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The Glorious Body of Christ V: The Message of the Church - Matthew 28:18-20

In 1 Cor. 2:2, Paul declared that he decided to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Many people have latched on to this declaration and call on churches to make this simple gospel truth the focus of everything they do. “Don’t get distracted by secondary issues. Just preach the gospel!” Christianity isn’t about what you do or how you live; it’s about believing in Jesus!

But while the gospel message of Christ crucified for sinners is the beating heart of the Church’s message, the message of the Church cannot be reduced to Christ and Him crucified! Jesus’ words in the Great Commission tell us that the scope of the Church’s message is as broad as the Bible. The Church must teach people that they are sinners who need to repent and trust in the Crucified and Risen Messiah for salvation, and the Church must also teach people how to fast properly, why women shouldn’t face military combat, why men should have short hair, who you may or may not sleep with, the history of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and what we ought to do when Hymenaeus and Alexander make shipwreck of their faith.

Disciples of Jesus are those who learn to observe everything that He commanded, not just the way of salvation. This means that spending ten weeks trying to understand Leviticus is just as much a part of being a disciple of Jesus as spending ten weeks learning how to reach the lost. The Church that is “just preaching the gospel” and not “teaching everything that Jesus commanded” isn’t a faithful Church; she’s failing in her mission.

This means that everything in the Bible is important, from King Og’s iron bedstead to the fact that Paul once left his cloak at Troas. But this doesn’t mean that everything in the Bible is equally important: Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection on the third day is of first importance, which is why, on his first evangelistic trip to Corinth, he decided to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

But in the same letter that reminded the Corinthians of the priority of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul then went ahead and addressed a multitude of various issues in the life of the Church that he didn’t get to on his first go-round; things like divorce, or speaking in tongues, or cheerfully giving to support the Church’s ministry. In focusing on Christ and Him crucified, Paul is speaking as an evangelist, and he gets it absolutely right: tithing and headcoverings have no place in your first gospel conversation!

But as an apostle, Paul speaks the whole counsel of God, not shrinking back from declaring to the Church in Ephesus anything that was profitable, focusing on repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And so as a Church, charged with carrying out Christ’s mission by spreading Christ’s message, faithfulness means teaching the baptized disciples of Jesus to observe everything that He commanded.

We see the greatness of the Great Commission in how universal and all-encompassing it is: All authority to Jesus. Mission to all the nations. Teaching all that Jesus commanded. And Jesus is always with us. That’s great news for the Church, and a great calling given to the Church! But when the Church shrinks the scope of her message, she diminishes the greatness of the Great Commission.

Practically, this means that as a disciple, you need to be interested in everything God has to say, not just your favorite parts of the Bible. We all find certain parts of the Bible easier to appreciate: the second half of Ephesians, for instance, is full of practical applications, while it can be hard to see how Leviticus and Haggai relate to our life today. But a disciple of Jesus wants to know and love everything that Jesus has commanded, so why not spend some time studying an unfamiliar book of the Bible in the days to come?

A disciple is someone who acknowledges Jesus’ authority, who has been baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who is being taught to observe everything that Jesus said to do. The Church is where Jesus’ authority is proclaimed, where disciples are being made initially in baptism, and continually by teaching all of God’s Word to all of God’s people for all of life. And the great blessing that Jesus promises to His Church is that where this is taking place, Jesus will always be there.

Posted on Thursday, February 13, 2020 by CJ Bowen