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Teaching them to OBSERVE all that I have commanded you

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 in discipleship, scripture | 15 comments

Teaching them to OBSERVE all that I have commanded you

You probably recognize the title of this post as part of the Great Commission. The Great Commission is a name given to one of the statements that Jesus made after his resurrection and just before he ascended into heaven.

Throughout the years, different groups of Christians have emphasized this passage. Until recently, those who emphasized this command (such as some of the Anabaptists) were persecuted and even tortured for attempting to do what Jesus told his disciples to do.

Just to put this post in perspective, here’s the entire statement:

And 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

While this passage has been examined and studied and subjected to every kind of analysis known to man, there is one part of it that I rarely see or hear addressed: “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Oh, I’ve heard the “teaching” part emphasized and even the “all” part. But, what about “to observe”…

Think about the difference between these two statements:

  • Teaching them all that I have commanded you…
  • Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

The difference is obvious, right. Jesus did not tell his disciples to teach people WHAT he had taught them, but instead to teach them TO OBSERVE (i.e., keep or obey) what he had taught them. That’s a huge difference.

But, how does this difference play into our understanding of “the Great Commission” and how does it affect what we do about helping others become followers (disciples) of Jesus Christ?

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Our goal is not giving people information or even understanding.
  2. Our goal is for people to obey to Jesus Christ (not us).
  3. We cannot make someone obey Jesus Christ.
  4. We cannot help someone obey by simply telling them information.
  5. We must show them what it means to obey Jesus Christ.

Again, this has HUGE implications to what it means to help someone follow Jesus Christ. Giving information – even good and true information – is, at best, a miniscule part of the Great Commission.

Would you be willing to help me and my readers think through what it means to “teach them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded”? How has someone helped you obey Jesus? How has God used you to help others observe Jesus’ commands? How do we help others obey without trampling on the work of the Spirit or the grace of God?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-10-2011

    How do we help others obey without trampling on the work of the Spirit or the grace of God?

    We REMIND others of the things that Jesus did command.

    That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 1 Corinthians 4:17

    There are many more verses that carry similar ideas, and while I can post them, I think it is a good idea to search the scriptures on this matter and discover for ourselves.

    One of the strengths of using the word observe, is that this particular word in the greek also carries the idea of “keeping intact,” or “keeping it whole.” Keeping what intact or whole? All that Jesus commanded.

  2. 10-10-2011

    I show my kids how to make a sandwich. I read to them about how to make a sandwich. I provide them with illustrated books written by numerous sandwich-making authorities. We even go to conferences and attend Webinars on how to make sandwiches in 3-easy steps. However, in the end, they must choose – IF anyone desires to come after Me – to want to make a sandwich. I agree with Miguel who agrees with God’s Word: 1) pray believing, 2) in God’s grace, walk in faith, 3) be “continuously” filled with His Holy Spirit, and 4) lead by example.

    IF anyone desires to come after Me… (Luke 9:23)

    As Oswald Chambers wrote, “Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not truly devoted to Jesus Christ. No one on earth has this passionate love for the Lord Jesus unless the Holy Spirit has given it to him. We may admire, respect, and revere Him, but we cannot love Him on our own. The only One who truly loves the Lord Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and it is He who has “poured out in our hearts” the very “love of God” (Romans 5:5). Whenever the Holy Spirit sees an opportunity to glorify Jesus through you, He will take your entire being and set you ablaze with glowing devotion to Jesus Christ.”

  3. 10-10-2011

    Teaching to observe is better likened to developing skills in others than to transmitting knowledge to them.

    When learning how to hit a baseball, you actually do not need to understand physics, learn at least a little German (to better appreciate the nuances of physics), know the stats of major baseball players or the history of various baseball franchises.

    You start with practicing a few basics. You first see someone hit the ball. Do you want to do that, too? If not, no amount of “teaching” about hitting as baseball with a bat will get you hitting a baseball with a bat.

    If you do want to emulate what you have observed, then you already have a clear “doing” thing in mind. They hand you a bat. Just taking a wild swing is a good start. It doesn’t matter if the pitch was not in the sweet spot, if you were reaching, if you have your hands wrong, etc. Just swing. For awhile, that is good enough and everyone encourages you. Then, as time and practice and skill develops, you hone that skill WHILE doing it BY having someone who knows more about it than you watch you doing it and suggesting adjustments, pointing out something more to add to what you are already doing.

