‘Teach Them to Observe All the Things I Have Commanded You’
“Go therefore and make disciples . . . , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—MATTHEW 28:19, 20.
1. What conversation took place between the disciple Philip and a man from Ethiopia?
THE man from Ethiopia had journeyed all the way to Jerusalem. There he worshiped the God he loved, Jehovah. Evidently, he also loved God’s inspired Word. While returning home in his chariot, he was reading a copy of the writings of the prophet Isaiah when Philip, a disciple of Christ, met him. Philip asked the Ethiopian: “Do you actually know what you are reading?” The man replied: “How could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?” Philip went on to help this sincere student of Scripture to become a disciple of Christ.—Acts 8:26-39.
2. (a) In what way was the reply given by the Ethiopian meaningful? (b) What questions related to Christ’s commission to make disciples will we consider?
2 The reply of the Ethiopian is noteworthy. He said: ‘How could I, unless someone guided me.’ Yes, he needed a guide, someone to lead the way for him. In its own way, this comment illustrates the importance of a specific instruction that Jesus included in his commission to make disciples. What instruction? To find the answer, let us continue our consideration of Jesus’ words found in Matthew chapter 28. The preceding article focused on the questions why? and where? We will now consider two more questions related to Christ’s command to make disciples—what? and when?
“Teaching Them to Observe All the Things”
3. (a) How does someone become a disciple of Jesus Christ? (b) Making disciples includes teaching what?
3 What must we teach to help others to become disciples of Christ? Jesus commanded his followers: “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.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Thus, we must teach the things that Christ commanded.* What, though, will help to ensure that an individual who is taught Jesus’ commandments will not only become a disciple but also remain one? One key factor is seen in Jesus’ careful choice of words. Note, he did not merely say: ‘Teach them all the things I have commanded you.’ Rather, he said: ‘Teach them to observe all the things I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 19:17) What does that imply?
4. (a) What does it mean to observe a command? (b) Illustrate how we teach someone to observe Christ’s commands.
4 To observe a command means to “conform one’s action” to a command—to obey, or keep, it. How, then, do we teach someone to observe, or obey, the things that Christ commanded? Well, think of the way a driving instructor teaches his students to observe the traffic laws. The instructor may teach his students the rules of the road while in a classroom. However, to teach his students how to obey those rules, he has to guide the students as they actually drive in traffic and struggle to put into practice what they have learned. Likewise, when we study the Bible with people, we teach them Christ’s commandments. However, we also need to guide the students as they endeavor to apply Christ’s instructions in their daily lives and in the ministry. (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3) Thus, fully carrying out Christ’s command to make disciples requires that we be both teachers and guides. In that way, we imitate the example set by Jesus and by Jehovah himself.—Psalm 48:14; Revelation 7:17.
5. Why may a person with whom we study the Bible hesitate to obey Christ’s command to make disciples?
5 Teaching others to observe Jesus’ commands includes helping them to heed the command to make disciples. For some with whom we study the Bible, that may be intimidating. Even if they previously were active members of some church of Christendom, it is unlikely that their former religious teachers ever taught them to go and make disciples. Some church leaders frankly admit that when it comes to teaching their flock to evangelize, Christendom’s churches fail utterly. Commenting on Jesus’ command to go into the world and help all sorts of people to become disciples, Bible scholar John R. W. Stott noted: “Our failure to obey the implications of this command is the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians in the field of evangelism today.” He added: “We tend to proclaim our message from a distance. We sometimes appear like people who shout advice to drowning men from the safety of the seashore. We do not dive in to rescue them. We are afraid of getting wet.”
6. (a) When helping a Bible student, how can we imitate the example of Philip? (b) How can we show our concern when a Bible student begins to share in the preaching work?
