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The Call of Discipleship

Matthew 28:16-20

Jim Davis

A story was told about a church in Atlanta. A man noticed in the Yellow Pages, in the listing of restaurants, an entry for a place called Church of God Grill. The peculiar name aroused his curiosity and he dialed the number. A man answered with a cheery, "Hello! Church of God Grill!" He asked how the restaurant had been given such an unusual name, and the man at the other end said: "Well, we had a little mission down here, and we started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. Well, people liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that’s Church of God Grill."

The easiest thing in the world to do is to lose sight of the mission of the church. The clearest and most comprehensive command of our Lord is given in the following verses. This command was the last command given to the chosen disciples after Christ's resurrection and just before Jesus' ascended to heaven.

Matthew 28:16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."" (NIV)

Naturally, in order to make disciples we must have pupils—pupils willing to be taught—pupils willing to learn—pupils willing to obey. Every thing we do in life initially begins with being directly or indirectly taught. We come into this world as ignorant as most animals, but we come into this world to learn. God gave us the power of reasoning that we might learn. God sent us into this world to learn his will for our lives so that we might influence others to recognize his glory.

Faithful disciples must be committed to teaching the word to others. We must teach and make disciples so that others will be able to commit the message to others. Paul instructed the young minister Timothy of his responsibility to the church. Paul actually reiterates the Great Commission of Christ.

2 Timothy 2:1-4
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs-- he wants to please his commanding officer. (NIV)

We are to "go and make disciples of all nations." We must remember that this command was given to those who were already disciples. Sometimes we may get the cart before the horse. We may want to go out before we are taught. We may want to go before we become disciples ourselves. We may want to go before we know how to teach. Jesus spoke this great commission to those he had been teaching for three years. He spent three years making disciples of them.

We must overcome our doubts and accept Christ authority to direct our lives. Matthew writes, "When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." It is encouraging to know that they were willing to overcome their doubt about Christ so that they could follow his orders.

In many instances we learn as we go, we may learn through experience, but there are some things that we must know before we go--those things must first be learned by each of us and then they must be taught by us.

We Must First Become Disciples

There can be no making of disciples until the teaching of Christ moves our hearts. The purpose of every Bible class in the church is to teach in such a way so as to make disciples. The only purpose for teaching is to move hearts to obey. This is the simple definition of discipleship. Those listening must be converted to what is being taught. It goes much further than being present to listen.

Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (NIV)

In order to serve the Lord we must have the patience to follow him wherever he may lead. Driving a car is a difficult task but I find being a passenger even more difficult. Allowing someone else to have control over the direction I am going is sometimes unbearable. Many times I find myself reaching for the steering wheel or stepping on an invisible break. However, I know if I ever get hold of the steering wheel, while I am in the passenger’s seat I will steer us into a ditch.

Following Jesus, serving God, is much like being the passenger in a car. Though difficult to do, you have to let the driver have control over where you are going.

Jesus instructed his disciples "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." The purpose of God's saving grace is that we might grow in grace to become a disciple of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Personal obedience reveals our love for Christ.

A young American engineer was sent to Ireland for a year. When he left, his fiancé gave him a harmonica. She said, "I want you to learn to play this: it will help to keep your mind off those Irish girls."

He wrote to her often and told he her that he was practicing his harmonica every night.

After a year she met him at the airport, he grabbed her to kiss her and she pushed back and said, "Wait before you kiss me, I want to hear you play the harmonica."

That girl was no fool. She knew that the man’s love would be reflected in what he did. If he’d done what he’d promised – she’d know it by his actions.

A practical love for Christ is revealed through personal obedience. The goal of making disciples is to help individuals develop a personal faith in God. You can’t be a disciple without personally allowing your heart to move you to obey what Christ taught. Learning book chapter and verse of the Bible is of little value if it doesn't bring our lives closer to the will of God. All the teaching in the world is useless until the knowledge gained is used in a practical way. Without obedience the words are powerless to accomplish their purpose.

Many in the church resent being confronted with what they believe. Many who call themselves Christians resent the church preaching against the ethics and values of the world. Many are looking for churches that embrace the teaching of the world at large. It seems as though the world has more influence on what we believe than God. It is not unusual to find people who go to church and call themselves Christians who:

Go to a psychic
Check their horoscope daily
Are preoccupied with angels
Believe in reincarnation
Rub the statue of Buddha for good luck
Believe that Jesus was man "at his fullest potential" rather than deity
Believe that God sponsors the American dream and is primarily concerned for our material prosperity and enjoyment of life.
Are preoccupied with developing positive self-esteem to the point that talk about sin and judgment is Puritanical or Victorian.

"A rabbi and soap maker who went for a walk together. The soap maker had some negative things to say about religion: "What good is religion? Just look around you. What do you see? Trouble, misery, wars - even after all these years and years of preaching and teaching about goodness, truth, peace. What good is religion with all its prayers and sermons if all this evil still exists?

The rabbi kept quiet as they continued their walk. Then they noticed a child playing in the gutter. The child was just filthy with dirt and mud. The rabbi said to the soap maker: "Look at this child! Now you say that soap makes people clean, but what good is it? With all the soap in the world this child is still dirty. What good is soap after all?"

The soap maker immediately answered him: "But rabbi, soap can’t do its job if it isn’t used!"

The rabbi said, "The same is true with religion."

There must be a twofold purpose of every class here at the church. One is to teach the word for your personal obedience.The second purpose is to impart knowledge of the word so that you might be able to teach others.

