For some reason certain seasons of the year evoke different types of personal reflection. For instance, there is something about summer that lends itself to reflecting on family -particularly children. Maybe it’s the fact that school is out and the kids are having a blast. Or maybe it’s the way that summer is just a bit more relaxed than the other seasons (at least for me).
Recently, I have reflected with friends and family about how rapidly our children are changing right before our eyes. As we were all preparing for school to resume, we couldn’t believe the differences in clothing sizes, attitude changes, personality development, physical abilities, and cognitive abilities from just a year ago.
Perhaps it was during a summer-like season of Paul’s life that he reflected on the discipleship of the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-8, Paul provides a similar picture of spiritual development through discipleship.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
Here are a few observations regarding how God uses discipleship to help people grow into maturity:
Discipleship is more than words. In verse 5, Paul explains that God used him to minister the gospel to the Thessalonians with more than words. Paul’s communication of the gospel was empowered by the Spirit and imparted through relationships. Imagine a triangle to symbolize the way God uses Paul to minister the gospel. One side of the triangle is “words,” another side is “Holy Spirit” and the third side is “relationships.” This is the model that seems to recur throughout Scripture.
Discipleship includes dual imitations. In verse 6, Paul describes the effects of the word/Spirit/relationship discipleship. Namely, he mentions imitation of “us and the Lord.” Secular discipleship contains the imitation of humans, but Christian discipleship has a greater scope: imitation of humans for the purpose of imitation of Christ.
Discipleship is fruitful. Paul shares how God produced fruit in the lives of the Thessalonian disciples as they “became an example to all the believers…” locally and around the known world -“your faith in God has gone forth everywhere…”
I think the last sentence of verse 7 sums up the result of Paul’s discipleship “”so that we need not say anything.” In other words, Paul’s discipleship had come full circle. Paul’s ministry had translated into the Thessalonians ministry. Like a parent who realizes that their child can “stand on their own,” Paul recognizes that the Thessalonians have now transitioned from disciples to disciple-makers -and the proof is in the fruit of their ministry seen manifest around the world.
So how can we examine our personal disciple-making in light of Paul’s example with the Thessalonians? Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your discipleship more than words? Are you leaning upon the Holy Spirit and investing in relationships?
- Is your discipleship promoting imitation of Christ, or just you? Are your disciples depending more upon you or Jesus?
- Is your discipleship fruitful? Can you point to examples of disciples who have become disciple-makers?
Take advantage of this summer to reflect on your “spiritual family” and their growth.