Disciples Disciple

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you Philippians 4:9 (NIV).

Discipleship starts with illumination from the Holy Spirt in which we see the loveliness of God, we see the great love He has for us in Christ, and He convinces us of our need of Christ and of our identity as sons and daughters in Christ. That illumination not only reveals the glory of God and His love for us, but sparks a love for the Father, Son, and Spirit that moves us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. That love is informed, cultivated, and grown as we study the Scriptures to discover more and more about who God is and what He is doing.

That illumination leads to and assumes incarnation. As the Father’s love was incarnated in Jesus, and Jesus’ love was incarnated in the life of Paul to the Philippians, Jesus wants to see His love incarnated through us to one another. Love for God always leads to loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Incarnation naturally moves to impartation. Discipleship is learning Jesus’ way of life to become like Him. True enough. But it doesn’t stop there. Discipleship is also helping others learn His way of life so they can also become like Him. Discipleship is both, not one or the other. The goal of discipleship is to nurture, mature, and equip others with everything they need to love God, love others, and help others do the same.

The disciple disciples. If the central thing we are to be about is loving God and loving others, I can’t think of a more natural expression of that love than helping someone else to be learning to love God and love others. Being a disciple is more than living a life of love in front of God and others. It is also imparting that life of love to others so that they could impart it to others.

The disciple makes new disciples. Now there is a difference between making a Christian—a person who has and lays hold of God’s saving grace—and making a disciple. Only God can make a person a Christian. That is not ever what we are called to do. We are called to witness to God and Christ. We are told to proclaim the gospel of Christ, but we are never told to convert people. The reason we are never told to do that is because we can’t. Only God can do that. We are told to make disciples. Isn’t that what the Great Commission says?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

Baptize them, meaning bring them into the community. We tend to think of baptism as a stand-alone event, as a “one-and-done” ritual. Baptism is an entering into a life lived in the reality of what Jesus has made possible. David Stern, a well-known biblical scholar and Messianic Jew has written a translation of the Bible called The Complete Jewish Bible. I highly recommend it. His notes make it an excellent resource for getting to the Jewish thought behind the teachings of the New Testament authors. He translates Matthew 28:19 (CJB), Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim
[disciples], immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh
[Holy Spirit]. What baptism symbolizes—immersing people into the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is done by:

  • teaching them everything Jesus commanded, i.e., impart the knowledge of what Jesus commanded (illumination).
  • teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded, i.e., impart the practice of what Jesus commanded (incarnation).

Jesus is commissioning His disciples to “be the Rabbi” who would impart the knowledge and practice of His way of life.

What does that mean? Let me give a quick overview of what rabbinic discipleship meant in Jesus’ day.

A Rabbi took on disciples so that he could teach them his yoke (his interpretation of Scripture) and his way of life which was the practical living out of his yoke. Through sharing and experiencing everyday life together, they would discuss, debate, and question how Scripture was to be applied and lived out in any given situation. The Rabbi’s life was open to his disciple so they would watch and learn how he applied Scripture to daily life, and the Rabbi would watch and guide the disciple as he watched him live. The goal was not only to incarnate to them but to replicate in them his way of life so that the disciple would one day be fully equipped to be Rabbis themselves who would take on their own disciples and repeat the process with others.

The author of Hebrews takes his original audience to task because they are still only learners and not teachers in Hebrews 5:12 (NIV) In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! This was not a criticism of the local Christian Education committee, but a criticism of the believers in general. Disciples who have been learning for a long time but who never begin to teach, who never begin to impart what they know to others are like children who are old enough to have solid food but are still on a diet of milk.

When Jesus called His disciples He entered into a relationship with them where He imparted His yoke and way of life to them. When He commissioned them, He was saying that they were now ready to “be the Rabbi” and make disciples themselves on his behalf. Disciples impart, they replicate, they duplicate; they make new disciples.

To be continued in Wednesday’s post….

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