The Great Commission, every student of mission should know it by heart. There are various problems with thinking of the Great Commission. Firstly, people think that Matthew 28: 18-20 is the only commission: there are commissions in Mark, Luke, John and Acts. Secondly, and specific to the Matthew commission, they think that discipleship is a course one does at the beginning of your Christian life. Often a 10 week course teaching people the “spiritual disciplines” of Bible reading, prayer, confession, etc. Discipleship is a whole life exercise. The biggest problem–which I guess stems from the previous problem is that discipleship is a religious concept. When I “googled” an image for this blogpost, I encountered loads of pictures of Bible studies, church services, baptismal services, hands praying. This illustrates the problem. Let’s quickly look at what Matthew 28:18-20 actually says.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
We are told to go and make disciples” or learners of Jesus Christ, he who gives us the authority to do this. This is the commission: make disciples. We are further told to baptise them, which is bringing them into a community and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.
When we first arrived in Argentina, I led a devotional time on this at the Kairos Centre in Buenos Aires and Cathy Padilla, Rene Padilla first wife corrected me because I had said “teach them everything I have commanded”. Her point was, quite rightly, that to teach to obey presupposes the person doing the discipling is also obeying!
As a exegete (person interpreting the Bible) the first thing we should do is find out what Jesus taught the disciples to obey in the book of Matthew. And then we would broaden it out to the other Gospels, then the rest of the New Testament and eventually, if you had time and inclination to do so, to the whole Bible.
There is a lot of teaching that Jesus does in Matthew. It is generally accepted that there are 5 blocks of teaching in Matthew.
My father came up with an interesting outline of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew
- The kingdom in the present (Matthew 5-7: Sermon on the Mount). It belongs to the poor in spirit and those persecuted for the cause of justice (5.3 and 10)
- The mission of the disciples (10). To preach the nearness of the kingdom (10:7)
- The nature of the kingdom (13:1-52) and the rejection of the prophet of the kingdom (13.53-58)
- The life of the community of the kingdom (18.1-21)
- The kingdom in the future (24-25). The sign of the preaching of the kingdom to the nations (24.14).
Even if we simply take the first block of teaching we can see how Integral the life of the kingdom of God is. Discipleship is not only teaching people to pray and fast (Matthew 6:1-18) but about the life of sacrifice, forgiveness and love; being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and doing justice which better than religion (Matthew 12:28-34). Being a disciple is doing Integral mission.