The Great Recommission
I leaned back in my chair and looked over the sentence again, making doubly sure it said what I thought it said. Sure enough.
“In the famous Great Commission passage… Jesus arguably is entrusting to the disciples the task that Adam and Israel failed in, namely to be fruitful and multiply.”
Graham Cole, The God Who Became Human, p. 33
I was floored. People need to hear this, I thought. Single people need to hear this. The Church needs to hear this. What, you ask, do they need to hear? I’ll get to that. First, let me set the scene.
I’ve been a member of two churches in my life. Both of them Southern Baptist. I’m incredibly thankful for the people who have invested into my faith journey. Convictionally and theologically, I think Southern Baptists have a lot of things mostly right. Among several things Southern Baptists (and I think many churches) lack, however, is a functional theology of singleness.
I say “functional” because most Christians would agree, intellectually and theologically, that singleness is a good and unique season of life. But therein lies the problem. Many Christians only see singleness as a “season.” And for most people it is. Functionally, though, singleness isn’t actually viewed as a viable, long-term way to live. Why do I say this? Because people still ask, “You’re still single?!” “You don’t have a girlfriend?!” Or they say, “I know a really (insert positive adjective here) girl you should meet.” They mean well. They really do. I love them for it (most of the time), but marriage isn’t the end all be all of the Christian life. Holiness is (which, by the way, I hear marriage is great at showing you how unholy you actually are…so that’s good).
In the margin beside the sentence which I just underlined, I wrote a little note. It simply said “disciples = children.” What struck me as I read was the fact that Jesus was telling his spiritual children to be fruitful and multiply. What God initially commissioned Adam and Eve to do both physically and spiritually, Jesus now recommissioned to his disciples. In that sense, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is more of a Great Recommission. I don’t know how many of the disciples had wives or families. I do know that their command from Jesus was specific: make disciples.
Families offer the greatest potential for discipleship. The marriage of one man and one woman displays the complementarity seen in creation (Gn. 1:22 — land/sea, heaven/earth, sun/moon, plants/animals), the unity and diversity within the Trinity, the life-producing creativity of God, and the marriage of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:32). This is mind-blowing if you really think about it. It’s no wonder marriage is so integral to the local church. Marriage provides the ideal environment for fruitful multiplication and discipleship.
But Jesus’ commission isn’t just for married people and families.
Single people can also “be fruitful and multiply.” Perhaps not biologically, but spiritually. That is the part that both single people and churches need to hear. Jesus’ Great Recommission to both his disciples and the Church applies regardless of marital status. We are to make disciples who make disciples. For married couples, this occurs largely (but not exclusively) through your children. For single people, this occurs through intentional relationships in which you raise spiritual children — disciples.
The Church must come to a functional theology of singleness. I say this for two primary reasons. First, because Jesus and Paul certainly had functional theologies of singleness. If Jesus was the most complete human being and remained single, marriage can’t be everything. Likewise, Paul understood singleness as an opportunity for single-minded devotion to kingdom work — the advancement of the gospel into the world. Second, because if the Church doesn’t have a functioning theology of singleness, it will have little to offer her disappointed and unfulfilled neighbors after the LGBT movement fails to deliver on its promises. For these friends, heterosexual marriage can’t be the only solution offered by the Church. Rather, we must uphold singleness alongside vibrant opportunity for spiritual friendship. The practicalities of this will look different for each church, but the reality remains: Singleness matters. Marriage matters. Discipleship matters. The Great Recommission matters.
And Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” Matthew 28:18–20.