“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, NASB).
- Simple Gospel
- His Identity
- Simple Lifestyle
- Kingdom Focused
- Gains and Losses
- A Simple Life of Service
- Simple Church
- The “Ekklesian“
- The Equipping
- Healthy Autonomy
- Simple Worship
- Called to Worship
- Spirit and Truth
- New Testament Examples
- Disciples Make Disciples
- Called to Discipleship
- The Discipled Life
- Words of Warning!
The word “gospel,” as used in scripture, means “Good News.” The Gospel is simply the message of God’s love for us and what He has done for us so that we can enter into a life-giving relationship with Him.
The Gospel is the central, prevailing message of the New Testament, and of every New Testament child of God. It’s the message we long to share with all our family, friends, and loved ones. The Apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, NASB). Sharing the Gospel is central to every child of God’s purpose and mission in life because Jesus told His disciples that it is our responsibility to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NASB).
Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the only true and living God; which means that He “is” God in the flesh. The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” … “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2 & 14, NASB).
God presents Himself to humanity as three distinct divine entities: God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit – Three in One! When “the Word became flesh,” God the Son (Jesus) stepped into the creation with a divine purpose—to become our eternal sacrifice for sin, saying, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me… behold, I have come to do Your will, O God!” (Hebrews 10:5&9, NASB). When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in the city of Philippi, he spoke to them of both the identity of Christ and the ultimate purpose of His mission, saying, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, NASB). Jesus Himself revealed His divine purpose for stepping into our world “in the likeness of men” when He said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, NASB) and “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, NASB).
Death, Burial, Resurrection
The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NASB). There is a price that must be paid for sin; and that price is “death!” Because God is altogether pure and holy, He cannot have intimate fellowship with sinful humanity unless and until that price is paid. So, after living a pure and holy life, and being “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB) Jesus allowed Himself to suffer, bleed, and die for us on the cross in order to pay the price for our sins–so that we don’t have to pay that terrible price eternally ourselves. The Bible says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB).
After Jesus’ death on the cross, His body was placed in a tomb. A giant stone, weighing well over a ton, was rolled in front of the opening and the official Roman Seal, along with a Roman guard consisting of several soldiers, was set in place to ensure that the grave would not be tampered with. However, on the third day following His death on the cross, the giant stone was found to have been blown several feet away from the entrance, the Roman soldiers were found to be in a stupor–a state of disorientation–and the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. He had risen from the dead, proving beyond doubt that He was/is exactly who He claimed to be. The Bible says that He “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4, NASB). After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to many people over the course of fifty days. The Bible even says that, on one occasion, “He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time” (I Corinthians 15:6, NASB).
Belief, Repentance, Baptism
And now that He has paid the price for our sins by suffering the punishment that we deserve, Jesus invites each and everyone of us to giver our hearts and lives to Him, to put our faith in Him and in what He has done for us,and to claim His life-giving sacrifice as our very own by sharing in His death. On His last day on the earth, after His death, burial, and resurrection, and just before ascending back to glory with the Father, He said to His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47, NASB). Again, after His death on the cross and then being resurrected from the dead, Jesus said: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16, NASB).
A few days later, on the Jewish holiday called “Pentecost,” the Apostle Peter preached the very first Gospel sermon after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Peter told the crowds of people gathered at the temple that day about the life of Jesus, who He was, and how that He had died for them and had been resurrected from the dead all according to God’s plan. The Bible says, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39, NASB).
A few years later, in writing to the Christians who lived in the city of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul told them, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NASB). And to the Christians living in the region of Galatia, Paul said, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27, NASB). And then, later, to the Christians living in Rome, Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:3-7, NASB).
And, basically, that’s it! There are many others passages of scripture that we could go to, of course; and there are many different ways that we can share this beautiful story of God’s love to explain what He has done for us. But, essentially, it all boils down to this:
Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world to live and die for you! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB). Do you believe in Him? Do you believe that the Gospel story is real? If you do not believe, and you persist in your unbelief, there is no hope for you! If you do believe, have you repented of selfishness, sin, and rebellion against the will of God and surrendered you heart and life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Have you obeyed Jesus’ command to be baptized? Remember, according to the Apostle Peter, baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38) because, as the Apostle Paul said, “…all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death… (Romans 6:3-4, NASB). Baptism is our expression of saving faith by which we are put “into Christ” and “into His death.” It is the very moment in time at which we become partakers of His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection and His death becomes our death–the price for sins having been paid at the cross, it is at that moment that we are washed in the blood of Christ (I John 1:7) and clothed with His righteousness (Galatians 3:27).
Do you wish to be baptized into Christ? We have contacts all over the world, so drop us a quick note and we’ll do all we can to assist you with your baptism!
Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:18-20).
As the passage of scripture above indicates, Jesus led a simple life. He didn’t have much going for Him as far as worldly goods were concerned–sometimes He didn’t even have a place to lay His head at night. But Jesus understood a beautiful concept that He tried to share with all who would listen and follow after Him, saying:
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.Matthew 6:25-34, NASB
As Christians, we seek to become imitators of Christ in every aspect of our lives. We, therefore, advocate for a simple, uncluttered lifestyle that is focused on one main objective: to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness… knowing that everything else we do in life will fall into place and order itself appropriately in relation to this one main objective. This, however, is not always as easy as it may appear.
