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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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Two Disciples of John: Polycarp

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In this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to another disciple of the Apostle John, the church father Polycarp.






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    • Who are today’s disciples of Jesus Christ? According to Jesus

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The other 3 relate respectively to my continuing to allow God to impart Christ’s nature to my heart, my continuing to live in that new nature, which is love, towards other Christians and finally under the direction of God’s Spirit my ongoing willingness to share that nature– which is the life of Christ – through my prayers for and my words to both unbelievers and believers.   Lu 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not love less his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (In other words my love for God must be greater than my love for each of the members of my family and must exceed my love for myself – Surely in recognition that there is only One, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins how could my first allegiance and my first devotion not be to Him – otherwise I am not His disciple, and if I’m not a disciple of Christ what or who am I?).   Lu 14:27 And whoever of you does not bear his cross (which is really his share of Christ’s cross, by understanding and believing that when we abide in Christ we share in His death on the cross to His flesh and thus become dead to our own flesh with its sin nature), and follow me (in the Spirit), cannot be my disciple. (Will I allow God to reveal to me that my own flesh, that is my human nature also being my sin nature where self rules, is despicable, ugly and the enemy of God? If so, I will gladly embrace the further revealed truth that when I am in Christ I am dead to my flesh with its sin nature because I now share in His death to the flesh on the cross - but if I reject God’s provision, in Christ, to free me from bondage to my sin nature, even though I know how it has harmed both me and others in the past, then I cannot be Christ’s disciple – and then what or who am I?)   Lu 14:33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake (surrender ownership claim to) all that he has, he cannot be my disciple. (In other words cheerfully transferring my authority to God over position, possessions, money, ambition, acclaim, image, an independent will, and personal rights. When the full impact dawns in my heart that God purchased my life from Satan, with all that this implies both now and for eternity, it will not be difficult for me to see that my stuff came with that purchase and belongs to God. If I refuse to see this truth it casts doubt on the validity of God’s purchase and I cannot be Christ’s disciple – then who am I?)   Jo 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him If you abide in my word (continue in, feed your spirit on and walk in the light of) then you are my disciples indeed; (In other words day by day allowing God to impart more of His divine nature through His living words to my heart – progressively conforming me to Christ, by whose life in me I am enabled to overcome all 3 of my enemies, live in the center of God’s will and expand His Kingdom on earth. But if I drift away from God, neglect His ongoing salvation and lose my appetite for His daily spiritual bread my enemies will trample all over me and I will no longer be a disciple of Christ – then who am I?)   Jo 13:35 By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another. (The love of God is in Christ Jesus, as we live in Christ, full of His Spirit with hearts abounding in His new and past words that He has spoken to us, His love nature as is reflected in 1st. Corinthians Chapter 13 will abound in us and through us to other Christians. But if we don’t live in Christ, in unbroken submission to His Spirit, and thoughts and words other than His abound in our hearts, then it will be impossible to walk in love towards other believers – and we will no longer be disciples of Christ – then who or what are we?)   Jo 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples. (This is the fulfillment of our mission and our calling. It is only possible on a consistent basis as we believe and live in the five revealed truths outlined above concerning discipleship. Therefore now, in Christ, and being anointed by the Holy Spirit with our hearts daily nourished with more of God’s words, we will bear living fruit in the form of our prayers for others and in the form of our words that enter the hearts of others who have eras to hear them. In this way, through prayer and living words of God, the very life of Jesus Christ is imparted, birthing unbelievers into God’s Kingdom and making disciples of believers. Jesus said we are known in the spirit realm by the fruit of our lips. When we are in Christ, life giving words come from our hearts as living water – but when we are not living in Christ, we are detached from the Vine, our words are devoid of life and do damage to God’s kingdom – and we cease to be Christ’s disciples – and then what or who are we?).   Matt 28:19 (Again, the Mission of a Christian is) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,   A person has to be a disciple of Jesus themselves in order to be used of God to make others disciples of Jesus –Can I really be a Christian if I am not becoming nor intend to become a disciple of Jesus Christ?   Let God answer this probing question in our hearts! God bless

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    • Your Small Group Should Be Making Disciples

