Category Archives: Evangelism

The Parable of the Lost: Part 1 (Sheep)

Jesus loved to tell parables in order to open up the eyes of the people. Some parables confounded his hearers and some were figured out pretty quickly. The three parables that we are looking at for the next three days were, I think, those that were figured out pretty quickly. Today’s is the parable of the Lost Sheep.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance, (Luke 15:1-7, ESV).

It was well-known that God’s people, in this case the Jewish people, were often called sheep. Often the prophets of old would refer to the people in such a way. At the same time, their leaders were considered to be shepherds. They watched over the common-folk. When the shepherds (the Pharisees and scribes) reacted badly to Jesus’s eating with “sinners,” Jesus asked the question as to which of them, having lost a sheep, would not go find it.

If we were to stop and think about it, we might think for a moment that it would be ludicrous to risk losing all the other sheep and go search for the one. Ninety-nine are more valuable than one measly little sheep. That may be true if we were simply to see them as a group, but if we were to stop and think of these 99 as individuals, we may realize that each has value on its own. How many sheep must be lost before the profit-to-loss ratio turns on its head? Two? Four? Thirty? To the shepherd, at least a good shepherd, that number is one. That sheep has value all by itself.

Think for a moment. If it were you or I, we may not have even notice a sheep was missing. There are 100 sheep out there to count. We might wonder if we miscounted. We may not even count them at all; they look like they’re all there. But to a good shepherd, who knows his sheep by name, and whose sheep hear his voice and follow him, he notices when one of his sheep are missing. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote, “A poverty comes to their owner when they are missing. There is a wanting in the owner’s heart. The owner feels their absence. That’s why he can’t remain with the ninety-nine but must go after that solitary sheep.”* That’s true even though it may have been a “problem-sheep.” After all, we are talking about Jesus eating with “sinners.” Maybe this sheep wanders away often. Maybe it doesn’t stay with the flock. Maybe it gets caught in the brambles and has to be released and then have all the pickers and pokers and thorns pulled from its wool. Why bother?

The Pharisees and scribes were probably more like us than we care to think. These were not the right kind of people to hang around, let alone go after. Let them go. We’ve got enough. We’ve got plenty. No need to bring back the “problem-sheep,” those “sinners.” But a good shepherd doesn’t think that way. That’s why he not only goes after the sheep but places it on his shoulders. He keeps it close so it can hear his voice clearly, be comfortable, hopefully stay out of as much trouble. Caring for the sheep–the sinner–is no chore for the shepherd, but a delight. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”

As co-heirs with Christ and as ambassadors of the Father, we are to care as much about the lost sheep as the Good Shepherd does. We are to seek and save those who are lost just as he would. We are to rejoice at their being found and brought back to the flock. After all, if we are followers of the Good Shepherd, it is only because he found us and brought us back.

*Thabiti Anyabwile, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Luke, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2018), 233.

 

Discipling According to Paul

Discipling can very easily be thought of as an overwhelming, daunting task of developing and maintaining a Bible study with a new believer. One who does not believe he/she is gifted in teaching are likely to break out into a fearful, sweaty mess of person. Yet, it does not have to be this way. If one were to follow the pattern of Paul in 2 Timothy, one would see that there are categories of discipleship that the apostle interweaves together. While he does incorporate Scripture with his protégé/disciple, he is not performing any type of rigorous, verse by verse Bible study with him. Instead, he is simply using Scripture to prove the point at hand.

Personally, I found five categories of discipleship in 2 Timothy that are crucial for the discipler and disciple. In the next few paragraphs, I will give one example within the text, but also list references that could be studied for further understanding. These five categories are:

1. Encouragement

2. Gospel-Remembrance

3. Personal Testimony

4. Warnings

5. Admonishment

Encouragement

It is more often the case than not that a person (whether a new believer or old) sees his/her failings more than their accomplishments. Christians will sit through sermon after sermon hearing about sins and being better Christians than hearing about the progress that they are making. This can lead to a defeated life. Paul, however does not forget to include Timothy’s growth in his letter to him. The apostle encourages him in such a manner as: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also,” (2 Timothy 1:5, CSB). How encouraging would it be for Timothy to hear that Paul is convinced of this young man’s faith. It very well could be that Timothy questioned his own faith as many are apt to do, but to hear someone who is well-known and respected within the Christian community to write and say he was convinced of Timothy’s faith could be a life-saver. A discipler must never neglect the power of encouragement. (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:10-11 also).