Gains and Losses
One day, Jesus asked His disciples a very pointed question: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Not long after, a young man who was very rich rich came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 16:16, NASB). All he wanted was a simple answer–just something good that he could do to earn his salvation. Imagine his astonishment at Jesus’ reply when He said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 16:21, NASB). Jesus was not interested in perpetuating a contented lifestyle wherein people could feel good about themselves and their relationship with God if they manage to do a few good things here and there along the way. Rather, Jesus was all about the total revolution of the soul and calling people into a whole new walk of life. Well, Jesus’ words were a bit more than the young man could handle and the Bible says, “when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:22-23, NASB).
Imagine if that rich young ruler had followed Jesus’ instructions and opted for a “simpler” lifestyle–a life of focused meaning and purpose! What if he would have unencumbered himself of all the material trappings from which he took his identity and sense of self-worth? What if he had actually realized just Who it was that was standing there before him and was so overwhelmed with joy at standing in the presence of deity that he was more than willing to do exactly as Jesus had said: “Sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow Me”?
Imagine how that young man’s life would have been completely revolutionized! And what would he have lost compared with what he would have gained? What unimaginable blessings and eternal riches would have been his? But, sadly, we’ll never even know this pour soul’s name–he’s pretty much a non-entity–because he was, after all, just one more number among all the masses who chose to cling to his earthly treasures for a few more years rather than seek the higher glory. And, of course, regardless of how much longer he may have walked upon the earth, he’s dead now– sooooo… When we stop living for ourselves and surrender everything we have, and everything we are, over to God, what do we lose, really? More importantly, what do we gain?
A Simple Life of Service
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher” (Matthew 10:24-25, NASB). The ultimate goal of every authentic disciple of Christ is to learn how to be more like Jesus. He is our Lord, our Master, and the ultimate Teacher and Example for our lives. Certainly, as we’ve seen in the passages above, this means that our heart’s desire is to, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). But how, in practical terms, do we go about doing that? Well, to put it quite simply, Jesus went on to say, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, NASB). So, at the heart of our “kingdom focus” is service to God through service to others. Authentic Christians are being conformed to the sacrificial lifestyle of Christ. That means we’re all about “getting over ourselves,” and getting into loving and serving others, like Jesus did. The distinguishing mark of mature Christians–those who are continuing to grow into genuine Christlikeness–is that they are becoming less and less about themselves and all their wants and desires in life, and more and more about how they can love and serve others. Their primary concern in life is not about how comfortable they can manage to live during their brief time here upon the earth, but rather, how can they make a difference in the hearts and lives of others for all eternity. They go out and make a living so that they can take care of their family, friends, and others. They seek to use their time and energy pursuing endeavors that will, in some way, benefit others. They look for ways that they can use their material resources to bless others. In all that they do, and in all their relationships, they are continually looking ahead, thinking about eternity and how they might help others walk more closely with God and be ready to meet their Lord when they leave this world and step into that eternal spiritual realm.
Our prayer for you, and for each and every one of us, is that we will never be content with simply “going to church,” but that we will be intent on being the church wherever we go.
NOTE – this article is not meant to judge, criticize, or condemn any group of Christians anywhere in the world for the way they choose to “do church.” It is only meant to set forth the Biblical precedent — to show how the early Christians of the 1st century went about doing it during their generation, as recorded in scripture. We acknowledge that the “freedom of the New Covenant” allows for cultural relevancy; and for people to structure their fellowship in whatever ways they deem most appropriate for them.
That being said, as New Covenant children of God, we should all understand that we are not obligated to join, attend, or support any particular religious institution or organization designed by man. Just because people calling themselves “Christians” decide to create a formal organization, legally incorporate, perhaps buy or lease some property, build a building, hire a pastor or some other professional staff, and set forth some kind of an agenda for ministry, does NOT mean that we are obligated to support it—regardless of the doctrine they may profess or the sign they hang over the door. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles many face with regard to their spiritual growth and walk with the Lord, is that of organized, institutional, corporate religion. It’s heartbreaking to see well-intentioned people give up their identity as a simple child of God—the object of God’s love, desire, and grace—and opt, instead, for an identity tied to some particular religious organization, movement, doctrine, practice, name, or label. Furthermore, a sophisticated business model, with accompanying organizational rules and regulations depicting well defined corporate roles and administrative responsibilities, is not necessary for cultivating Christian community within and among the family of God; and is, in fact, quite foreign to Bible teaching. We have no evidence of the church that we read about in the Bible ever “incorporating” as a business, or governing themselves by separate articles of incorporation or corporate by-laws. We see no evidence in scripture of the church ever investing in real estate, owning lands and buildings, having corporate bank accounts, or establishing high-yield corporate savings accounts and other financial investment tools. We can find no examples in scripture of Christians ever organizing themselves beyond the immediate, local community, “grass-roots” level. There is no mention in scripture of a diocese, parish, synod, council, conference, or any other “centralized” governance or authority.
Due to the influences of Western capitalism and the corporate climate in which we live today, we find ourselves in a world that pulses to the beat of trademarks and branding of every kind. But we should be aware that the Christians who were living in the city of Corinth were reprimanded by the Apostle Paul for exactly this kind of thing when he told them: “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
“For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Cloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (I Corinthians 1:10-13, NASB).
Those who advocate for “denominationalism”—separate and distinct religious organizations, each with their own self-identifying labels and brands in which they take pride, and practices around which they rally and in which they find their identity—are walking in direct violation to this passage of scripture; regardless of the name over the door or the doctrine they espouse.
In the first place, the body of Christ as presented in the New Testament was never named, labeled, or officially branded by God anywhere in scripture. It was simply the ekklesia (church), the “called out body of Christ,” no matter where you went. Why is it not enough for people to simply be a disciple of Christ, a Christian, a child of God in today’s world? While even these terms get abused by people today, still, the Apostle Peter said, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (I Peter 4:16, NASB). For this very reason, many of God’s children today are refusing to use or wear any kind of denominational name or label to identify themselves or the group with which they fellowship.
