The Gospel of Matthew: A Primer for Discipleship • Denison Forum

Sunday, October 1, 2023

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The Gospel of Matthew: A Primer for Discipleship

Thank you for your continued support of Denison Forum. We’re pleased to release this in-depth commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

Why we still need Matthew’s Gospel

A “primer” is an elementary textbook. While the Gospel of Matthew may not seem elementary, considerable evidence shows it was intended to be a basic instruction book for the early church on what being a follower of Jesus means. Its usefulness for that purpose was recognized early on. A major purpose of the Gospel of Matthew is instruction for discipleship.

Can there be any doubt that today’s church needs a book like this and needs to give attention—elementary attention, even—to the theme of discipleship?

The word Christian is bandied about so loosely and applied to so many questionable things and actions. So don’t we need to return to the New Testament to discover what exactly being “Christian” means?

Being Christian is not about merely getting saved. Salvation is indeed important, but it is often talked about in a misguided, superficial manner. Being Christian is about being a disciple of Jesus.

The priority of discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian who was martyred by Hitler in the closing days of World War II, wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, that Christianity is not about adhering to an abstract idea or set of teachings but rather is about adhering to Christ, following Christ, being a disciple of Christ. As Bonhoeffer wrote so eloquently, “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Bonhoeffer spoke of “cheap grace,” which he defined as “grace without discipleship.” Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship relies on the Gospel of Matthew as a guide to genuine discipleship.

In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard also makes frequent reference to the Gospel of Matthew. He writes of “A Curriculum for Christlikeness,” definitely a needed curriculum. In speaking of the need for such a curriculum on discipleship, he uses the image of learning to ride a bicycle. He states, “When you teach children or adults to ride a bicycle or swim, they actually do ride bikes and swim. . . . You don’t just teach them that they ought to ride bicycles, or that it is good to ride bicycles, or that they should be ashamed if they don’t.”

Yet that is what happens in too many churches and Bible study classes with the instructions on discipleship in the Scriptures, including the Gospel of Matthew. That is not what we want to happen in this study.

This study of the Gospel of Matthew is indeed a study of the Gospel of Matthew. It moves sequentially through the Gospel. The Scriptures selected for study, though, relate specifically to the matter of discipleship. The study is intended to focus on discipleship as a major theme in the Gospel of Matthew. The study will encourage seeing that the Gospel of Matthew indeed is “a primer for discipleship.”

Further, to be as clear as possible, the intent is not that you learn from this study that you ought to live as Jesus’ disciple, or that it would be good if you were to live as Jesus’ disciple, or that you should be ashamed if you don’t live as Jesus’ disciple. Rather, the intent of this study is that you learn to actually live as Jesus’ disciple. An additional intent is that you participate with your church in focusing on actually doing what Jesus commanded us to do: “make disciples . . . 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” (Matthew 28:19–20).


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