Making disciples who make disciples is part of the commission Jesus gave us as believers (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus Himself told us to teach them to obey everything He commanded, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that a large part of making disciples involves all of us getting into the Bible and studying it together.
As I mentioned yesterday, our corporate discipline involves 2 or 3 people gathering together and reading large amounts of Scripture, somewhere between 20 & 30 chapters a week. Why are we so determined to study the Bible? Jesus said that His very words are Spirit and life (John 6:63). The message of the Kingdom contained within the Bible is like a seed in our hearts (Mark 4:13-14, 26-27). The more we can get that message of the Kingdom into our hearts and spirits, the more of the Kingdom we see take root in our life.
So, every time our groups of 2&3 gather, we pick a section of Scripture, usually 20 or 30 chapters in a row. This section is what everyone is reading this week. This week my 2&3 is reading the book of Mark, last week was the book of Revelation. Sometimes it’s multiple books like 1st and 2nd Corinthians. The point isn’t to finish the section every single week. Many weeks someone in my 2&3 doesn’t finish. When this happens, we start over, and read it again the following week. When everyone finishes the 20 or 30 chapters in the same week, that’s when it’s time to pick a new section of Scripture.
Why do we read the Bible together like this? The main reason is it’s good to be in the Bible hearing Jesus for ourselves. As Christians we believe the Bible is the only inspired message from God and because of that, it is fuel for us to grow up into the likeness of Jesus. But in addition to that, reading large portions of the Bible together keeps us from heresy. Mutual discipleship means there’s no authorized leader of a 2&3. If we read significant portions of the Bible together in context, each believer is able to say “Can you show me where you found that in the reading?” whenever a controversial statement is expressed. One final thought about reading together like this: It eats away at our carnal independence. Many people are content to read what they want, when they want. This process asks us to be formed as disciples together.
We want to be careful of a few things. The intent of this time is not turn our 2&3’s into a Bible study. Bible studies are good and have their place. But our goal instead is to figure out how Jesus encountered us in the Scriptures and is asking us to obey Him. This isn’t the chance for those gifted as teachers to break down whole chapters of the Bible for everyone else.
Also, we need to be careful of dead religion. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for reading the Bible but resisting the very One that the Scriptures pointed to (John 5:39). The goal is not to become an expert, the goal is meet the One who Scripture points to! But reading and immersing ourselves in truths within the Bible is the surest way to do that.
I think in the West, because the Bible is so available to us, it can become easy to grow cold to its ability to transform us. The words sound familiar and if we fail to take the words back to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to encounter us around those words, our hearts can grow dull to the Word. I believe the word of God has the power to change human hearts. Have you ever seen Chinese believers receive a Bible for the first time? It should humble us. We need to hunger for God’s word like these fiery believers who are being transformed by the Gospel.
What I’ve described here is a corporate discipline that we embrace to make disciples. But friends, the heart here is that we are soft towards God’s word and being transformed by it. We need not only to read it ourselves, but join with others and help each other find the divine truth God has hidden in its pages.
Yesterday I shared some thoughts about how “not being fed spiritually” isn’t why we participate in a church. My primary argument (in case you hate clicking links) is that we weren’t primarily designed be fed by another person, but by the Lord Himself. But I realize that because of the state of the church today, that could leave many of you asking, “How do I do that?”
Because of that, I want to look at four different ways the Bible encourages us to fuel our spiritual man. God actually has ways for you to feed your heart and soul yourself as you encounter Him. My encouragement to you is to look at the four different ways listed below and pick one (or more) that you aren’t doing, but to also do it daily for ninety days before you give up on it. There are many, many days where the disciplines I practice don’t feel like they are accomplishing anything. But the overall effect of doing them consistently over the years has had a tremendous impact on my life.
