MATHETEUSATE! It reaches out and grabs our attention whenever we read our Lord’s Great Commission command in Matthew 28:19. The King James Bible translates it “teach.” The Greek word “mathetes” refers to a learner, a follower or a disciple. “Matheteusate” is the imperatival form meaning “make disciples.” It alludes to the relationship between a teacher and his learner; a master and his dedicated follower.
This verse is of paramount importance for the church. It holds the key for the future of our churches and of biblical Christianity across the globe. If we want God’s glory to spread throughout the world and our congregations to grow, we need to understand this passage and allow it to influence our lives and ministries. Our churches will flourish to the degree that they do that.
The Lord’s Command DECLARED
Making disciples is commanded of us. At first blush it seems that the command in verse 28 is “Go.” But although this participle probably possesses an imperatival flavor, the command that governs this verse is “make disciples” (mathetusate). Making disciples must be part of our daily lives. This is not simply good advice. It is not optional for believer’s or churches. Making disciples is one aspect of an obedience, God-pleasing life and an important characteristic of a faithful church. Before returning to heaven, the Lord Jesus issued this command to his disciples. They were to go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES from among all people groups.
Our Savior died for every people group—-Americans, British, Portuguese, Hispanics, Filipino, Chinese, African, Indian and Island dwellers, and He has called us to make disciples of each one.
The Lord’s command is intentional. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen. People don’t become disciples by accident. Pastors and churches wonder why their churches are not growing, why they are not seeing people saved on a regular basis, and why so few in the congregation develop spiritually. Often, the reason is that they have not developed a disciple-making culture in their church.
Disciple-making is intentional. It is done on purpose. Someone has to make the effort to talk to lost people, to share the gospel with them, to win them to Christ and then to invest their lives into them. Obeying our Lord’s command demands a significant investment of time, effort and energy, but it can be done and pays rich dividends in souls saved, lives transformed and new people added to the church.
The Lord’s command is inclusive. When the Lord issued this command to make disciples, only the eleven remaining disciples were present. This has led some to assume that this command was intended only for those men. The final phrase in verse 20, “to the end of the age”however, indicates that this command is for all who live in the dispensation of the church. Furthermore, even a cursory reading the New Testament reveals that this was not the understanding of the disciples or the early church. The command to make disciples was given to all churches from the Day of Pentecost until the close of this age. Disciple making is one aspect of the church’s God-given mission. It is not to be simply one program of local churches. It is to be part of the fabric of each local church.
The Lord’s command, however, does not apply to churches only. It applies to each individual Christian as well. It applies to YOU and to ME personally. The Lord was speaking directly to us when he issued this command. Each one of us is to be a discipler. We are to be sharing our faith with others, winning them to Christ and then teaching them how to grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Command DESCRIBED
Before you can make disciples, you have to know what a “disciple” is. What does a “disciple” looks like? How does a “disciple” act? What is a “disciple” supposed to know? The words “disciple” and “disciples” are found more than two hundred seventy times in Scripture. They refer to a student, a learner or a follower of a particular teacher. He sits, listens, learns and applies the teachings of his master to his own life. Slowly he begins to take on the lifestyle and the characteristics of his master. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his master, but every one that is perfect (mature) shall be as (or like) his master.” In Matthew 28:19, Jesus described a “disciple” as someone who had been identified with him through baptism, and is “observing” or doing the things he commanded us to do.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple a person must love the Lord Jesus more than he loves anyone or anything else including parents, children or siblings. In Luke 14:27, he taught that in order to be his disciple a person must take up his cross and follow him wherever he leads. In Luke 14:33, Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple a person must forsake all that he has and put the Lord first in his life.
From a practical standpoint, what does that look like? If you don’t know the answer, you can’t pursue it in your own life, much less encourage it in the life of someone else. So, let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
“What qualities characterize a Holy Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ?” Among other things, a disciple seeks to love God and others; to be a diligent and submissive student of Scripture; and to be honest, truthful, and dependable.
“What changes should occur in his life?” A disciple will discontinue any sexual sin and be faithful to his spouse and children; will hold down a job, be a dependable employee, and provide for his family; and will develop self-control so that his temper is tamed and his language becomes wholesome.
“What should a disciple know and apply?” A disciple will develop a sound understanding of the key books of the Bible and of biblical theology, and will seek to reflect that truth in his attitudes, values, aspirations, morals, relationships and responsibilities.
“How should a disciple serve?” A disciple will possess both a church and a world focus. He will faithfully serve God and His people in a local church; will seek to invest his life into those who do not know Christ and will commit himself to becoming a discipler himself.
The Lord’s Command DEVELOPED
Making disciples requires intentionality. It won’t get done unless we deliberately set out to do it. We get up in the mornings and go to work, school or church. We end up where we wanted to end up because we planned to end up there. In the same way, we have to intentionally develop a plan for sharing our faith and for investing our lives in others. Then, by the grace of God, we need to implement that plan. People don’t become disciples by accident or by happenstance. It doesn’t just happen. It happens because someone obeys the Lord’s command and invests his life into someone else’s.
Making disciples is required for growth and maturity. There are two things that are glaringly absent in the majority of American churches: very few people are coming to know Christ, and very little discipleship is taking place. Consequently, the vast majority of churches in America (85%) are not growing and nearly 4,000 close their doors every year. Many of the churches that remain are populated with people who have been in church for years, but have never been discipled. As a result, they lack the spiritual maturity needed to disciple othes.
If we want our churches to grow, both numerically and spiritually, if we want them to become bigger and better, then we MUST make the Lord’s priority our priority. We MUST make disciple-making the hub around which everything we do as a church revolves.
It takes work to do that. It takes intentionality to do that, but THAT is what our Lord commanded us to do. THAT is supposed to be our primary objective as local churches and as assemblies of believers.