In the second place, as is far too easy to note, “denominationalism” has the peculiar tendency of producing religious pride! Too often we encounter people who seem to be more devoted to, and proud of, their religious organization than they are the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and the incredible sacrifice He has made for them. We often meet people who are constantly bragging about, talking up, and glorifying their church—as if their church held all the answers for people’s lives—yet they seem to have very little to say about Jesus and His sacrificial love. They seem to have forgotten the Apostle Paul’s exhortation: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14, NASB), and “just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:31, NASB). To combat this evil “party spirit” and the foolish pride always lurking just beneath the surface in the heart of every man, the Apostle Paul told the Christians at Corinth that they must “learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (I Corinthians 4:6, NASB). Paul’s solution to denominationalism–and the religious pride it fosters–was simply: just do it the Bible way!
(the Bible way)
When the Apostle Paul closed his letter to the Christians living in Rome, he said: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the [ekklēsiai] of the Gentiles; also greet the [ekklēsian]that is in their house” (Romans 16:3-5, NASB). Paul then went on to say, “Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus… Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord… Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the [ekklesiai] of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:10-16, NASB). As these beautiful passages–and others like them–indicate, the ekklesia (the “called out” body of Christ) that we read about in the Bible consisted of many “ekklesiai”—congregations, assemblies, communities—of people living in various cities and regions throughout land. Furthermore, as these scriptures reveal, while Paul addressed the book of Romans not to a “church,” but “to all who are beloved of God in Rome” (Romans 1:7, NASB), it appears that the Christians living there typically met together as small groups [ekklesian] in one another’s homes throughout the city or region. As a matter of semantics, it could be argued that, if we’re going to allow the Greek word “ekklesia“–and it’s various forms–to be translated as “church,” then what we see here is “church” existing as small-groups meeting together in homes; or, quite literally, “home-churches,” or “house-churches.”
Meeting together as small-groups or “ekklesian” in our homes means that no child of God remains a mere anonymous attendant at some large, or even not so large, formal religious service. Rather, being a part of a small-group fellowship allows brothers and sisters in Christ to get to know one another at a deeper familial level; a level of intimacy wherein we can really learn about one another’s strengths and weaknesses, our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our hopes and dreams. It enables us to get real with the Biblical command to “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NASB). In a small-group fellowship we can communicate with one another frequently and “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NASB). In other words, a small-group fellowship creates the space and affords us the opportunity to become the family to one another that God calls us to be.
Note: When the “ekklesian”–small-group, or house church–grows much beyond 20 or more people, it is recommended that the group “multiply” by “dividing.” In other words, rather than allowing ourselves to stagnate in our comfort zones, for the sake of keeping our fellowship vibrant and responsive to the needs of God’s family, as well as reaching out to a lost and dying world, the one group needs to become two, the two need to become four, and so on and so forth until, by the Lord’s grace, we have ekklēsiai (small-group gatherings) scattered throughout a city or region. However, in order for this to occur, it is essential that every member “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) so that, when a group has grown to the point of needing to multiply, there are several well-equipped servants of the Lord ready to help facilitate both of the new groups. Let’s look at how this can be done in keeping with the Biblical pattern.
Even at the local community level, there was very little formal organization within the body of Christ, as depicted in the New Testament. What little organization that did exist was very simple and “organic” in nature–more closely resembling a family, a village, or an indigenous tribal culture than the modern corporate world. The Bible says:
And He Himself gave some as apostles, and others as prophets, and others as evangelists, and others as shepherds and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building-up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!Ephesians 4:11-13, DLNT
“Apostles” were the original ambassadors of Christianity, men chosen by the Lord and recognized by the ekklesia” in the 1st century as having the direct empowering of the Holy Spirit; which they received on the day of Pentecost (See: Acts 2:1-12). They alone had the authority to pass along the miraculous empowering of the Holy Spirit to others (See: Acts 8:18-19). “Prophets” were men and women who were indirectly empowered by the Holy Spirit “through the laying on of the apostles hands” (See: Acts 6:3-8, 8:14-19) and through whom God’s word was made known during the first century, prior to the completion of the New Testament.
NOTE: The Bible says that “God’s household”—the family of God—is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20, NASB). There are no longer apostles or prophets in the world today because, after writing the Book of Revelation, thereby completing the holy and inspired written Word of God, the last apostle–the Apostle John–died; and the “empowering” of the Holy Spirit was no longer passed along to others–for only the apostles themselves had authority from God to do that. This is why there have been no additional writings added to the New Testament since the days of the original apostles and prophets of the 1st century. However, while we no longer have the apostles and prophets walking among us, the New Testament, which contains their inspired writings and teachings, continues to serve as the foundation of the Christian faith today.
In addition to the “apostles” and “prophets” who, as we have already seen, gave us the inspired, written Word of God, the Apostle Paul reminded the Christians living in Ephesus that God has also provided them with “evangelists… shepherds… and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building-up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12, DLNT).
