Expanding Our Understanding of God’s Great Commission

By Mark Stebbins

Some nouns are formed by joining two or more words together to communicate a new idea.  These compound nouns borrow from each word used in their construction to convey a completely new meaning for the new word.  Examples include brother-in-law, sounding board, and winetasting.

These three examples also illustrate how compound nouns are grammatically assembled.  Some are hyphenated, some separated, and some pressed together.  Over time, the structures can change as they become more familiar and frequently used.  For example, the word “online” has evolved from initially being hyphenated, “on-line”, to now being commonly merged.

In Christian circles, the word “disciplemaking” has become such a word.  My spell check does not like it as a run together word.  Disciple making, or disciple-making are grammatically preferred.  While nowhere in the scriptures does this noun appear, the idea is clearly communicated pervasively in many passages.

The touchstone passage for the creation of this noun is Matthew 28:19–20, “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you….”

Very interestingly, other compound nouns can be construed from this same passage to fully encompass the directive that Jesus gave his disciples.  At least three more are implicit in the text.  They include “nations-going”, “name-baptizing”, and “obedience-teaching.”

Though none of these nouns are literally in the scripture, each one is conceptually vivid within these verses.  In the Greek text of Matthew 28:19–20, the making of disciples is the primary focus for action, with the other activities as ancillary. Altogether, these four compound nouns give a cohesive and comprehensive job description for the disciples that are corroborated with many other passages.

Clearly, a danger exists in isolating disciple-making to the exclusion of the other supporting compound nouns.  Nations-going, name-baptizing, and obedience-teaching vastly expand and enrich the concept of disciple-making.  To overlook these nouns is to miss the fulness of what Jesus intended to communicate.

Other similar passages extract the multi-faceted commission given to the Church by her Commander.  Mark records Jesus as saying, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  (Mark 16:15, 16) We could say that Mark adds the compound noun “gospel-preaching” to our list.  After Jesus gives his commission here, Mark records, “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”  Mark 16:20

Luke’s version of the giving of the Great Commission includes that “…repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24:44–45) Note how the preaching is pointed toward producing obedient disciples who repent and receive forgiveness of sins.  The preaching is “in his name’ to ensure the identifying function of baptism being accomplished.  And “to all nations” extends the scope of activity to the ends of the earth.  A compound noun that Luke adds could be called “witness-bearing.”

John’s unique recording of Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples in John 20:21 is the most succinct of all.  John captures the statement that “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  This statement, rather than focusing on the how-to’s of their mission, gives the sweeping scope of what the disciples are called into—living out the pattern of Jesus’ life on earth.  This compound noun might be labeled “Jesus-imitating.”  And then Jesus climaxes his equipping of them with power and authority to do so by breathing out on them the Holy Spirt with these words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22–23). “Authority-wielding” is another clear addition to our requirements for living out his design for us.

Acts 1:8 also encapsulates all the preceding instructions recorded at the end of the Gospels for the disciples.  The focus is on God’s empowering them to be his witnesses (ambassadors of all He has previously said) into all Jerusalem, thoroughly throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, and reaching a saturation point at the ends of all the earth, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  We can add here the final compound noun of “Spirit-relying”, also alluded to frequently elsewhere.

In all these passages it is God who is superintending all the kingdom-building activities.  In Matthew 28:18 and 20 Jesus sandwiches his injunctions with assurance of the power and presence of God.  In Mark 16 the signs and wonders only God can produce accompany the work of the commission.  And in Luke 24:49, Jesus guarantees the coming of God’s help for their mission, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

So how might we summarize this expansion of our understanding of God’s Great Commission?  It is much more than disciple-making.  A more robust list of responsibilities emerges from the five primary passages that summarize this final mandate from the Lord.  Here’s our summary list of hyphenated compound nouns:

  1. Disciple-making
  2. Nations-going
  3. Name-baptizing
  4. Obedience-teaching
  5. Gospel-preaching
  6. Witness-bearing
  7. Jesus-imitating
  8. Authority-wielding
  9. Spirit-relying

Embracing all of these activities gives us the balance we need to stay faithful to living out his Great Commission for us.  To omit or minimize any of them is to unnecessarily reduce our potential fruitfulness for his glory.  How are you, your family, and your fellowship doing related to this checklist that comprises our nations manifesto?

It is well worth prayerful reflection to assess our 360-degree Great Commission engagement.  Ask God to speak to you as you hover over each one, and to give you his direction.  We are called into these actions, and God has left us on earth in part to complete this task.  The very purpose of our lives is to know him and to make him known, to worship him and to get more worshippers from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.


This article is submitted by Mark Stebbins of The Navigators. The Navigators is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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