What is Discipleship and why do I care?

The Gospel of John was written about AD 85, while Luke, Mark, and Matthew were all around 50-75.  That puts the New Testament at somewhere around 1990 years old.  Think about how kids today will not understand what the sound of a modem is.  They do not know the joy and anger that is Space Invaders.  They do not understand why we get nostalgic about seeing a Pac Man tabletop game.  They do not know the tragedy of the Challenger space ship. A large portion do not understand the significance of 9/11.  These are not things they are familiar with.  They can hear about these things, they can see them in their history books, or see them on TV but unless we use something they can relate to they will not know the importance of these things. Not understanding the importance the reference is lost on them.

We can read through certain sections of Scripture and come away with an understanding, but if we read the Scriptures as a whole and look at the context in some of the meanings we can come away with a larger and fuller understanding.

A preacher went to visit an elderly woman from his church who had just had an operation. As he was sitting there talking with her, he noticed a bowl of peanuts on the stand next to the bed. He began to eat them, and soon it was time for him to leave. When he got up he noticed he had eaten all of her peanuts.

“Sister Jones,”he said” I’m sorry I ate all of your peanuts.”

She replied “That’s okay pastor, I already sucked all of the chocolate off of them.”


In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  

We see then that discipleship is not something that a church, or group should do, but it is a command from Christ Himself to make Disciples.  It is an ordnance from the Messiah to reproduce.  Think back to Adam and Noah (Gen 1:28 & 9:7).  When God does something good he wants it reproduced.  We are to be fruitful and multiply.  We are to make more disciples.  We have this amazing love in us and we should want to share it.  It is my opinion that God takes the command to multiply very seriously.  If we look at the Tower of Babel, and the Apostles in Jerusalem as an example we see that if we do not choose to go out and reproduce then God will push us out.  The same way a baby is comfortable in the womb and then evicted we as Christians can be quite comfortable in our cozy churches and groups but God will push us out of our manufactured and prefab wombs in order to complete the task set before us.

Today I want to just scratch the surface of discipleship.  I want to look at what it meant to be a disciple in antiquity, and see what it can mean in our time.  Moreover and to the point I want us to see the what and why of disciple making.


A disciple is a student.  Specifically in Christian terms a disciple is one who follows and studies Christ, His finished work, and how they are to live out the meaning of that.

The Greek word for Disciple is mathetes, and it simply means learner or student.  Similarly there is a Hebrew word lamad which just again means to learn.  We are called disciples, and those we call are disciples.  We can have disciples of our own but truly they are disciples of Jesus. Those who taught us would would be our teachers but we understand that we are still students of the Teacher.

Firstly, a disciple was called to follow the teacher and make everything second to the teacher.  Jesus talks about this a few times and we struggle with it.  Property is always a good sign of importance.  The second tractates on the Talmud (Bava Metzia) helps us understand this.  It says regarding property that would belong to a teacher

“If his lost object and his father’s lost object [are to be attended to], his lost object takes precedence; his own lost object and his teacher’s lost object, his own takes precedence; his father’s lost object and his teacher’s lost object, his teacher’s takes precedence, because his father brought him into this world, but his teacher, who taught him wisdom, brings him to live [in] the world to come; if his father is a sage, [the object] of his father takes precedence. If his father and his teacher were carrying a burden, he should relieve his teacher, and afterward relieve his father. If his father and his teacher were in prison, he should redeem his teacher and afterward he should redeem his father; if his father was a sage, he should redeem his father and afterward he should redeem his teacher.”

We can see from this that a disciple was to be solely devoted to his teacher.  This is what Jesus is talking about in Luke 14:26.

If anyone comes after me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

Jesus was not talking about hate like I hate brussel sprouts or broccoli.  No the hate here is in to be understood in light of the Bava Metzia that those things and people need to be in second place to the Teacher.  It is OK to hate and detest brussel sprouts or broccoli.

A disciple understood they were devoting themselves to a teacher.  The teacher taught them everything.  How to pray, how to search the Scriptures.  Everything.  You wanted to be like your teacher.  This is why the 12 ask Jesus to teach them to pray.  That is why they say like John taught his disciples to pray.  The teacher taught you.

Also a disciple was someone who was typically planning or trying to be a disciple of a teacher.  They would study the Torah and Talmud in hopes of being picked up by a teacher.  They would set their lives up to be noticed by a specific Rabbi.  Rabbis did not typically just call anyone.  They looked for those who had promise to be called and associated with them as the teacher.

The same way now someone goes to school to be a Doctor, Lawyer, Pastor, Nurse, or Businessman.  They were intending to pursue discipleship in order to become a teacher.  But also to say and have the notoriety that they studied under teacher so and so.  It was understood and still is today that if you are going to be a ____ then you need a teacher, and if you are going to have a teacher you should have the best.

If we look through the Old Testament we find many examples of disciples.  Abraham was a disciple of God.  God was teaching Abraham directly as there was no one else around to teach.  Moses was also taught by God.  Notice though that they both then taught someone else.  Abraham taught Isaac, and Moses had Joshua (and all of Israel).  Elijah taught Elisha.  The concept of student and teacher has a long history.  Teachers understood and should understand the awesome responsibility they have to teach.  James (3:1) in the New Testament says:


Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”


The role of disciple is so important that the role of teacher must be carefully taken.  Teachers would have understood in old times that that they were on the line.  This is why the relationship between teacher and student was so important and why teachers were to be held in such high regards by their students. Disciples followed the teacher everywhere and did everything they were asked of.  It was not just a relationship of fellowship but more like dependence.


So what should a modern disciple look like?  If we are to follow Jesus’s teaching and command to make disciples what should that look like?  Are we to have people following us around everywhere?  Are we to have a following that clings to every word we make lives with us?  Is it supposed to be a constant as the connection between a Rabbi and Disciple?  Are we to set-up a bunk in our house?