~ teachers ~
It is important to have people qualified as “teachers” –we call then “study helpers” or “learning guides”–within each small-group. These are people who are well-grounded in the faith, life-long students of the Word, and who can help foster and facilitate deep Bible learning–both individual and small-group learning–among all God’s children. Two areas of caution with regard to teachers:
- Jesus, speaking with regard to the spiritual leaders of the day said: “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:6-12, NASB). When Jesus used the word [ῥαββί – Rabbi] in the passage, He was speaking of a significant “title” of importance. Strong’s Concordance defines the title as meaning: “my teacher,” or “my master.” But Jesus goes on to use another term that the Greek language translates as [διδάσκαλος (didaskalos)- teacher] when He says, “for One is your Teacher.” So it becomes apparent that Jesus didn’t want either term–Rabbi or Teacher–used as a title to define a position of authority within the kingdom of God. The term “teacher” should only be used in a utilitarian sense–describing some work or function–but never as denoting some particular position of importance or special status within the body of Christ. Furthermore, no child of God should ever look to someone else, or refer to another, as “my teacher” as though that person had the right to exercise spiritual authority over them; for our only Teacher is Christ who speaks to us, leads us, and guides us through His written Word! For these reasons, we much prefer to use phrases like, “learning guide,” or “study helper,” to refer to those brothers and sisters in Christ who help facilitate our exploration of God’s written Word.
- The prophet James, who we believe to be one of the shepherds among the family of God in Jerusalem, and the physical brother of Jesus, said: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Regardless of what we call them, those who step into the utilitarian role of guiding others in their study of the Word assume a great responsibility and liability; for they will one day give an account not only for themselves and what they believe, but for what they have led others to believe, as well.
~ evangelists ~
In addition to the teachers within each small-group, the Bible speaks of “evangelists”–well trained and qualified public proclaimers of the Word–who often speak among the larger assembly whenever the small-groups come together, but who also circulate among the groups seeking to educate, motivate, and encourage the family of God. Speaking of the work of an evangelist, the Apostle Paul said to Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, NASB). So then, the evangelists are the teachers of the teachers. But the Apostle Paul also went on to tell Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB). So the evangelists who labor among the family of God within any given city or region have a the very unique task of seeing to it that all of God’s children within the “ekklesian” (small-groups) in the area are walking in accordance with the will of God, as set forth within the Word of God.
~ shepherds ~
As God’s family grows spiritually and numerically in a given community, and as faithful Christian men grow in their love and knowledge of the Lord and become qualified by scripture, they should be recognized by all of God’s family living in that area as “shepherds” of the flock. Shepherds are also sometimes referred to as “elders” or “overseers” in the New Testament.
Some modern version of the New Testament translate the Greek word [ποιμένας (poimenas) – shepherds] as “pastors”. But the word “pastor” is a relatively modern English word and, like the word “church,” it conveys meanings and impressions that, while helping to bolster and facilitate modern, institutional, corporate, religious culture, are not altogether in keeping with actual Bible teaching. So, rather than using the word, “pastor”–with all the modern connotations that word brings up in people’s minds–we believe it is far better to use the word “shepherd,” as it is more accurately translated in the Disciples Literal New Testament (2011), or Young’s Literal Translation (1862), or the Wycliffe Bible (1395). Not only is the word, “shepherd,” the accurate literal translation, but it gives us a much clearer picture of the work and responsibilities of these wonderful servants of God.
Concerning the role and responsibility of the shepherds, the Apostle Peter wrote: Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:1-3, NASB). From this passage, we learn that the shepherds, or elders, do not wield any kind of legislative power or executive authority over the children of God. They do not constitute a Board of Executives. They are not lawgivers and judges. Rather, they are counselors and guardians. They do not “lord it over” those among whom they minister by forcing the children of God to believe and practice whatever they think, say, or believe. Instead, the authority they wield comes by way of their examples of faith, love, and submission to the Word of God. And, in response to their spiritual oversight, the children of God are admonished to, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17, NIV). These well grounded and faithful men of God must, as the Apostle Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28, NASB). It appears from scripture that elders, or shepherds, are to minister among the Christians residing within their local communities and among whom they live–not in large geographical areas or regions–in order to provide stewardship and spiritual counseling commensurate with their responsibility to shepherd God’s flock.
~ servants ~
We know that there were also men and women who served as designated public “servants” within and among God’s family. For example, to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul said: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess [diakonon – servant] of the church at Cen′chre-ae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well” (Romans 16:1-2, RSV). Far from being positions of power and authority, these men and women were simply servants of the Lord who had been asked to take responsibility for seeing to particular needs and various things that needed tending to among the family of God. They moved among their respective Christian communities, and perhaps even the community at large, as representatives of God’s family–taking care of physical needs and providing hands-on assistance to others when and where needed.
(Simple Sample Chart)
It is in keeping with Bible teaching, and important to the systemic growth and health of the ekkelsia in any given region, that each small-group of Christians remain essentially autonomous and independent of the others–subject only to the rule of Christ through their mutual submission to the inspired, written Word of God. Each group is responsible for maintaining its own schedule, planning it own activities, securing meeting venues, and for facilitating and monitoring group relationships. Larger projects that require mutual cooperation with other groups, such as planning a monthly fellowship and praise gathering of all the groups in the area, or facilitating a city-wide mission campaign, or maintaining a community food and clothing pantry, etc… may be orchestrated and facilitated by the publicly designated servants (deacons/deaconness) from various groups working hand-in-hand together in love. And, of course, the shepherds are always available to all groups and individuals within a given geographical area to provide Biblical stewardship, insight, wisdom, and spiritual counseling for all God’s children. While group autonomy is essential, it is equally important that the children of God’s remain close with one another; communicating and cooperating with each another in the work of the Lord. As God’s forever family, we must recognize and seek to avoid two dangerous extremes: disconnected autonomy and centralized authority.
It is also important that any group, or associated small-groups within a given area, remain independent of any larger collective or association of groups in other places. While mutual edification and communication between groups in different areas is wonderful, and while God’s children all around the world may cooperate with one another to facilitate various global mission efforts, the direct supervision of any group by the leadership of another group, or association of groups, is altogether inappropriate and unscriptural.
