“Which one is greatest: The Great Commandment or the Great Commission?” I first heard the question in a Perspectives course. Is “Loving God and neighbor” more or less important than “Go and make disciples”?   

On the mission field we may wrestle with what to give priority: doing good deeds or proclamation? We talk about integral missions doing both demonstration and proclamation of the gospel. But how do these two relate?   

We can do good deeds (even alongside non-believers) yet never share the gospel. We can preach salvation but leave the day-to-day struggles of people alone except for maybe a prayer and a ‘God bless you, stay warm!’ (cf Js 2:16) 

But let’s slow down and clarify what we are talking about.  

We find in the New Testament the Great Commandment as the summary of the Mosaic Law: “To love God… (wholeheartedly) and to love our neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27). In several conversations we see Christ upholding it as the measure to live by, and James 2:8 calls it the royal law. 

The Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, John 20:21, Acts 1:8) commands Jesus’ followers to go, as Jesus did, in the Holy Spirit’s power, into all the world to make disciple-making disciples, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness. Is there any ‘loving your neighbor’ in this (aside from a ‘spiritual love’ of sharing the gospel with the lost)? 

That the cross of Christ lie in between these two ‘greats’ of Scripture is crucial (pun intended). 

The Great Commandment was given before the cross, it is pre-Christian. As a summary of the Old Testament Law, it also has the inherent flaw of the law. The law itself has no intrinsic power to live good lives (that love God and neighbors). We have to come up with it somehow. The law serves as a guardian and, as we are prone to fail, lets us know how sinful we are. The law should lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24, Romans 3:20, 7:7) and in itself cannot impart life (Gal 3:21). 

Alone, the Great Commandment is just a summary list of things we should be doing that many people, pharisees and philanthropists, even people in other religions, are attempting. But these actions don’t save us, and more often we fail at them.     

Christ had to come, to take away the separation (sin) between God and man. Loving God now can become something intimate instead of being based on religious rites and routines. John 15 describes it as abiding in Christ, as a branch on the vine. This abiding bears fruit! It is the source of all ministry. Loving neighbors as ourselves now becomes a greater ‘love one another as I – Jesus – have loved you’ (John 13:34, a new commandment!).   

Loving self can be hard enough. A greater and purer love is that Christ has perfectly demonstrated his love for us (as his friends, John 15:13 and as his enemies, Rom 5:8).  Especially in the community of followers of Jesus this love is to be shown to ‘one another’.   

Jesus makes the Great Commandment more stringent: intimately loving God by abiding in Him, and loving others as He did. But He also makes it possible, providing the source and power to live it out: by abiding in Him His indwelling life can now produce the fruit of good deeds, love our (difficult) neighbors and share the hope we have in Him.   

The Great Commission is given to fruit bearing abiders that go and make disciples. Their good works flow from the life of Christ in them, accessible through Christ’s redemption. Good works result from His workmanship in them (Eph 2:10).  

We may proclaim and demonstrate Christ among the nations. As His life flows through us, it authenticates His power. Good deeds alone can be and are done by believers and non-believers. But by abiding in Christ, we have a greater motivation and purpose than our own, and a greater source to do them. Resting on Him, eyes fixed on Him for both the work and the strength, we evade compassion fatigue.    

The cross, where we repent and receive forgiveness, allows us to tap daily into this source. It transforms (and helps fulfill) ‘Loving God’ and ‘Loving our neighbor’ into ‘Abiding’ and the ‘Fruit of Abiding’, which is the condition in which we go and make disciples of all nations. 

Proclamation or compassionate ministry, creation care or justice advocacy, healthcare missions, business or any profession we want to do for God’s glory. That can’t be just projects, but should flow from this abiding relationship, Him in charge; and we honor The Source.  

Let’s evaluate regularly which source we are doing this from, repent if need be and make sure we are consciously connected to The Vine, relying fully on the work purchased for us on the cross.   

Author Bio: Alex Tee and his family have served with OMF for 30 years. Their three children were born in three different countries. He now works as a missions consultant on the mobilization team. Aside from time with his family, he loves to go for a hike and capture God’s glory in creation with an old camera. 

(Photo credit: Mika Baumeister, Unsplash)

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