Discipleship: the secret of lifelong learning
As I write this, my youngest daughter is bouncing around the dining room table. Anyone even remotely acquainted with teenagers will know that 14-year-olds, as a general rule, do not bounce. Slouch, certainly. Slink, even, if they’ve done something they think you won’t approve of, but bouncing is very rare. Today, however, is the great exception, because today school is out for summer.
Most of us will remember that feeling – no more study for six whole weeks. For me, the best day was when I left education behind completely, no longer a student but somebody finally able to participate in “real life”. So it’s rather sobering to remember that the word “disciple” essentially means “learner”. In using this word to describe Christians, the Bible is defining us as those who will always, in this life, need to have our training wheels on and our L-plates visible.
We see this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Even though the congregation in Philippi were clearly committed believers who brought Paul great joy because of their work for the gospel (1:4-5) his prayer for them is still “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best” (1:9-10). In other words, Paul’s fervent prayer for the Philippians is that they continue to learn.
In the first session of Discipleship Explored, Barry Cooper explains what may have moved Paul to pray this. “The uncomfortable reality is that we don’t always know ‘what is best’. Things that seem good and feel right can be disastrous for us. That’s a real challenge: are we willing to keep growing in our knowledge of God’s word and follow it wherever it leads, even if it goes somewhere difficult or uncomfortable?”
Being a Christian means we have to accept the limitations of our own understanding. There will be times when we don’t understand why God prohibits something that our culture says is beneficial or allows circumstances that are acutely painful. Paul himself writes to the Philippians while chained to a Roman guard, facing death. Despite this, he is able to say “I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (1:18-19).
What gives Paul his strength is the sure and certain knowledge that God is about the business of redeeming his creation. Jesus doesn’t call us to be mere foot-soldiers, given our instructions but otherwise left in the dark. God has unrolled his battle plan for us to see. This is my strategy, he says, to send my perfect Son to die in the place of sinful humankind. These are my tactics, he says, to write my law on the hearts of my servants, and to send my Spirit to help them love me and love their neighbour. In this way, I will defeat my enemy completely and for good.
So it’s no wonder that Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians is to learn the plan until they “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight”. There is so much for us to take in — more than is possible to learn in a human lifetime — but that shouldn’t stop us from delighting in every word and relishing every detail.
Written by Kay Carter, UK National Director