Monday, December 28, 2015

Features of a True Disciple of Christ

A disciple is a learner, one who follows his teacher and learns from him. Often times the disciple would live with his teacher; follow his every move and serve him however he could! The Lord Jesus had many disciples, some were just there as “hangers on” leaving when things got tough, while others true converts as in John 6:60-69. From this large group of followers the Lord Jesus chose twelve, these were called “apostles.” The word apostle means “to send forth with a commission.” To be an apostle of Jesus Christ there were certain qualifications. He had to have seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:22, 1 Cor. 9:1) and he had to be specifically chosen by the Lord Jesus (Eph. 4:11). An apostle was one who had fellowship with the Lord beginning from the baptism of John to when Christ was taken up into glory (Acts 1:21-22), the only exception of this would have been the apostle Paul. In the strictest sense of the word we do not have apostles today, because no can meet these qualifications!

Paul became an eyewitness "as of one born out of due time" (1Cor.15:18). He personally saw the risen Christ and was taught by Him for 3½ years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17, 1Cor. 11:2, 23), which occurred after his conversion in Damascus (Acts 9). Paul was personally chosen by the risen and glorified Christ to be His apostle to the Gentiles. He makes this clear in the book of Galatians that his special calling was "not from men, nor through man" (Gal.1:1, 12, 15-16).

The word ‘disciple’ occurs 261 times in the New Testament. The word itself means "a learner." The word disciple also occurs in a verb form four times in the New Testament. Only one is an imperative which is found in Matthew 28:19-20. The verses we normally refer to as “the great commission." The disciples of Jesus were told before his ascension that they were “to make disciples of all nations.” This command is only found in Matthew’s gospel.

In Matthew 10 the Lord Jesus calls His twelve apostles. In this chapter we see instruction for those specific apostles (10:1-15), then He gives instruction for future disciples (10:16-23) and in 10:24-42 He give instruction for what we would call present day disciples. This would be specific instruction for all who desire to follow after Christ today. In this section the Lord sets forth the essence of Christian dedication, the features and cost of being a real disciple of Christ. We would like to focus on Matthew 10:24-42 and look at several feature of true discipleship.

A Disciple of Christ Emulates Christ 
We see this in verses 24-25, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” A true disciple was to become like his teacher in just about every way. 1 John 2:6 reminds “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” There are several verses in the gospel of John that give sight to this. In John 8:31 the Lord “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” Then in John 13:34-35 He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Lastly, in John 15:8, 15-16 He declared, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples…No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” The Lord goes on there in John 15 to remind us that as we bear fruit as His disciples the world will hate us because it hated Him! This goes along with what He said in Matthew 10:25, if we are like the Lord Jesus we will also begin to suffer as He did here. But as we suffer we should not fear and this brings us to the second feature seen here in Matthew 10:26.

A Disciple of Christ Does Not Fear the World 
Three times in verses 26-31 the Lord Jesus reminds us not to fear. This is a vital key to true discipleship! Do we fear man or do we reverence God? Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” As followers of Christ we have been given the love of God which was poured out in our hearts (Rom. 5:5) and Paul told Timothy that we have not been given "a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). This perfect love, we are told casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). So when we are enjoying the debts of his love and all that He has brought us into because of that love it gives us a moral courage to speak for Him in a world that has rejected Him (Matt. 10:26-27). He instructs us to proclaim publically with moral courage whatever He tells us in private! The secret to this moral courage is to be built up and fortified on the inside by what we hear in our ear from Him. This is also translated “what you hear whispered in your ear.” The Lord desires to speak to each of us. As His servants our ears need to be open! In Isaiah 50 we read of the perfect servant, the Lord Jesus. But as the perfect servant, He also was the perfect disciple in this sense, in verse 4 we read of Him having “the tongue of the learned.” The word “learned” as the thought of the tongue of a disciple. But notice it was not only His tongue affected in order to speak a word in season, but His ear was open each day to be instructed (Is. 50:5). This is where moral courage comes from! It comes from being in the Word of God and from the Word of God being in us!

