THE DISCIPLESHIP OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER, an Analysis of First Thessalonians
Updated: Jan 26
The method and means of discipleship are topics getting much attention within the Christian community. It signifies one’s lifestyle in following Jesus that follows through to instruct others in His ways also. Modeling the character of Christlikeness, as a Christian concept, is the conscious effort whereby one exemplifies the Christian graces to reproduce that lifestyle in others. A book rich in picturing the ministry of discipleship, I Thessalonians reveals different features of this effort in each of its chapters. Allow the following to become an outline for your further study personally.
1 THESSALONIANS 1: REPRODUCTION AS THE PATTERN FOR DISCIPLESHIP
Christian discipleship seeks the reproduction of Christian living as its goal. Paul reveals this in verses five through seven. We understand from this section that Paul modeled Christian behavior before the Thessalonians (5). In response, they began emulating his actions (6). Afterward, they became examples for those in Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond (7-10).
Such a life of Christian modeling should follow this pattern. Therefore, responsible Christians exhibit behavior for others to observe and follow. Is not the goal of Christianity that of bringing people to new life in Jesus and helping them follow His ways? And that is done not only through visual examples but also instructive structures. Jesus gave this very commission when He said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20).
1 THESSALONIANS 2: LOVE AS THE CHARACTER OF DISCIPLESHIP
Discipling others is not a career preference or ascription to the latest discipleship program or approach. Instead, it is a chosen life of example committed to embodying Christian character and motivating others to do the same. Believers should genuinely live the new character given them through Jesus Christ and find those within their influence to lead in this way also. Paul said it well, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The second chapter of I Thessalonians contributes items that should characterize the ministry of discipleship. This ministry must be purely motivated (1-3), pleasing to God (4), self-abasing (5-6), gentle (7), affectionate (8), persistent (9), spiritually pure (10), caring (11), and goal oriented (12-14).
One word that characterizes such dedication to God and for others is love. Only the person of love, for God and others, will consistently model characteristics that spring from a divine source. A person who does not truly love others will most likely not desire or bother with the traits listed in this chapter.
Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). A believer who indeed lays down his life for God and others lives a life of love. This type of love compels one to lay his life down daily for the benefit of others, not only in death but also in living. This is the love and life of one discipling others.
1 THESSALONIANS 3: WATCHCARE AS THE BURDEN OF DISCIPLESHIP
Although love distinguishes the character of discipleship, the heart of it is a burden for others. Chapter three presents this responsibility. A discipler’s care for others displays itself by showing concern for other people’s reactions (1-4), actions (5-8), maturation (9-10), and eternal future (11-13).
This watchcare over others is a natural derivative of the Christian’s love mentioned in the previous chapter. A Christian does not exemplify Christian living as though it were merely a lifeless image on a billboard. The modeling of Christianity arises from a burdened love and concern for others. Along with the love and sacrificial life comes the desire, caring, and burden that others follow this Christ-centered way also.
1 THESSALONIANS 4: SANCTIFICATION AS THE LIFESTYLE OF DISCIPLESHIP
Although Chapter two speaks of the love characterizing one’s example, Chapter four addresses the personal lifestyle of the one burdened for discipling others. This can be summed up in the word sanctification. Sanctification means to set apart, specially set apart for God’s use. The life of one who exemplifies Christ’s character must present a life set apart in Christlike character.
Paul lists items in this chapter that should and should not portray the disciple. The dissenting advice warns against sexual sins (3), sensual desires (5), and fraud (6). The positive instruction for Christian behavior encourages sanctified use of the body (4), holiness (7), brotherly love (9), humility (11), diligence in labor (11), and honesty in lifestyle (12).
One who chooses a life of sanctification commits himself to live a faithful and godly life. God enacts His sanctifying work in the believer’s heart, but He also expects him to portray that sanctifying work through appropriate actions. Therefore, the believer separates himself from evil ways unto godly ways. Paul characterizes this setting apart unto God as a life of sanctification. Sanctified living is Christian discipleship in practical action.
1 THESSALONIANS 5: OTHERS AS THE FOCUS OF DISCIPLESHIP
A person who truly exemplifies the testimony of Christ will center his attention on others. The Lord Jesus clarified that our most important concern is others, after a supreme love for God (Mark 12:30-31).
Paul reveals in 1 Thessalonians 5 the attitude needed by the Christian discipler. He presents three responsibilities. He must encourage edification for others (11), respect and esteem those who have modeled Christ before them (12-13), and take responsibility to warn others of personal needs (14-15).
These responsibilities reveal how one must prefer others to himself. Edification requires concern about someone else’s need, not necessarily his own. The heart of gratitude recognizes the valuable contribution of these Christian examples in the believer’s life. Yet even with the uneasiness that confrontation can bring, one who disciples others must genuinely manifest love for others as he warns them of their spiritual needs.
Therefore, the ministry of Christian discipleship, according to Paul in I Thessalonians, is a life dedicated to reproduction (Chapter 1), love (Chapter 2), watchcare (Chapter 3), sanctification (Chapter 4), and others (Chapter 5). The Lord Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master” (Luke 6:40). Herein is the goal of discipleship: we must live to be like our master. As we become more like Him, we must help draw others to do the same.