Every Christian exists in two worlds at the same time. He lives in a world1 teeming with unsaved people captivated by unbelief. This world has rejected his Savior and accepted the lie of Satan. At the same time, if he is faithful to Christ, he also lives in a world (the church) that is a mixture of maturing saints (at different levels of maturity) and a possible few who profess to know Jesus but in reality, do not. Managing life in both worlds is not easy. In fact, each poses a unique set of challenges. Life among unbelievers is difficult because these people approach life from a nearly opposite vantage point from that of a Christian. They are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2) and their thoughts are spiritually empty (Ephesians 4). According to Romans 1, unsaved people can be plotted on the graph of depravity. They are either living according to their natural sinful desires (spiritual uncleanness—Romans 1:24), or they are living according to unnatural desires (vile affections—Romans 1:26), or they are living without any moral constraint (reprobate mind—Romans 1:28). These cannot be discipled because unsaved people are incapable of understanding spiritual truths other than their need for salvation (1 Corinthians 2:14). That comes by the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and uses the gospel to convince unbelievers of their need of salvation. On the other hand, life among believers is also difficult because being a Christian does not rid one of his sinful desires. While it is God’s plan that Christians order their lives in the guiding power of the Holy Spirit, that does not always happen. Being a Christian does not eliminate the possibility of sin and some Christians commit as horribly sinful acts as the unsaved do. There are times when there is little practical difference between a person who is “of the flesh” (unsaved) and one who is living a life “characterized by the flesh” (saved but living carnally) (1 Corinthians 3). One of the main goals of discipleship is to evangelize the unsaved with the gospel and train up those who believe in the Christian faith. This creates the discipleship chain.
The command of Jesus to the disciples (and to us by extension) is that we must share the gospel with unbelievers with whom we live (our own sphere of influence). We are to be witnesses for the gospel. God has given us the ability to do that through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8a). This is sometimes referred to as evangelizing “our Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8b). What this verse means is that God has given us everything we need in order to fully evangelize our community. The difficulty comes in obeying this command.
It can be difficult to share the gospel without fear. There is both a natural and unnatural fear (Satan causes Christians to fear) that comes with giving the gospel to others. Timothy, even though he was Paul’s own disciple, was no less afraid. Paul writes Timothy to instruct him to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). He was to share the gospel with unbelievers. Just because Paul commanded him to do it did not make Timothy less afraid. Paul says as much in 2 Timothy 1:7. He writes: “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” This fear we experience at the moment of sharing our faith does not come from God. It is a fear that comes from our own pride and from Satan. God gives us what we need to overcome this fear. He gives us “power, and love, and a sound mind.” We have the ability, the motivation (if we are controlled by the Holy Spirit) and the mental acumen needed to obey the command of Jesus. It is not a matter of ability. It is a matter of will.
One of the ways to do this is to become skilled at sharing one’s own personal testimony.2 When you enter into a conversation with an unbeliever, you should be looking for opportunities to share your faith. When that opportunity presents itself, you should tell your story about coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
Another means by which we can evangelize unbelievers is to offer to read the Bible together. In this case, God does all of the work. The Holy Spirit uses the words of the text to convict the unbeliever of his sin and present the hope that is in the gospel.
The Chain of Discipleship
If the person to whom you are witnessing trusts in Christ, then you should immediately begin the process of discipleship. Winning someone to salvation in Jesus is winning a disciple for yourself! This is great news. When you begin this process, you begin constructing a discipleship chain. There are at least four places in the New Testament where this chain is evident. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the apostle Paul commands the Corinthians to be his followers (disciples). They were to imitate him. This was, he wrote, exactly how he was with Jesus. There is the chain. Jesus was in the lead. He is the first link in the chain. Then there was Paul. He was the second link in the chain. After Paul came the Corinthians. The chain looked like this: JesusPaulCorinthians. Another example of this chain is in 1 Thessalonians 1. Paul writes that these believers in Thessalonica became “followers of us,” a reference to Paul and his companions in ministry. The church planting team was the first link in the chain. Then the Thessalonians were examples to other churches scattered throughout Greece. This chain was JesusPaul/Timothy/SilasThessaloniansAsian Churches.