    We way too hung up on the lecture method of teaching in a classroom style environment, rather than getting into participating by doing out on the sandlot–coach or no coach. Your friend who likely knows hardly a bit more than you can get you started right away!

  4. 10-10-2011


    “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”. The starting point of making disciples is the obedience (observing Jesus commands) of the disciple maker.

    There is only one way the disciple can understand what that obedience entails and means, and that is to spend much time (maybe two or three years) as the constant companion of the obedient disciple maker in daily life.

    Having prayerfully taught and demonstrated the results belong to God through the working of His Spirit.

  5. 10-10-2011

    Hi Alan,

    This is perhaps one of my most favorite verses in the Bible. To me, it hlps put John 10:10 inter perspective.

    Jesus promises us an abundant life. And this abundant life is found in the teachings, or commands, that are found in the various recorded encounters and teachings in the Gospels.

    People cringe when they hear the word “command”. Part of this is because of our fear of “legalism”. However, I believe it’s mostly because of our rebellious attitude. At least for me, that is. What is so interesting about Jesus’ teachings is there really isn’t any way one can “do” those commands in a legalistic way; they are all spiritual.

    Jesus’ teachings and commands bring us this eternal life we all strive and desire. The only way we can have this life of peace, goodness, self-control, etc., is to follow His teachings.

    I recently left a church where I served as an associate pastor because the leadership did not see the need to teaching the commands of Christ.
    How sad. So many people are looking for the answers in life and Jesus
    delivered them.

    Ministers love to “tell others about Jesus”. Perhaps it is time for ministers to start bringing along with them the teachings of Jesus.

    Marc S.

  6. 10-11-2011

    Love Art’s comment about being way to hung up on lecture style teaching etc

  7. 10-12-2011

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I’ve been on vacation with my family for the last week. I’ve read these comments even though I didn’t reply to each one.

    I think this practice of teaching people to obey Jesus is HUGE. Without it, we are not making disciples (helping people follow) Jesus Christ.


  8. 10-16-2011

    teaching them to observe seems to imply that the teaching was meant more to show them Christ in you, watching you as you live by the life of Christ. A key to apostolic function to helping the body know how to live by the life of Christ together. Learning to live by the Spirit, a life of faith and love as 1 John 4 tells us.

  9. 10-17-2011


    I think you’re right. I think that’s a key to much more than apostolic function; it’s a key to teaching and edifying one another in general.


  10. 10-18-2011

    Hi Alan, On 10/10/11 you started this discussion which I came across on 10/17/11. I have been laboring to understand what Jesus’ commands were and on or around 10/02/11, I wrote down the following…..

    Witness (make disciples). Matthew 28:18-20 “…having gone, then, disciple all the nations, and lo, I am with you all the days — till the full end of the age.’ YLT disciple 3100 – intransitively, to become a pupil; transitively, to disciple, i.e. enrol as scholar:
    You don’t make “taught ones”, students, scholars, pupils, or disciples by witnessing, you have to teach them something. I’m thinking that you have to teach “…them to observe….”. We tell kids to listen to their teacher, we don’t tell them what the teacher will teach them. Remember Jesus said that “one is our teacher”.

    I thought that this was an interesting “coincidence(?)”. I’ll be following the discussion.

  11. 10-18-2011


    I agree 100% that “one is our teacher.” I also believe that Jesus often teaches us through other people. We see many, many examples of this in the New Testament. The two points are not contradictory. However, the focus of this post is that we are to teach others (yes, that is part of the command to disciple all nations) to observe (i.e., keep or do) everything that Jesus commanded, not to simple teach them what (i.e., the content) Jesus commanded.


  12. 5-9-2012

    Hebrews 3:13
    But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

    Paul’s admonition to exhort one another daily, is the antidote to being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

    Teaching them to observe Jesus commandments has been and can only be as effective as our living in close proximity to one another is, because todays church models simply don’t facilitate daily admonition.
    Can we dare to conclude that NOT exhorting one another daily has produced widespread hardening through the deceitfulness of sin?

    The regular use of the word ‘daily’ in the NT is associated with all the one anothering that is the framework of life together in Christ.
    I challenge us to make a list of all the daily one anothering listed in scripture, and log how many and how often they are part of each of our lives. The beautiful thing about all of us doing that is that none of us will have a list any longer than any other, until we are one anothering daily.

