Advancing the Gospel Through Spiritual Generations
By Dan Daetz, NavsMilitary — If I were to ask ten Christians what the word “discipleship” means, I would not be surprised to get twenty different answers! Even in our own minds, we may not have clarity on how to express this key concept. In a sense, that’s OK. There are many facets that could emerge in a discussion. We might focus on descriptors of what a disciple is: “a learner,” “a follower,” “an apprentice.” Perhaps we’d define a few character qualities: “humble,” “obedient,” “sacrificial.” Or, as we’ve done in The Navigators, we could lay out Five Marks (or evidences) of a Disciple, including a passion for Jesus, for the Word of God, for those without Christ, and for fellowship in biblical community. The fifth mark—advancing the Gospel through spiritual generations—provides essential focus on the disciple-making labors of a disciple.
All are valuable perspectives on discipleship. A multi-faceted view has an inherent beauty. In our fast-paced, high-tech, me-centered world, it is restorative to even take a few quiet moments to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In my own reflections recently, I have returned repeatedly to two words that speak deeply to me about the meaning of discipleship. I don’t claim to have “the” definition. I just suggest an unforgettable one.
Before you quit reading in reaction to such a simplistic definition—one that even a little child could remember—please give me a few moments to explain. I’ll begin with the second word.
“Love.” If a disciple is a learner, a follower, an apprentice, or even an ambassador in a movement of God’s Kingdom, what is at the heart of this movement? God’s purposes, God’s priorities, and God’s very presence anchor it. The familiar words of John 3:16 introduce God’s purposes toward mankind: “For God so loved the world….” As far as his expectations for mankind—God’s central priorities for us—we are reminded by Jesus to “love God…and love your neighbor” (Luke 10:25-28). Finally, God’s presence—his eternal nature made manifest—can be summed up in the words “God is love” (1 John 4:8)…and in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who demonstrated the ultimate life of love. This isn’t the world’s twisted view of so-called “love”: driven by infatuation, manipulation, domination, or you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours negotiation. This is Love with a capital “L”: unconditional, self-sacrificing, forgiving, everlasting. It is such a high bar that it can’t emerge from our own willpower or warm feelings. This true Love can only spring from the endless reservoir of God Himself.
Through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on our behalf, we have access to this Love. More than that, we are relentlessly invited into a Love relationship with God. This relationship dramatically shapes our attitudes and powers our efforts as disciples. This leads us back to the first word in the definition.
“Share.” The essential hallmark of a disciple is love expressed in community: “All will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). Thus, the first place we are to be Love-sharers is among fellow followers of Jesus. From the birth of the Church, caring and sacrificial love was evidence of God’s presence and power (see Acts 2:42-47). This was no isolated, monastic life where personal piety and communion with God—we might call it “extended quiet time”—was a goal unto itself. Instead, authentic relationship with the Lord burst forth in tangible expressions of Love to brothers and sisters in the faith. This community was costly. Individuals released control of their time, their possessions, their preferences, and their prejudices. That’s a mark of true Love. Thus, a disciple is one who shares Love sacrificially with other believers.
Sharing Love doesn’t end with those in the faith. Every disciple is called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)—in other words, to reach out with the divine Love and reproduce it in others. Notice that we are to multiply Lovers, not lawyers. In Jesus’ day, His harshest criticisms were reserved for those who knew God’s commands with lawyer-like precision (in fact, adding their own legal interpretations), but lacked love. He called them “whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). A true disciple doesn’t teach a set of legalistic religious practices. A disciple doesn’t use the Gospel as a means to control others. Instead, he or she is called to “live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:2) that attracts unbelievers to the Source of Love, shares with them the decisive Sacrifice of Love, and supports their new walk in the Spirit of Love.
Every human being wants and needs Love. Every believer is equipped and expected to share it...even with those who oppose us (Matthew 5:44).
Do you want to invigorate your local biblical community? Share Love. Do you want to open more hearts to the Gospel? Share Love. Do you want to grow and multiply disciples who can function in any context? Share Love…and encourage them to do the same.
After all, before the creation of the world—before time began—Father, Son and Holy Spirit existed in eternal and perfect communion. What did each member of the Trinity do for the others? What God does best: Share Love.
Story of a Lifelong Laborer — LeRoy Eims served with The Navigators for over 50 years in a variety of ministries, including Director of U.S. Ministries, International Ministry Representative, and Director of Evangelism Worldwide.