by Al Maxey

Issue #500 ------- August 31, 2011
When we really live truth,
we will cease to talk about it.

Elbert Hubbard {1856-1915}

Contemplating Our Commission
A Reflective Exegesis of Matthew 28:19-20a

There are several locations where one may find our Lord's so-called "Great Commission," with each rendition being somewhat unique -- Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8. Nevertheless, the commission of the Lord Jesus is quite obvious: unto all those instructed in the eternal truths of the Kingdom befalls the divine imperative to share this saving knowledge with the rest of humanity, as they have opportunity, as they go forth into the world about them! As those who themselves have been discipled, they are to disciple others. Some refer to this as "exponential evangelism" --- disciples making disciples making disciples ... etc. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus Christ commands, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (NIV). There is only one Greek imperative in the Great Commission. The other three statements are each participial clauses. The phrase "make disciples" in the above statement by Jesus Christ is the single imperative. Thus, it is the only part of the commission that is stated as a direct command.

Although many translations render this Greek verb (matheteuo) as "make disciples," some choose a different wording. The KJV, for example, has: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." The Message has: "Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near." Young's Literal Translation has, "Having gone, then, disciple all the nations." The charge of our Lord Jesus in this passage is quite literally: "While going, be ye disciplers." Thus, as we go about our journey through life, we are to be instructing, training and discipling those with whom we come into contact. That first participle is from the Greek verb poreuomai, which simply means "to go, to pass from one place to another, to journey, travel about." So, while we journey through life we are to be about the business of discipling. In other words, we should take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way to encourage others to become pupils of Jesus Christ; learners of our Lord; students of the Savior. Our commission, then, is to disciple the people with whom we come into contact; instruct them in the truths of God's kingdom, that they may come to the point of conviction and acceptance of these saving truths, and thus be brought into a saving relationship with the Lord through an active (demonstrative) faith.

Those students of Christ who reach that point of conviction, and who desire to accept the free gift of God's grace offered through the atoning blood of Christ Jesus, are to be immersed, an action evidencing their saving faith. Who do we baptize? That's right -- disciples, or more accurately: those who were being instructed or discipled by us. Notice what Bro. H. Leo Boles wrote on this passage from Matthew's gospel account -- "Those who are 'discipled' are to be baptized; they were not to baptize 'all the nations,' but those of 'all nations' who were 'discipled.' ... Only those of the nations who are made disciples by preaching the gospel are to be baptized" [A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 564]. Indeed, what possible benefit is there to immersing one who has NOT been discipled in the teachings of Jesus Christ?

Both prior to conversion, and also subsequent to conversion, disciples of Christ are to be instructed in the teachings of our Lord. Thus, while we journey through life discipling others, we are also instructing them in our Lord's teaching. "To disciple a person to Christ is to bring him into the relation of pupil to teacher" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 595]. After these students of Jesus have been brought to the point of personal commitment and acceptance, and have demonstrated the same by their immersion, we are to keep on "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20, NIV). In other words, our training and instruction is to be never-ending. For as long as we live we are to be engaged in discipling others, and we ourselves are to be the recipients of continued discipling. "To disciple a person to Jesus Christ is to lead that one to become a follower of Christ, to be a learner in His school, to be obedient to His commands, to become a Christian. To 'make disciples' means to give all kinds of instruction for entrance into the church of our Lord" [H. Leo Boles, p. 564]. "Those persons who are 'discipled' to Jesus, and who have then been baptized, are to be taught 'to observe all things' which train and develop a child of God. There are three things that are commanded in the commission to be done, namely: (1) make disciples, (2) baptize those who are discipled, (3) teach them to be obedient to all the commands of God" [ibid, p. 565].

Some brethren suggest that the participial phrases depict the means whereby one is made a "disciple." I could not disagree more! The first participial phrase, which speaks of our "going," or of our journeying through life, is indeed tied to the "discipling" of others -- as we are going, we are discipling (or, since they both appear as aorists, we should say: as we go, we disciple). However, the last two participial phrases are tied to our obligation to those whom we have discipled in the teachings of Christ. Those who have been instructed in His truths, and who are ready to commit their lives to Him, are then immersed. As converts to Christ they are then the recipients of continued training and instruction ... as, indeed, we all are. "The syntax of the Greek participles for 'baptizing' and 'teaching' forbids the conclusion that baptizing and teaching are to be construed solely as the means of making disciples" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 597]!! "Baptizing and teaching are not the means of making disciples," but rather "the response of discipleship is baptism and instruction! Thus, baptism and teaching are not coordinate -- either grammatically or conceptually -- with the action of making disciples" [ibid].

