Living and working closely with others facilitates the cycle of discipleship. Paul was sovereignly and strategically placed in close proximity to others as he pursued holiness. In Philippians 3:12, Paul asserts his desire to attain to an unhindered relationship with Jesus Christ. As he pursued this desire he worked alongside Timothy, Roman guards, Lydia, Titus, Silas, Mark, Onesimus or Barnabas. The saw how he endured unjust treatment, thwarted plans, disappointing failures and less than comfortable circumstances. Paul’s response, as recorded in Scripture, was always selfless and Christ-exalting. I have no doubts that there were times of self-pity, brokenness and doubts but the biblical record is clear concerning Paul’s general disposition in trials, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) We now have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). This earthen vessel is fragile, undone, and naturally empty but through faith it becomes a house of God or temple of the Holy Spirit. The outside is assuredly temporal, fragile and subject to the stress and strain of the trials of life but the inside contains an eternal treasure; Christ-who is our life (Col. 3:3).
“If you then are risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) The pursuit of holiness is God’s doing as we embrace the sin-conquering, life-transforming Gospel. The earthen vessel is nothing. The treasure within is everything. When we are under the strain of unjust treatment, chaotic circumstances and temptations to yield to the flesh the broken vessel reveals the treasure within. Those that are close to us are able to sense and see what is being revealed. We must be vulnerable and allow them access to our inner life. Our witness, our discipleship method- is our willingness to be a broken vessel that the treasure within is clearly seen. This begins with God’s pro-active compassion as He leads us on a pursuit of holiness that is to be observed by others so that Christ might be exalted, not us.
When I was seventeen, I saw a red 1969 Camaro that was a dream car for most teenage boys. It was sitting in a man’s yard with a “For Sale” sign. I ask my dad about it and he said to stop and ask about it. So the next day I pulled in the driveway and began looking it over. As I did the owner came outside and told me all the great things he had done to the car. It was beautiful and even smelled of new paint and interior. After he finished telling me all the good stuff he revealed that the car had been wrecked and declared a total loss 8 months before. He bought the car from the insurance company and took it to a local collision repair shop that had totally restored the car. It was as good as new he proclaimed. I was disheartened. My family was in the automotive repair business. A wrecked and repaired vehicle was looked down upon as a rule. I didn’t even ask the price and courteously gestured as I left. That evening dad ask me what I had found about the Camaro. I told him that I stopped and looked at it but I didn’t get a price from the man. Dad asked why and I told him the car had been wrecked badly a few months earlier. The next question out of my dad’s mouth is the point of this lesson; “Who fixed it?”
Paul’s closeness to his disciples allowed them to see a man that was a total loss, broken beyond repair by any human means. But the broken vessel revealed an eternal treasure, a worthy Repairman. Paul’s discipleship of others was characterized by vulnerability. This vulnerability helped the disciple to see that no state of brokenness is beyond God’s ability to restore. And that is our message to a lost and dying world.