What is a Disciple
WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
Matthew 10:16-27; Luke 6:35-42; John 13:1-17
August 27, 2006
The term "disciple" is used consistently in the four Gospels to describe the relationship between Christ and His followers. Jesus used it in speaking of them, and they employed it when referring to one another. The term did not pass out of use in the days following Pentecost; on the contrary, the word runs throughout the Acts of the Apostles We see it five times between Acts 9:1, 26 and Acts 21:16 – we won’t read those verses now but please read them later on your own. In fact, the members of the early church were known as disciples before they were first called "Christians" at Antioch in Acts 11:26 (the dictionary defines a disciple as a believer in the thought and teaching of a leader). The word signifies "a taught or trained one." Jesus is the Teacher and we are the learners. He has all knowledge of the ultimate purposes of God, and we are the seekers of the truth. As a Teacher, the Lord Jesus is not merely a Lecturer, from whose dissertations we may learn certain lessons; nor, indeed, is He only a Prophet who delivers his burden of truth and then leaves us to wrestle with the issues. Rather, He is the Teacher who bends over His pupils with the set purpose of training them step by step, until they become identified with the Teacher Himself. A disciple is an imitator of his teacher. Our teacher is Jesus. Do you imitate Jesus? That is our goal, isn’t it? As the old hymn states it: “Oh to be like thee! Blessed Redeemer. This is my constant longing and prayer;”
Jesus wants us trained up in the way we should go so when we are old we won’t depart from Him. Let’s read the first of our Scripture passages for today. If you have your Bible with you please turn to Matthew 10 and we’ll read verses 16 through 27. I am reading from the English Standard version: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,
and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.
For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,
and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
"So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
Keep your finger on this page because I’m going to refer back to specific verses from this passage, verses which talk about the characteristics of a disciple:
First, The Disciple Is One Who Is Identified With the Master's Suffering. Go back to the place you marked with your finger and look at verse 24 again: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master" The previous verses show that the Lord Jesus had been misunderstood and misinterpreted, and He warns His disciples that they would be as sheep among wolves. They would suffer in a similar manner since the disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. Jesus Christ "…learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8); and in this regard we must follow in His steps. The greatest privilege you and I can have is to be identified with the Master in His suffering. Such suffering will be either persecution or opposition. Please look again at chapter 10, verse 22: "… you will be hated by all for My name's sake…" That sounds harsh doesn’t it? No one can be a genuine disciple without encountering some form of persecution. Jesus promised this: "…If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…" (John 15:20). In the face of such persecution, however, the Lord Jesus promises two things: the power of utterance and the power to endure: "…do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak" (Matthew 10:19).
Under the fires of persecution, one of the greatest disciplines is that of controlling our thoughts, tempers, and tongues. Left to our own resources, we will fail miserably and bring dishonor to the name of our Lord. This is where the Master promises the power of the Holy Spirit to control thoughts, tempers, and tongues. How wonderfully this was illustrated in the Master's life-particularly when He suffered under Pontius Pilate. What discipline of speech and silence He exercised on that momentous occasion! Could you hold your tongue and not rise to your own defense when facing a false accusation and imminent punishment? But that is what Christ did. No wonder the apostle Paul uses this event in the experience of our Lord as the basis of his call to a life of discipline and control. Note His words to Timothy: "I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing" (1 Tim. 6:13-14).
Under the pressure of persecution, the Lord Jesus not only will give us His words to speak but also promises the power of endurance. Now, let’s look at verse 22 again. "…he who endures to the end will be saved" . The patience and long-suffering required at times like this are only possible when the believer knows in his own life the suffering of the Master. It was said of the Savior that "…for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2) He endured suffering for us. We endure suffering for Him! Our suffering may not be a cross of shame, but it may cause us loss or hardship.
Adoniram Judson, the renowned missionary to Burma, endured untold hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ. For seven heartbreaking years he suffered hunger and privation. During this time he was thrown into Ava Prison, and for seventeen months was subjected to almost incredible mistreatment. As a result, for the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him. Undaunted, upon his release, he asked for permission to enter another province where he might resume preaching the gospel. The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying, "My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might say, but I fear they might be impressed by your scars and turn to your religion!" Pretty powerful stuff, when the godless recognize suffering for our faith and are impressed by our endurance.
