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Lesson 3: The Mission of the Church (Matthew 28:19-20; 22:37-40)

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April 23, 2017

A grocery store owner in England decided that he had to ban customers from coming into his store. He said that he was forced to take such drastic action because of people’s bad manners. First, he banned smoking, then crude language, baby strollers, pets, and finally, customers themselves. Shoppers must now look through the window, spot the items they want, and then ring a bell to be served through a small hatch in the door. The owner admitted, “I have lost business, but I cannot say how much. But I am a man of principles, and I stand by my decision!” (FlagLive [June 4-10, 1998.) That storekeeper had lost sight of his mission!

While that story is ridiculous, it’s easy as a church to lose sight of our mission. If they’re not careful, churches begin to accumulate various programs, many of which were legitimate when they started. But over time, those running the programs forget the church’s mission and drift off course. Pretty soon, the church becomes cluttered with cherished programs that keep everyone busy, but don’t help work toward to the church’s mission (see Simple Church [Broadman & Holman], by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.) We’re doing many good things, but we’ve forgotten the main thing. So it’s important to answer and then keep coming back to the question, “What is the church’s mission?” In a nutshell:

The church’s mission is to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel to the lost and making Christlike disciples who make Christlike disciples.

There are other ways to say it. J. I. Packer (Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs [Tyndale], p. 194, cited by Joshua Harris, Dug Down Deep [Multnomah], p. 207) wrote: “The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing.” Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (What is the Mission of the Church? [Crossway], pp. 62, 241) argue that the mission of the church is the Great Commission. They elaborate (italics theirs), “The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”

Our church’s vision statement (see fcfonline.org) is built around the two great commandments and the Great Commission: “At Flagstaff Christian Fellowship we aim to build a community of joyful believers in Jesus Christ who love God and His Word, love one another, and love those without Christ by bringing them the good news of salvation.” Our mission statement is briefer: “We want to exalt God by helping each person fervently love God and others; and to help make disciples of all people groups.” Thus we have an upward focus: glorify and love God; an inward focus: love one another; and an outward focus: proclaim the gospel. And, the process isn’t complete until the disciples we produce are making other disciples.

1. The church’s mission is to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel to the lost.

To glorify God is to exalt Him or make Him look good as He truly is. The gospel (“good news”) is at the heart of glorifying God because God’s sending His own Son to pay the penalty for sinners so that He can offer forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a free gift to all who believe exalts God’s love, grace, holiness, and justice as nothing else can.

So Jesus’ ministry was centered on proclaiming the gospel. Mark 1:14-15 reports, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” And at the very end of His ministry, just before He ascended, the risen Lord Jesus entrusted His followers with the Great Commission. The four Gospels plus the Book of Acts have different versions of this commission, showing that Jesus repeated it for emphasis in various forms:

Matt. 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Mark 16:15 (in the textually disputed longer ending): “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Luke 24:46-48: “And He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

John 20:21: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’”

Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

The gospel was also the foundation of Paul’s ministry. Hoping to visit the church in Rome, he wrote (Rom. 1:15-16): “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” He reminded the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:1-4):

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures ….

Also, Paul emphasized the centrality of the gospel in founding the church in Thessalonica:

1 Thess. 2:2: “but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.”

1 Thess. 2:8: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

1 Thess. 2:9: “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

In this message, I can only make three observations about our mission of proclaiming the gospel:

A. We glorify God by proclaiming His gospel with verbal clarity.

In a somewhat surprising prayer request, given toward the end of Paul’s ministry, he wrote (Col. 4:3-4): “… praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” In Ephesians (6:19-20), written around the same time, he asks for prayer that he would be bold in making the gospel known. I wouldn’t have thought that Paul needed prayer for gospel clarity or boldness, but he felt that he did! And if Paul needed clarity and boldness, how much more do we!

Satan, the master deceiver, has always tried to muddy the water when it comes to the gospel. In Galatia, the Judaizers believed that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, but they tacked on a “small” addition: you also must be circumcised and keep the Jewish ceremonial laws. But Paul strongly labeled this a different gospel which is not a gospel at all and called down God’s condemnation on these false teachers (Gal. 1:6-9)! All through the New Testament, right up to the churches in Revelation 2 & 3, we see that many forms of false teaching had already infected the early church. The infection has continued down through church history.

