Fulfilling Our Commission (Part 1)

Yesterday, I wrote:

Great Commission: “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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I’ve had this thought a lot before, and I’m now able to verbalize it:

To suggest that someone obeys the Great Commission by making disciples because the main verb of the verse is “make disciples” is like saying that if you asked your friend, “Can you drive me to the grocery store in 15 minutes?” he or she has fulfilled your request by driving you.

Here is a lengthier explanation of my quote.


I found out a little over a year ago that the main verb of the Great Commission is “make disciples.” I am no Greek scholar, and I have no reason to doubt the faithful men who have told this to me. I am, however, an English minor and someone who is, like most people, able to understand sentences. So it strikes me as incomplete for Christians to say, “The main verb of this verse is ‘make disciples.’ So are you? You have a missions field in your backyard. Your workplace is a missions field. The international students at your school are a missions field. The parents at your children’s school are a missions field. You can be faithful to the Great Commission by making disciples in those missions fields. So are you?”

Because Jesus doesn’t just say “make disciples.” Of course, we should make disciples, because that command is established in other parts of Scripture (see Titus 2:1-8). But I wouldn’t be very happy if I asked my friend, “Can you drive me to the grocery store in 15 minutes?” and he just drove me around town. Or drove me to the park. Or the library. Or came by four hours later, my stomach growling for lack of comestibles. The way sentences work is that we use clauses to clarify and modify the main verb. The main verb of my question is “drive me,” but there are two prepositional phrases that shape the main verb: “to the grocery store” and “in 15 minutes.” Another example? How about this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

In the first half of the verse, the main verb is… “do nothing.” And yet despite the intention of high school believers with intentionally (or jokingly) poor hermeneutics, to do nothing is not to fulfill the intent of Paul’s instruction. There are again two prepositional phrases which shape the main verb: “from selfish ambition” and “from conceit.” The things that we ought not do are from selfish ambition or from conceit. All other things are not addressed. Is this a humorous, almost trivial example? Yes. (And don’t get me started on “counting others.”) But it illustrates how we don’t hold to a “main verb isolation” hermeneutic in other parts of Scripture, and we shouldn’t do that to the Great Commission.

Likewise, if I am making disciples but not “go”-ing or making disciples of “all nations”–or, for that matter, not “baptizing them in the name of” the Trinity or “teaching them to observe all” of Jesus’ commandments–I think it is fair to say that I am not fulfilling the Great Commission in the manner Jesus intended. (I could write a whole new post on how social justice efforts, though God-honoring and necessary, are not in and of themselves a fulfillment of the Great Commission. Another time, perhaps.)

God’s gospel is a global gospel, planned by God to redeem “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).We do not fulfill the Great Commission if we make no reference to the global, “go”-ing, “all nations” plan of God. Indeed, as the psalmist writes, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Ps. 67:4)!

To wrap up, I want to answer a couple of questions:

  1. Why do some pastors and teachers suggest that Christians should live out their obedience to the Great Commission by focusing on “make disciples”?
  2. Does every Christian need to “go” to “all nations”?

I think it is important to consider the first question to understand the intent of those pastors and teachers. I think that their intent is noble and their hearts genuine. I imagine that they want people to cultivate a heart for evangelism and for local, domestic missions. And every believer should! Moreover, “make disciples” is the main verb of Jesus’ commission, and so we do indeed fall short if we as a church, as a missional institution, do not make disciples. So we ought to be doing that both abroad and at home. Moreover, I think that pastors and teachers want their congregations to be involved in missions, and encouraging them to take part in and love the Great Commission by making disciples is one way of doing that. So I think their heart is in the right place. But we still can’t ignore the modifiers “go” and “all nations.”

Which brings us to the second question: Does this mean that every Christian must go and make disciples of all nations in order to be obedient to the Great Commission? No. I think that God graciously allows for people to participate in and fulfill the Great Commission as a “send”-er rather than a “go”-er. In 3 John 8, John says regarding missionaries, “[W]e ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.”

I want to spend some time thinking about and explaining the 3 John 8 passage, and this post is getting long as it is, so I’m going to save that for part 2.

Short Thought: “Go… All Nations”

Great Commission: “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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I’ve had this thought a lot before, and I’m now able to verbalize it:

To suggest that someone obeys the Great Commission by making disciples because the main verb of the verse is “make disciples” is like saying that if you asked your friend, “Can you drive me to the grocery store in 15 minutes?” he or she has fulfilled your request by driving you.

