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The Neglected Doctrine

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Matthew 28:18-20

The Neglected Doctrine

“Jesus … said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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.’”[1]


harles Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of nineteenth century London relates the following story about the Duke of Wellington.  “‘Is it of any use to send missionaries to India?’ a gentleman asked the Duke of Wellington.  ‘What are your marching orders?’ said the Duke.  ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’”[2]  There was no need for further discussion.  The Great Commander had spoken, and that was the conclusion of the matter.

Indeed, those are the marching orders issued to all Christians and binding upon each individual confessing His Name throughout the entirety of the present Dispensation.  We have no business debating whether these are prudent orders or not; they are sure to be good if they come from Christ!  Our duty is to do as our Commander commands us.  Every word of Christ, if we would see Him do wonders in our midst, must be obeyed.  Not the great precepts only, but the little ones, too, must be acknowledged and obeyed.

Spurgeon continued as he spoke of required obedience to the command of Christ, “It behoves Christians to reject that cant about non-essentials of the Christian Faith.  Every command of Christ is essential to us as servants.  Being saved, and being servants of Christ, every command that comes from our great Captain is essential for those who profess to be His soldiers.  It matters not though His command appears to be merely ceremonial; we have no right to alter it.  What would the court-martial say to any soldier, who, having received an order from an officer, should say, ‘Well, I did not consider it to be exceedingly important?’  ‘Drum him out of the regiment!  Sir, there is an end to all discipline in the army when soldiers criticize their orders.’”[3]

The great preacher was absolutely correct concerning Christ's law.  If Jesus commands it, obey it; and if it be the Lord's law, make haste to keep the Master’s statute.  Let the Word of God be paramount within the soul, all dissent being hushed.  However, as I survey the scope of contemporary Christendom, I see that the Great Commission is neglected by the professed people of God; it is no longer obeyed among the churches.

It requires almost two score professing Christians to bring one person to open commitment to the Faith each year, testifying to a grievous disobedience among the people of God to the Master’s command.  Perhaps the world is growing more callused toward the Faith of Christ Jesus, perhaps people are more self-centred than in years past, but we have no excuse for failure to obey.  Whether anyone believes the message or whether all reject our pleas, we are commanded to disciple others, bringing them into the fellowship of the assembly of the Lord and there building them in the Faith.

The Basis for the Commission We have Received — Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  In the verses before us, the word all occurs four times.  Jesus claims all authority for Himself.  He sends disciples to make disciples of all nations.  They are to teach those who are discipled to obey all that He commanded.  Finally, He promises to be with those who follow Him al[l] ways (lit. “all the days”).  That first universal statement is vital for all that will follow.

When tempted by the devil, Jesus was offered all that the evil one could offer.  Matthew records the offer.  “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” [Matthew 4:8, 9].  The devil can offer all the kingdoms of this world; for God has permitted him reign within that temporal kingdom.  However, the Son of God has received “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

The Father has given all things into the hand of the Son [John 3:35], and this includes “authority over all flesh” [John 17:2].  Jesus is both “Lord and Christ” through appointment by the Father [Acts 2:36].  Nothing is outside the control of the Saviour [Hebrews 2:8].  “Angels, authorities and powers” are subject to Him [1 Peter 3:22].  Because He has all authority, He is appointed to “execute judgement” [John 5:27].  The consistent testimony of Scripture is that Jesus has all authority.

What does it mean to us that Jesus has all authority?  What is the practical implication of this authority He possesses?  First, it means that He has freedom to do as He wills, and we know that He wills what the Father desires [John 5:30].  We know that the will of the Saviour is intertwined with the will of the Father [John 6:38].  It is the Father’s will that all who receive the Son as Master of life will be saved, and that none of them will be lost [John 6:39, 40].  Therefore, we know that the will of the Saviour is that all who are destined for life will come to life through faith in Him.

In the declaration that He had received all authority, is the answer to the prayer He taught His disciples.

