Radical Discipleship29 May, 2020
Recently, while reading the Acts of the Apostles and preparing to teach a class on it, two characters in the book caught my attention – Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament Church, and the Evangelist Philip (not to be conflated with the Apostle Philip) were not part of the apostolic leadership. Some may even argue that they’re peripheral to the main narrative of the Book of Acts. Yet their significant acts left a deep impact on my heart.
Stephen was described as being full of faith, power, and the Holy Spirit. He did great wonders and signs among the people. The men who opposed him were not able to resist the wisdom and the anointing by which he spoke. They were cut to the heart as Stephen preached, Saul being one of them. As they stoned him, the Lord Jesus stood up to honour the glorious homecoming of His martyr, Stephen.
Philip the Evangelist led a city-wide revival in Samaria. He preached the Gospel with signs and wonders following, the demon-possessed, paralysed, and lame were healed. At the height of that move of the Spirit, he obeyed the voice of the Spirit to go to a desert road where he led the influential Ethiopian eunuch to Christ.
Ethiopian historical records believe that it was this official who brought the Gospel to the nation of Ethiopia. Subsequent to the salvation of the Ethiopian, Philip was translated by the Spirit to Azotus where he preached in every city till he reached Caesarea.
These exploits may be commonplace in the book of the outpouring of the Spirit, but what amazed me was the fact that both Stephen and Philip were first mentioned in Acts 6 when the Church was growing and the widows were being left out in the daily distribution.
The assignment given to them by the apostles was to serve tables! With no disrespect to those who serve tables, I figured a better use of men of such calibre would have been some great missionary endeavour to the nations or in an international evangelistic ministry!
Considering the fact that such powerful men were appointed to a menial task, could it be possible that the level of anointing they walked in was commonplace in the Early Church? Maybe being full of the Spirit, faith and power were the minimum standard for discipleship then! Perhaps those whom we think are radical are simply living the normal Christian life.
It’s not the elite standard, but the minimum that will change the world. Let me state an example that may be more relatable. If Singaporeans believed that the minimum obligation of being a Singapore citizen was to pick up every piece of trash we saw on the streets, help as many people in need as we can, and give way to other road users, this country would look very different.
Often, we think that those who truly change the world are the radical ones, the heroes, and the super Christians, and in so doing we unconsciously believe that we can’t keep up to that standard. When we read the Book of Acts, we see radical acts of God performed through radical people. What if it’s just a picture of the normal everyday lives of faithful believers?
The disciples of Jesus were ordinary folks. They were fishermen, tax collectors, and social outcasts. Yet God used ordinary men like these for His great task of global salvation. The Early Church was of one heart and mind – they met constantly and shared everything. They were a movement of the common people, not a radical few.
How many of us live daily with a burning conviction that we’re to be full of the Spirit, and wisdom and miracles are part of our normal lifestyle? How different will our lives look like if the discipleship we believed to be radical was just normal Christianity? What if the minimum expectation of being a disciple of Jesus is to be filled and directed by the Spirit of God, hear His voice, preach the Gospel with signs and wonders following, and to bring transformation to cities and nations?
The potential to live a ‘radical’ normal Christian life is within every one of us. When we’re afraid that the elementary standard of discipleship will become an unbearable burden, we limit what God can do in our lives. Jesus lived the life we’re supposed to live, the glory that we fell short of. Yet, when we were born again, we were restored to grace and our birthright of a supernatural life.
If we think the ultimate goal of the Christian life is to escape hell and go to heaven, then we’ll be destined to superficial Christianity and miss out on the greatest experiences that Jesus paid the price to bring us into. Leonard Ravenhill said, “Are the things you’re living for worth Christ dying for?”
This Pentecost Weekend, as we honour the Holy Spirit, let’s allow Him to renew our minds and empower us, so that what seemed impossible before will start to look normal. May we inspire one another to live out a new normal Christian life that looks like ‘radical’ discipleship.
Ps. Sng Peh Han