There’s an old proverb which reads, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” In other words, you can provide opportunities, but whether or not people accept those opportunities is out of your control. Take, for instance, the call to salvation. You can give the most robust explanation of the gospel, but you can’t make someone receive it.
But let me rearrange some words in that old proverb until it reads, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t leave him once he starts drinking.” In other words, you can lead someone to Christ, but you can’t just walk away after he or she accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. And while you might agree with that statement, do you really believe it?
Have we become content with leading people to Christ only to walk away? Do we lead people in the “salvation prayer” without the commitment to care for their young faith? Has the Church become satisfied with winning souls without properly discipling them? There’s a lot of talk about church growth. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that. As God’s people, we should celebrate the salvation of lost souls. But we can’t forget the importance of discipleship in the process.
God doesn’t just call us to lead people to Himself. He calls us to come alongside them, encourage them, and mentor them as they grow. This is clearly understood in the Great Commission. Jesus says, “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV).
God’s call on our lives is more than leading people to salvation. That’s important. More important than we could ever explain. But it’s only the beginning. God calls us to stick around. He calls us to teach. To encourage. To disciple. And a great example of what it means to live this way can be seen in the life of the apostle Paul. And while a number of his letters portray his heart, I want to look at 1 Thessalonians, in particular.
It’s the first of two letters written by Paul to the church of Thessalonica. And we learn about this church in Acts 17. Paul ministers to the Thessalonians for three weeks before a Jewish mob is formed, and he is forced to leave behind these new converts.
While on his missionary journey, Paul is concerned about the church of Thessalonica. He is desperate to know how these young believers are doing. But he is unable to visit them. So, he sends Timothy to Thessalonica to learn about their faith. Eventually, Timothy returns. And upon convening with Paul and Silas in Corinth, Paul writes to the Thessalonians this letter.
“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith” (1 Thess. 3:6-7 ESV).
In verse 6, we see the good news brought. The word Paul uses here for “good news” comes from the root word “evangelion” which is translated as the “gospel” everywhere else in the New Testament. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “Learning about the well-being of the Thessalonians is like the sound of the gospel in my ears.” Timothy’s report is the good news in action. It’s the fruit of Paul’s labor. And it rings in his ears. But what exactly about the church of Thessalonica brings such joy to the apostle Paul?
Paul takes joy in hearing of their faith, love, kind thoughts, and desire to see him (v. 6). And despite his persecution and hardship, Paul is encouraged to learn of their walk with Christ. But his desire to see them is unbearable. He writes, “… we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith” (v. 10 ESV).
May we learn what it looks like to care for those who are young in the faith. We must learn to stick around after the “salvation prayer.” The call to follow Christ comes with a call to lead people to the “living water” (see John 4). But once they start drinking, we can’t just walk away.
This is the call to discipleship.