I am a regular reader of Time and Newsweek magazines. Both magazines are greatly beneficial in helping one understand what is happening in the world of our day. The 7 February 2005 issue of Time focused on the issue of happiness. The question was asked whether happiness is found in our genes. Robert Wright contributed an article to that issue entitled “Dancing to Evolution’s Tune” (subtitled “The good news: we’re born for fun. The bad news: it’s not built to last.”). He writes:
According to the tenets of one new age spiritual leader, “Humans were designed to be happy, creative and in harmony with the universe at all times.” So a “permanent state of natural ecstasy” is within reach. Then again, that spiritual leader – a man named Rael, founder of the Raelians – also believes humans were created by a race of 1.2-m-tall space aliens.
For better or worse, humans seem to have been created by evolution, not aliens. And that is the key to understanding happiness: why it exists, what kinds of things bring it to us and why hanging on to it is harder than Rael suggests.
Among the differences between natural selection and space aliens is that natural selection isn’t a conscious creator. It is just a process. It preserves traits that help get an organism’s genes into the next generation.
The purpose of evolution, then, is simply to “help get an organism’s genes into the next generation”. So is this what life is all about: getting our genes into the next generation? Or is there more? Genesis 1 teaches us that there is far more purpose to life than getting our genes into the next generation! In fact, man’s original, intended purpose was (and is) to have God glorified in our generation and to ‘get’ Him glorified in subsequent generations. God’s intention for Adam and Eve was that they would glorify Him, and produce generations to follow who would do the same.
Rael is right about one thing: man was designed to be happy. Happiness would be a reality as long as man remained in unbroken fellowship with his Creator. Genesis 1:26-31 clearly testify to this. In sum, man was created to reflect the glory of God and then to reproduce this reflection in subsequent generations – generations that would eventually fill the earth with God-glorifiers. Had this occurred, as intended, our world would be one big happy place, because it would be one big holy place.
Alas, such is not the case. The very first generation sinned and ever subsequent generation has fallen short of the glory of God. Since every generation has turned from God and plunged into sin, we cannot fill the earth with God-glorifiers, for it is impossible to fill the earth with that which we do not have. All because man, the first man, failed in his God-given ‘creation commission’.
But thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! The Second Man, the Man from heaven, the Last Adam has come to form a new race of men! The Lord Jesus Christ – the God-Man – is the Federal Head of a new creation by the grace of God. ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). All in Christ Jesus have been created to live a life of good works, thereby glorifying God and, to a degree, fulfilling the ‘creation commission’.
The commission that most readily comes to mind when the word ‘commission’ is mentioned, however, is that recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 – what we know as the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
But the two commissions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as we shall see in this study, the Great Commission of Matthew forms a striking parallel to the creation commission of Genesis 1. To understand where I am going, consider the following.
In the creation commission, God commanded Adam and Eve to bring all under His dominion as they lived under that dominion. The result would be that all creation would bring glory to the Creator. This was to occur not only in Adam’s generation, but in all subsequent generations. Mankind was to live under the Lord’s dominion and to bring all creation under that dominion for the glory of God. But when man sinned, he lost much of his dominion, and all creation was subjected to that rebellion.
In the Great Commission, we recognise that all is now under the dominion of Jesus Christ, the Second Man, the Last Adam. As those under the Lordship of Christ, it is the Church’s responsibility to bring the nations into subjection to that Lordship. We do this not by legislation, but by the power of God’s Word. This is the task that we are called to perform, even in the midst of the postmodern world in which we live.
When Adam was created, God gave him the assignment of tending the garden in which he had been placed. Nature, left unattended, becomes overgrown and unproductive. In short, it returns to the chaotic state from which it was formed in the beginning. Creation, thus, needs a caretaker, and that is the task to which Adam was appointed.
What is true of physical nature is equally true of human nature. Humankind needs to be tended in order to remain ‘in check’. Perhaps the reason that our world today is considered ‘post-Christian’ is that the Church has grown lax in her duty with the gospel. There was a time when we believed that we had the responsibility to take the gospel to the world, but that time seems to be past. We have ceased to be good stewards of the gospel and things have gone to chaos. It is not too much of a leap to blame postmodernism on the Church! Sin has brought chaos to God’s creation and, no doubt, postmodernism is the harbinger of much chaos.
