Paul was powerful not only because he preached the same gospel wherever he went, but also because his way of life matched what he was preaching. When there is a close correlation between what a person says and how he lives, we refer to such a person as having integrity. If there is a large gap between what we preach and our way of life, we say, that guy is all talk. He’s a hypocrite. He says one thing, but he does the complete opposite. There’s a disconnect and when the gap between our words and life widens, the things we say lose its impact.
Paul was not physically able to be with the Corinthians so he does the next best thing. He sends Timothy, someone with whom Paul had been walking this faith journey together for a number of years. It was not just a teacher and a student relationship. They were like spiritual father and son. They enjoyed intimacy because they shared life together.
Isn’t that how Jesus ministered to his 12 disciples? They did life together, literally. They lived together, they traveled together. And Jesus could teach them spiritual lessons in the midst of life together. While they were eating, or as they encountered crowds and ministered to individuals, Jesus could use those as teaching moments.
Judging by the intimate relationships that Paul wrote about in the other epistles, I bet that Paul imitated Christ in his discipleship with others. And as Paul and Timothy did life together, Timothy was able to observe Paul’s life and he picked up some key qualities. Qualities such as his faithfulness in preaching the gospel, his Christ-like character and the way Paul lived in a Christ-like manner.
For Timothy, Christian life was more than just insights. It was not just head knowledge. You can’t merely teach a course on discipleship. We can’t treat it like an intellectual pursuit. The gospel is not something you simply taught. The gospel is something that needs to be caught.
The gospel needs to be caught because truth is embodied. When you see the gospel lived out powerfully in a person, something resonates in you–that’s what the gospel looks like. It’s like hearing a lecture. When you are listening, it makes sense. But when you actually try to do the problem set on your own, you realize that you don’t really understand the concepts. We can hear the gospel and we can nod our heads. Cross, yeah, it’s a good thing, I get it. Timothy no doubt heard countless sermons from Paul about the gospel. But listening to a podcast is an entirely different experience from observing how the gospel plays out in the trenches of someone’s day-to-day life.
Because of their close relationship, Timothy probably observed how Paul responded to being persecuted, being rejected, being shipwrecked, flogged, hungry, all these things that happened to Paul because he was living out the gospel. And I bet Timothy walked away, thinking, that’s how Jesus lived. Jesus lived by the theology of the cross and so did Paul. For Timothy, Christian life was not this fuzzy, abstract thing. Through Paul, Timothy had a concrete picture of the Christian life, one that he could imitate.
Why was Paul worthy to imitate? We can imitate Paul to the extent that 1) he was being faithful to the gospel, 2) he had a Christ-like character and 3) he lived in a Christ-like manner.
Discipleship happens in the context of intimate relationships where you can say to someone else, imitate me. Let me help you to take one step forward in your relationship with Christ. Let me help you connect with this man named Jesus because as the hymn goes, a wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord, a wonderful Savior to me. And we want others to experience how wonderful Jesus is.
The application is simple. If you are a disciple maker, then are you worthy to imitate? Worthy in terms of your faithfulness to the gospel, to its content, not adding to it, nor subtracting from it. Worthy in terms of your character, is your character growing in Christ-likeness? One test: when you are cursed, or persecuted, or slandered, dissed, dismissed, ignored, forgotten, how do you respond? Do you respond like Christ did when he was cursed, persecuted, or slandered? Lastly, do you live in a Christ-like manner? Is there a strong correlation between what you say and how you live?
If you a member of this church, meaning you are committed to this body and we are committed to you, and you feel like there is a lack in your relationship with Christ, then seek out a discipler. Discipleship happens as we imitate those who are a few steps ahead of us in the spiritual life. I have people who disciple me outside this church. Other pastors. We all need to be discipled. And eventually, every single believer must go and make disciples of all nations. That’s a universal command. Ask God to show you how you might obey that command this coming week.
Lastly, there are only 2 ways to do Christian life.
10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!
The 2 ways are laid out right there. 1) Following the theology of self-glory. Seeking a life where you are honored by others because you are so wise and strong, a life where you shine above others. 2) Or following the theology of the cross. Seeking not your personal glory, but living for the glory of God. Putting Jesus on a pedestal. Letting the cross permeate your character, your life, becoming more and more like Jesus.
We are much more like the Corinthians than we dare admit. Jesus chose the way of the cross and the world called him a fool. Paul chose the way of the cross and the world called him a fool. Should it be any different for us today? Let’s be fools for Christ.