Sunday, November 13, 2011

Are you making disciples? 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Opening thought
The last command the Lord Jesus gave the church was what we call the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all the nations . . . “ 

A large manufacturing plant came to a town to produce shoes. The corporate management invested great sums of money and many hours among many people to produce the finest shoes possible. Investors spent money on salaries for the best staffing and management they could find. Digital sewing machinery was installed for shoe-making. Materials were purchased from all over and shipped in to make the shoes. The plant went into operation with several hundred employees busily working hard. Machines were running at full capacity. Activity was at a maximum.
Today the international president of the company arrives for an inspection and asked the production manager, “How many shoes have we produced so far?”
“None,” the manager answers matter of factly.
“None!” the president is shocked. “How long has this plant been in operation?”
“Two years.”
“Two years? And still no shoes?”
“That’s right,” says the manager, “no shoes, but we are really busy. In fact, we have been so busy that we are nearly all tired out. We don’t have any shoes yet, but we have been very active in our jobs.”
What do you think the management would do in such a case? Have coronaries? Become angry? Be concerned? Fire somebody? Find the problem and fix it? Probably all these things, because the reason for this shoe plant’s existence is to produce shoes.
Now let’s think about the church. There is a lot of activity. Men and women are here working very hard. The budget shows a lot of money being invested into a lot of ministries. The church is very active. But the purpose of the church is to produce disciples.
When the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association goes into a city to do an evangelistic outreach, they make numerous calls to churches to get the names of men and women who know their Bibles well enough to lead someone to Christ. In one large city, when the caller got the church secretary on the phone and asked her for such a person, she replied, “Would you repeat those qualifications again, please?” The man from BGEA did.
After a long pause, the secretary said rather wistfully, “You know, we did have a man like that in our church once, but he moved away.” Jesus himself said, “the harvest is plentiful but he workers are few" (Matt. 9:37). If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the same is true today. Spiritually qualified workers – disciples who labor to make other disciples – are rare.[1] Most churches are really busy, but they are not producing any disciples, any leaders – and they just keep on going.

Contextual Notes:
With a population of over 200,000 in the first century, Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia, within sight of Mount Olympus, and a free city, a reward for helping Augustus gain the emperor=s mantle. Thessalonica was the largest commercial center in southeast Europe, a coastal city on the Egnation Way, the main road from Rome to the East.  Because of the city=s importance in business, there was a large Jewish population there.  Many Gentiles, frustrated with paganism, had begun attending synagogue as AGod-fearers,@ attracted to the God of Israel.  Thus, Most of the Thessalonian Christians were Gentiles who had come out of idolatry (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2:14-16).
After the rough handling Paul and his team received in Philippi (1 Thessalonians 2:2), they arrived in Thessalonica about AD 49/50.  There was a Jewish synagogue there, and Paul set to tent making to make some extra money (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). In only three weekends in Thessalonica, Paul had planted a church, started grounding them in the faith, and created a stir B such a stir that the Jews accused him of Aturning the world upside down@ (Acts 17:6). 
The Thessalonians became a missionary-sending church in short order (1 Thessalonians 1:8). That is because, after less than a month in town, Paul had to leave Thessalonica suddenly. He had encountered great opposition there, ending in a riot that got his cousin Jason (Romans 16:21) in trouble with the local authorities. He and Silas and Timothy had been staying at the Jason=s home in Thessalonica.  After the riot (Acts 17:1-9), Jason had to post bond with a statement that he would get Paul & Co. out of town permanently.  Perhaps it explains 1 Thessalonians 2:18.
Written 50/51 AD from Corinth on Paul=s Second Missionary Journey. One of the earliest of Paul=s letters, only Galatians possibly being earlier.  He is writing back to the Thessalonians he had so swiftly left behind.  After Paul=s overnight skedaddle to Berea (Acts 17:10), his heart remained with the Thessalonians whom he had left so suddenly.  Paul didn’t have the time he wanted to instruct the believers in Thessalonica, and he was worried about them. When the Thessalonian Jews began to cause trouble for the ministry team in Berea, Paul headed for the coast and set sail for Athens.  He left Silas in charge in Berea and sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to look after the believers there (1 Thessalonians 3:1).  Paul later preached in Athens and then headed south to Corinth where he met Priscilla and Aquila.  Later Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth.  Timothy brought news and questions from the Thessalonian believers, and 1 Thessalonians was sent back to them.
Key Truth: Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 to demonstrate to believers how making disciples is sharing with another believer real life-on-life relationship with Christ and modeling for another believer a life of integrity before the Lord.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about making disciples.
