So often today, our churches and ministry are focused on one thing and one thing alone: getting to heaven. Not that I find that to be an unimportant or bad desire to have, but I find it misses the calling of what time the Lord has given us while we remain in our unglorified bodies. We claim to be “Great Commission” people in “Great Commission” churches, yet we miss the command of the “Great Commission” by a long shot.
We find the Great Commission most referenced in Matthew 28:18-20 when we hear preachers and teachers speak of it.
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 CSB)
What powerful instructions the Lord left us with! Yet, these instructions are often reduced to: “Go get people saved!” Certainly, we should have a priority on proclaiming the gospel to all men everywhere for the purpose of restoring lost sinners to the Father through the Son. What I find as troubling, though, is that we try to take everything Christ says here and lump it into “punching tickets to heaven”. The problem with that is many of those tickets aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, because we have preached a gospel of easy-believism and “say this prayer and you’re going to heaven”. Which is why we live in a culture of unregenerate church membership. What we don’t often hear preached is that Christ didn’t come just to save you from Hell, He came to save you from yourself, your sin, and the wrath of God. More than that, He came to reconcile you to the Father so that you could be useful to Him.
When Jesus spoke these words, He didn’t say, “Go get people saved.” He said, “Go make disciples…” That, of course, starts with the salvation of souls – being “born again” – through the preaching of the gospel…but it doesn’t stop there! One who is a disciple is one who is a follower or student of another – being trained and taught in their doctrines and principles and then being an advocate for that person and those things to the world around them. That’s why Jesus said, “…teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you..”. We aren’t saved to keep doing what we were already doing, we were born again for a new purpose!
Paul talks about that new purpose in his second letter to Timothy. As Paul gives some of his final instructions to his disciple and son in the faith, Paul tells him this:
“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to fight about words. This is useless and leads to the ruin of those who listen. Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. Avoid irreverent and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness, and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, bearing this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his, and let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also those of wood and clay; some for honorable use and some for dishonorable. So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:14-21)
Those who are the Lord’s will follow His instruction and correctly teach His word. They will purify themselves through calling on the name of Jesus to cleanse them of their sin and unrighteousness and will turn away from wickedness. They will walk in new life and become useful to the Master for His service. They will be sanctified and prepared for every good work.
We have a purpose if we are born again believers who are called according to His name. That purpose is to serve, glorify, and honor God in our lives. If we aren’t doing that and teaching others to do the same, we are not following the Great Commission and we are not useful to Him.
In his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul explains how that “usefulness” manifests itself in the body of Christ:
“For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized byone Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Indeed, the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable. And those parts of the body that we consider less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unrespectable parts are treated with greater respect, which our respectable parts do not need.
Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, leading, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
Paul explains here that we aren’t lone rangers out on a mission, and we can’t even actually function (as the Lord designed us to) apart from the body of fellow believers. We need the rest of the body and the body needs us to function as He designed. We can’t say to the other parts of the body that we don’t need them, and they can’t say they don’t need us. Think about that for a moment and you’ll understand why we have so many churches today that resemble the victim of a tragic farming accident more than they do the body of Christ. They are missing parts and can’t function right. What they do manage to do seems awkward and poorly accomplished. It lacks in both effectiveness and efficiency. It’s like a 1-year-old put together Mr. Potato Head with all the wrong pieces and in the wrong places.
Paul also begins speaking about spiritual gifts and roles of members in the body in this passage. That’s important to recognize! We can’t just be any member or the kind of member we want to be. He says, “God has appointed these in the church”. That means I don’t get to choose what I want to be! God chose for me what I needed to be to honor and glorify Him and to be useful to Him through His Church. I need to know what He has called me to be so that I can be properly fitted and placed in the body of Christ. If I am a pastor or someone who disciples others, I also need to learn to recognize the other parts of the body as what they are so that I can help them see their own gift and what type of a member God designed them to be. Otherwise, I’ll have no idea where they fit in the body and I’ll contribute to building a very ugly and funny looking body that will poorly represent Christ and His work. If this is happening in your church, you may need to have a talk with your pastor about the importance of recognizing spiritual gifts. If you are the pastor, it’s time to stop playing politics and popularity and follow the Spirit’s leading as you identify the gifts He has given instead of the positions people want.
So, to be useful vessels for the Master, we need a minimum of six things:
- We must be born again.
- We must be obedient to Christ. (This includes following Him in keeping the ordinances of Baptism and Holy Communion)
- We must be discipled. Meaning we must be taught and trained in His word.
- We must be confessing and repentant of sin in our lives so that we will be purified from dishonorable things and cleansed from all unrighteousness.
- We must be members of a body. That means we must be attached to a body of believers where we can provide the function we were called to do and to benefit from the functioning of the other members of the body.
- We must know what our spiritual gift is and what type of a member we are so we can fulfill our part of the body.
I challenge each of you to ask yourself if you are indeed a “useful vessel” or if you’re just another guy or gal with a ticket that you are counting on getting you into heaven. Ask yourself if you have the six minimum requirements to be useful to the Master. If not, stay tuned in the near future as I hope the Lord will allow me to expand on these six points in individual articles through which I pray you will be able to gain guidance in becoming useful vessels. In the meantime, I pray God is blessing each of you and you are glorifying and honoring Him in all you do.