Discipleship: The Neglected Commission

Discipleship: The Neglected Commission

We are right to teach the Great Commission of Jesus to His followers found in Matthew 28:18-20.  It’s essential for the church of Jesus to be active in the work of evangelism and missions.  As a pastor, I’ve preached many sermons on the subject of personal evangelism and global missions.  However, when was the last time you paused to consider the actual wording of the Great Commission?

There’s actually two components given by Jesus to His people in the Great Commission, and one is greatly neglected.  One commission involves reaching unbelievers with the good news of Jesus, but the second commission involves teaching those who follow Christ in sound biblical doctrine.  Just as both wings on any airplane are mandatory for flight, so are both aspects of the Great Commission to the mission of the Church.  We can’t accomplish the Great Commission without faithful teaching.

Defining Discipleship

The very word disciple means learner.  In order to be a disciple of Jesus, one has to be willing to learn about Jesus and from Jesus’ own teachings (Rom. 10:17).  The evangelical church is filled with people who want to be busy doing things for Jesus, but at times those same people neglect learning.  People in the church would often be more interested in reaching unbelievers in Zambia, Africa or the mountains of Ecuador with the gospel than they would to submit themselves to pastors and become learners of God’s Word.  Therein is one of the critical errors of today’s evangelical church.

Jesus said, “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, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

The word, “teaching” comes from the Greek term, “διδάσκω.”  It means to impart instruction or instill knowledge. There are two important components to discipleship in the Christian life.  One aspect involves disciples learning truth by receiving biblical teaching.  As we look at the early Christians, we see immediately after Peter’s famous sermon at Pentecost, the new disciples were baptized.  Immediately thereafter, they are found submitting themselves to the teaching ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:42).

The second aspect of discipleship involves followers of Jesus investing in the lives of others.  Titus 2 provides a great model of the older training the younger.  Jesus Himself took a small group of men and poured into them.  It should be noted that His discipleship model was not merely pizza and video games.  Jesus was a powerful preacher and teacher of God’s Word.  The ministry model of Jesus was built upon far more than gimmicks and tricks.  His ministry was not a man-centered humanitarian ministry—it was a gospel teaching ministry.  Unless we want to be learners, we can’t be disciples.  Unless we first learn, we can’t disciple others.  Beware of the one who wants to teach others but has very little passion to be taught.

The First Mark of an Authentic Church

If we look at the early church, we see an imperfect group of Jesus followers who were learning how to worship, serve, love, reach, and teach through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The first and authentic mark of the church is that of true biblical preaching.  If the church is not being built through faithful preaching and teaching, all other activities, ministries, and service will be in vain.  Just as the early church was built upon sound biblical teaching, so should our modern day evangelical church as well.

Although we must emphasize a robust preaching and teaching ministry, we must not neglect faithful service.  Andrew Davis, in his excellent book titled, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, writes:

The Church needs to reclaim a Bible-saturated, Spirit-drenched emphasis on both of these infinite journeys, learning that they are absolutely intertwined. It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs. And it is impossible to make genuine progress in sanctification if the people only read good Christian books and stay in classrooms, but refuse to get out into the world as witnesses. These journeys are mutually interdependent: without progress in one, there can be no progress made in the other. [1]

While we must avoid the false assumption that discipleship is more caught than taught, a church with a robust teaching and preaching ministry should likewise have mature believers who model what genuine discipleship looks like in action as well.  Andrew Davis writes:

This one passage of Scripture has been the central motivation for more missionary sermons, books, strategies, and fruit than any other passage in the Bible. However, in an effort to An Infinite Journey Mapped Out “get people saved” (by which they mean justified, these converts having merely “prayed the sinner’s prayer”), they have neglected the fullness of Christ’s command. As I will argue in this book, the goal is for the Church to make mature disciples (learners) of Christ: disciples who are taught the fullness of his word and obedience to all of his commands. [2]

Could it be that the Great Commission is the neglected commission?  Like two wings on an airplane, both elements of the Great Commission matter—reaching and teaching.  The church that emphasizes reaching but neglects teaching has neglected the Great Commission altogether.

  1. Andrew Davis, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2014), 24.
  2. Ibid., 33-34.
The Whole Duty of Man

The Whole Duty of Man

Yesterday, in our evening service, I was privileged to preach the final sermon in our Ecclesiastes study from Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.  The study was a challenge to preach, and that is the consensus of all of our elders.  Three of our elders engaged in a rotation through our study on Sunday evenings which was enriching and profitable.  As we looked into the book of Ecclesiastes once again as a church family, it was as if we could hear the wise old man named Solomon calling out to avoid the broken roads of sin as he pointed us to the whole duty of man.

Is Everything Vanity of Vanities?

All throughout the study of Ecclesiastes, it seemed at times as if Solomon was merely pessimistic.  He looked into the world in his day and described it as vanity.  But, is that what Solomon was doing?  Was he really just being negative?  Was Solomon merely seeking to be a big killjoy?