But secondly, not only does a disciple have moral courage. This moral courage leads us to physical courage! The Lord says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28), this is what gives so many the strength to endure persecution and suffering. There is a cost of discipleship; there is a price to be paid! But the person who fears (reverences) God alone never needs to fear man. The fear of God is the fear that cancels fear!

A third type of courage that is mentioned here is a spiritual courage (10:29-33). Spiritual courage is taking God at His word a laying everything on the line for Him! This kind of courage is developed when we are in the Word of God listening with open ear, but also with our eyes open to see the greatness of the glory of Christ on every page of Scripture! This spiritual courage is what Stephen had in Acts 7. He was so occupied with the person of Christ! He begins speaking of the God of Glory but ends up seeing the Glory of God as it was shining in the face of Jesus Christ! Stephen was so occupied with Christ that as a follower of Christ he has the physical courage to give His life for Christ, but also as a follower of Christ he has spiritual courage at the end to be like Christ saying, “Lord do not charge them with this sin.” Stephen emulated his Master and went into the presence of his Master!

A Disciple is Valued, Cared for and Protected by God 
We saw this in the life of Stephen and see it taught by the Lord here in Matthew 10:29-31. The Lord emphasizes the value of His disciples. He sent them out two by two and here we read, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” There is a similar statement made in Luke 12:6; “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Looking at these to verse together we learn that two sparrows could be bought buy one copper coin (a farthing), but two copper coins would buy five sparrows! Sparrows were of such little value that when you gave two copper coins you received an extra bird for free! The point here is very clear while the sparrow is not of much value to man the takes notice of each one the dies and if He takes notice of these birds how much more value are you as followers of Christ! He will provide and care for you! This echoes what was taught back in Matthew 6:25-26. The Lord loves and cares for us we do not need be worried or to fear!

A Disciple Confesses the Lord and is Evaluated by Him 
There has been much confusion over Matthew 10:32-33, but it is important to remember that this section is about service not salvation! There is such a thing as those who profess to be followers of Christ but when the fire comes to test their metal, they run. Peter mentions those who are false prophets and actual deny the Lord and bring destruction on themselves (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Confess Christ is much more than lip service, it is life service! If will live in such a way that confesses Christ, He takes note of this! If we deny Him by our life, the Lord takes note of this as well! The Lord takes note of all service and will one day evaluate each act of service that has been accomplished by us. What was truly done for the glory of Christ will be reveal by fire and the fire will test each ones work to see what sort it is. If we have denied Him by serving ourselves He will not confess that before His Father and that work will be burned, and we will suffer loss (1 Cor. 3:12-15)! We all will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ where the rewards for service will be distributed (2 Cor. 5:10, Rom. 14:10). If we have denied Him, we will lose rewards. 

A Disciple gives Christ the Pre-eminent Place
As we continue in Matthew 10:34-37, we hear the Lord say something that might sound very strange to us, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” People in Christ’s day were looking for the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6, Ps. 72). They did not realize that first the Lord must be rejected, suffer upon the Cross and then the glory would follow (1 Peter1:11). The Lord began to prepare His followers early for the conflict that He must endure and that they would not be able escape. We must remind ourselves again that the context here is about service and the Lord is expressing the need for His disciples to give Him first place in their lives! It is also helpful for us to realize that there is a new relationship that has been established through the finished work on the Cross. The Lord emphasized this in Mark 3:31-35, “Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

The Lord Jesus was teaching His follower that if we are going to be His disciples He must have the priority in our lives! It has often been said that “In many believer’s lives He is present, in some believer’s lives He is prominent, but the real question is He pre-eminent in my life.” 

