Part V of our series on Preparation
Today, I want to give to you a strategy for discipling Christians in order to help them be generalists so they can mirror Christ. Let’s look at Matthew 22:34-40:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Here, Jesus talks about 2 commandments: love God and love neighbor. Now I want to show you another Scripture which is very similar but which many don’t think of as being related.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
In verse 24, Jesus talks about two commandments, and even though it doesn’t seem like it, these are the same two commandments he talked about in Matthew 22.
Love God = hear the word. Love neighbor = do the word.
Hearing the word – loving God – is about our own internal spiritual development.
Doing the word – loving neighbor – is about our external ministry or the ways we act in the world.
When we disciple people and help them grow to fullness in Christ we need to keep both of these in focus: their internal spiritual development and their external ministry. And we need to understand that these two are intertwined. Because as Jesus says in Matthew 7, “Whoever hears my words and does them is like a man who builds his house upon the rock; when the rains and the floods and the winds come the house still stands.” He goes on to say that when this link is broken, the house will fall. “Whoever hears my word but does not do them is like a man that builds his house upon the sand.”
And one of the most common discipleship problems today is related to splitting these two areas of development.
Many churches are very good at hear-the-word discipleship, which they consider to be very important, but they neglect the kind of do-the-word discipleship that God intends to flow from hearing the word. They might consider feeding the hungry to be less important than one’s prayer life, for example.
What happens when we do this; when we focus on internal spiritual development but we fail to do external ministry? We lack impact. Christ wants us to impact the world but when we separate the hearing and the doing of the word, we can’t. We can’t just swing the other way, either. If we focus on external ministry and not spiritual development, we lack power.
In order to have power and impact in ministry we must have link together the hearing and doing of the word.
But I want to make sure we don’t come away today thinking that linking them together means just being sure to do both. What we’re discussing here isn’t a matter of merely doing some internal development and some external ministry.
Linking our hearing and doing – loving God and loving neighbor – means seeing them as a singular whole. They are inseparable. The only way we can come to know God fully is through the linking together of the hearing and the doing of the word.
The doing of the word illuminates the hearing of the word.
In a very real sense, we won’t understand—or appreciate—what Christ has done for us until we do it for others in his name and by his power. And when we separate hearing and doing the word, we end up with one of two spiritual problems: legalism and works righteousness.
Legalism is an ungodly focus on internal spiritual growth. Jesus talks about how people in his days would tithe even their spices – the problem is, they neglected the weightier matters of the law. In Isaiah 58, for example, the Israelites say they cry out to God. They say, “We have been fasting but you don’t notice. Why are you not paying attention to us?” And God answers by saying, “Because the kind of fast I have chosen is for you to share your bread with the poor and open your home to the homeless.”
When we focus on internal spiritual development alone, we end up with legalism.
The other spiritual problem we can end up with by separating the hearing and doing of the word is works righteousness. This is the belief that we must do certain things in order to go to heaven or earn God’s love. It flows out of trying to do the word without first having heard it.
So, terrible things happen every time we separate the hearing and doing of the word. Heresy happens. And great things happen every time we link the two. The goodness of God is made real to us and visible to others! And none of this happens just because we want it to.
It requires a comprehensive system that is rooted in the Holy Spirit and circumscribed and guided by the love of Christ.
Fortunately, Scripture and church history have bequeathed to us everything we need. It’s to these tools that we’ll turn in subsequent posts as we begin to install our plan for growing to fullness in Christ through the hearing and doing of the word.