Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV).
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).
One of the things I have been learning is that you can’t really disciple people without loving them. If you are not living the Great Commandment, how can you follow the Great Commission?
Love, that gracious God powered love Jesus was talking about in Matthew 22:37-40, is necessary for discipleship because spiritual growth can often be messy, frustrating, confusing, and…well…painful to watch.
There is a reason that Paul often uses parental analogy in describing his relationship with the people he was raising in Christ. Take for example 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (NIV),
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
Discipleship is intimate and personal. What is more intimate and personal than a nursing mother caring for her children? It is not a formal teacher-student relationship. It includes that but goes beyond that. It is not just sharing the gospel but your life as well. It is living and walking with people through life. That means being there and available for encouragement, comfort, and challenging disciples to keep going and growing when things get hard. It is like being a spiritual mother or father. Discipleship is spiritual parenthood.
But spiritual parenting is not always pretty, even for Paul. In Galatians 4:19 (NIV) he writes, My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Discipleship can be perplexing. I know this from being the spiritual father to my three girls. Spiritual fatherhood is no less of a challenge than being a dad. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, bright spots and dark spots, and surprises that delight as well as ones that make you cringe!
What keeps me from giving up on being a dad when they become the poster child for total depravity? Love. God made them and gave them to me, that is why I love them. My love for them is not based in what they do—be it good or bad—and they can’t change the fact that God made them or that God gave them to me to be my girls; so I will always love them. If my love for them was based in what they did…well…God help them!
What keeps me from giving up on being a spiritual father when they express doubts about God’s existence, Jesus’ divinity, or how a loving God could allow so much bad in the world, or when they become the poster child for any of a hundred heresies from antinomianism to pelagianism? Love. That same love I have for them as a dad, also gives me the grace, humility, gentleness, and patience to stick with them as their spiritual father. I am again reminded of something my spiritual father Charlie Jones said,
I’m driving home after another exciting day of misery. “No one has listened to me all day! Now I’m going home and no one is going to listen to me all night! God, God, why don’t my children listen to me better?”
[God answers him] “Aren’t you glad they listen to you better than you listen to Me?”
“I’m sorry I brought it up!”
The point is, my girls often end up showing me what it is like for God to put up with me! And He hasn’t given up on me, so what right to I have to give up on them? His love for me is not dependent on my beliefs, actions, or mess ups. It is solely in Christ. So if I am going to teach them how to obey everything Jesus commanded (the Great Commission), I need to be living out God’s love for them (the Great Commandment). Love is the sum of all the commandments, and to obey the command to love you need to understand it and experience it, if you are ever going to practice it.