Pray and Read:  1 Thessalonians 2:7-12
Sermon Points:
1.   Are you sharing with another believer how to live a life of relationship with the Lord? (1 Thess. 2:7-9)
2.   Are you modeling for another believer how to live a life of integrity before the Lord? (1 Thess. 2:10-12)
Exposition:   Note well,
a.   Investment of Christ’s Life: Pouring your life in Christ into the life of another (2 Tim 3:10, 14)
b.   Vision of Multiplication:  More time spent with fewer people results in greater Kingdom impact (2 Tim 2:2)
c.   What is the thing that brings you more joy than anything else in life? Leading someone to Christ? I agree. But there is something greater than that. What could possibly be greater than seeing a person come to Christ? When the person you have led to Christ grows and develops into a fruitful, mature disciple who then goes on to lead other to Christ and help them in turn as well.
d.   As you look back over your life, judging the times you were growing the most in Christ, how much has personal involvement versus church programming contributed to your developing as a Christian?
e.   Ephesians 4:11-12 – God has given leaders to the church in order to build up and train the rest of us in the work of ministry. This approach works and it is Scriptural: Matthew 28:18-20; 9:37-38. I have seen it work myself.
f.    THE PRINCIPLE: When you start spending individual time with another Christian for the purpose of having a ministry in his or her life – time together in the Word, prayer, fellowship, systematic training – something happens in your own life as well.
g.   ‘What would you rather have, one hundred people who are 90% committed or ten people who are 100% committed?’  Your own answer to that question will determine your philosophy of the ministry and how much effort you would be willing to put forth in developing a committed band of spiritually qualified workers for Jesus Christ.
h.   “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19-20)
i.     What was Jesus’ purpose in choosing the Twelve? See Mark 3:14. Jesus chose them to be with him and that he might send them out. That was not a new idea. Elijah chose Elisha to help him and carry on the work. Elisha was not enrolled in the school of the prophets, studying, meditating, but out in the field working (1 Kings 19:15-16, 19). Jesus also called his disciples from their daily work, meaning he was looking for real people living real lives in the real world (Matt. 4:18-22; 9:9).
j.    Leroy Eims: The effect “of making disciples by association is powerful, dramatic, and life changing. It is almost unbelievable to see the transformation that took place in the lives of the twelve apostles. It is one of the most spectacular miracles in Scripture. To watch them go from the humble shores of Galilee to the sophisticated center of Jerusalem and more than hold their own with the most august assembly Jerusalem could produce is a wonder to behold (Acts 4:5-22). Note the change in John and his awe at the transformation (Luke 9:54; 1 John 4:7-8; 1 John 1:1-2).
k.   Every church has people in the congregation who are spectators, but they would pay any price to be involved in the real heart of ministry. But it will cost them. They need sermons and Bible study and prayer, but they also need someone to share their life with them (1 John 3:16).
l.     We have a growing, healthy church. God is blessing his work here. BUT we have a problem: It is a bottleneck. Unless we have more spiritually qualified workers among both the men and women, many will not develop into the robust disciples of Jesus Christ we need. And there is another problem: Your pastor cannot do it all while putting out the small brush fires and needs that are typical around a congregation this size.
m. Wouldn’t it be great if we have a dedicated, ever-growing band of spiritually qualified men and women who could handle some of the “spiritual” issues that arise in church? I don’t mean visiting shut-ins or helping the needy or teaching Sunday School or managing church business. I mean people who can win another person to Christ and then take that person from conversion to help her or him become a solid, dedicated, committed, fruitful, mature disciple who could repeat that process in the life of another.
n.   Or how about another scene. Four couples are meeting for Bible study. Three of the couples are new Christians. As they start a cell phone rings, and the caller wants Joe, a four-month old Christian, to come to his house immediately. Joe tells the group about the situation. His business partner has had a marital fight with his wife and he wants Joe to come and help them. The Bible study agrees for Joe to go and they will stay and pray. Joe, a four-month old Christian, goes out to save a marriage. They find out later that Joe led his partner and wife to Christ and has been meeting with them to study the Scriptures. Which scenario sounds more Biblical? Which one sounds more reality?
o.   Is it worth it? What is the dividend? Jesus trained the Twelve for two things: to help him right there in carrying out His mission and for them to carry on after he was gone. These country boys preached to the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, to the philosophers in Athens, to wealthy women like Lydia, to Roman soldiers – even the Praetorian Guard, to government officials and Caesar’s Court at Rome, to idol worshipers, to wild barbarians, to jailers, to anyone who would listen. He knew they would be stoned, beaten, and imprisoned, so their preparation was vital. Shallow training and half-hearted commitment would not cut it.
p.   ILLUSTRATION: “Today we are riding a groundswell of interest in the Bible by the people in our congregations.  Many would love to have a personal working knowledge of the Word of God.  Many long to be more effective in their witness for Christ.  Many more decry their ineffectiveness in prayer.  They dream of being stalwart men and women of God ‑‑strong in faith, fervent in spirit, deep in their devotion for Christ. They crowd the bookstores to get the latest from the Christian publishers; they crowd the evangelical seminaries and the bible institutes for some Bible training; they crowd the seminars and lectures by well-known speakers and visiting lecturers. But the answers to many of these milling masses, who are clamoring for spiritual reality, could be found in a quiet, solid, ongoing program of discipleship training in their local churches.  This is the challenge to today=s generation.@ -- LeRoy Eims
q.   APPLICATION: Churches have two kinds of people: spectators and participants. Spectators want just enough of God to inoculate them against serious commitments. Jesus experienced many spectators in the crowds (Luke 14:25a), and he once turned to the seekers, skeptics, and window shoppers and thinned them out by raising the bar on in three different areas. Jesus called them to make Him the priority above personal relationships (Luke 14:26), personal goals (Luke 14:27), and personal possessions (Luke 14:33).