It seems that the thrust of Solomon’s voice and the tone of the Preacher was focused on avoiding a certain kind of life that is nothing but vanity.  In other words, it is possible to waste your life.  Before John Piper preached his sermon about boasting only in the cross and wrote his now famous book titled, Don’t Waste Your Life, there was Solomon thundering in his day about the vain life that must be avoided.

A Challenge to Avoid Wasting Your Mind

If James Montgomery Boice described the evangelical church in his day as “mindless times,” how would he describe our present church culture?  Solomon pointed out in Ecclesiastes 12:9-11 the value of Scripture that has been given to us by the Shepherd Himself.  These words are valuable and have been put before us for correction and stability.  Solomon uses the illustration of a goad and firmly fixed nails as a means of describing the profitability of Scripture.

Solomon also provided a warning regarding aimless learning.  This world is filled with libraries.  One such library is the Bodleian Library in Oxford England.  This historic library was the first library and remains the most famous and perhaps the most useful library in Oxford.  The Bodleian Library’s claim to fame rests in the fact that every printed book – every published book – gets catalogued into the Bodleian’s system. To date, they have over 12 million printed items.  In the Bodleian, there is a copy of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and four original Magna Carta manuscripts.  Due to limited space on new volumes, the library has a storage facility 30 miles away from the Oxford campus where 8.4 million volumes are stored on 153 miles of shelving units.  The historic and antiquarian section of the library has been used in the Harry Potter films because of the ancient look and feel.

There is no end to the making of books, the building of libraries, and the organization of information technology (blogs, websites, and online digitized libraries).  However, the world is not gaining ground with all of this knowledge and learning.  The world, in many ways, continues to grow in futility as the unbelieving world is overtaken by the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life.  Solomon hangs a massive warning sign here.  Be careful of all of the other books.  It’s as if he is pressing upon his readers – upon us – the necessity to major on God’s Word.

A Warning to Avoid Dying with Regrets

Solomon took twelve chapters to point out the dangers of the vain life, and he ends with a sobering reminder and a solemn warning in verses 13-14.  The sobering reminder is the entire focus of the book itself—fear God and keep His commandments.  There must be a desire to fear God and obey Him.  If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the best way to accomplish this is by fearing Him and obeying Him.  This, according to Solomon, is the whole duty of man.

Finally, Solomon brings it all to an end with a solemn warning.  This warning should be considered by the child of God and the unbeliever.  To all of God’s children, there will be a time of judgment where we all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of our lives.  According to Solomon, on that day God will bring out every secret thing, whether good or evil.  This should cause us to fear God and such fear should lead us to faithful obedience.

For the unbeliever, this scene of judgment will be far different.  Perhaps we can get a glimpse of it from Revelation 20:11-15.  Every deed brought out before the throne of God and as the holy Judge – Christ Himself – judges sinners, there will be no excuses valid, no holes deep enough to hide from Him, no hills high enough to evade Him, and His judgment will be final.

Don’t die with regrets.  Don’t end your life with the knowledge that it was all vanity of vanities.  There is ultimate fulfillment and purpose of living and dying found in Jesus Christ—the Savior of sinners.  Repent and cast yourself upon the mercy of God.

Old Age Is Coming, but It’s Not All Vanity

Old Age Is Coming, but It’s Not All Vanity

Last night, we gathered for worship and one of our pastors – David Crowe – preached from Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 as we’re nearing the end of our Sunday evening study.  He admitted at the beginning that as most of America was preparing for a festive evening centered on the Super Bowl, the text we covered last night didn’t lend itself to much celebration.

As we read and examine the text, we see images of diminished strength, failing body, and the fear of growing old.  These images are not exactly encouraging to say the least.  However, Pastor David did a good job of demonstrating two important truths:

  1.  Don’t neglect your youthfulness today, because it passes quickly.
  2. Don’t neglect your value as an older person, because you can still be used by the Lord even in a state of diminished strength.

For those of us who are still considered young(er) in life, the prospect of teeth falling out, eyes growing dim, the loss of strength, and all of this leading to shaking in fear of the end is not something to celebrate.  In fact, if we consider the reality of last night, very few people were gathered together under the teaching of such a passage.  Most of our nation was gathered in party atmospheres, eating and drinking, and celebrating the strength of their selected team or players in the big game.

The point is clear, even the most powerful runners, the most skilled passers, and the most intelligent coaches last night will go through this process of aging at some point.  We were reminded of this reality as President George H. W. Bush (41) was pushed out to the 50 yard line in a wheel chair to flip the coin for the team captains at the beginning of the game.

As we consider the inevitable, we must not approach those days in fear.  We have hope.  Even in the state of diminished health when the dark days come—we have this blessed assurance in Christ who has gone before us and defeated death.  One day, even death itself will pass away (Rev. 21:1-4).  Until we pass over the precipice of this life into eternity, we will press on with our hope in Jesus Christ.  Even the dark days of life are not vanity – there is hope in Jesus.

