The failure of the church to teach, train, and nurture its members to maturity in Christ is at the heart of why so many believers today are spiritually immature, entangled in the sins of the flesh, immersed in worldliness, and not much different from nonbelievers. Is it any wonder that the church is neither credible nor attractive to the watching world? Surely this grieves God. And just as surely, God will enable and empower any person or church that elevates disciple making to a top priority.
Of All Nations
The second phrase we want to explore, “of all nations,” spells out the scope of the mission of disciple making. The English words all nations are a translation of the Greek, panta ta ethne. That last word, ethne, is the root of the English word “ethnic.” The idea here is of ethnic groups. The Bible doesn’t speak in terms of races but of ethnicities; there is only one race — the human race. The Scriptures teach that all human beings originated from one couple and are part of the human race but have differentiated into various ethnic groups (Gen. 1:26–28, Acts 17:26). Thus Jesus is saying, “Go, make disciples from among all ethnic groups” — Africans, Asians, Caucasians, and others, and the many subgroups of each. This is a vast expansion of His earlier commission to go only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt.10:6).
Although this was actually another stage in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), it was very difficult for the Jews of Jesus’ day to accept. They saw themselves as God’s chosen people and looked down on non-Jews. Gentiles were often despised and avoided. This was especially true of Samaritans, who were of ethnically mixed ancestry and heterodox beliefs. Although Jesus focused His ministry almost exclusively on the Jews, He gave hints of the coming commission to all ethnic groups by His interactions with the Samaritans. On one occasion, He rebuked James and John, who wanted to call down fire upon the Samaritans (Luke 9:51–56). Samaritans were not to be hated and destroyed. On another, He confronted the Jews (and His disciples) with their own religious and ethnic pride by making the Good Samaritan a hero in His teaching about loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25–37). Samaritans were to be loved. He more clearly foreshadowed the coming Gentile mission by deliberately engaging a Samaritan woman in conversation and leading her to faith in Him as the Messiah—and through her testimony many other Samaritans (John 4:1–42). Samaritans were to be brought to salvation. These were firstfruits of the “other sheep that are not of this [Jewish] fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
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