I’m in the midst of exploring the language of ‘calling’ and the question of whether God calls people to specific fields of tasks in his mission. The series starts back HERE.
So far I’ve suggested that to be called to belong to the Christian God simply is to be called into his mission.
This raises the question: To obey God’s call, do I have to pack my bags and buy a one-way ticket to somewhere far away where I don’t speak the language and may have trouble digesting the food?
Well, let’s hear what Jesus has to say:
Jesus came and said to them, ‘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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28.18-20)
Now, I’ve often heard Christians blunt the radical edge of this by saying something like:
When Jesus says, ‘Go therefore and make disciples’, he’s not actually telling all of his disciples to ‘Go’. Rather, he’s saying ‘As you go…’ — that is, as you go on doing whatever you were doing — ‘…make disciples’.
This reading is typically bolstered by telling us that the only formal imperative (ie. command) in the sentence is the word behind ‘make disciples’, with the word translated as ‘Go’ playing a supporting role — as an adverbial participle, for those who care about such things.
But this is stupid for at least two reasons.
First – the nerdy reason: Greek doesn’t work that way. (In fact, no language I know of works that way.)
In Greek, meaning is made by the way the words are used — and especially by the way they’re used in combination with each other.
Any Greek textbook can tell you that one very common and defensible way to translate the combination of words behind ‘Go … and make disciples’ in verse 19 is … you guessed it, ‘Go … and make disciples’! (For those in the know, it’s a coordinate construction — with a participle of attendant circumstance and an aorist verb. Check out Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics page 645 for a brief but very lucid discussion of Matt 28.19-20.)
Second – the less nerdy reason: Even if Jesus said ‘As you go, make disciples’, that assumes we need to ‘Go’..
Everything Jesus says about following him, and everything we see of the earliest Christians doing this (e.g., taking the gospel from Jersusalem into Judea and Samaria and on to the ends of the earth), indicates that Jesus can hardly be saying, ‘Pretty much continue as you were; just tweak it a little.’ His call is far more revolutionary than that!
Our God calls his people to ‘Go’ in his mission — into every corner of the world and every level of society…