Completing the Work of Making Disciples
“We are God’s fellow workers. You people are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.”—1 Cor. 3:9.
1. (a) How should one feel in seeing a job well done, and what factors should not make a difference? (b) Give some Scriptural examples of assignments well done where satisfaction must have been experienced.
THERE is a joy in seeing a job well done. This is true whether the job is large or small, involves many persons or you alone, is completed quickly or extends over a long period of time. Noah and his family must have felt keen satisfaction in completing the ark on time; then herding the animals into it, finally sealing it shut before the rains came. Moses and the Israelites, in completing in its intricate details the tabernacle in the wilderness, must have felt that same thrill. Solomon and those who labored with him must have rejoiced when the magnificent temple was completed on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem in 1027 B.C.E., and the cloud, signifying God’s approval, filled it so that the priests could not enter.
2. Describe a work, participation in which should give the thrill of true accomplishment.
2 Are you one who enjoys the thrill of true accomplishment? Then what if you were given the privilege of participating in the greatest work ever done on earth by man? In this you would associate with thousands of devoted men and women of all nations. You would engage in a work that is for the greatest possible good of righteous-minded persons. It is a work that started over nineteen hundred years ago and is now reaching its grand climax. It will be completed in this generation. An energetic lover of God would surely be interested in such a work.
3. How might some object to a religious or ministerial work?
3 ‘But,’ you may object, ‘that sounds like a ministerial work, and it is my understanding that that is a profession that is waning in popularity.’ ‘In fact,’ you might say, ‘I know that this is the reason there is a shortage of ministers and priests throughout the world and the shortage is getting more acute all the time. It would probably be a very frustrating career.’
4. If one would object to a work such as the clergy of Christendom engage in, what should he keep in mind?
4 Let us get the correct view of this work from the outset, doing so in a straightforward manner. The opportunity to engage in this grand work does not mean becoming a clergyman in one of the nominal religions of the day. While the invitation is to a ministerial work, it does not have the remotest resemblance to the preaching that is done in the churches of Christendom today, nor has it any connection therewith. There is a wonderful difference.
5. (a) What should initially catch one’s interest? (b) Who is behind this work, and what did he say?
5 First of all, one should be interested in just who is behind this work and thus extends the invitation to participate. The opportunity to engage in this grandest of all work opens up through a command from Christ Jesus given to his followers and which is recorded at Matthew 28:19, 20, namely: “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.”
6. (a) What is a disciple, according to one authority? (b) According to this definition, what kind of disciple could one become?
6 Before discussing the pleasant details of this work and especially the thrill of sharing in completing it in these last days, we should ask, What is a disciple? He is “One who receives instruction from another. One who accepts the doctrines of another and assists in spreading and implementing them.” Also, “A convinced adherent of a school (as a philosophy, art, or politics),” according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of 1963. While this definition from this authoritative secular source helps us nicely to get some understanding of the meaning of the word, yet it is not sufficient. We are interested in a Bible meaning. The latter part of that definition, according to the modern usage of the word, shows that one could be a disciple of a person or organization that taught false religious doctrines and could even be a disciple of that which has nothing to do with the Bible.
7. What kind of disciples did Jesus have in mind when he encouraged the making of them?
7 We, however, have in mind the true scope of the word as used by Christ Jesus when he made the statement from which our theme is taken. He was not encouraging his followers to make disciples of “philosophy, art, or politics” or even “the church of your choice.” He was encouraging them to make disciples of himself and to “observe all the things I have commanded you.” We will want to remember, too, that Jesus did not teach his own ideas but, as he said, “I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; just as I hear, I judge; and the judgment I render is righteous, because I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (Matt. 28:20; John 5:30) We are speaking, then, of disciples in the true Christian sense of the word, and not in any worldly sense that has developed since Jesus properly used the expression. They would be persons who understood and accepted the teachings of Christ Jesus and followed him closely in spreading them.
8. (a) What is the best way to find out just how disciples can be made? (b) Whose example did he not follow, and how do we know?
