We have 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 or her. But no. The Great Commission neither explains, nor exhausts, nor supersedes the Great Commandment. What it does is to add to the requirement of neighbor-love and neighbor-service a new and urgent Christian dimension. If we truly love our neighbor, we shall without a doubt share with him or her the good news of Jesus. How can we possibly claim to love our neighbor if we know the gospel but keep it from them?
Equally, however, if we truly love our neighbor we shall not stop with evangelism. Our neighbor is neither a bodiless soul that we should love only their soul, nor a soulless body that we should care for its welfare alone, nor even a body-soul isolated from society. God created the human person, who is my neighbor, as a body-soul-in-community. Therefore, if we love our neighbors as God made them, we must inevitably be concerned for their total welfare, the good of their soul, their body, and their community.
Moreover, it is this vision of the human person as a social being that 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 preventive 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. And there is no reason why, in pursuing this quest, we should not join hands with all people of good will, even if they are not Christians.
To sum up, we are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve: “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). For this is the natural expression of our love for our neighbors. We love. We go. We serve. And in this we have (or should have) no ulterior motive. ... Love has no need to justify itself. It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need. ...
Social action, then, is a partner of evangelism. As partners the two belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other, for each is an end in itself. Both are expressions of unfeigned love. Evangelism and compassionate service belong together in the mission of God.
Taken from John Stott’s classic Christian Mission in the Modern World, expanded and revised by Christopher J. H. Wright (IVP Books, 2015). Wright is the international ministries director at the Langham Partnership, the London-based mission fellowship that Stott founded in 1969. www.langham.org