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.”

[Matthew 6:9-13]

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven!”  The will of the Father is that all mankind will honour the Son.  Though at the present time we dare not say that all honour the Son, we know there awaits a day when “at the Name of Jesus every knew should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father [Philippians 2:10, 11].

I wonder if we know the Saviour in the majestic glory that is His.  We speak of worship, but I see little sense of awe at the knowledge of His authority and might.  When John saw the Risen Son of God on Patmos, he “fell at His feet as though dead.”  The Risen Son of God is awesome!  When we review the songs of the saints in Heaven, they sing praise to the Lamb of God because He ransomed people for God and made them a kingdom and priests to God.  Now, by His authority, the redeemed shall reign on earth [Revelation 5:9, 10].

When Jesus returns, He will present Himself as “King of kings and Lord of lords” [Revelation 19:16].  The Lord will “come in the clouds with great power and glory” [Mark 13:26].  He promised to come “with His angels in the glory of [the] Father” [Matthew 16:27].  Consider what is stated.  The Risen Son of God possesses authority.  When every eye shall see Him, He will appear with great power and glory—the glory of His Father.  My point in all this is to remind you that the God we serve is awesome and mighty.  He is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing” [Revelation 5:12].

Daniel informs us that when the Son of Man was presented before the Ancient of Days, He was given


and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve Him.”

He continues by testifying that

“His dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and His kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.”

[Daniel 7:13, 14]

The Son of God has received all authority.  Therefore, when He speaks we are obligated to heed His voice and do what He commands.

Listen to much of contemporary praise music and you will find yourself gravely disappointed.  We sing as though we were singing about a girlfriend instead of ascribing majesty to the awesome Son of God.  We want a Saviour we can place in a box where He will not bother us overly much.  Then, we can take Him out for a few moments on a Sunday morning, believing that we have worshipped because we sang love songs.

My purpose in stating this observation is to point out that our contemporary hymnody reflects our view of the Son of God.  We see Him as a genial, loveable soul who issues suggestions designed to avoid hurting our feelings and to make us feel good about ourselves.  However, the contemporary caricature is foreign to the Word of God.  Therein, we meet the Risen Son of God who is awesome in His power, whose presence is terrifying to all flesh.  Appearing to His disciples, who though they knew that He was alive, He nevertheless startled and frightened them by His very presence.  Well might they be affrighted!  And well might we be awestruck.

When Jesus issued this Great Commission, He was not making suggestions to the disciples.  Neither did He temper His words by allowing them latitude to make up their minds whether they were willing to obey or act when it was convenient.  He spoke of the authority He had received from the Father, and based on that authority commanded those who would claim to know Him must make disciples.  That command still stands.

The Command Jesus Issued — “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.”  There is really only one command given, and that is to make disciples.  To be certain, the participles associated with the command anticipate going, baptising and teaching; each has the force of an imperative.  Collectively, these are actions that constitute the process of discipleship.

The command Jesus issued anticipates an aggressive warfare.  Disciples of the Lord Jesus are expected to be going.  He is not sending every disciple to labour in foreign lands, but He is anticipating that we who are His followers will move throughout our world, encountering people from all nations because either we are travelling there ourselves or because we meet such individuals as they come to us.

Let me address this issue by reminding each Christian that we are God’s fellow workers [see 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1].  We have been appointed to work in God’s vineyard.  The Master taught His disciples to see the world through His eyes.  He must have stunned the disciples when they returned from trying to secure food by saying to them, “lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” [John 4:35].  That message would be iterated when He dispatched the disciples to declare the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said, “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” [Luke 10:2].

Modern Christians have ignored the Master’s command to disciple others, resulting in churches that are anaemic and woefully dysfunctional.  I am distressed to note that our own congregation is seriously infected with the malady of exaltation of the “self,” thus excluding the Spirit of Christ.  In concert with the vast majority of congregations professing the evangelical faith of Christ Jesus, our own beloved congregation has reduced the ministry of the church to a spectator sport.

