience to Christ demands that we put off such wickedness and instead give grace and love just as we have received grace and love from Christ.  We are called to support and look out for one another for the greater glory of God, rather than give in to bitterness and hysteria.  This is an admittedly difficult task, given that our political views may not have won the election and that we are faced with sentiments all too eager to stir us to anger and fear whenever we do things like turn on the TV or log on to Facebook.  Sometimes we must take a deep breath and clear our minds of the clutter that so easily accumulates in it and distorts our perceptions.  We must not let fear or resentment govern our lives, for then we and we alone have robbed ourselves of faith, hope, and love.

Life goes on after this election, and so does our goal of living our lives with and for God.  As we move forward in our lives, we must keep our hearts and minds set on what is truly important and not lose sight of the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that, while we were still enemies to Him, we might be reconciled to Him.  Let us then, in keeping with His love, continue, as ever, to aim at and uphold the heart and spirit expressed in the greatest commandments:

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ this is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Advertisements

Waiting

Waiting:  it is perhaps one of the things we like the least but do the most.  Each day, we find ourselves forced to pause while someone or something completes a task.  Perhaps we find it frustrating because we are used to going through life at our own pace and find the imposition of a different pace to be both uncomfortable and irritating.  Or maybe it is because we feel that, as we are waiting, we are being cheated out of our time because we don’t have control over how long we must wait.

As frustrating as we find waiting to be in situations we do not think of as spiritual, it is no surprise that we are similarly irked when we find ourselves forced to wait in our Christian walk.  This may take shape as hitting a spiritual plateau in which we do not feel the same sense of growth that we used to.  We may also encounter waiting as a sense of being distant from God.  Nonetheless, from this handful of examples, we can see that waiting is an inseparable part of our spiritual journey.  It is part of the undulating road that we walk as we seek to draw closer to God.

Waiting, itself, is no novelty in Christianity:  after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were told to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom had to wait until morning for the ditches that had been dug to fill with water (2 Kings 3:20), and we live our lives in anticipation of eternity, just to name a few examples.  Though we are forgiven the moment we repent and turn to Christ, Christianity is not of religion of instant gratification; it is a religion that is founded on relationship, and sometimes that means waiting and remaining faithful.  One of the most poignant examples of waiting on God is the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland by God (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abraham (then called Abram) was told to pack up, leave his home, and go to a land that God would show him.  In many ways, Abraham was being asked to go and wait.  It is one thing to wait while we are secure in the midst of familiar surroundings and quite another to wait while outside of our comfort zone.  Such circumstances bring to mind the question of exactly how we wait:  what do we do when we are waiting on God?

One way we may go about waiting on God is to push our spiritual life to the side.  There doesn’t seem to be much going on there, so why attend to it?  Surely our time is better spent on something else at the moment.  While such a mentality can assist us in becoming better multitaskers, it can also be a detriment to our spiritual growth.  Another way that we might approach waiting is to very simply refuse to do it and give up on our spiritual walk altogether.  After all, is it really worth the time and hassle if we’re just going to have to wait?  This, too, is spiritually unhealthy and cause for us to reconsider where we stand with God (Matthew 13:20-21).

So what are we to do when waiting on God?  Above all else, we must remain faithful.  This means continuing to be diligent in our daily lives:  maintaining our times of devotion and prayer and continuing to live our lives according to Christ’s example.  Our obedience to God and acts of devotion are responses to God’s love for us (1 John 4:17-5:5).  As such, they are not dependent upon immediate feedback because they are based on something far grander in scale.  Love is more than a feeling:  it is obedience, commitment, and selflessness, among other things.  When we love someone, our attitudes and actions towards them ultimately proceed not from temporary feelings (though these may certainly have influence), but from deeper within our hearts, from a deep-seated desire for them to be truly happy.  Love does not consist solely in doting and being doted upon, but also of making hard choices for the betterment of the other party.  This is why, for example, parents discipline their children:  it is not pleasant for any involved, but that discipline teaches the children valuable lessons and is instrumental in their continued healthy development.  When we are waiting on God, we continue to pursue Him and remain faithful, not because it is particularly pleasant at the time or we are trying to earn His love, but because He loves us and we love Him.  Perhaps we wish the answer was more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the matter.  Our response to God’s love persists even when we are not filled with the warm glow of affirmation.

It would be remiss to overlook why God sometimes makes us wait.  As stated earlier, when we love someone, we seek for them to be truly happy.  As God works in us to grow and shape us, sometimes He steps back to allow us to stand on our own.  It is not unlike a child learning to feed itself.  There comes a point when it must learn to convey food to its mouth on its own.  Even though the parents are no longer spoon-feeding it, they don’t love it any less; as a matter of fact, it is because they love it that they put it through the ordeal in the first place.  Likewise, when God asks us to wait on Him, it is because He is teaching us to feed ourselves:  to take what He has given us and be nurtured by it, rather than being spoon-fed.  It helps us to grow and mature spiritually.

