Years ago as a new Christian, I thought my personal pilgrimage with God was the essence of Christianity. I used to evaluate my maturity over and over again. “Am I growing, Lord?” I remember when I was memorizing Scripture, eventually memorizing about a thousand verses. “Boy,” I thought, “I must really be mature. I must really be growing. Look at all these verses that I have memorized.” That was how the Bible memory course motivated me: You want to grow in Christ? Memorize his word. But in fact I was growing little. I was still biting my wife’s head off, yelling at my kids, and doing a thousand things that hurt my relationships. I had lots of verses memorized, but few were worked out in my life. John Wimber
Our Theme: ON DISCIPLESHIP.
So what, exactly, defines a disciple?
Over the years, I’ve always enjoyed asking pastors how they would answer that question. Sadly, as John Wimber points out here, there are many in Americanized Christianity who believe a true “disciple of Jesus” is one who can quote the most Scriptures, fill in the most blanks on a bible quiz, and boldly shout down anyone in the room who says the earth might be a bit older than 5,000 years!
In some circles, if it’s not Bible knowledge that distinguishes the men from the boys, it’s theology. I’ve sat in some pastoral meetings where it became quite obvious that the one with the most degrees or the one who could spout off the most about his or her viewpoint of God was, indeed, the greatest disciple maker in the room.
But Wimber got it right when he said that something was wrong when he was able to quote a thousand verses, but he was still fighting with his wife, yelling at his kids, while destroying relationships everywhere he went. Kind of reminds me of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Remember that one?
Apparently, the folks in that first-century church thought they were doing pretty well at this “discipleship” thing. Yet, when Paul heard some of the details of how these “disciples” were actually living out the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was just about ready to pull his hair out! Look at this shopping list of problems Paul had to address in just his first letter to the “disciples” of Corinth:
- There were divisions, personality cults, and cliques.
- Carnality outweighed spirituality.
- Sexual perversion, fornication, incest, and adultery were commonly practiced and accepted.
- Pride, worldliness, and materialism reigned within.
- Church members were taking one another to court.
- There was rebellion against apostolic authority.
- There was a failure to discipline members who had fallen into sin.
- Marital conflict and misunderstanding concerning those who were single were evident.
- There were abuses of liberty.
- There were abuses of God’s intended roles for husbands and wives.
- They were failing to properly observe the Lord’s Supper.
- It is not hard to understand how there could also be seri ous perversion of the spiritual gifts.
- There were also heresies concerning the resurrection.
Yikes. I wonder how many of these “disciples” in Corinth could quote God’s word on a dime and be the first one in line when it came to being highly critical of others in their midst who were not nearly as mature as them?
As I see it, Paul’s response to these frightening problems in Corinth tells us quite a lot about how he viewed successful “discipleship.” Sadly, in our generation, if we encountered a church with as many problems as the one in Corinth, many leaders today might suggest that more Bible study and verse memorization would address the problems. Or, how about if some of these troubled folks get signed up for our church’s Discipleship 101 class? That’ll fix it, right?
No. Paul made no programming suggestions at all. What he did say was this:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Cor.13:1-13, The Message).
Hmm. Case closed. Discipleship 101, from Paul’s point of view, begins and ends in living and breathing in God’s agape love.
Father, forgive us as Christian leaders for taking the word “disciple” and adding so many trappings to it that it becomes so complicated that no one, myself included, could ever arrive at the goal and high standards we’ve set. Holy Spirit, empower me like Paul, to simplify “discipleship,” bringing it down to simple words like faith, hope, and love.. For your name’s sake. Amen!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO PONDER
- What might it look like if a church community redefined “discipleship” using simple words like the ones found in the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the troubled “disciples” in Corinth?
- How might an expression like “Live Simply. Love Extravagantly” help simplify “discipleship” in my circle of influence, allowing Jesus to once again lead us into his definition of what a “disciple” truly is?
So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Wisdom of Wimber?
Between Easter 2016 and the end of August, we are sharing with you a blog series we call The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It. In order to keep all 64 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Wisdom of Wimber page for ease of use. Might we also suggest that you order a copy or two of our book by the same title! It’s available in both paperback and e-book formats…and will soon be available in Spanish! Click here for more info. ENJOY!
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