Far too frequently, I fear, we have sought to make immersion the imperative in the Commission given by our Lord Jesus (and this is especially true of those within the legalistic, patternistic factions of the Churches of Christ). Yes, Christ's "instructions include an imperative surrounded by three participial clauses" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 718]. This is a textual truth none will deny. The imperative, however, is "make disciples." Then we baptize THEM (i.e., disciples of Christ Jesus). Baptism is not what one does to make a disciple; baptism is what one does who is already a disciple!! "The 'them' who are baptized are those who have been made disciples" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 597]!! At some point, those who are students of the Lord will come to a point of faith and conviction about those truths being learned. Their faith will lead them to accept His free gift of grace, and that faith will be evidenced not only in their willingness to turn from their former course to a walk with Christ (which is repentance), and a confession of Him as their Lord, but also in a symbolic act (baptism) showing their connection, through faith, with His death, burial and resurrection. A disciple who has been brought to a state of saving faith in God's saving grace will have no hesitation in manifesting this faith in the manner requested by our Lord Himself. One of the first public proclamations of a committed disciple will be baptism, and that will be followed by a life devoted to additional evidentiary acts of faith (i.e., loving one's brethren, acts of benevolence, sharing the good news, etc.). Their instruction in the will of the Lord for their lives will also continue throughout the remainder of their lives, so that they might grow in their understanding and appreciation and even application of His Will.

Those who are devoted to foreign missions often regard the word "Go," in the Great Commission, as the imperative. It is not. Indeed, there is nothing in that term itself that suggests we are required to "go abroad" to make disciples. "Because 'going' is a participle, we could read 'as you go' (essentially: 'on your way'), implying that one need not cross cultural boundaries to fulfill this commission" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 718]. "Jesus does not command, 'Go!' -- the participle is merely auxiliary to the main verb. The heart of the commission resides in the one word matheteusate," which, of course, means "make disciples" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 1172]. "In the Greek, 'go' -- like 'baptizing' and 'teaching' -- is a participle. Only the verb 'make disciples' is imperative. Some have deduced from this that Jesus' commission is simply to make disciples 'as we go' (i.e., wherever we are) and that it constitutes no basis for going somewhere special in order to serve as missionaries!! There is something to this view!!" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 595].

There are countless misconceptions associated with the Commission of Christ to His disciples. Some people perceive it as the "origin of the sacrament of baptism." Others suggest that since the charge to teach these immersed disciples follows the command to make disciples and to baptize them, that this is therefore a mandate for infant baptism. Scholars have argued for this view vigorously for centuries. It is also believed by many that the "baptismal formula" is specified in this passage -- i.e., we must baptize "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." A few commentators (R.C.H. Lenski being chief among them) even suggest that if these words are not uttered over the candidate precisely as written, then the entire baptism is invalidated. I have encountered this same thinking among the legalists within my own faith-heritage!! Just recently a father failed to "utter the formula" prior to baptizing his son, and I had someone approach me after the baptism and say that she wasn't sure the baptism "took." Many scholars, especially within the Catholic Church, see this passage as one of the strongest supports for the doctrine of "the Trinity." Still others argue that since the word translated "name" is singular, this is instead a strong argument against the Trinity. Some suggest the Commission was only for the apostles; others argue it is for all disciples. In short, there have been innumerable debates, and much division, over this passage for centuries. In my view, it all misses what our Lord sought to convey that day.

