Note: This two-part article is a chapter from the book Teach As He Taught by Robert Delnay. Published by Moody Press in 1987, the chapter is reprinted by permission.
Get Them to Grow Up Spiritually
A further demand that Jesus made on His disciples was that they walk in spiritual maturity. Part of that maturity involved getting them to understand.
From early in His ministry He pressed them to think and to understand from God’s point of view. He wanted His disciples to be reflective. Nowhere did He encourage pride of intellect; yet constantly He wanted them to think. We do well to challenge our students to think, especially in a religious culture that values activity but looks askance on reflection.
Our disciples need all the wisdom they can get. In recent days, the message of the cross has been reduced to a form of show business, and few seem to have noticed the loss. An easy religion has replaced the hard way of the prophets and martyrs, and the servants of the gospel have found ways to labor in affluence and comfort. The old message calling for repentance has given way to a new message calling for self-fulfillment. If our ministries are to mean anything more than Lot’s in Sodom, it will be as we and our disciples sort out those contradictions and purify our messages.
A second evidence of spiritual maturity was that the disciples should forgive their enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches forgiveness as part of a person’s prayer life. In Matthew 18 He gives half a chapter to the moral logic in forgiveness: God has already forgiven us so much that we simply must forgive one another. Then at Calvary Jesus forgave the men who had just nailed Him to the cross. If we want to do our students some spiritual good, we must urge this further demand on them, that they forgive.
That leads to a third evidence of spiritual maturity–that they love one another. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The vocabulary of love has lately become commonplace, but when the love of many has grown cold, the very lack of love cries out for us to teach it. We can expect our students to start out with confused ideas; love is widely believed to be something we fall into, like an inheritance or a puddle. It is either a sexual activity or an emotional attraction of persons with like values. On that understanding, how could Jesus command us to love one another?
We do our students a tremendous service when we explain to them what Jesus meant by love: love means purposing the good of another, at any cost to oneself, hoping for nothing in return. To command a person to feel some emotion borders on absurdity. On the other hand, it is reasonable to command him to purpose something, and it was spiritually reasonable for Jesus to command us to purpose one another’s good. As we show that kind of love to our students, we are qualified to teach. Such love accredits our testimony before the world; if we do not show it, the world has the right to judge us phonies. Such love makes lasting marriages and makes them wondrous. It holds churches together. It is the love that comes with spiritual maturity.
A fourth evidence of spiritual maturity is to accept the world’s hatred. For nineteen centuries Christians have tried to find a middle way, to retain their identification with Christ, to preserve their claims on heaven, and at the same time to enjoy their ties with the system that crucified Christ. We must enable our students to find that fine line between love for souls (“for God so loved the world”) and a love for the world system (“love not the world”). On one hand it is just good missionary work to meet the community leaders and let them know why we are in town. On the other hand, let us never hanker after the in-crowd, their parties, or their approval.
Our task is to find ways to strengthen our students, even to toughen them. John remarked at the number of top men who privately believed in Jesus but who, for fear of the Pharisees, refused to confess Him, so as not to be put out of the synagogue. “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). We don’t want to produce that kind. As we stress the reality of the unseen world, as we stress the Lord’s rightful claims on us, as we show our own example of devotion, we can hope to firm up our disciples toward the world and its enmity. Privately, we brace ourselves for some failures–Jesus did not give up on the apostles when they fled. But at the same time that we urge our students to be kind toward one another, tenderhearted, we work to strengthen them against pressures.
Teach Them Reliance on the Spirit
Jesus’ teachings on the Holy Spirit come in three steps. First He planted the suggestion that they pray for the Spirit’s working (Luke 11: 13). As elsewhere in the New Testament, the passage does not suggest praying for the Spirit’s indwelling presence but for the evidence of His presence. We must convey to our students the need for the Holy Spirit’s power in their service, and, according to that verse, such power comes after prayer for it.
The second step in Jesus’ teaching was His series of promises that the Spirit was about to come and work in the disciples. In John 7:37-39 He promises rivers of living water. In 14:16-17 He promises that the Comforter will indwell them and never leave. In 14:26 He promises that the Spirit will teach them and recall Jesus’ words to them. In 15:26 He again promises that the Comforter will testify of Him. In 16:7-11 He says that the Comforter will have a convicting ministry and that ministry will begin after His coming to the disciples. Our experience will bear out that He mediates much of that convicting through the believers, whom He indwells.
We impress these promises on our disciples: that they can hope for the rivers, that they can count on the Spirit’s eternal indwelling, that He will remind them of Christ, and that through their ministries He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
The third step in Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit was to command the disciples to appropriate the Holy Spirit’s power. The imperative in John 20:22 implies all this and more: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
Remind Them of Christ’s Claims
Although it is true that our justification rests on faith alone, Christ bade us be His disciples. His claims of discipleship become absolute demands.
In practice, not every believer becomes clear on that idea. For years mission executives have echoed what a leader once remarked, “We get an inquirer, and the first question he asks is about our retirement program.” A missionary candidate who rated more than two dozen conservative boards finally chose one on the ground that its support level was almost three times the average of the others. After twenty-five years in a large church, one pastor’s salary and allowances came to more than three times the total missions budget of the church.
What a contrast to Jesus’ requests of Peter in John 21! Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter had gone back to fishing. But after a whole night of catching nothing, he had to face Jesus, who questioned him on three subjects and said in essence:
- Love. “Do you love me more than these? Do you love me? Do you like me?”
- Service. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep (no more fishing).”
- Death. “When you grow old you will still be faithful. Your death will glorify God.”
We have moved beyond legalisms and prohibitions to the ultimate questions:
- Do you love Jesus Christ? How much do you purpose His happiness? Do you love Him enough to do what He commands you to do? Do you love Him enough to spend quality time with Him daily?
- Do you purpose to serve Christ? Does He have free course to fix the terms of your service? Have you signed a blank contract for Him to fill out? Have you accepted the possibility that He may ignore your wishes, even as you trust Him for your own ultimate good? If He should choose it, do you consent to menial work? Will you consider foreign missions as a real possibility for your life work? Are you willing to accept the principle of living off your ministry?
- Do you purpose to serve Jesus Christ to the death? Do you purpose that by His grace even the threat of death will not break your testimony of faith in Him? Do you purpose to serve Him, even if at last it should be to die alone or to go to an unmarked grave?
As we deal with our own students, these may be the final demands that we lay on them. By whatever means we can we need to motivate our disciples to make these concerns their own. Short of pressing these claims, we may do some instructing, but we will not be teaching as Jesus taught.
Robert Delnay holds a Th.D. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has taught in a number of Bible colleges and seminaries and is currently an adjunct faculty member of Clearwater Christian College in Clearwater, Florida. His publications include A History of the Baptist Bible Union, Teach As He Taught, Fire in Your Pulpit, and numerous articles.