In our day, there are multiple errors concerning the gospel. Many who profess to follow Christ, as well as most of the cults, muddy the gospel as the Judaizers did by adding human merits or good works to faith in Christ as the requirement for salvation. The “prosperity gospel” appeals to greed and selfishness by falsely promising a life of health and wealth if you believe in Jesus. Others sell the gospel as a spiritual form of self-help: “Would you like a happy life, a happy family, and personal success? Come to Jesus!” Another movement falsely tells people that you can receive Jesus as Savior and be assured of heaven even if you continue to live in your sins with no repentance. And, the church has always been plagued by various forms of legalism, which make salvation contingent on keeping certain rules that the Bible does not command.

So we must be clear on the gospel and make that vital message clear to those whom Satan has blinded. The gospel is the message of salvation from God’s eternal judgment: We all have sinned and deserve His judgment (John 3:18, 36; Rom. 3:23). Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, died in the place of sinners, bearing the penalty we deserve (John 1:29; 3:14-17; Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). God justifies (“declares righteous”) and freely gives eternal life to every sinner who repents and believes in Jesus (John 3:16; Acts 11:18; Rom. 3:24; 4:4-5; Gal. 3:7-9).

B. We glorify God by proclaiming His gospel to all people.

The Great Commission extends to the whole world because Jesus is the Savior of the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 4:42). Jesus purchased for God with His blood those “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). They will glorify God before His throne forever and ever (Rev. 7:9-12)! So the church should be committed to the cause of world missions. John Piper (Let the Nations Be Glad [Baker Academic], p. 9), cites John Stott, who says that the highest motive for missions is not obedience to the Great Commission nor even love for sinners. Rather, it is passionate zeal for the glory of God. Thus Piper (p. 17) adds, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”

C. We glorify God by verbally proclaiming His gospel backed up by Christlike love to all people.

This is to say that our Christlike lives are the foundation for our verbal witness. Jesus said that people will know that we are His disciples if we love one another even as He loved us (John 13:34-35). Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he imparted to them not only the gospel, but also his own life. He goes on to remind them of his godly behavior that backed up his gospel witness (1 Thess. 2:8-11). The enemy has repeatedly used the hypocrisy of those who profess to be Christians, but live just as the world lives, to undermine the gospel message.

When we talk about love for people, the question comes up, “What about social ministries? Isn’t the church called to help meet the physical needs of the poor?” (DeYoung and Gilbert deal extensively with this in What is the Mission of the Church? See especially chapters 6-8.) While obviously we would not be loving our neighbor to proclaim the gospel to him and leave him starving, at the same time, it would not be loving to feed him without proclaiming the gospel. In other words, meeting social needs may be a means to evangelism, but meeting social needs alone is not evangelism (Mark Dever, The Church: the Gospel Made Visible [Broadman & Holman], p. 82). Evangelism is telling people the good news about Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation that He alone offers.

DeYoung and Gilbert (p. 242) explain why we must focus on the gospel: “In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing.” The “something worse than death” is to spend eternity in hell (Luke 12:4-5). The “something better than human flourishing” is to spend eternity in the presence of God, enjoying His eternal pleasures and the riches of His grace (Ps. 16:11; Eph. 2:8).

But, there is more to our mission than just getting people “in the door” of salvation:

2. The church’s mission is to glorify God by making Christlike disciples who love God and one another.

The Great Commission task is not just to make converts, but to make disciples—obedient followers of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20). Their baptism is an initial act of obedience to Him that signifies being identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). It pictures death to our old life and being raised up to walk in newness of life. Also, we are to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded. This is a lifelong process of learning and growth, of course. But if a person professes to know Jesus as Savior, but he is not seeking to grow in obedience to Jesus’ commands, his profession is shaky, at best.

