Disciplemaking Disciples – Acts 18:24-28
In a 2004 interview with Relevant Magazine, the late Dallas Willard, a brilliant Christian philosopher, was asked the question, “What are the most critical challenges facing the modern church?” I was surprised by his answer. I expected maybe:
- The rising prosperity gospel even into evangelical churches
- The numbers of churches closing down
- The church’s lack of involvement with social injustice
- The church’s lack of compassion towards homosexuals
Not to diminish any of those hot topics, but his answer was,
“In a way it’s very simple. The greatest challenge the church faces today is to be authentic disciples of Jesus. And by that I mean they’re learning from Him how to live their life, as He would live their life if He were they. So that means, whatever I am, whoever I am, I take Him into my whole life as my Lord. Lord means that He’s my teacher. Another way of putting this is to say that our greatest challenge is to recover Jesus the Teacher. You know, if you don’t have a teacher you can’t have a disciple. Disciples are just students.
What has happened is Church ritual has replaced Discipleship. That’s the really big issue. How to recover Jesus the Teacher? That would mean, of course, that we’ve decided now that we’re actually going to do what He said…It is just shameless the way we go on about leaders and various kinds of figures…it’s a crisis of ‘follower-ship’ [more than a crisis of leadership.”
If you go to any bookstore, you will see lots of books on leadership, but very few on followership. We have lots of people interested in salvation without discipleship…that is like wanting a wedding, but not a marriage. It’s impossible. We are continuing our series in the book of Acts called “Pulled in, Pushed Out: A Church on Mission.” The Gospel says that Christ pulls you in by grace but only to push you out so that you can help others get pulled in by His grace. In the middle of trying to be a church on mission is the danger of forgetting that at the heart of it all in Matt. 28:18-20, the Great Commission is to make disciples. This is not passed off on only people in full-time ministry, but to every single Christian. It is easy to forget that as we talk about events, programs and activities of the church.
Even when we talk about discipleship, we have this notion that it is just one-on-one mentoring at a Starbucks going over a book. I think it’s more than that. Or some may think of discipleship as a program you enter into, where we just put people through a course and magically crank out disciples. Disciples are not mas produced. They are handcrafted! Passing on information is important, but I think that too is narrow in what discipleship really means.
Today I want to talk about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, to be discipled and to be about the business of disciple-making. To put it all together, the big idea is:
A church on mission must be about disciple-making disciples.
The goal of all Christian ministry, in all its forms, is disciple-making, even more than attendance on Sunday, names on membership roll, small groups, etc. We are not a audience of spectators, but a gathering of disciplemakers. Obviously it is a huge topic and we can’t exhaust it completely, but we will try to let Acts 18:24-28 teach us some things about discipleship. Let’s lower the bar on how we do church and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple. What are the qualities of being a disciple-making disciple? Some of us are in one-on-one discipleship relationships (if you want one, let me know!). Some of these things might be helpful for you. But my goal is to look at what it means to be a disciplemaking disciple.
Before we dive in, let’s set the context. Paul shows up in Acts 18 in Corinth discouraged. He was driven out of Macedonia and he wasn’t really welcomed at Athens either. As a stranger, he wandered through winding streets with many concerns weighing on him. Where would he stay? Where could he find work to support himself? Were there any of the Lord’s people here?
That’s when he meets a husband and wife team from Rome named Priscilla or Prisca and Aquila. They were tentmakers, which in the Greek means, that they made tents! They probably also worked in Corinth at crafting tents, sails, and leather goods. We don’t know if they came as Christians to Corinth or if they get saved through Paul later. Before long they were working together not merely as business partners but as co-laborers for their Lord (Acts 18:3). Paul moved in with them and would spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11).
Paul then decides to go back to the earlier churches that he planted. Priscilla and Aquila go with him, but Paul leaves them at Ephesus while he goes back to Antioch (Acts 18:18-23). At Ephesus, they meet a Jewish guy named Apollos who was from Alexandria, Egypt. Apollos was an eloquent man, meaning he was trained in the best schools, had a lot of knowledge and had the ability to articulate what he knew. Secondly, this guy knew his Bible, the OT anyway. Alexandria is known to have the Greek version of the OT called the Septuagint. He knew how to handle God’s Word. He was fervent in spirit, not in the Holy Spirit, but he was very passionate about what he was saying. However, he knew only “the baptism of John.”