Simply stated, our Lord has called each of us to a life of discipleship and discipling. We are lifelong students of the Master, who seek to encourage others around us to also become lifelong students of the Master. It requires no extensive theological training, no expensive missions to a distant land. It simply states: as you are going about your daily walk, wherever you may be, seek opportunities to share your faith with those about you! Introduce them to Jesus, help them learn of Him and His message of love and grace, help them to grow to the point of conviction and commitment to Him. When their faith compels them to renounce their former walk and to begin that journey with Jesus, encourage them to manifest that commitment of faith through the symbolic act of baptism, which is a public testimony to both them and those about them of their acceptance of the atoning work of God's Son. Then, help them grow in their understanding and appreciation of, and compliance with, the commands of Jesus Himself (which aren't burdensome, but which are simply characterized by an active love for God and each other). Brethren, our Commission really is just that simple. Sadly, our sectarian squabbles have caused us to lose sight of this, and our perception of the Commission has become more a mandate to proselytize the world to our parties and patterns. The countless denominations, factions, schisms and sects is the pitiful result. May God awaken us to His true intent and purpose! May He help us to lay aside LAW, and to embrace LOVE. By so doing, we will find fulfilling the Commission of Christ to be as natural a response as breathing ... and just as life-sustaining.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I assume that you probably already know about this, but I can't imagine it gets any more outlandish than what I found here -- It refers to the Sunday assemblies as "our worship obligation." They also offer "all five acts of worship" via a conference call. Oh, my goodness!! Al, I really thought I had seen everything. May God bless you in your holy work.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Maxey, I can't tell you how encouraging your Reflections articles have been. They are like a weekly breath of fresh air to me! I grew up in the conservative Non-Institutional Churches of Christ. However, in the last few years my wife and I have begun to question WHY we believe what we do, and our current choice of the group of Christians we have decided to associate with reflects this. We have chosen to be with the -------- Church of Christ here in our city, a congregation labeled as "liberal" by those with whom I grew up! However, our faith has been built up in a way that it has not been in quite some time as a result of these brothers and sisters. May God continue to bless you and your family richly for your good work!

From a Reader in New York:

Dear Beloved Brother Maxey, I pray to our awesome God to continue guiding you and helping you with your writings!! I just recently got the address to your web page from a dear sister, and, to tell you the truth, it's been very refreshing and encouraging to me to be reading and meditating on your Reflections. I thank God for them! I became a Christian five years ago and I made a commitment with myself to find the truth about God's will. Since I go to a Church of Christ, I have always wondered about topics related to our salvation and the way this group interprets and communicates the Scriptures. Thus, I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from others and to see things from different points of view. I would love to be a part of your mailing list for Reflections. Also, I am a Spanish speaking person, so I would like to know if you can recommend any Spanish web sites like yours where some of our brothers and sisters who don't speak English can go to learn about freedom in Christ. Thank you so much for your time. May the Lord bless you and give you the discernment you need to teach others sound doctrine.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Brother Al, This is not empty flattery, just a fact --- your Reflections are one of the many highlights of my week!! Your studies are always both encouraging and challenging. Thank you SO much, Al, for all that you do!! I have a question that I thought you would be up to the task of answering for me (it came to me while wrestling with why bad things happen in this life to seemingly innocent and undeserving people). Specifically, I've been thinking about the tragedy that happened at our Indiana State Fair recently (a large gust of wind collapsed the stage just before the country band Sugarland performed. They weren't hurt, but around 7 people were killed when the stage fell on them, and about 40 others were injured). Anyway, while contemplating this awful tragedy, for some reason the verse popped into my mind about Satan being "the ruler of the kingdom of the air" (Eph. 2:2). Does Satan have power over, or control of, such weather events (the Joplin tornado also comes to mind)? I'm not promoting this view, by the way, but was just curious what your thoughts on it are.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Maxey, Thank you for your continuing research and writing on behalf of the Body of Christ. It is helping!! You have challenged me often over the past several years, and you have helped me to have a spiritual balance, and a confidence in beliefs that have been put down and held back by years of strong traditional teachers and teachings. Thanks for your daily labors of faith!

