[From ws 07/19 p.2 – September 16 – September 22]
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations.” —MATT. 28:19.
[With many thanks to Nobleman for the core of this article]
In full, the theme scripture says:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of people 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 the things I have commanded you. And look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” —Matthew 28:19-20.
Jesus asked his 12 apostles to make disciples and to teach them to observe all the things he had commanded them to do. A disciple is a follower or adherent of a teacher, religion or faith.
This week’s Watchtower study article focuses on four questions regarding the commission Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28:
- Why is disciple-making so important?
- What does it involve?
- Do all Christians have a part in making disciples?
- And why do we need patience for this work?
WHY IS DISCIPLE-MAKING SO IMPORTANT?
The first reason quoted in paragraph 3 as to why disciple making is important is: “Because only disciples of Christ can be friends of God.” It is noteworthy that only one person in the Bible is referred to as God’s friend. James 2:23 says “and the scripture was fulfilled that says: “Abraham put faith in Jehovah, and it was counted to him as righteousness,” and he came to be called Jehovah’s friend.”
However, today, Jehovah through the ransom of Jesus offers us a relationship that is even closer than what was possible in the times of the Israelites.
We can be God’s Children.
An Israelite would have understood why being a son was more significant than being a friend. A friend was not entitled to an inheritance. Sons were entitled to an inheritance. Even in our times it is more likely that whatever we have accumulated whether vast or little would be inherited by our children.
As God’s children we have an inheritance too. We will not labour too much on this point as much has been written about it before. Please read the articles in the links: https://beroeans.net/2018/05/24/our-christian-hope/
The second reason which is quoted in paragraph 4 is that the “disciple-making work can bring us much joy.” Here are two reasons why that would be the case:
- Acts 20:35 says that there is more joy in giving than there is in receiving.
- When we tell others about what we believe it strengthens our own faith as well
However, if we teach others to follow a religion, or an Organization, rather than Jesus Christ, then we are letting ourselves in for disappointment not only now, but in the future.
WHAT DOES DISCIPLE-MAKING INVOLVE?
Paragraph 5 tells us “We prove that we are genuine Christians by following Christ’s command to preach.” While preaching is an important aspect of Christianity, this statement is incorrect.
We prove ourselves to be genuine Christians when we have genuine love for our fellow Christians. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35
Paragraph 6 gives some suggestions regarding what we should do when we meet people who seem indifferent at first.
- We should try to stimulate their interest
- Have a well-thought-out strategy
- Select specific subjects that would likely interest those you will meet
- Plan how you will introduce the topic
However, these are very basic points spelling out the obvious. There are other more important things we should do.
Firstly, we should be representing Christ rather than a religious denomination. The first century disciples did not say “Good morning, we are Jehovah’s Witnesses, or we are Catholic’s, Mormons, etc.”.
Secondly, it would be scripturally unwise to try to direct others to any particular religious Organization. Jeremiah 10:23 reminds us “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step”. So, how could we direct them to any religion, to be directed by other men, whatever claims these men make?
Thirdly, our example in everyday life is absolutely vital. Have we cultivated a truly Christ-like personality? As the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13, if we do not have genuine love we are like a clashing symbol that irritates rather than soothes.
Often those we meet may have their own beliefs and when we show that we are interested in having a bible discussion rather than imposing our beliefs, they may be more interested and open to having a discussion.
Paragraph 7 has more suggestions:
“Whatever subject you choose to discuss, think about the people who will hear you. Imagine how they will benefit from learning what the Bible really teaches. When talking with them, it is important that you listen to them and respect their viewpoint. That way you will understand them better, and they will be more likely to listen to you.”
Of course, the suggestions made are only truly effective if we stick to what the Bible teaches and stay clear of religious doctrine.
DO ALL CHRISTIANS HAVE A PART IN MAKING DISCIPLES?
The short answer to the question is: Yes, in one way or another, but not necessarily in the way the Organization defines it.
Ephesians 4:11-12 when talking about Christ, it says“ And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, 12 with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ”.
2 Timothy 4:5 and Acts 21:8 record Timothy and Phillip as evangelizers, but the Bible record is quiet on how many others were evangelizers. The very fact that Philip was called “Phillip the evangelizer” to distinguish him from other Christians called Phillip suggests it was not as common as the Organization would have us believe.