When we are waiting on God, despite appearances, we are going through an important process of spiritual maturation.  We learn to show love when we don’t necessarily feel love as we are shaped into the image and likeness of Him who gave the fullest measure of love for those who hated and reviled Him.  Our growth while waiting is not restricted to times when we are waiting on God:  when we wait on others, we can still share the love of God with how we wait.  Are we patient?  Are we kind?  Do we give grace as we have received grace?  As the seed lies seemingly inert in the ground before growing into a fruit-bearing plant, so the times when our spiritual life seems inert eventually grow and bear spiritual fruit.


Sharing Faith

When we think of outreach, evangelism, and the like, we very often come up with thoughts of shiny new programs at church, awkward conversations, or those little track books.  In many cases it seems to be accompanied by a great amount of production and fanfare.  For some, it may raise a note of pride as they reflect on how many people they’ve “led to Christ.”  Others may experience a sense of shame or regret at opportunities missed or avoided.  Indeed, the Great Commission given by Christ Himself speaks to this very topic:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

However, I believe a question we often wrestle with is how we go about doing this:  how we share our faith with others.  When we talk about this topic, we usually end up talking about marketing Christianity.  More to the point, we talk about how to convince people to join church and the result is that our evangelism is more akin to a sales pitch than any sort of witness or sharing of Christ’s message.  It is no accident that Christianity is treated and perceived as merely a club when it is presented as such by Christians themselves.

So what is the alternative?  If not convincing others to become Christians, what are we to do?  To begin, let’s take a moment to consider exactly what it is that makes a Christian a Christian, namely, our relationship with God.  We have accepted God’s free-standing offer of grace and thereby been reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.  Through this reconciliation, our relationship with God becomes one in which, rather than resisting or being indifferent towards His love, we are free to receive and return that love.  Our obedience in following Jesus’ example is an act of love, not an attempt to earn love.  This mechanic of God’s love filling us and being manifested in our attitudes and actions lies at the heart of our lives as Christians.  It is also this love that binds the Church together and makes it what it is:  the body of believers across time and space.  So at both the individual and group level, our relationship with God is what moves and sustains us; it is the beating heart of our faith.  Thus, when we share our faith, the core of what we are sharing is this relationship.

With that in mind, we turn again to the question of how we go about sharing our faith.  The introduction to 1 John provides us with some perspective and guidance:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”

-1 John 1:1-4

John’s aim is that the reader should join in the fellowship of believers, which is the fellowship shared with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit.  He grounds his appeal not on clever arguments or flashy displays, but on the declaration of what he has witnessed.  John and the other Apostles testified to the reality of Christ’s resurrection through their eyewitness accounts and first-hand experience.  Anyone who is a believer has a testimony to give of their experience with God, for we all have witnessed Him working in our lives.

The abstract ideas and concepts utilized in arguments are useful for understanding what we know about our relationship with God.  However, they cannot, of themselves, show God to others.  They can speak to and convince the mind, but they have no power to move the heart.  At best, we can reach a kind of deism through these arguments, choosing to accept that God exists but remaining agnostic about His personal and ongoing involvement with His creation.  In order to share our faith, we must speak from our personal experience with God, declaring what we, ourselves, have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, and what our hands have handled.  In so doing, we let God speak through our lives.

As stated earlier, everyone who is a believer has a testimony to share and a relationship with God from which to draw.  We should be prepared to speak of what we believe and why, but we need not be professional nor even gifted orators to speak from the heart.  Christ does not call upon us to be salespeople or spokespersons, He calls upon us to be witnesses.


The Choice

In many ways, our Christian walk consists primarily of remaining mindful of God.  Put differently, it consists of remaining conscious of our relationship with God throughout the day.  This may take many different forms depending on the situations we find ourselves in.  It may be responding to an opportunity to serve another in a seemingly small way, or resisting the temptation to say something we’re better off not saying, or being willing to see someone in a different light than that of our own presumption, and so on.  This frequently amounts to being conscious of the choice that is regularly placed before us.  So often we respond to life in a reactionary way, especially in the course of our day-to-day activities.  Having a rhythm and routine to life is good and healthy, but it can also prove dangerous if we become passive and complacent in it.

Many times, we find ourselves falling short of the ideals we pursue for no other reason than we are not thinking about them at the time.  Sin sneaks in when we aren’t on the lookout for it.  It isn’t that we are going out of our way to deviate from Christ’s example, it’s more the case that we drift off the path.  Rather than turning opposite the way we want to go, it’s more like following traffic off of the highway without thinking about whether it’s the right exit or not.  The choices that are spiritually harmful to us often stem from sinful habit rather than sinful motive.  The situations that provide us with these choices are typically more subtle than being presented with two options obviously marked as right and wrong.  They tend to be more concerned with things like the type of attitude we maintain throughout the day, what we are going to let our mind linger on, and so forth.

As we ponder this, there is a very real possibility of going to the other extreme and going out of our way to shoehorn everything into a choice format.  The fact is that we don’t need to go out and find choices to make, we simply need to be aware of the choices already before us.

