A Process for Discipleship: part eleven

We have been working our way through a process of discipleship.  In other words, how do we actually disciple someone else?

1.)  We must follow Jesus.

2.)  We must pursue people.

3.)  We must ask questions.

4.)  We must process information.

5.)  We must teach truth.

This may be one of the most obvious elements in the process.

After all, think about the most famous statement on discipleship in the entire Bible.

In Matthew 28:19 and 20 Jesus says,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

Make disciples is the command. How do we do that? The rest of the verse answers.  

By going, then “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Making disciples involves going, baptizing and teaching.

We don’t make disciples by simply sitting and waiting, but by going and proclaiming the gospel, and as people hear the gospel and repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ, we help them identify with Christ and with the body of Christ through baptism. Baptism is not something you do before you are a believer.  We don’t go and baptize unbelievers.  This comes after the preaching of the gospel and conversion.  Baptism is an act of initiation, you might say, it is a picture of what happened to a person in their salvation, it pictures their death to their old way of life and their rising to a new way of life.

And that is really exciting, but what I want you to notice in this text, is that as disciple-makers, we don’t leave them there. The process isn’t done yet, it’s going, baptizing, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded us.

Making disciples involves teaching.

When a person becomes a Christian they are new people and now they need your help to learn to live their lives as new people. 

Maybe an illustration that will help us see the importance of teaching in discipleship would be to think of the relationship between someone who shares the gospel and the person who is converted, as being like that of a spiritual father with his child. 

I like this image because if you turn over to 1 Corinthians 4, this is one of the ways Paul describes his relationship with those converted under his ministry.

He calls himself their spiritual father, not as a means of exalting himself, or a title that he uses for himself, he’s not putting himself in the place of God, but instead this is a way of describing their relationship.

“I do not write these things” he says, “to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.  For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

We have said repeatedly over the past few weeks that when God saves someone, the Bible says they are born again, and they come into this new life as a Christian, like a spiritual baby. And here, we see if you were the one God used to share the gospel with them, it’s like you were their parent.  God allowed you the privilege of reproducing spiritually.

If we think about babies in parents, in general, we all know one of the greatest privileges in the world is being a human parent, of having an actual physical baby.  There’s nothing like it.  It’s not only a privilege, it’s a responsibility, God brings this little child into your family for you to care for, to provide for, to protect, and if you don’t do that, there are going to be devastating consequences for that child, obviously.  It’s really big problem, when a baby comes into this world and he doesn’t have someone to care for him. Babies need parents.  That’s God normal design for helping them mature. And when a baby’s parents die or abandon them, that’s a problem, a huge one, because babies can’t survive on their own, babies need people who will act like parents. 

And the point is, the same is basically true spiritually.  We need people who will share the gospel with us, and not only share the gospel with us, but who will seek to father us, the way Paul did the Corinthians and so many others, I mean, we need people who will feel a responsibility not just to seeing us get saved, but seeing us mature. 

When we look at Paul’s relationship with the people he shared the gospel with and who were converted under his ministry, it’s obvious he felt a responsibility to them, a strong responsibility for not only telling them about Jesus, but helping them know and understand how to grow up towards maturity in Jesus.

In fact, if you want to understand how deeply Paul felt about this responsibility as a father, you actually need to think of a mother.  It is kind of funny, but in Galatians 4:19 Paul uses this image to express how committed he was to their spiritual growth. 

He says,

“It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

This spiritual father, Paul, says he felt like a mother in labor about the Galatians, and it’s like he didn’t see the delivery as being completed with just their conversion, he was feeling this anguish until their completion, in other words, until they were mature in Christ.

Can you imagine feeling that way about someone else’s spiritual growth?

Babies need parents, spiritually, they need people like Paul who are this committed to their understanding and application of God’s Word in their life.

And when that doesn’t happen, it’s a problem. 

We all know that one of the big problems in South Africa, are abandoned babies, that’s why we have the baby home, because we believe babies need parents, and the thing is, that’s why we have the church in a sense as well, because one of the big problems in Africa, even bigger than abandoned physical babies, are abandoned spiritual babies, and these babies need people who will care for them the way Paul did in order to help them grow up in Christ.

Because what do you think will happen, if you just leave a human baby to grow up on its own, not only will it be in physical danger, but if somehow does survive, that baby is going to be so immature, f it is left to figure out things on its own, that’s going to be a problem, they need to be taught, and the same is true with spiritual babies, they need instruction, that’s how they grow.   

In fact, if you turn to Ephesians 4, you will see, this is one of the reasons Paul says we have the church.  Ephesians 4:12 through 15 says God gave pastors and teachers to the church, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, verse 14, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 

“Rather speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” 

So how do we keep from continually being children there, how do we grow up, it is through believers speaking the truth to each other in love.

Making disciples involves teaching.

Now who exactly is to do this teaching?   

Because obviously there is a unique kind of role that certain leaders of the church play in this teaching process.  There’s no question God gives men to the church who are gifted in teaching, and the church is supposed to recognize these men and support these men so they can use their gifts for the good of the body. 

Paul tells us in Romans 12:6-8,

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith, if service, in our serving, the one who teaches, in his teaching, the one who exhorts, in his exhortation, the one who contributes, in his generosity, the one who leads, with zeal, the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

We are not all the same, Paul says, we have gifts that differ and we should all be using our particular gifts, and certainly teaching is one of those gifts, and you may not be as gifted as others in teaching, it is true, but here’s the thing, even if you don’t have the gift of teaching, you need to learn at some level to be able to communicate truth to the people you are discipling so they can apply it to their lives. 

Not all of us have the gift of evangelism, but we are all called to evangelize; not all of us have the gift of mercy, but we are all called to show mercy, and not all of us have the gift of teaching, but we all have a responsibility to teach the people we are discipling; because there’s absolutely no way that a few men can do all the teaching that is needed for believers to grow and mature. 

We all have a role to play in this.  In fact, if we look at Ephesians 4:15 again as one example, the writers of Scripture clearly expect that not only will the pastors be speaking the truth, because this here is not a command only to pastors, this is to all of us, we are all to speak the truth in love so that we can grow into the people God wants us to be.

If we turn over to Romans 15:14, Paul says to the Roman believers, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”

We need to approach teaching humbly, and we need to be honest about what we know and what we don’t know, but if we are believers, at some level, we have a responsibility to teach one another and it’s not honoring to God to try to avoid that responsibility.

What I am saying is that when it comes to this question, who is to teach, there is a balance.  Not everyone is gifted to be set apart as an official teacher in the church, and you should be careful before you take that position, because of the accountability that comes along with it, but at the same it, like it or not, all Christians are called to disciple, and that means they are all called to teach at least informally, because discipleship involves teaching. 

It’s interesting how Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 maintains this balance. 

He says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly because of their work.”

Which shows us that Paul has a place for teachers, who are actually paid to teach and to admonish. 

But at the same time he goes on to say in verse 14, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”

In other words, don’t think because you have these men who are uniquely gifted to teach that means you can leave all the work to them, but brothers, you get involved in relationships in which you are helping people mature spiritually.  “As part of the mutual ministry that is assigned to every believer, God expects you to be prepared to teach fellow believers whenever it becomes necessary to do so.”

There’s more to making disciples than just hanging out with them and being nice to them and taking them to church with you, you are wanting, you are needing to teach them – to speak the truth in love, to instruct and admonish.   

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