John the Baptist preached, “Get right with God and wash your sins away as we prepare for the Messiah who is coming.” John the Baptist knew his OT and knew the Messiah was coming. John the Baptist saw the Christ as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Then John died through beheading. Apollos knew some things about Jesus and maybe even that Jesus has come, but probably deficient in the fact that Jesus had died, resurrected and is coming back. Scholars are not exactly sure what he knew or didn’t know. Most likely, he came to true faith through Priscilla and Aquila, but we are not sure. I’m glad it’s ambiguous, for it tells us that there was no set program in the early church in discipling people. We shouldn’t put God in a box and God doesn’t put us in a box. He doesn’t work off a template in discipling people. Each person is different! Regardless, we do know for sure that Priscilla and Aquila take him under their wings, disciple him and he grows to become a man used by God, mentioned some 14x in the NT.
A lot of times we think when we read Acts that all these amazing powerful apostles did was preach to large crowds, performing miracles and thousands get saved. That’s partly true, but I would like to propose that Christianity grew in the early church because ordinary Christians like Priscilla and Aquila, went about as disciplemaking disciples.
Let’s look at Priscilla and Aquila. What made them so special? They teach me:
a) Being a disciple is primarily my identity
The word disciple is used more frequently than Christian to refer to believers in the Bible. The word “Christian” is found 3x in Scripture, but disciple is found over 270x! It literally means, “learner, student or pupil.” When I look at Priscilla and Aquila, I don’t see tentmakers who happen to be disciples. I see disciples who happen to be tentmakers. Everything in their life shows that their priority was being a disciple more than their vocation. It wasn’t like they were tentmakers and spouses the rest of the week and thought about discipleship during small groups and Sunday services. They were disciples first.
Look over at Rom. 16:3-5. Paul is in Greece on his 3rd missionary journey and says to the church in Rome to greet Priscilla and Aquila. They “stuck their necks out for me” and greet the church that meets in their home. How does Paul remember them? By their selflessness and the fact that their home is not a home anymore, but a discipleship center, a place to make disciples…i.e. a church.
So when Paul leaves them in Ephesus and they meet Apollos and hear him, what are they thinking? “We are just tentmakers. Who are we to talk to this young preacher? We’ll wait for Paul to do this.” They are disciplemaking disciples first, tentmakers second. We are disciples first and parents, employees, pastors, spouses, etc. all come after that. Disciple is our identity and calling. Everything else is a role or a position.
Their marriage had a mission. To better put it, God’s mission had their marriage. Just like the church doesn’t have a mission. God’s mission has a church. Everybody has a mission in life…the question is whether it is God’s mission or our own or the American dream mission? We are going to have three more weddings in our midst in the next few months. As I pray for you all as well as when I pray for all our marriages here at LH, I pray, “Thank you for all these church plants.” Churches are being planted with our marriages. How would our marriage and parenting change if we saw it that way? Those of us who have been married, are we growing as a team on mission and what does that look like?
As Dr. Stowell, former president of Moody used to say, “You are not what you do. If who you are is what you do, what will you be when you don’t do that anymore?” Our roles are temporary, but our identity will last forever. Where is your identity today? Is it based on our marital status? Your number of friends? Your job? What has been done to you? Your wounds? Do you see your identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ primarily? Secondly we see from Priscilla and Aquila that being a disciple means being:
b) Incarnational over institutional
We talk about the Incarnation when we talk about Christmas. Jesus took on human skin and became one of us. True ministry is always incarnational. Discipleship is life-on-life relational, more than institutional formality. Paul modeled this to them. He stayed with them and did life with them. Later when they talk to Apollos, they “took him,” means invited him into their space. I don’t think it was a one-time thing, but perhaps several weeks.
By the way, if you are meeting up with someone for discipleship, it would be best to focus on their specific needs and goals at this time in their life. Set a time frame for how long you will meet and clarify expectations. Ask questions —“What are your goals this semester?” “What do you need?” “What are the issues you’re dealing with?”
When Jesus appointed the twelve, Mark gives us what that meant: “TO BE WITH HIM and he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). First job was to be with Him. Intimacy always comes before activity. If you put activity first, that balloon is going to run out of air very quickly. If you just have intimacy you are a big fat marshmallow, untested by life and people. When I got out seminary, you get a big head (at least I did). That’s why they call it cemetery. I wrote some papers and get some letters after my name, but I am learning that making disciples does not just have a rational component, but also a relational component as well (Steve and Serina have taught me this the most).