r.    Participants are the church’s backbone. In all that the church does, people are primary, because people help people. Programs do not help people. Personal care makes the difference (see Eims, 50). Each of us has special needs that can only be handled by people, not programs. Automated systems do not meet individual needs. Not everyone will be interested in being discipled, but a few will. You work with those want to be discipled, and from them will develop a seed bed of leadership for the local church. The characteristics of a person who wants to be discipled are (1) they are motivated to be a disciple, (2) they desire regular fellowship with Christ, and (3) they want to witness for Him.
a.   Jesus’ earthly ministry was a little over three years long. One of his key focus points was training his twelve disciples, the foundation of His whole ministry. He had no backup plan. He told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is the key verse of the book of Acts.
b.   On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11), the disciples were in the marketplace, communicating with remarkable understanding the Good News, and with boldness, quoting Scripture. The people were amazed (Acts 2:7). Peter, a plain-spoken Galilean fisherman, stood and preached the first sermon recorded in Acts. He quoted from memory a passage of Scripture from the prophet Joel to answer his detractors. He had not been to the prestigious Jewish yeshiva to receive his training. Peter preached a crucified and risen Messiah, supporting his points with Scripture.
c.   How did Peter know how to preach at Pentecost?  Acts 2:14ff; 22‑24, 37, 41. The answer is obvious. He had walked over three years with Jesus, seen him answer His critics, learned the Bible under Jesus’ leadership. And the results? They were convicted (Acts 2:37), converted (2:41), and discipled (Acts 2:42). The test of any message is not whether it is good or bad, but whether God uses it. Is God’s anointing on it?
d.   What happened between verses 41 & 42? How did they organize? How did they feed them? Where did they sleep? Trained by Jesus, the disciples did it. These people were planning to attend the Feast and go home across the Mediterranean. But the disciples had other plans. They understood that discipleship is a command (Matt 28:19). Their commission not to get converts to come forward – it was to make disciples. They knew Jesus’ standards: John 15:7‑8; 8:31‑32; 13:34‑35; Luke 14:26‑27, 33.
e.   Today, we would have patted ourselves on the back that we saw 3,000 come to faith in Jesus and sent them home to tell their families and co-workers.  But the disciples were not going to let them walk out of town. Peter had made a commitment to disciple them (John 21:15-17). Peter now had 3,000 sheep to feed and disciple, and he took that commitment seriously.
f.    The Normal Christian LifeThe church went into emergency mode to handle the logistics (Acts 2:44-47). These new converts are not mentioned in the next few chapters, but they are listening, watching, and learning to imitate. And their numbers grow (Acts 4:4; 5:14). What is going on inside these new converts as they watch the apostles threatened, beaten, imprisoned, miraculously set free (Acts 4:17; 5:18, 40). They watched the disciples proclaim the Good News boldly at every opportunity (Acts 3:14-15; 4:10, 33; 5:30-31). They watched the joy with which the disciples endured persecution (Acts 5:40), they listened carefully as the disciples diligently taught them the things of the Lord (Acts 5:42), they saw how the apostles handled ethnic conflict in the church that threatened unity (Acts 6:1-6).
g.   APPLICATION: If we want a certain attitude or action to develop in those with whom we are working, we must remember the tremendous power of personal example. Take Philip for example (Acts 8:5, 8, 35). How did he know how to do that? He had been discipled by the apostles. Others were from Cyrene in North Africa (Acts 2:10). They did what they thought was normal for a Christian (Acts 11:19-21). And the apostles did not forget them (Acts 11:22-24). They continued to keep up with them and help them. They took seriously the commitment and time and effort, and they saw the lasting life-changing results multiply.
h.   Then what is the problem today? Why is this not normal in our churches? Why are vital, growing disciples such a rare species? We have depended on programs, study guides, and PowerPoint to do the job that can only happen through relationships. Ministry is carried by people, not programs. Someone must do it, not something. Disciples are not mass produced in a production line. We know that does not work. It takes time and patience to make disciples. Remember, we are growing oaks of righteousness, not spring flowers (Isaiah 61:3). It takes personal attention. It takes hours of prayer. It takes understanding and patience to teach them to get into the Word of God for themselves, to learn to feed and nourish their own souls, and to apply the Word to their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it takes modeling it.  So be patient with yourself and give yourself the time and patience to take the time to make disciples. It is actually fulfilling the Great Commission!

[1] LeRoy Eims, The Lost Art of Disciple-making (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 59-61.