So, to feed your spiritual man, you should try the following:
- Pray. I know what you’re thinking. You pray. But I’m not talking about the short “Help me, God,” sort of prayers we pray throughout hectic days. I’m talking about a kind of prayer where your mind is focused, your heart is attentive, and you and the Father are dialoguing back and forth. Part of the problem we experience with prayer is much of the church has taught us not to expect God to talk back to us. But prayer is a communion of our spirit with God’s Holy Spirit where real relationship happens. If you have problems praying I have a few suggestions: 1) Get alone. 2) Leave behind all of your electronic devices. 3) Bring a pen and some paper. Write your part of the conversation out on paper and then wait. And as God brings truth to your spirit or brings up a Bible verse, or shows you a picture write those things down. Over time as you practice this, you’ll begin to get good at hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit as you wait for Him.
- Read the Bible. Again, this can seem so elementary, but we so don’t do the simple things and it hurts us. Can we put away our books, our blogs (even this one?), our Christian programs, and truly begin to understand what God is saying? Jesus (and Moses) said “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4). We have to get to our place in our walk where we understand we are dependent on God’s word to feed our spirit on a daily basis. This encounter with the word has to go beyond just dull, repetitive reading, though, to ushering us into an encounter with Jesus (John 5:39). In our network, I encourage believers to get in groups of two or three and read 20 to 30 chapters of the Bible in context every week. Consuming a large amount of Scripture in context has helped us grow in understanding of God’s will for our lives. Not only that, but we’ve met God in the process.
- Do the will of the Father. “I have a kind of food you know nothing about…My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work,” (John 4:32-34). Jesus, as a human being, had learned to become dependent, not on natural food, but a spiritual food that came from the Father. This wasn’t just because Jesus was God. Jesus had to lay aside His divine nature and become like us in all things (Philippians 2:6-8). So His entire life was an example of how redeemed humanity can live in relationship to the Father. Friends, this means you can be fed spiritually when you participate in God’s will! That can be as simple as encouraging someone or responding to a truth from the Bible or as unique as Jesus prophesying to the Samaritan woman about her various scandals and leading her to repentance. Regardless, every time we do God’s will, it strengthens who we are on the inside. Many of my friends who understand spiritual disciplines miss this reality because it can’t be done alone in a closet. But some of my most spiritually dynamic mentors and friends are people who were people who received from God and obeyed when He asked them to act. Don’t miss this powerful step!
- Pray in the Spirit. Paul had a very particular type of prayer that he stressed was important for building up our inner man. This was praying in tongues or praying in the Spirit and it was designed as form of communion between our spirit and God’s Spirit. When Paul talks about this type of prayer, he says that a believer “…will be speaking by the power of the Spirit…[and] is strengthened personally,” (1 Corinthians 14:2-4). And because of this, Paul says about himself “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you,” (1 Corinthians 14:18). I think many times, we under-emphasize the role this gift has in strengthening our spiritual lives. Much could be written about this gift, but let’s start here: If you have this ability, put it into practice daily. If you don’t have this gift, ask the Lord for it. He loves to give more of the Spirit to those who ask.
The Old Testament has a story that we can learn from in regard to these disciplines. During their time in the wilderness, God would rain down manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat and told them to gather what they needed for that day. If they tried to gather more than what they needed for that day, when they went to eat it the next day, what was left over had rotted and was covered in maggots. They couldn’t live off the previous day’s manna.
So too, we can’t live off of one good day with the Lord or three good days in a week, let alone one day a week when we gather as a church. Again, much of the church is weaker than it needs to be because they aren’t daily engaging the Lord in these ways.
My encouragement to you if you read yesterday’s post and didn’t know where to start is to pick one of these disciplines that you aren’t strong in and practice it for the next seven days. Take stock on what you’ve noticed as far as a change in your walk. I want you to spend 90 days trying a discipline, but even at one solid week, my guess is you will start to see a dynamic change in your walk with the Lord.
Remember, this is important. You were created for relationship with God. Don’t miss these avenues to encountering Him and growing by feeding yourself on God and His word.