8 Appreciating what a Christian disciple is, we are interested in how they can be made. What better way of finding this out could there be than to go back to the time when Christ Jesus issued the command and discover exactly what he had been doing in making disciples? Had he been following the example of the clergy of his day? Hardly! To these he said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one you make him a subject for Gehenna twice as much so as yourselves.” (Matt. 23:15) Additionally, of these he said: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the seat of Moses. Therefore all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform. They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger. All the works they do they do to be viewed by men; for they broaden the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards, and enlarge the fringes of their garments. They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues, and the greetings in the market places and to be called Rabbi by men. But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers.” (Matt. 23:2-8) No, this was not Jesus’ method of finding sheeplike persons and opening up to them the way to become his followers.
9. (a) For what kind of persons was he and for what kind of persons was he not looking? (b) How did he and how did he not look for them?
9 His was a revolutionary method, designed to meet a specific need. He was not looking for hangers-on or mere listeners. He was looking for disciples, men who wanted to learn the “good news,” as he called it, who would be willing to take their stand for the truth when they recognized it and who would, in turn, dedicate their lives to the work of making yet other disciples when shown how. And looking for them did not mean opening up a church and waiting for someone to wander in. It meant his taking the initiative and going to the people, that he might speak to them personally. He knew from the beginning that there was no better way to reach the people with his vital message than the way he was now opening up.
10. How did he show ingenuity in his work of making disciples?
10 And in doing this, what ingenuity he did use! He preached to crowds on a mountainside, in his hometown synagogue and other synagogues, in the temple at Jerusalem, from a boat at the seashore, in isolated places, in private homes, and “from city to city and from village to village.”—Matt. 5:1; 12:9; 13:54; 14:13, 14; Luke 5:3; 8:1; 10:38, 39; 19:2, 5, 6.
11. What kind of persons did he preach to, but which kind responded most favorably?
11 And to what kind of persons did he preach? Young and old, men and women, rich and poor, the sick and the well. Though he spoke to all, it was the common people who responded most favorably. His apostles, for example, were mostly men from the working class.
12. Why should we expect that those from the working class would make good ministers?
12 Would men from these various walks of life make good ministers? Why not? They could learn doctrine and principle as well as anyone. Besides, not only would Jesus tutor them in the truth of God’s purposes, but he would instruct them and train them in just how to preach and teach. They would be vigorous, enthusiastic persons, willing and able to work.
13. How did training ministers for the discipling work begin, and is there evidence that thorough instruction was given?
13 First it was the twelve apostles whom “Jesus sent forth, giving them these orders . . . ” (Matt. 10:5) Jesus then continued and gave detailed instructions for the house-to-house and city-to-city work in which they would engage. This is recorded for us in the tenth chapter of Matthew, and then Matthew 11:1 says: “Now when Jesus had finished giving instructions to his twelve disciples, he set out from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
14. How was the work later expanded, and how do we know that it was successful?
14 Later this activity expanded when “the Lord designated seventy others and sent them forth by twos in advance of him into every city and place to which he himself was going to come. Then he began to say to them: ‘The harvest, indeed, is great, but the workers are few. Therefore beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.’” (Luke 10:1, 2) Was this early tour in God’s service successful? Luke 10:17 answers: “Then the seventy returned with joy.” And Lu 10 verse 21 twenty-one adds: “In that very hour he [Jesus] became overjoyed in the holy spirit and said: ‘I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have carefully hidden these things from wise and intellectual ones, and have revealed them to babes. Yes, O Father, because to do thus came to be the way approved by you.’” Jesus’ method of making disciples was sound in its conception and was proving thrillingly effective and successful in its execution!
15. (a) How do we know that Jesus’ method of making disciples was successful even after his death? (b) Did Jesus’ followers show conviction and courage in carrying out their assignment?
15 This was to be proved true on an even larger scale shortly after the death of Jesus. That the apostles and others of his followers understood clearly what was expected of them is shown by their activity and the results. Peter’s speech, recorded in the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles, resulted in 3,000 being baptized, and shortly thereafter the number grew to 5,000. (Acts 2:41; 4:4) Their success was attested to by the high priest when some of the apostles were brought into the Sanhedrin hall. “And the high priest questioned them and said: ‘We positively ordered you not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.’” (Acts 5:27, 28) That these servants of God were not to be intimidated, but that the discipling work would continue, was shown by their answer, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) The preaching work was mushrooming and the disciples were multiplying!
