Why Do We Disciple? (Part I)

By Pr Ay Nee Ng

At university and at work, especially as lawyers, doctors, and dentists, you are assigned mentors to help, guide, correct, teach, and instruct you in the way you should go. Then, why are we not taking someone and walk alongside them in their walk of faith? It isn’t just for the pastors, but here in SGC, we encourage you to take someone’s hand and walk with that person.

Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, He gathered His disciples together and declared: “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” (Matt. 28:18-20).

Why Disciple Someone?
Because it is God’s commandment–His marching orders before He left earth (vv. 18-19). We need to establish that Jesus had authority to command such marching orders before looking into what being a disciple means.

His Authority
The basis of our Lord’s authority to command such marching orders is the authority that has been given to Him by the Father. The Greek term for authority is exousia, which denotes the Lord’s legal right or inheritance as the Son of God to command obedience.

1. “The authority in heaven and on earth has been given”, in past tense, anticipates the imminent coronation of Christ when, following his ascension, the Lord was to “sit at (God’s) right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion…” (Eph. 1:20-21). Sometimes a past tense form is idiomatically employed in prophecy to denote the certainty of an event.

While it is true that Jesus exercised divine authority during his teaching ministry (Mt. 7:29; 10:1, 7, 8; 22:43, 44), since the time of His return to the Father, that authority has been expanded, i.e., exercised both in heaven and on earth. For the Scriptures say that “God has put all things under his authority.” Of course, when it says ‘all things are under his authority,’ that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.)” (1 Cor. 15:27). Surely this declaration of the legal authority of Jesus Christ is evidence of His deity.

2. That such authority was “given” to the Lord is a commentary on His subordination to the Father. Prior to the incarnation, i.e., the point at which the eternal Word (John 1:1) became flesh (Jn. 1:14), the Second Person of the Godhead possessed an “equality” with Jehovah. In assuming the “likeness of man,” however, the Lord chose not to retain that equality. Rather, He “emptied himself” of the independent exercise of certain divine prerogatives and yielded to the will of His Father (Phil. 2:5).

3. During His reign, Christ would delegate certain authority (e.g., to the apostles in Mt. 19:28; Luke 10:19-20); yet, there is no biblical evidence whatever that He would appoint any earthly dignitary to function as “the visible head of the Church on earth,” as is claimed by Roman Catholic writers. Jesus is “the (only) head” of that institution (Col. 1:18).

Jesus exercised absolute authority during His earthly ministry. He raised the dead, judged men and forgave sins. He performed miracles and spoke fresh and binding revelation. His authority, however, now extends to both heaven and earth, the entire universe (Heb. 1:3). He not only rules the earth, but also heaven. He is in control of all things. It is in light of the unlimited exercise of his absolute authority over every person, tribe, nation, and tongue that He commands the disciples to “go and make disciples” (Eph. 1:20-23).

What is the Meaning of Disciple?
According to the Easton’s Bible Dictionary, a disciple is a scholar, sometimes applied to the followers of John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14), and of the Pharisees (22:16), but principally to the followers of Christ. A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes His doctrine, (2) rests on His sacrifice, (3) imbibes His spirit, and (4) imitates His example (Matt. 10:24 ; Luke 14:26-27, 33; John 6:69).

(1) The word has several applications. In the widest sense, it refers to those who accept the teachings of anyone, not only in belief but in life. Thus the disciples of John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14; Luke 7:18; John 3:25); also of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33); of Moses (John 9:28). But its most common use is to designate the adherents of Jesus. (a) In the widest sense (Matt. 10:42; Luke 6:17; John 6:66, and often). It is the only name for Christ’s followers in the Gospels. But (b) especially the Twelve Apostles, even when they are called simply the disciples (Matt. 10:1; 11:1; 12:1, et al.). In the Acts, after the death and ascension of Jesus, disciples are those who confess Him as the Messiah, Christians (Acts 6:1, 2, 7; 9:36 (feminine, mathetria); Acts 11:26, “The disciples were called Christians”). Even half-instructed believers who had been baptized only with the baptism of John are disciples (Acts 19:1-4).

(2) We have also the verb, matheteuo, “Jesus’ disciple” (literally, “was discipled to Jesus,” Matt. 27:57); “Make disciples of all the nations” (KJV “teach,” Matt. 28:19). The disciple of Christ today may be described in the words of Farrar, as “one who believes His doctrines, rests upon His sacrifice, imbibes His spirit, and imitates His example.” The expression “make disciples” = taught accompanied by endeavour, instructed (“teach” KJV). The basic form of the word is mathetes, which is actually “a learner.” The word derives from the root math, which indicates “thought accompanied by endeavor”. Etymology thus suggests that a disciple is one who “stands in relation to another as pupil and is instructed by that person” (Balz & Schneider, p. 372).

There is a clear implication in the use of this term. One who is subject to baptism is one who is capable of being a student, a learner. The Congregationalist scholar Philip Dodderidge, in his famous Family Expositor, argued that the verbal matheteusate in 28:19 “seems to import instruction in the essentials of religion, which it was necessary to know and submit to, before they could regularly be admitted to baptism.”

Similarly, Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian, observed that discipling intimates that “the essentials of the religion of Jesus, — the remolding of the character, through the truth, — is necessary to entitle any individual to baptism” (p. 307).

Our goal: to enjoy Him and become like Him (Luke 6:40)

Jesus has summoned us to his side, but not simply to put us to work. His summons—to go and make disciples of all nations—and make no mistake about it, is first a call to know him (Matt 4:19), to have intimate fellowship with him (1 Cor. 1:9), and to enjoy Him. This is primary and necessary. If you got no relationship with our Lord or anyone for that matter, can you follow Him or that person?

If the disciples were to have lost interest in Him as a person and friend, they would never have continued to walk with Him. We are no different. It is in the context of deepening intimacy that He commands us to be like Him. In short, it is primarily through fellowship with the Master that we begin to look, feel, and act like the Master (2 Cor. 3:18).

“God who has called you into fellowship with Christ Jesus our Lord is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9).

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11).

“A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained (κατηρτισμένος) will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Jesus is our example. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example (ὑπόδειγμα): you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master (κύριος), nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

“Be imitators (μιμηταί) of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Our marching orders were to make disciples—followers of Jesus Christ in truth and character, obeying our Lord Jesus Christ into baptism. The term “go” does not mean “as you go”, but it is an action verb to take action, a force to get up and move. The idea of making a disciple is the idea of teaching them to obey all things Jesus commanded.

Finally, in a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to encourage people to submit to the Lordship of Christ as expressed in His teachings to the disciples and to show what they look like in our own lives. We are to live by example, grow our love for Jesus, and walk our talk.