There is a way to guard yourself and your church from heresy. It’s called relationships.
Yesterday I shared the journey of how I came to understand that relationships centered around God’s word keep us from heresy. But different people need to respond differently to this idea. If you read yesterdays post, can I encourage you to do one of three things?
Some of those reading this post have no committed relationships with other believers. As my two year old daughter would say, “This is a problem.” You may be smart or well educated in the historical beliefs of the church, but I guarantee that if you aren’t in relationship with believers, you are opening yourself up to error, the least of which is pride.
It’s become quite popular lately to say that you can be a Christian and not go to a particular church, be a Christian and attend church on-line, or be a Christian and attend no church at all. But none of these will save your life from falling into error. Frankly, for relationships to preserve you and your church from error, you and those you care for must meet with other believers in groups small enough for others in the group to know you. And I mean *really* know you.
So, if you want to build in a firewall of relationships that protect you from heresy, begin to meet and build relationships with a small group of believers submitted to Jesus and His word. Let them know you. Get to know them. This is step #1.
After building relationships, it’s important to purge hierarchy from them. This may sound even stranger than “relationships protect you from error.” The truth is one major source of deception in the body of Christ is our constant appeal to something else other than God’s word. When a believer who is considered a leader believes a lie or practices sin, that believer, left unchallenged becomes a source for others to appeal to. He or she goes from a person caught in error to a source to be appealed to. “I can do it because Pastor X says it’s okay,” is the lie we tell ourselves.
Instead, regularly gather under the leadership of Jesus and in submission to Him and His word. Don’t appeal to another’s authority. Appeal to the authority of Jesus and the Bible. All of the areas essential to life and godliness are covered in the Bible, leaving little need to appeal to another believer. Your testimony and opinion are great, but they’ll never rival the message of God, which is living, active, and able to separate between soul and spirit. I have fundamental concerns about any believer who is swayed by someone’s authority but not by the clear teachings of the Bible. If someone isn’t willing to listen to God’s revealed word, your persuasion or “rank” in the body won’t move them.
Learn to Encourage/Challenge/Rebuke
Finally, it’s important for believers to learn to lovingly encourage, challenge, and rebuke each other. This is difficult, particularly if you come from an environment where an authority was the final word on every subject. But the grand vision of the church in Scripture is one where believers “speak the truth in love” to one another (Ephesians 4:15).
This is the most difficult step. You, while equal in your standing before God, with humility, begin to encourage them to obey God’s word or bring to their attention where they aren’t. This will also require humility on their part as well. But it’s in this way that we achieve the mutual submission that Paul spoke of in Ephesians 5:21.
This will require of you that you learn to be patient, loving, and forgiving. Others will get it wrong. You will get it wrong. But the benefit here is well tested thoughts about God and Scripture, along with well tested lifestyles that stand strong in the face of persecution from the world. Your life isn’t perfect in your eyes but flawed in everyone else’s. You know what you believe because it was formed in the crucible of committed relationships.
None of these steps are easy. They all take time and intentionality. But if you build these three realities into your life and the life of the churches you are part of, the result will be a stronger lives in the Kingdom of God.
It’s the great fear of churches of all sizes and stripes. It’s particularly feared whenever you talk much about releasing the church to be the church in small, relationally focused groups (house churches).
Who will protect the people from heresy? What if someone believes something that isn’t in the Bible and starts teaching it to others? To those who have grown up under a strong biblical teacher or someone who has watched someone go into error, this is enough to scare people away.
Our house church network has had to deal with this issue over and over again. Small groups of Christians meeting together where anyone can share are prime places for people with weird views to show up. Heretics, both of the doctrinal and lifestyle varieties1 have tried to insert themselves into what we’re doing. But in the nine years that we’ve been doing this one thing has consistently guarded us against heresy: relationships.
