Although believers are often referred to as disciples in the four gospels and the book of Acts, it is never mentioned by Paul in his letters. However, we wish rather to consider many lessons that we as believers can emulate as we consider the thought of discipleship.
We will consider it from five passages:
The old adage is certainly true: a disciple is one who learns to follow and follows to learn. He is simply a pupil following the master’s example. We get our word discipline from the same root which tells us a great deal about what is expected of a disciple.
Matthew chapter 8 highlights the fact that there are many would-be disciples but they are not all prepared to pay the cost, and discipleship does not come cheap. The first man in the story confidently says to the Lord, nothing will stop me from following you, but the Lord reminds him that it is not an easy path to tread. There will be times when you are so tired that you could just lie down and sleep but there will be no place to rest your weary body. The Lord was not trying to put the man off but was simply pointing out the truth so that he could not say at some later date, ‘I never knew it would be like this’. The second man said, ‘I will follow you Lord only let me first bury my father’. The Master’s answer seems curt; ‘let the dead bury their dead’. He was not being heartless or unfeeling, for the Lord could never be that, but points out that He must be given priority, and have first place in a disciple’s life. If that is so, how could this man say; ‘Suffer me first’ to the Lord, for such is a contradiction of terms. Paul states: ‘For to me to live is Christ’, Phil. 1.21, and so it ought to be for every believer. But the question is, ‘Can we say the same?’ Some believers live for business, while others live for self, but let us be like Paul and give our Master the place He deserves.
In our reading it is lovely to see that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch, and what a beautiful term this is: Christ-like ones. Commentators suggest that they were divinely called by this title, but, nevertheless, unbelievers used the term, albeit in a derogatory fashion. Surely this is the whole purpose for following the Master – so that we might become like Him! One day we shall be, for we shall see Him as He is!
This principle is readily seen in the world today. Think of great footballers, and many young hopefuls who try to emulate them. These youngsters will devour video after video of ‘the maestro’ in action to learn what and how they do great moves with a football. Then, they go out and try to put into practice what they have learned, and are delighted when others compare them to their idol. As believers in the Lord Jesus our aim should be to become more like Him each day. Paul puts it succinctly when he says, ‘Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ’, 1 Cor. 11. 1. So we should model our life on the Lord Jesus. We do this not to obtain salvation but because we have salvation, and can therefore become like Him. We also have His Spirit dwelling in our hearts to help us achieve our goal. Therefore, let us read about Him in His word, and see how He acted and reacted in the differing circumstances of life, and in His submission to the will of God. Then let us put into action what we learn, so that others might see us like our Master and call us Christians. It is a high standard, but one that should constantly occupy us until He returns to take us home.
Following the Lord was never going to be easy. Indeed, two things clearly mark this pathway:
To deny self is to forego our rights, and things that may be legitimate but will not help us to be like the Master. You can be assured that the Lord is not asking us to do something He has not done Himself. He said, ‘I came not to be served but to serve’, Matt. 20. 28 NIKJV. What self denial is this! Many times He was weary, but He never thought of giving up. He was fulfilling the Father’s will for Him.
Once again, we can see this illustrated in the world today. Think of the athlete who trains for the marathon, to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. When others are still in bed they are training, and exercising, often till their muscles ache and cry stop, but they carry on regardless. When others go out at night to enjoy themselves, they forego such, so that they might be in top condition, ready to run the race of their lives. They do not want anything to stand in their way, or stop them claiming the prize. Surely it is the same for the disciple.
But it is also a pathway of reproach for we are to take up our cross and follow Him. Why did the Lord Jesus allow the very people He created to treat Him in such a despicable way? It was because He was here to do what His Father’s will required. So it will be with you and me. Others will mock us, and think we are simple people who believe that there is a God and that the Bible is true. Then, when we tell them that God sent His Son to die for sinners, they think we are mad. Don’t let them put us off, but, rather, may such reproach spur us on, for ‘this is the way the Master went, should not the servant tread it still?’. H. Bonar
The Lord makes clear that the badge of our discipleship is our love for our brothers and sisters. Let us think of the analogy of football again, for everyone knows that any fan can be recognized by the colour of his scarf, casual shirt, hat, or even face paint. These things, and the songs they sing, all show where the affections lie. Our Master says it should similar with those who take the stand of being His disciples. However, it is not particularly by our dress but by our love one for another. He is the example of how we ought to love, for, He says, ‘Even as I have loved you’. Two outstanding features characterize His love:
He did not favour one disciple over another but He loved each with the same love. John speaks of himself in his Gospel as, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, but that has nothing to do with his being favoured by the Lord over his fellows disciples but rather it shows how John could never get over the fact that Jesus loved someone like him.
Secondly, His love is unchanging; they could always depend upon it, for circumstances would never change His love. John stresses this in his Gospel where he says that Jesus ‘having loved his own … he loved them unto the end’, 13. 1, and this is how He expects us to love.
Some, like Peter, might ask, ‘Is being a disciple worth all the hardship?’
Before we consider the Lord’s reply let us think of the athlete again who has trained so hard. No doubt he often wondered, ‘Was it all worth it?’, especially when he rose up early while others slept, and pounded the streets till his muscles ached and screamed for mercy. He denied himself certain food, even though it was delicious, for he also knew it would not help him achieve his goal. Then, one day as he stands on the centre rostrum of some great stadium, having received the gold medal, he watches through tear-stained eyes as the flag of his country is raised aloft, and the strains of his national anthem ring in his ears. He knows it was worth all the pain and suffering!
The Master says if we give up anything for Him then we will receive one hundred times more in this life, and that will continue into the new life to come. Let us remember we do not strive for ‘some poor withering wreath of earth, man’s prize in mortal strife’, H. Bonar. But we look to enjoy the commendation of God now, and eternal blessings in the life to come. So, let us follow our Master wherever He leads, for it will be worth it all when we hear Him say, ‘Well done’.