6 If someone with whom we study the Bible was formerly part of a religion whose members are “afraid of getting wet,” it may be a challenge for him to overcome his fear of water, as it were, and obey Christ’s command to make disciples. He will need help. Thus, we need to be patient as we give him the sort of instruction and guidance that deepens his understanding and moves him to action, just as the teachings of Philip enlightened the Ethiopian and motivated him to get baptized. (John 16:13; Acts 8:35-38) In addition, our desire to teach Bible students to observe the command to make disciples moves us to be at their side to guide them when they take their first steps in Kingdom preaching.—Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10; Luke 6:40.
“All the Things”
7. Teaching others to ‘observe all things’ includes teaching them what commands?
7 We do not limit ourselves merely to teaching new disciples to make disciples. Jesus instructed us to teach others to “observe all the things” he commanded. That certainly includes the two greatest commands—to love God and to love neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-39) How might a new disciple be taught to observe those commandments?
8. Illustrate how a new disciple may be taught the command to show love.
8 Think again of the illustration of the student driver. As the student moves through traffic with the instructor at his side, the student is learning not only by listening to his instructor but also by observing other drivers. For instance, the instructor may point out a driver who kindly allows another to merge in front of him into traffic; or a driver who courteously dims his car’s headlights so as not to blind oncoming traffic; or a driver who offers willing assistance to an acquaintance whose vehicle has broken down. Such examples teach the student valuable lessons that he can apply when he is driving. Similarly, a new disciple who travels on the road to life learns not only from his teacher but also from the fine examples that he sees in the congregation.—Matthew 7:13, 14.
9. How does a new disciple learn what it means to observe the command to show love?
9 For instance, a Bible student may observe a single parent who puts forth great effort to come to the Kingdom Hall with her small children in tow. He may see a downhearted soul who faithfully comes to meetings despite her struggle with depression, an elderly widow who drives other older ones to each congregation meeting, or a teenager who shares in cleaning the Kingdom Hall. The Bible student may take note of a congregation elder who faithfully takes the lead in field service despite his many congregation responsibilities. He may meet a Witness who is disabled and housebound but who is a source of spiritual encouragement to all who visit him. The student may observe a couple who are making drastic adjustments in their life in order to serve as caregivers to their elderly parents. By observing such kind, helpful, and dependable Christians, the new disciple learns by example what it means to obey Christ’s command to love God and neighbor, especially fellow believers. (Proverbs 24:32; John 13:35; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:4, 8; 1 Peter 5:2, 3) In this way, each member of the Christian congregation can—and should—be a teacher and a guide.—Matthew 5:16.
“Until the Conclusion of the System of Things”
10. (a) For how long will we continue to make disciples? (b) What example did Jesus set regarding carrying out assignments?
10 Until when should we continue with disciple making? Throughout the conclusion of the system of things. (Matthew 28:20) Will we be able to fulfill this aspect of Jesus’ commission? As a worldwide congregation, we are determined to do so. In years past, we have gladly given of our time, energy, and resources to find those who are “rightly disposed for everlasting life.” (Acts 13:48) Presently, Jehovah’s Witnesses spend an average of more than three million hours each day of the year in Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making activity worldwide. We do so because we follow Jesus’ example. He stated: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) That is also our heartfelt desire. (John 20:21) We want to do more than start the work that has been entrusted to us; we want to finish it.—Matthew 24:13; John 17:4.
11. What has happened to some of our Christian brothers and sisters, and what should we ask ourselves?
11 It saddens us, however, to notice that some of our fellow believers have grown spiritually weak and, as a result, have slowed down or stopped carrying out Christ’s command to make disciples. Is there any way we can help them to renew their association with the congregation and resume their share in making disciples? (Romans 15:1; Hebrews 12:12) The manner in which Jesus helped his apostles when they were temporarily in a weak condition indicates what we may do today.
12. (a) Just before Jesus’ death, what did his apostles do? (b) How did Jesus deal with his apostles despite their having shown serious weaknesses?
