18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
After Jesus’ resurrection, “all authority was entrusted to me” came to fruition. He is not waiting passively in heaven for His glorious arrival as king but already He is exercising His lordship. The literal translation is a command: “You disciple.” The word disciple translates as “to become a learner or pupil.”1 Grammatically, Matthew uses the aorist active imperative tense. This simply means an action that is absolutely required and occurring without end. It is surrounded by three participles (Go, Baptize, and Teach). The first participle ‘going/traveling’ is one of attendant circumstance. It is used to communicate an action that is equally as important as the finite verb ‘Disciple.’ In this respect, the verb is not dependent, and is best translated “Go and Make.” Therefore in Matthew’s mind, Go is understood as not only a nonnegotiable but an assumed action that is always linked to the command ‘Disciple.” 2
(Baptizing) and (Teaching) are participles of means. Jesus is communicating how the action of the finite verb is accomplished. By using ‘Baptizing’ Jesus is describing the symbolic gesture of being initiated into His fold. The gospel is the catalyst for that initiation and thus the most relevant message that a person can receive in this life3. The focus is witnessing, so the task of baptizing in this text is mainly evangelistic in nature.
‘Teaching’ refers to catechesis, which means the process of educating through a method of active questioning and response. By teaching what Jesus taught, the church becomes an extension of His ministry4. In all, the command to disciple finds its fulfillment in evangelism and education. The discipleship characteristics as commanded by Jesus appear not only in this commission, but throughout the Gospels.5
Discipleship was Jesus’ method of winning the world to Himself. In fact, Jesus converted very few people in His earth ministry in a clear-cut way. He literally staked His whole ministry on twelve men. As popular as He was during His earthly ministry, Jesus did not focus on the momentary applause of men but quietly poured His life in those who would multiply. Jesus was not trying to impress the crowd, but usher in a kingdom. Christ expects His followers to be fruitful,6 but often we are not without external motivation and accountability. 7
Jesus knew that He would have to equip the saints to be able to lead the multitudes. This is what we need in our churches. It is safe to say that discipleship was foundational to Jesus’ ministry.
Early Church Model
Although not in a methodical plan as what we are accustomed to today, the apostles of the early church believed the command of Jesus was indeed serious. One clear example is the life that Paul modeled as shown most beautifully in the exhortation given in 2 Tim. 2:2. Paul understood it was important that Jesus sent him to do all that He had commanded. In the same way, he was sending Timothy. While being sent, Timothy is to continue the legacy by sending out faithful men out who would send others. This is what Jesus commanded Paul and this was his command to Timothy. The command is also extended to us today.
We have seen that Jesus calls His followers to reproduce the example of training disciples to continue the mission of actively teaching and sharing the gospel. There are practical examples of what this looks like through Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s relationship with Timothy to name a few. This will require long term investment but can create a deeply affecting ministry. So it appears that the call to discipleship is extended to the entire body of Christ and is no less relevant today than when it was first given.
Discipleship is an essential element of our Lord’s ministry and command to believers. It should be a significant component in the body of Christ both theoretically and practically.
What Is Discipleship?
Discipleship is a popular word, often used vaguely and ambiguously. It’s actually quite simple. Discipleship is the relationship between a teacher (discipler) and student (disciple). Many churches and Christian groups around the world do elements of discipleship, but rarely engage in holistic discipleship as modeled by Christ.
Discipleship is not fulfilled by any of the following items on their own:
- Evangelizing and making converts
- Bible study
- Training seminars
- Listening to sermons
- Hanging out with an older believer
Remember, these are elements of discipleship, not equivalents of discipleship. They are good and godly, but they lack the individual attention, growth and accountability that Jesus modeled.
By looking at Jesus’ ministry and the early church, we see that to holistic discipleship involves someone training their disciple in Word, Relationship, and Ministry.
Teaching disciples to obey all that Christ commanded and modeled throughout the Scriptures.
- Luke 11:28
- Mark 4:14-20
- 2 Tim 3:16-17
- John 5:38
Jesus clearly showed His disciples the importance and use of the Scriptures, both in His own personal devotion and in winning others to Himself. Learning and obeying Scripture is essential for one’s growth as a disciple of Christ. Mack Avenue Community Church expects its leaders to love God’s Word and to impart this love to their disciples.
Building relationships that feature love, commitment, authenticity, vulnerability, accountability, and intentionality.
- Matthew 9:9
- John 1:43, 11:54
- 1 Thessalonians 2:8
Having called His men, Jesus made a practice of spending time with them. This was the essence of His training program—letting His disciples follow Him. Knowledge of Christ was gained by association before it was understood by explanation.8 He ate with His disciples, slept near them, and talked with them for most of His active ministry. Although there is no command to commit to such a level, it seems convincing that Jesus shows how important relationship development is to growing a disciple. If this does not happen, the disciple may feel like a project and not a person. The person should know he is loved, not only by Christ, but also by their discipler.
Training disciples in service and evangelism. Service is any work done with the motivation to honor Jesus. This could be buying a cup of coffee for a coworker, or caring for those who have been marginalized by society and affected by injustice, making provisions for those who are hurting spiritually and physically. Evangelism is spreading the gospel by public preaching or personal witness.
- Matthew 24:14
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Jesus never asked anyone to do or be anything which first He had not demonstrated in His own life. His desire was to get the disciples into a vital experience with God. It is important that we realize that these early disciples really did not do much other than watch Jesus work for at least a year. However, the vision was kept before them by His activity. The model has been set for us. The mission of equipping us as believers to communicate our faith to the world was a huge component of discipleship in Jesus’ approach. Word, Relationship and Ministry work together to holistically model discipleship principles taught by Jesus. The goal of discipleship is to develop healthy believers that walk by faith, communicate their faith, and multiply their faith.
How to Choose a Disciple
Christ modeled the principle that selection of disciples is key to discipleship. He demonstrated that the multitudes could be won if they were just given Spirit-filled leaders to follow. We have to be discerning so that, like Paul following Jesus’ model, we will choose disciples who will not waste our time and but will be faithful stewards to what has been entrusted to them.
We should look for three main qualities in a disciple:
- Faithful. Confidence that what you are entrusting to the person will be in good hands.
- Available. It is hard to train someone who is not around. Therefore, a potential disciple must show a willingness to be around you. He or she must model commitment.
- Teachable. It is impossible to teach someone who thinks they know everything and are not receptive to instruction or rebuke. Just as Jesus modeled, we are not to waste the stewardship of our lives with know-it-alls.9
When Choosing a Disciple:
- Cast vision for the mandate of discipleship. This is done by teaching what it means to be discipled and helping them understand the expectations.
- Make it clear that you are the leader of the group you are calling them to. You are their servant and leader.
- Discuss with the person the requirements of being Faithful, Available, Teachable.
- The person must be willing to eventually disciple others – to follow the vision.
- The person must be willing adhere to your requirements i.e. One on One times, Bible Study time etc.
- What are the primary components of discipleship?
- Have you built conviction on the metrics of discipleship?
- What could hinder a discipleship relationship from being God-honoring?
- What traits are we supposed to look for in potential disciples?
2 Tim 2:2
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- Michael J. Anthony, Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 52.
- Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), 641.
- Anthony, 53.
- W.D. Davies, and Dale C. Allison, The International Critical Commentary: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991).
- Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21
- John 15:16
- Anthony, 55.
- Luke 8:10
- Matthew 9:12; Proverbs 8:13