There Are Different Ways to Teach

There are many different phases of the work to making disciples. Making disciples is compared to sowing and reaping throughout the New Testament. There are many phases to the work of farming before there is a harvest. You must cultivate the soil, plant the seed, water the field and keep the weeds out of the field before you can have a decent crop to harvest.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (NIV)

The harvest reaped by the apostles preaching on the day of Pentecost was the direct result of Jesus’ ministry. He had spent three cultivating their hearts for that sermon. Actually, he had spent his life cultivating hearts, planting seeds and watering the crop. Look at the Sermon on the Mount, his compassion, his miracles, his death and resurrection. His disciples were privileged to reap the abundant harvest on Pentecost. However, it was Jesus who had cultivated the soil.

One aspect of sowing the seed is confrontation. We find Peter confronting the Jews on Pentecost. We find Paul confronting the people on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul confronted the Jews in the synagogues.

Door knocking is confrontational. A few people are good at door knocking. Don Gibson who visited with the Sojourners was great at knocking on doors. He was of such a disposition that the rejection didn't bother him. He was the one who knocked on Bill and Lucille Schilt’s door. I think a confrontational approach is appropriate at the right time and place. But if it is done in the wrong way it may close the door forever.

We must be careful with how we confront an individual or confrontation may come across as a personal challenge. Challenging others by name-calling and disparaging remarks about how they are dressed is inappropriate. This often happens when we confront what others believe through debating with them. The methods of persuasion have changed over the last thirty years. Today confrontation is more subtle and indirect.

A Christian couple was in a waiting room with several others. There was a Chinese couple having difficulty reading the English instructions given to them. The Christians began making conversation with them. They told them about their congregation’s English teaching program that taught how to read the English language by using the Bible. They became interested and started attending the classes. They not only learned English, but later they eventual became Christians.

Some take an intellectual approach to teaching the gospel. We may end up persuading others intellectually without persuading them to make a commitment to Christ. We may do this because we have never moved beyond an intellectual response to the knowledge of Christ. Many within churches have opted for knowing about God rather than knowing God for themselves. We know the steps to salvation. We can discuss theology at length. We can spot religious error a mile away. These may be the only things we are interested in teaching others.

We may find ourselves only intellectually defending what we believe. We may find ourselves more concerned about what the church teaches--where the church stands--what the church expects than we are about where we stand as individuals. I have overheard some say, "I'm not sure what this church wants me to teach?"

The best thing you can do is to let the world see what you believe. Let them see the difference Jesus Christ has made in your life.

Many search for church doctrines to embrace rather than developing a personal faith in God. We want a church to stand up and speak out on all the issues that we believe are important. If and when we find that church, we end up embracing the church rather than embracing God.

Intellectual knowledge must develop into personal faith in God or all else is useless. Only a personal faith in God can save. The world can't save us. Churches can't save us. Churches don't save people; God saves people and adds them to his church. Christ is the savior of the body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

The only way that we can become members of Christ's church is through a knowledge of Christ that results in personal faith in God. This knowledge must be taught. The knowledge of Christ must eventually confront the way we are living. Eventually it must confront the world intellectually and emotionally.

Our knowledge of Christ must confront our intellect in such a way that our lives will become a living testimony for Christ. The church of Christ isn't all that comfortable with talking about a testimonial approach in reaching the lost. We believe that only those who saw Jesus face to face were able to give a personal testimony about Christ.

A woman was giving a testimony of how God was working in her life. She was telling everyone that she wanted to take a trip to the Holy Land. She was inquiring of God whether she should go or not go. She woke up one morning and the digital clock read 7:47. She just knew that it was a message from God and it referred to a 747 jet that would take her to the Holy Land. I would be more inclined to believe that it was a sign from God if it read 7:67 or DC:10. When thinking people see through this, they see us as very superficial.

However, I believe that the right kind of personal testimony is very effective. There is a powerful testimony when others see the difference the knowledge of Christ makes in our personal lives. The first century noticed that those turning the world upside down had been with Jesus. They saw the difference Jesus made in their lives. They were laying their lives on the line for what they believed.

Confronting the world with a living testimony is probably one of the most powerful ways to reach the world. They need to see the seeds of kindness in your life when you face the harsh realities of life. They need to see the difference Christ makes for you.

If we are interested in sowing the seed of the kingdom we must cultivate the world through revealing what Christ means to us personally. This approach will cultivate hearts to accept the word when spoken at the proper time.

Closely associated to the testimonial approach of sowing the seed of the kingdom is the interpersonal approach. The testimonial approach becomes interpersonal. When you clothe yourself with gentleness, kindness, humility and patience, you will have an impact upon your interpersonal relationships.

You may not be able to teach, but you can help retain those who are taught and baptized by becoming a genuine friend. The gospel is relational. It involves forming the right kind of relationships with those we are associated with. Did you know that those who are baptized into Christ will not continue in church attendance without developing personal relationships with others in the church. That is a fact.


Not everyone is qualified to teach a Bible study, but you can help cultivate the soil, you can engage in planting the seeds of compassion, kindness, humility, etc. You can help keep the weeds out of the church by determining to live by the values of Christ kingdom rather than by the values of the world. You can invite others to enjoy what you enjoy in Christ. You can invite others to church so they can come in contact with someone that will be able to teach them.

Not everyone is able to teach someone the Bible, but you can help plow the field to get it ready for someone else to plant the seed.

I want you to take these packets of seeds to remind you that the word of God is the seed of the kingdom. I want you to place them in a place where you will be forced to run across them daily. May I suggest that you put this small packet in your purse or wallet—I know that is a place daily visited by most of us. That may be the closest thing to some of our hearts.

When you run across this packet of seed, let them remind you of the need to plant the seed of the kingdom in the hearts of those you meet. You may just want to spend time trying to cultivate someone’s heart to be receptive to the word, which will allow you to introduce them to someone capable of teaching them.


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