Two other examples are stated even clearer. In 2 Timothy 2 Paul commands his young “son in the faith” to take the doctrines he had been taught and to teach them to others who could in turn teach them to others. Thus, the chain looked like this. PaulTimothyFaithful menOthers. In Titus 2, godly women are instructed to form their own chain. Titus was to teach the aged women so that they could teach the younger women. What was Titus to teach? Titus 2:1 indicates that Titus was to teach “sound doctrine,” ie. what he learned from Paul. The chain looked like this. PaulTitusAged womenyounger women.
The Doctrine of Interdependence
The whole point to a chain is that it creates mutual dependence between the links. Marines coach young riflemen that they are a chain and only as strong as their weakest link. Likewise, Christians are supposed to be interconnected so that each individual saint is part of a greater whole. Interconnection is obvious in our Lord’s metaphor of the vine and the branches (John 15). Jesus refers to Himself as a vine and Christians as branches growing out of that vine. The fruitfulness of the vine is determined on the connectivity of the branches to the vine. Branches that are connected bear fruit because that’s what vines do on their branches. Another metaphor that emphasizes interconnectivity is that one where the Church is a “body.” This body metaphor explains the relationship that Christians have with God and each other. Jesus Christ is the head of this body (Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 2:19). Growing out of this head is the rest of the body, the Church. Christians themselves are the individual body parts—the eyes and ears, the hands and feet (1 Corinthians 12:14-16).
Interdependence is not a minor point of doctrine. Under the broader head of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church), interdependence is presented as vitally important. A body that suffers disconnection is in danger of death. To be disconnected from the head, the body certainly dies. Decapitation is fatal. Amputation of limbs can also be very dangerous. On the other hand, a body that is perfectly connected and working as it should is the kind of body every person wants. It is probably the body of an athlete or a soldier. How successful can a basketball player be who has no hands? How effectively can a NASCAR driver race who cannot see? A fully functioning body is a good example of what the Bible means by interdependence. When a Church is filled with members that are connected to the Head (Jesus Christ) and each other, it is a congregation of Christians accomplishing what God intends. Thus, each member is a link on the chain.
What is particularly telling is that there strong emphasis on interdependence in the New Testament, particularly in the portions written specifically to churches or pastors. Take the epistles as an example. They mandate interconnection. Yet this has been overlooked in the study of Scripture to the point that most Christians would have difficulty identifying individual texts in the New Testament where interdependence is demonstrated. This is rather disconcerting because interdependence is literally peppered throughout the entire New Testament.
Here are just a few selected examples:
- John 15:12—the command is given to love one another.
- Acts 4:32—the congregation in Jerusalem was of one heart and one soul to the point that they shared their material possessions with each other.
- Romans 12 is filled with interdependence. V. 15 reads “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
- In 1 Corinthians 6 the church was chastised by Paul for individuals taking each other to court because these were things they should be deciding within the church.
- 2 Corinthians 8-9 there is the testimony of the Macedonian churches who gave of themselves even in their poverty for the work in Jerusalem.
- This is a reference to Philippians 1:5 where Paul commends the Macedonian believers for their fellowship in the gospel. There will be more about Philippians below.
- Galatians 5 contains the warning not to provoke each other or envy each other but spilling into chapter 6 we are to come together to restore those who are a part of our fellowship who are struggling spiritually—that’s the law of Christ in practice.
- The Colossians with their heresy mixing paganism and Judaism together into some syncretism with Christianity so that they were not, according to Paul, holding onto the Head (a reference to Jesus) from whom the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increasing with the increase of God.
- Paul encourages the Thessalonians to come alongside and speak the right words for the right occasion. The word Paul uses is parakaleo and is often translated “comfort.”
- To Timothy Paul commands that only those widows who are widows indeed should be supported. This was to be known by the test if they have “washed the saint’s feet.”
- To Titus there is the command in chapter 2 for the older to teach the younger.
- In Philemon there are the beautiful words of union—brother, fellowlaborer, fellowsoldier, fellowprisoner.
- Hebrews contains the warning not the abandon the practice of some but to be gathering in one place together.
- James contains that beautiful text in chapter 2 where the believers were not to mistreat each other based upon personal wealth. Spiritual maturity is to see a need of another and to meet it.
- Peter calls Christians living stones built up into a spiritual house.
- 1 John contains the idea of loving the brethren as identification of salvation.
- Jude encourages mature saints to make distinction between immature saints that need help and false teachers who must be opposed.
