Tag Archives: Discipleship

A Pattern of Faith

 

You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-10

In the passage above, the believers in Thessalonica are being commended for their faith in responding to the word that was preached with power, the Spirit, and conviction (1:5a).  The theme of this section is that the consequences of their faith had reverberating effects locally, nationally, and internationally. Not only was their faith not kept in isolation, it wasn’t unique to them, rather it followed a pattern set down by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. By following the example set before them, they became a pattern in and of themselves for others to follow.  At its heart, this replicating effect of the gospel is the nature of discipleship.

Writing under divine inspiration, Paul begins his commendation of the Thessalonians by highlighting the fact of their imitation of him, his fellow gospel ministers, and more importantly, the Lord.  This pattern is alluded to in verse 5b, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” where the character of the messengers validated the quality of the message.  The godly character displayed to the Thessalonians in the face of affliction over the course of the trio’s several month ministry served to establish a pattern of faith, obedience, and holiness for them to imitate and they did just that, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.”  The idea of imitation is literally to mimic, or to copy.  We might say they were gospel copycats of the pattern that was shown to them.  The foundation for this pattern of both Paul, his co-laborers, as well as the Thessalonians was the Lord Himself.  His obedience unto death blazes the trail and establishes the pattern for all those who would take His yoke upon them and learn from Him.  Practically, the Thessalonians were spiritually downstream of the men who had preached the gospel to them and patterned a life of godliness, but these men were themselves simply downstream of the Lord.  The headwaters for the pattern of faith, and faith itself, is The Founder and Perfecter of our faith, The Apostle and High Priest, The Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-3; .  

This pattern of follow the leader is not unique to this letter, rather the Apostle Paul elsewhere makes a similar exhortation for believers to follow him, in so far as he is following Christ:

  • 1 Cor. 4:16
  • 1 Cor. 11:1
  • Eph. 5:1
  • 1 Thess. 2:14
  • Heb. 6:12           

Part of the pattern, specific to the Thessalonians, was the reception of the gospel with joy, in spite of the circumstances of affliction.  Certainly Paul, Silas, and Timothy provided an example for both gospel proclamation and gospel obedience, but in addition to that, they modeled how to live a God-honoring life in the face of persecution.  Recall that in Acts 17, the trio were in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, resulting in the conversion of a “great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.”  But this caused the Jews to be jealous and incite a riot, a riot which led to the incarceration of Jason and the exile of Paul and Silas to Berea.  It is therefore within reason that since one of their own, Jason, as well as Paul, Silas and Timothy, were persecuted for the Gospel, those who remained in Thessalonica who had embraced the message of the gospel, likewise had been afflicted by persecution.  This pattern of imitating the reception of the gospel with joy in the face of affliction is further emphasized in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 

“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews….”  

Often, in various ways, shapes, and forms, the gospel is accompanied by affliction (Acts 9:16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”).  But the Thessalonians were more than just imitators, they were replicators, “so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”  Expanding on this, in verse 8 we read

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

Not only did those who believed in Thessalonica become imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and our Lord, but they became examples themselves.  Their embrace of the gospel became a pattern for others. Additionally, the “word of the Lord” literally echoed or reverberated from them first locally, then nationally, then internationally.  In summation, this is the pattern of discipleship. Let’s review it for the sake of clarity.

The gospel was preached by our Lord, fulfilled by His coming, and ratified by His death, resurrection, and ascension.  Paul had heard of it first hand from our Lord. Presumably Silas and Timothy had heard it second hand, but all three were witnesses to its truthfulness.  More than that, they followed the pattern given them, whether from Christ directly as in Paul’s case, or from others who ministered the gospel to them. Further, they became examples for others to follow, in so far as they were following the example of Christ.  The Thessalonians likewise embraced Christ and began sharing His gospel through proclamation and their life that accompanied it. In turn, they became a pattern to those in Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond. This. Is. Discipleship. It is the pattern of faith that must be replicated if the gospel is to spread locally, in our own neighborhoods and cities, to nationally, and internationally.  It began with Christ, continued with 3 men, spread nationally, then internationally. This is how the whole world gets turned upside down (Acts 17:6).

 

Study, Do, Teach

 

In Ezra 7:6-10 we are introduced to the man for whom this book is named, and its likely author, Ezra the scribe and priest (and prophet).  In this passage we read, “6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

Ezra, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the post-exilic time period, introduces himself after the reconstruction of the temple and its dedication.  He was sent by King Artaxerxes to Jerusalem with very specific instructions outlined in the remainder of this chapter, but largely he was to instruct the people in accordance with the law of God; reinstituting, as it were, the statutes and commands of the Lord.  But in order for Ezra to effectively perform the duty that was assigned him, he had to first know the law of the Lord and be obedient to it himself.  This we see explicitly stated in verse 10, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”  This is the proper order for all those who desire to teach God’s Word to people, especially preachers and teachers, but inclusively of all believers.

