Your Greatest Privilege and Highest Joy

October 09, 2014

""My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you..."" (Galatians 4:10)

Every serious believer longs to be faithful to the co-mission that Christ has given us—to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them all the things that Christ has taught us.[1] Other than Christ, the greatest disciple-making model we have in the Scriptures is Paul. His letters are a treasure of Biblical truth, but also visible illustrations of how the process of discipleship is accomplished.

Paul is writing in Galatians to a group of believers who were being affected by a terrible heresy. The Jews had for centuries missed the whole purpose of the Law as it had been given to them. The Law was given as an expression of the nature of God. “I am holy,” God had said, “and I made you in my image. You are to be holy.” “I don’t steal, I don’t want you to steal.” Etc.

When we try to fulfill the Law by our own ability we are always horrible failures. We are absolutely incapable because we come into the world separated from Christ. But the Law has a wonderful purpose: it shows us the standard and then reminds us of how far short we are falling. This is designed to lead us to a desperation that longs and looks for another way. And the other way is to cry out to Christ for forgiveness and deliverance and power.

Upon salvation, Christ’s Spirit comes to live in us and now we have the engine in the car. Now we have the ability to live up to the standard, but only through continual dependence on and surrender to the Christ who lives within

The whole letter of Galatians is reminding these new believers of this truth. And in the midst of this discussion, Paul makes this beautiful statement that lets us peer into his method and passion in discipling others.

THE PASSION of Discipleship

“My little children…”

Paul saw those he was discipling as his children. This was the most endearing term that could possible be used. It implies they are more than objects, they are people; they are more than random people, they are his children; they were not merely others kids, but HIS kids; they are more than passing acquaintances for whom he carries no weight of responsibility, they were joined to him till death and beyond.

If we want to be effective, our disciples must feel this same connection coming from us. And the love of Christ in us must constrain us to love them like a father loves his own begotten children.


“My little children with whom I AM…”

He does not say, “With whom some other people are.” Paul takes their well-being and growth directly upon himself. “I” am laboring, Paul says. And “I AM” laboring. I’m doing it—actively, practically, personally.

To be like Paul and his Master, we must see our disciples in the same way. We must not assume they are getting what they need or delegate it to others. It is our joyful task and high privilege.

THE ENDURANCE of Discipleship

“My little children with whom I am AGAIN…”

The tendency of the uncaring discipler is to be a hireling, not a shepherd, as Jesus spoke of in John 10. The hireling runs when the sheep are wandering or challenged. The true discipler comes back again and again to help his disciple. He realizes the weakness of man’s flesh, the insidious deception of the Enemy, and the continual pull of the world. He is not disappointed when his disciple wanders or even fails, but understands this as learning, growing moments and re-doubles his efforts.

Paul’s pattern was repetition, which is the soul of teaching. He was not perturbed to go over and over the basics. To come back again to remind them of things already taught.

THE SUFFERING of Discipleship

“My little children with whom I am again IN LABOR…”

The word Paul uses was the common word for the travail, the work of childbirth. Men have no concept, except by observation. Ask any mother! Childbirth is intense and agonizing. It is a supreme act of selflessness on behalf of another.

Paul often uses this term to describe the intensity of his work in discipling those he loved. He was willing to go through anything for his “children”…and so must we.

THE GOAL of Discipleship

“My little children with whom I am in labor UNTIL CHRIST IS FORMED IN YOU…”

Paul had no desire to form his disciples into his image. He wanted them to be “conformed to the image of Christ.” (Romans 8:29) Continually reminding them of Christ’s presence inside of them, he pushed them to trust Him explicitly and let the Spirit of Christ flow through them to a needy world. He urges them to be filled (controlled, dominated) in every portion of their lives by the Spirit and to walk (follow, instantly obey) the Spirit. To not quench the Spirit’s promptings and not grieve the Spirit through disobedience.

He knew this was a progressive process. He understood that it takes time for young believers to understand this new operating system and to rely on it fully. The temptation to fall back into humanistic dependence is strong and the results disastrous. But Paul labored with them until Christ was seen in full glory in and through their lives.

The result for Paul? He had the incredible privilege of being used by God in the most important task in the world—to help people know Christ and grow to maturity and usefulness in Him for all of eternity. And there was a great reward…

“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy!”[2]


[1] Matthew 28:19

[2] 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

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