1-4 The Strategy Of Jesus
The Lord Jesus worked through individuals. His strategy was not so much
to win the multitudes for His cause as to firmly found the faith of a
few women and 12 men who would then take His message to the world. The
men He chose were like us- impulsive, temperamental, easily offended,
burdened with all the prejudices of their environment. Their mannerisms
were probably awkward and their abilities limited. But He prayed for them,
as we should for those converts the Lord grants us, “not for the world”
[perhaps, not so much for the world as for] those few whom the
Father had given Him out of the world. Everything depended upon them,
for “through their word” the world was to believe (Jn. 17:6,9,20). With
all the powers of the universe at His command, the Lord could have chosen
a programme of mass recruitment. But He didn’t. They were to follow Him,
so that later they would become fishers of men on a larger scale than
He chose then to work on (Mk. 1:17). They would later bear witness
because they had been with Him from the beginning (Jn. 15:27). In the
few years they were with Him, those men learnt of Him. During that time,
they showed a reluctance to learn the spirit of lowly servitude for the
sake of others, they bickered amongst themselves as to who was greatest,
they showed an indignant spirit with James and John, intolerant of their
evident weakness; they were unnecessarily harsh in their judgment of those
who did not agree with them (Lk. 9:51-54), impatient with the women who
wanted their children blessed…and yet Jesus patiently endured with them.
And it was a totally different group of men who then took the Gospel to
the nations. He not only taught them doctrine, but urged them to commit
their lives to Him who was the doctrine in flesh. Their role model was
Him more than a set of propositions. He let them watch Him praying to
His Father. He wanted them to learn the power of prayer from His own example.
He taught the multitudes more, it seems to me, from a desire to teach
the disciples something. He rejected the rich young man and then went
on to explain to the twelve the difficulty of riches. Initially they simply
watched Him. And only on His third tour of Galilee did He send them out
two by two to preach themselves. In our desire to develop communities
world-wide ready to meet the Lord when He returns, surely this approach
should be used by us too. We need to focus upon who the Lord gives us,
develop them, deepen their faith, in the belief and hope that they in
their turn will take the message to far more than we ourselves can reach.
Paul’s strategy appears to have been similar. He constantly sets himself
up as an example to his converts; and whenever he bids them ‘follow me’,
it is in the context of his example as a preacher (Phil. 3:15-17; 4:9;
1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Cor. 4:16; 10:31-11:1; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess.
3:7-9). This perhaps accounts for the otherwise surprising lack of specific
encouragement to his converts to preach which we observe in Paul’s writings.
He understood his role to be initiatory- he speaks of his preaching as
planting (1 Cor. 3:6-9; 9:7,10,11), laying foundations (Rom. 15:20; 1
Cor. 3:10), giving birth (1 Cor. 4:15; Philemon 10) and betrothing (2
Cor. 11:2). His aim was for his converts to also preach and develop self-sustaining
ecclesias. “Paul’s method of shaping a community was to gather converts
around himself and by his own behaviour to demonstrate what he taught”,
following a pattern practiced by the contemporary moral philosophers(1).
Thus Paul’s personal example could hardly be distinguished from the gospel
he taught (1 Thess. 2:1-12)- he was his message, just as the Lord was
His word made flesh. This is why ‘authority’ and respect are things which
are earnt naturally in a community by those who have converted the community.
It is hard to impose these things from outside the conversion experience.
(1) A.J. Malherbe, Paul And The
Thessalonians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) p. 52.