The Organization teaches us that all Christians were evangelizers without proof. If we think for just one moment, back in the first century, if you were a Roman slave who had become a Christian, you would not be able to go preaching from door to door. It is accepted by historians of this era that an average of around 25% of the population were slaves. While it was unlikely these ones were evangelizers necessarily, they were without doubt disciple makers.
Indeed, Matthew 28:19, so often used to support the Organization’s teaching that all Witnesses should evangelize, instead talks about making disciples, teaching others to be followers of Christ.
Additionally, in Matthew 24:14 when it says “this good news will be preached”, the Greek word translated “preach” means “properly, to herald (proclaim); to preach (announce) a message publicly and with conviction (persuasion)” rather than evangelize.
It is therefore clear that for Christian converts, Jesus never specified how each Christian should make disciples. (This excludes the 12 apostles [sent forth ones] and perhaps the 70 disciples he sent around Judah and Galilee in twos. It is also true, that as discussed on this site on previous occasions, Jesus did not tell the disciples to go from door to door, nor did he suggest standing dumbly by a cart full of literature.
Therefore, even if we have an irregular bible discussion in an informal setting we are still taking part in trying to make disciples. We also need to remember that old idiom “actions speak louder than words”.
WHY MAKING DISCIPLES REQUIRES PATIENCE
Paragraph 14 says we should not give up even if our ministry seems unproductive at first. Then it provides an illustration of a fisherman who spends many hours fishing before catching his fish.
This is a good illustration, but one should consider the following questions:
Why might my ministry be unproductive? Is it because people are genuinely not interested in the Bible’s message or am I teaching something which does not appeal to them, perhaps religious doctrine? Is it because in my ministry I represent an Organization that is now discredited because of its handling both past and present of child sexual abuse allegations? Am I perhaps unknowingly pushing its agenda and teachings, rather than concentrating on the good news of the kingdom of God? (Acts 5:42, Acts 8:12)
Furthermore, am I measuring how productive my ministry is, based on what the Bible says or what my religion says? After all James 1:27 reminds us “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” With this in mind, it would hardly be right to go preaching from door to door, as continually pushed by the Organization, when a widow or orphan needs our immediate help; Or perhaps someone housebound with a terminal illness needs assistance.
In addition, will spending more hours in an unproductive territory lead to more success? Imagine if a fisherman spent hours fishing in the same spot where he has never caught any fish. Would that improve his chances of catching fish?
His time would be better spent looking for fishing in more productive spot.
Likewise, when deciding on whether we should continue with any aspect of our ministry we must always consider whether we are making efficient use of our time, personal skills and resources and whether we are following dictates of men or the example of Jesus Christ.
Jesus set the perfect example when dealing with the hard-hearted Pharisees. He knew they were not interested in the truth. Therefore he did not waste his time preaching to them or trying to convince them that he was the Messiah.
“Why does conducting Bible studies require patience? One reason is that we need to do more than help the student come to know and love the doctrines found in the Bible.” (Par.15).
This statement is also incorrect. What Christians are required to do is to love the principles that are taught in the Bible and follow the commandments that Jesus gave us. We are not required to love any doctrine. More often than not doctrine is religious interpretation of the principles that are found in the scriptures. (See Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7) Each person may interpret the meaning and application of the principles slightly differently and as a result doctrine often becomes problematic. As an aside the word “doctrine” is only found in the two scriptures cited above, and the word “doctrines”, three times in the NWT Reference Edition, and none of these mention love in connection with doctrine(s).
Overall, this article was a typical study article attempting to push Witnesses into doing more preaching as defined by the Organization in an effort to get it more recruits to replacing those leaving in droves. It also presupposes that we would want to be representing such an Organization publicly. As usual it contained helpful suggestions mared by selective misinterpretation.
Therefore it is more beneficial for us if we make the effort to apply some of the suggestions in the article to ensure we disregard the doctrinal thoughts conveyed by the Watchtower article writer. We would also do well to give consideration to the scriptural points raised by the reviewer, or even better, do our own Bible research on the topic. In this way we can then be effective in adhering to Jesus’ instructions to make disciples of him, rather than followers of the Governing Body.