Matthew 28:18-20 says,
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Those who coach disciple-making movements make a lot of the phrase “teaching them to obey.” Many times, we note, people have made discipleship into a certificate course that is centered on how much you know.
There is a fine balance between teaching people a list of commandments (“what it says” and “what it means”) and teaching obedience. Teaching obedience seems a lot simpler (“whatever he says, you do”) and yet requires significantly more personal time in coaching, mentoring, encouraging, accountability, etc.
Teaching obedience to the commands does seem to indicate the need to teach the commands. I’m all for doing Bible studies, for deeply studying Scriptures, even for learning Hebrew and Greek. Most DMM coaches I talk with are all for that too. The more you lead, the more you need to be learning, is the typical thing people say.
But while we do want to help people learn the commands of Jesus, we don’t want people dependent on us to do so. I’ve seen people dependent on a great Bible teacher more than they are dependent on the Bible. We want them to depend on Scripture and prayer and their personal relationship. We want to teach them how to go to Scripture, how to consume it daily, how to read it, listen to it, ask what it reveals to them about God, ask what there is for them to apply in their daily walk. We want to teach them to seek the daily bread God offers for their daily life–and to seek it directly from God, not from us. Like parents, we won’t always be there. Like parents, we want to see them become parents as well, to spiritual children. Like parents, we want to help–but ultimately we want to see our children spread their wings and fly.
We don’t want to slide into the so-easy temptation of measuring our success in discipling people (or our success as a disciple) with how much they know. It’s a very insidious temptation, one we profess to avoid but often slip into without realizing it. Doing is far more difficult. (Neither do we want to slide into the so-easy temptation of a works mentality, where salvation is dependent on obedience.) These things are hard, hard to wrestle with, hard to implement, but we must.
More and more Biblical study can help us if it leads us into more and more obedience and a deeper and deeper relationship with God. On the other hand, for some, it may be easier to concentrate on memorizing 1 Corinthians 13 and applying it in each of our relationships: with God, with family, with friends, with co-workers, with enemies. Am I patient? kind? haughty? selfish? rude? demanding my own way? easily provoked? rejoicing in truth? enduring all things? hopeful? if we simply aimed to apply one significant passage of Scripture, I think sometimes we might get a lot further down the road of discipleship than if we memorized the entire text (which is not to say we should shirk from reading the whole thing!–wrestle with the balance!).