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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


"Disciples" -- we know the term. It refers to the twelve followers of Jesus, right? Well, actually, only if we let it. The Greek word is mathetes and references "a learner". It refers to a person who claims to have learned particular principles from someone and holds to those principles on the basis of the authority of that other person. Greek has another word for teaching: didaskalos. This word primarily refers to the transfer of information. Mathetes, on the other hand, carries with it the idea of learning and endeavor, the idea of actually following the teaching (didaskalos) of another. In other words, disciples are not only pupils; they are followers.

Paul warns against being followers of particular leaders. He writes, "I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?: (1 Cor. 1:11-13). Oh, good. So we're off the hook. No one needs to be "discipling" others, right? We're all just supposed to be disciples of Christ. Not hardly.

Most Christians have heard the term, "The Great Commission", referring to Jesus's command to His disciples that they share the gospel. Of course, that's not what the command actually contains:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
"Make disciples" ... that's the command -- matheete├║sate. That's not the same thing as "spread the gospel". The gospel, in this case, would be only the beginning. Where does it end? "Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." Notice, in fact, that it isn't simply "teaching them all that I commanded you." It includes being disciples. They are to learn what was commanded and observe it. The Great Commission is a command of Christ that His followers make disciples of others.

Paul tells Timothy to do the same. "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). This is a primary function of believers in the Body of Christ. It is part of the process that God has built into the Church with the overall goal of "the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12-13).

There are, of course, problems with this notion. The primary problem is ... we almost never do it. It is the Great Commission of Christ, but we ignore it, preferring our hit-and-run "spread the gospel" instead of actually discipling ("teaching to observe all things"). Our refusal to follow a direct command of Christ is rooted in the other types of problems with this notion. One is the American notion of "independence". No one can tell me what to do. I need no one. We are all equal. You're no better than me. That all works fine in certain applications and under particular conditions, but it doesn't work at all when it is in direct contradiction to Christ's command. But American independence works well because of human pride. It feeds the notion that I'm the really important person and the rest of you are not. It's a lie. This problem, then, is our natural wish to make it on our own rather than have someone else help us or admit that someone else can help us.

The other problem, apart from this sinful aspect, is the work it takes. "Hi, here's a tract, you need Jesus, have a nice day" is easy. "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" is hard. Look through the Christian bookstore or search for "discipleship" on the Internet and you'll find lots of helpful stuff on discipling ... but it's all "once removed". Real discipleship is a day-to-day walk-alongside relationship. It engages in real time and gets to know the person. It doesn't plop a set of principles on the table and say, "There, run with that." It says, "How does this work in your life? How do you observe this?" It is work. And it is time consuming. Since it encompasses "all that I have commanded you", it isn't finished in a 6-week course covering this nice little book on being a godly parent or how to have a healthy marriage.

There is, I have noticed, another little problem with the concept. It's the word, "disciple". We are all aware that we are to be disciples of Christ. So if I ask, "Are you discipling anyone?", it is uncomfortable. "No, I'm teaching them to follow Christ." That's discipling. "No, but I'm mentoring some people." That's discipling. "No, I'm not doing any such thing." That's sin.

Christianity is a relational religion. (Don't choke on that word; it's biblical.) We are to know God. We are to be known by God. And we are to love one another. We have decided, it seems, to do so at a distance. Throw a good book at it. Let's meet on the Internet and I'll post some nice things for you to read. We are commanded to walk alongside and teach them to observe all that He commands. Of books, Solomon writes, "The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body" (Eccl 12:12). Perhaps we need to stop sinning on this count and start developing discipleship relationships.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Stan! And I say AMEN! I really like how you got into the true meaning of the word Disciple. Not just a learner, but an observer, a follower. It is much more intense than just being a student at a school learning some concept. It is learning it and living it.

Samantha said...

I am one of those people who will throw a tract at someone and run.

tsk tsk. Very convicting Stan! :D

Jim Jordan said...

Great article! Challenge accepted, I think. It's easy to settle for something less than "making disciples". Thanks for the restorative read.

Christianity is a relational religion.
Because there is a real Someone to have a relationship with...