How to Work Together for Discipleship
Paul begins Ephesians 4 by looking at how the body of Christ is one and how its members must work together to make everyone and everything whole. He instructs, “Always be humble and gentile. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Eph. 4:2–3 NLT).
Becoming a mature disciple means refusing to live a “minimalist” spiritual life in isolation (just me and Jesus). The mature also reject shortcuts. There are no steroids for spiritual growth. It is a long-term process that must be done with others, and it is challenging. Paul’s instructions to the church are personal, but not individualistic. He gives these instructions to the community, not individuals, because they must learn to intentionally train together.
What We Can Learn through Church
Our churches should be where we learn to love, both our friends and our enemies. Love is actions taken for the benefit of others. The emphasis here in Paul’s letter is on becoming a humble, patient, kind person. We must not put the responsibility on others to treat us well. It is our responsibility to respond with grace and love to others. Of course, we can find ways to avoid these relational challenges. Some people think they belong to a church by slipping into the service on Sunday morning and then slipping out without any meaningful contact. In my mind, they might as well skip the service and read the Sunday paper instead. Either way, they are living a banal life of self-absorption.
At times our churches are beautiful, and at times the ugliness of sin shows through. I have never been loved so well nor hated so deeply than by my fellow followers of Christ. I have spent many sleepless nights dealing with conflict in my church. Yet in the end, most of the ugly stuff has faded from memory. We’ve worked out our conflicts, and God has turned them into good. Many scream in the middle of the pain of conflict, “I don’t need this!” But the Bible is clear that we do need it. God uses pain as fuel for our formation in Christ (1 Peter 1:6–9).
Christ as Example
Who was humble, patient, kind, sacrificial, and made allowances for our faults? Christ, of course (Phil. 2:5–8). Our churches should be dedicated to shaping us to become like Christ. We can’t get there without taking up our own cross and suffering. Becoming mature takes time and cannot be hurried. So leaders creating the right environment are basic to transformation.
This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.
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