Kingdom Character: Proximity Before Power

By Trevin Wax

Being with Jesus is more important than the work we do for Jesus. Rediscover what it means to be with Jesus and how our misconceptions can be corrected.

The Purpose Preceding

One of my favorite moments in the Gospel of Mark is in the description of Jesus’ appointment of the disciples. In Mark 3:13-15, we read, “Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons.” Now, usually, our eyes are drawn to the part where the ministry of the apostles comes into focus. Jesus appointed His followers and sent them out to preach and to drive out demons.

How exciting! What authority and what power! And maybe that’s how you feel when you envision what God might do through you and through the people He’s called to join you on this journey of pastoring and planting. You look at all the amazing things you can foresee God doing in your church and in your community. But don’t miss the brief mention of the purpose that precedes the power.

Your Primary Identity

Jesus appointed 12 apostles to be with Him. That’s what it says first. Do you see the focus on proximity to Jesus? He summoned those He wanted, and He appointed them first and foremost to be with Him. Don’t miss the beauty of this order. As a follower of Jesus called into His service, remember that He called you first and foremost to be with Him—not to work for Him. Yes, He sends His disciples out to preach, and yes, He gives them authority to drive out demons. And that’s awesome.

But before proclamation comes proximity; before the power comes the person. This is vital for your understanding of your identity as a disciple.

Prioritizing Proximity

I like how Kim Huat Tan, in commenting on this passage, puts it: “Being with Jesus defines succinctly what discipleship means. By being with Jesus, they can know Him intimately and understand His teaching.” The kingdom-focused believer cultivates life with God before life for God. If you get those backward, you’ll run dry. You may be someone who knows and spreads the gospel, but you will slowly see your spiritual vitality fade if your relationship with Christ is not your priority.

Proximity to Jesus is key. Your relationship with Him is the most important part of your ministry. What happens in your prayer closet matters more than anything you do on a public platform.

The Reality of Suffering

It’s true that Christians sometimes imagine our life with God as a continual Bible study or prayer time, an “ever-present feeling of closeness to God” that manifests itself in some semi-mystical fashion. And surely yes, listening to the voice of God through His word and demonstrating our dependence upon Him in prayer makes up part of what it must mean for us to be with Jesus. But we should take care not to paint too rosy a picture of what this relationship looks like. Being with Jesus means sharing in the toil of ministry. The disciples, because they were with Jesus, experienced the harassment of the crowds. They tasted suffering.

Being with Jesus in proximity to Him means not only that we cultivate a relationship with Him that inspires us and empowers us in general. It also means we’ve got to prepare for the suffering that must mark the life of any who follow in the steps of the suffering Servant. Without this emphasis, we run the risk of minimizing the challenges we are sure to face on the road to faith. In the end, our relationship with Christ must proceed any work that we do for Him.

A Personal Faith

A generation ago, Francis Schaeffer wrote a letter, and in that letter, he warned about religious activity that neglected a personal relationship with Christ. And this is what he said:

I believe most strongly that our efforts in Christian service fall into three concentric circles. The outer circle is the apologetic and defensive, and this is an important portion of Christian activity and should never be minimized, but it is not the heart. The middle circle is inside the outer one and is more central. This is the intellectual statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith in a positive way. And this, to me, is even more important a portion of Christian activity, but if it stands alone, it still not Christianity. The innermost circle is the spirit, the personal relationship of the individual soul with a personal God, including all that is meant in the apostolic benediction when we say, “The communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

It is this last, innermost circle with which the devotional deals and without which Christianity is not really Bible-believing. Don’t miss the heart of Christianity; it’s being with Jesus. It’s vitally important for the person pursuing kingdom character to get that order right. The order matters. Proximity comes before power. The person of Jesus comes before the proclamation of Jesus. Life with God comes before work for God.

Adapted from “Proximity Before Power” from the Church Planting Masterclass. Watch this video and more for free by signing up for the Masterclass today.

Published April 24, 2024

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax is Vice President of Resources and Marketing at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Cedarville University. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today. He has taught courses on mission and ministry at Wheaton College and has lectured on Christianity and culture at Oxford University. He is a founding editor of The Gospel Project, has served as publisher for the Christian Standard Bible, and is the author of multiple books, including The Thrill of Orthodoxy, The Multi-Directional Leader, Rethink Your Self, This Is Our Time, and Gospel Centered Teaching. His podcast is Reconstructing Faith. He and his wife, Corina, have three children.