Study

There is a natural resistance to studying.  Perhaps it is caused by a default towards laziness or disinterest, but overwhelmingly society as a whole seems to carry with it an attitude of opposition towards study.  This is particularly true in the Church, where study is perceived to be for theologians and pastors and those who are overachievers.  Studying the things of God is not for everyone else, those deep things are left for the professionals, or so the thought goes; the layman ought to read devotionally and stick to simplicity.  The argument even goes so far as to quote Deuteronomy 29:29 or Isaiah 55:8-9 as an apologetic against effort to discern and otherwise understand what God hath written in His Word.

That is not the attitude portrayed in this passage about Ezra.  His desire to study the things of God was from the heart.  Interestingly, the word disciple means learner.  The Gospels give us an in-depth account of the disciples of Christ, those who were called by Him to come sit at His feet and learn all that He has commanded.  In fact, the very “Great Commission” that Christ gave to the disciples (apostles) and has extended to the Church is a command to make disciples, i.e. learners.  Learning doesn’t come by osmosis, but by diligent study and in this case, of God’s Word.  How are we to know about the character of God unless we study His revelation of Himself?  How are we to embrace the majesty of the Son or realize the depravity of ourselves without study?  It simply isn’t enough to be satisfied with a superficial knowledge or understanding of God’s Word.  We need to plow, not rake.  And when we encounter a large root within the text of Scripture that we cannot easily plow through, then we are in greater need of the Spirit of God to illumine our path, not simply to give up and move on, but to grasp hold of God and wrestle Him as did Jacob for the blessing of understanding until He is delighted to reveal more of Himself to us.  The author of Hebrews offers the following exhortation,

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

By implication, the author here through the Holy Spirit is conveying dissatisfaction towards those who should have progressed in their study of God’s Word to the point of teaching others.  But instead, he compares them to spiritual babes suckling on the bottle of the Word, rather than ingesting the meat of God’s Word.  “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV  We are called to Study.

Do   

James 1:22-25 offers the classic warning towards those who would be hearers of the Word only

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

There is a call on the believer’s life to apply those things which he or she has studied.  Those who don’t can wear proudly the badge of hypocrite.  For the disciple of Christ, doing, or better obeying, should be a natural outcome of studying.  This is the great duty of the Christian life.  At some point, we’ve become so paralyzed by the thought of legalism that anything resembling effort on the part of the Spirit-filled believer is neglected.  We need often to be reminded that we are called to do the things of Scripture, to obey the commands of God.  These are action words, not passive.  Paul writes:

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” Romans 6:12

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:13

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice” Romans 12:1

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” Romans 12:2

“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Romans 12:9

Love, outdo, Do not be slothful, Rejoice, Contribute, Bless, Live in harmony. (Summarizing Romans 12)

“Run the race with endurance” Hebrews 12:1 (1 Cor. 9:24, 26; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2; 5:7)

“Fight” 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7

The two verses below especially highlight the effort of the believer and the power of God to bring about obedience:

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil. 2:12

Obedience for the believer is not legalism and it’s also not optional, lest we drown in licentiousness.  Clear consistent thinking on this issue will go a long way to avoid antinomianism, legalism, and other forms of Roman Catholic justification by works.  We are bondservants to Christ, literally slaves.  That requires doing what we are commanded to do.  Any objection or resistance to obeying the commandments of God is at its heart, sin.  “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:19 We are called to Do.

Teach

Christ in His commission to His Church, as given first to the disciples, states clearly that we are to “teach them [those who have been made disciples] to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.”  Here we see the relationship between Christ the Master Teacher and His disciples, whom He has taught to obey.  Again, their is a connection between study and obedience.  Study and Do.  But there is a shift here among the disciples from being “learners”, i.e. disciples, to being “apostles”, i.e. sent ones.  This is because a fundamental purpose for all disciples of Christ is to teach others all that He has commanded.  In a sense, we are like Christ’s first disciples learning from Him (Hebrews 1:2), obeying His commands (John 14:15), and being sent to teach others (Matthew 28:19).

Just as there is sometimes confusion with study and with obedience, similarly there is confusion with teaching.  Yes, God has ordained an office of preacher/teacher (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) and yes God has gifted some to teach (Romans 12:7), but in a generic sense teaching is not restricted to certain people, but as is made clear in the Great Commission it is an expected duty by all who would call themselves disciples of Christ.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16  We are called to Teach.

Study, Do, and Teach.  The Word of God is central in its function for each of those duties.  It’s not a complicated formula.  It doesn’t require grand programs or budgets.  It’s simple and for good reason, so that we may rely solely on the power of the Holy Spirit and the sufficiency of God’s Word.  This is  the pattern for faithful discipleship, both for making and for being.

