By Richard Hayes, District Representative, Southwest District
As we begin the year 2018, we remember that many things battle for the time, affections and priorities of any pastor, whether they be rural, rural suburban, suburban or urban. Pastors feel the pressure of more than one issue, person or priority swaying them. As we ponder the dawn of a new year filled with unprecedented opportunities to impact our communities, our culture, our world, and our families for the Lord Jesus Christ, it only seems fitting to reflect on our top priorities, so that in 2018 we indeed keep first things first.
Our Commission Helps Us Keep First Things First
To remember and focus on our commission is one way to keep first things first. Jesus in commissioning his disciples then and now states, “…‘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” ( Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
In one concise statement Jesus reminds His disciples that he alone possesses all the authority. Based upon that simple fact, He sends His disciples/followers out into the various cultures and people groups of the world to make new disciples. An obedient disciple submits to the One with all authority – the One who has asserted His deity, the One who is resurrected. The present tense command is to continually make disciples. Jesus’ uses a trilogy of participles to instruct His disciples how to carry out His command. This trilogy of participles are often referred to as parallel participles: Going, Baptizing, and Teaching.
New Testament authority Craig Blomberg offers this insight, “The main command of Christ’s commission is ‘make disciples’. Too much and too little have often been made of this observation. Too much is made of it when the disciples ‘going’ is overly subordinated, so that Jesus’ charge is to proselytize merely where one is. Matthew frequently uses ‘go’ as an introductory circumstantial participle that is rightly translated as the coordinate verb – here ‘go and make.’ Too little is made of it when all attention is centered on the command to ‘go’ as in countless appeals for missionary candidates, so foreign missions are elevated to a higher status of Christian service than other forms of spiritual activity. To ‘make disciples of all nations’ does require many people to leave their homelands, but Jesus’ main focus remains on the task of all believers to duplicate themselves wherever they may be.” (Craig L. Blomberg. Matthew, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992. P. 431.)
First Things First: Go, Baptize, Teach
Let’s now focus on the three parallel participles that instruct us how to carry out the command of making disciples. First, “going” or “go and make”. Going can be summed up in the task of evangelism, the sharing of one’s faith with an individual yet to come to saving faith. Inherent in going, we see the salvation of the lost. Finding and building bridges to those within the sphere of influence of our lives that we can influence toward Christ. The goal of “going’ is to see individuals come to a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The second participle is “baptizing.” It is commonly asserted that making a public profession of faith in Christ in Baptism is a mark of identification. Many suggest that identification with Christ in baptism can be seen as “folding” – as in folding sheep into a fold. Baptism identifies a new Believer in Christ as folded into the Body of Christ where they will be assimilated, bonded to other believers and protected from wolves and other harmful teachings and activities.
The third participle is “teaching.” Inherent in “teaching” is the believer new and old being instructed in the fundamental or essential truths and doctrines of the Bible. The process of our progressive sanctification touches reality as we exchange the lies of the world with the veracity of the inerrant Word. Teaching edifies and matures the believer in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Keep First Things First: Our Focus
As we keep first things first in 2018, it seems to me that as obedient disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ who are entrusted with the task of shepherding and feeding Jesus’ sheep, keeping first things first means that we will keep our focus on reaching the lost, folding them into the church, the Body of Christ, and building them up in their faith.
But let us not lose sight of Jesus’ final statement, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Many have noted that Jesus’ entrance into history is encapsulated in the name Immanuel – God with us. Now Jesus assures us as His disciples as we carry out His commission that He is with us. New Testament authority Mike Wilkin’s makes this pertinent observation, “… Jesus concludes the commission with the crucial element of discipleship: the presence of the Master. Both those who obey the commission and those who respond are comforted by the awareness that the risen Jesus will continue to fashion all His disciples.” (Michael J. Wilkins. Matthew. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. P. 958)
As we strive to keep first things first in 2018, let us be mindful that Jesus is with us as we go throughout our communities and regions sharing the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are equally mindful that that it is Jesus who is present as new disciples come to faith, are baptized and are taught to obey all that He has commanded. We are just as mindful that Jesus is present as disciples of all ages and stages of maturity are challenged to grow and mature still more. (I think we are too eager to give up on individuals the Lord has never forsaken).
We remain mindful as well that Jesus, as the Head of the Church is present in His church as it awaits His return. Lastly, Jesus is present with you and me as we follow Him and serve Him. Therefore, let’s keep first things first in 2018.