We do not lack for sermons and books on the topic of discipleship. Some Christians speak about discipleship as if it is something to be into—like being into politics or running or weight loss. But such a view of discipleship betrays some faulty assumptions.
First, we tend to formulate the call to discipleship as an option for Christians to consider. And second, there is a tendency (especially in today’s consumer oriented churches) to make discipleship attractive. The fact is, there is nothing attractive about discipleship. It calls for an undivided loyalty to the gospel. It calls people to place themselves at the disposal of the Church and Christ's work through it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Both Timothy and Epaphroditus exemplify what J.B. Phillips remarked about the early Church:
Perhaps because of their very simplicity, perhaps because of the readiness to believe, to obey, to give, to suffer and if need be to die, the Spirit of God found what He must always be seeking—a fellowship of men and women so united in faith and love that He can work in them and through them with the minimum of… hindrance.
What Paul implies in his descriptions of these two men indicates what the true Christian life is. The deeper Christian life is a call to discipleship, a call to authentic Christian living. Whereas sanctification is the process (and progress) of becoming more like Christ, discipleship is the discipline, the lifestyle of the one who is becoming more like Christ.
Making one's way through 2:19-30, we discover the marks of the true disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul certainly is informing his friends and church plant back in Philippi about his situation. But in doing so, he uses special words to describe Timothy and Epaphroditus. He wants the Philippians to know these two men are models of the Christ hymn Paul earlier cited (2:6 11). The narrative implies instruction. We should resolve to give the God's church, the local church, and the gospel priority (2:1 4, 12 18).
Biographies, autobiographies, and the diaries of great Christian men and women fascinate me. Giants such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards captivate me. I am convicted, motivated, and humbled by the accounts of those whom God has greatly used to promote His cause and increase His kingdom. In eternity I am sure we will learn of countless others unmentioned in the history books and unnoticed by the general public.
Jonathan Edwards, born in 1703, enrolled at Yale at age thirteen. (Thirteen, people!) He was a key instrument through whom God brought a great spiritual awakening to early colonies that had become careless about the faith of their forefathers. His influence was felt in much of New England, New York and New Jersey. Eventually Edwards was asked to become president of Princeton College, a school then devoted to training church leaders. The life of this incredible man of God ended one month after he arrived at his new post. Ah, but what a life!
Jonathan Edwards has been the subject of many biographies. All seek to discover what motivated him, what drove him, what fed his passion. For answers, we must return to Yale College and note the aspirations of this young student. Edwards was convinced he must make some resolutions in the presence of his God. The list numbered 70 items, all of which he committed to memory. I am particularly interested in "Resolve 6," which certainly summarizes the passion of Edwards’ heart: “Resolved to live with all my might while I yet live.”
In pondering that resolution we must keep two things in context. First, life to young Edwards was a gracious gift from God. Second, all of his resolves were made in the consciousness that God was looking on. His first resolution, in fact, was to “do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God.” Since God’s honor and glory were at stake in his life, Edwards further resolved “to find out fit objects of liberty and charity.” Further, he would “live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.” This is a reflection of biblical discipleship, most rare in today's modern, consumer-oreiented church.
This is a short excerpt from my book, Destroying Our Private Cities, Building Our Spiritual Life, a lay commentary on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Here’s a sample chapter, “Putting Jesus Back into Our Potential.” Of course you can click through to Amazon to purchase the book, too!
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.