The explanation to this ended up being pretty long, so I’ll post a two-part series on “Fulfilling Our Commission” starting tomorrow!

“Dear Saint”

“Dear Saint”
written February 2, 2016

Dear saint, lift up your drooping hands and feet
And fix your eyes upon the risen Lord!
The saints of old in Scripture that you meet
Are witness to His worth in one accord.

What now? Our time would fail to tell of those
Who lived by faith, unearned by earth they trod.
Yet they did not receive before the close
What we now know: Christ is the Lamb of God.

At present, hardship, discipline seem pain,
For what we see is limited to earth,
But Father God says it is not in vain.
We trust in Christ, our joy of matchless worth.

Christ is the greatest gift that God could give,
So look upon Him lifted up, and live!

As a small group, we’ve been studying the book of Hebrews for a month and a half now. Hebrews 11 and 12 are some of my favorite chapters in Scripture. I love the song “By Faith” by the Keith and Kristyn Getty, which reminds us that we are “children of the promise,” who “walk by faith and not by sight.” I love the last verse of “O Church, Arise” by the Gettys, where I cry out that the Spirit would give me strength run this race by faith as we listen to saints of old testify that their faith was well-placed in the true and living God.

Of course, I also know that I don’t always have strong faith. Sometimes my determination is weak. I wrote this poem to others–and myself–from Hebrews 11 and 12, as a reminder that we pursue God above everything else because we believe by faith that He is our joy, our reward. We belong to a better covenant, enacted on better promises, mediated by a great high priest who made a once for all sacrifice and is seated at the right hand of God. So “lift up your drooping hands and feet” and “strive for… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14)!

Reblog: Desiring God Blog Posts

Here are a few of my favorite Desiring God blog posts from the past few month. For your convenience, I’ve placed them into categories. Instead of describing or summarizing them, I’ve included my favorite (or almost favorite, independent enough to stand alone when excerpted) quotes from each.

Scripture Reading

“The One Must-Read This Year”: “The truth of God, rising continually through the roots of faith planted in God’s word, is the way God keeps Christians alive and enables them to bear the faith-authenticating fruit of love, so that they will not be castaways in the last day. . . . let me hold out to you seven reasons to read and meditate on the Bible every day next year.”

“I Read the Bible and I Feel Nothing — What Should I Do?”: “If the heart is not feeling anything, you say to your heart: Heart, wake up! And you take hold of the heart and you apply. You push it. You place it in the knowledge. You push on it. . . . When you are preaching to your heart and you are saying to your heart: Come on, heart, wake up. Come on, heart, look at this. Come on heart, feel this. This is beautiful. Wake up, heart. Instinctively you are praying. And you are not just talking to your heart — though you are talking to your heart, because that is what the text says to do. Apply your heart. But you are also praying: God, God, help me. God, open my eyes.”

“The Greatest Thing You Could Do Today”: “A mentor of mine lives in India. Last year, he called me on the phone crying, distraught over the state of the church in America. “It seems like the people in America would be content to take a selfie with Moses. Don’t they know they can go up the mountain themselves? Why don’t they want to go up the mountain?” . . . We have to look at the facts. American Christians consume more sermons and books than any other group in the history of the world, but consider the state of the church. Has the increase in resources led to greater holiness? Greater intimacy with Jesus?”

Human Sexuality and Sexual Sin

“A Safe Place for Sexual Sinners”: An interview with author Rosaria Butterfield; two minutes totaling just over 11 minutes. A great perspective on how the church ought to play a role in those struggling with sin, sexual sin in particular. A quote: “The ideal church is a church where everybody is repenting publicly of something. The ideal church is where people are saying, ‘I struggle with this, and I don’t want it to define me, but I need you to cover my back in prayer. I struggle. I fail. I have been a Christian, and I want to struggle in the Lord.’ That is the ideal church.”

“Why Sexual Metaphors of Jesus and His Bride Embarrass Us”: “Jesus said that in the age to come there will be no marriage or giving in marriage (Luke 20:35). Now that may seem like a colossal disappointment for those of us who have enjoyed the pleasures of the marriage bed. But what if someone said: In the future I am going to take away your wedding ring, and all you are going to have is heightened ecstasies that it stood for. Would you be disappointed? Well, a little bit, but not very long. Not very long. No, you wouldn’t.”