I recently read the comments of a young woman concerning the generation into which she was born: “I belong to the blank generation. I have no beliefs, I belong to no community, no tradition, or anything like that. I am lost in this vast, vast world. I belong nowhere, I have absolutely no idea.” This is a sad statement; unfortunately, people around us live like that. The life of the lost man is chaotic, for he knows not his Creator. Our assignment as the Church of Jesus Christ is to bring order to the chaos in the world, to bring form to that which is deformed, to fill that which is empty. There is only one way in which this task will be accomplished: by the power of God through His Word. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation, and our responsibility is to preach it. God works through His Word, and He can redeem even those in the “blank generation”, and give meaning to their life as they give glory to God.
Postmodernism or not, we have a God-given task to perform. We must get the Word to the world, and get the world under subjection to the Word. It blesses my heart to hear of God’s Word being translated into languages that have never had it, to hear of chaotic cultures being impacted with the gospel of Christ.
In this study, I want to consider five ‘musts’ of the Great Commission, all of which parallel the creation commission as found in Genesis 1:26-31. May God grant us the grace to carry out the Commission for His glory in the world!
We Must See God’s Glory
Moses records the decree of God to create mankind: ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’ (Genesis 1:26). Adam and Eve had been created in the very image of God, but this image was defaced at the Fall. Nothing ought to grieve us more than the fact that God’s image in man has been defaced. Adam and Eve were created as radiant reflectors of God’s glory. They were the crowns of creation, perfectly in tune with their Maker. Created to live in loving submission to God, they thought God’s thoughts after Him. But then sin came, and that image was marred. Man then began to change the truth of God into a lie, and to worship the creature more than the Creator. Soon, blood of his fellow man was shed, and nature became red in tooth and claw.
We live in a fallen world in which we should be grieved as we see the marred image of God in man. We must refuse to be content with the marred image of God in us. It should bother us how many unborn babies are murdered each year. There is no greater blasphemy than to murder someone made in the image of God. Our world is filled with rape, genocide, dishonesty, defamation and immorality, and these things ought to grieve us. For when man, created in God’s image, acts upon his sinful lusts, he is blasphemously declaring, “This is what God is like!” But that is not what God is like: He is holy, holy, holy! The Great Commission, dear reader, is not simply about saving souls (though we certainly want this to happen), but about God being glorified as His image in man is restored.
Not only should sins of the above-listed variety grieve us, but so should sins often committed within the professing Church. False teaching, for instance, ought to anger us! I recently saw Ernest Angley on the BBC. Angley is a faith healer, and multitudes are attracted because of his claim to be able to heal (they certainly are not attracted to his preaching!). As I watched, he began to speak to his viewers, claiming that God had used him to heal even those who had had organs removed. God, he said, had actually recreated these organs in the bodies of those who had had them removed. There was a healing line on the show, with great numbers of people lining up to be healed by Angley. One man had an ear problem and, through a word of wisdom, Angley declared him to have a burst eardrum. Placing his fingers in the man’s ear, he cried, “Be healed!” Quite miraculously, he declared the man to have a new eardrum. Another man had a back problem and Angley put his hands on the man and healed him, after which the man began to leap around. A lady with eye problems came to him and, putting his hands on her eyes, he declared that God had recreated her eyes (strangely, the camera passed by her five minutes later and she was still wearing her glasses!). Surprisingly, Angley is bald as a billiard ball. Obviously, this is something of a problem for him, for wears a horrible-looking toupee. One wonders why he does not place his hands on his head and cry, “Be healed!”
Perhaps the ‘healing’ that most angered me was on a lady who professed to be an alcoholic. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he said, “You have 39 demons in you.” Immediately, he cast out the demons, and declared her to be healed of her alcoholism. That lady may never take another drink in her life, but without the gospel (which he failed to preach to her), she will go to hell. She may believe that everything is okay now that she is supposedly ‘cured’ of her alcoholism, but she needs to understand her need for Christ! It should anger us that many in the Church would sit idly by and accept such heresy, that some would even defend Ernest Angley.
It grieves me when people make a commitment in joining a church and then refuse to fulfil the commitment they have made. In doing so, they are robbing God of His glory! If you call yourself a member of a church and yet stay away from the services for no good reason, your neighbours will have little regard for your Christ! The Church has been left on this earth to glorify God: we had better be concerned for His glory!