So our may take the form of persecution or secondly it may take the form of opposition. Let’s look at Matthew chapter 10, verse 25 -"… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!"). Spiritual opposition is man’s deliberate failure to rightly understand and interpret the Word of God. (in other words, he twists the use of Scripture to suit his own purposes) Such opposition often tends to distress and depress the disciple, but Jesus reassures His own by telling them: "…do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known" (Matthew 10:26). The Savior says that however unjustly we may be treated by misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Scripture, there is going to be a day of disclosure and vindication. Our business is to press on regardless os spiritual opposition, speaking in the light what God has taught us in the darkness of persecution and opposition; preaching from the housetops what He has whispered to us in the time of suffering.
We must learn that if we are to rise to the measure of true discipleship we must count it all joy to suffer for Christ. It is recorded of those early disciples that after persecution and opposition "…they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). God give us the grace to be willing to suffer likewise. Only thus shall we have a true identification with the Master's suffering.
A young woman who had left home because of her drunken father later became a Christian. Thereafter she announced her intention of returning and doing what she could to reclaim him. "But what will you do when he finds fault with all your efforts to please him?" someone asked. "Try a little harder," she answered with a light in her eyes. "Yes, but when he is unreasonable and unkind you will be tempted to lose your temper, and answer him angrily. What will you do then?" "Pray a little harder," came the answer. The discourager had one more arrow: "Suppose he should strike you as he did before. What could you do but leave him again?" "Love him a little harder," said the young Christian steadily. Her splendid perseverance conquered. Through love, prayer, and patient effort, her father was not only reclaimed from his besetting sin, but proved Christ' power to save. To what extent are we identified with this characteristic in our devotedness?
So, the first identifying mark of a disciple is suffering like it or not. Let’s go on to the second characteristic of a disciple: The Disciple Is One Who Is Identified With the Master's Discernment
Let’s look at our next Scripture passage, Luke 6:35-42:” But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."
He also told them a parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”
Don’t get confused with discernment as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that is the ability to detect error or truth in the spiritual realm. The discernment I am speaking of here is the ability we are all given by the Holy Spirit so we can understand Scripture – understand clearly and keenly what God is teaching us. That is what I’m going to call the Master’s Discernment: understanding what Jesus taught.
There are two elements to this discernment: knowledge and judgment. First, in our Scripture passage our Lord had just quoted a well- known proverbial parable: "…Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?" (John 6:39). Virtually He was saying that the blind cannot lead the blind, any better than the blind man can guide himself; the inference being that until a man is knowledgeable, he is unable to guide anyone.
The purpose of the Master Teacher is to grow His disciple in grace and knowledge. Only by such perfection of knowledge can the disciple lead himself or others. It was with this thought in mind that Jesus said, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher" (John 6:40).
Peter Waldo, the probable leader of the pious group called Waldensians, was a rich merchant of Lyons, France. He was converted through the death of a friend at a feast. He then had the Scriptures translated by two wise and discerning scholars into his own tongue, and thereafter gave up all his wealth and followed his Lord. Everywhere he went he preached the claims of Christ, using the words "Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!" These are the prerequisites of knowledge.
Look to Jesus; learn of Jesus. So the first characteristic of a disciple under discernment is acquiring knowledge from our Lord through Scripture.
Now The Second discerning factor comes in verse 41. Look at it again: "…why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?" . The principle the Savior is teaching here is that what we judge in others is invariably what we are guilty of ourselves. We see the speck (splinter) in our brother's eye, but forget that we are even more blind because of a plank in our own eyes.
A lady in Switzerland brought a small package of greatly aged cheese. Putting it in her handbag, she continued her shopping in different stores. She was greatly repelled at what she thought was the malodor of the different clerks encountered. Her thoughts ran something like this: "How can these ill- smelling clerks maintain their positions?" Imagine her embarrassment when opening her handbag to discover that it was she, not others, who was responsible for the offensive odor!