From a Reader in New York:

Dear Brother Al, I just finished reading your study -- DEATH: Defining the Biblical Parameters (Physical, Relational, Eternal) -- Reflections #79 -- and I noticed that you recommended an article by Dr. Leroy Garrett titled "Is Hell Fire Endless?" Could you please send me a copy of his article? Thank you for your Reflections. They have caused me to rethink why I believe much of what I believe. They have really challenged my thinking. Thank you for that.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Maxey, I just wanted you to know how blessed I have been by your Reflections ministry!! I was not raised in a legalistic Church of Christ, but I am in one now (it is where my husband has chosen to attend), and I don't see that I will be able to leave here for a while. The response from the reader from Georgia in Issue #497 of your Reflections stated that "legalism stagnates spiritual growth." That would be so true in my case if I had NOT found your web site this past year!! I hope that I am able to learn more and more from your writings so that I may become the kind of "deliverer" you mentioned in your response to that reader. Thank You. I appreciate your ministry more than words can say!!

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, That was a fine piece on the 1 Cor. 14 statements on women in the assembly. In my time, I have heard a lot of preaching. Most of the greatest "sermons" I have ever heard have been delivered by women! For example, I volunteer at a local nursing home, and we take the residents who are able out for a lunch a couple of times each month. Each resident is assigned a volunteer to push their wheelchair and to help them with their lunch. On this particular occasion, I was assigned to a sweet little lady who told me she was 100 years old!! We ordered our lunch and were chatting. She told me a friend of hers had recently passed away, and that her friend was cremated because she "didn't want to be put in a hole in the ground!" This little lady said that when she passed, she wanted to be buried in the family plot with her husband and other family members. She said that it didn't bother her at all to be put in a hole in the ground, because, as she stated confidently, "I won't be there long!!" (1 Thess. 4:16-18). Now that, my friend, was a great sermon ... and it was delivered by a woman!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Excellent commentary on 1 Cor. 14:34-35. I hope that many will read this commentary by you and think long and hard about the context of this passage. I have to wonder just how much stronger the church would be today if our young ladies had a good female role model in our worship times and in teaching the Word!! How might it be different if we encouraged our women to actually USE their spiritual gifts, instead of making every effort to suppress them. Even if we allow for "good intentions," I still believe that the errors that have been generated by the misunderstanding of Paul's words have greatly damaged many generations of families in the church.

From a Minister/Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, I enjoyed very much your article on "Male Chauvinism's Proof-Text." I agree that women have been denied a more active role in the work of the church because of misconceptions about this particular text. I have always thought that the women in this text were the wives of the prophets. In the preceding verses, Paul is speaking to the prophets, and he is regulating their use of prophecy. In the verses following vs. 36, Paul again speaks to prophets. It just does not seem consistent to change at vs. 33 and address women in general, when he is speaking in the rest of the context to prophets. Also, if he is addressing women in general, not every woman would have a husband at home to ask if she had a question! But, if Paul is addressing the wives of the prophets, then the passage makes far more sense! It is rather interesting that the KJV translators inserted the word "your" when referring to the women. Even though that word may not be in the original text, it seems to suggest that the KJV translators understood the verse to be talking about the wives of the prophets.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, How funny that this Reflections article of yours came out today. I just preached on the last part of 1 Cor. 14 this past Sunday, although I did not specifically address the troubling issue of women "being silent" in the assembly! Instead, I focused on the purpose of the assembly being edification, and the need for individuals to set aside their personal preferences for the good of the Body. With regard to whether the clause "as in all the churches" belongs with the preceding or the following sentence, I noticed that you included the NIV as having the clause linked to the following sentence. The new revision of the NIV, that has just come out, has changed this, and it now links the clause with the preceding sentence.

From a Preacher in Texas:

Brother Al, Amen and AMEN!!! I have held, and taught, your teaching on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 for many years. While at the Sunset School of Preaching, Bro. Abe Lincoln taught the same view to the students!

From a Reader in England:

Dear Brother Al, I truly enjoyed your latest offering on 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (Reflections #499). A recent article by Andrew B. Spurgeon -- Pauline Commands & Women in 1 Cor. 14 -- agrees with your analysis, but the author offers an additional interpretive possibility. Arguing from the Greek, Spurgeon suggests that "these verses were permissive imperatives, in which Paul sanctioned actions that were already in progress in the Corinthian church" [Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 168, #671, July-Sept, 2011, pp. 317-333].

