More on The Great Commandment vs. The Great Commission

It’s been so great to see how thoughtful and kind everyone’s been about this post. When my book on the same question (I’m OK–You’re Not) came out a few months ago, I expected it to generate a fair amount of hostility–and, actually, it did. But that, “How dare you suggest we stop evangelizing, pagan!” sort of knee-jerk vitriol petered out soon enough. (And virtually all of it, as far as I know, came from people who hadn’t actually read the book.) And after a few e-mail exchanges, even those people calmed right down.

People care about this subject. No Christian wants to see anyone else go to hell, or live their life without the benefit of a direct relationship with God. We believers do want nonbelievers to convert. How can we not?

On the other hand, no one wants to be rude or offensive. And not just because doing so makes one unpopular, but because if you’re rude or offensive to someone–and especially to a stranger, or to someone you don’t know all that well–then that person will sever their relationship to you, or start keeping you at a distance. And that means you won’t be able to love that person, since loving someone necessarily means being in an Actual Relationship with them.

And if you can’t love a person, because you’ve said or done something that’s repelled that person away from you, then that means you’ve broken The Great Commandment with that person.

Not good. The Great Commandment is Jesus’ supreme, overriding directive to us; He told us it’s the law in which all the Bible’s laws are contained. So we must obey The Great Commandment. We must love our neighbors–which means we must remain in a relationship with them.

But if we try to convert them, they leave. Good-bye relationship. Good-bye loving that person.

But loving them means trying to convert them!

And there, as far as I can tell, is one genuine conundrum. In fact, I think it’s the conundrum facing Christians in America today.

People who are really dedicated to evangelism (some of whom, let me say, I count as dear friends) often say that the key to proper, effective evangelism lies in using the right words; they say that if a Christian attempting to evangelize a nonbeliever leaves that nonbeliever feeling offended or insulted, then it means that the Christian chose the wrong words to evangelize with, that they didn’t properly represent the gospel.

That sounds good to me. I would love to hear the words we should be using to evangelize, so that I could use them myself. I’ve yet to actually hear the words about Christianity that don’t make nonbelievers throw up their internal spam filters, that don’t make them cringe as they realize that yet another Christian is trying to convert them. I would sincerely like to hear the evangelistic words that don’t trigger that response, if for no other reason than that I’m someone—a Christian someone—who has dedicated his whole life to discerning exactly the right words to express whatever I’m trying to express.

I know I can’t think of the Non-Alienating Evangelism Words. And I’m absolutely positive I’ve never heard anyone else use them. But I’m certainly more than willing to learn what they are.

Until I do, though, I’m comfortable “just” loving others, without reference to the condition of their souls. And the main reason I’m comfortable with that (besides that it means I’m fulfilling Christ’s supreme command to me) is because I know that if any nonbeliever in my life wants to know more about Christianity, they can either ask me about it, or they can take advantage of one of the zillion information streams that are out there about our faith. There’s no shortage of places to go in this country if you want to learn about Jesus. And praise our good Lord for that.

That our forbearers did such an awesome job fulfilling The Great Commission in this country means that today I only have to worry about The Great Commandment. That works for me personally. And I know it works for the nonbelievers in my life, who always feel free to talk to me about my faith without having to worry that I’m going to start pressing them to accept it for themselves.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.cmfhq.org Dan Cartwright

    I offer to you that they are not incompatible. To love my non-believing neighbor is to share the single most important truth on the planet with him/her. I cannot convert anyone, however, because God must be drawing that person to Himself (John 6:44). If God is drawing and the truth is proclaimed (in love), there will be a connection. I can proclaim the gospel in many ways, first by ‘being’ (Acts 1:8). The verbal part of the sharing must also include (in love) the truth of the true nature of humans without Christ (dead in trespasses in sin – spiritually dead) If the connection that leads to a non-believer trusting in Christ for salvation happens, there is a new creation, and I can offer the need to change (in love) and the ability to change based on the power to change (the indwelling of the Holy spirit). If that person lives within any areas of my influence as a believer (family, friend, schoolmate, co-worker) a discipleship opportunity has been birthed.

    The Commandment and the Commission are not only compatible, for the believer, they should be as intertwined as two strands of a rope.