12 At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, when his death was imminent, the apostles “abandoned him and fled.” As Jesus had foretold, they “scattered each one to his own house.” (Mark 14:50; John 16:32) How did Jesus deal with his spiritually weakened companions? Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus told some of his followers: “Have no fear! Go, report to my brothers, that they may go off into Galilee; and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10) Although the apostles had shown serious weaknesses, Jesus still called them “my brothers.” (Matthew 12:49) He had not given up on them. In this way, Jesus was merciful and forgiving, just as Jehovah is merciful and forgiving. (2 Kings 13:23) How can we imitate Jesus?
13. How should we view those who have grown spiritually weak?
13 We should have deep concern for those who have slowed down or stopped sharing in the ministry. We still remember the works of love that those fellow believers performed in the past—some perhaps for decades. (Hebrews 6:10) We truly miss their companionship. (Luke 15:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 2:17) How, though, may we express our concern for them?
14. In imitation of Jesus, how can we help a weak person?
14 Jesus told the downhearted apostles that they should go to Galilee and that they would see him there. In effect, Jesus invited them to attend a special meeting. (Matthew 28:10) Similarly today, we encourage those who are spiritually weak to attend the meetings of the Christian congregation, and we may need to encourage them more than once to do so. In the case of the apostles, the invitation bore fruit, for “the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged for them.” (Matthew 28:16) What joy we feel when weaker ones similarly respond to our warm invitations and resume attending Christian meetings!—Luke 15:6.
15. How can we follow Jesus’ example in welcoming weak ones who come to our place of meeting?
15 How will we react when a weaker Christian arrives at the Kingdom Hall? Well, what did Jesus do when he saw his apostles, whose faith had temporarily weakened, at the appointed place of meeting? “Jesus approached and spoke to them.” (Matthew 28:18) He did not stare at them from a distance but went up to them. Imagine how relieved the apostles must have felt when Jesus took that initiative! May we too take the initiative and warmly welcome spiritually weak ones who make the effort to return to the Christian congregation.
16. (a) What can we learn from the manner in which Jesus dealt with his followers? (b) How can we reflect Jesus’ view of weaker ones? (See footnote.)
16 What else did Jesus do? First, he made an announcement: “All authority has been given me.” Second, he gave an assignment: “Go therefore and make disciples.” Third, he made a promise: “I am with you all the days.” But did you note what Jesus did not do? He did not rebuke the disciples for their failures and doubts. (Matthew 28:17) Was his approach effective? Yes. Before long, the apostles were once again “teaching and declaring the good news.” (Acts 5:42) By following Jesus’ example of how to view and how to treat weaker ones, we may see similar heartwarming results in our local congregation.*—Acts 20:35.
“I Am With You All the Days”
17, 18. What strengthening thoughts are contained in Jesus’ words, “I am with you all the days”?
17 The final words of Jesus’ commission, “I am with you all the days,” contain a strengthening thought for all who strive to fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples. Whatever opposition enemies may bring against our Kingdom-preaching work and whatever forms of slander they may unleash against us, we have no reason to fear. Why not? Jesus, our Leader, who has ‘all authority in heaven and on earth,’ is with us to support us!
18 Jesus’ promise “I am with you all the days” is also a source of great comfort. As we strive to carry out Christ’s command to make disciples, we experience not only days of joy but also days of sadness. (2 Chronicles 6:29) Some of us pass through sorrowful times while mourning the death of a dearly loved one. (Genesis 23:2; John 11:33-36) Others are coping with old age, when health and strength are declining. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-6) Still others face days when they are overwhelmed by feelings of depression. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) And a growing number of us struggle through severe economic hardships. Nevertheless, despite such challenges, we succeed in our ministry because Jesus is with us “all the days,” including the darkest days of our life.—Matthew 11:28-30.
A reference work points out that Jesus said, “baptizing them . . . teaching them,” not ‘baptizing them and teaching them.’ Hence, the command to baptize and to teach are “not strictly . . . two successive acts.” Rather, “teaching is a continuous process, which partly precedes baptism . . . and partly follows baptism.”