What Jesus expects of Disciples–part 3

Matthew 18:10–14 (ESV) 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

After warning against those who would cause temptation to sin, Jesus called his disciples’ attention back to the child near him. (18:2) He warns his disciples against despising the little ones. They are not to mistreat them or look down upon them. Rather, they are to humbly care for them and treat them with value. The mention of “their angels” is not so much to create a doctrine of guardian angels, as it is to highlight how important the little ones are to God.

To bring out that importance even more, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. The diligence of the shepherd is clear. He has one hundred sheep so why would one be important? Clearly the one sheep that strays is a problem. After all, the other ninety-nine have no problem staying close to their shepherd. Isn’t going after it, more trouble than it is worth?

Not to the shepherd, and by way of application, no straying disciple is so unimportant that God would not pursue him or her. The structure of the parable emphasizes the act of seeking the lost sheep.[i] The context of the parable as related by Matthew suggests that the sheep are disciples. Jesus is teaching his disciples that He expects them to look out for one another. We are not to stand by calmly while a fellow believer goes in a dangerous direction. No matter how insignificant straying disciples may seem, we are to go after them, seek them out, and bring them back. Every disciple is worth restoring.

[i] Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005, 740.

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Ordinary Radicals

David Platt’s book, Radical, has been surprisingly controversial. (Honestly when I read it, I thought, “This is radical?”) Many have reacted against its message of following God with a radical level of obedience. Some have suggested that it has morphed into a new type of legalism, where people should strive to complete some huge task for God. And they may have a point. There are many books by Christian authors speaking as radical can only be extraordinary. However, I think there is also a danger in glorifying the ordinary. I think Scripture teaches that while our lives may be ordinary, we are still called to live a life of radical discipleship.

Some point to passages such a 2 Thessalonians 3:12 to insist that Christians should live comfortable, ordinary lives. After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. The problem is that in the context of that verse, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to be imitators of him. Paul was anything but ordinary. He was a radical disciple if ever there was one. He saw his work as furthering the cause of the Gospel.

At the same time, while many may attempt great things for God, the truth is that not all will achieve great things for God. Most Christians, even those who are martyrs, die in anonymity. Not every Christian leads ten people a week to the Lord. Not every pastor grows a church from 20 people to mega-church. No every church planter starts a church multiplication movement. Truth is that like so many things in the Christian life, we live in tension between being ordinary and being radical.

Jesus calls ordinary people to live life with an orientation that is radically different from those around them. Jesus commands us to seek His kingdom first while trusting that He will give the ordinary things in life that we often strive for. This call means that even in living quietly and earning a living that we do so not for ourselves: we do so to further God’s kingdom.

We earn not so that we can gather more but so that we can give more. For ourselves, we want only to decrease so that Christ increases more. We concern ourselves with the eternal destiny of others and desire for all to hear the gospel. We share the gospel with those that we can, and we support others to go to those we cannot tell. We are radical because instead of gathering riches and more things, we give wealth so that others can share in our eternal treasure. We offer our time, our talents, and our treasure up to God to advance His kingdom. Every disciple, extraordinary or ordinary, is called to this radical view of life.

Another passage often used to encourage the quiet, non-radical life is 1 Timothy 2:1-2, where Paul encourages prayer for all people, especially rulers so “…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (ESV) Once again, a study of the surrounding context shows that the primary desire for the prayer is not for an undisturbed, ordinary life, but rather conformity to God’s desire that all hear and respond to the Gospel.

So, what does radical and ordinary mean for a disciple seeking to obey Christ? Radical is not always loud, big and unusual. Ordinary is not just like everyone else. We are called to live our lives with a radical orientation toward seeing God’s Kingdom spread. That vision changes what we value, making our lifestyles radically different from those who do not share it. So, even if we are living an ordinary suburban life, we are still radical in comparison to those around us. We prepare to share the Gospel, and we seek to share the Gospel. We submit our prayer life to God and focus our prayers outward for the lost world. We concern ourselves for the deprived or the oppressed. We see the world as God sees it, and we care for it as God does. We are motivated to do all in our ability to see the Gospel impact the world.

Being radical is being obedient in every aspect of our ordinary lives. If the church takes such a call seriously, the results will be extraordinary.