The thought here is that my heart ought to be sold out for Christ and all other relationships are to take second place! This really is the idea of sanctification in verses 34-37. The word, sanctify means to “set something apart or separate something for a purpose.” The Lord says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” The sword is something that separates (Heb. 4:12). He goes onto to say, "For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” The word, "against" actually means “to cut in two, to rend asunder”, and is used only here in the New Testament. It has the thought of complete and often permanent separation. No one can half heartily serve the Lord. The Lord cannot have disciples who have a divided commitment! He said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:57-62)

A Disciple Offers His Own Life 
The disciple of Christ must put his love on the alter as we have seen in verses 32-36, but he must also put his own life on the alter as well (Mt. 10:38-39). The love for Christ in verse 37 is the motivation for verse 38! The cross would speak of death! For one to take up the cross is to abandon themselves without reservation to the lordship of Christ! The Lord developed this later in Matthew 16:24-25 connecting it with His own Cross (16:21). For the follower of Christ the cross is the willing sacrifice of everything one has, including life for the sake of Christ! Notice that there is no middle ground, either we spare our lives or sacrifice our lives. If we protect our own interests we will be the losers; if we live for His interests we will be the winners! This might be what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).

A Disciple Can is a Blessing to Others 
A true follower of Jesus Christ is a blessing to others, this comes out in the remaining verses of chapter 10, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (10:40-42)

What are these verses teaching about discipleship? First we learn that a person who receives the Lord’s servants also receives the Lord Jesus and the Father who sent Him (Jn.8:19)! As followers of Christ we are His ambassadors left here to bring others to the Lord Jesus! This was the message that Paul carried in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

We learn here that when anyone receives the spokesman for the Lord, he receives a reward. This is the unlimited grace of God! He not only rewards the prophet for his faithfulness, but He rewards anyone who receives a prophet even giving him a prophet’s reward! He goes onto to say that anyone who accepts a believer for Christ’s sake receives a reward. Then the Lord goes even further by saying there is a reward for “whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple.” This term “little ones” has the thought of those who are insignificant and unimportant (Mt. 18:1-3, 25:31-46). 

God loves to give! He gave the greatest gift of all when He gave His beloved Son the lord Jesus! He continues to give by blessing those that have received His Son by blessing them with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). In fact “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jm. 1:17). In a coming day the Lord Jesus will reward faithfulness to all those who serve Him here and have His interests at heart. 

It is good again to remind ourselves that this portion in Matthew 10 is speaking of discipleship not son-ship, it has in mind service not salvation! We become children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are His disciples as we are faithfully follow and obeying Him! Son-ship never changes, but how we serve as His disciples may! There is a great need for true and faithful disciples today! Will we be those who learn from Christ and live for Him? 

Discipleship Today: How are Disciple made today?
I have been struck by the fact that the word “disciple” is never used beyond the book of Acts! In the epistles we see the followers of Christ referred as Christians, brothers, saints, believers, and the church, but never as disciples in the epistles, why? Here is something else that stands out; the great commission is never repeated in the epistles? There is not one exhortation to make disciples though there is a command or two to preach the gospel (2 Tim.4:1). We do see Paul back in Acts 14:21 making disciples, “And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” But Paul never instructs, commands or exhorts anyone else to make disciples! Why not? First, let’s look at Acts 14:21 closer since this is the only reference in the entire New Testament that records the actual “making of disciples.”

How exactly were these disciples made? Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel; many were taught and became disciples or learners. It was a direct result of the preaching of God’s Word! This word for preaching has the idea behind it of teaching. This proclamation could have been through a variety of ways, such as discussions, debates and conversations with unbelievers. It is good to keep in mind that not all preaching and teaching is done from a pulpit! 

Reading through the epistles we see teaching emphasized over and over! Followers of Christ must be taught the Word of God, they must be learners. When Paul returned to the cities where he had preached and made disciples, he appointed elders who would continue to teach and knead the gospel into the lives of the believers. The task of an elder is so crucial in the local assembly. When we read of the qualifications of an elder we learn that he must be "able to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2). He must “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may able by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict...” (Titus 1:9). As Paul was leaving the assembly at Ephesus he exhorted the elders saying, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves…“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32).This warning is very much for the church today! 

As we have seen the Model of Discipleship in the gospel of Matthew and the Method of Discipleship for the Assembly today, may the Lord raise up those with the features of true disciples and may He also raise up those in the local assembly to teach and help strengthen the flock of God! 

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