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DISCIPLESHIP FIRST!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, September 16, 2012

“Go ye therefore, and teach [disciple] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20).


Matthew 28:19 and 20 is usually called “The Great Commission.” It is the last thing Jesus said to His Disciples. It gives Christ’s plan for spreading His faith throughout the world. In these verses Jesus tells us how to start a church, or as they say today, how to “plant” a church. Furthermore, these verses show us Christ’s method of adding people to a church that already exists.

Dr. Timothy Lin was my pastor for many years at a Chinese church here in Los Angeles. Dr. Lin was an expert in Biblical languages. He taught those languages at Bob Jones University, Talbot Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois. Dr. Lin translated Matthew 28:19-20 like this,

Going therefore, you must make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, First Chinese Baptist Church, 1992, p. 57).

Dr. Lin said, “There are four verbs in the Great Commission: ‘go,’ ‘make disciples,’ ‘baptize’ and ‘teach.’” Dr. Lin said, “Only the verb ‘make disciples’ is in the imperative mood; all the other three are participles or verbal adjectives...In other words, ‘go’ is not a command, but ‘make disciples’ is, and it is also the main theme of the Great Commission” (ibid.). Dr. Lin said that “teach all nations” really should be translated “make disciples of all nations.” In his book, Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls (p. 22), Dr. John R. Rice said the same thing as Dr. Lin.

Dr. R. C. H. Lenski pointed out that “going to the nations is the self-evident and natural way to proceed in making them disciples.” He said, “The heart of the commission is in the one word [which he translated ‘to turn into disciples’]...it designates only an activity that will result in disciples” (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1964 edition, p. 1172; note on Matthew 28:19). This Greek verb which he translated “to turn into disciples,” or “make disciples,” is in the imperative mood. That means it is a command to “make disciples.” Dr. Lin said, “In light of this, a church is none other than a school” to turn people into disciples (ibid.). This implies that non-Christian people are to be made disciples even before they are baptized, because “you must make disciples” comes before “baptizing them.”

I came to that conclusion some time ago. I used to get people to say a prayer, and then baptize them. But nearly all of them fell away in a short time. I was encouraged recently by reading a book called Miraculous Movements (Thomas Nelson, 2012). On page 181 the author said that the goal of most churches is to get people to say a “sinner’s prayer” and then baptize them. The author said that Jesus’ three-year discipleship program for the Twelve” original Disciples “tends to result in a much higher rate of life-changing success” (p. 181). This book shows how thousands of Muslims in Arab lands have become Christians by first becoming disciples of Jesus! After 54 years in the ministry, I tend to agree with him. You are made a disciple first, and then you become a born again Christian!

So, I say to those of you who are here in our church for the first time this evening – our goal is to make you a disciple of Jesus! How do we do that? Not by having you say a “quick prayer.” Not just by teaching a few Bible verses to you. Not by having you come to church for years and learn the Bible. Why not? We know by experience that you can learn a lot about the Bible and still not be a born again Christian. Many people study the Bible for years without becoming real Christians. The Apostle Paul said that many people are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7). So, instead of teaching you the Bible for years, we want you to become a disciple of Jesus right away, right now!

When Jesus called the first twelve Disciples, what was the first thing He said to them? What was the very first thing He told them? Turn back to Matthew 4:18-20. Please stand and read those verses aloud.

“And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

You may be seated. The very first thing Jesus said to those first Disciples was “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). There’s a chorus that makes this clear.

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.
    (“I Will Make You Fishers of Men” by Harry D. Clarke, 1888-1957).

That is what Christ wants you to do. He wants you to become a fisher of men. He wants you to go and get someone and bring them here to church with you to hear the Gospel.

But someone will say, “I am not yet a Christian myself. Shouldn’t I wait until I know that I am saved before I bring someone else to church?” I know that sounds logical, but I have found that it doesn’t usually work that way. I have known people who have been in church for years without having assurance that they are saved. They are concerned about their souls. They say they want to be saved. They say they want to have an inner assurance that they are Christians. But they don’t seem to make any progress. They go on and on, never sure that they are saved.

But I have known many others who came in to church, and immediately went after others. They immediately started bringing people with them to church to hear the Gospel preached. And they, themselves, soon had assurance that Jesus saved them. What is the difference? The difference is simple. The person who seeks to know he is saved is self-centered. He is only thinking about himself. But the soul winner is thinking about others, and about obeying Jesus. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The person who obeys Jesus will soon find that the Saviour manifests Himself to him. Jesus said,

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).

That’s it! The person who obeys Christ and wins souls will soon know Christ himself! Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me... and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” Jesus’ first commandment was “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Those who obey Jesus’ first commandment will usually find that Jesus soon manifests Himself to them. It is usually easy for those who win souls to be saved themselves! "I Will Make You Fishers of Men."  Sing it! 

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

Listen to another promise Jesus made. He said,

“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).

Both of those verses teach the same thing. The person who obeys Jesus by winning souls will usually soon have an intimate knowledge of the Saviour.