Gospel-Remembrance

Keeping the gospel in front of a believer is crucial to their godliness and growth. Who has not sought to serve God in their own power? Who has not at some time forgotten that we do not gain God’s love through works, but it is by God’s love that we have our works?  Here was Timothy, serving the church in Ephesus and encountering much affliction. It would have been unfortunate if he had allowed the gospel to be buried beneath all the burdens he was carrying. Thankfully, Paul reminded him time and again of the gospel message. “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” (2 Timothy 1:9, CSB). If we are wanting to be good disciplers, it is imperative that we keep the gospel before our own eyes as well as those whom we disciple. (cf. 2:19; 4:7, 18 also).

Personal Testimony

The personal testimony is not only for speaking to the lost. It encourages and strengthens the saved as well. The testimony of afflictions, failures, hardships, and accomplishments can go a long way in the growth of a disciple. People need to know that others have faced what they are facing. They need to know that there is an end in sight. Of course, they also need to know that there is no foreseeable end, but one can remain faithful. Then again, they need to know that there is grace when a believer fails to be as faithful as he/she ought. Paul shared his testimony with Timothy. “For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day,” (2 Timothy 1:11-12). In essence, Paul just told Timothy, who was a herald and a teacher, that he has gone through what Timothy is going through (in fact, he’s still in prison about to die). Yet he has not given up hope, but is convinced of God’s faithfulness. What a blessing for Timothy. A timely word through a personal testimony. Let us never neglect to give the power of a personal testimony. Disciples need them so let us give them. (cf. 2:8-10; 3:11; 4:6-7 also).

Warnings

Warnings are a must. While there are three positive discipling categories, there are two negative–at least in one sense. Warnings are one of those two. Having fought so hard and so long against enemies of the faith, it is easy to see Timothy growing tired and wanting to throw in the towel. Perhaps, some of the arguments of his opponents are starting to make a bit more sense. Who knows? Paul takes no chances. He warns Timothy what giving in and giving up can do. This false teaching can spread like gangrene. “Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some,” (2 Timothy 2:17b-18, CSB). Paul used concrete examples, names of those who have departed from the truth, showing the devastation they left in their wake. It is not wrong to use names and specifics when warning others not to go in such a direction as those who shipwreck their faith. The discipler will be discerning about when to use such warnings with those whom they teach. (cf. 3:1-9; 4:3-4 also).

Admonishment

The second of the negative categories could be looked at in the positive light as well since the point is to push the believer to holiness. However, admonishment typically comes when a believer is negligent in some aspect of their life, and needs to be shown where he/she goes wrong and how to correct it. In the positive Paul wrote, “Therefore, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment,” (2 Timothy 1:6-7, CSB). Yet then goes negative and back to positive in verse 8: “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead share in suffering for the gospel relying on the power of God,” (CSB). One could say that this was an Oreo admonishment with the negative situated between two positives. Admonishments are different than warnings as warnings are used to show what happens if one does not heed the admonishments, where as the admonishments are entreaties to live in a manner worthy of the calling. The discipler ought to be intimately aware of the dealings with the one they teach so that they can admonish when necessary. (cf. 1:1314; 2:1-3, 14-16, 22-25; 3:12-17; 4:1-2, 5 also).

Note however that in this entire letter there is the mood of love, care, and understanding. It is quite conversational, though of course, one hears (reads) only one side of the conversation. This is not a Bible study, a lecture, a sermon, or anything else that would be deemed “official.” Paul is writing as one who cares about Timothy–one who knows him and his thoughts, pains, fears, etc. These categories are interspersed throughout the letter. He goes from one to another back to one and then a completely different one. The point is that one does not have to prepare too much to be a discipler. He/She simply needs to be a friend who listens and then talks, helping the new-believer through questions and fears. It is organic and natural, not forced or separated from “real life.” Yes, use the Bible. Let it be a guide and a help. After all “All Scripture is inspired and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, CSB). May we all be discipling according to Paul.