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, I do not disagree with your understanding of 1 Cor. 14:34-35. However, I have thought along a somewhat different line for a while now. As you know, the Greek word translated here as "women" can just as appropriately be translated "wives." Being that verse 35 refers to husbands, it seems to me that the women referred to in verse 34 would necessarily be wives. Have I missed something?! Thus, I see the admonition as being that wives should not dominate their husbands, especially in spiritual matters within the assembly. Thank you, Brother Al, for all of your good work in writing your weekly Reflections. May God bless you as you encourage clear thinking and unity among believers!

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Brother Al, As I remember things, the word for "woman" and "wife" is the same Greek word!! Perhaps some of the translations of "woman" or "women" should be "wife" or "wives." Just a thought. Also, and a little deeper, is that we are ALL holy royal priests, not just the men!! Priests are to offer up sacrifices to God -- ALL priests, not just the men! The only stratification within our royal priesthood is between royal priests (us: men and women) and the High Priest and King (Jesus). The Jews had stratification among the priests. WE do not. We are ALL qualified to be in the Holy of Holies, not just the men; we ALL serve at the altar, not just men.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Another masterpiece!! Well done!! Even if this were not a cultural thing, it is amazing to me how "we" have taken two brief passages (1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12) and multiplied numerous LAWS from them for the church which neither passage actually teaches!! If it were wrong for a woman to "speak" in the assembly, then she could not sing, for that is "speaking" ("Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" -- Eph. 5:19). When a woman responds to the "Good News" she is often asked by the preacher or an elder to stand and face the audience. He then asks for her confession, which she may respond to with one word or several. But, she is speaking in the assembly -- and she is standing, and the men are sitting!! Is this "usurping authority"? I know of no one who thinks so. Yet, we have made up all kinds of LAWS regulating what a woman may or may not do inside a church building and within an assembly, NONE of which is ever condemned by these passages. May God have mercy on us for our man-made "gospel."

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Brother Al, Thanks for this timely Reflections. Great job, as usual. Peter, in explaining the supernatural happenings at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, quoted the prophet Joel (just as you pointed out in your article). Sons and daughters will prophesy; male servants and female servants will prophesy. Are we really to believe that these females were only to prophesy apart from the Christian community?! A few short years ago I would never have agreed that a woman should ever preach or teach. Then I started reading my Bible and allowing it alone to set the agenda for what I believe and practice. Now I'm a rebel with a cause!! We love you, brother!!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I live in the Shoals area of NW Alabama, in a two county area that has 98 --- that's right, I said NINETY-EIGHT --- Churches of Christ. In fact, we added three Churches of Christ in the 90's alone! Did anyone actually plant those three churches? Nope. This was all multiplication by division! Splits and more splits!! This was once the home of T.B. Larimore and some of the first Stone-Campbell churches, including the one in Waterloo that once enjoyed the fellowship of Davy Crockett, and which moved as a group to Texas to spread the Good News. Now, there are far too many preachers to count, and the only real sounds any of them seem to be making are the sounds of dissension with each other! Someone once asked me: Do you know the difference between Christians and lions? Yes -- Lions don't devour their own!! I am praying God's blessings upon you and Shelly from the Heart of Dixie!

From a Minister in Kenya, Africa:

Dear Brother Al, How I wish that your Reflections article, in which you explained to us so well 1 Cor. 14:34-35, could be read by everybody in the world!! These verses have been used much too often to cause division, and they will continue to be used that way as long as we (men) continue to be chauvinistic. Thank you, my dear brother, for speaking to me in particular about these verses! May the Lord continue to use you.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Dear Brother Al, I'm glad you addressed 1 Cor. 14:34-35. If we remember that the Greek word "gune" can be translated either "woman" or "wife," we have some help with understanding what was written there. I think Paul meant wives were to ask their husbands at home. Asking a question in public dialogue can be a way of trying to embarrass someone, rather than seeking a clearer understanding of something. The Jewish leaders did this to Jesus repeatedly. Additionally, in 1 Cor. 11:5 it is clear that some women, or wives, were both praying and prophesying in the assembly. Paul didn't tell them to stop, but to wear a covering that was appropriate for a married woman. If we are willing, we can also see how this passage helps us to understand 1 Cor. 14:34-35.

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