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Are We Misunderstanding The Great Commission?

Preach The Word 4The Great Commission

I just returned from a 2-day Acts 29 Pastors’ Conference.  It was a powerful time of worship, learning, reconnecting with other pastors, and hanging out with three other guys from Mercy Hill.

But my main take-away involves the Great Commission.  Recently I’ve been studying the Great Commission with other leaders at Mercy Hill, thinking about how it’s easily misunderstood, and pondering how we can more faithfully obey it.

And God used this conference to crystallize these thoughts — so I’ll share them here.

Here’s the Great Commission —

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has 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.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Here are my thoughts —

This is one of the main points of Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew quoted this as Jesus’ final words in this gospel — and the final words of this gospel.  Which means he wants us to finish reading this gospel with the Great Commission ringing in our ears.  When we finish reading his Gospel, Matthew expects us to head out and start making disciples.

Making disciples is not just discipling believers.

As Jesus says, the making of disciples starts with baptism.  And baptism means someone has just come to faith.  So the command to make disciples is the command to go out and find people who are not disciples, and help bring them to faith so they become disciples.  And then we teach them to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.  And at the same time we head out to make more disciples from those who are not yet disciples.

Making disciples means making disciples.

It does not mean talking about making disciples, or teaching about making disciples, or praying about making disciples.  It means going to people who are not disciples, and loving them and sharing the good news with them so they repent of their sin, and trust Jesus as their Savior (Matt 1:21), Lord (Matt 7:21), and Treasure (Matt 13:44) — and become disciples.   It means — making disciples.

This command is for every believer.

Some people think Jesus only gave this command to the apostles.  But note that last promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The apostles did not live to the end of the age.  So Jesus is not just speaking to the apostles, He is speaking to every believer alive to the end of the age.  So He is speaking to me, and to you, and saying — Go and make disciples.

Jesus commands each of us to make disciples.

This is not optional.  It’s a command from our King.  It’s as weighty a command as “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44).  It’s not that we are to make disciples if we have time, or if we feel like it, or if it’s easy.  He’s commanding us — make disciples.

We must not let anything distract us from making disciples.

There is massive suffering in the world — hunger, poverty, sex trafficking.  And followers of Jesus will do all we can to relieve suffering.  But the infinitely worst suffering is eternal hell.  And the only way we can help someone escape eternal suffering is by helping them become a disciple.  So don’t let anything distract you from this all-important task of making disciples.

We must not let anything excuse us from making disciples.

Jesus’ final command is to go and make disciples.  He’s expecting each of us to focus our lives on making disciples.  So if we are too busy to make disciples, or too tired to make disciples, then there’s something else we need to stop doing so we can start making disciples.

To help us obey, Jesus reminds us that He has all authority.

Jesus always gives us promises to help us obey His commands.  Here, one of the promises is that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.  So the One commanding us to make disciples is the One who has all authority over us.  And since He has all authority, we have authorization to go everywhere to make disciples.  And — since He has all authority, we have nothing to fear as we step out to make disciples.  No one can do anything to us that isn’t part of Jesus’ good and loving will.

To help us obey, Jesus promises to be with us always.

There is nothing more satisfying than the presence of Jesus Christ.  Here Jesus promises a special outpouring of His presence as we step out to make disciples.  Do you want more of Jesus?  You’ll experience more of Him as you tell your neighbors about Jesus, or as you invite a work-associate out to lunch.

Jesus will help us make disciples.

Do you feel incapable?  Me, too.  But as we step out in obedience, the One who has all authority will be with us.  Those promises imply that He will help us make disciples.  As we pray, He will show us who to pursue.  As we trust Him, He will empower our love and words.  As we pray, His power will change people’s hearts.  So step out and start making disciples.  He will help you.

Making disciples requires going.

We do not wait for people to come to us.  Jesus calls us to go to them.  He calls us to walk out our front doors, go next door, and knock on our neighbor’s door.  He calls us to pick up our phone, call our friend, and invite them over.  He calls us to leave our cubicle, go to the cubicle next to ours, and invite someone to coffee.  Going is usually uncomfortable.  But remember, Jesus promises to be with you in a special way.  So go.

Thoughts?  Comments?

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Category: Help with Evangelism


6 Responses

  1. David says:

    Several weeks ago I was on a walk with my 8 year old son, the introvert. His older brother is very gregarious, will make friends everywhere he goes, and has the heart of an evangelist. But my younger son will not talk to anyone unless he knows them very well. On this walk my younger son repeated these words from Matthew to me, and said “How can I do this if I can’t talk to people?”

    Jesus said “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The Great Commission covers the whole breadth of discipleship, from sharing the Gospel with those who have not come to Christ yet, through teaching them the elementary things of the faith, all the way through to maturity. It covers the whole span of our walk together. It covers all of the gifts that God gives his people to serve Him and each other. All of us must be prepared to respond to every opportunity that God gives us, every work that He has prepared in advance for us to do. To do that, we must pursue God and respond to his calling each day.

    I know from my own introverted experience that God will provide opportunities to share the Gospel with those who do not know God. Sometimes I have done well, sometimes not. But that has not been (and should not be) my primary focus in how God has worked through my life. God has gifted me as He has on purpose, for His will, for His work.

    Please don’t make people feel guilty that they are not all an eye or a mouth. For all of us, if we pursue God he will give us opportunities to share with those who are not believers from time to time. But we should primarily focus on our gifts and calling. The Great Commission is wide, and it is given to the Church. We each have a part to play in it. My younger, introverted son does not need to try to be like his outgoing brother. He needs to be who God made him. He must do the work God has prepared for him. That will include occasionally sharing the Gospel, because God is not limited to only using us where we’re comfortable. I am pretty sure (although he’s young yet) that his primary ministry, the work that God will primarily work through him, probably won’t be evangelism. God’s design is that we are all a part of a body, that we each have a different purpose and calling, and it is good.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, David.

      I agree with you that no one should feel guilty for not being an eye or a mouth — for not having the same gifts or abilities as others have. That’s a beautiful and encouraging truth.

      But at the same time, I believe Scripture calls all of us to pursue evangelism.

      I say that because of the Great Commission of Matt 28:18-20; the promise Jesus gave to all his followers that He would make them into fishers of men (Mk 1:17); Paul’s command that we should all run to obtain the imperishable wreath (1Cor 9:24, the context is evangelism); Paul’s command to imitate him in doing all he does to see others saved (1Cor 10:33-11:1); Paul’s command in Col 4:5 which surely involves evangelism.

      It’s true that there is a gift of evangelism, as described in Eph 4:11. But in that passage the job of the Evangelists is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12), which surely means they train the saints in evangelism.

      Another reason I think we are all called to evangelism, is because we are all called to love our neighbors. When we see unbelievers who are facing God’s judgment, the call to love means I must do whatever I can to share the Gospel with them.

      We will do this differently. But I believe we are all called to pursue it. Like you said, your introvert son only can talk to people once he gets to know them. So wouldn’t that be how he could pursue evangelism — getting to know people first, and then sharing the Gospel with them?

      And again, thank you for sharing your story, and raising such a crucial question.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  2. Great thoughts! Also one common misconception about the great commission is that each believer is responsible to make disciples only in their immediate circles. The truth is that the church must work together to send people to “all nations.” With a priority on sending people to unreached and unengaged people groups. There is definately a “I make disciples” aspect as well as a team “we make disciples” mission with strategy and working together to plant in new places.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thank you for raising the issue of “all nations,” Paul. So, so important!

      Jesus won’t return until every ethno-linguistic group has had the Gospel preached to them (Mat 24:14). That has massive implications for us, since we all long for Christ’s return.

      I think it’s true that when it comes to unreached people groups, we should all be either goers or senders.


      Steve Fuller

  3. marrie says:

    Thanks for sharing this.
    I have never witnessed to an unbeliever since i got saved six years ago. Its been troubling me. i ask myself, how do i start? what will be the reaction from the other person? Just what will i tell them?……and many many more fears and questions.
    steve, is it that easy as you put it? Because even praying in public for me is a challange.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Marrie,

      I don’t want to imply that it’s easy. But it is definitely true that Jesus will help us.

      Read over some of the articles on evangelism found in the “check here for more help” section on the front page of the website. I think you will find some encouragement there.

      Let me know if that helps — and thanks so much for your question.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

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