The Great Command: Love For Love's Sake

There are "Great Commission churches" and there are "Great Command churches." Some churches emphasize the Great Commission--Jesus' call for us to go out and make disciples of all nations. They're focused on transforming lives for Jesus and seeing to it that people enter into a relationship with God. Other churches emphasize Jesus' Great command--the call for us to love God and love people, and to place love of God and love of people side by side. Transformation is often on the radar, but not as a primary goal.

I have to say, given a choice between them--between Great Commission and Great Command churches--I'm more inclined toward the latter. Here's why:

I could get into some philosophical and innately theological reasons for this--you could draw off of thinkers like Martin Buber (who said things like, “All actual life is encounter" and “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”) and off of Bonhoeffer's theology of "place-sharing" (most notably examined and explained by Andrew Root in his book Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry) in order to get there. But I'll simply say that it's because the former is in danger of losing itself by way of losing the latter--we can lose the command to transform lives by losing the command to love people. The secret of the Great Commission is thoroughly embedded in the Great Command. We have no hope to change people without loving people and we have no hope of loving people if all we want to do is change them.

It would be tragic if we failed at changing lives simply because we failed at loving people--but it would be far worse if we succeeded at changing lives, even without loving people. If we're not "converting" people by way of love, then to what on earth are we converting them?

Thomas Merton

Remember that the Great Commission was given after Jesus had wept, been tortured, was crucified, buried, and resurrected from death. I've talked about this elsewhere, but the cross was essentially the place where Jesus' entered into human suffering. This was a climactic point in the incarnation--God's act of fully and authentically entering into and embracing humanity. It was by way of embracing humanity that Jesus saved the world. It was by way of love that Jesus' transformed lives. And it wasn't a coercive love, as though Jesus loved us in order to get us from "point A" to "point B," it was an authentic love, Jesus loved the very people who killed him, people who simply weren't gonna follow him. Jesus' love was not contingent upon whether or not a person was going to be transformed. As Thomas Merton has written, "Love is free; it does not depend on the desirability of its object, but loves for love's sake." Jesus' love expressed on the cross was love for love's sake--not dependent upon the "desirability" of the people who spat on him, tortured him, and lynched him.

And we are called to take up our cross--to love as Jesus loved. Great Command churches are in danger of loving people in order to change them and thereby limiting love's freedom. Great Commission love is at risk of being love for change's sake. We don't have to stress out if people don't change, it doesn't mean we've failed. If we can simply love people, we've done our job... and that's where the Great Commission comes from. When we've actually loved people, then we can invite them into the life of love that we're living. It's more difficult--we have to leave our value for effectiveness at the door and trade it for faithfulness. We have to simply love and then just trust that something will happen. We have to trust that love transforms.

Don't try to transform lives. Instead, love people... and trust that love can transform.