Teaching: Elements in Making Disciples
Passage: Matthew 28:18–20
Sermon on Matthew 28:18-20 and others by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Disciples Making Disciples, Part 4 of 6
Delivered on July 5, 2015
This is message number four in our series on disciples making disciples. We’re going to turn this Great Commission text once again, and look at it from another angle, and then see how it plays out in the rest of the New Testament. Today’s focus will be on teaching. What are some elements in teaching others to follow Jesus?
Last week we looked at a few relationships within the church where teaching occurs. We looked at the relationship of the elders to the church, of faithful men to other faithful men, of older women to younger women, of husbands to wives, of parents to children. And then finally, the goal of all those relationships was all discipling all—everybody teaching one another—that we might become more and more like Jesus.
What I want to do today is lay out a few elements included in this activity called teaching. My focus isn’t limited to the teaching and authority over the church that’s reserved for elders. There will be some overlap in what I say today, but my primary focus is much broader than that. I have in mind the sort of teaching that we all do for one another, such as Paul mentions in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another” (cf. also Rom 15:14; Eph 4:15).
You see, Jesus makes something very plain for us in Matthew 28:20, and that is this: making disciples includes teaching others to follow him. Read it with me beginning with verse 18. Jesus says, “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.” Teaching them to observe.
Making disciples is more than simply introducing people to Jesus. It’s more than simply identifying people with Jesus through baptism. Making disciples also includes teaching these same people to obey Jesus. After all, Jesus is the King. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He alone is God. He alone is victorious over sin. He alone conquered death with resurrection power. He alone has the might to crush Satan’s head beneath our feet. He alone possesses a kingdom that will last forever. And he alone is coming to judge the world with utter finality.
If this is who Jesus is, we must learn to follow him and bring him glory in every area of our lives. We don’t want to repeat Israel’s story, and profane God’s name among the nations (Ezek 36:24-26). We want to obey so that Christ’s name is exalted among the nations (Rom 1:5; 16:25-26). But how do we learn this obedience, especially when our old, sinful nature isn’t bent toward following Jesus? How do we learn obedience, when we live in a world with devils tempting us, in a culture kicking against Jesus’ reign and all kinds of idols alluring us—the philosophies of the day coddle our fleshly appetites—how do we learn to follow Jesus? We learn to follow Jesus through teaching each other. So, what are some elements we should consider in this activity of teaching?
1. Affection for Jesus and for One Another
First of all, teaching to make followers of Jesus begins with affection for Jesus and for one another. That might not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about teaching. But throughout the New Testament you can’t hardly escape it. When the apostles teach Christ to people, they’re not just rattling off a bunch of information like bored men in the DPS office. They’re giving people the risen Christ, whom they’ve come to love down to the very core of their being.
Jesus is their most precious possession, and it moves them to teach others about him. And so you’ll get comments like, “the love of Christ controls us” to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:14). Or, “I don’t account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Act 20:24). You see that? Testifying to the gospel of the grace of God—when Paul sets it up against his own life, he says it’s incomparable. Teaching God’s grace to others is worth way more than his own life. Or, when Peter talks about the blood Jesus spilled for his sins, he describes it as “precious blood” (1 Pet 1:19). The apostle John—when he writes his first letter, he opens with “we proclaim [eternal life] to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4-5).
Why do I write letters to teach you? To bring joy in Christ to its completion. Or at other times, it’s not uncommon for the apostles to break out in doxology as they teach the church (e.g., Rom 7:25; 11:33-36; 1 Tim 1:16-17). The point being, teaching—in the sense we’re talking about here, that which makes disciples—begins with affection for Jesus. It’s a deeply personal matter, because we’re not just giving away abstract, religious ideas, when we make disciples. We’re giving each other Christ.
Teaching also begins with affection for one another. To teach another person who has also put their faith in Jesus is to teach a brother or sister. There’s a bond that the two share or that the community shares that grows from our union to Christ. Your union with Christ produces fondness for others in union with Christ; and that fondness leads you to care for their soul, to invest in them, to teach them, to pour into them.
This makes some of us squirm in our seats a little bit, because it pushes us beyond information transfer: “I have this information, I give you this information.” Teaching people to obey Jesus isn’t robotic; it’s relational as we’re going to see more and more in just a minute. But let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about in terms of affection being integral to teaching one another.
For example, Paul’s relationship to Timothy is often instructive for us in disciples making disciples. Paul takes Timothy under his wing, he teaches him, and then he’d often send Timothy to other congregations to teach others also (1 Cor 4:17; 1 Thes 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2). And more than once we find Paul speaking of Timothy with such endearing language. Philippians 2:22, “You know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” He calls him beloved child elsewhere (cf. 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Tim 1:2, 18).
