The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 3
III. The Cost of Disciple-making
A. Paul’s disciple-making was by proclamation and by admonition (Col 1:28-29).
“And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
According to Colossians 1:28-29, Paul’s message is not a system, but the glorious Person of Christ – “we” refers to Paul’s colleagues and Epaphras. Christ fulfills the deepest longing and hope of mankind. Christ is the source of new life in His people. “We proclaim” is the message of the resurrection (Acts 4:2); of forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38); of Christ (Phil 1:17-18); of His death (1 Cor 11:26); of the mystery (1 Cor 2:1).
The Apostle teaches and admonishes – these are the two attendant circumstances or tones of Paul’s verbal ministry (and ours as well). To admonish is to address especially the will and the emotions. It includes the idea of warning. (Admonish – a putting in mind, it is used of correction and training in righteousness, whether encouragement, reproof, or warning – admonish contains instruction that addresses things that are wrong and call for warning and change – whereas teaching has to do primarily with the impartation of positive truth – Vines Theol. Dict. pp. 22-23)
The Greek word for admonish (nouthesia, noutheteo) is where we get our word fornouthetic counseling. Growing believers are to be adept at admonishment (Rom 15:14). This is a superb reminder that true discipleship contains the element of counseling and admonishment.
When we admonish, we bring to the attention of believers where repentance is needed—correct a wise man, and he will love you (Prov 9:8). “Remind them,” and “remember” are frequent terms in the Word of God. Act upon what you have been taught so as to love the truth and be conformed to it.
B. The goal of Christ-centered teaching is to present every man complete in Christ. Paul will not rest from this goal. This is the heart of everyone who seeks to shepherd God’s lambs. It is the heart of a disciple-maker. We labor so that each convert moves to maturity that he may be perfect, mature, complete, irreproachable and blameless at the coming of Christ.
“Perfect” means to have one’s heart wholly devoted to God so as to walk blamelessly before Him in His ways and His will (Rom 12:1-2). It is to be assured in all the will of God (Col 4:12). The true pastor/shepherd is not satisfied with anything less than the full maturity of every believer (1 Thess 5:23; 3:13).
C. The goal is to present all complete in Christ at the return of Christ. Such maturity in Christ is possible because of union with Christ. (Union with Him is the guarantee of conformity to Him – see Romans 6).
According to Colossians 1:28-29; Paul gave himself uncompromisingly to this task. In view of full perfection in Christ on the last day, Paul extends all energies in the exercise of his ministry. Conversion of individuals is only the beginning of growth.
The “day of Christ” will test the quality of everyman’s work (1 Cor 3:10-15).
“I labor” – Paul exerts himself to the point of weariness. The Greek word for work here speaks of exhaustion from physical labor. In his pastoral efforts, Paul toiled day and night in the cause of the Gospel (1 Thess 2:9; 1 Cor 4:12).
Striving – The Greek (agonizomai) word is where we get our word agonize. In the Greek culture, the word was used of striving and struggle in an athletic contest in an arena. Though the context is different in this passage, the word still retains its original color of an athlete straining as he exerts.
According to God’s power – the struggle Paul, and we, are engaged in is according to the work of God’s power. The knowledge of God’s almighty assistance will shape the way we strive and think about our work of ministry. We have a supernatural work to do – it is beyond our natural powers. Supernatural power was at work in Paul and in every true believer.
God’s power is at work in His laborers – it is power and strength from above (Eph 1:19; 3:7; 16; 20; 2 Cor 3:5). We struggle, but according to God’s working. God is invisibly, but powerfully at work where Paul toils laboriously and energetically—it is also true of us (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 4:13).
APPLICATION: Faith in Christ is our link with the source of strength that enables us to rise above natural limitations. Let us not be tempted to constantly measure the size of our task against the weakness of our limitations. God desires through us to impart grace and glory to the recipients of our Gospel proclamation.
God actually refers to us as His “co-laborers” or “fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9). Faith puts our eyes back on Christ instead of on our limitations and the smallness of our harvest. Endurance is needed if we are to reap! See 1 Corinthians 15:58 and Galatians 6:9.
Even the smallest earthly business venture requires planning, labor, and endurance, how much more so the work of God which lasts to eternity? There is a cost to disciple-making; but it is miniscule compared to the glory to come and the harvest that will surely follow our labors.
D. In our own disciple-making we are to follow Paul’s example of instruction, exhortation, and nurture (1 Thess 2:10-12).
Great care is needed when handling the subjects of the law and sin. If growth is to be equated with more life, freedom, relationship, and righteousness, then we must not communicate that growth is merely mastering a code (God’s law).
Our emphasis should not be upon keeping the creed or the law, but upon living the life in the Son. It is so easy to burden and deaden with duty. Christ said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matt 11:30). The child of God by definition is not under sin and law as a dominating, controlling, condemning force. He has passed from death to life—he is free from the controlling principle of sin and death.