Our goal should never be to institute some new “denomination” (no matter how small or large) or to begin some new regional or global religious “movement.” Our Lord Jesus has already done that when He established His ekklesia–the messianic kingdom of Christ–over two thousand years ago. Our goal is only to see THAT kingdom, the one body of Christ, continue to grow and expand during our generation as precious souls are “born again” into the family of God.
Our Simple Worship
God expresses His love for us in the promises set forth in His Word, in His providential working in our lives, and ultimately in the sacrificial gift of His Son. We express our love and thankfulness to Him in worship.
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.I Peter 2:4-5, NASB
Called to Worship
Many people have trouble associating “worship” with anything other than the corporate church structure and a prescribed order of worship consisting of churchly activities—liturgical practices and customs—to which they must dutifully attend. When they think of worship, they think of church buildings, chapels, temples, synagogues, mosques and other so-called “holy” places. They think of sacred days and specially appointed times when worship is scheduled to take place. Many, if not most, religious organizations and leaders narrowly define their own litany of religious observances which they believe must be done only in certain ways on certain days—most of which they have derived only by implication, inference, and traditional precedent. The sad result is that people are being led to believe that worship is some kind of “duty” to be performed within the context of a religious ceremony and within the structure and confines of some denominational organization; thus robbing God and His children of the daily, vibrant, joyful exchange of love that can be mutually experienced, by both God and man, only in true worship.
In the original New Testament manuscripts, there are several Greek words used to describe our worship. One word is “proskuneo”—meaning, “to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence; to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication” (Proskuneo, 2013). Another word is “latreia”—meaning, “the service of God; the service and worship of God according to the requirements of the Levitical law; to perform sacred services” (Latreia, 2013). Jesus used these words side-by-side when He made the statement, “It is written, ‘You shall worship [proskuneseis] the Lord your God and serve [latreuseis] Him only’” (Matthew 4:10, Luke 4:8, NASB).
The Apostle Paul captured the essence of both concepts when he exhorted God’s people in Rome with these beautiful words: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship [latreian]. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).
Another Greek word for worship is, “ainesis”—which means “praise, or a thank offering” (Ainesis, 2013). Our worship certainly involves expressing our love and praise directly to God, as when the Hebrew writer says, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise [aineseos] to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15, NASB).
However, worship also entails, on a very practical level, our everyday life experiences. Hence, we find the Greek word, “douleuo”—meaning, “to be a slave, serve, do service (Douleuo, 2013); as when the Apostle Paul says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve [douleuete]” (Colossians 3:23-24, NASB); and, “not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service [douleuontes], as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:6, NASB).
From these passages of scripture we get the overall picture that God does not intend that our worship be something that is limited to the confines of a given period of time at a special place on any one particular day. Rather, for the new covenant child of God, worship is everything we do, every place we go, every hour we live. The ekklesia—God’s called out people—are always and continually in worship; so long as they will it so and desire in their hearts that their thoughts, their decisions, and their actions give glory to God.
That being said, the Word of God certainly calls for the children of God to come together in joyful Christian community on a regular basis and to expand our perpetual, daily, personal worship in shared worship experiences. The Bible says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25, NASB).
Spirit and Truth
One day Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman who He met at Jacob’s well. The woman was astonished at how much Jesus knew about her and, perceiving that He must be some kind of a prophet, she asked him a question that people had long been debating. She said, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20, NASB). In response, Jesus said to her:
Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:20-24, NASB
Jesus’ response to the woman at the well was not meant to simply settle a controversy that existed among the people of that day. Rather, Jesus pretty much blew they whole controversy right out of the water by setting forth a truth regarding all such discussions that were concerned with when, and where, and how to go about worshipping God. Jesus’ point was that all such discussions would soon be coming to an end; at least for those whom He calls the “true worshipers.” In these statements, Jesus takes worship out of the realm and jurisdiction of earthly, physical, liturgical forms and ceremonies and elevates it to that spiritual realm where it has always belonged. Under the New Covenant in Christ, worship will no longer have anything specifically to do with “Jerusalem” or “this mountain” because it will be centered in that “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11, NASB). However, despite Jesus’ words about how we “must worship in spirit and truth,” people today continue to err from truth by trying to make worship some kind of physical, sanctimonious display or liturgical ceremony that must be practiced at a specific time, in a specific place, and in a specific manner; similar in many respects to how temple worship was conducted back in Old Testament days.
So, what does it mean to “worship in spirit and truth?” Jesus was one time asked which is the greatest commandment; He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). True worship is not simply going through the motions or acting out some religious service or liturgical ceremony. True worship–worship that is “in spirit”–is expressing our love and adoration for God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. It is fraught with meaning, intent, and purpose.
In similar fashion, when Jesus was in prayer to the Heavenly Father, He made the statement, “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth” (John 17:17, NASB). True worship–worship that is “in truth”–is expressing our love and adoration for God in accordance with the concepts, the principles, and the teachings found in the Word of God. It means that we worship with some meaningful level of intelligence with regard to Who it is that we worship, what He has done for us, and why He alone is worthy of our praise. It means that we worship Him with sincerity, honesty, integrity, and in accordance with what the Word of God teaches concerning what is good, righteous, holy, true, and acceptable in the sight of the Lord. True worship is not some elaborate, sanctimonious, religious display. It is not about the pageantry; and it certainly is NOT about the entertainment value that can be derived from the “show.” Rather, it is simply an authentic expression of the faith and love that we have for God down deep within our hearts!