The Cost of Discipleship

What does it mean to be a disciple?  This is a question I’ve been asking in recent months, not only to myself, but likewise to others.  In my opinion the application of discipleship has become so neglected within the Church these days that this has in turn created an inaccurate and dangerous definition of the word itself.  When we look to describe a word such as disciple, it’s easy enough to turn to a dictionary where we’ll find words like: follower, believer, supporter, or student, which is in line with the Greek meaning of the word mathetes meaning learner.  But in any Biblical application, we cannot look merely to external sources, we must look internally to God’s Word to find out what being a disciple means in context with Jesus Christ.

Through asking the above question, I’ve come to the conclusion that many people today believe that being a disciple of Christ is a different or higher ranking within the body of Christ.  In fact, it appears as though many of those who claim Jesus Christ as Savior are “mere Christians” while there are others who strive after Jesus with their whole hearts, maybe denying themselves the pleasures of the world, becoming a pastor, theologian, or missionary.  The latter of which essentially devotes their life to Christ, while the remaining majority are content to give Jesus small slivers of their life as they see fit.  So in essence, the majority seem to want just enough Jesus to get to heaven, not enough to suffer in anyway here on earth, not enough to turn their back on the world, and certainly not enough to be fully submitted and obedient to the Lord.

Our support text for the Biblical definition of disciple comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9 where Jesus is speaking to a crowd as He states, “23…”If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26 ESV  In verse 23 Jesus is stating the requirements of discipleship and establishing who it applies to, namely “anyone” who follows Him.  Dear friend it’s so critical to note this, Jesus doesn’t create a hierarchy of followers, there’s no advanced elite group, anyone that follows him and claims Him as their Savior must deny themselves and take up their cross daily. All believers are part of the body of Christ, while we may make-up different parts, i.e. some may act as the hands and serve and others act as the feet and spread the Gospel (Romans 10:15).  Although we may each have different roles as allotted to us by Jesus, and there certainly may be different maturity level amongst believers, we are not in a hierarchal relationship with Christ.  Even the Apostle Paul refers to himself as the chief of sinners (I Timothy 1:15) and states openly that it’s not as though he has obtained anything yet (Philippians 3:12).  If anyone could brag about his status it was Paul, but he knew he had obtained nothing in and of himself and in reality he was no better than anyone else. 

Jesus next addresses those who seek security, those who seek monetary or worldly desires, and those who are too proud lest they be embarrassed for claiming Christ.  These groups are where the majority of people fall, yet none are disciples and none have the assurance of salvation as Jesus qualifies his argument with, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

For our second proof text we will stay in Luke 9 where Jesus begins to describe what the costs of discipleship are, “57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me. “But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 ESV In the first verse of this passage we read of a man stating his allegiance to Christ, much like the majority that we identified in the opening.  Jesus immediately reminds them that He has nothing, not even a place to sleep at night.  Discipleship is not popular, not extravagant, and it certainly doesn’t produce wealth.  To the next person Jesus says, “Follow me,” yet instead of coming with Him, this person makes an excuse that he needed to wait for his inheritance at the burial of his father.  Again, the choice of the world is at odds with being a disciple.  A third says he will follow, so willingly he commits, yet is unable to give himself fully because his priority is not Jesus first. 

The third and final text that we’ll examine to find how Jesus defines a disciple comes from Luke chapter 14:

25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Again He opens with a qualification, “anyone”, if anyone comes to Jesus and does not hate his family, he cannot be His disciple.  The text here is not saying a literal hate, but instead if someone isn’t willing to choose Christ over choosing their family, then they are not worthy.  A strong claim indeed and perhaps this is why Jesus states in Matthew 7:14 the, “gate is narrow…that leads to life.”  Next He states you cannot be His disciple if you don’t bear your own cross.  Meaning dying to self and living to Christ and the will of God. 

Jesus concludes His discussion by using two parables to illustrate the cost of discipleship, the first of which He uses the analogy of a man building a tower, whose foundation is lain but the costs to complete have not been calculated and people begin to mock him because he could not finish.  So too is the Christian life.  Many start, many many, claim Jesus as their Savior, or they say they are going to heaven.  But there are never signs of repentance, never evidence of a changed heart, no fruit, nothing but a broken down foundation from a once well intended plan of one that has not counted the cost of discipleship.

I’m reminded about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23), the seed was sown to all four, but the devil snatched it from the heart of the first, the second received it with great joy, yet it took no root, the third took root but got choked out, nothing more than a foundation, only the fourth seed took root and bore fruit.  Three had what appeared to be faith, yet only one remained in the end.  So too is a disciple of Christ.  He counts the cost, builds upon the foundation with silver and gold, not straw and stubble, and he finishes the race complete in his faith to the day of salvation.  Have you counted the cost and renounced everything else?  Are you denying yourself in order to be a disciple of Christ’s?  Or have you cheapened the grace that Jesus’ blood purchased by deceiving yourself into a second rate salvation and pretending the rest are the ones to whom discipleship belongs?  In closing, I want to include a quote by John Stott, from his book Basic Christianity,

“The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict half-built towers. The ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called nominal Christianity. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent but thin veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.”

 

Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”