Nitpicking Words for a Moment

Recently I have seen a couple of organizations that have as part of their vision statement that they seek to “fulfill the Great Commission.” When people say Great Commission, they are normally thinking of Matthew 28, starting in verse 18, but there are others. Actually, a lot of mission groups have similar statements, it just kind of struck me more

English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of ...
English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

lately. Is there anything wrong with the statement? No… but… well no I guess… but… well… kind of. As I said above, this might be nitpicky, but words matter.

The term fulfill means “Bring to completion or reality; achieve or realize (something desired, promised, or predicted).”

The term fulfill is fine, I guess. The problem is that fulfill tends to center on the completion, not on the doing (I told you I am being nitpicky). What’s the difference? All of the versions (there are at least 6 in the Gospels and Acts) of the Great Commission (if I remember right) describe something one does, not something one completes.

Additionally, Jesus gave some relevant teaching as far as carrying out God’s work, such as Matthew 24:45-51. Jesus there compares two servants. The faithful servant was one who was found doing his job. The unfaithful servant was one who was trying to “time” the return of his master and so was found not doing his job. I can’t help but wonder whether the unfaithful servant, who said ‘My master is delaying his coming’ and so was lazy and irresponsible, came to that state after focusing too long on being ready for his master’s return, rather than being focused on his job.

Again, nitpicky. But I have seen too many groups come up with unreasonable goals (AD2000 movement anyone?) built on a fulfillment philosophy, groups that do sloppy Bible interpretation to justify a “fulfillment” philosophy (abuse of Matthew 24:14 comes to mind), and groups that use short-term strategies rather than long-term programs for change based on focus on some sort of short-term fulfillment (such as “saturation evangelism” versus community development and transformation).

If we knew for sure, if we could correctly time, Christ’s return date, the focus on fulfillment makes sense I suppose. But since Jesus made it VERY CLEAR that we can’t,  we should focus on the task of the Great Commission (based on our love for God and His Creation). Focus on the “Task of the Great Commission” or “Living out the Great Commission” I believe leads to less counterproductive thinking and acting.

Of course, words are just words. We can have all of the right words and still do poor ministry. We need a solid foundation of theology and motivation to be faithful servants of God. But leave the concept of having the Great Commission “fulfilled” to God.

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