In order to preach for growth in the inner ma (a necessary component of discipleship), we must deal with our listeners in their being alive! We must not make the Christian life an oppressive harness. Avoid generating a sense of condemnation. We must steer clear of forever talking about duty, focusing on failure, intensifying a sense of grievous disobedience, and deepening a sense of condemnation. This doesn’t promote growth.
If we hammer duty too much it can be a symptom of imbalance in our own ministry. Are we trying to make up for our lack of preaching to unbelievers? Are we seeking to assuage our sense of evangelistic failure by projecting our own sense of inadequacy on believers and imparting our sense of failure to them?
Great transparency before the throne of God is needed in the life and ministry of the preacher. Are we piling up precepts on our people? We must guard against “be good” sermons that leave the listener with the impression, “You have so many commissions to fulfill, so many duties to accomplish, will you ever catch up or measure up?.” To preach in this manner is to make them far from grace—it is to place them back under law. It builds a wall to separate them from the fullness of Christ (Hywel Jones).
Our entire eligibility for God’s favor is Christ; we have the Savior’s blessed availability—all by gracious donation. We must avoid grieving the hearts of the righteous. Sanctification is relational; it is living the life of toward-ness to God in Christ as His beloved possession, set apart for Him.
When promoting growth in the disciple, we are to press down the “die of truth” on the understanding and the affections. There are particular truths that promote growth. Make much of the love of Christ. The truth concerning His love is a constraining truth that promotes likeness to Him and conformity to His commands (as we saw in the previous section, The Cross of Discipleship). Our obedience is achievable by virtue of His energy. When we deepen these “indentations” by means of the die of truth, growth will result.
How easy it is to lose sight of the Lord Jesus Christ. Other things become central and He is marginalized in the process. Beloved, the Church thrives only when Christ has preeminence in all things.
Christian people are right and correct when they hunger to hear how perfectly suited Christ is for their every need (Heb 7:26, 27). Our preaching must hold Him before Christian people. Set Him before them as their “Source Person” and it will cause them to hunger for Him; feed upon Him; and yearn to be like Him.
Our strength and energy for obedience is the Person of Christ. He is to be preeminent and central in all of ministry. He is to have preeminence in everything. Don’t talk more about God than Christ (1 Cor 2:1-3).
The motivation for growth is the Gospel, not the Law. Use the Gospel to keep your people aware of what they owe, who they are, what they were, and where they are headed. The Gospel is the Christian’s “I.D, map, and compass” so to speak. The Gospel tells him what he was; who he is now; and what he will become. It tells him where he has come from; where he is now; and where he is headed. The Gospel provides a constant corrective to wrong thinking in any of these areas.
E. The precepts and laws of God must be filtered through Christ and Him crucified. Are we consciously seeking to bring our listeners to delight—so that in their affections they want to receive Christ’s love and law in their hearts? Our tendency as ministers is to make biblical commands stand alone from Christ’s finished work and present power.
But, it is the experimental knowledge of Christ’s love that gives us the disposition to love one another, and to bear one another’s burdens. His love gives us the disposition to please. His precepts give us the specifics of how to please God; He directs our love by His precepts. (We need to view our living the Christian life in this way instead of merely adherence to a code.)
We must understand that our being “in Christ” is our strength. Our union with Christ is vital, living, and organic; it is not merely federal representation. The mind of Christ is available, the might of Christ is available – we don’t have to fulfill a single command by ourselves, in our own strength. We operate in the realm of grace full and free. We cannot barter for God’s infinite goodness in Christ, we cannot exchange anything for it; it is still for nothing, it is still all of grace (Rom 5:1, 2). The dictates and absolutes of discipleship do not change this ruling principle of divine grace.
F. In order to press down these truths upon the minds and hearts of our hearers, we will have to speak in “three different tones.”
This ministry of pressing down the die of truth has three “tones” or “strands” that function together. The Apostle Paul used them in conjunction (1 Thess 2:11). “Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.”
Exhorting: is to appeal by argument. It is not the same as laying down the law. It is face to face, side by side ministry as when the Apostle Paul acted as a spiritual father and mother. Laying down the law is not as effective, though it might seem so. By contrast, the exhorting pastor asks the question, “What will make people rise up, want to be more like Christ, and want to obey?” “What will make them more like Christ in attitude, word, and deed?”
Faithful shepherds keep exhorting. They are willing to patiently reason with the sheep—helping them build a case for obedience and a case against disobedience. We are not to assume that our people have thoroughly thought through the benefits of obedience; and the consequences of disobedience.
Encouraging: is to comfort humans in their frailty. Distressed minds and hearts need to be consoled. So many are distressed within and without. They are living with turmoil of soul, with stress, fear, anxiety, and condemnation. Even under the Old Covenant, the Levitical priest exemplified compassion and empathy (Heb 5:2, 3). How much more do we, under the new covenant, need to show compassion and empathy. We must not send the message that we have arrived spiritually. We can be too hard. Our own infirmities are always with us. Let us not be too censorious, too overbearing, or too demanding.
