I always thought it was a bit prideful of Paul to write things like – “follow my example” (1 Cor 11:1) and “join with others in following my example” (Php 3:17). Anyway, he says things like this throughout Scripture and it always bothered me a little, but last night in our small group it came up again and I think I finally understood it. One of the guys explained that in those days they didn’t have the Bible (well, not as we know it) – most people couldn’t read the letters that they did have either. Jesus had already resurrected too, so there really was no way for someone to know how to live out their faith except in watching someone else do it. Paul was trying to live his life in such a way that others could look at him and know how to live as a Christian.
Just as a father tries to live as an example to his children, Paul was doing the same. The idea of following someone’s example was not a foreign concept for the Jews either – the whole rabbinical system was based upon “becoming” like the rabbi. Jesus Himself taught his followers to do as they had seen Him do. (John 13:15). Anyway, all this is to say that Paul wasn’t just a big headed guy, he was simply trying to teach others how to live out their faith, and he used the same technique as their culture had been accustomed to.
Yes – I spelled “fourth” wrong on purpose – you’ll understand later. (It’s a really bad pun – but I’m just that stupid.)
Are you growing the way you should?
An interesting thought came out in class last night. We were talking about 1 Corinthians. Dr. Loken explained that Paul had planted the church in Corinth 4 years prior to writing the book we know as 1 Corinthians. (It’s actually at least the second letter he sent to them. – Check 1 Cor 5:9) Anyway, in Chapter 3 Paul makes it clear that he is disappointed in the Christians there for not growing to maturity. He assumes that after 4 years, they should have a basic understanding of their faith and even be able to teach others by that time. If you read Hebrews 5:10-6:2 along side 1 Corinthians 3, you can see the kinds of things the writer of Hebrews thinks they should understand: (1) repentance/life change, (2) Faith/trusting God’s sovereignty, (3) Baptism/Holy Spirit’s indwelling, (4) Laying on of hands/healing (James 5), & (5) Resurrection/Judgement – heaven & hell. (Each of these can be found in Hebrews 6:1-2)
Anyway, this whole 4 year thing is interesting to me – think about it – Jesus was with the disciples about 4 years – Paul expects maturity in about 4 years – we send students to college for about 4 years hoping that they would have a basic understanding of their subjects. Dr. Loken suggested (I think appropriately) that if you were discipling someone for 20 years and they hadn’t grown enough to disciple others themselves, then something is wrong. He never suggested that we don’t need long-term accountability or deeper teachings – but in regards to these basic tenants of our faith – we should be able to teach them to someone else after about 4 years of discipleship. This is not a scriptural law or some hard-and-fast rule, but simply a guide which the Scriptures seems to point to as a basic benchmark.
As a youth minister who will have students in my ministry for about 6 years, this was especially interesting to me. I think I’m gonna begin working on a plan to make sure that these ideas are clear in each and every one of our students by the time they graduate. I’ll try to work with our childrens coordinator to begin this process during the time when our students are transitioning from childrens ministry into youth ministry. For us, that happens in a “confirmation” process.
Anyway, it was a fun class – which brought up quite a few ideas which were new to me.