In the first two posts of this series (“Disciple making 1: The command” and “Disciple making 2: Pupils or Disciples“), I suggested that Jesus intended for his followers to make disciples, not pupils or students. According to a standard Greek lexicon (BDAG), the noun Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î®Ï‚ (“disciple”, from the verb that is translated “make disciples” in Matt 28:19-20) means “one who is rather constantly associated with someone” instead of simply “one who engages in learning through instruction from another”. Jesus made disciples by both teaching and also spending time with people. Similarly, when Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy, he expected them to spend time with people as well as teach them.
But what about Paul? Paul is the author of a major portion of the New Testament. How did Paul make disciples, and how did he expect others to make disciples? Does Paul’s method of making disciples align with Jesus’ method?
First, Paul was certainly interested in teaching truth to those around him. This should not be denied, nor should it be avoided. Teaching God’s truth was important to Paul, just as it was important to Jesus. But, did Paul stop with “teaching” as instruction, that is, a mental exercise of transferring information?
Here are a few scriptural passages to help us think through this question:
And when they [the elders from Ephesus] came to him [Paul], he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:18-21 ESV)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 ESV)
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra- which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Timothy 3:10-11 ESV)
When Paul carried out his “disciple making” task, he did so with both words (teaching) and conduct. He spent time with people. It seems that the Book of Acts describes Paul as staying in one city, with one group of believers, until the Spirit moved him on to another area, or until he was thrown out by angry citizens. But, Paul’s heart remained with the believers in each city, and he both returned to spend more time with them, and he wrote to them.
For Paul, disciple making included both teaching believers and “being rather constantly associated” with them. Did you notice how (almost seamlessly) Paul would mention teaching and conduct in the passages above? Both of these were necessary ingredients of disciple making for Paul. Paul would not attempt to make disciples apart from teaching the truth of the Gospel and the Scriptures. Similarly, Paul would not attempt to make disciples apart from living his life as an example before those disciples.
Discipleship includes instruction in the words of Jesus. But, it must not stop there. Otherwise, we are not making disciples, we are instructing students. We must spend time with people, sharing our lives with them, if we intend to make disciples as Jesus commanded, and as Paul both modeled. There is a time for “Bible study” but there must also be a time for “Bible living”.
(Addendum: Recently, my friend Lew at “The Pursuit” made a very insightful suggestion in the comments of his post “What is Discipling?” In this comment, Lew suggested that “teaching” is not the same as “lecturing”. Instead, “teaching” includes the “life-sharing” aspect.)
In the next article in this series, I am going to examine some further implications of disciple making.