Essential Engagement – Session 1 – Introduction
So far in our clear guided pathway to spiritual development, we have discussed Essential Truths and Essential Disciplines. But there is one more group of Essentials, just as important as these other two: Essential Engagement. Becoming a disciple of Jesus requires us to move beyond ourselves into the world, to do the work that God has called us to do. We cannot just close ourselves off. Discipleship is not just about “me and Jesus”. It is always about “us and Jesus.” We must engage by committing to others and to mission.
1 Commitment to Others
The Apostle Paul gives this command to early disciples:
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6
In a world filled with false, hateful and judgmental messages, we, as God’s people must inject the grace of Christ’s gospel and the truth of His word. Whether the world knows it or not, whether we know it or not, they need us! Not because we are the answer, but because we know the One who is the Answer, the One who is “the way, the truth and the life”. (John 14:6)
Our healing message to the world is spoken by actions as well as words. As a community of God’s people, we speak most powerfully when we act like God’s people. How we treat one another says much about who we are. As disciples of Jesus, we must grow in this commitment to one another. We grow in this commitment as we learn to love, encourage and serve one another.
1.1 Learning to Love, Encourage and Serve
Our actions must define love for a world that too often gets it wrong. The apostle John says:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18
Loving actions define true love. Without loving actions, true love cannot exist.
One concrete way to express this love is by encouraging one another. As we all strive toward the same end, under the same Father, serving the same Lord, and empowered by the same Spirit, we learn to lift one another up. The writer to the Hebrews says:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
Here we are given the clear directive to encourage one another. And to encourage one another, we must be together. We must break free of the relationship-phobic and commitment-phobic culture in which we live. We must get out from behind our artificial, social media profiles, and meet people in real life, to lift them up, with encouraging prayers and conversations.
And, when we are freed to love, we are free to serve. Jesus sets the example, when “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant….” Philippians 2:7
The world may look down on servants, but Jesus shares His glory with them. In God’s kingdom, we are not made rich or powerful to serve ourselves. God only gives wealth, power and authority so that we may serve others.
1.2 Commitment to Church, Family and Care
As we learn to love, encourage and serve others, we should express our commitment to others in three concrete ways, in our commitment to church, family and care.
In various passages, the apostle Paul compares the church to our physical bodies. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12. Though we are one body, inspired by one breath, we also have many body parts, that all must work together. The body parts are visible, while the breath that unites us is not visible. And while some body parts seem more presentable, and others remain covered, they are all important.
Likewise, the church is both an invisible, spiritual organism and a visible, physical organization. We are united by the same Father, Son and Spirit. And yet, we are scatted across the world and throughout history as local assemblies of real people. To be a part of Christ’s church, therefore, we must commit to one of these local assemblies, as imperfect as they might be. The same Spirit breaths through all of God’s people, and we mature together as we commit to one another. By becoming a “member” of Bethany Church, we express this commitment to our local, physical organization of believers.
As part of this commitment to church, we must also commit to raising our children together. God created the biological systems that bring children into families, so that they can be raised in a loving, nurturing environment. The church has an obligation to support these families as they fulfill this God-given responsibility. And, because families must deal with brokenness of all types, the entire church must pitch in and share the responsibility for the children brought into their community.
And finally, this commitment to church requires a commitment to care. The brokenness of the world touches every generation. As a people who are charged to love with action, we must do our part to heal this brokenness, by the power of God’s Spirit. As the Apostle Paul says, we must comfort other “with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:4
2 Commitment to Mission
As we commit ourselves to one another, through church, family and care, we must remain focused on our mission, to become and make disciples, to Be One and to Make One. A clear picture of this mission draws us into faithful service. We must therefore examine the authority, accountability, rewards and power that God attaches to this mission.
2.1 Authority, Accountability and Reward
When Jesus calls His disciples, He says:
“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10:19
Here Jesus extends the, powerful, extraordinary authority that the Father has given to Him, to complete His saving mission among us. He says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….” Matthew 28:18-19
The Son delegates authority to His disciples to extend His kingdom among all people, in all places, in all times. And, because He has given us this mission, He will hold us accountable for fulfilling our roles within it. The apostle Paul says:
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-13
This “Day” will reveal the faithfulness of God’s servants. Paul is careful to explain that our salvation does not depend upon our efforts. We inherit heaven purely by grace, by the saving act of Jesus. Some of us, however, will barely make it. Those who do nothing toward this mission “…will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:15.
But we must do better than this. And God promises an eternal reward to those who faithfully execute on mission. Jesus says:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
We are working for treasure, but we will not find it buried here on earth. It awaits us in our eternal home being prepared for us. We are working for a crown, but it is a different kind of crown. As Paul explains:
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
2.2 Power: The Presence and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
This extraordinary mission to extend God’s kingdom will require God’s power. We cannot accomplish this big goal based on our strictly human knowledge, talents and abilities. We must be infused with God’s power.
Jesus ties this power to the presence of the Holy Spirit. He builds on the creation story, when the Spirit “was hovering over the waters” Genesis 1:2, and when He “…formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” Genesis 2:7 Jesus explains that this same Spirit is also present in our new creation, when we “are born of water and the Spirit”. John 3:5. This Spirit now remains in us, as our Divine “advocate”, who “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
The presence of this Spirit assures us that we have power to overcome all things, even death itself. Paul teaches us that:
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Romans 8:11
Our moral bodies have their limits, but they will not limit our spiritual power, because the Divine Spirit Himself dwells and breathes within us. Even when this body dies, we will not die, because God will raise us up, even as Christ was raised.
The presence of this Holy Spirit empowers us to obey and to serve. While the same Spirit indwells all of us who follow Christ, His power is nevertheless revealed differently in each of us. We call these different manifestations, “gifts of the Holy Spirit”. Paul describes them this way:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
God has given each of us at least one “gift”. To give us an idea of what these gifts might look like, Paul provides several sample lists throughout his letters. These lists are not exhaustive, but they get us thinking about how the Spirit is uniquely empowering us to serve.
As we seek to discover our particular gifts, we recommend the following.
1. Reflect on your God-given Passions.
God has poured His passion for the world into each of us differently. Perhaps we are concerned about injustice, poverty, education, or addiction. Perhaps we love art, nature, or music. And maybe God has given us a deep love for the scriptures, or a heart broken for the lost people of the world. Each of these passions can help us discover the spiritual gifts God’s Sprit is giving to us.
2. Reflect on your God-given Experiences
Each of us has experienced a unique life. Those experiences cannot be repeated exactly by anyone else. This makes your life important. Nobody knows exactly what you know! And God can use this unique knowledge in His kingdom. All of our experiences, even the painful and uncomfortable ones, can benefit others, as they seek God’s will in their lives. The Holy Spirit may be gifting you to use those experiences in a powerful way to shape others.
3. Dialogue with God and Others
As we learned in our Essential Disciplines series, prayer is dialogue with God. Through prayer, God will share His unique calling with you through His Spirit. Be patient, however, because God will reveal this calling in His time and in His way. And be sure to pray with others. Allow their insight and wisdom to guide your reflection.
This, then, is an overview of a disciple’s call to Essential Engagement. In the following sessions, we will address these topics in more depth. Until then, however, we pray that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Him.
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all English translations of the Bible in this document are taken from The New International Version. (2011); Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.