Discipleship Means People

by Brother Wade Paschal

Sometime ago I totaled up the number of people Paul listed in his letters as “co-workers” or “fellow servants” of Christ. Some of the names are quite familiar—like Timothy or Silas or Barnabas. Others we might read without considering the implication of their relationship to Paul—like Epaphras in Colossians or Epaphroditus in Philippians. My list of Paul’s “co-workers” at the end contained more than thirty names. While some might have had slight roles in Paul’s work, it is clear Paul always surrounded himself with a team of people who shared both the work of the gospel and the life of faith with him. It seems Paul knew that following Christ meant following Christ in the company of other believers—they needed him, and he needed them.

Jesus gives a similar example. He immediately surrounded himself with people—the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12ff) and later the seventy (Luke 10:1ff). The gospels tell us Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two in ministry. While this probably links to the Old Testament desire for at least two witnesses to any event (Deuteronomy 17:6), I think Jesus also knows that we don’t live the Christian life well alone.

Almost all the key qualities of faith and discipleship are learned and practiced in the context of relationships. Take the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” All of these imply more than one person is involved. How can we love if we do not have people to love? How can we show kindness outside of being kind to particular people? Where do we learn patience except in the context of specifically trying and challenging relationships? Even “self-control”, which seems to be very individualistic, is really a quality demanded most in our relationships. The essence of self-control is the ability to choose among conflicting desires—many of which rise from the pull of culture and the desires of other people.

Jesus and Paul knew that to stand out in a world that seeks to mold us in its own image, we need people to stand with us. One person by herself or himself is easily overwhelmed with the pressures of what everyone else thinks and does. A couple of friends can keep us sane and grounded.

A person who is succumbing to temptation needs a person filled with the Spirit to join them and bear their burdens as Christ bore our burden on the cross (Galatians 6:1-2). None of us is wise or powerful enough on our own—but in the “body of Christ” we have gifts and wisdom and maturity to help us do what God calls us to do (I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11 – 16).

We give each other hope and energy. We teach each other. We encourage each other and even help each other see our weaknesses and grow through failure. As imperfect as we are we are still better together in Christ.

Prayer: Lord, may we in the words of Paul “[build] up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to full stature of Christ ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).  We thank you, Lord, for all our brothers and sisters in Christ—perhaps especially for those who are least easy to love and be with because they remind us that we must live in the power of the Holy Spirit to be filled with the Spirit. Thank you for those who teach us, encourage us, and stand with us—and teach how to love and encourage and be there for each other. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.