New Testament Examples
If you want to know everything that Jesus had to say about how to “do church,” here it is: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB). That’s about it! If you read through the first four books of the New Testament–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–you will see that Jesus was primarily concerned with two major themes: Love for God and our relationship with Him; and love for one another and how we treat each other. How to “do church,” was simply not on His list of priorities.
Most of what we know about how Christians lived, loved, and served God together in Bible days comes not from Jesus Himself, but from the apostles and prophets who corresponded with the ekklesia over several decades during the middle part of the first century. By reading Luke’s historical account of the early church in the book of Acts, and the letters that Peter, Paul, John and others wrote to the Christians living in various places during that time, we can discern how New Covenant concepts were implemented and lived out in the context of first-century life and culture. Learning about how our brothers and sisters lived out the Gospel during their day and age informs us as to how we can live out the teachings of Christ and meaningfully apply those same concepts and principles to our hearts and lives in our day and age. And when it comes to how our brothers and sisters in the New Testament worshiped the Lord together, here is some of what we know:
- We know “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NASB).
- We know they took care of one another’s physical needs to the greatest extent that they were able, even “selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45, NASB).
- We know that they assembled often to celebrate the Lord’s supper—the holy communion—together as they ate the unleavened bread and drank the new wine that had once been used in the Jewish Passover Feast to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, NASB).
- We know they made it a point to “preach the word” and to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB).
- We know they were “lifting up holy hands” with “entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings” (I Timothy 2:1&8, NASB).
- We know they were “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with [their] heart[s] to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19, NASB).
So, taking our cue from our first-century brothers and sisters in Christ, we seek to emulate that same simple Christian lifestyle of worship. Like them, we are dedicated to:
The study of God’s Word: Just as the early Christians were “devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching,” so also we encourage one another to spend time in God’s word every day and to follow the same daily Bible reading plan. Then, when we come together as a group, we discuss what we’ve been reading, share our journal notes, and learn together from the Word of God. Each group has its designated “study helpers” who coordinate group learning activities and help facilitate the discussion; allowing for questions and participation by every member. Because it is God’s Word–the teachings of Christ and the writings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament–to which we are devoted, and that we most want to hear, our study helpers do not come with prepared “lessons” to teach, but with prepared “questions” to ask. They are not “teachers” with all the answers; they are fellow students who are simply facilitating the discussion–while insisting, of course, that we all deal honestly and respectfully with one another and with the Biblical text. We much prefer an “inductive” style of group Bible study that allows the word of God to speak to every heart present, and then reveals its message through group consensus as to what the passage under review is saying to us.
Fellowship: Just as the early Christians were “devoting themselves… to fellowship,” so also we take time to share our lives with one another. We go places and do things together on a regular basis, often including friends and neighbors who are not yet Christians themselves. We look for ways to be involved in one another’s lives on a daily basis and to “encourage one another day after day” (Hebrews 3:13). At least one time each week, perhaps during a weeknight small-group setting, or maybe during our weekend praise time, we share a meal together. We find that meeting together in our homes is very conducive to building familial intimacy and extending our fellowship well beyond the traditional Sunday morning routine of simply “going to church.”
The Lord’s Supper – Communion: The sacrifice of Christ–the cross and all that happened there–is central to our worship together as the body of Christ. Just as the early Christians were “devoting themselves… to the breaking of bread,” we also come together in our small-groups to celebrate the sacrifice of Christ every week by partaking of the Lord’s Supper together. With reverence and awe, we remember and “proclaim His death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11: 23-29). And, in so doing, we keep our hearts and lives Christ centered; and the cross central to our fellowship with one another.
We believe that partaking of the “Lord’s Supper”–Holy Communion–together is far more than simply a religious exercise or ceremony wherein we remember what Jesus has done for us, for the scripture also says: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16, NASB). Like baptism, and all other aspects of the New Covenant in Christ, the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual experience played out on a tangible, observable level.
While we do not endorse the doctrine of “transubstantiation”–wherein the physical elements of the communion (the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine) are said to become the literal, physical flesh and blood of Jesus–we do believe that, spiritually, we are literally sharing together in the actual body and blood of Christ. This makes the observance of the Lord’s Supper a very sacred and beautiful “spiritual” experience. It is also a faith building, life-giving experience; as can be seen in these statements from the Apostle Paul who gives us both a word of exhortation and a grave warning, saying: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (I Corinthians 11:27-29, NASB).
Prayer: Just as the early Christians were “devoting themselves… to prayer,” so also we share beautiful moments in prayer when we come together in our groups; and we encourage one another to be faithful in our daily prayer life. We keep, and often share, personal prayer journals, and a group prayer board, in an ongoing effort to discover what we need to be praying for and how to pray intelligently for the needs we perceive and that are brought to our attention.
Music and Song: Just as the early Christians were often “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” so also music is an important and dramatic part of our spiritual time together. However, we do not advocate music as performance or as entertainment; but rather, it is a Spirit led, sacred manifestation of one’s heart and soul as we express our love, devotion, gratitude, and adoration for God. The Bible says, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19, NASB). The musical moments we share together with one another are very powerful, often emotional, sometimes quiet, sometimes boisterous, sometimes with musical accompaniment, often “a cappella,” but always with the melody coming straight from our hearts!
Giving as We are Able: Unlike most corporate religious organizations–churches–of human design and origin, we do not typically take up a financial “offering” when we come together each week. However, we do recognize the fact that the family of God in Bible days took care of one another and other people, as well–and so should we! We also acknowledge that God’s family in Bible days sent financial gifts to the Apostle Paul on more than one occasion (Philippians 4:15-19), and to other servants of the Lord as well, as they devoted themselves to preaching and teaching the Word of God–and so should we!