Somebody may say, “Dr. Hymers, you are teaching salvation by works!” No, I do not believe that at all. I believe and preach constantly that salvation is by faith in Christ alone. But I know that many people go on and on without ever being sure they are saved. And I know that Jesus said, 

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

Dr. R. A. Torrey used that verse repeatedly to deal with unbelievers, even atheists. Dr. Torrey said,

      I have found no passage in the Bible equal to John 7:17 in dealing with an honest [unbeliever]:

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

It shows the way out of [unbelief] to faith, and has been used of God to the salvation of countless skeptics and infidels... What Jesus asks in this verse, is that you will do God’s will: that is, that you surrender your will to God. Will you do it? (R. A. Torrey, D.D., How to Work for Christ, Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d., p. 118).

Dr. Torrey said that many unbelievers were converted when they were honestly willing to do the will of God. Dr. Torrey himself was blocked from salvation because he was unwilling to become a preacher. When he yielded to Christ on this point, he was instantly saved!

Now the will of God is clear. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” You say, “Not me! He’s not going to get me to obey Him!” Will a person like that be saved? I think you can see that the answer is “no.” Are you willing to do God’s will? Are you willing to obey God and become a soul winner? If you are willing you will soon “know the doctrine.” As Dr. Torrey said, “Surrender your will to God. Will you do it?” I have known very few people who were willing to obey Jesus on this matter of soul-winning who didn’t soon experience salvation themselves. "I Will Make You Fishers of Men."  Sing it! 

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

Are you still unconvinced? Then listen to Revelation 22:17,

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Now, this is the last invitation in the Bible. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” That means the Holy Spirit and the church, the bride of Christ, tell lost sinners to “come.” Then it says, “And let him that heareth say, Come.” That is the person who has heard the Gospel, but is not yet saved, not yet part of the bride. What should “him that heareth” say? Why, he should say, “Come!”

And so, everyone here this evening can obey Jesus at once. Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Will you do it? Will you go and get someone and bring them to church with you? Will you say, “I’ll do it. I’ll get someone to come with me to church to hear the Gospel”? If you do, God will be pleased with you. Jesus will manifest Himself to you! Soon your doubts and unbelief will disappear! Soon you, yourself, will be saved by faith in Christ! Sing that chorus!

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

Forty-two years ago I was a member of a small Chinese Baptist church. They had less people than we do this evening. But the Holy Spirit began to move. My pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, had us sing that chorus repeatedly,

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

Those Chinese young people got the vision! They started bringing everyone they could find to church. Soon the church exploded in a great revival – the greatest revival I have ever seen! Soon there were hundreds of people in that church! Could that happen here? Yes, if you will do what Jesus said – “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Go get somebody! Bring them to church here next Sunday! Do it! Sing that chorus again!

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

One young Chinese man has only been coming to our church for a few weeks. Timothy Chan told me that this young man did what I told him last Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon he invited his friend to come to the evening service. His friend came to hear the Gospel! That’s what we want you to do! If he could do it, so can you! Sing it again!

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

There’s nothing complicated about it. You can do the same thing that new boy did! Some of you are here for the very first time this evening. Jesus says to you the same thing He said to the original Disciples. The very first time He met them He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” If somebody brought you here tonight, the very first thing Jesus says to you is, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Bring somebody with you to church next Sunday! It’s easy! Do it! We will have lunch or dinner together! We will have a birthday party. We’ll see an old comedy movie. We’ll have a lot of fun! And they will hear me preach the Gospel as well. Go and bring a friend or relative to the party next Sunday! Bring somebody with you to the party!  "Help Somebody Today."  Sing it! 

 Help somebody today, Somebody along life's way,
    With friendship extended, All loneliness ended,
Oh, help somebody today!
    ("Help Somebody Today" by Carrie E. Breck, 1855-1934; altered by the Pastor).

How many of you will try to do it? How many of you will say, “I’ll try to bring someone to church to have fun with us and hear the Gospel next Sunday”? If you will try to do that, please come up here to the front and Mr. Lee and Mr. Song will pray for you.  Let the last five rows come first (prayer). You may be seated.  "I Will Make You Fishers of Men."  Sing it!

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

If you are here tonight, and you are not yet a born again Christian, please listen carefully. The Lord Jesus Christ came down from Heaven to die on the Cross for your sin. They put His dead body in a tomb and sealed it. They put Roman guards in front of His tomb to protect it from grave robbers. But the Lord Jesus Christ rose physically, flesh and bone, from the dead on the third day. The risen Christ was with His followers for forty days. They ate with Him. They handled Him. They saw that He was not a spirit. At the end of forty days Jesus ascended up to Heaven, into another dimension. He is now up there, seated at the right hand of God the Father. When you repent of your sin and trust Jesus, His precious Blood will cleanse you from all sin. And He will give you eternal life. We are praying that you will trust Jesus and be saved very soon. And whatever you do, go and get a friend or relative and bring them with you here to church next Sunday! Go and get someone to come here with you next Sunday. Go and do it! God bless you! Amen. Sing that chorus one more time!

I will make you fishers of men,
   Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
   If you follow me;
If you follow me, if you follow me;
   I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

"Help Somebody Today."  Sing it! 

Help somebody today, Somebody along life's way,
    With friendship extended, All loneliness ended,
Oh, help somebody today!

(END OF SERMON)
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at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

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write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 28:19-20.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“So Little Time” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980)/
“I Will Make You Fishers of Men” (by Harry D. Clarke, 1888-1957)/
"Help Somebody Today" (by Carrie E. Breck, 1855-1934; altered by the Pastor).