We now come to the third and last of these studies on discipleship. There have been some very difficult things to be said, because they are things that the Lord said. But I hope you understand that lam as much the target as you. These are truths that I want God to make real in nay own life. I certainly am not standing in judgment on anyone, but I am convinced of the validity of these principles. I am anxious to see them working in my life, and in the Body of Christ at large.
I have been so challenged in re-reading the gospels in conjunction with these studies to see that the men the Lord disciple were young men, in their late twenties and early thirties. The Lord himself, by the time he was my age, had wrapped up his program. God is after men and women in the vigor of youth, in the prime of manhood and womanhood, to challenge them at that point in their life to a life of service.
Last week we talked about the characteristics of a true disciple. A disciple must say no to all that he is and has if he is to follow Christ. I know we struggle continually with that, but what counts, of course, is the attitude in the struggle. Are we willing to follow and are we willing to be made willing to set every-thing aside? That is the key question. God never rebukes that attitude. although at times we may fall short in the performance of it.
There is a story having to do with Alexander the Great (I'm not sure about the historical accuracy of it), but the story is told about a young soldier who was called before Alexander for disciplinary action. The soldier appeared in careless, slovenly dress, Alexander asked, "Soldier, what is your name?" He. replied, "My name is Alexander." Whereupon Alexander sprang to his feet, struck the soldier in the face, and knocked him down. And as the soldier was rising Alexander said, "Young man, either change your name, or change your profession."
Impressive, I thought, but how unlike the Lord, who never strikes us down because we fail to uphold the name of Christ in our behavior at times. How unlike him. His desire is to move in and to support and to supply the strength, the grace, the resources to conform us to his concept of a disciple. As we saw last week, he will turn a sinner into a soldier. H we are willing to make ourselves available to him.
C. S. Lewis said, "We are all men under construction." There may be bits of unfinished lumber showing here and there, and a few protruding nails and unsightly scaffolding, but you can see that a work is in progress, that the builder has committed himself to bringing the building into conformity with the blueprinter. Though we are unfinished, he is at work, and we can rely on that. As the Lord promised, every man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness will be filled. God's heart hungers to put us to use. He just wants us to he available to him.
Now we want to look at the third and fourth aspects of discipleship: the goal of discipleship, and the method by which this goal is to be achieved.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you [Paul's office was that of an apostle and teacher], to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which Is Christ In you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom [there is the method: warning and teaching that the word of God may be made fully known], that we may present every man mature in Christ [and that is the goal: to present every man mature in Christ]. For this I toll, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.
You may question the use of the Apostle Paul as our example. because he did have a unique ministry. Not many of us are called to an apostolic office'. that of church planning. It was Paul's ministry to go into unreached, pagan areas to plant the gospel. But even though his ministry was unique, the goal. and the method of a man's ministry is the same, no matter what his office maybe.
Now let us look first at the goal of our ministry. That is where we should always begin because as someone has said, "If you aim at nothing, that's exactly what you'll hit." We need to ask ourselves the question, "What are we doing to these people?"
I remember walking into Howard Hendricks' office in seminary, and seeing a plaque on his wall which said, "What in the world are you doing to these people?" He said, "Every time I get up to walk out of that door to teach a class, I look at that plaque." Now we need to keep asking ourselves that question. What is the goal, what are we after? Paul states the goal in verse 28 -- to present every saint mature in Christ.
That's it! To produce maturity in every believer. The word that is translated ''present" in this verse is the same word that we find in Romans 12:1 where Paul calls upon believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice. He uses it again in Romans 6 where Paul says we are not to yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness, but to yield ourselves to God, and our members as instruments of righteousness. It is a military term that means, essentially, to stand at attention. In the army we learned that before you can give or receive orders in close order drill, you must call your men to attention. And so Paul says that his goal is to stand every man before God, ready to take orders, ready to move in whatever direction he desires.
We need also to define what this word "maturity" means. I think the simplest explanation is this: it involves understanding and acting on the principle that Christ is our life, It is discovering that, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.'' It is continually walking according to that principle that Jesus Christ is my life: depending, acting, thinking, working, living, responding, to that wonderful truth: Jesus Christ within, the hope of glory. A person who understands that principle and acts upon it is a nature man. The immature man acts and operates on the basis of the Law. He has an external code that coerces him into obedience. He is doing things for Christ, and living for Christ, and obedient to Christ out of a sense of duty. Paul says the raw is for the immature. It is necessary for the person that does not understand that Christ is our life.