    Dan Cartwright

  • http://www.cmfhq.org Dan Cartwright

    St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have nce said.

    "Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary use words."

    The words will fit the context of the situation witht he non-believer. We just need to be available.

  • http://www.johnshorebooks.com johnshore

    Dan: Nice stuff. To be obnoxiously honest, I found the first part of this a bit of thick going (though it might just be that I've yet to have my coffee this morning), but I think I hear what you're saying, and it's beautiful. It sounds like you want to be, as you should be, very careful about communicating the "You should convert!" message with the "This is all about the love of the Holy Spirit within you!" message. Can't argue with that. Of course, what I'm saying is that in the actual, verbal, practical, real-time communication of the stuff about the love of Christ, you alienate the nonbeliever away from you. I'm saying ALL you can do is live the faith; talking about–trying to get others to join us BY talking about–always does, and always will, fail, since it can't help but insult them. (Assuming you're talking to someone who already KNOWS about Christianity, and has already decided, for whatever reason, that it's not for them.) Which is why I'm particularly fond of your Assisi quote below. I think that is where the action is.

    Again: I know you're coming from a beautiful place. But it's NOT a place shared by nonbelievers. The question is, how to get them there. And "sharing" with people, as you've suggested we should do, about how, without Christ, they're DEAD, isn't exactly a welcome invitatation. Which is why they leave. Which is how we break the Great Commandment with them.

  • Rick Miller

    After reading your posting on Crosswalk, I like the title of your book, I'm OK-You're Not, and I'm looking forward to reading it soon. I have my opinion about the compatibility of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Of course they are compatible. Jesus can do nothing else. But I have to work through it and ask the Holy Spirit to get it straight in my damaged brain. And every time I go into the "world" I must display the love of Christ to them. As Jesus' cousin John said, "I must decrease and He must increase." In this way the attraction of Jesus that compelled multitudes to go to Him will replace my attitude of "change to be like me, or burn!" I must daily, minute by minute, be filled by the Spirit of Jesus to attract and not offend.

  • http://www.hqcmf.org Dan Cartwright

    The 'art' of evangelizing with words, for lack of a better term, to me means that somehow I need to approach the subject of the 'deadness' of spirit without Christ without driving people away.

    Christ died and was resurrected first of all to bring the dead to life. All the stuff of having a better life is iw window dressing. It will happen, on His terms, not ours. Inviting someone to come to Crrist just for the better life is like giving someone a parachute at 30,000 feet to wear for a more comfortable ride.

    If someone is living in rebellion against God, there will be resistance and a driving away just talking about the God of the Bible. If someone in whom the Holy Spirit has begun a work (a 'drawing') quoting the Apostle Paul concerning being 'dead in trespasses and sin' can cause lights to turn on in the one to whom one is witnessing. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible is working in the true 'seeker'. The Holy Spirit will embrace the truth, but the enemy may try and cause resistance.

    Rick is 'right on' concerning the Holy Spirit. He will attract the true seeker and be an offense to many. And even among those multitudes who were attracted to Him, there were many who left when He spoke of the hard things like dying to self.

    Concerning the world, as a believer I live as a pilgrim and am already in it (the world – living behind enemy lines) and don't need to 'go' very far to find it.

    So much for the musings of an old soldier.

    Blessings to you!

    Dan

  • Kelly

    God loves us all when we are not even Christians, yet. And while He loves us, He makes sure that somehow we get the message that we are not ok, and we need to change.

    Since He is our model and He wants us to do as He did/does, we also have the capacity to love and also give the message that someone is not ok, and needs to change.

    I don't see the conflict.

    I don't see the conflict in that.

