“Make disciples of all the nations.”– Matthew 28:19
The above declaration is the “great” command of the Great Commission. In fact, it is the “only” command in Matthew 28:18-20. The words, “go,” “teaching,” and “baptizing” are all participles that explain how the command is to be fulfilled. The goal of missions is not going, teaching, or even baptizing, but the making of disciples! Therefore, regardless of our zeal or sacrifice, our work on the mission field will prove to be little more than hay, wood and stubble1 if we are not endeavoring to accomplish the task for which we were sent—making followers of Christ.
The phrase “make disciples” is translated from the Greek verb mathēteúō, which is derived from the verb manthánō—to learn. The noun form mathētēs (i.e. disciple) denotes a learner or pupil. Thus, a disciple is someone who is always learning through instruction and imitation to be like his teacher or master. A disciple of Christ is someone who, having entered into a saving relationship with Him through faith, is now actively seeking to become like Him through the study and assimilation of His teaching and the imitation of His person. This definition fits well with the words of Christ:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.”2
The great goal of the disciple is to be like his master. In most, if not all other religions and disciplines outside of Christianity, the disciple eventually attains to the same level as his master and may even replace him. However, in the Christian faith, no matter how advanced the disciple may become, he will always remain a disciple. The Christian’s Master is not merely a man who has walked the path longer than his disciples, but He is God incarnate: the embodiment of all truth, wisdom, and righteousness. He is separate and distinct from His disciples, and from creation itself. The difference is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. He is in a category all to His own! It is for this reason that Christian disciples are always referred to as disciples and never masters or teachers. Jesus said:
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”3
The missionary would do well to remember this truth. Like sanctification, discipleship is a never-ending process in which we are always learning, always seeking to assimilate more truth, and always striving to imitate our Master. Our training is not complete with graduation from Bible college or seminary. It comes to an end with the coming of our Lord in glory and the transformation of “our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.4
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer