We believe that the relationship between the disciple and the disciple-maker should be clarified. If we look at the relationship that existed between the Lord of glory and His disciples,
and that which existed between the apostle Paul and Timothy, etc, we can say the following:-
The disciple/disciple-maker relationship is basically something organic and spiritual, and not just the fruit of human manipulations and organization. Somehow, there has to be the inner assurance that the Lord would want that disciple/disciple-maker relationship. The disciple-maker must see the disciple as someone given to him by the Lord to labour to present mature in Christ. He considers the disciple as a sacred trust by the Lord, for which he will give account on that day. He feels that he must labour so that he, too, like the Lord Jesus, can say to the Father,“I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee” (John 17:6-8).
With the knowledge that he shall give account on judgment day for the quality of his commitment to the disciple, the disciple-maker puts all of himself into the task - spirit, soul and body. He bears with the disciple throughout all the time that it will need to transform him from a committed spiritual baby to a mature disciple. There is nothing like throwing him away when he fails or backslides, but rather, the disciple-maker bears with him and encourages him all the time. The Lord Jesus, the Supreme disciple-Maker, bore with Peter when Peter denied Him. He made a special appearance to him after the resurrection, perhaps to reassure him of His pardon, and when Peter led the others to backslide and go back to fishing, the Master disciple-Maker was there by the lake with love, breakfast and restoration. Although I see room for correcting the disciple and even disciplining him in love, I do not see any room for rejecting him and throwing him away. Anyone who says to a younger disciple, “Because you have done this, even though you want me to continue discipling you, I will not do it any more,” lacks the spirit of the Master disciple-Maker. He is not fit to disciple anyone. The disciple-maker must first manifest the same tenderness and patience with the disciple that the Lord Jesus has manifested towards him.
The disciple/disciple-maker relationship is one of a person who is led to the leader and not that of a servant to a lord. The disciple-maker is a leader who leads the disciple in the way of the Lord by example, and not a boss who gives orders. So, the disciple-maker considers himself as an elder brother in the Lord who has the responsibility to help a younger brother in the Lord to learn from him how to be like Christ. He is not a commander to give commands. He is a leader who says, “Younger one, this is the way of the Lord. I am on it. Come with me along that way. I do not know it all, but I will help you as far as I know and together we shall learn from the Lord what we do not yet know.” He gives a helping hand, not just for the evening during which the young disciple believed, but for days, months and years. His principal commitment is to live the Christian life so that the younger disciple can see it lived and so learn to live it out. It is not so much a matter of theory as of life.
The disciple/disciple-maker relationship is a deep commitment to help each other. The Lord shared all that He had with His disciples. If He was rich, then the disciples were rich. What He had, the disciples also had. What the Lord did not have, the disciples did not have. They had everything in common. In the early Church, the disciples had everything in common. The thought of a rich disciple-maker whose disciple suffers want of the basic necessities of life is nonsense. I also think that the thought of a disciple-maker who has not got the basic necessities of life and a disciple who is flowing in wealth is also senseless. I see the need to share, not only spiritual resources, but also material ones. The Lord had female disciples. These followed Him along with the twelve and provided for Him and for them out of their means.“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joana, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1-3). These female disciples of the Lord provided for Him and for the twelve. They also followed Him.
