Launching Out With God
Grace Community Church
June 17, 2018
Launching Upward and Outward As Disciples
We are in a series called Launching Out With God and we’re taking a fresh look at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to make disciples for Jesus as he commanded us to do in Matt. 28. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out and we’re not going to figure it out in a sermon or two, but it’s something we want to wrestle with, asking God to give us His heart for how we are called to be disciples and make disciples.
When you think of discipleship, what do you think of? For a lot of us, the word discipleship conjures up the image of a small group of people meeting together to talk about where they’re struggling and how they can grow and change. And certainly that has been a great help and encouragement to many people, especially when it flows out of a natural relationship and Jesus centered fellowship. But too often the approach of talking about where we’re struggling has left a lot of believers feeling more discouraged than discipled. We get frustrated with ourselves (why aren’t I growing as a disciple?) or frustrated with our church (why aren’t they discipling me?). And don’t even start to tell me to go out and make disciples! How can I make disciples when I have so much work to do on my life? I need more work done on my life before I can export what I have to others.
The question we asked last week was: could it be that there’s something fundamentally wrong with our approach? Is it possible that this approach gets us focused on the wrong things? A lot of what we call discipleship is focused on the question how am I doing?
How am I doing at reading my Bible consistently?
How am I doing at praying without ceasing (or even with occasional ceasing? I’ll take praying in short bursts with a lot of ceasing in between?)
How am I doing at evangelizing the lost?
How am I doing at getting close to Jesus?
All of these questions are good questions, but when the question how am I doing is the central focus of our discipleship, is it possible that our idea of discipleship becomes too me-centered? That it becomes a constant evaluation of ourselves which leaves us constantly looking inward? Maybe we need to rethink our approach to discipleship and disciple-making.
The upward and outward flow of discipleship
Maybe discipleship isn’t primarily about me growing closer to Jesus, becoming a better Christian, growing in maturity, and so on, as much as it is about a life lived for others. The two greatest commandments are loving God and loving our neighbor. This suggests that the focus of discipleship should be upward and outward. Maybe our problem isn’t that we’re not looking at ourselves enough, maybe it’s that we’re looking at ourselves too much. CS Lewis once observed: humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
The danger is that our upward look isn’t so much upward as it is inward: if we attain a certain level of discipleship we’ll get in good with God and He’ll be more inclined to bless our lives. Discipleship becomes our effort to change ourselves so we’ll get closer to God.
The great truth of the gospel is, we love because He first loved us! Discipleship isn’t us getting close to God, it’s God coming close to us through Christ. We begin close to God by virtue of what Christ has done to redeem us. We don’t get in good with God by being a good disciple; we are in good with God by faith in Christ. We can never earn the kingdom, but Jesus says the Father loves to give us the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
So the first discipleship question as we talked about last week isn’t how am I doing? It’s God, how could you be so good to me? Waking up every day with amazement: Father, how can you be so good? Why would You be so extravagantly generous and kind to me? Discipleship begins with the secure knowledge that we are loved and accepted by God because of Jesus. Of course it’s vital for our discipleship growth to read the Bible and pray and other spiritual disciplines. But when discipleship is focused on how am I doing? What we’ll tend to hear when we read the Bible is God scolding us for all we’re not doing. What prayer will be is us constantly telling God how sorry we are for being such a loser. When we know how much God loves us and how close He has come to us through Christ, the Bible becomes His love letter to us, and prayer becomes a conversation between a child and his or her loving heavenly Father. That makes all the difference! The first discipleship question isn’t how am I doing? It’s God, how could you be so good to me? That is our upward focus.
The second discipleship question then becomes how am I doing at loving the people in my life? That is our outward focus. The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Help me love people. I want to point out three important lessons Jesus teaches us about love from this passage in Luke 10.
Love goes beyond feelings to action
The contrast between head knowledge and action are woven throughout this account. Luke says it was a lawyer that came to Jesus to “put him to the test”. When we hear lawyer we think of an attorney in court of law but that’s not what a lawyer was in Jesus’ day. A lawyer was an expert in the law of Moses. This guy was an Old Testament scholar. And he asks Jesus a great question (his motives might have been bad, but his question was good): what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
As he so often does, Jesus answers by asking the lawyer a question: what is written in the Law? You’re an expert in the law, what does the law say? Without hesitation the lawyer answers with the two greatest commands: you shall love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Look at Jesus’ response:
“You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” You’ve got the head knowledge, Mr. Lawyer, but that’s not enough. Do what you know and you’ll have eternal life. That’s not me saying it, that’s Jesus saying it. We’ll get to the hard question of whether we could inherit eternal life by loving God and others in a few minutes, but for now we’re focusing on the contrast between knowing and doing. Love is always action-oriented. Jesus says, go and do it!
