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The Great Discipleship Imperative

It's not "Go."

Make Disciples (2)

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28.18-20

The Great Commission
This is perhaps the most mistranslated verse in all of Scripture.

Frequently, when I have taught the Great Commission, I will say, “Now there is only one imperative, one command, in this passage. What is it?”, to which people almost invariably reply, “Go!” Because, of course, there it is in the translation of verse 19.

However, that translation is not quite accurate, and therefore that response to my question is not correct. The only command in the Great Commission is “make disciples.”

Making disciples, as Jesus continued to say, involves teaching the things of Christ to other people. This has been a consistent theme in this series on disciples and disciple-making. But whose job is this?

Certainly those who are called to the teaching office in the Church must preach and teach so that true disciples of the Lord are equipped for ministry and living for His glory. But, as I am arguing in this study, that duty of teaching the things of Christ to one another and the world also falls on every disciple of Jesus Christ. In the Kingdom of God, we are all called to be teachers. As we grow in the Lord Jesus we ought to be teachers. Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples, and to teach those disciples to do the same. Thus, we must make sure we understand where and how we are to carry out this duty appointed us by the Lord.

So let’s examine the Great Commission of our Lord a little more closely, and see if we can’t gain more clarity and glean some additional insights into how He expects us to carry out this witnessing and teaching mandate.

Ready as we go
The word “Go” in verse 19 is, as I mentioned, consistently mistranslated in our English Bibles. Rather than being a verb in the imperative mood, as it seems so often to be, the word is a participle, and is meant to describe the subject of the imperative verb, that is, you – as in you all. As a participle, it should be translated temporally: “as you (all) are going.” Jesus thus instructed His disciples to “make disciples” “as you are going.”

So what Jesus actually commands is that, as we are going about the everyday situations of our lives, in order to make the most of those situations, we must be ready with a life well-lived and a word of witness or instruction, so that we might teach others to be followers of Jesus Christ, or at least to consider Him.

Let’s face it, we talk about what excites us most. Seen a good movie lately? You’ll share it with your friends, often with much enthusiasm, urging them to go see it. Get a new car? You’ll want to show it off to all your friends. Got a new tech-gadget? You’ll parade it out with joy for everyone to gawk at and covet. New child or grandchild? Out come the pictures.

It’s the way we are: We talk about the things that excite us most. And when our relationship with the Lord Jesus and our experience of the Gospel of the Kingdom affect us like movies, cars, gadgets, and kids, we’ll talk about these with anyone and everyone who will listen. As we are going.

Our audience
So whom should we expect to be our audience for such teaching?

Well, ask yourself, “Where do I go each week?” What makes up the as-you-are-goings of your life? We pretty much have these in common, at least as categories: Our homes, neighborhoods, places of work, stores and restaurants, service organizations, churches, circle of friends, clubs, professional associations, and so forth are the places we regularly go. As Jesus was sent to a particular place and time to do His disciple-making work, so He has sent each one of us to our own Judea and Samaria, with the same mandate (Jn. 20.21).

When we begin to see our everyday places as our mission field as well as our classroom, and all the people we routinely see there as our students, we’ll be in a position to start lining-up the curriculum of truth that we’ll want to present to them as we are going about our everyday tasks.

Assuming, of course, that we are growing in our excitement about the things of the Lord.

Begin here
As we’ve seen, we need to prepare carefully to go out into our Personal Mission Field each day ready to talk with others, show the love of Jesus, and work for transformation of various kinds. Daily preparation in reading, study, prayer, and planning is indispensable for making the most of the as-you-are-going opportunities the Lord brings us each day.

How’s your daily time in God’s Word? Rich? Full? Yielding regular encounters with the glory of God? What about your prayers? Do you really experience being in the presence of Jesus as you open your soul to Him in prayer? Do you find that your times with the Lord are increasing the hope of glory in your soul and the experience of righteousness, peace, and joy in every area of your life?

In your time with the Lord, do you look ahead at your day, to anticipate work, meetings, appointments, and other opportunities for showing and teaching Jesus? The more we set our minds to be disciples, the greater will be the likelihood both that we’ll make progress in that part of our calling, and that we’ll be ready with a word to make disciples of others.

Work hard at your spiritual disciplines, and be sure that you go with Jesus into all the as-you-are-goings of your life. Soon enough you’ll find that you can’t not think about the Lord and His goodness. You will always have something to say about the One Who always fills your life with meaning, purpose, wonder, glory, and love.

Jesus does not command us to “go.” He knows that we’re always going somewhere. He commands us, as we are going, to make disciples. Be a disciple who makes disciples, and you’ll be right where Jesus wants you to be.

For reflection
1. How would you explain the Great Commission (Matt. 28.18-20) to a new Christian? What does this require of us? How can we make the most of the time given to us for this high calling?

2. What would you describe as the as-you-are-goings of your life? Have you mapped out your Personal Mission Field? What opportunities for teaching or bearing witness are present there?

3. How would you evaluate your spiritual life at this time? Are you growing in the Lord? Seeking to be more consistent in serving Him? In sharing Him with others? 

Next steps – Conversation: Is your current practice of spiritual disciplines producing in you genuine excitement about the Lord? Do you need to improve your prayers and Bible reading? Take some time in prayer to seek the Lord for ways to improve your time with Him in His Word and prayer.

T. M. Moore

Working Your Personal Mission Field

Two little books can help you be more effective in your calling to make disciples. You can order a free copy of Joy to Your World! andThe Gospel of the Kingdom by clicking here. Be sure to check out our free monthly Personal Mission Field Workshop by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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