Before Jesus left this earth he gave his church one job to do before he came back; to make disciples. It’s called the Great Commission and we find it at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 28:16-20). Therefore, our task as Christians belonging to local churches is to do all that we can to obey that simple command. We’re here to make disciples of Christ.
That’s why I often say that we’re a church that exists for people that don’t do church. If we’re to do all that we can to make disciples, we can’t simply look after those that are already Jesus’ disciples. We have to go out and make new ones! And therefore we want to be a church full of people who are geared towards helping unbelievers of all ages and backgrounds hear the gospel in language that they can understand.
But how are we supposed to live ‘disciple making’ lives? In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul argued that he lived with two principles uppermost in his mind.
1. He was socially flexible (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)
Paul was an upper class ex-Jewish Christian convert. That’s a fairly narrow social group! He knew that if he was going to get the gospel out beyond his niche market he’d have to make a few adjustments and embrace social flexibility. And so he operated like an evangelistic chameleon. This small animal is the master of disguise. It simply changes its appearance depending on its setting so that it can blend into the background and fit in. That’s what we need to be like. We need to do whatever we can to make sure that we don’t stick out like a sore thumb and make it hard or uncomfortable for others to accept us. We need to fit into whichever social settings we encounter so that we can move freely in those circles and talk to people about the gospel. We’re not talking theologically but socially. The gospel message is unchanging but the methods we employ to get that message heard are many and varied.
Balham has an extraordinary diversity of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. To fulfil Jesus’ command we need to be willing to adapt and accommodate what others are like. We need to mix with people that are different to us. We mustn’t simply be interested in people like us. We need to broaden our social network. We need to be willing to do things differently from the ways we’ve done them before if it means that others will hear about Christ. We need to embrace change if by changing it means that we reach people with the gospel.
The opposite of being socially flexible is being socially inflexible! It’s being rigid and unbending. And when you put it in those terms it doesn’t sound great, does it? But we’re socially stiff when we require everyone to be like us and refuse to change to be like others. And that won’t do, will it?
2. He was personally sacrificial (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)
Paul recognised that if he was going to be socially adaptable there was a level of cost that he would have to incur. It wouldn’t be comfortable accepting change. At times it would be a bit of a pain fitting in with others. But sacrifice usually hurts. It’s in the nature of the thing!
He likened the Christian ‘disciple making’ life to being an athlete. Painful, self disciplined, self sacrifice is synonymous with athletic training and competition. Greg Searle, the Olympic Gold Medal Rower has just decided that he wants to compete in 2012. He’s 40! The BBC website had coverage of his winter training alone in freezing conditions on the river in Marlow. That’s sacrifice. And it’s just for a gold badge and temporary fame.
The opposite of being personally sacrificial is being personally comfortable. I like comfort. I prefer it to discomfort. I suspect I’m not alone. For me to give anything up there has to be a good reason. And there is. Jesus. One day he will greet us with these words ‘well done good and faithful servant’. Wouldn’t you like to make it easy for Jesus to say those words? Paul described how with every fibre of his being he did what he could to help unbelievers hear the gospel. Are we willing to do the same? It’ll take cost and sacrifice. But it’ll be worth it.
Each of us has the responsibility to ask ‘given who I am, with the gifts and responsibilities that God has given me what can I be doing to fulfil Jesus’ Great Commission?’ How we answer that question will be different for each one of us for one simple reason; we’re different. And so we mustn’t expect us all to do the same thing. And so we shouldn’t be judgemental if others aren’t doing what we’re doing. They’ll be doping something different. But let’s make sure that we’re doing something.
This is part of what it means to be godly. If we’re not living like this we can’t really consider ourselves to have made much progress in godliness. After all, this is what Christ did. And they don’t come much more godly than him! He showed he was socially flexible in his incarnation as the divine took on flesh. He showed he was personally sacrificial in his crucifixion as he gave himself at great cost. And both of these things, he did for others. Will we do the same?
With best wishes in Christ