A PAUSE IN THE DISCIPLING WORK
16. Did that early work of making disciples continue and expand into the religious work we see in Christendom today, and what are some reasons why we so answer?
16 How has this work progressed since then? Has it expanded into the hundreds of so-called “Christian” religions with their millions of adherents in various parts of the world today? How wonderful it would be if we could say “Yes” in answer to these questions. But unfortunately it is not possible to answer so. No, what we see in Christendom today is not an expansion of the fine Christianity of Jesus’ day. The facts, Scriptural and secular, show otherwise. There was a pause in the work, as started by Jesus and the apostles, and this pause was clearly foretold by Jesus and some of his apostles. Its occurrence should not have come as a surprise then nor should understanding it be so difficult now.
17. What did Jesus illustrate in the parable of the sower?
17 In the parable of the sower, recorded at Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Jesus illustrated how there would be a corrupting of that original Christianity, and this would be both as to organization and as to doctrine. Imitation Christians as “weeds” were sown by Satan among the true Christians, who were pictured as “wheat.” Because, as matters developed, there would be a period of time when it would be difficult or impossible to tell them apart, it would be necessary for the master to allow them to grow together until the “harvest” time. Then the “weeds” would be clearly identified and the separating work could take place.
18. When did the falling away from true Christianity begin, and what did the apostles Paul and Peter say about this?
18 The fall of that early organization from true Christianity took place after the death of the twelve apostles but had its beginning even before their passing from the scene in death. Note Paul’s warning at Acts 20:29, 30: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” He also said: “For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories.” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4) Peter warned: “However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.”—2 Pet. 2:1, 2; 2 Thess. 2:7.
19. What are some evidences that, down through the centuries and also now, Christendom was not and is not Christian?
19 From then on, down through the centuries, including the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, Christendom with her crusades, wars and inquisitions was anything but Christian. Could Christendom, with her belief in such pagan doctrines as hellfire, purgatory, immortality of the human soul, trinity, and so forth, be truly Christian? And what of her involvement in politics, commercialism, wars and gambling? Besides, do you see her clergy or the members of the church busily engaged in the discipling work of Christ Jesus and the apostles in the manner that the Bible describes and to which we have previously referred? No, Christendom today is not Christian and is not fulfilling Jesus’ command to make true disciples. Many statements by prominent clergymen show that this is so. It is freely admitted.
20. (a) By whom is the discipling work being done today, and how have they prepared themselves for the assignment? (b) What additional command is now tied in with Matthew 28:19 as applicable especially for our day?
20 Who, then, is doing the discipling work today? There can be no doubt of this. It is the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. The revival of the work of making disciples is to be found in that organization in these last days. They have freed themselves from the constricting creeds and contaminating false doctrines of the nominal churches. They have freed themselves from the hierarchical, congregational and all other forms of church rule that are unscriptural and they are governed by theocratic rule. Finally, they have taken up the method of work established by Christ Jesus and followed by the apostles and early disciples. This method was not adopted simply to conform to a Scriptural pattern now outmoded. No, it is being closely adhered to because it is still the most thorough and effective method of accomplishing the work that could be found. Yes, Jehovah’s witnesses today are the ones who are obeying the command of the Master (found at Matthew 28:19): “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.” But even more than that, they are obeying the command meant for our day and recorded at Matthew 24:14: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” The discipling work is again in full swing!
COMPLETING THE WORK
21. (a) Is there an urgency in the work of making disciples, and why? (b) With respect to urgency, what is learned from the experiences of Noah?
