A book that God has been using to shape and mold my heart and understanding of discipleship has been Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand. The main emphasis of the book is displayed in the subtitle, “People in need of change helping people in need of change.” This says it all. Young or old, pastor or parishioner, we are all called to humbly take part in the spiritual growth and progress of others. The Bible refers to the process of helping others grow in Christ as discipleship (Matt 28:18-20).
The Apostle Paul was familiar with this idea of discipleship. Actually, to say Paul was “familiar” with discipleship would be a great understatement. Read Philippians 1:21-26:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
We have all read Paul’s great “to live is Christ” statement. But what did that mean for him? Paul answers this question with two words…“fruitful labor.” For Paul, living a fruitful life that glorifies God meant partaking in other people’s “progress and joy in the faith” (Phil 1:25). Phrases like, “pouring your life into others,” “investing in another person,” “helping another person grow in the Lord,” are all helpful to describe discipleship.
How do you “do” discipleship?
How does one person disciple another? The simple answer is: teach another what has been taught to you. This is true. However, does this mean that discipleship simply consists of going through the chapter breaks of Romans or the historical background of Obadiah? Or does this mean that the disciple-er is simply a theological answer box for the one being discipled? Hardly. Life is not simple. Relationships are complex. People are not simply a program. These common perceptions show the need for careful study of biblical discipleship.
So, sticking with the theme of “what we’re learning,” here are two principles that I have been learning and that I pray will encourage and challenge you as you begin to take steps of obedience to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).
First, understand discipleship is costly, yet joy producing.
Jesus Christ gave his life for us. He became incarnate out of love for His Father and for us. He took off his royal robes, came to us as a babe and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-9). His ministry required not only his time, but his very life. Should this not also be our mindset as we minister to others? Paul Tripp comments on our misperceptions of discipleship saying, “We want ministry that doesn’t demand love that is, well, so demanding! We don’t want to serve others in a way that requires so much personal sacrifice.”[i]
Is cost of discipleship more of a drag than delight if it is so demanding? No! It is a joy if you have Christ. After all, Christ was the one who, “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). Living a life of obedience unto the Lord produces a joy that is incomparable to anything else this world can provide.
What would it look like for you to personally sacrifice for the sake of another?
Second, embrace discipleship as the continual soul care of another.
In the quest for defining discipleship, it is helpful to understand what it is not. Therefore, with a heart to be clear but hopefully not offensive, here are three antithetical statements.
- Discipleship is not just a therapy session for the spiritually weak. Rather, it is training in righteousness.
- Discipleship is not just backing up the theological dump truck and unloading all your information onto another. It is giving your life for another.
- Discipleship isn’t problem focused. It is helping another to be Christ focused.
Paul Tripp described ministry to another as “helping restore people to where God wants them to be.”[ii] This must include the loving process of “carrying each other’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) as well as “encouraging one another daily” (Heb 3:13). As we strive to fulfill the Great Commission together, we must eagerly define discipleship and seek to obey it. We all give our lives to something. Let it be said of us that we give our lives for loving God and others. Our Lord gave his life for us. Let’s pour our lives out for others as we live for Christ.
What would it look like for you to lay down your life for another?
“God sends unfinished people to unfinished people with the message of his grace so that he can reclaim every heart for his glory.”[iii]
[i] Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 118.
[ii] Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 268.
[iii] Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 272.