How can we be incarnational? Practice hospitality. We see Priscilla and Aquila not just teaching Apollos, but also like Paul before them, inviting Apollos into their home. These two consistently invited people into their home. Home is where you do life. Some of us old timers, when was the last time you invited a newcomer here home? It doesn’t have to be fancy. We use paper plates all the time! Costco has a great deal on them.
Jesus taught His disciples and preached them a lot (rational), but most of the time He embodied the Gospel. He who left His Father’s throne, came down and never selfishly held on to His resources, but always shared. He was always sharing his meals, his heart, his sufferings, his hopes, his time, etc. (relational). He saw the disciples as family: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? And stretching out his hand toward His disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Matt. 12:48-49).
Being incarnational also means practice patience with people. God is incredibly patient with our slowness to repent, our grudges we keep, our unforgiving heart, our anger, our lack of self-control, self-sufficiency, etc. This is why the Bible uses image of fruit in relation to our spiritual growth, not product. Products you can mass-produce, but fruit you have to cultivate and wait.
Notice the couple here not judging Apollos and shaking their head in disgust because he doesn’t have it all together. We should all have a sign that says, “Under Construction. Please be patient with me as God is not done with me yet.” We shouldn’t even be called human beings. We should be called human becomings. We are still becoming what we should be.
One author adds, “Every discipler needs to embrace and internalize 1 Corinthians 3, when Paul is talking about his and Apollos’ ministry to the believers in Corinth. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” God uses more than one person in a disciple’s life! Paul had gone and preached the Gospel in Corinth. Apollos came after him, and preached more of the Gospel, helping the new believers grow. But Paul emphasizes that neither the one who plants, nor the one who waters, is anything. God causes the growth. God will work through you. Create an environment of growth.”
Are we becoming more and more incarnational? Are we growing in vulnerability with others, loving others more and growing in patience? Being a disciplemaking disciple means being:
c) Teachable servanthood
Apollos is this great eloquent preacher, drawing crowds and dazzling people with his rhetoric. I’m impressed that a man who was already making a significant impact was so open to critique from those who knew more than he did. Even though he was eloquent, knowledgeable, and powerful, Apollos didn’t have a big head. He could have said, “Don’t tell me what to say! I’m the one drawing the crowd. You’re just jealous because God is using me more than you.”
Aquila and Priscilla also didn’t try to push him aside and tell everyone, “Who’s this guy? He apparently doesn’t have it altogether. We have had training with the Apostle Paul. Move aside sonny.”
I see great teachability in Apollos. What does it mean to be teachable? It is the attitude that really believes: “I don’t know everything. I must surround myself with people who know more about God’s Word than I do.” Am I teachable?
- I want to learn from everyone—has not arrived and still needs people to “explain the way of God more accurately.”
- I am growing towards listening more than speaking
- I am growing in asking for help
- I am growing quicker in repentance
- I am growing to appreciate criticism without defensiveness
Where do we get that kind of heart? From the gospel. As one author says, “By grounding yourself in the finished work of Christ you become more comfortable with being an unfinished work yourself.” The Gospel humbles me because it tells me my sins are so bad that Christ had to die for them, but Christ is so good that wanted to die for them, so I have confidence as well to keep growing. The synonym for teachability is humility. What we look for as a servant team from each other and others are for servants.
d) Reproducing Christ-centered Reproducers
Paul finds this couple, Priscilla and Aquila, pours into them and then they in turn pour in Apollos who goes to Achaia (Corinth) and pours into others. Being a disciple we said is to rational (learner), relational (family), but also means you are missional (missionary). What are all these people doing in their disciplemaking? They are preoccupied with Christ. It is not that they are focused on disciplemaking that makes them good disciplemakers. They became this way because they’re obsessed with Jesus. As Bonhoeffer says, “When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to exclusive attachment to his person.”
I had a roommate in college that really tested me. Unfortunately, he passed away and no I didn’t kill him, though I wanted to at times. One of the things I remember about him is that he loved the Simpsons. He watched the episode that came on during the day and the one at night too. One night I came home to the dorms and I noticed he was watching the Simpsons, as usual. I looked at the screen and saw Homer was lounging in his underwear on the couch with a beer in his hand and watching tv. I looked over and saw my roommate lounging on the couch with a soda can (you couldn’t have beer at Wheaton) just like Homer! My first thought was, “You have become Homer Simpson!” Homer Simpson has just discipled my roommate! The point: You become what you love.
