Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”. (1 Cor 11:1)
In many churches we have a rightful expectation that the preached word and the word studied will lead to changed hearts and changed lives. The word has that power to do this and we depend upon the “living word” – Jesus – to grow naturally from a diet of the living word. However, Jesus added at least one further major ingredient into the mix as he was developing his disciples – imitation.
When he sent the disciples out into mission he required of them to preach the kingdom, cast out demons, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and to heal the sick. Precisely what Jesus had been doing in his own ministry. At the end of his life he basically said, “You know everything you have seen me do and teach – you go and do the same”. The disciples were ‘learners’ and imitators – this is the root meaning of the word disciple (Mathetes) to be a learner, and they were learning to be like Jesus in both the areas of competency and character or, put more simply, being and doing.
Paul similarly developed his own disciples. After his Jewish world and expectations were completely changed (through his meeting with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus) Paul, Jewish through to his toenails, embraced Jesus as Messiah. He spent many years re-evaluating what it meant to be part of the community of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He came to understand that this equated to following Jesus, being a disciple – this is what it meant to be the true Israel – the people of God.
The people of Israel had always been a sent people – sent with a message that salvation lies in the covenant with the one true God. This message came finally in the words and person of the sent one, Jesus, and now Paul knew that he had to follow in a similar fashion. In the same way that the Father had sent Jesus so Jesus was now sending Paul – to be a living word – in both spoken words and lived words. The way Paul was going to extend this “sending” from God was to train and send others. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sent Paul and similarly Paul sent others. What was a significant part of his training methodology? Imitate me as I imitate Christ.
As the written and spoken Word transforms hearts and lives to be more like Jesus the extra link is the discipling relationship. In the discipling relationship the information gained from the word spoken and studied can be demonstrated. This “discipling” is the important link between information and the application.
Scripture (studied and preached)
Reflection: Who are you discipling and who is discipling you?
Peter Hallsworth, Curate at Christchurch Bridlington