‘The Great Commission’ plus ‘The Great Commandment’ equals a great life purpose


by Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis

What has God placed you on this earth to do?  What is your purpose? What drives you? What are you living for?

You may be driven to please certain people in your life. I was driven for many years by the need for approval from my parents. You may be driven by fear of failure or anger about the way someone treated you.

Some are driven by guilt and allow memories to control them. Some are driven by the desire to get rich, and pierce themselves with many griefs.

As Rick Warren says, “There are other negative forces that can drive your life, but they all lead to the same dead end. Thankfully, as a Christian, even if you are a product of your past, you don’t have to be a prisoner of your past.”[1]

The wonderful thing is that God specializes in giving His children second and third chances — multiple chances to begin anew, to make a fresh start with Him.

There’s a reason that Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life”  has sold more than 30 million copies. People are looking for greater meaning and purpose in their lives.

In The Great Commandment given to us by Jesus in Mark 12:28 we see that,

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard people debating (with Jesus). Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”

In the first part of Jesus’ statement, he quotes from what is called The Shema, which was quoted by religious Jews every morning and evening – and it still is.[2]

When we were on vacation with my parents in late June, my habit was to have my morning devotional in a breakfast area, and while I was sitting at a table by myself, reading the Psalms, three Orthodox Jews came up and asked me if they could share my table. What are the odds of that?

That led to a very interesting discussion and I ended up going to a Sabbath service they organized. One of the first things that happened at their service is they recited The Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

There are over 600 commands in the Old Testament law. Jesus took all 613 commands and condensed them down to just two. Just two! He said love God supremely, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the crux of the law according to Jesus.

There is something that comes before your ability to love God. It is the recognition that God loved you first. He was wooing your heart for years before you even realized it. He was pursuing you. In First John 4, the apostle emphasizes this point. John says “We love, because He first loved us.”

All the time throughout my 20s, when I was running from God, living for myself, he was loving me, he was pursuing me with an irresistible love that finally won my heart.

This love he shows you and me is also known as “agape” love, from the Greek. It is an intelligent, purposeful, and committed love. This love is an act of the will. It offers much more than romantic love or erotic love  or even brotherly love.

It is unconditional, perfect, eternal, and changeless. It is utterly unselfish. It gives itself away without expecting anything in return. This love caused Jesus to go to the cross to give everything He had for you.[3]

When I was 29 I finally surrendered to His love and was born again. In the same year I met my wife, Sally – surrendered to another irresistible love and got married. Those two events rocked my self-centered world.

As much as I love Sally and she loves me, I know there are limits to human love. For awhile, people can fill our need for love, but most of us find out sooner or later than romantic love or even brotherly love ebbs and flows.

Pastor Ray Stedman made the point that if you expect your spouse or any other person to be the end-all and be-all source of love, you will probably be disappointed.

He said, “People are not an adequate source of love and they were never intended to be. If you keep depending on people for love, you’ll find their love has limits; it can only go so far and can’t meet all your needs.”[4]

I hope you’ve discovered that only God’s love can meet the deepest needs of your heart. Depending on people to supply what only God can supply will leave you lonely and frustrated. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of your search for love.

What is the key to unlocking this love? Making Jesus the Lord of your life. His lordship releases a new capacity for agape love, sacrificial love, to flow out of your life.

Once we surrender to Him and begin to experience his love, then we can truly begin to love our neighbors. It usually doesn’t work the other way around, trying to love your neighbor before you’re experienced God’s love.

But if we get right with God first, the second part of The Great Commandment falls into place.

As you begin to yield your plans and ambitions to God, you may find that your prayers will change. You may stop praying selfish prayers, like “God, please bless what I want to do.”

Instead you pray, “God help me to do what you’re blessing.”[5]

Well who is this neighbor or “other” I’m supposed to love sacrificially, with care and compassion? Jesus told the Parable of The Good Samaritan in answer to this question in Luke 10.

Adrian Rogers had a wonderful teaching about The Good Samaritan that I’ve borrowed from below:

“In the parable there was a man going fromJerusalemdown toJericho. AndJerusalemsits high onMountZion, whileJerichois situated near theDead Sea, the lowest spot on Earth – 1388 feet below sea level.

