Summary: A huge part of the Great Commission is to make disciples, which is known as “discipleship.” This message answers the questions: “Where are we supposed to be doing this?” and “How are we supposed to be discipling others?”
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). I recently read a Southern Baptist book entitled A Passion for the Great Commission, and the main premise centered on evangelism; however, there’s actually more to Jesus’ command than evangelism.
Like the numerous individuals who contributed to the book I just read, Christians and churches alike can become hyper-focused on “fishing for souls” (evangelism), and forget the all-important task of “cleaning them” (discipleship). In an article on “Missional Discipleship,” Jonathan Dodson correctly observes, “We’re called not merely to soul-winning, but to distinctive discipleship.”(1) Distinctive discipleship – this is one of the purposes that Christ intended for His church.
Jon Tomlinson, a Ph.D. candidate at Regent University, states, “In the [Great] Commission, the main verb, meaning ‘to make disciples,’ is critical to understanding the language of the Commission itself. It is much more than simply to proclaim. It does not mean to present or offer only a message, but rather to lead to a close personal relationship, modeled on the relationship between . . . Jesus and His own disciples.”(2)
Tomlinson continues to tell us, “The verb [‘to make disciples’] means to turn converts and confessors of Jesus from among Jews and Gentiles into disciples, people walking the way of righteousness, trees bearing good fruit . . . Thus, according to Matthew, it is . . . evangelism through Christian education of each generation, learning the way of the kingdom at each state of life.”(3)
A huge part of the Great Commission – and thus, part of the church’s mission – is to make disciples, which is known as “discipleship.” And the Great Commission defines discipleship as teaching Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:20). This teaching, as we already know, was a crucial purpose demonstrated in the New Testament church, as “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” according to Acts 2:42; a doctrine that the apostles, no doubt, based on the teachings of Christ Himself.
We know we’re supposed to be teaching people how to live according to Christ’s commands – both the seasoned veterans and new believers alike – but our message this morning will address the two questions: “Where are we supposed to be doing this?” and “How are we supposed to be discipling others?” – as we look at making an effort to “Disciple on Purpose,” being intentional about growing people in their Christian faith and walk with the Lord.
Paul Taught in the Temple (Acts 20:17-21)
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Right here we find the Apostle Paul addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus concerning his ministry efforts; and in verses 20-21, he spoke about his declaration of the gospel, and about how he preached both “publicly” and “from house to house” the message of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. The first thing I want us to focus on is how Paul taught people “publicly” (v. 20).
So, where was this public teaching done? Acts 2:42 tells us the believers “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine,” which speaks of teaching; and, according to Acts 2:46, their activities (among them being discipleship) were done “in the temple.” Acts 5:42 confirms this fact, saying, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they [Peter and the apostles] did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” More than likely, Paul’s venue as he taught publicly was inside the temple. This tells us that part of our discipleship efforts must be done within an established meeting place or church building.
In Acts chapter 20, Paul tells us a few things about his ministry and teaching. In verse 19, he testifies to having served among them in humility. Great humility is required as we seek to teach and lead others in Christlikeness. In verse 20, Paul says that he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it.” Therefore, we should seek to disclose as much information from the Bible as is helpful; and since all of it’s helpful, this means that we must be driven to teach as often as possible, making sure we take advantage of every opportunity to disciple people while they’re still under our watchcare. In verse 21, we see the primary message that Paul taught; which is “repentance” and “faith.”