As believers, our prayer to God must be, ‘Show me thy glory’ (Exodus 33:18). Only then will we march on for the Lord. If our culture is post-Christian, it is because we have lost sight of the glory of God and sold our birthright for a pot of man-centred postmodern stew. The great missionaries burned with a passion for the glory of God alone. Paul’s ‘spirit was stirred in him’ because the Athenians robbed God of His glory by worshipping false gods (Acts 17:16). We, too, must have a passion for His glory.
We Must Appreciate God’s Gift
Life is the gift of God. Everything we have proceeds from Him. Without the Creator, there would be no creation; without the Life-Giver, there would be no life. And we ought to feel and show great appreciation to the God who gave us life. Moses records the creation of man by the life-giving God:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
There was no process of evolution. Nor were there any 1.2-metre-tall aliens. Rather, life came about by the divine decree of a sovereign God. And just as physical life is by God’s power alone, so is spiritual life. We ought never to lose the wonder of this! I recently came across the following article, entitled “Fossil of 1st upright ancestor found”, in a local newspaper:
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – A team of US and Ethiopians scientists has discovered the fossilised remains of what they believe is humankind’s first walking ancestor, a hominid that lived in the wooded grasslands of the Horn of Africa nearly 4m years ago.
The bones were discovered in February  at a new site called Mille, in the north-eastern Afar region of Ethiopia, said Bruce Latimer, director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio. They are estimated to be 3.8 to 4m years old.
The bones are the latest in a growing collection of early human fragments that help explain the evolutionary history of man.
“Right now we can say this is the world’s oldest bipedal (an animal walking on two feet) and what makes this significant is because what makes us human is walking upright,” Latimer said.
“This discovery will give us a picture of how walking upright occurred.”
The findings have not been reviewed by outside scientists of published in a scientific journal.
But Leslie Aiello, anthropologist and heave of the Graduate School at University College London, said the new finds could be significant.
“It sounds like a significant find…particularly if they have a partial skeleton, because it allows you to speculate on biomechanics,” said Prof Aiello by telephone from Britain.
Palaeontologists previously discovered in Ethiopia the remains of Ardipithecus ramidus, a transitional creature with significant ape characteristics dating back as many as 4.5m years.
“What makes us human is walking upright”? I can train my dog to walk upright – does that make it human? Actually, what makes us human is that God created us in His image, from the dust of the ground, and breathed into us the breath of life. Since man was created by God, we need to have appreciation for the gift of life – both physical and spiritual.
In light of the spiritual life that God has given to us, our only reasonable response is surely to submit to Him as a living sacrifice. We must appreciate God’s power to give life. God can give spiritual life to postmodern man! If we believe that God can and does save, we will be zealous with the gospel of Christ. We should give him no rest until we see His power poured forth. Why is it that so much of the professing Church is pessimistic about the gospel? Why is it that so many believe that our best days are behind us? I am convinced that God wants to save a people to Himself. Perhaps He is just waiting for His Church to take Him seriously! Perhaps He will save people through the ministry of a church that is concerned for His glory. Through a church that wants to see people saved not only so they can have the largest membership, but so that His name would be hallowed in earth as it is in heaven. A deep appreciation for God’s power and love is perhaps the need of the hour!
We Must Know God’s Goal
God’s goal is that He be universally and eternally glorified as Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of the universe. We might say that the chief end of God is to glorify and enjoy Himself forever. This goal is seen in the commission to Adam and Eve: ‘And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’ (Genesis 1:28).
The commission to Adam and Eve was to bring all of creation under the dominion of God, and to raise future generation to do the same. They were to bring their children under God’s dominion, and they were to do the same with ‘the fish of the sea’, ‘the fowl of the air’ and ‘every living thing that moveth upon the earth’.
This is precisely what the Great Commission is about: bringing all under the dominion of Jesus Christ. In a sense, we might say that the Great Commission is about paradise restored. I do not mean that Christianity will usher in Utopia, but there is no reason to believe that multitudes cannot come to Christ through the testimony and preaching of the Church.
We do not know how long Adam and Eve lived before they fell, but we would imagine that they were pretty happy on earth before sin. What a joy it must have been to bring all things under dominion in a pre-sin world. When we read the testimony of the New Testament Church, we get the idea that they were rather happy, too. Why? Because, despite the opposition that they faced, they were committed to living under the Lordship of Christ and making that Lordship known to the nations. I have little doubt that God wants His children happy. But we will only be happy in Him as we know Him and make Him known to others. The Great Commission, then, is about man returning to life under the Lordship of His Creator.
