This series on the Great Commission began with a focus on Christ’s authority because it is the magnitude of Christ’s authority that should compel and strike confidence in us to participate in this Great Commission vocation, spreading the glory of the Gospel to every corner of the earth.

Ironically, three years before the Great Commission was given on another mountain, Satan had offered Jesus limited authority over all the nations of the earth. But now, the risen Christ declared that His Father has given Him all authority in all realms of all Creation. On the basis of this exalted authority, He sent the disciples to the very nations that Satan had once offered Him. There is no place, people, or problem beyond the scope of this Commission.

With such a glorious mandate, I want to use these next few posts to stir within us an informed, overwhelming burden to spread the light of the Gospel until no corner of the earth is left unlit.

Consider the following story of one family that has gone before us, showing what it means to live a life driven by the Great Commission.

What the Gospel may cost you.
The stillness of the morning was interrupted only by the rustling of pages being turned by the reverent fingers of a quiet man hunched over a well-worn Bible. By his side, close to his desk, was a carriage bed where his three year old daughter, Gracie, lay. The man was Jonathan Goforth, and the year was 1899. A decade earlier, he and his wife, Rosalind had come to China from Canada as the first missionaries from the American continent to join Hudson Taylor as port of the China Inland Mission family.

Like many other missionary families, the Goforths were not spared the personal price that seemed to be shared by most who brought the Gospel to the Chinese harvest field. However, on this day, the price seemed especially high. The little girl in the carriage bed, Grace, was dying of incurable malaria and had but a short time to live. Perhaps the weight of their suffering can best be felt in Mrs. Goforth’s own words.

“For almost a year, Gracie lingered. During those last months she spent as much time in her father’s arms as his work would permit… Suddenly, [Gracie] partly rose and said in a strong commanding tone, “I want my papa.” Not wishing to disturb the tired-out father, the mother hesitated, when again Gracie said, “Call my papa.” Miss Pyke whispered, “You had better call him. He can walk with her a little, and that will ease her.”. A few moments later the father had taken his beloved little one in his arms, laying her head gently upon his shoulder as he started to pace the floor. The mother slipped into the adjoining bedroom and sinking to her knees, cried to the Lord to spare Gracie suffering… While the mother was on her knees, Gracie, who had been resting quietly in her father’s arms, suddenly lifted her head and looking straight into her father’s eyes gave him a wonderful, loving smile, closed her eyes, and without a struggle, was gone.” [1]

Gracie was the third child the Goforths buried in the short time they had been in China. Before their story was done, they planted two more tiny bodies in cold, dark Chinese soil.

Five children seems an extraordinarily high price to pay for any ministry, much less one that seemed as fruitless as the Goforth’s appeared at the time. What could possibly have motivated Jonathan and Rosalind to suffer such devastating loss and count it but a small thing in their service to Christ? Perhaps the answer lies in the words Jonathan later inscribed in the flyleaf of his Bible. “In all things seek to know God’s Will and when known obey at any cost.” [2]

Compelled by the Great Commission.
Most certainly, at the forefront of Jonathan Goforth’s obedience to God’s will was the final command given by Christ to His disciples shortly before His ascension.

The final paragraph of Matthew’s Gospel may be the most familiar of the Lord’s commands, and it has certainly proven to be one of the most impacting statements ever uttered by the Lord. In his recent commentary on this passage, Michael Wilkins observed, “The five short verses that comprise this great commission passage are among the most important to establish the ongoing agenda of the church throughout the ages.” [3]

S.E. Johnson wrote of this passage, “No part of the Bible, with the possible exception of the letter to the Romans, has done more to give Christians the vision of a world-wide church. It has sent them to all nations, bearing the message of salvation through Christ, with which are linked the responsibility and privilege of obeying His words.” [4]

This paragraph stands behind the missional focus of Bob Jones University, of which I am thankful to take part. God is graciously sending forth thousands of young men and women with the same heart and passion that sent Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth to China. But we should be eager to send more. Surely the harvest is still plenteous, and the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37).

Many of these modern missionaries are as unknown in our day as were the Goforths in their early years. Some will face the same deep suffering and affliction that came to the Goforths. All will pay a similar price. Yet those who remain faithful to this high calling will do so because of their commitment to the same Commission mandate that drove the Goforths and resulted in the rich harvest of Chinese souls of which we still speak in awed wonder today.

Have we put the Great Commission into a box?
On the surface, the Great Commission may seem like a simple command to make disciples from all nations by baptizing and teaching them. However, is that all the commission has to say to us? Surely a command that changed the world is worthy of a closer examination.

Certain biblical texts tend to become associated with particular aspects of the Christian life and once pigeonholed in this way are rarely associated with any broader application to life or ministry. This paragraph in Matthew’s Gospel has perhaps suffered such a fate. It is dutifully trotted out for the annual missions conference. It is referenced on banners, hung on the missions corner, and gets dusted off and polished up for use in raising the yearly missions budget. From time to time it makes an appearance in a missionary’s video presentation, and then it gets tucked away safely back into our Bibles until next year. Other than occasionally moving us to give a bit extra to missions, the Commission has largely lost its broader impact on contemporary American evangelical believers.

The Great Commission means much more.
Was this Commission intended by the Lord to be only an occasional reminder for limited participation in overseas mission work or an occasional evangelistic outreach extension? Absolutely not.

Interestingly, Jonathan Goforth’s commitment to obey this mandate started well in advance of his arrival on Chinese soil. During his student days at Knox College, he personally engaged in taking the Gospel to needy souls in the rougher neighborhoods around the college. In one summer alone, he personally visited and shared the Gospel in 960 different homes, seeing many converted in that single summer.

This sort of “Great Commission” living was a way of life for Goforth, and years later it made him an effective missionary when he arrived in China.

The Great Commission urges not occasional action, but a way of life. If we compartmentalize this mandate and relegate it only to missionary activity on foreign fields, we will fail to cultivate its design as a personal way of life. This is perhaps one of the greatest reasons genuine evangelism languishes in the modern church.

The Great Commission is for you, today. Embrace its glories. Submit to its mandates. And look for a way to work it into your life today.

[1] Cited in Rosalind Goforth’s biographical sketch of her husband’s ministry in China. Goforth of China, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: MI, fifth printing 1942, pp. 120-121.
[2] Cited in a letter from his co-weorker, Gilies Eadie in an appedndix to Goforth of China, p. 356.
[3] “Matthew” in The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids: MI, 2204, p. 947.
[4] Cited by Leon Morris in the text of his commentary on this passage in his work, The Gospel According to Matthew in the Pillar Commentary Series, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: MI, 1992, p. 744.
Sam Horn

Posted by Sam Horn

Dr. Sam Horn is the EVP for enrollment and ministerial advancement at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. Prior to BJU, Sam served at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Northland International University, and various churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Sam and his wife, Beth, have two children - one is married and one is in high school.

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