Welcome to another session in our Essential Engagement series. We are learning that our growth as disciples requires other people. It is always about “us and Jesus”, not just “me and Jesus”. We have divided this discussion into two related topics: Our Commitment to Others, and our Commitment to Mission. In our previous two sessions we addressed our Commitment to Others, and now, in this session and in the next one, we will look at our Commitment to Mission.
In some respects, we have already addressed this topic in earlier sessions. In our Essential Truths series, we asked the question, Why Am I Here?, and we discovered that we are here to serve and follow Jesus. God defines and assigns this primary mission to us.
Then, in our Essential Disciplines series, we learned about Stewardship & Giving, that we are entrusted with God’s provisions to use in our pursuit of this mission, managing the resources of His kingdom. And, we also learned about our responsibility to Share our Faith, to share God’s Story that has the power to shape our story.
So, we have already established a scriptural foundation for this Commitment to Mission. To move forward, however, and execute this mission, we must consider a few more critical concepts. In this session, therefore, we consider the authority, accountability, and reward that God attaches to this mission. Then, in the next session, we will examine the power that God provides for this mission.
1. Authority for Mission
When Jesus calls His disciples to this mission, He immediately gives them the authority to execute it. Recall these words from the Gospel of Matthew, known as His “Great Commission”:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20
1.1 The Authority of Jesus
Jesus begins by addressing this subject of authority. He says, “all authority in heaven and earth has been given” to Him. But what does this mean? After all, He is God. He is the Word who, together with the Father and the Spirit, created all that is. So, of course, He has all authority. So, what is Jesus talking about?
Here Jesus is referring to His own mission, the reason that He descends from the Father, to take on our flesh. This mission is rooted in the story of the Old Testament. Hear these words, for example, from a vision recorded by the prophet, Daniel:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
Jesus comes to fulfill this hope, a restoration of God’s kingdom, where He reigns for ever and ever. Several times throughout His ministry, Jesus refers to this authority for mission. On one occasion, after 72 of His disciples return from their successful mission, Jesus gives thanks to the Father. He says:
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:22
This intimacy and unity of Father and Son gives power to this mission, to reveal God in this world, a mission that Jesus now extends to His followers. Jesus repeats this theme, just before His death, in His High Priestly prayer. He says:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:1b-5
1.2. The Authority of Disciples
1.2.1. Spiritual Authority
During His life on earth, Jesus prepares His disciples to carry this mission forward. Recall, for example, the authority that He gives to the 72 disciples that we mentioned above. He says:
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16
And then He goes even further, saying:
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:18-20
Jesus gives spiritual power to these disciples, so that they can overcome the evil spirits in this world, led by the enemy himself, who seek to deceive and destroy.
1.2.2. Spiritual Weapons
The apostle Paul reminds us of this same truth when he says:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:10-12
Because this is a spiritual war, then, we must fight with different kinds of weapons. We do not kill or destroy bodies. Rather, we use spiritual weapons, that God’s Spirit has given us. Paul refers to these spiritual weapons as the “full armor of God”. He says:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:13-17
Notice how of each of these weapons are tied to God’s truth, His will, and His ways. We are not free to exercise this authority on our own. We have this authority only as we remain faithful to His mission and His methods. Which is why we must stay in constant dialogue with Him. Look at how Paul completes this thought. He says:
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Ephesians 6:18-20
Like Paul, our authority is tied exclusively to our mission. When we are on mission, declaring God’s kingdom in this broken world, we have the full backing and power of God’s promise, that He will reveal Himself through us to those who still live in darkness and confusion.
2. Accountability for Mission
Since, then, we have been given full authority to execute our mission to become and make disciples, we should expect that we will be held accountable for our role in that mission. The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that:
“The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.” 1 Corinthians 3:8
He then adds:
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
Paul is careful to point out here that our accountability to mission is not a matter of our salvation. We do not make it into heaven based on how well we perform on mission. No, our entrance to God’s eternal kingdom is based entirely on His grace, as we learned in our Essential Truths series, especially when we discussed the question, Why the Cross?
And, yet, we who follow Christ are still held accountable.
3. Rewards Promised
Most often, as we have seen here in Paul’s letter, this accountability is expressed in positive terms, as rewards. We might even call them incentives. Jesus puts the case for these incentives very clearly. He says:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
There is a promise here, that we have some sort of heavenly treasure awaiting us, in which we can invest now, as we pursue the mission our Lord has given to us. Paul sometimes describes this heavenly treasure as a crown of victory. To the Corinthians, for example, he writes:
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
And, later, he confides with Timothy, saying:
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8
We Christians do not have to shy away from this promise. We are working for a crown. We expect a reward for our effort. But we understand that our reward lies in our future, and it is tied to our faithfulness to mission. We do not live primarily for the pleasures in this life, we live for the infinite joy of an eternal life. And that joy is linked to words that we all long to hear when we finish here in earth, the words spoken to the faithful steward in the parable of Christ:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:23
So, now we see how God has attached authority, accountability, and reward to this mission to Be One and to Make One. But how can we accomplish this mission. Where will we get the power? We will address this topic in our next session. Until then, however, we pray that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Him.
What do you need to change in order to increase your reward in heaven?