In the creation commission, we see three commands given toward the fulfilment of God’s goal. First, man was to reproduce. He was to ‘be fruitful, and multiply’. In this command, pleasure was the goal: the physical pleasure of reproducing, the pleasure of raising a godly seed, the pleasure of relationships, and the pleasure of glorifying God. There is both a physical and a spiritual aspect to reproduction.
I recently read about great numbers of immigrants to Europe, most of whom are Muslim, and the great concern about this. Authorities are wary of allowing more Muslims into countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and France. There has been a dramatic decline in the birth rate amongst non-Muslims in the Europe, but Muslim families are still having children. Europe is effectively being conquered by Muslims simply by math!
The postmodern world, on the other hand, is no friend of children. Millions of babies are aborted annually simply because they are deemed an inconvenience. Husband and wife are supposed to be happy all the time, and children ought to be kept out of the picture, for they might ruin the happiness of the parents. But we have the command to be fruitful and multiply. What a wonderful sight to stand in the church yard after a Sunday service and see the children in the playground! What a joy to know that they are being brought to church where they will be exposed to the Word of God!
The command to be fruitful and multiply applies spiritually as well as physically. We are to ‘commit’ the things we have learned ‘to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also’ (2 Timothy 2:2). The people whom I want to spend most time with in our church is faithful men, for I have the responsibility both as a pastor and as a Christian man to help men be godly men. I must be sure to reproduce in the lives of others, that they might be able to teach others also. The church is about committing the Word to faithful men who will reproduce that in others.
Second, we see the command to ‘replenish the earth’. Adam and Eve, as the only two humans alive, were given the commission to fill the earth with others in the image of God. This, of course, begins in the home. What a thrill it is to see missionaries talk about their children helping them in the ministry! What a joy it is to see children raised in the church to faithfully serve the Lord, and to ultimately raise their own children to serve the Lord!
We are assigned to get the Word to the world in order that the world might be filled with the knowledge and the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Just as all the sea is covered with water, so all the earth ought to be covered with the knowledge and glory of the Lord.
Third, man was to ‘subdue’ the earth, to bring all of creation under his and, ultimately, God’s rule. We are given the same task when we are commanded to make disciples of Christ in all nations. And until we take this Great Commission seriously, our lives will have very little meaning in this world. Man would have purpose only as he filled the earth with godly seed generation after generation after generation. And we will only have meaning in life if we are involved in the Great Commission: making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in all nations generation after generation after generation.
It blesses my heart to see busy Christians involved in the ministry of the church. I recently had lunch with one of the doctors in our church, who was involved in our World Outreach Celebration committee. He told me that he had recently seen 45 patients in one day, yet he was speaking about his involvement in the Celebration committee. This is a man who understands the purpose of life! No matter how tired we are, we ought to commit our lives to the Great Commission.
Without a commitment to the Great Commission, we will be bitter, backbiting and complaining people. But when we are involved in making disciples in our home, our community and our world, we will be too busy for God’s glory to find fault with others.
We Must Trust God’s Goodness
In order to carry out their creation commission, Adam and Even would quite obviously require physical sustenance. And God provided that for them:
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
Imagine the scene in Eden. With great pleasure, God showed Adam and Eve all that He had supplied to meet their needs. “Look,” He declared, “you have all that you need to fulfil the assignment that I have given you!” All was perfectly planned. All that they saw would continually be resupplied. The Lord spoke of ‘every herb bearing seed’ and of ‘every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed’. That is, the plant life had built in reproductive systems. They would continue to bring forth fruit for Adam and Eve to enjoy. God took pleasure in supplying their need; they would be sustained for their assignment.
In like manner, God has made available His supply for whatever the new creation – the Church – needs to fulfil her Commission. There is no need for seminars, new methods or innovations. We have all we need in the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the people of God.
A pastor once came to his church and informed them that they needed R500,000.00 to complete the building project with which they were busy. “The good news,” he continued, “is that we have the money. The bad news is that it’s in your pockets!” When it comes to funding the Great Commission, the problem is not lack, but location. Jesus said it this way: ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21). And the issue of location is ultimately an issue of love. If we love God, we will be like Abraham, willing to offer up even our Isaac for His glory, regardless of the pain that follows. If we love God, we will be like the church in Jerusalem, whose members sold all they had to share with one another. If we love the people of God, we will give to the people of God.
