Faithful relationships are foundational to developing a discipling community, especially within our small groups. In the second of this four part series taken from ‘Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it?‘, Tony Pullin begins to explore seven elements that help us develop faithful relationships with one another.
‘A number of practical strands go to make up enduring relationships, which, in turn, provide a secure environment for discipleship.
‘They devoted themselves to … fellowship’ (Acts 2:42).
As fellow disciples in community, our primary commitment is not to a doctrinal statement, nor to a vision, however inspiring, nor to a model of church, but to one another. God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom can be summed up in two words – fusion and fission. God is all about joining together, Satan is all about splitting apart.
‘But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ (1 Cor. 6:17, ESV).
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ (Eph. 5:31, NRSV).
‘In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph. 2:21–22).
‘All the believers were one’ (Acts 4:32).
The early believers shared their lives together and were committed to one another on every level. When we gather as Church we don’t leave our lives at the door, as though this is a retreat from life into a different dimension. Church is where shared life, in all its aspects, finds its expression. We bring our victories and challenges, our aspirations and weaknesses, our families, jobs (or pressure to find one), our histories, our hopes – everything, into the presence of God with his people; and we worship the Lord, hear from him by his Spirit and encourage one another. Mutual love in the Spirit is the cement that holds us together. Our commitment is to one another.
George Elliott’s words express the beauty of real friendship: ‘Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort, of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words. But pour them out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.’
‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you’ (Rom. 15:7).
If we are going to be committed to one another as members of the body of Christ, it follows that we can only begin by accepting each other. Sometimes we have enormous differences, our backgrounds and life experience can be like chalk and cheese; but in Christ we are one family. Do you remember how Jesus accepted you when you came to him – weaknesses, mistakes, disappointments, sins and all? We were so different from him, but he just wrapped his arms around us and loved us and promised he would never leave us. Now he asks us to accept one another in the same way.
Some find it difficult to believe that such a level of acceptance could possibly include them. Many years ago I came across this simple diagram.
The enemy wants us to get into wrong thinking. Starting at the top and heading clockwise, it goes like this. If only I could achieve something really good, something that others will notice – that would keep me going, it would sustain me; at last I would have significance and then I would be accepted. The sad thing is that, going that way round, we will repeat the cycle for a whole lifetime. All the while, the Holy Spirit is whispering; ‘Wrong direction! Begin with acceptance and go the other way’. I am accepted in Jesus (and so by his family, too); it’s a given, it’s the foundation of our lives; that is what gives us significance, that is what sustains us; and with that assurance, enabled by his Spirit, the way is wide open for us to achieve all that he wants us to be.
I want to be part of a church where we can be ourselves, make our mistakes, forgive and be forgiven and press on together towards the goal. In the family of Jesus’ disciples we accept one another because we have all received his grace. Discipleship will thrive in an atmosphere of loving acceptance.
‘Honour one another above yourselves’ (Rom. 12:10).
We honour one another by taking each other seriously, by giving each other our full attention, by listening to each other. Very often it is the small things that demonstrate mutual honour – the body language, the gesture, the unhurried response. Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph. 5:21). When we look into the face of another brother or sister, we are looking at someone in whom the Creator dwells. Mutual honour is part of the discipling ethos.
Want to find out more?
Delving into the life-experience of Jesus and the twelve he chose to disciple personally, we discover how discipleship could look in our lives, churches and communities, and how we can implement such relationships. Packed with practical suggestions, real-life examples and exploratory questions, Making Disciples is the perfect resource for anyone committed to following Jesus, whether new to the faith or more experienced in the Christian life; or for church or group leaders. Click here
to find out more.