We must examine our own “smell” before we examine others. Someone once told me that we are never to examine motives, only actions. Only God can judge the heart. But, as I’ve said before, actions reveal the heart. I don’t believe the Bible is teaching us not to judge. The Bible has a lot to say about judging (see Romans 2:1-16 or Jeremiah 12). What the Bible does say is that judging others is serious business not to be done quickly or with malicious intent. That is why judging has such a bad reputation. You will often hear people say, “Don’t’ judge! You’re judging!” Jesus said it in this passage didn’t He. “Judge not…” in verse 37. So let’s look deeper into the master’s discernment about judging:
Godly judging must be characterized by three things – caution, graciousness, and mercy. Let’s look at the first of these three:
Cautioun-"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (John 6:37). An evidence of immaturity is hasty judgment and destructive criticism. Godly judgment, on the other hand, will be marked by a cautiousness which withholds condemnation until the possibility of forgiveness is thoroughly explored. Notice – judge not, condemn not, forgive. The fact that we are not to condemn, but to forgive, does not mean that we are not to judge; that would be a contradiction of 6:38. “For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” The warning is, “be fair!”
Marcy tells the story of her teaching days in the Queen Charlottes. Someone had scrawled on a school door “Teachers are not fair”. Her first though was, “Boy, they sure could have said worse things”. But after some though, she realized how damning the sign was. Fairness is something we admire. But did you realize God is not fair. (pause) If He was, where would we be every time we sinned? God’s graciousness, forgiveness, and mercy take precedence over His fairness. Thank God!
Back to our text. We are talking about fairness in judging. Therefore our judging must be cautious and also constructive. To be constructive it must be done in a spirit of forgiveness and mercy.
Your judging must be: Gracious-"…be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful" (John 6:36). Godly judgment is always tempered with mercy and grace. This does not mean the goodness and severity of God are not compromised. This is why the psalmist could say, "I will sing of mercy and justice…" (Psalm 101:1); and the prophet Habakkuk could say: "…In wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2). Always temper judgment with graciousness and forgiveness and bountiful mercy.
"Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (John 6:38). With cautiousness and graciousness, there must be a bounteousness in judgment. If graciousness speaks of large-heartedness, then bounteousness is a token of large-mindedness. This is the kind of godly judgment which takes all relevant facts into account. This is wise judgment. Someone has defined wisdom as "the right application of knowledge to any given situation in the light of all the verified facts." Such wisdom is bounteous judgment. Phillip Brooks once prayed, "Let me not lose faith in my fellow men. Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery or meanness. Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them." What a rare grace this is today! It is only God’s grace that can keep us sweet when people around us are sour isn’t it? But He has given us the power to be forgiving, gracious, and bountifully merciful.
So, we have now covered two characteristics of the disciple. The disciple suffers for Christ’s sake and the disciple is identified with Christ’s discernment.
Now the third characteristic: The Disciple Is One Who Is Identified With the Master's Devotedness For this trait we will look to John 13, verses 1 through 17. Turn there now and we will read. I am starting at the first verse and am reading from the English Standard version: -“ Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him,
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,
rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?"
Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand."
Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me."
Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you."
For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean."
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you?
You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
Jesus had just performed an act of superlative selflessness-that of washing the disciple's feet. Although this act of devoted service was performed hours before the agony of Gethsemane, the cruelty of the cross, and the desertion of His disciples, the Savior refused to be sidetracked from humbling Himself to attend to the needs of His unworthy disciples. How easy it is to be taken up with our own sufferings or successes and become so self- centered or indifferent to the needs of others. As far as our Lord was concerned, however, His devotedness was complete. Consider briefly two points:
First, The Reality of Such Devotedness-"Jesus…rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciple's feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded" (John 13:4-5). To wash the feet of guests at a feast was the work of a slave; but notwithstanding this He willingly made Himself a bondslave, "…taking the form of a servant…" (Phil. 2:7). This reality of devotedness to "slave" for others was characteristic of the Savior throughout His ministry. He could say, '…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus was devoted to being “real”.
Second, let’s look at The Morality of Such Devotedness. Christ supremely demonstrates a life of suffering and devotedness to others. He calls us to a life of devotedness to Himself and others so that those who follow us will emulate His example. To what extent are others led into a life of devotedness because of what they see in us? We need to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples …. Are we doing that?
So, what is a disciple again? As disciples we are to identify with Christ in His suffering, His discernment, and His devotedness. We mature as disciples only as we daily bring our lives under the Lordship of Christ. So may our prayer ever be the prayer of P.P. Bliss, the song-writer and poet:
At the feet of Jesus
Is the place for me;
There, a humble learner,
I would choose to be.