Well, the lawyer feels foolish cause it looks like his question was too easy to answer, so he says, hey Jesus, we both know it’s a little more complicated than that. Who is my neighbor? Where do I draw the line so I know who I need to love and who I don’t need to love? In response, Jesus tells a parable. A Jewish man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the highway. He will die unless someone helps him. Along comes a priest. In the Jewish community no one was more respected or looked up to than the priest. This is the holiest, godliest guy in town so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he will be the hero of the story. But when the priest sees the man lying beaten and bleeding and dying on the road, he crosses over to the other side and keeps going. This is the guy who has all the spiritual knowledge up there in his head. He knows the Bible better than any of us! He does seminars on how to live righteously! But he sees a fellow Jew in desperate need and walks right by.
Then along comes a Levite. Not quite as venerated as the priest, the Levites were still top shelf in godliness and spiritual maturity. But when he sees the dying man he also crosses to the other side and walks right by. Then comes a Samaritan. The Jews despised the Samaritans as half-breeds and apostates. This is the last person the lawyer would ever expect to be the hero of the story, but he is the one who does something. He is the one who takes action. He has compassion and binds the man’s wounds and carries him to a nearby inn and pays all his expenses to make sure he’s ok. And that action of doing something to help the man is Jesus’ lesson about what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is always action-oriented.
Love is feeling put to action for the benefit of others. Compassion is a feeling. Jesus had compassion on the needy. But that feeling needs to be put into action for it to be love. How am I doing at loving those in my life? What actions can I take to show love to those God has put in my life? This isn’t a legalistic, inward focused how am I doing, it’s leaning into the outward focused life of a disciple. Jesus calls me to a life lived for others, how can I do that? How am I doing at loving others? Where can I grow?
Loving people isn’t about getting all emotional. For all we know the priest and the Levite were struggling with deep emotions as they walked by. Tears might have flowed down their cheeks as they thought “this is horrible! No one should have to suffer like that! Someone should do something! What’s wrong with our society that something like this could happen!” We don’t know what they felt. All we know is they didn’t love their neighbor. And we don’t know how emotional the Good Samaritan got. We do know his heart was moved with compassion, but beyond that we don’t know if he cried or got angry at the robbers or what. He took concrete practical steps to help the poor man – that is what love is all about. Love isn’t about what we feel, it’s about what we do: doing what’s good for the other person.
Jesus taught his disciples to take specific, concrete steps to live love out: when he had compassion on the hungry crowds he told his disciples: you give them something to eat. That’s a very practical action. When something goes wrong in a relationship and you offend someone Jesus said Go to your brother who is offended with you. Make it right. Jesus said when we feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner, we are doing it to him. Love goes beyond feeling to action taken for the benefit of others.
Let’s ask this question of ourselves: how am I doing at loving those God has put in my life? Do I want what’s best for their lives? Do I care? How do I put that love into action for their benefit as the Lord leads me?
Love breaks down man made barriers
The Good Samaritan and the dying Jewish man wouldn’t be considered neighbors in the lawyer’s eyes. But by the end of the parable, the lawyer has to admit it was the Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite who proved to be a neighbor by showing mercy. The lawyer got it with his head, but Jesus again emphasizes the importance of his taking that head knowledge and turning it into action: You go and do likewise. (vs. 37)
Love breaks down all the barriers that people put up. Prejudices and enmities and jealousies, love breaks the barriers down. The lawyer asked who is my neighbor expecting Jesus to give him a small neighborhood to love. Jesus gave him a neighborhood as big as the world. Wherever your path crosses with a need, showing mercy and love makes that person your neighbor. As we seek to live a life lived for others, something we need to avoid is giving ourselves a small neighborhood.
We’ve been talking a lot about a cul de sac mentality and one of the ways that shows up is that we love the people who are naturally close to us. We love our family. We love our close friends. We love the people in our church (except the annoying ones). And that is right and good: we definitely are supposed to love those close to us. But as we follow Jesus, he will lead us out of the cul de sac neighborhood where it’s easy for us to love, and broaden our neighborhood to include virtually anyone God brings into our lives. As we ask the question, how am I doing at loving those God brings my way? It’s important we don’t limit our neighborhood to our family and friends. Jesus calls us to a love that breaks down barriers and loves way beyond our cul de sac.