The Responsibility of Maintaining Unity

The Responsibility of Maintaining Unity

Yesterday, I had the privilege of preaching through Ephesians 4:1-6 in our Sunday morning series.  The focus of the text was the subject of unity.  It’s no secret that we see disunity surrounding us on a daily basis in the world of politics and the corporate business world.  We live in a cut-throat society where people are willing to do whatever necessary to achieve success.  The church, however, is called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace for the glory of God.

The Duty of Maintaining Unity

If you refuse to perform regular maintenance on your automobile you will soon find yourself broken down on the side of the road.  The same thing is true in regard to the local church.  If we as a people are not walking in a manner worthy of the calling, humble, gentle (meek), patient, bearing with one another in love, and eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—the church will break down too.

In Paul’s day, the church was grappling with the friction of Jew and Gentile relationships.  The issues were complicated and at times, very heated.  What was at stake was the very fabric and mission of the church as God designed it.  For Paul, he understood the importance of a God ordained ecclesiology.  At the heart of this issue was Christian unity under the banner of the gospel.  There was no other option.  It was mandatory in Paul’s day and it remains so in our day too.

As a Christian, it’s essential to look to good examples in life and in the biblical text.  Certainly Moses is a worthy example, as Numbers 12:3 reports that he was the most humble man on the face of the earth.  The prophets of old were examples of “suffering and patience” according to James 5:10.  We see that Noah labored in patient obedience as he built the ark and preached the Word.  As we move over to the New Testament, examples of faithfulness include Paul and the other faithful disciples who gave their lives for the sake of Christ.  Timothy was instructed by Paul and remained steadfast in his calling.

The world has seen enough division in the realm of politics, racial divides, and the business world.  What the world needs to see is a body of Christ joined together by the blood of Christ and held together by the Spirit of Christ in Christian unity.  That proclaims the excellencies of Christ to a lost world (1 Pet. 2:9).

The Doctrine of Unity

The doctrine that undergirds the duty of unity is visible in Ephesians 4:4-6.  Paul continues to use repetition as a highlighter of the central aspect of unity that he was driving home to the early Christians in Ephesus.  He repeats the word “one” on numerous occasions as he points out the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

In sports, a team can wear the same uniform and when they go out onto the field if the are not working as one team in unison, they will fail.  This is laughable in the world of athletic competition, but it’s lamentable in the Christianity when a church wears the same uniform but fails due to disunity.  There is no other word to employ for such behavior other than sin.  Therefore, it’s our duty to stand upon the doctrine of unity in Christ and to guard the church from division.  This honors God.  This proclaims the gospel.  May the Lord be praised in your church as you become an agent of unity rather than an agent of division.

Know History and Emphasize Prayer

Know History and Emphasize Prayer

Yesterday morning, Conrad Mbewe preached to our local church after a long week at the G3 Conference.  His text was Psalm 126, and as he preached, he asked two important questions.  The questions emerged from the text, and in form of application, he asked them to our local church for the purpose of evaluation and examination.

Do You See Value in Studying Church History?

As the Psalmist writes in verse 2-3, “The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”  Israel needed to recall the “great things” that the LORD had done for them.  Often, we forget how great our God is and how immeasurable the great things are that He has done for us.  One way of doing this is by having a good understanding of church history.

As we consider the importance of the Reformation, it’s important for us to consider where we are in church history and the shoulders that we stand upon.  This helps us to see how good God has been to us and it should lead to gladness of heart.  The point is clear, if Israel studied redemptive history and was reminded of the works of God—we should do the same.

Is The Prayer Meeting — Just a Prayer Meeting?

As Pastor Conrad continued to preach, he placed the focus on prayer.  In application to the local church, he asked a very important question.  He asked, “Is it just a prayer meeting?”  In other words, is the weekly prayer meeting an emphasis or something that we neglect and overlook?

As Israel was encouraged to “go out there” weeping, they would soon return with joy—bringing their sheaves with them.  At this juncture, Pastor Conrad placed the emphasis on the weekly prayer meeting and asked some helpful questions worthy of consideration.  Do we weep for souls?  Is our prayer meeting focused on physical illnesses rather than spiritual needs?  While physical problems are real, they should not outweigh the spiritual needs of the congregation and our community.

As he came to an end, he asked if we are “bruising our knees” in prayer.  Are we?  Are you?  Why is prayer so neglected in our churches today?  If we want true reformation and if we want to see our church reach our community, we don’t need more gimmicks to reach lost people and convince them to “join up” at the local church.  We need serious minded, humble Christians to be on their knees pleading with God, weeping for souls, and trusting in God for the results.

Is your weekly prayer meeting just a prayer meeting?

Do you place any value in understanding church history?

Human Dignity in a Post-Human World

Human Dignity in a Post-Human World

Yesterday, our church observed Sanctity of Life Sunday (a bit early due to our church’s involvement with the G3 Conference this week).  For the 2017 Sanctity of Life Sunday, we welcomed Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute to our church and our pulpit.  You can hear his full sermon as he pointed out the biblical, logical, and moral fallacies of the pro-choice movement.

+Full manuscript / notes