At one particular time in history, when there was a great need among the Christians living down in the region of Judea, the Apostle Paul told the Christians living in Corinth that they should make plans to help them. He said, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (I Corinthians 16:2, NIV). Whether Paul was intending that they set aside a little money at home each week, keeping it in a safe place until Paul got there, or that they put their money in some kind of common group fund when they came together on the first day of the week, to be kept and guarded by someone until Paul’s arrival, we really have no way of knowing for sure.
In similar fashion, we encourage every individual or family to keep a private, personal savings account to be used exclusively for the Lord’s work; and to continually contribute to this fund weekly; or as often as they are able. The Bible says, “each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NASB). We believe that, when it comes to finances, it is best that people learn to be responsible before God for the use of their own resources which He has bestowed upon them.
We choose not to legally “incorporate”–and thereby “denominate” ourselves as a separate entity from the rest of the body of Christ. We are not a 501(c)(3) organization; and we do not take financial contributions to support our work and ministry. However, when we become aware of a particular situation that needs to be financially addressed–whether it be a need within the group, or within the body of Christ at large, or even something that is happening within our local community or out in the world beyond–then we share that information with one another; and, at that time, people are asked if they would like to withdraw from their private, personal savings accounts that they have dedicated to the Lord’s work and contribute to the need at hand. Of course, people are always encouraged to give independently and individually anytime they choose to any particular need they deem worthy of their financial support.
This is simple church/simple worship–simple, but not simplistic! Authentic worship from the heart is incredibly powerful and transformative. Hearts are lifted and lives are changed when we connect with God through authentic, Biblical worship that comes right from the pages of the New Testament; free of all the trappings that accompany modern, corporate denominationalism.
Disciples Make Disciples
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher”
Called to Discipleship
To say that we are “called to discipleship” is to say that we have been called to become like Jesus in all aspects of our lives–He is our Master Teacher. We seek to walk like Him, talk like Him, think like Him, love like Him, serve like Him and, like Him, surrender our hearts and lives to the will of our Heavenly Father. True discipleship is learning as much as we can about Jesus and then letting our hearts and lives reflect His. Furthermore, it is important to point out that authentic Christian discipleship is all about HIM–no one else and nothing else! It has nothing to do with any particular “movement” among men, or some religious organization’s belief system or modus operandi–way or method of doing things. It goes much, much deeper than that! In fact, Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, exactly what it means to become His disciple, saying:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.Mark 8:34-38, NASB
As a disciple, I must “take up my cross” and follow Jesus. Back in Bible times, to “take up your cross” was something that criminals did after they had been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. They would make the condemned man carry his own cross out to the place where he was to be executed. If you saw a man carrying his cross down the road, then you knew that he was a “dead man walking”—in other words, he had the sentence of death upon him and, in just a little while, he would be hanging from that very cross that he was carrying. Jesus said that, in order to be His disciples, we must be like that. We must become a “dead man walking” by dying to ourselves. He is not talking about literal, physical death, of course–although at times it has, and could again, come down to that. But He is talking about giving everything in our life to God and surrendering our heart, our will, our desires, our goals, our dreams, our ambitions, our resources, our relationships, our talents, our gifts, and everything that we are over to Him; so that He can take them and use them for His glory and accomplish His work and purpose in our lives. The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Jesus went on to say, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple… So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” Luke 14:33). Yes, Jesus even goes so far as to says that I must even give up all my own possessions. So, every child of God needs to reconsider what our possessions mean to us and how we use them. While we know that we need to survive in this world and take care of our families, and that this is very much a part of loving and serving the Lord, still, we need to rethink how we choose to use the resources God provides for us here on the earth. Do we spend them mostly on ourselves to ensure our own comfort and pleasure here upon the earth? Or do we use them to love and serve others and to try to make a difference in people’s hearts and lives for all eternity? Why do we sometimes think that we deserve to drive around in a fine, expensive automobile when an economy model will serve just fine? Why do we sometimes think that we deserve a big, fancy house on the hill, when a little cottage by the wayside will do us well? Why do we continue to lavish ourselves with all the finest products and merchandise on the market–at least the finest that we can manage to afford–while millions of children around the world go unfed, unclothed, unsheltered, and unloved??? Jesus’ call to discipleship is not only a call to a simpler lifestyle, one that is focused on serving Him and loving others, but it is also calling each of us into account for how we use the resources with which He has blessed us!
God’s covenant children have been called out of our comfort zones and into active fields of labor. Jesus calls to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13&14, NASB). Our mission is to, “Fight the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12, NASB) and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB). We are told to become, “imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB). We are instructed to, “walk as children of Light” and to “not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:8&11, NASB). We are commissioned to go and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
These are by no means passive assignments. They require a surrender from the heart to the will of God and to the mission of the cross; as well as a willingness to be out perpetually loving and serving people so that we may be granted, by God’s grace, the opportunity to reach and teach them. The Apostle Paul said, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3: 5-6, NASB). From this we learn that it is God who gives people the opportunity to hear the Gospel; and it is God who works within people to grow them into an understanding of the truth of the Gospel “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word” (I Corinthians 15:2, NASB). However, we also learn that God does His work through us; and that we must be willing to become the servants God calls us to be so that He can use us to plant the see of His word in precious human hearts and then water that seed with prayer and care as it brings forth fruit.