  • Mark

    The Golden Rule according to Matthew 7:12 says, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them". Again, in Matthew 22:39 Jesus says, "You shall love your neighbor as your self." No human is perfect. I love myself recognizing that I am not perfect and have faults. Whatever these faults may be, I still love myself. I also love my children and my wife knowing that they are not perfect but I love them anyway. Understanding that biblically "my neighbor" is any human who comes into contact with me (Luke 10:25-37), and recognizing that I am not perfect nor is my neighbor perfect, God wants me to attempt to love my neighbor as myself. This attempt is treasured by God and He will reward my obedience. John 15:9-10 says we (believers) will abide in the love of Christ Jesus when we attempt to keep God's commandments. Therefore, we are to try and love every non-believer as ourselves but we recognize that we and they have faults. What is all this leading to? God loves all humans knowing that we all have faults; "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). And didn't God expect us who are now believers to change when we were unsaved? Doesn't Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 tell us we have changed; "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away"? The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are therefore, very compatible. We evangelize asking our neighbor to change fully loving them for who they are with all their faults just as God loves unbelievers for who they are: potential children of God who will co-inherit all the riches and rewards God has in store for those who love Him through the grace of salvation. Didn't you change when you were saved? God and believers expect the unsaved to change also, all the while loving them as God once loved us before we were saved.

  • Johnny Johnston

    The Bible teaches us to speak the truth in love. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves we cannot keep from them the only truth that will save them.

    I have learned in 50 years of ministry that if I pray earnestly for others, I have an overwhelming love for them in my heart. I find myself being very careful with my words and their feelings. My conversation with them seems to flow so naturally that I know I am being carried along by the Holy Spirit. I have also learned to concentrate on the great thing God did for us when he sent His Son. It is the greatest act of love witnessed by this universe we live in. Just like the shepherds heard, "I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people." After a session like this, I often hear, words like "what must I do?"

    When I hear interest like this, I tell them the worlds in Romans 10 – If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

    With a prayerful caring approach like this, I seldom experience a harsh rejection. I have preached, taught and witnessed like this for at least 30 years. I only wish I had done so for the first 20.

  • Nick

    Jesus came to save the lost and heal the broken hearted. And for that I am SO thankful. Without both the great commandment and great comission I would still be lost and broken. Why are we afraid to speak as Jesus taught us to?

    Nick

  • http://none Eudokia Roberts

    Christ has declared the ultimate importance of the great commission, the influencing of every person from all walks of life. We are to go into "ALL" the world. So much for the small segment of society that has the strange notion of a legitimate concept called the 'seperation of church and state.' We certainly know where Jesus stood on it.

    I guess if I truly loved Jesus I would do as He says because I would not want a single person to experience the horrors that would have awaited me if not for the love of God that saved me. In a sense evangelizing to unbelievers can be seen by some as a blessing and by others as a curse.

  • Persephone

    I have struggled with this since first becoming a Christian–how to fulfill Christ's commission in a way that will draw, instead of drive, others away. Witnessing through the way we live is one thing, but is it enough? I believe not. It simply opens up opportunities for sharing the faith–through the living word, when the time is ripe, and as the Holy Spirit leads. I completely agree with Mr. Johnston on the power of praying for the other person and speaking as we are led. Since every person is unique and different, it follows that the words we will be led to say would also be that which will speak to them directly, rather than a generic spiel.

  • snowhite197

    I think if the Holy Spirit is truly leading you to witness to a person, of course you should obey Him. On the other hand, I think John is mainly focusing on how we should interact with our non-Christian friends and loved ones who we see on a daily or regular basis, outside of times when we may be directly commanded by God to testify.

    Now some people… perhaps Mr. Johnston above?… have the gift of evangelism. They tend to be very likeable, sweet and extremely honest/genuine people who also aren't really too afraid of what others think of them. Mr. Rogers also comes to mind.

    Not everyone is the same, though. My husband, for example, is a very private person. He doesn't make fast friendships with people like some are capable of. However, he also has plenty of opportunity to talk about his beliefs b/c other people ask about his faith all the time! This is because he

    1. obeys God's word and does not make excuses or try to explain why he acts in a different way than non-christians

    & 2. lives a life that is filled with joy, freedom and fellowship with other Christians and invites others to share in that life.

    My husband does not really actively seek to evangelize others, but he ends up doing it anyways b/c people see something in him that is different, and b/c they see that he has and is capable of making very meaningful, rich relationships with others. This is huge b/c, as a wise person once told me, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

  • http://www.johnshorebooks.com johnshore

    Beautiful, Snow.

    This whole exchange–all of these posts–have made for some great reading. Everyone's being so thoughtful and kind. It's great.


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