Image for What Today’s Disciples Can Learn from the First Disciples

What Today’s Disciples Can Learn from the First Disciples

Photo of Debbra StephensDebbra Stephens | Bio

Debbra Stephens

Transplanted in the South from her home state of Michigan, this suburban mom-of-two loves her Lord Jesus and His wonderful Word. A dedicated student of the Word, she loves to share what she learns in the classroom, at events, and on the page—dependent upon the ever-faithful Holy Spirit to turn thoughts to text. Debbra has authored four Bible studies, all published by 21st Century Christian Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee. She launched the series Advent Living Books for her seasonal daily devotionals in 2018. Debbra blogs at her website and has been published in Christian Woman Magazine.

Being a successful Christian businesswoman isn’t something that just happens—there is a becoming involved.

As I’m sure Mary Whelchel Lowman would agree. She shared her story in her book Extraordinary Women by Grace. It was a remarkable journey. By God’s grace, she has become a businesswoman who faithfully goes about making disciples—in her home, in her church, in her workplace, through her books, and through the international radio program she founded called The Christian Working Woman.

Long ago, there was another successful Christian businesswoman who went about faithfully making disciples. And we would do well to take notes from her story as well.

Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman who relocated from Asia to a Grecian city in Europe. Scripture tells us she was a “worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14). As she gathered with other women at a river in Philippi to pray, God orchestrated the encounter of a lifetime.

The text is also clear in teaching its reader that it was the Lord who “opened her heart to pay attention” to what Paul was telling her (Acts 16:14, ESV)—a noteworthy detail for today’s disciple makers.

It is not our clever tactics or convincing exposés that do the inner work of bringing someone to faith. Instead, we are messengers, sharing the good news that the kingdom of the risen Christ has come to earth.

Immediately Lydia was baptized, followed up by an invitation to Paul: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay” (Acts 16:15). She did not employ lofty claims of her status or boastful self-congratulations. Rather, in humility and hospitality, she opened her life to the apostle.

A Church Is Born

Luke was meticulous in his account to Theophilus about the events that occurred while Paul, Silas, Luke, and company were in Philippi. After telling us about the Philippian church meeting in Lydia’s house, Luke went on to narrate the story of Paul’s annoyance with a demon-possessed female slave. The spirit within her pestered them to the point where Paul drove out the spirit which hindered their work. This enraged those who had been exploiting the girl.

Paul and Silas were arrested and put in prison. Although an earthquake made their escape possible, Paul and Silas stuck around to prevent the jailer from committing suicide (when he discovered the prison doors open). God had allowed the persecution and arrest in order to provide opportunity for Paul and Silas to disciple the jailer.

The Lord was growing His church.

God added to His household those of Lydia’s household and the jailer’s household in planting a church right there in this bustling Roman colony, the first converts on a new continent, that of Europe.

To the first church birthed in Europe, which met in Lydia’s home, Paul would later write, “I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5).

What More Can We Learn from Them?

If we take a moment to consider the details surrounding the church at Philippi, we will learn much from these early disciple makers. Each movement is an instrument for our instruction.

  • It began in a prayer group. This is always the only place to begin, bowed before the King. You don’t have to meet at a river–or a church building. Gather a group to pray wherever you can. The location is not important; God will meet you wherever you are. And He will prime hearts to listen.
  • You don’t have to travel to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Lydia and her household were baptized. The jailer and his household were baptized. Philippi was their mission field. Begin with those closest to you. At the same time, the new church in Philippi contributed financially for Paul and company to carry the gospel abroad. They shared in giving and receiving so that he could be obedient to do God’s work (Philippians 4:15). Theirs was a “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). We do not all have the same calling. But we all have a sphere of influence.
  • Paul placed importance upon relationship. He referred to them as “dear friends” (Philippians 2:12) and “brothers and sisters” (Philippians 3:17), for family is what they were.
  • Paul faithfully prayed for the new converts (Philippians 1:4-6; 9-11).
  • Paul continued to strengthen, encourage, and teach those new believers. He passed on important teachings through his epistle for their “love to abound more and more” (Philippians 1:9) and to have “one mind” (Philippians 2:2), that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

Principles of Discipleship

We find foundational principles for today’s disciples in the letter Paul wrote to the church in Lydia’s home. These principles also apply to today’s disciples:

  • Principle 1 – Disciples are to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together” (Philippians 1:27)
  • Principle 2 – Disciples are to join together in following the example of those who are closely following Jesus (Philippians 3:17)
  • Principle 3 – Disciples are to put into practice what they learn and receive from the apostle’s teaching (Philippians 4:9)

God prospered Lydia. And when she became a disciple of Jesus Christ, she used her worldly resources for the growth of the church. Opening her home to Paul as a gathering place further established relationship with him and the other disciples.

A divine becoming was taking place as God grew and matured that church. As the Spirit’s instrument, Paul penned a letter to his dearly loved brothers and sisters—blessing the world with the epistle to the Philippians.

Who knows what eternal blessing will result in you following in their steps?

(For more from Debbra visit her at