But perhaps you wonder, “What are Jesus’ commands?” There are dozens of commands in the Bible. Where do you start? When can you say, “I’m now a disciple because I obey Jesus’ commands?” Jesus summed up all of the 613 commandments of the Law into two, which He said were the greatest (Matt. 22:37-40):

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

A. Christlike disciples love God above all else.

This is a lifelong process that is never perfect in this life. But when we trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, we begin to love Him and love the Father who sent Him for our salvation. We seek to please Him as His beloved children (Eph. 5:1-2). This growing love for God also involves hating the sin that put our Savior on the cross (Eph. 5:3-14). As Psalm 97:10a exhorts, “Hate evil, you who love the Lord.” Jesus even said that His disciples must hate their own families and their own lives in comparison to their love for Him (Luke 14:26-27). Love for God must be first. Again, this is our growing direction, not a matter of perfection.

Love for God also includes worshiping Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Anglican archbishop William Temple gave this eloquent definition of worship: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.” John MacArthur defines worship (The Ultimate Priority [Moody Press], p. 127): “Worship is our innermost being responding with praise for all that God is, through our attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words, based on the truth of God as He has revealed Himself.” Or, more briefly, MacArthur says (ibid. p. 147): “Worship is all that we are, reacting rightly to all that He is.”

Of course we must be worshiping God individually in private if our corporate gatherings are to be truly worshipful. We aren’t worshiping God “in truth” unless we’re growing both in understanding and applying God’s word of truth.

B. Christlike disciples build up one another in love.

Christlike love for one another is the primary mark of His true disciples (John 13:34-35). As Paul explained (1 Cor. 13), you can have all gifts and all knowledge and great faith, but if you lack love, you are nothing. The first fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22-23). Like love for God, we must grow in love for one another. This means working through relational conflicts and misunderstandings, whether in our homes or at church, with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with and forgiving one another (Col. 3:12-13).

Paul explains how the church is to exercise our God-given gifts to build up one another in love (Eph. 4:11-16):

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

So my aim as a pastor-teacher is to equip you for service so that as you grow up in Christ, you can exercise your gifts one to another, resulting in the growth of the church in love. But, if we’re a loving church, but we’re just inwardly focused, we aren’t becoming Christlike disciples. Jesus summed up His own mission (Luke 19:10): “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Thus …

3. The church’s mission is to glorify God by making Christlike disciples who make Christlike disciples.

If we aren’t making disciples who make disciples, we’re only talking to ourselves. We’d be like doctors who only see patients who are well. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Those repentant sinners go and make disciples of others who repent and believe the gospel. As those repentant sinners become disciples, they make other disciples. In other words, it’s a process of multiplication, where disciples make disciples who make more disciples. Each of us is a product of that process.

Paul put it this way to his disciple Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2): “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” There are four generations of disciples in that verse: Paul, Timothy, the faithful men whom Timothy taught, and those whom these faithful men would teach. So if you came to faith, but you aren’t making other disciples, you’re short-circuiting the process. You’re not functioning as a true disciple unless you’re seeking to make other disciples who will make still other disciples.

This requires getting to know others and imparting to them what you’ve learned and practice in your walk with Christ. And it isn’t a one-way street. When Paul hoped to go to Rome, he said that he wanted to impart some spiritual gift to them, so that they would be established in their faith. But then he quickly added (Rom. 1:12), “that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” So the veteran apostle acknowledged that he would grow through being with them, as well as they would grow through him.

Conclusion

I read (No matter How Thin You Slice it, It’s Still Baloney [Quill], ed. by Jean Arbeiter, p. 31) about a British bus company that received complaints that their drivers were speeding past lines of up to thirty people waiting for the bus. The company defended its drivers, stating, “It is impossible for the drivers to keep their timetable if they have to stop for passengers.” The company also commented, “Get rid of the people and the system runs fine.”

We could say the same thing about the church! But let’s not lose sight of our purpose as a church: “to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel and making Christlike disciples who make Christlike disciples.” To focus on anything else is to get off course.

Application Questions

  1. Must every Christian have as his/her main purpose to help make disciples who make disciples? Support from Scripture.
  2. How can you be more intentional about making disciples?
  3. Do you agree that social ministries must take a back seat to evangelism and discipleship? Support from Scripture
  4. Why would Paul request prayer for clarity in proclaiming the gospel? Can you state the gospel clearly in one minute or less?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)