21 Even a casual observing of the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses will cause one to be aware that there is an urgency in the matter. But why? Surely the work of making disciples can continue on indefinitely! That is just the point. It cannot. This work had a start and it will have an end. The scripture last quoted above tells us that when the preaching work has been accomplished, “then the end will come.” The “last days,” so often warned of in the Bible, are here. (2 Tim. 3:1; Jas. 5:3; 2 Pet. 3:3) Those who would like to have a clear foreview of these days can read Matthew 24:37-39 and Genesis 6-7 the sixth and seventh chapters. These days, Jesus said, would be “just as the days of Noah were.” Noah was called a “preacher of righteousness” and when his warning work was completed and the door of the ark was closed, there were no more disciples made from that generation. The opportunity for salvation had passed.
22. Can disciples be made hurriedly, or just what is involved?
22 If we are living in urgent times and the end of this system of things is near, then probably there is a need for hurried “decisions for Christ” to be made after the manner of a Billy Graham, some may reason. No, it is not that easy. Jesus’ command was to “make” disciples. That expression in itself indicates that there would be a good deal of work involved in doing so. It indicates that the disciple would have to be fashioned, formed or molded according to a new set of principles and ideas. This is precisely what is needed, according to the apostle’s words at Romans 12:2: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Such work would take time; it would not be accomplished by means of a quick conversion.
23. (a) What initial work and follow-up work must be done that takes time? (b) What is true of people’s minds today that slows down the discipling work?
23 First a searching work must take place. From door to door and in many other ways interested persons are contacted and given the opportunity to hear a brief presentation of Bible truth. Those who show themselves to be of a sheeplike disposition and manifest an interest in learning the truth of God’s purposes are noted and additional calls on them stimulate that interest. If the interest proves to be genuine, then a Bible study may be started in which a wide range of Bible subjects are covered, misconceptions are cleared out of the way and many questions answered. As has been said, all of this takes time. The good news has been veiled for a long time and minds have been blinded. Note with what seriousness Paul makes this point at 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4: “If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” Persistent teaching, though, allows the light of the good news to shine through. Each week of the year in 1965 Jehovah’s witnesses conducted 770,595 home Bible studies.
24. How else are disciples assisted in addition to the teaching of them done on a personal basis?
24 Not only is the teaching done on a personal basis, but there are instructive and interesting congregational meetings to attend and from which to learn. The Watchtower study, public talk, service meeting, ministry school and congregation book study are attended each week by those who are conscious of their spiritual need and who want their thirst for the water of truth satisfied. This is being done on a worldwide scale in 24,158 congregations in 197 lands, as reported in the 1966 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
25. How can we be assured that this tremendous undertaking will be completed?
25 Will this tremendous job finally be completed? God assures us that it will. Concerning anything that he starts he says: “So my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.” (Isa. 55:11) It is really Jehovah’s work that we are doing, as can be seen from the words of Paul at 1 Corinthians 3:9: “For we are God’s fellow workers. You people are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.” The work is being directed by Christ Jesus and the angels. (Rev. 14:6) We can be certain that with such supervision it will be completed. Anyone today who really has a love for the truth also has the opportunity, somehow, to hear that truth.
26. How could this time of making disciples be properly described?
26 This should be and is a joyous time. Speaking in a general way concerning our day, Jesus said: “But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) Describing the rejoicing that takes place when one stray sheep is found, Matthew 18:13 says: “And if he happens to find it, I certainly tell you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that have not strayed.” It is especially a joyous time now, when thousands are being found.
27. Why should the completing of the work of making disciples be more joyful?
27 Anticipation at the start of an undertaking can be exciting. But which part of an endeavor is really the most enjoyable, the start or the finish? The finish, of course. It is at this point that one sees the fruits of his labor. This is where one sees, not just the outline or the plans, but the reality. So it is with the work of making disciples. The preaching of this good news of the Kingdom and the gathering of disciples thereby out of all nations and races is the greatest assignment ever attempted on this earth. What a joy to live at a time when its completion takes place before our very eyes! Many, indeed, are the reasons for rejoicing.
28. What thoughts should one have in mind as he views the climax of this great work?
28 But one of the real joys comes in having a part in the work. Not only must one be a disciple, but one must make disciples, and this work must be shared in now. Once this opportunity to share has passed by it will never be repeated. It is true that God does not need us in order to do the work, but what a blessing to have him permit us to have a part! Appreciating this, we should work to the full limit of our strength and ability.