“So this is a picture that when humanity moves away from God, it moves from the heights to the depths. I was moving farther down into that valley the first 29 years of my life.

“And as this man was going fromJerusalemtoJericho, he fell among thieves. They beat him, stoned him, kicked him, stripped the clothes from him, took all his money, and left him there in a pool of blood—dying. This man is a picture of humanity apart from God, battered and robbed by the devil.

“Sadly, we live in a world of people who are going fromJerusalemtoJericho. They’re on on their own path, away from God, heading down into the valley of the shadow of death; and many have been beaten and robbed by Satan. Ours is a hurting world! Hearts are crushed, bruised, bleeding, and broken.

“The amazing thing in this parable is that Jesus reveals that religion is not the answer. Did you hear that? Religion is not the answer. A priest and a Levite passed right by this hurting man.

“The priest represented religion with its rituals and rules. The Levite represented the law, which can describe us and condemn us; but can’t save us.

“When your neighbor is hurting, he doesn’t need religion with its rituals and rules. He doesn’t need a course on theology. He need compassion. He needs Jesus!

“The Good Samaritan who ministered to this man, is really a picture of Jesus. The Good Samaritan bound up this broken man. He soothed him with oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit; and He cleansed him with wine, a symbol of the blood of Jesus Christ.

“And then Jesus, the Good Samaritan, sat this man on his own donkey and brought him to an inn. Out of love, Jesus comes to us in the midst of our sin and rebellion, and He is moved with compassion. We live in a hurting world that needs help. We can’t wait until they come to us. We must go to them with hearts of mercy and love.”

This brings up The Great Commission, the last command Jesus gave to his followers in Matthew 28:18 —

“Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

These famous last words of Jesus in Matthew 28 explain what we are to be doing in the gap between His first coming and His Second Coming.[6]

We carry out the Great Commission – to make disciples – with the Great Commandment at heart. So we go out as witnesses, with hearts of compassion, especially for those who are in need. These two greats joined together add up to a great life purpose.

First, what is a disciple? A disciple is a student, a learning and growing believer. A disciple is being nurtured by God’s Word and the Spirit, and by a mentor or teacher who comes alongside to help the disciple in their growth.

What a big command – make disciples of all the nations. It’s so far-reaching it’s almost paralyzing.

So where do we start? In Acts 1:8 (we could view as Part B of the Great Commission) Jesus says you will be my witnesses inJerusalem, and in all Judea andSamaria, and to the ends of the earth.

There is radius that starts inJerusalemand expands outward from there. To apply this to us, it means start in your back yard, your sphere of influence. If you have children, it begins in your home. If you don’t, it could be with your close friends, relatives, neighbors, or co-workers.

There is an important principle here. Don’t think about going to saveRwandaif your home life is a mess, if your kids are out-of-control, if your spouse needs your engagement. Don’t think about going to save the people inBangkokif your marriage is on the rocks.

Jesus gave a sobering teaching to us in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

Turn your heart toward home first. Begin by discipling your own children. Don’t leave it up to the pastors in the church, no matter how talented they might be. When our kids were small, we took a parenting class called “Growing kids God’s way,” and that made a big difference for my wife Sally and me.

It helped us to get on the same page with each other as we faced parenting challenges. A little later, we started doing a family devotional together every Saturday morning. As they got older, I was meeting with each of our sons one-on-one, going through some Scripture, talking, praying together.

When the boys were in Junior High, God first started to grab my heart about our neighbors. When I’d walk the dog, I’d pray for our neighbors.

Then we would look for ways to care for them, reach out to them. I got to know their names by starting a neighborhood directory. God slowly expanded the radius of my interest and compassion for others.

God also began to engage my interest in making disciples, beginning in our own church.

In John 17, Jesus said, “Father, as you sent me into the world, so I send my disciples.” Jesus came into the world to rescue you and make you into his disciple. He gives us the same mission. Reach out, help rescue, and make disciples.

People get very nervous about the reaching out part and witnessing for their faith. But remember, the most effective thing is just to share your own story. You aren’t responsible for converting anybody. The Holy Spirit does that.

