When we think of Paul, we think of the tremendous intellect he had. We think of his power in analyzing and teaching. But Paul didn’t just have a mind; he had a heart. In fact, he had a tremendously compassionate heart, and we see this in the way he loved. He loved deeply, he loved profoundly, he loved unhesitatingly, and he loved sacrificially.
We have been looking at six elements of discipleship from 1 Corinthians 4:14-21. We have seen in Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians that an effective discipler begets and an effective discipler warns. Now we see two more lessons from Paul about discipleship.
In 1 Corinthians 4:14, Paul calls the Corinthians “beloved children.” In effect, he says, “I love you.” And Paul isn’t simply saying here that he has loving feelings for the Corinthians. Instead, he is expressing that he is willing to sacrifice himself for their sake.
How do you show somebody that you love them? By sacrificing for them. If you claim to love someone but you never inconvenience yourself for their sake, it doesn’t matter whether you feel warm fuzzies for them or not; you’re sending clear signals that you don’t really love them. But when you do sacrifice your own agenda and time for them, you send a message of love that will hold the relationship together.
Jesus demonstrated this principle with His disciples. After He washed the disciples’ feet, He said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). How are you going to love one another? “Just as I have loved you.” And how had He loved them? By washing their dirty feet.
Some people in Christian circles make it through most of their lives without ever setting aside anything significant for the sake of anybody else. But people who live this way will find that their relationships don’t have any depth at all, because God intends for our relationships to involve sacrificial love.
You will never effectively disciple anyone that you do not love in this way, because it is the love that you show to them that binds them to you. Love is the greatest of all things that people can experience, so showing love will attract people to relationship. And relationship enables the next ingredient in effective discipleship.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.” This is what a discipler says: “I want you to be like me.”
If you expect your disciple to have a prayer life, then you better have one. If you expect them to have a set time in the Word of God, you better have one. If you expect them to love the Lord with all their heart, then you better do that. If you expect them to be sacrificial Christians, then you better be one. In genuine discipleship, the relationship will be close enough that your disciple will pick up on whatever your own patterns of life are.
The Master’s University has to be the greatest possible training ground on the face of the Earth for learning the discipling process. A student will likely never again live in a communal environment quite like this. While someone is here, who they are ripples all the way through their dorm. This creates a tremendous opportunity to impact the people around them by living an exemplary life.
We see how this worked in Paul’s life through his relationship with Timothy. In 1 Corinthians 4:17 Paul says, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ.” Paul can send Timothy as his representative to the Corinthians because he has reproduced himself in Timothy.
This reproduction is part of the joy of discipleship. I’ve had this experience, where a guy I’ve poured my life into echoes what I’ve shown him. He’ll say, “Boy, you know how I feel about this,” and I’ll just smile, because I feel exactly the same way.
So let people come alongside you and learn how you live, how you think, and how you react. Then you will know the joy of seeing your own faith reproduced in someone else.
Next time we will look at the final two ingredients of discipleship found in this passage.
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