The central characteristic of the steward of is faithfulness. The central characteristic of a mother is gentleness. A mother has a bond with her child that is unlike any other. She has literally poured herself into the life of that child. She has a vested interest in that little one because she has invested so much. It’s that level of care that God expects us to put into the lives of others.
Love means self-sacrifice
Paul was always careful to use his authority in love. Like a mom, he made sacrifices to help raise his spiritual children to maturity, even if it hurt him personally (2 Corinthians 12:15).
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
(7) But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
(8) So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
Nourishing involves teaching
When Paul talks about “a nurse cherishing her children,” the picture is that of a mother nursing her baby. Practically speaking, this kind of “nourishing” means taking a new believer under your wing and showing him or her how to get into God’s Word and apply it to their lives. In education there is this phenomenon called the “curse of knowledge.” It’s when a teacher becomes so well-versed in his subject that he forgets how he got to that level of knowledge, and forgets to convey those steps to his students. He then teaches on the assumption that his students already know most of what he knows and ends up teaching over their heads. A sure sign that this might be happening is when the teacher starts asking questions like: “Why don’t you people know this already?” It’s probably because the teacher forgot to teach the steps leading up to that knowledge.
When I first became a believer, I heard lots of people say: “It’s important to have your devotions.” I had no idea what “devotions” was. They might as well have said, “It’s important to remove your own appendix.” I didn’t know how to do that either! It would have been nice if someone had just sat me down and walked me through the process.
Thankfully, by God’s grace, I learned how to “have devotions,” and while the practice might differ from person to person, devotions involves reading a passage of Scripture, praying over it, thinking about it, writing down what it means in your own words, and then learning how it applies to your own life – and how to make it a blessing to others. This blog is a devotional exercise on my part.
Discipling others means properly discipling yourself
Another important lesson we can learn from this picture of motherhood is that what she nourishes herself with has an effect on her child. If mom likes spicy food and then goes to feed baby with her milk, baby is likely to have an upset stomach and a fitful night. Those of us who have responsibility to minister to others must likewise watch what we take in doctrinally. If our spiritual nourishment is not good, it can affect how we disciple others. It is not our place to indoctrinate new believers with our opinions. They need what God thinks, not what we think.
We also need to beware that we do not harp on the externals. You may be called of God to help a new believer who used to be a drug addict. For them a step in the right direction might be downgrading to cigarette smoking. Don’t focus on the smoking. Focus on helping them to grow their relationship to God. Our goal is for our spiritual children to be right, rather than just to look right (2 John 1:4). As we help them to grow in their relationship to God, the external issues will very often take care of themselves.
Helping others grow in grace, requires grace
When Paul exhorted the Galatians about those who were struggling spiritually, he reminded them of their responsibility to their struggling brother and to themselves.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
First, we need to make sure that we are faithful in keeping ourselves in good spiritual health. Paul puts the discipling ministry on those “which are spiritual.”
Second, we must go in with meekness. It’s very easy to pour yourself into the life of a struggling believer with a “holier than thou” attitude, or the what-were-you-thinking mindset. Who’s to say that one day the roles won’t be reversed, and you’re the one in need? Meekness means understanding that I am just as susceptible to spiritual struggles as anyone else.
Third, we need to be watchful as we minister to others: “Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” When I was an emergency medical technician (EMT), one of the things that was constantly drilled into our heads was to survey the scene. Our trainers would tell us: “You don’t want to become part of the problem.” It’s possible even as a rescue worker to become part of the accident scene. All it takes is stepping into the situation at the wrong time, or in the wrong place. When ministering to those in need, it’s possible to become so emotionally invested that you don’t see things from God’s perspective. It is very important that when we minister to others who are either new in the faith, or struggling in it, that we remain spiritually objective. That requires grace, and grace comes through prayer and keeping ourselves close to God.
We can be disciple makers just like Paul
God gave us Paul as an example so that none of us could say that living all out for Christ is impossible. Paul’s life proves that it is possible. We just need to follow his example. Like Paul, we need to stay close to God so that we capture God’s perspective, and God’s burden for mankind.