The “Discipled” Life
Every member of God’s family is called to be be a disciple and to make disciples. The very best way to make disciples is to be a disciple. Remember, Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher” (Matthew 10:24-25, NASB). Later, the Apostle Paul would come along and say to the Christians in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1, NASB). What is discipleship? It is learning to be like Jesus. How do we make disciples? By examplifying, role modeling, and teaching them what it means to be like Jesus. This is by no means a haphazard endeavor; rather, it requires a great deal of “intentionality!”
There is life–existence, subsistence, survival–and then there is intentional living–with meaning, purpose, mission. There are those who “go to church”–attend some corporate, denominational organization, and then there are those who “are the church”–the ekklesia–the “called out” body of Christ. One can “join a church,” and “go to church,” and be a “member of the church”… or one can fall down at the foot of the cross, completely surrendering heart and life to Jesus as Lord, and be “born again” into God’s forever family.
This is what it mean and become His disciple–not “a” disciple (many religious movements have their disciples), but “HIS” disciple–and the change is revolutionary because:
- Disciples love like Jesus loves, when He told them: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34, NASB).
- Disciples feed on the Word of God like Jesus did when He said, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every words that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NASB).
- Disciples “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), like Jesus when He said, “for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29. NASB).
- Disciples, like Jesus who laid down His life for them at the cross, give up their lives for the cause of Christ, who told them, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35, NASB).
- Disciples, like Jesus of Whom it was prophesied, “Zeal for Your house will consume me” (John 2:17, NASB), seek to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
- Disciples, like Jesus who said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NASB), make it their intention to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NASB).
How do we know that we are truly walking within the scope of God’s will for our lives and fulfilling the purpose for which God has called us? According to the Bible, when we, as the family of God, “bear one another’s burdens,”–that is, when we intentionally come alongside one another, build beautiful and lasting relationships with each other, spend time observing one another’s lives, listen to one another from the heart, and take personal responsibility for one another’s spiritual welfare–we “thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NASB). This is authentic Christian living, this is being a disciple, and this is how disciples are made!
Obviously, this is not the work of just any one person or even a small group of people within the God’s family. All God’s children are called to be disciples and to make disciples. In no small-group, house church, or city-wide collective of groups/churches should the teachers, the evangelists, or the shepherds become “solely” responsible for loving, serving, or discipling everyone else–a common mistake in the traditional, corporate church structure; let the “paid staff” do it! Remember, the Apostle Paul said that these particular servants–evangelists, shepherds, teachers–have been given “for the equipping of the saints for works of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12) Their particular role is not to do all the work themselves, but to equip all of God’s family for ministry. So, even while ministering within a broader context to the family of God as a whole, these designated servants of God should each focus on ministering more intimately with only a few people; and then ensure that those few disciples with whom they are ministering are, in turn, also discipling one or two others. Those who are new to the faith, having been more recently “born again” into the family of God, will learn from those older Christians who are personally ministering to them how to live as a disciple of Christ and how to take responsibility for helping others live for Christ, as well.
A WORD OF CAUTION… the whole beautiful concept of “disciples making disciples,” while certainly Biblical, can easily be subject to abuse. Discipleship–like faith, hope, and love–can never be manipulated or forced. While it can be planned for, encouraged, and facilitated, it must remain organic–the natural result of sincere hearts devoted to Christ and in submission only to Him. We are more than aware of the many different religious movements among men that seem to have grasped the beauty and power of Biblical discipleship, but that, sadly, seem to have corrupted the concept of “disciples making disciples” by focusing on themselves, their movement, and their own goals, objectives, and ambitions. It is a very dangerous thing when any organization, church, or a so-called religious movement becomes self-serving and begins to “program” discipleship, or devise elaborate systems or methods whereby disciples are expected to disciple others. People’s hearts and lives can be easily manipulated and abused when they are held “accountable” to other people–whether it be the church leaders, or even a discipleship partner–rather than being accountable only to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. People are easily deceived by the old “bait and switch” routine of continually being told to read their Bibles, and having a great emphasis put on sharing the Word, but then being expected to be equally devoted to the doctrine, dogma, philosophy, and operational or administrative framework and hierarchy of the organization. When this begins to happen, people’s freewill is put in jeopardy, and their love and devotion for Christ is easily hijacked and diverted toward something, or someone else. At this point, the organization, church, or movement, has become more about “man” than about God and, despite the many good and sincere “disciples” who may still remain within it, becomes little more than a cult!
Lest we fall prey to the various “movements” among men that might try to seduce us with their charismatic leaders, their elaborate ministries, and even their glowing reports of numerical growth, let us remember that the messianic kingdom of Christ has been here for more than 2000 years; and will continue until the end of time when our Lord Jesus appears and “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up”
and we step into that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13, NASB). The various religious movements of men will come and go–some, perhaps, providing fresh new insights, power, and energy to the cause of Christ; while others, “not so much.” But the kingdom of Christ marches on. It exists in the hearts and minds of committed Christians all over the world… some who are, perhaps, participants in one “movement” or another, some in the “underground church” of China and other nations, some who are members of mainline, traditional–and not so traditional–corporate churches, and still others who are simply getting together in two’s or three’s, here and there, to praise the Lord and gain whatever encouragement they can from one another. But through the lives of all these beautiful brothers and sisters combined, the Lord is doing a fantastic work–something bigger and better than anything any one of us can ever begin to imagine. Everyday, all over the world, these dedicated disciples of Christ are out loving, serving, reaching, teaching, discipling, and baptizing more precious souls into Christ than any one particular church or movement among men could ever hope to account for.
And, PRAISE THE LORD… we get to be a small part of all that!!!