How far the disciple and the one discipling him are to share what they have is a matter for much prayer and obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. No sharing should result from constraint. It should always be a flow of love. We can only say that the Supreme example, the Lord Jesus, gave all that He had to His disciples. All should learn from Him. However, each disciple of the Lord, both the young disciple and the older disciple who is discipling him, should follow the following commands of Scripture as well,“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are real widows” (1 Timothy 5:16). “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying, but with toil and labour we worked night and day that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living” (11 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
The disciple/disciple-maker relationship must not be handled in such a way that the disciple-maker becomes God to the disciple. This must never be allowed to be the case. It is not a tyrannical relationship. It is a relationship of love and encouragement. The disciple-maker is only a helper. The disciple must be taught to wait before God, hear Him and carry out what the Lord commands him to do. The disciple-maker must always remember that the purpose of disciple-making is to produce disciples of the Lord, people who resemble the Lord Jesus; “mini-Jesuses,” and not people who are ultimately like the disciple-maker. The disciple-maker must disciple the younger disciple in such a way that the younger disciple can know the Lord and make more progress in Christlikeness than the disciple-maker. The disciple-maker is not an intermediary between the Lord Jesus and the one he is discipling. The disciple must be brought up to see that he must seek God, know Him, find out from Him what he is to do, and do it. He must be made to understand that if there is conflict between what the Lord says to him and what the one who is discipling him says, the Lord should be obeyed. If the disciple-maker is indeed mature, he will ensure that the disciple knows him thoroughly, imitates his good points and avoids his weaknesses, always labouring to be like the Lord Jesus and even encouraging the one he is discipling to press on and be like Christ.
We illustrate what we are saying as follows:
The relationship between the perfect standard of christ, the disciple-maker and the disciple.
The disciple-maker is looking unto Christ. The disciple is also looking unto Christ. Both are far from the perfection of Christ. The disciple-maker has made more progress than the one he is discipling. He has more experience along the way. He extends a helping hand to the one he is discipling and says to him, “I am not yet perfect. However, I know a bit more of the way. Give me your hand. I will help you as far as I know, and together we shall continue to move ahead, pressing on to the perfection of Christ. If you see anything that I have not seen, please show me. I, too, am a learner.” So together they move on, the disciple-maker helping the one he is discipling, and both looking on to Jesus.
The fact that the disciple-maker is not yet perfect should not make him run away from the command that the Lord has given him to make disciples. The Lord gave that command to His disciples who were not perfect. But He nevertheless gave them the command and said to the Father (without apologizing),
“I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me” (John 17:8).
He boldly told His disciples,
“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).
The apostle Paul said,
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
He continued in the same chapter to say,
“Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us” (Philippians 3:17).
When a man confesses that he is not yet perfect; that he is pressing on, that he does not consider that he has already made it his own; that he is forgetting what is past; that he is straining forward to what lies ahead; that he is pressing towards the goal, and then calls the brethren to join in imitating him and asks them to see in him an example to live by, he has seen, understood and is practising the making of disciples as the Lord meant it to be.
The disciples are, first of all, the Lord’s. They are learning from the Lord to be like the Lord. They are learning from the disciple-maker to be like the Lord. If a disciple is a learner, there is a secondary but real sense in which he is the disciple of the one who is discipling him. He is imitating the Lord. But as the apostle Paul invited the Philippians to do, he is imitating a man who is not yet perfect. The apostle Paul again wrote,
“I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
Do you read what Paul wrote with understanding ? He brought these people to Christ. He became their father in Christ Jesus. He urged them to imitate him. They could have said, “We are imitators of Paul.” That would not have meant that they were not imitating the Lord Jesus and striving to be like Him!
The apostle Paul was so bent on this that he wrote in the same epistle to the same people,
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
He also said,
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).
So believers were to be imitators of God and imitators of Paul. Believers were beloved children of God and beloved children of Paul. The apostle did not see any problem with what he was teaching. There is no problem with it. Disciples are, first of all, disciples of Christ. They are also the disciples of those who are discipling them; those they are imitating.
I consider it a matter of running away from the command of the Lord and from the rigid demands to live a life that is wholly pleasing to the Lord, that attitude which says,“Do not look at me. Only look to Jesus.” Those who have that attitude would feel comfortable to live in mediocrity because they think no one is following them. Well, let it be known that they are being followed. They are making disciples who, like themselves, are mediocres. They may be making them passively, but they are making them. These disciples are learning to make the choices they make, go to the places they go to, and take the sides they take.
I challenge you to stop running away from the command of the Lord. Commit yourself to becoming a real disciple. Follow that rugged way. Follow its austere demands. Commit yourself to making disciples as the Lord commanded. Make disciples of the Lord Jesus. They will be like the Lord Jesus, but they will look at you, see what you do and why you do it, and then they will imitate you; for they are also your disciples. The Lord meant it that way. It is that way.
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