Today, we “go to church,” instead of being the church.  We attend the services of the congregation anticipating that we will be entertained.  After all, that is what we pay the preacher to do.  He performs, and we rate the programme.  If his effort doesn’t meet our expectations, we’ll quit in protest or try to hire a better entertainer.

We could try to get rid of the pastor, since he is saying things that make us uncomfortable.  I recently received one of those ubiquitous Emails promising to bring us happiness.  Unlike so many that ask for money, this one suggested that we bundle up our pastor and send him to the church listed at the bottom of the letter.  If every church acted as instructed, within one week each church will have received 16,436 pastors.  One of them is sure to be exactly what the congregation wants.  The letter did contain a warning, however.  It told how one church had broken the chain and got their old pastor back.

The modern congregation pays the pastor to preach, to win the lost, and to build up the saved, and the church members function as cheerleaders or spectators.  The converts are won, baptised, and given the right hand of fellowship, and then they join the spectators.  How much faster our churches would grow, and how much stronger and happier church members would be, if each one were discipling another believer!

Modern Christians have lived subnormal so long that we now believe the normal Christian life is supernormal.  Our eyes have grown accustomed to the dim light of human reason.  Consequently, the full light of the Word hurts our eyes and we are blinded by that light.  Thus, we resist the transformation of the Spirit of God.  Mark Twain was likely correct when he said that the only one who likes change is a wet baby.

The intent of the Master of the church was that His people would labour together both to win the lost to faith in Christ the Lord and to build up those coming to faith.  We have transformed that divine task to ensure that we are not personally inconvenienced.  In our modern theology, we demand little of ourselves and we are made to feel good about our personal condition.  We imagine ourselves superior to those “pagans” about us, and yet there is little in our lives to distinguish us from the lost.  Our speech is the same as before conversion, and our interests have little to do with advancing the Kingdom of God.  We resist the transformation of our tastes and interests, because we like who we are.  Above all, we refuse to be inconvenienced by thoughtless demands from the Master.

Obedience to the call of Christ demands hard work and co-operative labour by each member of the Body.  Perhaps it is too much to expect that modern saints, living in a society in which everyone is a victim and in which rights are exalted above responsibility, will actually accept the call to self-discipline and enduring hard work.  However, the Word of God is replete with admonitions to accept the hard tasks of doing the work of God willingly and graciously.

Paul calls on the Corinthians to “act like men” [1 Corinthians 16:13].  His admonition anticipates the instruction he will give Timothy as he writes his final missive.  “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.  An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.  It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” [2 Timothy 2:1-6].

Focus on the third verse: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”  Timothy could have argued that he needed to be affirmed.  He could have whimpered that he faced hardship each week, opposition and stress, and that he really needed to be made to feel good about what he was able to do.  However, the Apostle knew, as intuitively we who are Christians know, that hardship and trials never cease.  The lost are still lost, and the task of winning the lost to faith in the Son of God still remains.

What encouragement the Apostle gives to the young theologue!  “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.  But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;

if we endure, we will also reign with Him;

if we deny Him, He also will deny us;

if we are faithless, He remains faithful—

for He cannot deny himself” [2 Timothy 2:8-13].

Discipling is so much more than evangelism.  We are responsible to tell others of our Faith, urging them to believe the message God has entrusted to us.  However, those coming to faith in the Living Son of God are to be brought into the fellowship of the Body, openly identifying with the Lord who redeems them through baptism.  Then, having confessed Him before men, they are to be taught.  Here is a powerful mandate for teaching and preaching all that is taught in the Word of God.  No subject is to be ignored as we instruct each Christian in the truths of God’s Holy Word.

What is important for us to understand is that this task is assigned to each of us working in concert with the Holy Spirit.  The worship of the church includes singing and prayer.  However, singing and praying is not the sum of worship.  Worship results when the people of God recognise the presence of the Son of God in their midst and accord Him the honour and respect due His Holy Name.  According to the text, our great work is winning the lost to faith, integrating them into the life of the Body, and instructing them in the great truths of the Word of God.