    And, preceding the command to teach Jesus commandments is the command to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.
    If this refers to water baptism, then the early church were disobedient because there are more than a few scriptural mentions of believers being baptized in water in the name of Jesus, the name of the Lord and the name of the Lord Jesus.
    No record of baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, so I dont see that it refers to that.
    Baptism is immersion, and the NAME of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ, who embodies the fullness of the Godhead.
    We are first to be, and then teach others to be immersed in the name (character) of the Lord Jesus Christ, in all and each of the Godhead’s attributes. Each of the three have wonderfully different functions that correspond to our three part make up as spirit, soul and body, but that is off topic here.
    If we had been obeying Him, we would express as a church the oneness, love and submission to one another that the Father, Son and Spirit have among them.
    We would not have lost our first love for Jesus Christ thru worldliness and the deceitfulness of sin, while maintaining an appearance of Godliness but lacking the evident power of His Spirit.
    We who take seriously His commands, and realize they are not grievous but liberating, ought to lead the way for our brethren to follow, by teaching them to observe His command to love one another in sincerity, in sacrifice and in truth, and daily as Jesus practiced and the early church followed.
    The first thing we should do and teach is to obey his daily commands, and there are plenty.
    Form follows function, and if we function daily, our form will change to reflect it.
    We have been trying to get our form changed by teaching, and tweaking our functions, but His commands are clear.
    We must function as a body, a family and an army, and they all live together daily.
    This is not optional, no matter how difficult it is to envision how we might get there from this individualistic morass we call church.
    There must first be a willingness, and then He will make the way.
    If we will produce those first fruits mentioned in Hebrews 6, and not forever lay again the foundations, we will go on unto perfection, and that will fulfill the command to teach, because it will not be mind knowledge but life teaching.
    Personally, I was a rebel as a new convert, not wanting to be told how to live or how high to jump.
    But I didnt want to lose the close walk with Jesus that I had, and that was infectious, leading to many people coming to Christ who I came in contact with. I knew the life in me was Him, but knew also my own capacity for deceitfulness.
    Deceitfulness is part of a drug dealers trade skills.
    I was blessed to be among a group of brothers and sisters who were committed to one another to pursue obedience to His commands until we were changed into His likeness.We knew, and discussed how hard and long that might be, and honestly, our conclusion was ‘the longer the better’ because that meant we would be together longer.
    We lived and functioned close together, intentionally, so that we could
    extract the benefits of daily one anothering, including exhortation, prayer, teaching, helping, training, working and recreation.
    We were NOT a commune.
    Over a few decades, most of us were chipped off like iron against iron, and became much more pliable in Gods hands.
    A few left, several times, but most stuck it out, and a family likeness to Jesus emerged, that cant be explained other than to say the absence of sin was noticeable in hindsight, and a tender love that developed among us and never left.
    Im going to leave it there, as that was pretty heavy.
    Its not easy to obey His commands, but His yoke is easier than any other.

  13. 5-10-2012


    You said, “Teaching them to observe Jesus commandments has been and can only be as effective as our living in close proximity to one another is, because todays church models simply don’t facilitate daily admonition.” Yes, exactly.


  14. 4-10-2013

    In the congregation where I serve, we talk a lot about discipleship (and so the Great Commission looms large for us), and this necessitated that I find a way to simply, succinctly communicate what discipleship is. It could be endlessly nuanced, but I tell my congregants that discipleship is the privilege of and commitment to “being with Jesus and becoming like Jesus.”

    What is helpful about framing it this way is that it lends itself much more handily to a union with Christ model (which saturates the NT!) and it gives some healthy distance between the topic of obedience and the grace/works dichotomy we are prone to use as THE interpretive framework for Christian living. We observe all that He commanded because we are committed to being with Jesus (and we don’t want to put distance between us by our sin) and to becoming like Jesus (which means, at least, being obedient as He was, and rejecting disobedience as something which is unChristlike, unlovely, against his design for us).

    And His commands are not burdensome! 🙂

  15. 4-11-2013


    I’ve found that it’s very beneficial to listen to what other people “in the congregation” have to say about discipleship. They’re examples, illustrations, and instructions are often helpful to those around them, and they’re questions are often different than what we’re trying to answer.