- In Revelation, interdependence is demonstrated in the choir of voices from all of the nations of the earth that sing the song of the Lamb.
The Importance of Interdependence in Philippians
In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, there is a heavy emphasis on interdependence. Paul’s entire argument is based on the idea that Christians are to live in community with one another. This is important because their “worthy walk” depended on their supporting each other (Philippians 1:27-30). In the face of this persecution, they must be unified. They were to “have the same love;” to be “of one accord;” to be “of one mind;” and to do nothing out of selfishness or pride. They were to consider the needs of others as more important than their own needs. They were to put the interests of others ahead of their own interests (Philippians 2:1-4). This kind of spirit is exemplified in Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus personifies this truth. He served others to the point of an excruciating death on the cross. It is this mind of Jesus that is to be our mind. This is how ministry becomes effective (Philippians 2:12-18). Two examples of this kind of ministry are given. This is how Timothy ministered to others (Philippians 2:19-24). It is also the example of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30). This entire section in Philippians is stressing interdependence.
22 textual references to interdependence in Philippians 1:27-2:30
- Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together: 1:27
- Possessing the same conflict as Paul: 1:30
- Since there is fellowship in the Spirit: 2:1
- That you be likeminded: 2:2
- That you have the same love: 2:2b
- That you are one accord, of one mind: 2:2c
- Esteem each other better than themselves: 2:3
- Look (pay attention in a good way) to the things of others: 2:4
- Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 2:14
- I joy and rejoice with you all…you joy and rejoice with me: 1:17-18
- Likeminded: 2:20
- For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s (negative sense): 2:21
- As a son with a father: 2:22
- I hope to send presently: 2:23
- My brother: 2:25a
- Companion in labor: 2:25b
- Fellow-soldier: 2:25c
- Your minister (served my wants): 2:25d
- He longed for you all: 2:26
- I sent him: 2:28
- Receive him: 2:29
- To supply your lack of service toward me: 2:30
How Christians Live Interdependently
The means by which Christians are to live interdependently with one another is in the New Testament use of that phrase (one another—allelon). The emphasis is on reciprocity. Each “link” in the discipleship chain should take as much care for the other links as it does for itself. This kind of “one anothering” is the key to interdependence. Here are some examples.
Love. Jesus gave His disciples a “new command” to “love one another” (John 13:34). This command was not new in the sense that it had never been given before. God’s people were to love others as they loved themselves (Leviticus 19:18). The newness of the command is in the threshold. They were to love others in the same manner as Jesus loved them (as I have loved you). This meant that they were to love each other with the same selfless love of Jesus.
Serve. Instead of living in envy of each other or even provoking selfishly one another, Paul writes that Christians should actually serve each other (Galatians 5:13). This is one of the ways that their mutual love would work itself out in church life. The term serve (doulos) means to serve as if you were another’s slave.
Forgiveness. It is common for unbelievers to harbor grudges against others for wrongs that they have suffered. God’s desire is that His children forgive others to the same degree that Jesus forgives (see the connection between love and forgiveness). Instead of being bitter and angry, Christians should be kind and tenderhearted one to another (Ephesians 4:32).
Encouragement. The biggest pep rally in town should be the gathering of saints in a local church. Instead of being critical and judgmental, Christians should make it a point of order to encourage each other to love God and do good works (Hebrews 10:25). This encouragement comes as one believer speaks the right words at the right time into the ear of someone who needs it (parakalew).
Personal Application Questions
- Is there a person you are seeking to evangelize? What practical ways are you working to reach that person with the gospel?
- Is there a person you are meeting with regularly for discipleship? To whom are you connected on the “discipleship chain?”
- Do you work to live interdependent with other believers or do you try to maintain your distance? Why is that?
- Read Titus 2:1-6.
- Who is Titus supposed to teach? Which groups?
- After Titus teaches the “old” women, who teaches the younger women?
- Read 1 Peter 4:7-10.
- Why does Peter emphasize the need for interdependence (v. 7)?
- In what areas should believers depend on each other (vv. 8-10)?
1 This is one of the ways the apostle John describes the word “world” in his Gospel and epistles. This is best described in 1 John 5:19 where John writes that “the whole world” is in the domain of Satan.
2 Writing out your testimony may help you develop some skill in learning to share it with others.