Comparing Ourselves Among Ourselves -The Journey of Discipleship and a Measure of Ministry Part I
The admonition given in II Corinthians 10:12 was primarily given to preachers who were comparing their ministries. There is a great danger of having false views of "success" in the ministry today based upon other churches and their ministry. Comparing themselves among themselves, they were not wise. This is even more true today because of the desperate state of Christianity. We are closer to a Sunday Circus than to sanctified saints.
There is also a definite application of this principle when it comes to us as individuals whether in the ministry or not. An attempt is going to be made to deal with both concepts by giving a scriptural standard whereby a church or pastor can gauge the "success" of their ministry and where an individual Christian can measure their growth in grace.
In the educational realm, we have ways of measuring development. We divide people into different levels of maturity such as elementary, middle school, high school, college, and graduate student levels. We also have stages in each of these levels such as grades, classes (freshman, sophmore, etc), and degrees (Bachelor, Masters, etc). It is also necessary in the spiritual realm to have a measure whereby we can gauge ourselves, because growth is not determined by how long you have been a Christian or how many services you attend.
It is essential that the Scriptures be our sole authority for faith and practice. The purpose for dividing this process is primarily to successfully locate our position in the process and to measure our progress in spiritual growth.
Secondly, it is to help understand where those we are discipling are at in their journey to better help them take the next step. We have "standardized tests" for children in each particular grade to determine if they are experiencing normal growth. This allows us to detect if a student is deficient in a particular skill before it is too late to do anything about it.
The same is necessary in the spiritual realm. Paul had a clear expectation for maturity among those converts who had been saved for an extended period of time.
Hebrews 5:12-14 "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillfull in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
He expected them to be teaching and able to comprehend the meat of the word. He even gave us a definition for what a babe is, which we will look at further. There is a saying, "don't expect what you don't inspect." We need to inspect our own spiritual condition and of those we disciple on a scriptural basis lest we be found deficient after it is too late. Not having a clear, scriptural gauge of growth in grace is a cause of confusion among people wondering where they are at in the journey and even more confusion about where they are going. And worst of all, are the people who mistakenly think they have already arrived!
In viewing the spiritual growth process, the Bible gives us three distinct stages of our journey in I John 2:12-14. John divides these believers up into children, young men, and fathers. We are going to maintain that three-fold division expanding the terms to Learners, Laborers, and Leaders. The terms are really synonymous and we will illustrate the different levels using examples from each term. However, in order to properly classify the broad spectrum of people that are encountered in ministry, a fourth class will also be added called "Lookers".
While the other three deal exclusively with saved individuals, this fourth category is a "mixed multitude". Multitudes came to see Jesus, who by the end of His ministry were nowhere to be found. He illustrates this numerous times in the scriptures in His parables. The parable of the sower, of the net, of the wheat and the tares, etc. Most of His parables were illustrating this single concept of identifying true disciples. He emphasized the significance of this after giving the parable of the sower in Mark 4. He taught the parable without giving the interpretation of it to the multitudes. However, the twelve later asked Him what it meant.
"Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables?"
He then went on to explain that a genuine convert will endure and bear fruit. He placed particular emphasis upon understanding THIS parable. If you don’t know what a genuine Christian is, how could you possibly make disciples? If you don’t know who can read and write (perceive spiritual things), how are you going to prepare them for college and a career. If you don’t know the difference between a carp and a catfish how can you sort fish out of the net? The goal of ministry in the local church is to take a mixed multitude and ultimately present them without spot and blameless, a chaste virgin, to Christ.
The gifts of evangelists, pastors, and teachers are for the "perfecting of the saints". That is the great task of the ministry. A minister must be able to deal with individuals at all four levels (lookers, learners, laborers, and leaders) at the same time. Consider how Jesus dealt with the multitudes and where He brought twelve ordinary men in three years. Who is sufficient for these things?
John the Baptist