This article first appeared on Theological Matters, the academic blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Immigration, border security and citizen safety currently constitute one of the hottest issues in the American political scene. Certainly, no one can deny that this discussion was a major part of the rhetoric surrounding our last presidential election. Voices on both sides of the isle present compelling, if not emotive, appeals as to what we as a country should do. Depending on who is talking, the responsible thing is either to narrow the opening through which immigrants enter our country for the safety of our citizens or to widen the gate in order to embrace oppressed refugees with open arms. That the issue has become a part of the discussion in our churches and denomination is not surprising. It is a concern we are being asked to address in our spiritual and biblical conversations.
Now, I am going to disappoint you. My point here is not to solve the abovementioned debate or to instruct you on how to engage in this discussion. Allow me to make a much less contentious and more well-known point. Regardless of what immigration laws are created or amended in our country, the position of the pastor, church and believer must be that we leverage every opportunity we have to make disciples of all nations. This is our mission. This is one reason why believers are here and the church exists. It is the command that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ left us.
Leveraging every opportunity to make disciples certainly includes when the nations come to us. Regardless of where you find yourself on the immigration debate, I pray as a believer you can add your “amen” here! Matthew 28:18-20 is crystal clear: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
I am quite certain that nothing I have written so far has been novel to you. Quite frankly, I would be concerned if you did not understand that the Great Commission commands believers to share their faith and churches to make disciples of all people. I imagine you have come to grips with this truth. So, we understand that Matthew 28 is an evangelism text and a mission text. Would you be surprised, however, if I argued that the Great Commission is also a homiletics text?
When we think of “preaching” texts—passages that guide the development of our philosophy of preaching—perhaps several obvious ones come to mind. These may include such passages as 2 Timothy 3:16–4:5, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, and Ezekiel 37:1–14. But, do we ever consider the Great Commission when we think about preaching? Should the Great Commission inform our preaching, and inform it in a specific way?
I believe the answer to these questions is “yes”! By this, I do not mean the Great Commission is only a preaching text or that preaching is the only action necessary to make disciples. Nevertheless, the Great Commission has something to say about our preaching. There are at least four implications for preaching from Matthew 28:18–20.
First, the Great Commission should inform the content of our preaching. One of the means Jesus gave for making disciples is “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” So what should be the content of our teaching? What should we preach? Certainly not content that originates with us. The Great Commission calls us to fill our sermons with Jesus’ Content, His Word. This lends itself to preaching that communicates the God-intended points of the text and not simply points “from the text.” Every single sermon we preach should strive to have as its main thrust the main thrust of the text. The command to make disciples, then, is consistent with expository preaching.
Second, the Great Commission should influence the scope of our preaching. Jesus not only instructed us to teach others to observe what He commanded, but to teach others to observe all that He commanded. I do not have the space to flesh this out here, but if your bibliology leads you to understand that all 66 books of the Bible are inspired and authoritative equally and to recognize every part of both the Old and New Testament as what Christ has commanded at least implicitly, then you must preach and teach all of the Bible if you are going to obey the Great Commission. Therefore, the command to make disciples relates to a holistic approach to teaching the Bible.
Third, the Great Commission should inform the aim of our preaching. If we consider the passage as a whole, at least two objectives for the Christian life exist: evangelism and edification. If we do not evangelize, we will have no one to disciple. What is true of our personal lives would seem also to be true of our corporate gatherings and our pulpit particularly. Also, if the church you pastor is anything like most, on any given Sunday, that someone is sitting in the pews who does not know Jesus as Savior is more likely than not. Therefore, making evangelistic appeals weekly from your pulpit is not only appropriate but also necessary.
Then, what is the ultimate command in this passage? “Make disciples.” At a minimum, a disciple is one who follows Christ and becomes like Christ. So clearly, an aim of an individual Christian should be to lead others to be more Christ-like. Again, if this is true of our personal lives, it would seem also to be true of our public preaching. We should preach with the aim of edifying believers so that they grow into Christ-likeness. The command to make disciples, then, is consistent with preaching that evangelizes and edifies.
Finally, the Great Commission should influence the philosophy of our preaching. If we believe a call to teach all of the Bible is embedded in Jesus’ command, then what is the best way to accomplish the Great Commission in our preaching? What is the most consistent way to approach teaching the Bible holistically in our pulpits? I believe the answer is systematic expository preaching. By systematic expository preaching, I mean preaching through books of the Bible or major portions of biblical books in a series in which we allow the God-intended meaning, structure and emphasis of the passages to drive the main points, outline and thrust of our sermons.
Do other ways potentially exist for accomplishing the same goal? Sure. Hypothetically, you could systemize all the teachings of Jesus and then orderly begin to work through them. However, the simpler way to accomplish the task and obey Jesus is to begin to preach through books of the Bible. Beyond this, systematic text-driven preaching allows us to accomplish the other three suggestions as well. It allows us to preach Jesus’ content. It leads us to a holistic approach to teaching the Bible. And, it is a type of preaching that I believe naturally lends itself to evangelizing the lost and edifying the saints.
Therefore, the Great Commission should drive us toward systematic expository preaching. At a minimum, systematic expository preaching is consistent with the command and call of the Great Commission.