But the nature man does not need the law; he operates on the basis of grace. Not that he is lawless, but that Jesus Christ himself lives out through his life the righteous requirements of the Law. The mature man allows a living Lord to meet the demands of righteousness in his life.
Maturity is described oftentimes in scripture in terms of its effects, or results, as the ability to discern between good and evil, or to understand the deep things of the Scriptures. That is what a mature man does, but basically a mature man is one who understands and acts upon this principle: Jesus Christ, our life. Not dependent upon a law, not dependent upon a church, not dependent upon other Christians (except as we need them for fellowship in the Body), but dependent upon Jesus Christ and on him alone-no other basis for action. That is what maturity is: being independently dependent upon Christ.
Let us look at an illustration out of Paul's experience. Paul established a church in Ephesus, appointed leaders, then left them for a while. On a return trip, in Acts 20, we have recorded the words that he addressed to those elders that constitute his farewell to them. He told them he would not be back but he was leaving them with responsibility for spiritual leadership of the church. He assumed that these were mature men, capable of fulfilling the charge which he had given them.
His final words to them were, "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." This was all they needed, the Lord of the Word, and the Word of the Lord. They needed nothing else. They did not need Paul; they did not need the apostles; they could move on their own. Now that is what maturity is, and that is what God is after in your life and in mine and in the lives of the people God will put us in contact with.
In Philippians 3 there is another statement that corroborates this principle. Verse 9 indicates his desire to be ''found in him [and then, parenthetically, he explains what it means to be found in him], not having a righteousness of my own, based on the law [the law would be for the immature man, who needs it], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith [activity that grows out of resting upon Jesus Christ]; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
Three attitudes, he says, that he carries about in his thinking as a result of his being found in Jesus Christ through faith: he wants to know him, intimately, and he wants to know the power of his resurrection life (to be able to face every circumstance with the mighty resurrection power of Jesus Christ); and he wants to share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. He identified with him in his death on the cross to the extent that he will set aside his rights, his goals, his ambition, his self, in order to allow Christ to live through him. Paul does this (verse 11) ''that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
Several times from this pulpit you have heard expositions on this passage. It is a difficult passage to interpret. Certainly, Paul is not saying that there is some doubt that he will attain the resurrection of the body, because in other places he states, without question, this is his prospect. He is saying, "I want so to live that in every circumstance I manifest the resurrection power of Jesus Christ-that I become a standout from among those who are spiritually dead, who do not understand the principle of Jesus Christ living through me." Paul says, 'That's my goal-Christ living in me in resurrection power.
Notice in verse 12, he says,
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfected, but I press onto make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded.
Do you see what he is saying? If you are a mature man, this will be your mind'; " I want to know Christ. I want him living through me; and I want self to be reckoned dead, on the basis of the cross." This is our goal. Paul says, "My goal, the focus of everything I am doing in my ministry, is to present men as mature in Christ." It is not to build buildings, not to perpetuate programs, but to present people mature in Christ. This, Paul says, determines his message.
In Colossians 1:27 we read:
To them [his saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
In Ephesians he talks about "Christ in you" in terms of the Church; in Colossians be talks about "Christ in you" in terms of the individual. It is the theme that runs all the way through the book. Christ is our life, the source of every activity. Paul says because his goal is to enable you to see that Christ is your life, his message is, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." The content of our message is Christ. The burden of our teaching is Christ. As the song writer said, "Beyond the sacred page we see thee, Lord." And as the Lord said to the Pharisees, who were perhaps biblically the best-taught people of their time. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. But they are they which testify of me," We miss the whole point of the Scriptures when we teach them merely to understand the argument of the book, or the geography, or the history, or even just to know the book, as good as that may be. The purpose of all biblical teachings is to present Jesus Christ as the One who is adequate for living, and thus to present men as mature in Christ.
And our goal is not only maturity in terms of the individual, but maturity in community. As Paul points out in Ephesians 4, his goal is not only to see individuals mature, but to see them maturing in relationship to other believers so that they understand their place in the Body. They know what their place is, and they function in their place and altogether, as one Body. Every member functions together with the other members, each one drawing on the strength of the head -- interrelated and ministering to one another. That is our goal, to present all men mature in Christ.
