But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7 NRSVA)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSVA)
In this, the last of our short series of reflections on the theme of Discipleship I want to change direction a little and think about consequences.
In our first reflection we thought about the need to be a part of a loving, worshipping community to enable our faith to grow and our discipleship to be nurtured. We reflected upon the idea that being a disciple is rather like being an apprentice, except that instead of being apprenticed to a master craftsman, we are apprenticed to the Master himself – Jesus Christ.
We later noted that we are not especially called to an observance of a particular set of religious rules and practices, but rather to a living relationship with Jesus Christ through our worship, prayer and study of the Scriptures.
And as we grow in our discipleship, we also grow in God’s grace through his amazing spiritual gifts, the greatest of which is, of course, the gift of love. As we grow as disciples, we learn to love a little with Christ’s self-giving, self-emptying love.
And in his letter to the Church at Ephesus, a little of which is quoted above, St Paul identifies some of those other Spiritual gifts which can be found amongst the members of every church community.
He talks about apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers; but his list is not an exhaustive one, nor do I think it was intended to be. We might add to the list the gifts of musicians, singers, preachers, servers, administrators, treasurers, stewards, wardens, welcomers, group leaders, visitors, carers, cleaners, caterers, gardeners, maintenance workers, those who give of a generous heart, and many more.
But his point is that these gifts are God-given not just for our own edification, or to make us feel worthy or even important. God’s gracious gifts are given to us for the building up of the Church as the Body of Christ, and to continue his ministry and mission in the places where we find ourselves.
Once again we discover that it’s not all about us. We, individually or collectively, are not the centre of the Christian universe. That role falls to Jesus Christ. The purpose of our discipleship is not so that we can amass skills or job titles for ourselves.
Again, as we saw previously, the purpose of our discipleship is to enable us to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ and richly bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
In short we are called, as disciples, to serve and to search.
We are called to serve God by serving each other, both in the church and way beyond the walls of the church.
And we are called to search: to search for those who need to know of God’s love for them; who need to know of God’s love surrounding them, either in their joy or their sadness.
That little passage, above, from the New Testament contains the words which have become known over the centuries as The Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Jesus is sending his followers out to continue his work – to teach, to baptize and to nurture new disciples in the name of the Trinity; and they did just that – which is how the followers of Jesus Christ have grown in number from the ragged bunch of eleven disciples (after the death of Judas Iscariot) of the Gospels into the 2.3 billion people we know of around the world today.
At least a part of the purpose of our discipleship must be to help to nurture new disciples. Think about those people who cared enough about you to help you to explore your faith, or who are helping you now. Where would you be without them? God called them, as disciples, to help you onto or along the path of discipleship, in however small a way.
We are not all called to be teachers, preachers, prophets and leaders, etc, but we are all called to help nurture the precious faith of others.
The important thing is to see yourself in the same light as those early disciples. You have that opportunity to demonstrate the truth of what your faith means to you. You don’t need to be an erudite speaker; you just have to have enough confidence in your faith to live it, with all its highs and lows – warts and all, and with all your foibles and failings. In fact, the less-than-perfect aspects of your personality are probably more useful in this calling than are your skills and successes, because through them you may be better able to identify and empathise with others.
You may be able to help someone to begin to focus on their personal relationship with the Christ who loves them dearly. You may even have the grace to be able to spot their spiritual gifts and help to nurture them for the building up of the Kingdom.
And you may be able to help someone begin to reach out with their faith, to reach others with the Gospel message of faith, hope and profound love.
It is no accident that Jesus’ call to serve and to search is known as the Great Commission. It is, ultimately, the greatest of commissions, for through it lives are transformed.