Paul taught the Corinthians that the members of the congregation bear collective responsibility for building up the church, for encouraging one another and consoling one another [see 1 Corinthians 14:3].  The building up of one another is through encouragement and consolation.  This is not stroking egos such as has become common in this day.  Rather, Paul anticipates that we encourage one another to stand firm in the truth and console one another through standing firm with those who are tempted.

The emphasis for all Christians throughout the Word of God, and especially in the letters of Paul, is on strengthening others, and not on feeling good about ourselves.  Tragically, we modern Christians have transformed the teaching of the Word to make worship all about ourselves.  When we whine that we aren’t fed, we need to heed the Word that demands that we endeavour to build others!  Strengthening is through “arousing believers to do or suffer or by pouring into their hearts the consolations of the Spirit.”[4]  The gifts we each received were entrusted to us so that we would build one another.  We do not encourage one another to fulfil the Great Commission through seeking ease of life.  We do not console one another through attempting to blackmail the church through refusal to participate in the life of the Body.

A man visiting in my office recently commented that I had been angry since I arrived in Dawson Creek.  He stated that I had been fighting something or someone since arrival.  I have thought about his comment during the past weeks, and I agree with him.  I am not, nor have I been, fighting any person—I haven’t time for that.  I am, however, engaged in a great battle.  And so are you, if you are a child of God.

Paul encouraged Timothy to “fight the good fight of the Faith” [1 Timothy 6:12].  He encouraged Christians to remember, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” [Ephesians 6:12].  Recalling the invasion of Europe with the Gospel of Christ, the great Apostle states, “when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” [2 Corinthians 7:5].  We are in a battle for the souls of people.  The eternal destiny of the lost should weigh heavily upon the heart of each Christian as he or she labours to bring many souls to faith in the Son of God.

Because I am engaged in a great battle, I do grow angry as I watch the loss of souls to the enemy.  I grieve to see good people drop out of the conflict when wounded.

I am angry whenever I see professed Christians who claim to love their children too much to spend time instructing them in righteousness or to hold them accountable before God for their life and actions.

I grow angry at the thought that mothers and fathers are so timid that they will not openly urge their child to believe the Gospel or to show the fruits of the Spirit.  I am angry that parents remain silent, permitting that son or daughter to live a godless life.

I admit my anger at the knowledge that modern Christians have bought into the lie that it is more important for our children to be good athletes, to be capable skaters, to be accomplished musicians than it is for them to walk in righteousness.

I am angry that among the people of God are individuals who are more focused on their rights then on building the Kingdom of God through winning the lost.

I am angry that among the people of God are many who are experts at fomenting discontent and yet they have never knowingly led a soul to Christ.

I am angry at the knowledge that good people cease seeking the souls of the lost because their feelings were hurt or because they were compelled to think—to grapple with the great issues of the Faith.

I am angry at the thought that people confuse length of days as members of the church with maturity in the Faith.  It does not matter how long you have been on the journey, but it matters very much how far you have come.

I admit that I am passionate about winning the lost to faith in the Living Son of God.  I am passionate about ensuring that those who are saved grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  I am passionate about resisting the spirit of this age that teaches the people of God to take their ease, ignoring the Commission of the Master.  I am passionate about teaching the truth, calling all who name the Name of Christ to embrace the task we have received.

If your feelings are hurt by plain speech, is it because I have attacked you?  Or is it because you know that you are disobedient to the command of the Saviour and you resent being exposed as a fraud?  Let the people of God know that the Master has given us a great command, and we are obligated to fulfil that Commission—not when we feel like it, but now!