Modern disciples – What does a modern disciple look like?  What does it mean to be a disciple in the 21st century?  I mean is this a term that is even still relevant in our culture today?  I think it is relevant and I think it is still a command from Jesus.  A modern disciple is not a consumer though.

Alan Hirsch says it like this:

“You can’t make disciples out of consumers. You can’t consume your way into the Kingdom. It doesn’t work like that. Jesus says die…You come to the cross. Now who said you can take that out of the equation and expect the results that Jesus points to later on in the piece. If Jesus says it’s good enough to go through the cross upfront, in the beginning, who are we to make it different.”

It is to be about more.

I think in part we are afraid to take discipleship to seriously because it can be viewed as “culty”.  It has a bad view because of the brainwashing cults out there that are serious about discipleship like the Heaven’s Gate group or the Branch Davidians (aka Wako in Waco).  These people took discipleship really serious but they were also crazy as an old lady with 100 cats.

So lets look at the discipleship you are already doing.  Every parent is already discipling someone these people just happen to be your children.  That is what you are doing when you teach them to cook, clean, read, fold laundry, etc.  You are discipling them.  Hopefully you are also teaching them the ways of God.  You should also be teaching them what it means to be a Christian.  Joe and I went on a hike the other day and he mentioned something very important.  Does it really matter if their room is clean?  No, but the lesson they are learning from a dirty room is what is important.  So as mature adults we understand this and we teach them to clean their room.  We teach them mercy, grace, and judgement.  Because while Christ forgives the cop who pulled you over might not.

We follow what Proverbs 22:6 says:

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart.

Well new Christians are children.  They are as 1 Peter 2:2 says newborns.  That means that we should be training them in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart.  We should be not only interested in their eternal salvation and closing the deal, but also in helping them learn what it means to walk this out.  We should be spending time helping them navigate the hard things in life.

I don’t want to touch too much on the how because that is half of next week’s focus.  But it very much ties into what it means to be a modern disciple.  A modern disciple is someone who is studying under a teacher.  Someone who has a person they can call on to help understand how to navigate this new walk.  Someone with whom they meet regularly to talk and learn.  It is just like fellowship but with the purpose of education.

Calling disciples is not an option.  It is not a thing the Church should be doing but the thing the church was tasked with.  It is not the job of the missionary, the pastor, the preacher, the evangelist, or the church staff, but it is to be the work of all Christians to make disciples.

Why Disciple? We are supposed to train followers of Christ to eat solid food, and teach them the ways they should go.  In short we are to teach them how to walk out their faith.

Hebrews 6:1-3 says:

Therefore leaving the discussions of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance, from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptism, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement.  And this we will do if God permits.

The writer of Hebrews just called out most of the people having nonsense arguments in our churches today.  Everyone wants to hang their hat on an understanding or special understanding on one of the above but the writer says lets move on.  These things are basic and you are sitting around talking about them and not growing.  Are they important?  YES, and again I say yes, but they are to be taught to the children and then built on.  We are not supposed to have to revisit them every day or week.  How many times do I have to teach you that two plus two equals four?  You should know that by now so you can build on that and learn more.

What are the things you should be learning now?  Is it some new secret revelation?  No it is just what to do with that.  It is just how you walk that life of faith out.  The writer is saying; now that you understand these things here is what you do with it.  It is about growth and maturity.  Again just like Proverbs 22:6 applies to your children it applies to Gods children.

We disciple because we love.  Jesus says in John 15:17 “These things I command you; that you love one another.”  And John says in 1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  Discipleship making is not just about making new Christians.  It is about maturing the Christians we have.  When someone comes to Christ they are referred to as a babe in Christ because they have been born again.  Like a baby they know nothing, and it is our job as the body to educate them.  To train them up right and when they are old they will not depart. We have a job to do church so lets do it.  There are spiritually hungry Christians out there and so many of them are being fed by false teachers.  The internet has become a breeding ground for bad doctrine.  We have immature Christians feeding immature Christians.  Christians giving advice to just get a divorce because times are hard.  People living their lives based on feelings because no one is holding them accountable and teaching them how to search the Scriptures, or how to pray.  How to hear from God, and what to do when they do.

It is our job to teach, instruct and protect.

I want to share a quote from Rabbi Zalman in talking about a candle:

When you use something physical, it is diminished. The more money you spend, the less you have; the more gasoline you use, the more empty your tank becomes; the more food you eat, the more you need to restock your pantry. But spiritual things increase with use. If I use my wisdom to teach, the student learns, and I come out wiser for it; if I share my love with another, I become more loving, not less. When you give a spiritual gift, the recipient gains, and you lose nothing.

This is the spiritual property that candles share. When you use one candle to light another, the original candle remains bright. Its light is not diminished by being shared; on the contrary, the two candles together enhance each other’s brightness and increase light.

We sometimes worry that we may stretch ourselves too thin. In matters of spirit, this is never the case. The more goodness we spread, the more goodness we have. By making a new friend, you become a better friend to your old friends. By having another child, you open a new corridor of love in your heart that your other children benefit from, too. By teaching more students, you become wiser.


By taking on a disciple you will not diminish the things God has put in you and given to you, you will only add to it.  By taking some time to teach others you gain much more than you would if you had kept it to yourself.  Jesus says in Luke 6:38:

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.

We use this verse when talking about money but I think we should also look at it when it comes to teaching and giving of ourselves to others.  The more we give of ourselves to others the more we gain.

If what we want individually to grow closer to God, and receive more of Him then we must disciple.  It is part of the equation for results.

Just a long thought,


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