That may sound weird if you’ve never been part of a relationship-centric church. But over and over again I’ve watched as deep, abiding relationships around the word of God have rescued others from biblical error. Whenever a heresy has sprung up, it was dealt with not through authority and bible-beating, but friendships where one person has lovingly challenged another about a particular belief not being in the word of God.
We’ve also noticed that the number one indicator of someone who comes into our fellowship having the potential to be a problem has been whether or not they are in relationship with others. Those who come as believers in Jesus but have terrible relationships with other parts of the body of Christ (by their own admission) have over time shown that they are after their own interests, not Christ’s. Again it comes back to relationship. Having a healthy relationship with Christ necessitates having a healthy relationship to his body.
The crazy thing is Jesus and the apostles believed in this relational element to the truth. Jesus says, “Anyone who receives you receives me…” (Matthew 10:40). John, the Apostle, says, “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us,” (1 John 2:18-19). I could go on.
The point is real, biblical truth is designed to flourish in community, not in isolation. And more importantly, real, biblical community is designed to protect the truth of Christ in the hearts and lives of His followers. Do you want to protect yourself or your church from heresy? Enter in to true relationships around God’s word.
1 I’m indebted to Neil Cole for pointing out that there are two types of heresy which the New Testament speaks of. When we speak of heresy, we usually refer to heresy of doctrine, which is obviously important to avoid. But the New Testament speaks equally about heresy of the life, where we live a life of error that doesn’t point to Jesus. While both doctrinal and lifestyle heresy are common, our discussion of heresy tends to focus on doctrinal heresy (i.e. believing Jesus is the Son of God, understanding how a man can be saved, what is the role of the Holy Spirit) while ignoring lifestyle heresy’s such as greed, legalism, or adultery. I believe Jesus is concerned with both doctrine and practice and to a certain extent, our practice is our doctrine (see Titus 2:1-13).
I’ve been thinking a lot about the life described in Psalm 1 lately. Particularly I’ve been asking God to make me the man David describes as blessed by God. David describes this man In this way: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3 ESV) Here are a couple of quick thoughts about this state of blessedness David describes:
•Meditating on the word of God is the means to rooting ourselves in God. Any thing that directs you away from God’s word is not directing you to streams of water.
•This man is fruitful, but not in the constantly busy, over-worked sort of way. The fruitfulness is seasonal. He is not concerned when it isn’t the season for fruit. He knows seasons change and fruit comes and goes with the seasons.
•Because he is rooted, his leaf doesn’t wither. He is stable in seasons that are dry. We are to be rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17) and that means when circumstances are dry or difficult we still are drawing from an unseen and unending source.
A year or so ago I had a minor revelation that changed how I understood much of the New Testament. It’s a small thing that dramatically shifts how we understand the priorities of Jesus and the apostles. Are you ready?
Somewhere along the way I began to replace every occurrence of the phrase “the word” with “the message.”
You see, every time I read the phrase “the word,” my mind always pictured the Bible. So when I read that Jesus was “the Word” (John 1:1) I would always think Jesus is the Bible. This was really confusing and I’ve seen it cause some folks to deify the Scriptures.
But if I replace “the word” with “the message” I get something entirely different. Now when I read that Jesus is the word I understand He is God’s Message. He is what God would say in any circumstance. And this message became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).
So when Luke writes in Acts 13:49 that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region,” I know that Luke is talking about the spread of the Gospel and not the knowledge of Bible verses. In the same way, when Paul encourages the Thessalonians to pray that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,” (2 Thessalonians 3:1), he’s asking them to pray that the message of the Gospel would be received powerfully.
All of this should shift the focus from accumulating Bible knowledge to actually being a part of knowing, embodying, and declaring God’s message that’s found so clearly in Jesus and the Gospel. This is why I’ve argued elsewhere that one of the minimum standards of discipleship is a functional knowledge of the Gospel.
What do you think? Would reading the Bible this way change how you understand what’s happening in the New Testament? And, is this approach dangerous in any way?