      What is the goal of your small-group ministry? Is it fellowship? Friendship? Bible literacy? Missional engagement? Neighborhood service? How many different answers would you get if you asked your group leaders? After more than a decade of leading and overseeing small groups in various contexts, I’m more convinced than ever that discipleship must be the single, unifying goal of our community ministries. Many of the above options are means to this end, but I think the clarification is worthwhile. If Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), our highest goal for community groups can’t merely be fellowship or knowledge or visitor retention. Our goal must be mature disciples—men and women full of the life of Christ. How Do We Make Disciples? When discussing discipleship, many things may come to mind—a class, a program, a Bible study, family worship, one-on-one mentoring, a set of doctrines, or an early developmental stage. I’ve been in a group that emphasized accountability and pressed its members weekly (in gender specific groups) to confess sins and recite Scriptures. I’ve been in a group that was more than three hours long—and we wondered why families with young children weren’t sticking around. And I’ve even led a group that assumed discipleship would just happen if we all hung out enough. Discipleship is not as difficult as the church has made it to be. Neither are there any magic bullets. Discipleship is neither a duty to perform nor a puzzle to solve. It is the life-giving, grace-filled process of being with Christ and becoming like him together. How can we make sure our small groups are making disciples? 1. Discipleship Centers on Christ It will be life-giving if it’s focused on Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Our groups should primarily be marked by life, not stagnation; joy, not defeat; encouragement, not gossip. In other words, discipleship must be gospel-centered—rooted in Jesus and his good news. 2. Discipleship Is Grace-Filled True discipleship recognizes that spiritual transformation comes through God’s grace, not simply our effort. God’s grace enables us to want to be with Christ and become like him (Titus 2:11–13). We will fail frequently, but his grace sustains us along the way. 3. Discipleship Is a Process It’s not just a theory, a class, a program, or a time of the week. Similar to a worldview, a process—a new way of living, with new habits and routines—must be produced if we are to live like Christ as his salt and light in the world. 4. Discipleship Is Being with Christ It’s not a primarily way of doing more for him or the church. The first invitation of discipleship is not to growth or change or even obedience; it is to come to Jesus. The words of Matthew 11:28–30 demonstrate our Lord’s heart for his followers: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. 5. Discipleship Is a Way of Becoming Like Him Once we have spent time in the presence of the King, we will gradually become more like him. Our growth in Christlikeness produces real change, and our obedience becomes an internal desire rather than an external compulsion. We become what we behold: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18) 6. Discipleship Happens Together Our being and becoming like Christ is deeply personal, but it is not private. It doesn’t happen primarily in a “Jesus and me” context. 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They accompany him on ministry trips, and he brings them along to family gatherings, religious events, and holiday parties. He wasn’t always teaching, but he was always training. His whole life was a lesson in truth and grace. Jesus ate with his people. As Matthew 11:19 reminds us, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” This was his favorite means of fellowship. He ate with everyone—Pharisees, tax collectors, strangers, crowds—but he always seemed to include his closest followers in these meals. For Jesus, meals were about the acceptance and celebration of the other—which is why the religious leaders were so enraged by them. Jesus lived on mission with his people. Jesus began his public ministry, almost immediately after his baptism, with the calling of the 12. His mission was to them and through them, forming a mission-in-relationship. Even while teaching and healing, he was in community and training others. Community is not optional in the work of discipleship. In our community groups, we would do well to pattern our fellowship rhythms after the life and ministry of Christ. Churches and ministries that prioritize discipleship in their small groups—following Jesus’s patterns of ministry—position themselves well to experience the life-giving, life-changing power of God. View the full article

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      In this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to Ignatius, the first of two church fathers we'll consider in the coming weeks who were disciples of the Apostle John.     More...

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    • Does the Disciples’ Conviction That They Saw the Risen Jesus Establish the Truth of the Resurrection?

      by Gary R. Habermas   Virtually all scholars studying Jesus’ resurrection, whether conservative, moderate, or liberal, acknowledge that Jesus’ earliest followers were convinced not only that Jesus was raised from the dead but also that He had appeared alive to many of them on several occasions. Further, scholars also almost unanimously recognize that two former skeptics, James the brother of Jesus and Saul of Tarsus (Paul), became believers after they, too, were convinced that they had seen the risen Jesus.   Multiple grounds support this early Christian conviction. Even today’s most critical scholars agree that Paul, the author of undisputed NT letters, provided eyewitness testimony to Jesus’ resurrection appearance. Further, Paul included a crucial report concerning other appearances of Jesus in the exceptionally early creed in 1 Co 15, which is usually dated to the A.D. 30s. Paul carefully checked out this material with other key apostles in Jerusalem on at least two occasions (Gal 1:18-2:10). Paul also knew that the other apostles were preaching the same message regarding the risen Jesus (1 Co 15:10-15). Paul’s eyewitness testimony at each of these points is crucial.   Moreover, the conversion of James from skepticism, the willingness of the earliest disciples to suffer persecution and even martyrdom, the empty tomb, and the presence of other early reports of Jesus’ resurrection especially in Acts are further indications of the apostolic conviction that Jesus had been raised. In brief, the earliest Christian message was that Jesus had appeared to His followers after His death.   Of the many evidences for the resurrection, the most significant is that the earliest disciples were utterly convinced they had seen the risen Jesus. The reason is straightforward. Virtually every contemporary scholar recognizes the strong data showing that Jesus died by crucifixion. So if a number of persons (both individuals and groups) actually saw Him afterward, this would constitute the clearest indication that He had been raised. No other evidence provides such a direct indication of this event. This is clearly what the witnesses proclaimed.   Some critics may counter that, while the early disciples truly thought Jesus had been raised, a natural hypothesis explains their beliefs.   However, now the questioner has a major dilemma. Natural theories have been proposed for centuries and each fails by a large margin to explain the recognized historical data. Incredibly, most contemporary scholars even recognize this failure. Few critics even propose alternative hypotheses.   The earliest disciples clearly taught that they saw the risen Jesus, for which there are plenty of supporting details. What happens when these facts are not naturally explained, as even the majority of contemporary critical scholars admits? The resurrection of Jesus becomes the best explanation of the known data.   All the evidence favors the view that the disciples actually saw the risen Jesus. There is no viable evidence to the contrary. So we are left with a succinct conclusion. When the many reasons supporting the conviction that Jesus actually appeared to the early Christians are combined with the failure of naturalistic alternative theses, we are justified in concluding that Jesus was actually raised from the dead.

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