Paul even uses the same kind of language to describe his relationship to some of the churches he wrote to. In Philippians 1:8, he says, “God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus”—literally, with the bowels of Christ Jesus himself. These are Christ’s affections for the believers being expressed through Paul. Or, one of the clearest places where affections are linked with teaching is in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Paul says this, “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Note that: the readiness to share the gospel with other believers stems from those believers becoming very dear to you. And that dearness stems not first from what you may hold in common in this life. That dearness comes from what you both share in Jesus Christ.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to teach anything without affection for the people you’re teaching. We know that’s not the case. I’m just saying that your teaching will be incomplete. It won’t care too much about where the other person is coming from. It won’t labor to get in other people’s shoes. It won’t find new ways to get across what you’re trying to get across if the people don’t understand. And it ultimately won’t reflect Christ. How does Paul put it? “If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…and have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).
Teaching to make disciples of Jesus begins with affection for Jesus and for one another. In fact, discipling one another will flow quite naturally from your love for each other, in the same way a parent’s love drives them to teach and invest in their child. So, one place we might seriously consider as a church is whether we share this affection for one another. If not, or if even just a little bit, let’s pray that God would change our hearts toward each other. God is the one who gives us such affection: 2 Corinthians 8:16 says that God put into the heart of Titus earnest care for the church. So let’s ask God to work in this way; and then let’s make efforts to deal with whatever may be hindering that affection from growing.
2. Instruction in the Gospel of the Kingdom & Its Demands
Secondly, teaching will include instruction in the gospel of the kingdom and its demands. Let me talk about the demands first. Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” So, there’s no way for us to say, “Lord, Lord,” and then not do what he says. Jesus demands our lives, because he has all authority in heaven and on earth.
If he’s our King, we must follow his commands—commands like, “repent” (Matt 4:17); “follow me” (8:22); “go and reconcile with your brother” (5:24); “love your enemies” (5:44); “pray like this” (6:9); “seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness (6:33). Or even commands like this: “rejoice when others revile you” (5:12); “ask and it will be given to you” (7:7); “take heart daughter, your faith has made you well” (9:22); “come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden (11:28);” “go and make disciples” (28:19). These are various demands—all from Matthew’s Gospel—that we must learn to obey as citizens of Christ’s kingdom.
But one thing we must remember in our teaching is that all these various demands are linked with the gospel of the kingdom. When we look at Jesus’ own teaching ministry, he wasn’t merely going around telling everybody what they ought to be doing and weren’t able to do on their own. He was also giving them the very message that freed people and compelled people to do what they ought. This message was the gospel of the kingdom that he preached and taught so often.
What is the gospel of the kingdom? Well, sometimes the gospel refers more narrowly to the announcement that God has secured the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ substitutionary death (Acts 10:36-43; Rom 1:16-17; 1 Cor 1:17-25; 15:1-5). At other times, the gospel refers more broadly to the grand sweep of God’s saving purposes that find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Matt 4:23; Luke 4:18-19; Acts 13:32-33; Rom 1:1-6; Gal 3:8; Eph 3:4-10). Same gospel with different levels of focus.
But to boil it down, God has sent us a message in Holy Scripture about his kingdom breaking-in on the present world in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s really bad news for people like us, because we rebelled against God’s kingdom and even joined enemy ranks. Since God is holy and all-powerful, he will destroy us if we remain his enemies.
But the good news—the happy announcement for all rebels—is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, emptied himself and came into the world as a servant. He died on the cross as our substitutionary sacrifice—God’s wrath fell on him in our place. And then Jesus rose from the dead as the beginnings of a whole new world that he will one day bring in its fullness. Everybody who trusts in Jesus will experience the forgiveness of sins, enter the kingdom of God, and receive the promised Holy Spirit, who enables them to become more and more like Christ until he comes again. That’s the gospel.[1. I'm indebted to the summary of the gospel provided by Simon Gathercole, "The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom," in God's Power to Save, ed. Chris Green (Nottingham: InterVarsity, 2006), 138-54.]
This message changes people from the inside, so that they want to obey Jesus (Rom 6:14). The gospel message so thrills people with Jesus, they can’t help but obey him—he shines so beautifully. So, we’ve got the gospel of the kingdom and its demands. Now, let me give you a few examples of how Jesus and the apostles instruct disciples with the gospel of the kingdom and its demands.
The first one we can use is even right here in Matthew 28:18-20. What is the gospel of the kingdom according to Matthew 28? Christ was crucified, but now he is alive with universal authority. And he is risen for our benefit: he says, “I will be with you till the end of the age.” Jesus has the power and authority to achieve all God’s purposes. And if he’s unstoppable, then he will fulfill all the promises for God’s kingdom. How should that affect us? Well, we must go and make disciples of all nations. We should stop living for our own kingdoms and humbly submit to Christ’s rule. We should prioritize our life for mission, and then trust in his ongoing provision and enjoy his constant presence. You see how this works?
