How I Feel About Discipleship

My daughter likes Frozen. What can I say. She's four. She likes to sing "Let It Go" and she likes to dress up like Princess Elsa. This is my nightmare.

A while back my daughter was doing her dress up thing. She came out as Elsa, full dress, high heels, crown and all. And she clip-clopped around the house singing and playing. She sat down at the table and began to draw, giving some much-enjoyed silence.

Suddenly, down our hallway, I hear clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop ... and my two year old son McCartney comes around the corner in Keira's high heels, holding another princess dress, falling every couple of steps because - let's face it - it's hard to walk in high heels. Sarah and I laughed and laughed as he clip-clopped his way to me and held the dress up to me and said, "Daddy, dress! Daddy, dress!"

My son is an imitator. It's how he learns. At some level we are all imitators of someone.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesian 5:1-2

In fact, this is our greatest call in life: to be imitators of God, and - therefore - to walk in love.

Imitating God is a pretty daunting task. In the same way that my son imitating his sister will (hopefully) never quite come true, as humans it's hard for us to imagine what it really means to be like God, or to be like Christ.

But thankfully Paul gives us more context than just saying, be this... do this...

The chapter before these verses is a beautiful explanation of what Paul calls "The New Life". The beginning of Ephesians 4 is Paul telling the church of Ephesus how they've gotten things wrong. Then in verse 23, the Apostle tells them (and us)...

Be renewed by the spirit of your minds and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:23

Then he follows it up with a list of things that make up this righteousness and holiness:

  • we're to speak truth about each other, always
  • we're to be angry and do not sin
  • we can't let the sun go down on our anger
  • we don't let corrupt communication proceed our of out mouth
  • we are to get rid of bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander
  • we are to be kind to one another

This leads us into Ephesians 5. Later in Ephesians 5, Paul continues with an explanation of what this New Life entails: abstaining from sexual impurity; husbands and wives submitting to one another; etc.

But if this is the New Life we're called to, then having others around who can challenge you, who can encourage you, who can push you to chase this life, as Paul described it, is not just important, but vital.

We all know the old Proverb: "iron sharpens iron, so does a good friend sharpen another."

In my mind, this is what discipleship is really about. Yes, it's sharpening. But it's also culling, it's stripping away the bad. And this is tough on both ends. If we have someone discipling or mentoring us, how do we give the freedom it takes to challenge us to that new life? And if we are on the other end, and we see a friend not living out this New Life, how do we deal with that?

Fortunately, we actually have Jesus' words on the subject. 

Matthew 18 is quickly becoming one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses go tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-18

First off, this is a crystal clear path to never be a part of gossip. If someone does something that hurts you or offends you:

  1. You go to the person alone
  2. If that doesn't work, you take two or three people (who are as impartial as possible, and will speak truth whoever it might go against... including you) and confront again
  3. If that doesn't work, bring church leaders into it
  4. If that doesn't work, you simply let it go, love the offender as if they unsaved and pray that they will come to repentance.

This doesn't mean you get to then talk about the person behind their back; this doesn't mean you get to trash them and hold bitterness against them, even if they might deserve it; this doesn't mean you get to stop loving the offender.

In fact, I believe Jesus has set up a paradigm of extreme love here. Because there is context to this passage.

Right before the confrontation passage, Jesus tells a story:

"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one who went astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish"

So, Jesus starts off by telling us how very, very important each and every one of us are to the Father. And then he follows up with verses 15-18 above, describing good confrontation.

Then right after the confrontation passage, his disciple Peter asks him a big question:

"‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you sen times, but seventy times seventy'."

Then Jesus follows up this (brilliant) answer with another story:

A king was owed a great amount of money - about a year's wages - by one of his servants, and the servant couldn't pay. So, naturally, the king was going to throw the servant and the servant's family into jail. And the servant begged for forgiveness ... and the King grants it. He gives mercy to the servant.

The forgiven then leaves the palace and goes to another servant who owes the forgiven one a pittance - roughly a day's wages - and when this servant can't pay him back this small debt, the forgiven beats the servant and throws him into prison.

Naturally, other servants around the forgiven are surprised. They tell the King what has happened, and the King brings the one he forgave back to his court and asks him, "Dude, what the heck?! (paraphrase). I forgave you much, shouldn't you forgive others for so much less?!"

So, what?

Well - I think the point of Matthew 18 is is discipleship. It's love. If you take verses 15-18 out of context, you might be able to make a case for simply confronting those who do you wrong. But in the context of what Jesus is actually saying, it makes sense to me that Jesus is saying:

  1. Every single one of you is important to me and important to the Father
  2. But if you have problems, verses 15-18 are the way to handle it
  3. BUT HEAR ME ON THIS (Jesus says)...if you don't get repentance from those who've hurt you, then remember I HAVE FORGIVEN YOU EVERYTHING! Who are you not to forgive?

Biblical discipleship to me is simply people in relationship calling each other to the New Life Paul talks about: 

  • It's confronting each other when we don't live up to the New Life
  • And it's forgiving each other because we have been forgiven much