As Christians we throw around the word “disciple” pretty loosely. But what exactly does it mean to be a disciple?
This week we’ve been talking about getting close to God and Jesus quite a lot. In Battle Cry I talked about what I feel are Jesus’ most profound 3 questions. In The Word With Friends I talked about God and the word “gospel.” Today I think it behooves us to talk about not just the promise and glory of a strong relationship with God, but the responsibilities it entails.
Killing In The Name
One interesting thing that has been true of every culture on earth since time immemorial is wrapped up neatly in the phrase: “in the name of.” We’ve talked about names before, but to save you some reading: names are simply words we assign to the idea of you, to the collection of experiences that we associate with you. Think about it: When people say your name when you aren’t around, how is that name interpreted in their brains? It summons a summary of all the memories that person has for you, and all their opinions about you.
That summary is a picture of you; a list of knowns and unknowns, a list of highs and lows. When your name is said, it summons a conceptual you — a partial reconstruction based on past history with you. The thing about that picture, that history, is that we have a word for it: your reputation.
It’s Gonna Be Me
Reputation is exactly what we’re talking about with the words “in the name of.” Through history it has always been the practice to do something or make a request “in the name of” a king, or a parent, or a deity. The Crusades were fought in the name of God, we pray in the name of Jesus, we make grand romantic gestures in the name of Love, and so on.
What we are saying in these words is that, based on the reputation of another, we have right, or authority, or obligation to do something. Well, why does that matter? And what does it have to do with discipleship? Stick with me…
Know Your Enemy
There are a few go-to verses people use when they are trying to shake people out of the fantasy that Jesus is all fluffy clouds and rainbows. One such go-to is in Matthew chapter 10 when Jesus is explaining how to be His disciple. To give a little background: He starts this chapter granting power to cleanse spirits and heal to His 12 disciples because He is sending them out to the lost children of Israel to bring them the gospel of the Kingdom and make disciples of them.
Because this mission is critically important He goes into great detail, but what we need to talk about are verses 24, 25, 34, 37, 41, and 42. Let’s start with 34 and 37:
(34) “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”
(37) “He that Loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that Loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
Strong language! When He says that He came to send a sword, what He means is that His coming to earth would not unite people, but divide them. And surely it has; we have fought wars over Him, we have established rivalries over Him, and we have created and infinite amount of “them”s over Him. And He seems fine with that, doesn’t He?
Demanding that we Love Him more than even our own children?! How can that possibly align from a man who also said “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?? And what’s this “worthy of Me” nonsense from the guy who said “Why call ye me good? There are none good save God alone.”
Drop It Like It’s Hot
The reason we instinctually kick back from statements like these is that they seem hypocritical and narcissistic. He sounds very “Me, Me, Me” while telling us to eschew self. We’re used to people saying these kinds of things and we know that they come from an evil place, and when heeded they lead only to misery for us. But, as I always say, there is no idea in the Bible that can be separated from every other idea in the Bible. So let’s look at verses 41 and 42:
“He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
“In the name of.” “Based on the reputation of.” This starts to change things, because when He says “disciple” He is talking about HIS disciple. This isn’t narcissism, this is selflessness. He is telling us that serving the needs of others earns us the favor of God. And this, really, is a central theme of the Bible: don’t just treat people decently; lavish them with Love and focus more on them than on yourself. But why?
The word disciple comes from the Latin word discipulus, which literally means “one who takes in exceedingly,” or — more clearly — “one who eagerly learns.” I think we, mostly, don’t really feel the weight of this. We talk about discipleship in the church like it’s a rank or a goalpost, a thing you reach and then don’t have to worry about again. But that’s not true; being a disciple is a lifelong task, because there is no such thing as having learned everything.
Let’s look quickly at verse 24 and the first sentence of verse 25:
“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord.”
When He says that a disciple is not above He means that the master always knows more. When a person signs on to disciple under an electrician they can reach the same level of knowledge as the master, but by that time the master will have learned more. We, instead, satisfy ourselves that we’ve come as close as we can.
The thing about this chapter is that Christ is training His disciples here. And I think we often forget this: we are not disciples of the church or of our pastors — though we can take that earthly position in order to learn how to be a pastor, etc — we are disciples of Christ. We operate in His name, under His reputation. This has a few very critical implications:
It clarifies verses 34 and 37, because if we are disciples using His name, putting His reputation on the line, then He absolutely gets to tell us what that means and what it doesn’t. He’s not an electrician or a carpenter; He is the Savior of the world. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the door. To sign on under Him is to take on an enormous responsibility to represent Him well and to use His name correctly. To do that, to really be dedicated to Him, you have to put Him first. If not, then you are living your life under your own name. If you Love your children more than Him then you aren’t going to show them your Love of Him and you are depriving them of His Kingdom. He needs to be first.
It also means that we should be passionate about learning from Him. We don’t just get saved and then have the armaments we need. We don’t reach our tenth year of pastoring and check off mastery. The commitment to Him is a lifelong one, and we should be always — always — learning from Him. From Him. It’s fine to learn from people, but such teaching must always be held up against His instruction before it’s taken as truth. We cannot allow ourselves to become lost in the leadership of another and be led away from Christ.
Lastly, as His hands and feet we show the world who He is. That is huge. People will know Him by our example, by our teaching, and anything we get wrong can have profound implications on those who learn from us. When we exhibit ourselves as men and women of Christ and then we hurt people those scars run deep and they abide. Condemnation from self hurts, but condemnation from a person perceived to be a spiritual authority is crippling. We must be aware of the impact we have on others, of what we are displaying and how it reflects on our Master.
Oops… I Did It Again
This kind of discipleship is not easy, and we will fail, and that’s OK. We are learning. But that is really the key: we need to be dedicated to always learning, to always being open. That isn’t an easy thing for us in this day and age because we like to rush to the place that we are the master so we can chill and cease having to work for it. But that day never comes when serving Christ. There is never a point that we become the master. We need to recognize that, we need to feel the weight of that, and we need to act it out with care.
Father, I toed carefully here, because it is easy to pull down condemnation from such topics, easy to stray into feeling insulted. If You’ve taught me one thing in my life it is that we, today, are far too cavalier with the thoughts and feelings of others, and I am earnestly trying to be cognizant of that. Please reach through my stumbling and stir their hearts for what You showed me here. Bless us with the fire to chase after You, to disciple under You effectively, and to show the world Your whole heart. I pray this in the name of Your mighty Son, Your Word, Your chosen Christ and my brother, my King, my Savior, and my Teacher Jesus. Amen!