Is it possible so to emphasise Jesus’ Great Commission that we neglect his stress on the Great Commandment to love our neighbours (second only to loving God with our entire beings)?
John Stott thought so. Here’s what he wrote about it:-
‘I venture to say that sometime, perhaps because it was the last instruction Jesus gave us before returning to the Father, we give the Great Commission too prominent a place in our Christian thinking. Please do not misunderstand me. I firmly believe that the whole church is under obligation to obey its Lord’s commission to take the gospel to all nations. But I am also concerned that we should not regard this as the only instruction which Jesus left us. He also quoted Leviticus 19:18 ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’, called it ‘the second and great commandment’ … and elaborated it in the Sermon on the Mount …
‘Here then are two instructions of Jesus–a great commandment ‘love your neighbor’ and a great commission ‘go and make disciples’. What is the relation between the two? Some of us behave as if we thought them identical, so that if we share the gospel with somebody, we consider we have completed our responsibility to love him. But no. The Great Commission neither explains, nor exhausts, nor supersedes the Great Commandment. What it does is to add to the requirement of neighbour-love and neighbour-service a new and urgent Christian dimension. If we truly love our neighbour we shall without doubt share with him the good news of Jesus. How can we possibly claim to love him if we know the gospel but keep it from him? Equally, however, if we truly love our neighbor we shall not stop with evangelism. Our neighbour is neither a bodyless soul that we should love only his soul, nor a soulless body that we should care for its welfare alone, nor even a body-soul isolated from society. God created man, who is my neighbor, a body-soul-in-community. Therefore, if we love our neighbour as God made him, we must inevitably be concerned for his total welfare, that good of his soul, his body and his community. Moreover, it is this vision of man as a social being, as well as a psycho-somatic being, which obliges us to add a political dimension to our social concern. Humanitarian activity cares for the casualties of a sick society. We should be concerned with preventative medicine or community health as well, which means the quest for better social structures in which peace, dignity, freedom and justice are secured for all men. And there is no reason why, in pursuing this quest, we should not join hands with all men of good will, even if they are not Christians.
‘To sum up, we are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve. For this is the natural expression of our love for our neighbours. We love. We go. We serve. And in this we have (or should have) no ulterior motive. True, the gospel lacks visibility if we merely preach it, and lacks credibility if we who preach it are interested only in souls and have no concern about the welfare of people’s bodies, situations and communities. Yet the reason for our acceptance of social responsibility is not primarily in order to give the gospel either a visibility or a credibility it would otherwise lack, but rather simple uncomplicated compassion. Love has no need to justify itself. It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need.
‘”Mission”, then, is not a word for everything the church does. ‘The church is mission’ sounds fine, but it’s an overstatement. For the church is a worshipping as well as a serving community, and although worship and service belong together they are not to be confused. Nor, as we have seen, does ‘mission’ cover everything God does in the world. For God the Creator is constantly active in his world in providence, in common grace and in judgment, quite apart from the purposes for which he has sent his Son, his Spirit and his church into the world. ‘Mission’ describes rather everything the church is sent into the world to do. ‘Mission’ embraces the church’s double vocation of service to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. For Christ sends his people into the earth to be its salt, and sends his people into the world to be its light (Matthew 5:13-16)’
Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, 29-31.