Discipleship and Choice
American Christianity has become about choices. Early service, late service, contemporary music, traditional music, small groups, Sunday School, big church, little church. And these choices are for the most part self-focused – “I’m looking for a great kids ministry” or “I like a small church” or “I like the early service” or “I like an older pastor.” Not that any of these things are bad and we must commend ministries in the west for making church life and the word of God as accessible for everyone as we can get it. The question is, How does this square with the New Testament picture of a disciple or follower of Christ? Read the New Testament and THE CHOICE was often RISK or SECURITY, DEATH or LIFE. I know the environment was different, w/o the freedoms and technology that we enjoy today, but did Jesus intend Christianity to be free from risk and sacrifice. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” Luke 9:23-24. In Acts, we see the first Christ followers, after initial fears, CHOOSING risk and suffering over and over again. The Apostle Paul spoke of “the brand marks of Jesus” Galatians 6:17 (NASB) on his body, obviously speaking of the torture that he’d endured for sharing the Gospel in unreached areas. He catalogued his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:25-28:
countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,tin cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Neil Cole in his interpretive biography of Paul’s life called Journey’s to Significance suggests that Paul could have avoided the “forty lashes minus one” but could not b/c of his love for the Jews.
This type of scourging was sometimes meant to purge or restore a brother to the synagogue instead of making him suffer excommunication. The punishment was executed by three or more leaders…and was exercised for a number of reasons…including being a false teacher and entering the temple unclean, both of which Paul would be accused of having done. Saul saw the synagogues as strategically important for the mission he was ultimately called to fulfill, and so perhaps HE CHOSE to be beaten raw in this way just to maintain access. He could have escaped this horrendous suffering by being excommunicated or keeping his mouth shut, but neither was a real option for him, and so instead he endured.”
New Testament Christianity seems to ASSUME risk and its adherents seem to CHOOSE risk and sacrifice at every turn. And the catch is, according to Jesus’ words in Luke 9:24, it’s in risk and death to self that we find the thing we’re often looking for in our choices at church – security and life.
So what’s the riskiest choice you’ve made as a Christ-follower lately? To attend service at a different time? Joining a new class or group? Do those things, but ask, does this require faith and denial and sacrifice for me? If not, could I be missing a key to real obedience and growth toward God?
What can I do to risk more? Well, you’ll most likely not be asked to endure beating and torture, but here’s a few risk for starters:
- Take some risk in your neighborhood and invite someone over for coffee or dinner that you don’t know that well and build a redemptive relationship with them.
- Find an organization that’s reaching out to the hurting in your region. There are many. Like orphans and widows, inmate children, homeless or those facing imminent homelessness, the hungry through local food banks, etc., etc.
- Instead of consuming your church’s ministries, contribute by volunteering to teach or lead a group.
- Take a short-term mission trip or fund another mission trip goer.
And Pastor, I’m asking myself as a church leader – Am I offering my church the opportunity to experience growth and grace through risk, sacrifice, and adventure? If not, do we keep our church from experiencing the life Christ spoke of in Luke 9:24?