How do we make a disciple? In I Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul gives us one of the clearest road maps to becoming an effective discipler of others. As I read it today, several things jumped off the page that I wanted and needed to capture in writing. This chapter is packed with instructions to us to reach people and build lives.
The Initial Action of a Discipler
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
Start and end with the Good News of Jesus. A Christlike life and ethic follows the Gospel not vice versa.
The Confidence of a Discipler
3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
- If you fear your own ability to disciple someone, don’t fret. You’ve been entrusted to be a disciple maker by God Himself. Even if you are merely a few steps ahead of someone in your Christ following journey, you can turn to them and say, pothole here, I hit it (or almost hit it), be aware. That act of self-disclosure is an act of disciple making
- You and I aren’t in this process to gain worldly accolades as “greatest disciple maker of the year award.” It’s a long and steady process.
The Disposition of a Discipler
7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
These two verses are packed with wisdom.
- All discipleship starts with truly caring about the person you are discipling. Paul states his deep affection for those whom God has entrusted to him. People must be dear to us before we can disciple them. They are not widgets. It will get messy. If you want to see neat and tidy, go to a morgue–death. The birthing room at the hospital is messy–life.
- We have to be willing to not just block off discipleship to convenient teaching sessions. Paul says it is an imparting of life by living life on life. I remember an acquaintance of mine who only had two weeks to disciple a new believer before he left the country. He said to the new believer, “You are going to come live with me and we are going to do life together 24/7 for two weeks. You are going to see my in work clothes all the way until I am in my underwear for bed.” Underwear discipleship, good concept.
The Content of a Discipler
9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Paul, and our, central point of what we are imparting is the Gospel of Jesus. He kept the main thing the main thing and so should we, as disciplers. Doing apologetics has a role, but when we get down to questions like, “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” we have to steer back to the main thing.
The Behavior of a Discipler
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;
We serve God and the disciple. It’s not the other way around. We don’t ask selfish things to seek self-gain from the disciple or our motives may be questioned. We are NOT TV evangelist (give to me and you’ll get blessed) but servants (I am blessing you because I’ve already been blessed by God).
The Activity of a Discipler
11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children,12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
Our primary activity is to:
- exhort-means to come alongside and remind them of what Jesus said and to clarify its application. The Greek word for exhort is paraklesis, which is very similar to the word Jesus uses of the role of the Holy Spirit in John 14. The Holy Spirit clarifies and reminds of what Jesus said in that passage (Thanks Pastor Jed Walker for a great teaching on this). We are to do the same.
- encourage-doesn’t simply mean to compliment. In literally means “to put courage into someone.” This is key, for every disciple will face challenges and even failure. They must have a hope beyond themselves. This is exactly the message of the Gospel.
- implore–to call to action, not merely knowledge
- We do this in the same way we were shepherd our own children.
The Hope of a Discipler
13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
At the end of the day, the empowering of the disciple comes from God, not us. We are merely to be faithful. The Holy Spirit enacts the results. This is our hope.
The Proof to a Discipler
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
- Paul says he knew he had made a disciple when they too became disciplers. This is the meaning of imitator.
- Another key sign of that a disciple had been made was that they were able to stand up under challenge and opposition, even persecution. Disciples aren’t sailboats blown by the wind. Rather they are propeller driven ships who can push through a storm.
The Desire of a Discipler
17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.
We should love those we disciple to the degree that we eagerly desire to spend time with them.
The Crowning Glory of a Discipler
19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
At the end of the day (and of our lives), our joy is in those who have responded to the Gospel and become fully developed followers of Jesus Christ. We get to be a part of this process. Everything else will pale in comparison to this when we stand before the Father.