Our Promise of Success in the Great Endeavour — “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We will be successful in every effort to disciple the lost because we have the promise of the Risen Son of God.  He will be with us always and He will give us the power to fulfil His will and equip us with every necessary tool to accomplish what He calls us to do.  The presence of the Saviour is not with an individual alone; neither is He standing with a few.  Rather, the Son of God has promised to be with us as a Body.

In the Psalms is a precious promise to those willing to obey the Master.

“He who goes out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

bringing his sheaves with him.”

[Psalm 126:6]

Contained within this verse is a promise of success.  If we will go, if our compassion will impel us to seek the lost, weeping over their souls, God has pledged on His sacred honour that we will return with shouts of joy, brining our sheaves with us.  We will be permitted to bring precious souls to Christ, if we will but go.

There is an especially disturbing passage in the Proverbs.  I have often pondered what Solomon wrote, trembling for the casual manner with which the people of God conduct the business of God.  Listen to these sobering words penned so long ago.

“If you faint in the day of adversity,

your strength is small.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;

hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’

does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?

Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,

and will he not repay man according to his work?”

[Proverbs 24:10-12]

When the writer speaks of fainting, he uses a word that means, “to relax.”  God is cautioning against becoming relaxed as long as there are around us people slipping away into death and destruction.  Before God, we are responsible to rescue those who stand on the brink of disaster.  We know that those who are outside of Christ—no matter how nice they may be and no matter the relationship those who are lost share with us—are even now under condemnation [see John 3:18, 36].  All that stands between eternal death and eternal life is the labour of God’s people.  God is watching us to see if we will obey His call or if we will excuse ourselves because conditions were just too hard.

A church should anticipate witnessing the power of the Spirit of God in each service.  Whenever we come together, among the activities we witness should be the harvest of souls as our Risen Saviour gives us success in our labours.  He has purchased the souls of many people.  He has given us His presence.  He has promised us success.  The only thing lacking is our obedience.

Whenever I speak as I have this day, there seem always to be a contingent whose feelings are hurt.  They believe that I am not considerate of their feelings, or they believe that I am no compassionate, or they believe that I am attacking them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am deeply sensitive as I endeavour to avoid hurting your feelings; however, I confess that I am far more concerned that I avoid dishonouring the One who appointed me to this ministry of the Word than I am to avoid hurting some members’ feelings.  I have all the time in the world to plead with and to pray for those who are lost and seeking life in the Beloved Son of God; but I do grow restless when those who profess to be fellow servants of God beg for me to ease up on the message I am called to deliver.  At any point in my ministry, there will be some who are resisting the Word.  They will no doubt believe that because I address the issues of obedience to the Saviour I am attacking them.  To any such among us this day, may God give you grace to do what is right rather than taking umbrage at the declaration of the Word of God.

Perhaps, if you have difficulty accepting the burden of obedience to the Command of Christ, you need to ask whether you are truly born from above.  I remind you that it is in possessing Christ, and not in professing Christ, that one is redeemed.  Those who are saved have submitted to Christ as Lord of life.  He is Master, which means that His commands are taken seriously and our obedience is paramount to our continued relationship both to Him and to His people.

Though the words have become familiar to those sharing our service, they are nevertheless necessary for us to hear and obey if we will enjoy the life of Christ the Lord.  “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believing in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth, one confesses, resulting in salvation.”  It is as we receive the reign of Christ over our lives that we are brought to the point of faith, and faith results in life for us.  This is the reason the Word of God promises that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9, 10, 13].

And that is our call to all who are outside of the Faith this day.  Whether you are a member of a church, or whether you have never joined a church.  All who are unsaved are called to faith in the Living Son of God.  Those who are saved are commanded to obey Him who gives us life, beginning now to disciple those who are outsiders to grace.  May God enable us to be the people He has called us to be, as we bring many souls to life and build them up in this most Holy Faith.  Amen.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.  Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

[2] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Joshua’s Vision,” (preached February 16, 1868),, accessed 25 April 2007

[3] Charles H. Spurgeon, ibid.

[4] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 1976), 280

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