Another example: Mark 10:35-45. The disciples ask about who deserves the best seat in heaven. Then they begin arguing about it with each other. One disciple is trying to one-up the other. And how does Jesus address it? He basically tells them, “Oh no, you ain’t acting like that,” and then he preaches the gospel to them.
You get both demand and gospel. Hear it, starting in verse 42: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” You see what he’s doing? What’s the gospel message here? The gospel message is, the Son of Man came as a man to serve and to give his life on the cross. When he died, it served to ransom us from our selfish living. How does that affect us? Well, we must become slaves of all, turn away from pride, serve others first.
A third example: 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. You’ve got these believers in the church who are suing each other. They’re taking each other to court over some trivial matters, and Paul comes in—just like Jesus would do—and he instructs them in the gospel of the kingdom and shows how it ought to affect these little disputes. This time we’re pointed to the future: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?...Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” What’s he doing? He’s pointing us to what the gospel says about our future: your righteousness in Christ makes you fit to judge the world and angels one day. How much more these petty disputes? The demand is clear: get out of the courts, and start looking to Christ for help and forbearance with each other.
One more example: 2 Corinthians 8:9. Paul is exhorting the church to support the poor back in Jerusalem. But he doesn’t do so by just coming in and saying, “Hey, give ‘em your money!” No, he still makes the demand for sacrificial giving, but points them to the gospel while he does it: “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Again, we see a connection being made between the gospel of the kingdom and the demands it has on our lives. God was infinitely generous when he sent his own Son to die for our sins, therefore, let’s give to reflect that generosity.
These are just examples of hundreds and hundreds more. The point is this: when we’re instructing people to obey Jesus, we must be careful to also point them to the power of the cross. We must be careful to show people that what God commands, he also gives us the grace to do through Jesus Christ. So, making disciples of Jesus will include instruction in the gospel of the kingdom—make sure we know the good news of Jesus Christ in all its richness. And then let’s instruct each other in whatever demands it places on us.
3. Admonition in the Gospel of the Kingdom and Its Demands
There’s a flip-side to this instruction though, and that makes for a third element in teaching disciples: admonition in the gospel of the kingdom and its demands. This is like the other side of the teaching coin. In fact, many places in the New Testament we see teaching paired with admonition. One example we keep returning to is Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another.”
Admonition includes things like rebuke, correction, reproof, warning. If we had before us a path labeled the gospel of the kingdom. Admonition is what kicks in when you stray off the path into self-righteousness on the one side or loose living on the other. Admonition exposes why all the other roads will lead to destruction and then points you once again toward the path of life. Admonition is an activity in making disciples that’s less comfortable to give and even harder to receive, but the New Testament is replete with passages that make it necessary.
Paul exhorts Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If we’re going to be complete and equipped, then let’s not stray from admonishment. Paul didn’t stray from admonishment, even when it meant calling out Peter when he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles out of fear of the Jews.
He wasn’t sitting there contemplating, “Oh boy, this isn’t going to go over very well. I mean, if they see this we might lose some people over this…this is really going to be a downer for the Jews…the Gentiles might even get a bit prideful…Hmmm.” No, out of love for Christ and for Peter, he rebuked Peter to his face, because he was—the text says—“out of step with the gospel.” That’s all that mattered. We live out of step with the gospel, we destroy souls. This needs to be dealt with.
Parenthesis: The Gospel shapes the Manner of Instruction/Admonition
Now, I have to stop here for a minute with a little parenthesis. As I read through the New Testament this week, I was struck by how many times something is said about the manner in which we teach one another. That is to say, the gospel doesn’t just make up the content of what we teach; it also instructs us in how we teach it. Listen to some of these characteristics that should clothe our teaching. If we have affection for one another, these things will clothe our teaching.
A desire to listen. James 1:19, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Francis Schaeffer used to say, “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first fifty-five minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share something of the truth.” Oh how much our tongues need to be ruled with careful listening.
Wisdom is another characteristic clothing our teaching. Colossians 3:16, “teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom.” Jonathan Watson preached on this passage a couple years ago, and I appreciated his words. He said, “Simply put, [with all wisdom] means that we teach and admonish in appropriate…ways to the situation and to the individual. We don’t merely throw words at people…We have not done our duty to the gospel if we merely drop a cliché on our brother or sister in their weakness.”
Or how about gentleness and humility? We see these characteristics clothing our correction of one another in Galatians 6:1, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” There’s the humility part; we recognize our own vulnerabilities to the same sins we’re correcting in others. We’re just as vulnerable.
