Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22 CSB).
We continue our theme of what churches ought to do in their ministry. However, we must always be aware of a trap, the checklist trap. This wrong idea makes us suppose that if our behavior conforms to a series of actions (rules, laws, standards, steps in mission, etc.) that we therefore have a godly local church. But God is more concerned about the internal matters of our hearts, including a collective heart of a church, which will lead to godly action. God’s work is always a matter of what Paul states elsewhere. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6 CSB). In addition, joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) and the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:16) are essential. With that reminder, let us continue to look at this pattern for church ministry.
Strengthening the disciples. This is usually referred to as “disciple making” by many writers. I will not talk in detail about that misstatement, except to say that we make disciples by telling the good news of Jesus. Every believer in the Lord Jesus is a disciple (or learner) of him. Notice what the Lord said in Matthew 28:19-20a (NIV): Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, 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. First, a disciple is made, next baptized, and then taught. What is usually called “disciple making” is in reality simply teaching disciples to obey what the Lord has commanded us.
Why is it important to know this? I will suggest a couple reasons.
- We ought to use Bible names and phrases to teach whenever possible, unless we clearly explain the theological substitute. Sometimes, for the sake of simplicity, teachers use theological words for the sake of clarity. We can call get lost in a long string of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. But we should never do this when their use confuses the subject. Consider the use of “ordinances” or “sacraments” to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Ordinances” sounds like you’re in a town council meeting, and “sacraments” is simply a theologically loaded bomb that misleads people, including those who use it. When we use the words and phrases that the Bible uses, we can simply direct learners to the texts of Scripture, without expecting them to wade through a theological swamp.
- It provides better insight into the disciple making process. Too often, it degenerates into giving a mass of information. But simply being told things does not make a follower of Jesus stronger. In the church, we live in a time of reaction against Biblical information. Most churches have dropped Sunday School programs, and many small group meetings are only a time for “fellowship” (whatever that means varies from place to place). This results in little training in Bible knowledge, and it is important! Having said that, people have walked away from Bible training because it seemed unrelated to their way of life. Surely, we can teach Biblical content in a way that provides good thoughts and intentions (ideas, values) to the inner person of the heart, explains how these ought to be lived out, which then results in the active practice of a Biblical world and life view. This is how we strengthen someone, regardless of their maturity level. The Spirit then uses the thoughts and intentions that we receive from the word of God to produce transformation according to Christ.
So then, are you being strengthened in your local church? Are you part of the process of strengthening others with the truth that you have been taught by God? Use your life for the benefit of others. You’ll discover how God uses you in his plan.
Grace and peace, David