Now, the method. In verse 25 Paul says that he became a minister in order to make the word of God fully known. That is the method in general. He wants to declare the whole counsel of God. Going back to the mandate that we discussed during our first study together, the Lord said that we are to teach men all things that he has commanded, We must teach those mighty principles by which God operates. His method is two-pronged.
In verse 28 he says,
Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man In all wisdom . . .
Warning and teaching. Teaching -- instruction concerning specific biblical principles Warning (to use a figure that I picked up from Bob Smith) means to draw a man's life out to a fine point. You link specific need with specific biblical principle. There is no other way to bring a man into maturity than to teach him the truth of the Word of God, because it is the word of truth that relates men to Christ. Paul says. ''All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God maybe perfect [mature]; fully equipped for every good work."
The goal: to present every man in Christ The method.: by teaching.
Now if I can change gears here I would like to suggest some practical procedures to get on with this assignment. Where do we start? I think we have to start with our own heart-attitude. Do we really want to disciple men? If we don't, God can change our hearts. And if we do, God will put us to use. But it starts right here. As Paul said to that same group of Ephesian elders in Acts 20, "Take heed to yourselves, and to your teaching.''
It starts here with me. Do we want to have a ministry? Then I think we need to ask God specifically to give us someone whom we can disciple. God delights to answer very specific prayer:
"God, give me someone in whose life I can make a major spiritual investment." And he will do it. You may start with some group you are presently working with, a Sunday school class, or a Bible study. And as you pray for that group, God will give you a sort of spiritual affinity with an individual in that group. Maybe someone in your office does not yet know the Lord. The Lord will give you the opportunity of winning that person and discipling him. It maybe a neighbor, it may he a business associate, it may be a child, it may be a relative. We will discover that God has put someone in our sights, and we simply cannot get them off our mind.
Then, as a third step, having discovered this person, we need to take the initiative to ask him to study with us. We all hate to impose upon people. We think we are invading their privacy. The amazing thing is that the world is full of people starved for love and understanding and companionship They try to project that bold front but it is not real. Down inside there is a little child who wants love and companionship. Often we can completely miss opportunities to minister to people if we do not take that look inside
There are people everywhere who want that loving personal touch. And God will open the door, if we will take the initiative. Then, expose them to the Word. I suggest some very simple helps in this regard. Many of you may not know what helps are available. At the risk of beating Mr. Stedman's drum (which I do not mind doing), I would suggest the sermons which are printed and available in the back of the church as a fundamental means of getting into the Scriptures together. I have used these by giving them to people, asking them to read them, and then getting together to discuss them. There are some other helps that are available. There is a new series of studies put out by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship called "Learning To Love God" - Campus Crusades has a series that we have used extensively with college and high school students, called "Ten Basic Steps To Christian Maturing."
Then, as a fifth step, pray for them. Paul writes to this same church at Colossae in chapter 4 that he knows God is going to complete what he has begun in their lives,' and he follows that immediately with the statement that he is praying for them. His confidence that God is going to carry them on is based upon his dependence on the Lord in prayer on behalf of these people.
This is an exhausting assignment. There is something about giving yourself in a spiritual ministry to someone else that is draining of physical and spiritual strength. Remember the account of the woman who touched the Lord's garment. He sensed that power had been drained out of him. And you certainly feel that way at times. It is very, very, easy to avoid the responsibility of bearing someone else's burden, We have enough of our own without picking up someone else's. But Paul gives us a word in verse 29. He writes,
For this I toil [I give it everything I have]. striving [he uses a Greek word, "agonizo," agonizing] with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.
Literally. "all of his energy which he mightily inspires within me." It is the Lord who is committed to this responsibility. It is really not our task. He said, "I am with you to the end of the age." And he will be, for it is his promise. He is always there in power. It is the basis of our strength. When we are tempted to give way to fear and weariness and boredom (because this is not always an exciting process) there is, by faith, his strength, his energy to accomplish the task.
Our Father, what a marvelous thing it is that we are co-laborers with you. Your desire is to build lives, and you have committed to us the wonderful responsibility of sharing with you in that task. It is an overwhelming assignment, but we thank you for your strength, avail able to us, that enables us to break through the feat and the selfishness and the indifference that we all feel. And so we ask you this week to use us that we might be fishers of men, that we might disciple those whom you are seeking. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.
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