Love is another characteristic. Ephesians 4:15, “speaking the truth to one another in love.” That means you’re making every effort to serve their eternal good in God with your words. Or Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Our teaching should be gracious. We take great pains to find words that match the occasion.
Even our age differences play a role in shaping our rebuke. 1 Timothy 5:1-2, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” Oh, I want to be like this with my teaching, brothers and sisters. Don’t you? You know why? Because this is beautiful. It’s hard to do, it’s inconvenient to work on our words this way. But it’s beautiful, because it reflects the character of Christ. So, those are some characteristics that should clothe our instruction and admonition in the gospel and its demands.
4. Imitation of Christ
Okay, close that little parenthesis, and let’s get back to our various elements in teaching, and look at one more, namely, imitation of Christ. We’ve seen affection, instruction, admonition, now we’re looking at imitation.
This is an area where our church needs some growth; and that’s not necessarily because of some kind of deliberate avoidance of it, but because many of us are introverted and learn through reading. And historically, we’ve been part of a church model that leans toward one-directional teaching than interactive. And even deeper than that, sometimes our self-acclaimed trust in the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit overlooks the fact that the Spirit uses means, and one of those means is imitation.
If we stay here, it’s not going to be healthy in the long run—first of all, because it overlooks those who learn better, not through reading but through someone modeling it for them. But second of all, God has ordained that disciples learn to obey Jesus by imitating Christ in one another. It’s not that we imitate everything in each other; we imitate Christ in each other.
We see this imitation theme come up in several places. We see it in relation to Paul’s cross-centered life: losing everything for Christ’s sake is worth more than worldly gain. And it’s something he wants the church to imitate, so he sends them Timothy to show them his ways in Christ. Timothy, go live with them for a while, and show them my ways in Christ. Give them a model (1 Cor 4:16-17).
We see this imitation in relation to following in the footsteps of Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet 2:21). We see it in relation to pressing on toward the goal of the upward prize in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:17); in relation to becoming all things to all men (1 Cor 10:32-11:1). Timothy is to set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (1 Tim 4:2). The church in Thessalonica—Paul was imitating Christ in his mission; then the believers in Thessalonica started imitating Paul; and then the churches in Macedonia and Achaia started imitating the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:4-8; cf. 1 Cor 11:1)—just how it’s supposed to work. It even gets down to the mundane, everyday things, as Paul expects folks to imitate the way he works hard with his hands and isn’t lazy at work (2 Thess 3:7-8).
Now, this assumes something doesn’t it? It assumes that we’re actually around each other enough to imitate Christ in each other. Discipleship has to be more than one-directional teaching on Sunday morning. Imitation can only come with interaction, watching, inviting each other into each other’s lives. Older men with children, or who’ve had children that are now gone, what would it take for you to show some of our younger families what family worship looks like for your household? We have people, who are married that didn’t grow up with Christian parents. They’re asking how to lead their family in devotion. What would it look like to just eat together and then model it for them? Let them see it. Give them some ideas. Let them see that family worship often looks a whole lot different than the front cover of a lot books on family worship.
Or, some of you are really gifted in mercy toward others. You’re gifted with mercy, not so that the rest of us can overlook mercy. You’re gifted with mercy so that the rest of us learn to imitate mercy. Or, some of you are really gifted with evangelism. What would it take just to invite somebody else along and show them how to meet strangers and talk with them about Jesus? Or, we have some deacons with various ministries in the church, or that help with visitation. Make it a point to rarely work alone. You’re appointed to your ministry because we want others to imitate your service to the saints.
So, these are just a few elements in our teaching one another to obey all that Jesus commanded us: affection, instruction, admonition, and imitation. Now, some of you are going to go home and try to implement this tonight. And you’re going to pull out the calendar and get all giddy about schedules and map out when you’re going to teach and who you’re going to teach and how long you’re going to teach, etc. And I just want to say that if you’re like me in that, be careful not to compartmentalize discipleship. Making disciples is not an event—there’s really no such thing as a “discipleship hour.” It’s our life to follow Jesus in these things. Class is always in session. It’s fine if there are more formal times of instruction, but don’t miss the spontaneous opportunities to teach that the Lord gives you throughout the day.
On the other hand, some of you are already thinking, “What in the world could I possibly teach anybody about following Jesus? I’m not well-educated, I come from a rough background, or as Chris likes to remind me, ‘He’s just an ol’ clock-puncher.’” Let me encourage you with a word from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
This levels the playing field. It means God chose none of us based on what we lacked. Whatever we have is all of grace. And your life has a unique place in the kingdom. And it’s to magnify God’s power. So, whatever you have in Christ—wisdom, righteousness, redemption, truth, gifts from the Spirit—share it with us. Teach us. I need you; we need you, if we are to become more and more like Christ. To make disciples, you need not know everything, only Jesus.
More in Disciples Making Disciples
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