When you look at all these qualities of a disciplemaking disciple, you might feel intimidated. I can’t be that or do that! You are right. It’s not difficult; it is impossible. Some of us look at our life of discipleship and we feel like we keep following him to dead ends. This keeps us from fully trusting him and letting yourself completely follow Christ. He said, “follow me,” and some of us have prayers that have not been answered. Some of us have disappointments and discouragements and wounds we carry. This too has kept us from trusting Him completely.
Tim Keller in his book, The King’s Cross shares a story from George MacDonald’s children’s book, written about 150 years ago, called The Princess and the Goblin. Irene is 8 and has a fairy godmother that she meets with in the attic. One day her grandmother gives her a ring with a thread tied to it, leading to a little ball of thread. She explains that she’ll keep the ball.
“But I can’t see it,” says Irene. “No. The thread is too fine for you to see it. You can only feel it.”
“Now listen,” says the grandmother, “if you ever find yourself in any danger… you must take off your ring and put it under the pillow of your bed. Then you must lay your forefinger… upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you.”
“Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, Grandmother, I know!”
“Yes,” said the grandmother, “but, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.” A few days later Irene is in bed, and goblins get into the house. She hears them snarling out in the hallway, so she takes off her ring and put it under her pillow. And she begins to feel the thread, knowing that it’s going to take her to her grandmother and to safety. But to her dismay, it takes her outside, and she realizes that it’s taking her right toward the cave of the goblins.
Inside the cave, the thread leads her up to a great heap of stones, a dead end. ”The thought struck her, that at least she could follow the thread backwards, and thus get out…But the instant she tried to feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch.” The grandmother’s thread only worked forward, but forward it led into a heap of stones. Irene cries realizing that the only way to follow the thread is to tear down the wall of stones. She begins tearing it down, stone by stone. Though her fingers are soon bleeding, she pulls and pulls.
Suddenly she hears a voice. It’s her friend Curdie, who has been trapped in the goblins’ cave! Curdie is astounded and asks, “Why, however did you come here?” She explains everything to Curdie and then says, “this is the way my thread goes, and I must follow it.” And indeed the thread proves trustworthy, because her grandmother is trustworthy.
See what happened? As she is following the thread trusting her grandmother, she helps others along the way to trust. That is discipleship. You focus all your attention on Christ and follow Him. As you follow Him closer and closer you bring others along with you on the journey.
When Jesus told the disciples, “We’re on the way, follow me,” they had no idea where he was going. They thought he was going to go from victory to victory and end up as kings.
Imagine sitting down with a seven-year-old and saying to her, “I’d like you to write me an essay on what you think it’s like to fall in love and be married.” When you read the essay, you will say it isn’t very close to the reality. A seven-year-old can’t imagine what love and marriage will be like. When you start to follow Jesus, you’re at least that far away. You have no idea how far you’ll have to go.
Jesus says, “Follow me. I’m going to take you on a journey, and I don’t want you to turn to the left or to the right. I want you to put me first; I want you to keep trusting me; to stick with me, not turn back, not give up, turn to me in all the disappointments and injustices that will happen to you. I’m going to take you places that will make you say, “Why in the world are you taking me there?” Even then, I want you to trust me.”
The path Jesus takes you on may look like it’s taking you to one dead end after another. Nevertheless, the thread does not work in reverse. If you just obey Jesus and follow it forward, it will do its work.
Follow the thread. You say, “That sounds pretty hard,” and you’re right. How can we possibly follow the thread? It’s simple but profound. Jesus himself does absolutely everything he’s calling us to do. When he called James and John to leave their father in the boat, he had already left his Father’s throne. ”He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace.” And later he’s going to be ripped from his Father’s presence, on the cross. It’s going to look as if your thread is taking you into dead ends, places where you’ll get bloody, where the only way to follow the thread looks like it could crush you. But don’t try to go backward. Don’t turn to the left, don’t turn to the right. Jesus Christ’s kingship will not crush you. He was crushed for you. He followed his thread to the cross so you can follow yours into his arms.”
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From a tweet https://twitter.com/anderson_scott/status/381450967532986368 accessed 21 September 2013.
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