The local church functions as a community. As the Covenant Community: (1) we excel for the glory of God; (2) we express the gospel through the ordinances; (3) we edify each other through spiritual gifts; and (4) we are equipped through godly leaders. But the Covenant Community is experienced through discipleship.
Discipleship involves integrating others into the Covenant Community, teaching others how to live within the Covenant Community, relating to each other as family within the Covenant Community, guarding what has been entrusted to the Covenant Community, and preserving the purity of the Covenant Community. Our mission within the Covenant Community is making disciples of King Jesus (Matt 28:18-20). Discipleship is marked by: (1) active evangelism; (2) a celebration of conversion through baptism; and (3) an increase in the knowledge of God. Within the Covenant Community we relate to each other as family. Paul instructed Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters” (1 Tim 5:1-2).
Teaching others how to live within the Covenant Community
The Covenant Community is experienced through discipleship. Discipleship within the Covenant Community is experienced through an implicit example and explicit teaching.
Elders and older men were to set themselves as examples. Paul wrote, ” For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled” (Tit 1:7-8). Older men were to be an example as ” level headed, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance” (Tit 2:2). Elders as well as older men were to teach others how to live within the Covenant Community. Elders were to hold “to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Tit 1:9). Younger men were to be encouraged ” to be self-controlled in everything” (Tit 2:6-7).
Older women were also to be examples. Paul instructed them “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine” (Tit 2:3). Older women are to teach younger women how to live within the Covenant Community. Paul wrote, “They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands” (Tit 2:3-5).
Discipleship through an implicit example and explicit teaching has a theological purpose as well. Paul wrote, “so that God’s message will not be slandered” (Tit 2:5). We have to be actively involved and pursuing discipleship within the local church, the Covenant Community.
Guarding what has been entrusted to the Covenant Community
Paul commanded Timothy, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). Significantly this command finds itself in the context of several other commands:
- Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1:13)
- Guard, through the Holy Spirit who lives in us, that good thing entrusted to you (1:14)
- You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2:1)
- Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2:3)
- Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead and descended from David (2:8)
- Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words (2:14)
- Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth (2:15)
- But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness (2:16)
- Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2:22)
- But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels (2:23)
We experience the Covenant Community through discipleship as we find ourselves in a line of godly men. We learn from those who have been faithful. We learn to hold on to sound teaching, to guard the trust, to avoid foolishness, to flee sin, to pursue righteousness, to be a diligent workman, to suffer for Christ and to keep our focus on Christ!
We are called this kind of discipleship within the local church, the manifestation of the Covenant Community in which we find ourselves. Although we can have relationships with Christians who are not part of our local church, we experience the Covenant Community through the discipleship provided by the local church. We experience discipleship within the context of being equipped by the same group of godly men, the elders and deacons that God has provided within our local church.
Preserving the Purity of the Covenant Community
What’s the big deal about church membership? What is the big deal about actively taking part in the Covenant Community? An active role within the local church, within the Covenant Community, helps to preserve the purity of the Covenant Community.
The epistles to Timothy were both written to confront false teaching that was arising from within the church (1 Tim. 1:16,19; 4:1; 6:3-5,10,21; 2 Tim. 2:18; 3:1-9; 4:3-4) and put the household of God in order (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 2 Tim. 4:1-2,5). Paul mentions a leader of the false teachers, Hymenaeus, who is in both epistles to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17) as well as others, Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20) and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17). An important doctrinal error seen in the history at Ephesus was in believing the resurrection had already occurred (2 Tim. 2:17; cf. 1 John 1:8-10; 3:2-10). Therefore Paul writes to Timothy alone because he cannot write to the church as a whole. Some of the house church leaders are false teachers (such as Hymaenaeus and Alexander, cf. 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17) and oppose Timothy in his youth (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul’s letter to Titus was written to ultimately call the household of God to pursue proper sanctification (Tit 3:8,14).
Within both contexts, Paul calls for certain members to be put out of the household of God (1 Tim 1:18-20; 2 Tim 2:16-18; Tit 3:10-11). Paul was able to fight for the purity of the church because he knew these men. Through discipleship, we find out who are Christians and who are not Christians. If people are not Christians then we have to stand for the purity of the church. Paul stated, “But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves” (1 Cor 5:11-13).
The Covenant Community is experienced through discipleship within the local church. Paul stated, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me” (Col 1:28-29). How do we take part in the Covenant Community that is represented in our local church? Do we pursue discipleship within the local church?