Giving is an issue of love for God and love for the people of God. We support missions because we love God and we love our missionaries. When we have our World Outreach Celebration, we always try to give a love gift to our missionaries and ministers. Why? Because we love our ministers, and want them to know it.
Postmodern consumerism will never fund the Great Commission. As long as we think that having more will fulfil our life, we will only take more away from the Great Commission. God gave Adam and Eve all they needed to fulfil their commission, and He has done the same in the Church. As long as we are proper stewards of that which God has given to us, we will never lack. Those who are faithful in tithing and giving to missions will be the first to testify of God’s gracious provision to meet their needs.
We must understand that the church’s energy supply is unlimited and enormous. Consider the Lord’s words to His disciples after teaching them the Lord’s prayer:
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
The Church in our postmodern world needs a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God. The outpouring of the Spirit was not an event exclusive to Pentecost; God can pour out His Spirit upon His Church even today! Not so that we can speak in tongues and prophesy, but so that we can be bold in fulfilling the Great Commission! Let us then pray that God would pour out His Spirit in our families, in our churches, in our land, and in the nations!
We Must Desire God’s Gladness
Moses closes the creation account thus: ‘And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day’ (Genesis 1:31). On the other days, God had declared that which He had made to be good. But now He declares His creation, with man as its crown and the bringing of creation under God’s Lordship as his commission, to be ‘very good’. When God looked at everything He had made, He deemed it to be exactly what He had intended. God was glad at what He had made.
What is it that makes God glad today? Luke 15:10 gives us a clue: ‘Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.’ Notice that the joy is not in the angels, but in the presence of the angels. In whose presence are the angels? God’s! God is glad when a sinner is brought to repentance, when one of His lost sheep is found, when the prodigal son returns to the father, when the lost piece of silver is found! When the sinner is converted, when the believer is conformed to the image of Christ, then God is glad.
On the other hand, the nations are glad when they experience God’s saving grace through the gospel. Psalm 67 makes this clear:
God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear.
The crown of God’s creation led to His satisfaction, commendation and cessation of creation. This has everything to do with the Great Commission. God has chosen before the foundation of the world those who will be saved. There is coming a day, we know not when, when the last of the elect will be saved. When that last one is brought to Christ, then we can rest. Until then, we labour for the Lord Jesus Christ in the Great Commission.
A friend and mentor of mine was killed in a car accident in Ghana several years ago, along with his son and daughter who were ministering in the country. The bodies sent back to America, where they are buried. When I was in America some time later, I went to see the tombstones and, on the son’s stone, was engraved, “I’ll rest when I get to heaven.” When I asked about the epithet, I was told that people would always tell him that he needed to rest or he would be burned out. But he always replied, “I’ll rest when I get to heaven.” There is coming a day when we can rest from the Great Commission – when the last of God’s elect is brought to Christ, or when we go to be with the Lord. But as long as we are on the earth, we must be committed to the fulfilment of the Great Commission.
A family moved from our church to America some years ago. When they first settled, they attended a large church in the city in which they stayed. After a while, they moved to a far smaller church. A family from the larger church came to visit them a while later and, upon seeing their church, said to the wife, “We would never join a church this small, one that didn’t have all sorts of programs for our children!” To which the wife responded, “Well, that’s exactly why we joined this church – we want to teach our children to serve!”
The Church in our postmodern world is as self-absorbed as the world itself. But we must realise that we are here to serve a God that is glorious, not to be served by others. God can be glorified in our postmodern days. But that will only happen if we take Him and His Word seriously in our generation and generations to come.
Until that day – the day when we die or the Lord returns – what must we do? We must understand our times: avoiding the pessimism of postmodern Christianity and promoting biblical realism. We must have a passionate commitment to biblical theology: a God-centredness in the Church, realising that God is weighty and that He can be dangerous. We must have an uncompromising adherence to the truth: an absolute commitment to the absolute truth of God. And, thus, we can and must perform the task to which we have been appointed: to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in all nations.
So what about the Great Commission in a postmodern world? It is the same as the Great Commission in the pre-postmodern world! Let us, then, go forth to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in all nations, for the glory and gladness of our majestic, Triune God.