The Bible says “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.” There are four basic things you should be prepared to share:

  1. What was your life like before you met Jesus?
  2. How you realized you needed Jesus
  3. How you were born again
  4. The difference Jesus has made in your life.[7]

Take a cue from the simple testimony of a blind man healed by Jesus who told his listeners, “All I know was I was blind and now I see.”

I’ve said before that everyone should have a Paul and a Timothy in their life. That means you should have someone older in the faith who is mentoring you, helping you to grow as a disciple, and you should turn around and help someone younger in the faith to grow.

For years I was kind of growing on my own, without a spiritual mentor. I had been an elder, I had just been called as an assistant pastor in this church, but I’d never had a real spiritual mentor.

Then out of the blue I got one of the greatest gifts a new pastor could receive. I was invited into a disciple-making group by a retired pastor. He poured the love of Jesus into me, he challenged me, he encouraged me, he believed in me and wanted to invest in my growth.

He became a spiritual dad, and I knew I could call him any time if I had a pressing issue, a problem, or a crisis. I believe the vision for making disciples is more caught than taught. What I caught from this retired pastor was the same irresistible love that flows from the Father above.

I’m convinced that you either know and have experienced this love from the Father…or you will walk through life feeling like an orphan. That’s how powerful a disciple-making relationship can be that imparts the Father’s love and the Father’s blessing.

The Father’s blessing imparts this message: “I love you. I believe in you. I will keep on loving you with a stubborn love, even in the times that you stumble.”

It’s not just about teaching truth, although that’s an important element. It’s about life rubbing against life, going through the challenges of life with a band of brothers or sisters in Christ.

My dream is that we all become disciple-makers. Even as we are called to go to the nations, it must begin right here.

As I look back on the progression of my life, I can see how God slowly expanded the circle, from our home to our neighborhood, and then slowly he gave me a heart for the nations.

Are you ready to embrace a big vision for your life – a purpose-filled vision? Last month the great Evangelical leader, John Stott, passed away at age 90. He was the pastor ofAllSoulsChurchinLondon, but also a great missionary statesman.

He said, “We need to become global Christians with a global vision, for we have a global God.”[8]

Rick Warren has made the statement that global Christians are “the only fully alive people on the planet. Their joy, confidence, and enthusiasm are contagious because they know they’re making a difference.”[9]

I have the privilege of sitting on the missions committee at our church. I can tell you this describes the people on our committee. They are excited, engaged, enthusiastic, fully alive because they have found the key to living the Christian life with purpose.

Jesus understood His life mission. At age 12 he said, “I must be about my Father’s business. And 21 years later, dying on the cross, he said, “It is finished.”[10]

We don’t know how much time is left before the return of Jesus. There may be little time before night falls and all Christian work comes to an end.

But think about it, if there’s just one more person in heaven because of your influence, your life will have made a difference for eternity. Look around at your mission field. Ask God to show you who he may have put in your life to tell about His love.[11]

What is the value of a single soul? If just one person in heaven says, “Thank you. I’m here because you cared enough to share the Good News,” that will be beyond any other thing you may have achieved on earth.[12]


[1] Warren, Rick. “The Purpose Driven Life,” Zondervan. 2002

[2] Carr, Alan, “A Question of Priorities”Calvary Baptist Church, 2003

[3] Carr, Alan. Op.Cit.

[4] Stedman, Ray, “Top Priority,” 1975

[5] Warren, Rick. Op.Cit., p.286

[6] Pritchard, Ray. “Famous Last Words,” 1991

[7] Warren, Rick. Op.Cit., p.291

[8] Stott, John. “The Living God is a Missionary God,” Urbana Missions Convention, 1976

[9] Warren, Rick. Op.Cit. p.298

[10] Ibid. p.282

[11] Ibid. p.285

[12] Ibid. p.295


  1. Blessings to you. I just wanted to let you know how much this teaching and your personal testimony has blessed me. We have a study group and this week’s lesson is about obeying the last commandment. I googled the question and I was given several websites, but the LORD took me to yours and I’m so excited and blessed to have read your teaching. God Bless You!
    Ma. Elena Cavazos
    San Antonio, Texas

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