Sheep need continual encouragement. Our encouraging of hearts is not only to lift spirits and to comfort; but also to motivate the brethren to love and good deeds (Heb 10:25).
Imploring: is to warn the indifferent; it is to withstand the rebellious face to face. It is to confront in specific areas where obedience is lacking. We implore in the context of a “spiritual family.” We are to implore our people to go to perfection. Yet, some are not of us as the Apostle John cautions (1 Jn 2:19). If individuals persevere in disobedience, that sin might bring them to a point of irrevocable apostasy.
Disobedient believers must be taught to submit to the Heavenly Father’s discipline. In some cases of protracted disobedience in a believer, that correction from God may claim the health and life of the individual that their spirit may be saved in the day of Christ Jesus.
In all three of these tones (exhorting, encouraging and imploring), God is the One who is ultimately speaking. He is the One who calls us to call His people into His glorious kingdom. God is the one who is speaking through us His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20). We are calling men to communion with Christ. We are setting forth the Son of God—and life in Him.
Christ is the gift of all gifts. We need to inculcate more longing and more yearning to know Christ and to be like Christ in Immanuel’s land. In order to preach to the life of God in the soul, we must preach and speak in all three tones: in speaking truth, we exhort, in communicating compassion, we comfort, in exercising firmness we warn.
The Apostle Paul spoke in all three of these tones and so must we if we are to pay the cost of disciple-making (1 Thess 2:11).
Paul was constrained by Gethsemene love—by the Savior who gave Himself for me. Paul’s motivations and values were produced by the cross. Christ’s love animated and controlled him. (Paul reckoned his sufferings to be a result of union with his Savior who suffered for him.)
In this epistles to the Corinthians, Paul takes a knife and lays open his heart. He tells us the reasons why he serves and ministers selflessly. By contrast, the Corinthians were restrained in their affections and transparency. They wouldn’t open their hearts to Paul, because they had carnal (fleshly motives).
Paul’s vindication of his Apostleship to his Corinthian readers is also an admonishment. Judgment day will be the revealing of motives (1 Cor 4:5). No wonder Paul always spoke of his motives.
This truth is directed at you and me. The question is not, “Are you motivated?” but, “What motivates you?” The motives that Paul sets forth are not merely the obligation of every believer,they are the marks of true discipleship – the evidence of union with Christ.
A true disciple dies to self in order to bear fruit says Jesus. He who places high esteem on the perishable will perish with it (he who loves his life in this world). A true disciple hates his life in this world—he does not love his life in this world (Jn 12:24-26).
Beloved it takes a death to produce self-renunciation in place of self-preservation. The first is instinctive and natural to us. The latter, including a willingness to suffer and die for Christ if need be, requires the supernatural work of the Spirit applied to a man.
A true disciple sees his Savior by faith as enthroned Conqueror—who has defeated the enemies of the saints. To be a disciple of Christ is to participate in Christ’s conquest—it is to be a fellow overcomer (Rev 2:7).
A disciple is consumed with the Person of Christ. A disciple has Kingdom values. He regards it to be his glory to bear the reproach of Christ (Heb 13:13-16).
A disciple practices Christ-centered looking and cross-centered living. He is constantly about the business of putting off the old man and putting on the new man—that’s what it means to become who you really are in Christ—a new man—a new creation.
A true disciple lives an exchanged life—he yearns to know Christ better and better. And it is by reckoning our union with Christ that we know the Savior ever better and become conformed to Him in the process of knowing Him.
A disciple is one who cherishes Christ above all else—Christ is His Pearl of infinite price—a genuine disciple will part with anything and everything to have Christ. Like the Apostle Paul; the true disciple reaffirms this decision each day to sell all that he might have Christ. He daily counts it an infinite privilege to know Christ—and therefore is willing to suffer the loss of all things and count them but dung in comparison to knowing Christ.
Can you say today; I owe my discipleship to the cross of my Savior? Can you affirm that the love and devotion you have for Christ is because His death was your death—your death to a selfish; self-centered; self-directed life? Do you live by faith in the Son of God? In your Christian walk, can you say that the preached Word of God is constantly mixed with faith and therefore it profits you unto eternal life?
Christ gave Himself to produce a certain guaranteed effect if you will. He gave Himself to this end—that His people might be redeemed from every lawless deed. He gave Himself so that His people might be purified for Himself—to be His own possession. And He gave Himself so that His people would be zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).
Christ’s cross cannot fail to produce the above effects in His people. This is so significant—we must let this sink in—namely that the cross-work of Christ will produce the mind-set of a disciple in His redeemed child. It cannot fail to do so.
Our exhortations to live the life of a disciple must be joined to the cross. In effect we are to exhort believers to be who they really are in Christ. “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2). If God contemplates His children in the Son—then we must contemplate ourselves in Him. This is vital if we are to find our life direction in Christ.
In his own liberation from the world; and his consequent dedication to Christ—Paul was extremely careful to give all the glory to Christ and His cross. “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).