It may help to consider things from a different angle.  Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in which the Old Testament Law is laid out for the Israelites, Moses speaks to the assembly and says the following:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

-Deuteronomy 30:19-20

In short, the Israelites have been plainly told the way to life and the way to death.  Given this knowledge, they are implored to choose the way to life.

Moving closer to home, in the context of the New Testament and New Covenant we are under, Jesus sets down the foundation upon which all of the instruction in the Old Testament hangs.  When asked what the greatest commandment is, Christ replies with the following:

“Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Here, Christ sets down for us the heart of what it means to be obedient to God in simple terms.  As the Way, He shows us what it looks like to follow the Way which leads to life.

Returning to being mindful of the choices that come before us, being conscious of these choices and responding appropriately does not require that we constantly unfold a massive flow chart to identify them and decide what to do.  Nor does it require that we set ourselves on-edge as if we are taking history’s most dire multiple-choice test.  What it calls for is shining a light, plain and simple.  This light is the light of God’s word and by it, we can see to stay on the right path as well as catch anything unsavory that would try to sneak in under the cover of darkness.  One way we may go about it is simply keeping the two greatest commandments in mind as we go about our business.  Is my attitude one that loves God?  By saying x, am I loving my neighbor as myself?  These are some of the questions that sprout from such a mindset.  As they do, they cast light upon the choices we are making and allow us to see more clearly so that we may choose life.


The Grind

Pokémon has been on my mind as of late, with the release of the 7th generation on the horizon and having recently completed a playthrough, myself, on my old blue version cartridge.  It is mind-boggling to reflect on how far the series has come since its initial release in the United States 18 years ago.  At the hazard of seeming old, I recall coming home from school one day to find that a VHS tape had arrived in the mail informing us that a new game called Pokémon was coming to America.  I cannot begin to guess how many hours since then I’ve passed playing it.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the franchise, Pokémon is a game in which you collect, train, and battle creatures called pocket monsters (Pokémon for short).  Along the way you earn badges by defeating the leaders of eight Pokémon gyms, thwart the plans of the nefarious Pokémon gangsters known as Team Rocket, encounter one-of-a-kind legendary Pokémon, and ultimately face off against the most powerful trainers in the land, the Elite Four, in order to claim the title of the Pokémon League Champion.

As might be expected, the more memorable parts of this experience are things like encountering new Pokémon and putting it all on the line in battles against strong trainers.  However, between these portions, there are stretches of time spent making your own Pokémon stronger by repeatedly battling wild Pokémon to gain experience and reach higher levels.  This is easily the most monotonous part of the experience and is often referred to in this and other games with similar mechanics as “grinding.”  Tedious or not, grinding is vital to continued progress through the game:  walking into a gym under-leveled will result in a bad time being had.

In our spiritual lives, as with Pokémon, grinding is a necessary part of our journey.  It is not exciting and it is not glamourous, but it is essential to our continued progress.  Sometimes we get the impression that a successful Christian life consists of transitioning from one glorious mountaintop experience to the next, and anything else means that we aren’t doing something right.  Such a perspective of Christianity, though, is simply incorrect.  Giving our lives to Christ entails a shift in our perspective that changes how we see ourselves, others, and the world.  Accordingly, our faith comes to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the mundane.  For a Christian, even the routine of the daily grind plays a role in our spiritual growth and development.  For it is primarily in this setting that we live out our faith and make good on the proclamations we make during Sunday worship.

Our set times of devotion are also subject to the experience of grinding.  As we navigate the hills and valleys of our spiritual lives, we will inevitably find that, during some periods, reading Scripture is less invigorating than before or that our prayer time seems dry.  However, this does not mean that they are no longer profitable for us to practice.  As a matter of fact, it is at such times that our commitment to spending time with God is of the utmost importance.  Consider the parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9).  In it, Jesus speaks of seed that falls in four different places and the results from each.  One of these places is referred to as “stony” (having little soil) and the seed that falls here springs up quickly because the soil is not deep.  However, these plants are just as quickly scorched by the sun and wither because they have no roots.  Later, Jesus explains the meaning behind the parable of the sower and says the following:

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a little while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

-Matthew 13:20-21

What this gets at is the question of what we do when things are suddenly no longer all sunshine and lollipops.  How deep do our roots go?  Are we in it for the experience or are we committed to something that goes beyond our daily feel-good barometer?

It may not seem like we are accomplishing much when it is all we can do to still sit down to read our Bibles and pray each day.  However, in so doing, we are practicing obedience and patience, among other things.  We are coming to relate to God as being worthy of our devotion, not because of what we get out of it, but because of Who He is.  As we remain faithful, our faith continues to mature and be further grown.  While it may seem pointless and maybe even miserable at the time, when we have the chance to look back with the benefit of hindsight, we can see just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown through that time.

Grinding is a part of our spiritual growth, plain and simple.  There will be times when it will be required of us in order to progress as Christians just as we must put in time grinding in order to progress in Pokémon.  In both cases, we persist in spite of the monotony because we are pursuing something greater.  We keep our eyes set on the goal ahead and keep going so that we may finish well.


Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13


The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged