Picking up where I left off yesterday morning…
The Great Commandment tells us what the godly life looks like; a life of love for God and a love for our neighbor. Everything Scripture teaches leads back to these twin commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The Great Commission tells us the method God directs us to use to accomplish this: that method is through using a special relationship called discipleship.
Before we get into things let’s take a moment to define what a disciple is so we are all on the same page. The Greek word that we translate as disciple at its core means “learner,” “student,” or “pupil.” It occurs 269 times in the NT and every time is translated as “disciple.”
In our Western way of thinking, being a student means mastering knowledge, so that we know how to do things, and gain mastery over the subject we are learning about. This is very different from the Eastern and Jewish mindset in which Jesus and the NT authors understood being a student. To them being a student or pupil was about gaining wisdom, so that we learn how to live, thus gaining mastery over life.
In our Western way of thinking being a student does not require any personal relationship with the teacher. In the Jewish mindset a personal relationship was essential. In the West the focus is on efficient doing. In the Jewish mindset the focus was on effective living. We need to understand discipleship from the Jewish mindset of Jesus and the Apostles. That means that a disciple is a person who has submitted themselves to a teacher, or to use their word, a rabbi, in order to learn how to live their life for God.
Our Rabbi is Jesus. In the Great Commission, Jesus set up what we might call “surrogate rabbis,” His disciples, to act in His place after He ascended into heaven. The model of discipleship that Jesus used was not to stop after He was gone, but was to be continued until He comes back.
Discipleship is patterned after the relationship between a parent and their child. This is clearly seen in the parental language that Paul uses to describe his relationship with Timothy. You can also see it when you compare the Great Commission to its OT counterpart Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which addresses families.
- As fathers are to teach God’s commands to their children, disciples are to teach everything God has commanded to those they disciple.
- As fathers are to model this faith in front of their children when they are at home and when they are out on the road, Jesus calls His disciples to model their faith to their disciples, thus teaching them to obey what Jesus has commanded.
- As the goal of parenthood in Deuteronomy is passing the faith to their children, the goal of the disciple is to bring their disciples into the Church through baptism.
So parenthood and discipleship share the same goals: teach, model, and reproduce. Discipleship is a spiritual type of parenthood.
To follow the model of discipleship that Jesus modeled for us that we see reproduced in Paul and Timothy in our passage we need to be in two relationships.
The first relationship is submitting as a spiritual son or a daughter to a spiritual father or a mother. To be a disciple, is to be an apprentice. To be an apprentice requires being under the authority and tutelage of a teacher. I have a feeling for many of us that thought might be a bit disturbing, especially where I live (in New England) where we put so much pride in our independence. We have what seems to be an almost innate distain for submitting to authority. Our congregational heritage it would seem also cringes at the thought of submitting in any way to anyone other than Christ. After all we are all about autonomy, right?
Yet we are nonetheless called in Scripture to be in a relationship to a spiritual father or mother. The Christian life is learned by walking it with another. The Great Commission makes that clear. The disciples that Jesus was commissioning were to be taking in apprentices who would sit under them like a son with his father so that they could learn to teach, model, and pass the faith themselves.
We need to have spiritual mothers and fathers that we submit to as spiritual parents; godly men and women who we can look to in order to learn what living life to God through Christ looks like and who will encourage, correct, and hold us accountable as we learn from them. We are never going to learn how to love God and love others if we do not have a model from which to learn. Being a disciple means being in relationship with at least one person who is willing to parent us in the faith.
The second relationship we are required to be in as disciples of Jesus is being a spiritual father or mother to someone who is learning from us. Jesus spent three years with His disciples; teaching them, training them, and apprenticing them. He wanted to see His yoke, his interpretation and application of Scripture, duplicated in them. He wanted to see them live and model the life of love He had shown them. He wanted them to (through the Spirit) incarnate the same love He had given them. But He wanted one thing more: He wanted them to reproduce, to be fruitful and multiply, through discipling others as He had disciple them.
As disciples of Christ, there comes a time when we come to spiritual adulthood or maturity and need to take our place in the family business by being a parent to others. Timothy is a great example to us of this. He lived for a while under the spiritual care and guidance of his mother and grandmother. When he had matured under their care and spiritual parenting, he moved out to continue growing in the faith under the apprenticeship of Paul. In our passage we see that Paul was sending Timothy out for periods of time to work on his own, much like Jesus did when He sent out the Twelve in Matthew 10. But ultimately Timothy was going to be the rabbi, taking on disciples of his own.