Now again, let’s be practical. The Samaritan wasn’t on some kind of search and rescue mission looking for dying people. He was just living his life when he came upon a need and he kicked into action. We are to love those closest to us, but God will bring others into our path that He means for us to love and serve in some way. Particularly we want to have our eyes open for those in our lives who don’t know Jesus and be aware of opportunities God gives us to love them. So we can ask, how am I doing loving those in my family? My spiritual community (the church)? My neighbors (those who don’t know Jesus)? But this last one is very important.
The priest and Levite might well have felt they couldn’t stop because they were on their way to be with their families or to serve their church community. But God had put a neighbor in their path and they failed to show love. We want to ask the Lord to give us eyes to see beyond our cul de sac of close friends and family and recognize the Lord has given us a very big neighborhood! Love breaks down the man made barriers and makes the world our neighborhood.
Love boomerangs blessings back to us
Someone could raise the legitimate concern that we do need to grow in areas in our lives. I do need to read my Bible more, pray more, witness more, and so on. If I don’t ask the question how am I doing, how will I ever grow in those areas?
Remember the original question: what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said if the lawyer loved God perfectly and his neighbor perfectly he would have eternal life. We could qualify ourselves for heaven simply by perfectly doing those two things because if we did those two things perfectly we would keep the entire law of God perfectly. The lawyer meant to test Jesus, but Jesus’ answer “do this and you will live” is meant to test the lawyer. Will he realize that this is impossible?
His answer is meant to show us we need a Savior. We could never love God perfectly or our neighbor as ourselves perfectly but Jesus did love God with everything in him and he did love his neighbor as himself, obeying the law perfectly, and then he died on the cross to pay the debt for all the times we fail to love God and others as we should. When a person comes to Christ in faith, they receive forgiveness for their sin and eternal life as a gift.
And that eternal life began for you the moment you believed in Jesus. Eternal life isn’t something that starts after you die. The moment you got out of the boat to follow him, you started on the path of eternal life. Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God and His Son. If you are a Christian, you are experiencing eternal life now! It will get better – but this is eternal life. And Jesus is at work in our hearts everyday to help us have an upward and outward focus loving God and loving others.
Discipleship isn’t a self-improvement seminar, it’s eternal life being lived out in everyday life. And yes, sometimes we do need to take an honest look at how we’re doing. It’s not like we can’t ever ask the question, how am I doing? But making how am I doing the primary focus of discipleship doesn’t work. A lot of the change we’re after will happen as we forget about ourselves and love others. It’s a kingdom life principle.
That’s the surprising thing about love: as we get our eyes off of ourselves love boomerangs blessings back to us. In other words, it’s when we give it out that it comes back to us. As we focus on helping others, God helps us. Isaiah 58 says that as we clothe the naked and feed the poor and set free the oppressed, that our healing will appear and our light will break forth like the dawn. As we lose ourselves in caring for others, God’s blessings sneak up behind us. Love boomerangs blessings back to us!
In 1938 two groups of young men were chosen for a study on what leads to a happy life. Half of the men had been raised in privileged circumstances and the other half grew up under poor conditions. For 80 years they tracked these men’s lives. Later they began to track their wives and children. Out of the original group, I don’t know that any are still alive. What makes for a happy life? The short answer is those who had good, close relationships had happier and healthier lives. Relationships are not only good for us emotionally, they’re good for us physically too. Turns out loneliness is toxic. Isolation kills. Those who were more isolated were less happy, their health declined in early midlife and their brain functioning started declining sooner and they lived shorter lives than those who had relational connections. Those who invested in relationships found that good things boomeranged back to them as a result of that investment.
I think there’s a discipleship correlation here too: discipleship that’s focused on me leads to a frustrated, defeated experience. Discipleship that’s upward and outward focused boomerangs back to strengthen and energize our walk with Jesus. We grow as we give. Boomerang! Throw it, and it comes back to you. Our own faith comes alive as we share it with others. The Bible speaks life to us as we’re putting it into action by loving others. As we focus more on others, our righteousness rises like the dawn. Kingdom life principle.
If your discipleship experience has been a frustrating lack of personal growth with occasional bursts of commitment to do better, let’s put the question “how am I doing?” to the side and ask two different questions. God, how could you be so good to me? And, how am I doing at loving the people God brings into my life? Upward and outward. I suspect, based on God’s word, that our lives will be fuller and happier and the sins we struggle with will lose their grip as our righteousness rises like the dawn.
Start with this: how much the Lord loves you right where you are. Our discipleship isn’t a means to God’s love, it’s a response to God’s love. To Jesus’ love. The more we know his love, the more we can show his love.