Note: This is an assigment I have for a class. I'm posting in case any body else has a good insight as well as for future reference.
What is the Great Commission? The Great Commission is to “make disciples of all nations” by baptizing and discipling. Jesus’ words include both the target and the overall method. The book of Revelation indicates that every members “from every nation, tribe, people and language” will be before the throne of Christ, so I would argue that the scope is universal, as I take “all nations” (παντα τα εθνη) to mean “all people everywhere” rather than “nations states” or “ethnic groups” or “language groups.” Both baptism and discipleship of people everywhere would include language study to effectively bring people to faith and to tell them all that Jesus did and taught.
Certainly, we must understand the language. However, it would seem that merely having the language down would be insufficient. Although Jesus does not specifically say so, it seems to me that a prerequisite for fulfilling the Great Commission is love. I have a friend and brother in the Lord who is in Haiti. Learning languages does not come easily for him, but he has learned Haitian Créole in order to serve the Haitians better. What good would I be if I took language classes, graduated from seminary, then joined my brother in Haiti if I did not love the people? If I do not love the Haitian people, I cannot respect their culture, understand and accept their ways and wisdom, nor could I model Jesus Christ to them. Similarly, I think love for a people would also be important in translation work. The closer we can identify and love a people, the closer we can communicate the heart of God in transferring the Word of God into a people’s cultural context.
Indeed, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14 NIV) But how can they listen to a preacher who looks down upon them and fails to understand and appreciate them? So, while language is required to fulfill the Great Commission, love is essential in answering the call of Jesus Christ. Without love, any preaching I do would be just so much noise.
Words of love seem empty to use if they are not paired with corresponding actions. Along the same lines, if I love a person, I do not merely wish them to be well and stay warm; instead, I would provide for a person’s needs if it were within my power to do so. However, it is not enough to merely provide for a person’s physical needs. What good is it for us to save the body but ignore the soul? It does seem clear, however, that we cannot ignore a person’s needs and offer them only the Gospel if we are able to meet their needs.
One final point: Americans in general tend to behave as though we know better than the rest of the world. This tendency, plus a bleeding-heart social mentality that merely masks our need to appease our consciences predisposes us to meet the needs of people that we think are important. However, while we attempt to minister to other people, we must genuinely love them, appreciate them, and find out from them what they feel are their needs. The felt needs of a people are far more important than the needs we feel need to be met, and (I surmise) far less convenient to fulfill.