“Advice for Students Who Are Porn Addicts”: I live with students and work with students. For the next one and a half years (and please, then, let me be done!) I am a student. This 4-minute video is a great resource for counseling yourself or students that you know who regularly succumb to the temptation of pornography.

Miscellaneous

“You Can’t Serve God and Entertainment”: “If I’m honest, I’ve had an unbridled love for frivolous entertainment — over the years I’ve used it primarily as a means of escape. Entertainment was used to distract me from the guilt of sin, friction in relationships, or anxiety about work. It became what daily prayer and Bible reading should have been — a safe haven to retreat for rest and comfort.”

“Awaiting the Fullness of Joy in Service”: Got this one from my friend Kim. Quote: “The joy is real, and tangible, and celebratory, and can be felt in force in the best moments, but it is not all here yet. Much of the time, we are still in the labor part, the child of promise is not born. We are living in just a portion of the joy, and awaiting the fullness to come. Someday, I want to stand before Jesus and be able to honestly say, ‘I did it, with your help. Even though it was with shaky faith and much struggling, I poured myself out in serving those who are most forgotten and in need, just like you told me to.'”

“Letter to a Perplexed Eleven-Year-Old”: John Piper writes the most tender letter to an eleven-year-old who asked him a question. The tenderness is a beautiful extension of Piper’s unshakeable confidence in the sovereignty of God. Quote: “After I preached in South Carolina recently, your father came up to me and handed me a note with his email address and your name on it. He asked me to write to you. He was very serious and said you had a serious question. The question was something like this: If God promises to meet all our needs, why are we hungry?

“Imagine Your Way to Joy”: “Imagination may appear to be a distraction from the pursuit of truth, or worse, a misleading trail away from it. Fidelity to reason alone, unpolluted by creations of the imagination, may appear a much safer stewardship of our cognitive capabilities. However, dismissing the imagination from the Christian life will neither save us from sin nor help us grow in righteousness. In fact, all hope of putting off the old man and putting on the new rests in a God-given, Christ-purchased, Spirit-empowered redemption of the imagination. What does “the new man” look like? We are given many details, but without the imagination, application is impossible.”

(The pictures above are from Desiring God.)

Currently Reading (1/7/2016)

I still don’t read as much as I’d like to. When school is in session, I tend to spend more time watching TV than I do reading books. I’m still working on changing that. Reading a book takes work! It’s a financial, temporal commitment of about 10 dollars and 300 pages. (Though you can always quit a book early if you so choose.) Reading is a mental commitment, too–it takes more effort than turning on an episode of “NCIS,” but reading a Christian book is certainly more spiritually profitable, and reading a secular book can be just as fun. At least… that’s what I keep telling myself.

I went on a bit of a spree in December and purchased three secular books off of Amazon, which I usually never do, because I have a large backlog of Christian books to read. All three of them are below (Philbrick, Kahneman, and Ellis). While Christian books are obviously more spiritually profitable than secular books, they do take more work to understand and apply, so while I do train myself to find rest Christian books and Bible study as my soul sates itself on God, I do look for secular books that I can enjoy for lighter, easier fun. You’ll find what I’m currently studying and reading below.

Currently reading:

Philbrick, Nathaniel - Bunker Hill Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick

The back cover of this book promises to describe the Battle of Bunker Hill, as well as its prior events, such as the Boston Tea Party and the skirmish at Lexington and Concord. I’m about 75 pages in, and I’d say that description is accurate. Philbrick writes with a narrative style, as if the prominent figures were characters in a fictional novel. Bunker Hill does tend to lean more toward exposition, in the sense that there are a lot–and I mean a lot–of details about the events and people in the early stages of the American Revolution. So far, the book has focused mainly on Boston and its surrounding areas, which is not surprising given the title of the book (Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill are in Boston). One thing I’m particularly enjoying about the book is that Philbrick also chronicles the British figures involved in the American Revolution, such as General Thomas Gage. He also does not hold back in including some darker acts committed by overzealous American revolutionaries, such as tarring and feathering loyalists to the British crown, an act he describes as having “effectively parboiled [the victim’s] flesh” (19). This one isn’t as easy to read as the Ellis (below), but a helpful book for getting into the details of the start of the American Revolution.

Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick Fitzpatrick, Elyse - Idols of the Heart

This book is a great follow-up to Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (which I’ve reviewed before), because it talks about how we create idols in our heart. I felt like Instruments was stronger in helping you counsel others to identify their idols, and lighter on counseling them on how to fight those idols; if anything, Idols of the Heart is in the reverse. Fitzpatrick looks at various Bible characters and their sins of idolatry (such as Rachel wanting children and the episode where she brings her father’s idols with her, or Lot’s wife wanting comfort and looking back to Sodom) as small case studies of how we come to prioritize idols. The most helpful thing Fitzpatrick does is to show how Jesus fought temptation and was satisfied in loving the Father and doing the work of the Father. Reading those sections forces me to confront my heart and ask what it settles for, why it is not content with all that God is.

MacArthur, John - The Jesus You Can't Ignore The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur

I bought this book because it was on sale, and I thought it would be similar to The Gospel According to Jesus, which I haven’t read yet. I don’t think they really cover the same material. Pastor John writes The Jesus You Can’t Ignore to teach the more glossed over parts of the gospels, where Jesus confronts Pharisees with righteous indignation (like the temple cleansing episode) or knowing provocation (“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home”). The book often speaks of theological liberals who prefer to choose only the “softest” portrayals of Jesus in the gospel, to urge them to see that Jesus is not just about social and moral advancement, that Jesus was about the glory of the Father, which meant confronting false religion and its deceptions and sins.

Warfield, B.B. - The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield

Every year, I try to read more books by “famous Christian dead guys,” and this book epitomizes why that’s so difficult. This is a special edition published in 2014 by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Press (SBTS Press), distributed to volunteers at Shepherds’ Conference 2015. There is a 70 page introduction by Cornelius Van Til, and I haven’t even read halfway through that. It’s a seminal work on the doctrine of inspiration, and I want to learn from it, but it–or at least the Van Til introduction–is quite dense and hard to read. It’s slow going, and so far I’ve only been reading a couple pages here and there.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Kahneman, Daniel - Thinking, Fast and Slow

I hear about Daniel Kahneman every once in a while on the Freaknomics podcast, so I thought I would pick up this book. Kahneman is a behavioral economist and a psychologist, so his research is about how people think and respond to incentives. In this book in particular, Kahneman divides human thought processes into System 1 and System 2, where System 1 relies on intuition for quick judgments, and System 2 is more deliberate and logical but consumes more time and energy. He outlines the tendencies and biases of each system. As a statistician, I sometimes fool myself into thinking that I do a good job of relying on data for my judgments, or that I’m levelheaded enough to consider a wide range of possibilities before finalizing my thoughts. Kahneman exposes that I’m still not very good at thinking. It’s a bit dense, with a lot of studies cited and explained, but a pretty engaging read.

Ongoing:

Duvall and Hays - Grasping God's Word James, Joel - Expository Studying Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Expository Studying by Joel James

Grasping God’s Word and Expository Studying are books I’ve assigned as reading for small group this year. We’re learning how to study the Bible, so I use these resources to help us learn basic hermeneutics and exegesis. I am not well studied in either of those areas, so having books for beginners is helpful. Expository Studying is better for working with the grammar of the text, since he wrote it as a guide for pastors on how to study and prepare sermons. It goes over parts of speech, different kinds of clauses, and block diagramming (all from the English text). There are also some great hermeneutical principles laid out at the beginning. Grasping God’s Word does a good job of explaining different kinds of style and structure used in Scripture, like parallelism and chiasmus, question/answer and cause/effect, etc. The second half of the book also addresses how to read different genres. The two books do different things, so they complement each other nicely. Joel James makes Expository Studying free for download, so you can get it at the link above.

Recently finished:

Ellis, Joseph - The Quartet The Quartet by Joseph Ellis

Joseph Ellis is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (for Founding Brothers, which is also great–anything by Ellis is fantastic), and I’m not at all surprised by that. He writes non-fiction with the emotional force of narrative, and as with any good narrative, he always finds the dramatic arc within the story. The Quartet is about George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, and their quest to create a strong national government in the United States of America. I was aware, though not particularly informed of the significance, of the fact that the United States was only a confederation of states after the success of the Revolution, with only a loose framework to bind the individual states together. State and local laws were much stronger, to the point where there was no national currency. These four men, based on different backgrounds and reasons, saw the need for an authoritative federal government to bind the states together. Ellis does a great job of piecing their stories together in a way that arcs toward the ratification of the Constitution, a narrative style that Philbrick, for example, doesn’t have. This makes The Quartet far easier and more engaging to read. You can’t go wrong with anything by Ellis, and this book is no exception.